One of the problems that D&D has, I feel, is that low level undead just aren’t all that scary. Ghouls are frightening because they have paralysis and aetherial undead are terrifying because of their level drain, but Zombies and Skeletons tend to be kind of boring mooks who are usually less threatening than encountering a group of 1st level human bandits. Besides, they can be turned! The only real ‘scary’ part is that they don’t have to make morale checks, so you have to kill all of them. As such, the only way that skeletons or zombies are a real threat is if you throw a ton of them at the party.
Thief: the Dark Project is one of the few places where small numbers of undead are truly scary – they’re very different from how your living (even monstrous living) opponents behave. While Ghosts are creepy and hard to kill, and Hammer Haunts cut you to pieces in seconds once they find you (and they WILL find you), I think that how Thief treats Zombies is particularly special. They’re always in the way, they’re always groaning loudly, and, unless you’ve got things planned just so, you can’t kill them. One zombie can be an annoyance, but two zombies can be downright deadly. Once you have 4 or more zombies on you, it’s time to hit the quickload button.
So here’s a reimagining of the B/X zombie based on those found in Thief: The Dark Project.
HD 2 + 3* (15HP)
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: 1-8 or weapon
No. Appearing: 2-8 (4-24)
Save As: F1
Treasure Type: Nil
Zombies are undead humans or demi-humans animated by powerful curses and evil magics that stone and steel alone cannot unmake. As all undead, they may be “Turned” by a cleric but are not affected by sleep or charm spells or any form of mind reading. They typically resemble normal rotting and bloated corpses, and when still may be indistinguishable from a normal corpse. If approached by a living creature foolish enough to linger about (3 rounds), the Zombie will rise and attack. Treat prone Zombies as having 3 HP; upon rising, a Zombie will have its full 15 HP. After receiving 12 HP of damage, a risen Zombie will fall prone and remain so until a living creature remains nearby for 3 rounds, at which time the Zombie will rise with full health. Zombies will always attack last regardless of initiative.
Zombies can only be killed with fire or Holy Water. Holy Water will do 3d6 damage to Zombies. Zombies that are turned do not run away but will fall prone.
I’ll probably be stating out some more monsters from Thief over the next few days, including Burricks, Hammer Haunts, Insect Beasts, Fire Spirits, Crab Men and Crab Beasts, and Monkey Men. I’ll be working on a few base assumptions, including d6 hit dice and Garrett as a d4 thief of around 4th level; I may even stat him.