Sunday, 12 October 2014

Halloween Horrors: Part 1 Zombies

Mogmush leant on the pommel of his huge sword "Cabbage" and watched the soldiery lining up. He shifted his weight before leaning his chin on the cold cross of the sword's quillons. He waved his hand at the men lining up. 

"So, the spears form the centre?" Mogmush took a lazy swig from a wine skin and wiped some dribbled wine from his chin. The knight next to him nodded slowly whilst eyeing the huge barbarian.
"And you lot with the shields and the swords and whatnot lurk on the ends of the line."

"That's right."

"And you stop the stinkers from rolling up the spears..." The barbarian paused in thought for a long moment. "Which is just as well as they're the ones who will win the battle for you."  

"Well I wouldn't go that far." The knight's voice sounded strained. A little further along the Wizard, Gudguff sniggered into his beard.
"No, think about it!" Mogmush was getting into his stride now. Or rather his lurch, given how much he had drunk. "The spears are nice and long and unarmored. They're terrified peasants stinking up the valley for the world to smell. The..." He paused, realising that he had already said called the horde of dead Stinkers. "Walking rot," he let the name sink in before carrying on, sounding pleased with his inventiveness, "will go straight for them. All the peasants have to do is some serious prodding." The barbarian nodded to himself. "It should work." 

"So pleased we have your approval." The knight muttered to himself before heading off to find his lord and complain. 

Mogmush stayed where he was and stared at the aggressive geography of the valley before them. 

The valley was simply known as "The Pass". It had defeated more armies than the plague and dysentery combined, or so the locals said. To be fair, they've  resisted Sorebum this long. The barbarian looked at the forces shambling into line down below, then raised his gaze toward the distant entrance into the steep valley. The walking dead clogged it from one side to the other and stretched back out of sight. 
There's more dead walking into this valley than I have numbers for. The huge drunkard mused. he spent a last moment looking out before shambling toward the waiting skirmishers. Mind you, I cant count so that's saying much.   

ZOMBIES!
Yes, that's right, in the run up to Halloween I will be looking at some of our favourite creatures each week. This week I thought I'd tackle the one being that, despite world wide recognition and almost infinite movie, tv and literary incarnations.

So what's wrong with Zombies?
Nothing! Absolutely nothing. As fodder for fantasy they are perfect, the ultimate in chop-through-able bad-guys. They are excellent as expendable "troops" for the Dark Lords out there. Ultimately expendable, totally cost free to maintain and utterly obedient (to a given value of obedient) to the Dark Lord/s.

OK...And...?
And I'm narked because with the possible exception of Song of Ice and Fire and a couple of choose your own adventure books Zombies don't seem to have made the crossover into mainline fantasy and I just don't understand why.

Lets go through the anatomy of the Zombie and see what we find.

Zombies the Ins and Outs.


  • Cause of a Zombie: Actually unknown. Unlike most other monsters or creatures Zombies seem to have no single cause. Rather you have a total smorgasbord of causes ranging from cursed graveyards, high background magic or magic meteors and GM food. Radiation would also be a half decent excuse as well as bizarre disease. The major thing with those last two would be that they would take over your entire plot, unless you had a seriously biiig plot. 
  • Type of Zombie: Realistically you've got two types. One. The first are the traditional, slow and stumbly but utterly implacable. Two. The second are a type not really seen in any of the popular incarnations. These would be the survivors, the first wave of the infected who just become mumified and leathery. Imagine a zombie made out of leather and wood, no soft targets just thick hide and bone. These things would be scary as hell and tough to deal with, a job for maces and heavy axe blades.
  • Spread: By spread I mean infection rate. Zombies tend to move toward clusters of people, meaning that they would go from village to village, gaining strength as they went. With the exception of refugees or maybe runners in an organised realm there would be little or no news moving from village to village. The slow and steady pace of a growing horde of mobile corpses would be sufficient to wipe out most of a region.
  • Response: At best the local lord/s would be poorly equipped to respond to such a threat. Most of their levies would probably have been devoured by the horde, leaving them with only their household troops to rely on. At best they would be heavily outnumbered and that would only get worse. If the local lord/s allowed themselves to be besieged by the dead then the situation would be equally shitty. They might be able to hold out, or whittle down the horde with some good arrow work, or maybe open the doors and use the narrow choke points to get rid of as many as possible. Assuming the weight of numbers didn't force them into submission. 
  • Cure: Magic! That or a lot of killing. 
So you're saying you want to see Zombies?
Yes! 

Look, they are a very versatile subject to play with. There are no shotguns to kill them, no generators to provide shelter and warmth and comfort. Just muscle and steel and fire. 
I'll now break down an example outbreak. 

  1. A bitter and hated man dies and is buried with bugger all ceremony, mourned by no one.
  2. The dead man rises as a revenant, a vengeful spirit hell bent on wreaking horror. In the process of the horror-wreaking half a dozen people are bitten. Covering a range of ages, builds and sexes. 
  3. The locals don't really understand the problem and dismember the Revenant but ignore the bitten, giving them such treatment as can be afforded.
  4. Several days pass, the bitten succumb and turn wiping out the whole village, which then slouches away towards the next village in the area. 
  5. Local lord hears about peasants abandoning villages, tax collector/s report no one around and spots of blood. Lord assumes his/her rival has launched a raid so goes to raid his/her rival.
  6. meanwhile the Zombies slouch onwards and consume more and more of the locals.
  7. By the time the Lord has finished with the rival, either winning or loosing, their housetroops are tired and wounded and totally unable to deal with the massive threat now lurking not far away.
  8. The Lord is besieged and unnable to do much of anything. His/Her rival turns up for some vengeance, spots the siege and goes home, deciding to ignore the threat as it's doing his/her job for them. 
  9. Six months later most of the local lords are now dead and slouching their way toward the capital as part of an enormous horde of the dead which no one realised was festering away within the borders. 
Zombies have a right and fitting place in the world of Fantasy that no one seems to be using at the moment, its a crying shame actually that no one seems to want to combine the two genres and create something new and functional out of it!

Mogmush gave up, he'd killed at least thirty or more of the stinkers. He didn't know that however as he couldn't count. He belched mightily before spinning around and wandering back toward the main battle line. 
"Bollocks to this!" He yelled to the skirmishers behind him who were still sending arrows at the shambling horde. "It's no fun when they don't fight back!" 

Mogmush crossed the hundred yards in fairly quick time and spoke to the grinning Wizard Gudguff. 

"Squishy bastards don't fight, they don't run, they just..." The barbarian struggled to find the words for his disgust, "shamble at you." 

"Good, so you've seen what we're up against?"

"Bollocks to them." Mogmush muttered as he urinated copiously toward the horde. Gudguff ignored the barbarian and summoned a fireball the size of a horse. 

"You'll want something hotter than that my friend." 

The fire sizzled toward the oblivious Zombies who were about to become a little more oblivious.