Building a Better Zombie Pt 2: Pestilent Dead

Thief 2x substantially changes how undead are handled. In Thief 1 and 2, Zombies are all but unkillable unless you have explosives or holy water. Thief 2x zombies retain this invulnerability, but you can hack off their limbs and head. Of course this means that you end up with creepy gross unkillable torsos with legs wandering around, not doing much and unable to hurt you, but likely to alert other Zombies and haunts to your presence. Not to make things easier, some Zombies now have breath attacks, where they spew some dark green liquid and a swarm of insects at you if you don’t chop their heads off quickly enough. They can kill you pretty quick if they sneak up on you, and they attack in groups.

As you don’t have near as much firepower as Garrett and no access to holy water, there’s not a lot you can do put these guys down completely. Unless, of course, you fulfill the optional quest where you round up the disparate parts of the Necromancer’s corpse and tossle him into the incinerator to break the curse that animates the dead in the Masouleum.

So, for those who are interested in mixing things up with your undead and taking your players by surprise, here’s a new zombie type that you can supplement your regular undead with. Cackle with glee as your players wonder why this one particular zombie seems to be fighting harder and taking more hits than the rest of the swarm, and hey, why isn’t this one turning!?

Pestilent Dead

AC: 8
HD: 2***
Move: 90’(30’)
Attacks: 3
Damage: 2 claw 1d4 / 1 breath 2d4
No. Appearing: 1-4 (2-12)
Save As: F1
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: Nil
Alignment: Chaotic

The Pestilent Dead are a particularly noxious variety of zombie animated by powerful curses and evil magics. 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 appear with other undead (1-3 Zombies for each Pestilent Dead). If close enough (10′) and possessing its head, Pestilent Dead will vomit forth a vile liquid accompanied by a swarm of stinging or biting insects. Victims may save vs. breath for half-damage. When a Pestilent Dead is hit, it receives no damage (though allow the players to roll for damage); instead roll a d6. 5-6 an arm is severed; 3-4, the head is severed; 1-2, nothing happens. Subtract 1 from the roll if using a blunt rather than slashing weapon. Subtract 1 from the roll for each severed arm. Players may attempt to target a particular appendage with 75% accuracy with a slashing weapon and 50% accuracy with a blunt weapon (roll after a successful to-hit roll). Pestilent Dead lose attacks corresponding to the appendages destroyed. When both arms and head are lost, the Pestilent Dead is not vanquished but impotent; they may flee aimlessly, alerting other monsters to the PCs’ presence. Pestilent Dead may be damaged and destroyed normally by fire; treat them as having 6HP, + 3HP for each arm and head remaining. Pestilent Dead are turned as wraiths.

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Building a Better Zombie

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.

Zombies

AC: 8
HD 2 + 3* (15HP)
Move: 90’(30’)
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: 1-8 or weapon
No. Appearing: 2-8 (4-24)
Save As: F1
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: Nil
Alignment: Chaotic

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.

Shadow Over Alfheim Pt 16b: The Zombraire’s Estate

Once the party had been pointed in the direction of their adventure hook, they went to the farmlands west of the fort, the last place anyone had seen a zombie cow.  These monsters seemed to be originating from the direction of Sigyfel’s Tomb, but the Cleric, the only member who had been on that first adventure, knew that the tomb was small and not the source of the troubles.  Outside the tomb, the fighter discovered some “not quite leather” that had torn off one of the zombie cows on a trail nearby.  The party followed the gory trail of blood, fur and hoof prints through the scrublands and beyond into the wooded swamps.

The party heard a distant groaning “moo” in the distance.  The goblin thief climbed a tree and was able to spot an undead bovine staggering awkwardly and bumping into trees.  The party set upon it and quickly dispatched it, though they were a bit surprised by how much punishment it could take.  They continued on in the direction it had come from until the trees gave way to a clearing with an obvious and large graveyard between them and the wall of surrounding the estate.

Rather than poking around in the graveyard, or even going around the wall to the south gate, the party -starting with the goblin thief- decided to scale the wall.  This was an interesting choice, because it allowed me to show the party the entire layout of the estate (NW: barn, SW: undead chicken coop, NE: manor house, SE: undead garden) and gave the party a lot of options to try to launch a surprise attack.  What they ended up doing resulted in a ridiculous cascading encounter which everyone agreed was pretty epic.

The party saw the 7 zombie elves (4 women, 1 man, 2 children) working in the garden just south of the manor house; instead of jumping into the fray, they leapt from the wall onto the roof of the manor house.  Given that the roof was in somewhat bad shape, I kept making rolls to see if anyone fell through, but no one did.  The party unsuccessfully tried to ambush the family of zombies, never quite sure whether they should stay on the roof or climb down and fight.  The zombies seemed remarkably tough because I didn’t bother to tell the players that arrows did minimum damage and blunt did half.  The cleric tried and successfully turned 3 of them, but the other 4 ran into the manor.

(By this point, everyone realized that they’d forgotten to do anything with the lead-entombed crown; it was determined that the mage was still carrying it in his knapsack.)

I gave the party a few moment to figure out what they wanted to do before a wraith rose up from the roof to attack the players who weren’t on the ground.  The party managed to kill the wraith, largely thanks to the new fighter, but not before the mage and thief got energy drained.  I haven’t quite settled on how I’m going to handle it, but I’m thinking of an XP deficit, rather than an out and out loss of level.  I think my players are more scared not knowing.  “The wraith strikes you.  You feel sad.”  “What happens?” “All of the joy in life has left you.  You feel as though all you’ve been doing is meaningless.  The treasures seek are worthless and those which you’ve found, you know you’ll never get to sell, and even if you do, what will it even matter?”

Meanwhile, the remaining zombie elf women are hacking the cleric up.  The mage holds up his bleeding body with a floating disc while the fighter cuts through the zombies, but he doesn’t realize he’s offering the cleric up on a plate.  Of course, all the commotion has alerted the Zombraire; half a dozen of his pet stirges crash through the thatched roofing as they soar into the sky.  That’s when the mage makes one of the best uses of Sleep I’ve ever seen: “How high up are the Stirges?” “About 150 feet in the air or so.” “What’s the range on Sleep?” “Let me check…  240 feet.”  “I cast sleep on the Stirges!”  Everyone dives out of the way as stirges go splat around them, careening into the undead plants.  A purple bolt is fired from a window in the tower, striking the goblin thief as the party finishes slaughtering the zombies (who had been dealing wicked damage in rolled plain sight).

“Well, you’re surrounded by death: dead elves, dead stirges, undead plants, a million flies and the stench is unbearable.  What do you do?”

Go into the manor, of course!

The party makes it into the great hall just as the Zombraire has made his way down from the tower.  He was going to blast the party with an illusionary fireball cast from his wand of illusions, but everyone made their saves.  “He waves the wand at you…  And seems incredibly surprised that nothing seems to have happened.”  Having taken a hit, the Zombraire tried to make a run for it.  The fighter caught him before he could get very far or cast more spells, cutting him down on the stairs of his tower.  If he could’ve gotten his mirror image off, things might have been very different.

The party was now free to search the manor, found some swag, and burned some rot-grubs off the goblin thief.  Though Richmond is under some suspicion and the party clearly isn’t going to give him the crown right away if at all, I was happy that the party discussed which items he might be interested in.  We finally called it a night because I warned that any further exploration of the Estate would probably lead to an encounter almost as big as the last one.

So, thoughts on the Zombraire’s Estate module!

This is one of the mini modules from BFRPG’s free Adventure Anthology 1.  Though it’s been teased at for some time, I didn’t ever know when I was going to get to finally run it.  I hadn’t looked at this module in two months and still managed to run it by the seat of my pants and everyone had a great time.  That alone is a sign of a quality supplement for a DM.  I screwed up the placement of two rooms (transposing the bedroom with the kitchen) in the manor and as such lost a minor set-piece encounter that would’ve ended with the cleric turning the skeleton maids to dust the first round, but I’m okay with that.  The wand of illusions is going to introduce some fun chaos to my game, but will be balanced by the fact that damn near everything has been undead.

So long as I can answer “why would the elves have an undead farm?” sufficiently with “because they’re terrible and evil”, ZE fits nicely into the Alfheim setting.

After Maze of Nuromen, this has probably been one of my favorite modules to run, even if I only get two sessions out of it.  Depending on how you let things play out, there could be anywhere from as many as a dozen encounters to two or three monstrous battles.  I don’t know how things will turn out with the barn, the zombie chickens, and the rats in the graveyard, but I think my players would concur that a fight against several zombies, stirges, a wraith and an elven zombie wizard was sufficiently awesome.

Siege of Alfort (Morgansfort): Tower Defense Style – Prep Work Part 4, Factions for Flavor

This is going to be a briefer post than the others, largely because it does not involve number crunching. In fact, the purpose of this portion of the prep work is to reduce the amount of number crunching.

The battle and conflict as it’s statted out and scripted in the previous posts does not reflect the battle as a whole. While the 200+ Hit Dice of evil elven undead represents a formidable force more than capable of overwhelming the PCs and the fortress’s defenses, it doesn’t connote that “army” feel. It’s not big enough. Now, admittedly, this is going to be window-dressing, but it will certainly help the battle feel bigger.

Other factions –
Imperial expeditionary force – I’m not sure what all will have happened between the time I am writing this and when the encounter will happen, but one possibility is that Portsdam is destroyed by an earthquake. Whether that happens or things have just been so bad in the colony that word has gotten back to the empire, let’s say that an expeditionary force has landed north of Alfort and is on its way. Maybe 2000 strong, this force, while small will certainly distract a chunk of the Elf King’s undead army, preventing it from bearing its full brunt against the fort. If the PCs haven’t cleared out the Zombraire’s estate module, this force will probably be ambushed from west and arrive significantly weakened and unprepared to stand against Caelden’s army.

Eastern Goblin Coalition – The Southeast and Northeast goblin tribes have formed a military alliance. They understand that a limited human presence in Alfheim is preferable to the land being awash with undead elves. Sometime between now and when the battle is run, the PCs will be presented with a chance to dislodge the Northwest goblin tribe from the Old Island Fortress (if the PCs don’t go along with it, the goblins will later take this on their own). The Old Island Fortress will be used as a staging ground for the eastern goblin tribes to lend their support against Caelden’s army.

Northwest Goblin tribe – I’ve retconned my setting a bit to eliminate Orcs as an indigenous people of Alfheim; while Orcs are there, they’re mostly imperial mercenaries (note to self, the imperial expeditionary force should be comprised largely of Orcs). That said, I’m rewriting Starisel’s dungeon to be inhabited by goblins (with Orc stats) instead of the orc tribe. These will be part of the same tribe who were trying to take over Malek (the Nameless Dungeon) until they were slaughtered by undead. If the PCs can reconcile with these goblins (successfully run Cave of the Unknown), there is a good chance that they might be willing to commit to fight against Caelden.

So we’ve got a Battle of Five Armies, here, a perfect climactic fight for the campaign.

To incentivise the players to gather these allies, I might even take away the last two waves via some sort of plot-flash.

Siege of Alfort (Morgansfort): Tower Defense Style – Prep Work Part 3, Enemy Combatants

So, this part is going to take some tweaking, and maybe even some test runs, so these numbers are far from final.

Let’s have a run-down of the various undead we have to work with:

Skeletons 1 HD 20′
Zombies 2HD 40′
Ghoul 2HD* 30′ (paralysis)
Wight 3HD* 30′ (Level Drain)
Wraith 4HD** 40’/ (Level Drain)
Mummy 5+1HD* 20′ (disease)
Spectre 6HD** 50’/100′ (Level Drain x 2)
Vampire 9HD** 40’/60′

The bulk of the monsters are going to be skeletons & zombies, low hit dice monsters who should probably be ignored, if possible, in favor of the bigger baddies coming through. So, let’s come up with some ground-rules for how each of these monsters operates:

Skeletons – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense and ‘go away’.

Zombies – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense and ‘go away’.

Ghouls – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense and ‘go away’ so long as there are at least 3 HD of defense present; otherwise, remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present and continue along path.

Wights – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. When no defenders are present, continues along path.

Wraiths – move by flight through walls & buildings towards currently targeted zone. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. When no defenders are present, continues along path. Once, Nuromen may use “Sleep” to allow the elimination of 2d4 HD of defenders.

Mummies – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. When no defenders are present, continues along path.

Spectres – Considering their special ability of creating new spectres, I’m highly considering omitting these guys. We’ll see. moves by flight to towers, eliminating tower & rampart defenders. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. After reaching zone 6, will enter the chapel.

Vampire – moves along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense per round, though continues along path without stopping.

Here’s a sample elven army.

60 skeletons
30 zombies
15 ghouls (accursed elves)
5 wights (undead elf knights)
4 Wraiths + Nuromen (undead elf mages)
4 Mummies (undead elf clerics)
2 Spectres (undead elven princes)
1 Vampire (Caelden, lord of elves)

Wave 1
10 skeletons
10 zombies

This wave might even be completely turned.

Wave 2
10 skeletons
5 zombies
5 ghouls

Some of this wave might be turned; I expect this to be the first wave to do some damage in zone 1.

Wave 3
10 zombies
5 ghouls
1 wight

This is something of a wakeup call with the wight. If the heroes are fighting from the walls, it should be apparent that someone is going to have to go down and deal with it.

wave 4
5 zombies
5 ghouls
2 wights

Things being in earnest now. Clerics within the castle will likely have run out of turning, and the wight’s level drain could be a serious problem.

wave 5
10 skeletons
2 wights
Nuromen

Boss wave. While the skeletons just march onto reduce various zone HD, Nuromen will be casting spells and with the two wights who accompany him, he’ll be pretty tough, even with his limited HP.

Wave 6
10 skeletons
2 wraiths

Consider this a sequel to wave 5, but at least these wraiths aren’t casters.

Wave 6
5 skeletons
1 wraith
1 mummy

The mummy is going to slowly tank his way through the defenses.

Wave 7
1 wraith
2 mummies

Ditto.

Wave 8
10 skeletons
1 Mummy

Consider this wave a reprieve?

wave 9
5 skeletons
2 Spectres

If things aren’t already really bad, this may be the end of things. The heroes might seriously consider running at this point.

Wave 10
Vampire

The vampire more or less makes a Beeline to the bank, the apartments, the chapel, then the keep. He’s got important things he wants in those places.
Goals:
Ultimately, the castle is meant to fall. The main goal the heroes should have is staying alive or maybe stopping Nuromen (wave 5). Anything after that point ought to be gravy, though they should probably try to either escape through the Chapel Tunnels, the Keep Tunnels or any other possible means.

On the off chance that 8 waves are defeated before the chapel falls, I would consider this a decisive “win” for fort, if it weren’t for those pesky spectres. While Caelden might ‘retreat’, there would be a ton of dead that would need quick sanctification or things could easily be worse than before, in which case, the fort falls anyway. If the heroes manage to somehow defeat all 10 waves, Caelden likely retreats to lick his wounds. In this final case, he’ll probably be treated like any other vampire and sent to his lair (I might stick him in the Gibbering Tower) to be hunted down.
Up next, I’ll detail the tactical scenario leading up to the siege.

One Page Dungeon! The Revelry at Pickett Castle.

I decided to put together a One Page Dungeon for the One Page Dungeon contest at Campaign Wiki.

You can check out a system neutral version here: Pickett Castle Sys Neutral.

I’ve also got a B/X version of it that I’ll post soon.  The only difference is I’ve included monster stats, but i guess if you’re playing seriously enough to need monster stats, maybe you’re missing the point of this module. 🙂

 

Update: B/X version Pickett Castle W/Stats