Posts Tagged ‘ undead ’

Days 15-16: My Favorite Undead & Aberration

Today is a two-fer since I didn’t post yesterday. Busy, busy with the beginning of the new school year, making sure all those T’s are dotted and all those I’s are crossed. For my favorite undead, I’m tempted to just link my old post about the death knight and be done with it, but that seems kind of lazy. I’m not going to do that.

My favorite undead is hard to pin down. If I were writing about movies/TV shows, my favorite undead would be zombies, but only when they’re a metaphor (such as in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead) and/or when they serve as a mirror in which the survivors’ humanity becomes reflected (such as in 2011’s State of Emergency, which I found to be surprisingly hopeful). Of course, I’m not supposed to be writing about movies. This is the 30-Day D&D Challenge, and zombies don’t really do it for me in D&D. I’ve used them, of course, and quite a bit, but D&D and survival horror are a tough match.

For D&D, the mummy reigns as my favorite undead.

“But why, Mark?” you ask.

Well, the picture piercing your soul with its glowing stare probably gave it away, but I reply to your question with a simple, “Because Boris Karloff.”

Sure, you can play mummies like lumbering, bandage-wrapped mashers, and the inferior sequels to 1932’s The Mummy veered in that direction, but that’s not the way I feel mummies should be played. The word “mummy” conjures up visions of ancient Egypt. Pyramids and sphinxes and scarabs. Kings, high priests, and powerful ministers got the mummy treatment, which isn’t quite the whole story, but it provides the hook for what a mummy ought to be.

Oh, sure, the boss mummy could have lumbering, bandage-wrapped mummy lackeys to bash interlopers, but the mummy should be more like Ardath Bey, also known as Imhotep. He’s clever, obsessed, powerful, urbane, and menacing. He doesn’t just lunge out of a sarcophagus and start swinging. To get the full-on Imhotep experience, add some divination powers and a vampire-like ability to charm the PC who’s the reincarnation of his forbidden love.

My favorite aberration bears some defining ahead of time. Early D&D didn’t have monster types as introduced by 3E. A monster type is sort of like the monster’s base character class. “An aberration has a bizarre anatomy, strange abilities, an alien mindset, or any combination of the three,” says the SRD. Classic D&D aberrations include monsters such as adherers, blindheims, boggarts, and cloakers.

And, of course, the dreaded aboleth. Evil, intelligent, vaguely fish-like, and tentacled, aboleths fool your senses with illusions and crush you will with charms. Aboleths lair in lightless, flooded caverns or deep under the sea. It’s almost a moral imperative that choirs of aboleths chant obscene litanies to Lovecraftian horrors.

“Ia! Ia! Nyarlathotep Fthagan!”

August 16th, 2013  in RPG No Comments »

C Is for Castor

In the early 27th century, the Homeland Fellowship, a monarchical colonial effort, settled on Castor, establishing a liaison outpost as a first step toward opening diplomatic relations with other worlds in the sector. For a time, the Homeland Fellowship court on Castor was a thing of wonder: heraldric flags, orders of knights, aristocratic ambassadors, and the architectural wonders, with pillared foundations, scroll buttresses, numerous mosaics, squared support piers, and flat-topped towers.

Then came the irruption of magic and the rage of the dragons. Castor suffered worse than most other worlds, for the dead refused to stay in their graves. The monarchy collapsed, and the knightly orders stepped into the breach. Centuries of internecine warfare followed. Even today, in the Age of the Phoenix, Castor remains a world wracked by conflict and terror.

Castor’s population lives precariously behind the walls of a half dozen fortified cities that rely on technology generally equivalent to 19th-century Earth. Castoran society is controlled by quasi-religious military orders under the supreme command of a council of generals. Almost all commerce and wealth on Castor is controlled by members of the military. The martial quartermaster class has taken on most of the roles performed by the businesses class on other worlds. Unskilled labor is performed by Castorans unfit for military service.

This large civilian class is widely discriminated against, being forbidden to run businesses, possess significant wealth, or own land. The Castoran civilian class’s reputation for sloth and vice is not unmerited. Among them, cultural patterns inimical to success within the competitive military orders have become deeply ingrained. Nevertheless, exceptional civilians can be rewarded with contractor status, which comes with entrepreneurial and property privileges.

Social norms reward ambitiousness, especially within the military by demonstrated courage in defense of the cities. The military and contractor elite also evince cosmopolitan pretensions. Martial ceremonies, balls, and faux ambassadorial functions are common. It is no secret that Castor’s ruling generals would welcome renewed contact with other worlds, but this goal remains elusive. The military lacks the technology to make contact on its own, and Castor languishes under a planetary quarantine due to its undead plague.

While most worlds have intermittent problems with the undead, Castor is overrun with them. Her cities exist in a state of constant siege. The most prominent undead menace are the hordes of zombies. Tens of thousands of zombies surround the cities, and more wander the wilderness between Castor’s urban centers. Other undead monsters are less common, but more dangerous, especially those that can fly such as ghosts and spectres. These types of monsters can not only bypass city walls, but they can also threaten the dirigibles that link the cities via the airways.

Despite the planetary quarantine, groups of adventurers sometimes travel to Castor. Caches of pretech can be found in ancient ruins by those willing and able to brave Castor’s undead terrors.

Castor at a Glance
Population: 755,000
Atmosphere: Breathable but dense. Use those pressure masks!
Climate: Tropical
Government: Military Dictatorship
Tech Level: 2

Castoran Characters: Any character can be from Castor, but growing up on such a backward world has consequences. At 1st level, no native Castoran character can have more than rank 0 in many skills due to Castor’s limited tech level. Skills such as Combat (Energy Weapons, Psitech), Computer, Culture (Alien, Spacer, Traveller, World other than Castor), Exosuit, Tech (Any), or Vehicle (Grav, Space) are restricted. Native Castorans do not need pressure masks to breathe heavy atmospheres that are otherwise capable of supporting human life.

Castoran Zombie

My Stars Without Number-inspired setting mixes fantasy elements with the sci-fi.

Castoran Zombie
Armor Class: 8 (or better)
Hit Dice: 2
Attack Bonus: +3
Damage: 1d6 (unarmed) or by weapon
No. Appearing: 1d20 (or more)
Saving Throw: 14+ (see below)
Movement: 20 ft.
Morale: NA

The dead tend to not stay dead on Castor, and the shuffling horrors called zombies are the planet’s most common undead menace. Zombies are walking corpses with a hunger for living flesh. They decay in their undeath, albeit not as quickly as an actual corpse would. Regardless of their state of decay, zombies are not easily mistaken for the living.

Zombies are seldom armed or armored, at least to any great extent. These monsters lack human intelligence, operating almost entirely on an instinctual level. They can make use only of the simplest of tools, but even then not often using them for much more than bludgeons. Of course, some zombies may happen to wear armor or have a melee weapon in hand. Since zombies are undead creatures, they cannot be affected by attacks that require a living body or mind. This includes diseases, poisons, many psionic powers and spells, et cetera. Zombies simply ignore the effects of such attacks. Zombies also never make morale checks. Attacks which damage the body are less effective against zombies since their bodies do not suffer pain, shock, blood loss, and so forth. Such attacks inflict 50% normal damage (round down) unless the attack roll is a natural 20, in which case the attack inflicts full damage as normal.

Castoran zombies occasionally have different stats that make them more dangerous. Some zombies can move at normal human speeds. Others carry terrible infections communicable by bite or scratch. The rarest zombies have human intelligence (but still remain immune to effects that require a living mind) and the ability to mentally command lesser zombies.

September 29th, 2012  in Product Development, RPG No Comments »

Zombie Brainstorming

My son Giant Boy and I watched 28 Days Later a few nights ago. This film often gets lumped in the zombie genre, but it’s not really a zombie movie (but it is survival horror, which includes zombie pics). The infected in 28DL aren’t zombies. They’re people driven into a seemingly permanent psychotic frenzy by some sort of biological experiment accidentally released from an animal testing facility at Cambridge.

The day after we watched 28DL, Giant Boy said, “Patermaximus, might we write some sort of zombie horror apocalypse adventure?”

I said, “I dunno. I guess.”

And so here we are, with me writing this and you reading it.

The first question Giant Boy insisted we answer was what game system to use. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game doesn’t seem a good fit. Fireball-lobbing wizards, vital-striking fighters, and disease-curing clerics don’t look they’d work well in the survival horror genre. Giant Boy suggested Mutants & Masterminds, but that is a math-intensive game when it comes to scenario design. Other suggestions included True 20 (which I have in unprinted PDF format but little experience with) and Savage Worlds (which I have only the short, free test drive PDF). Obviously, there are other systems specifically written for horror games. There’s even a zombie horror RPG, All Flesh Must Be Eaten (which I own none of and don’t feel like purchasing).

Watching me poo poo one game system after another, Giant Boy said, “Patermaximus, which system shall we use if we use none of those?”

Good question. One thing I enjoy is taking a game system and making it do things it wasn’t necessarily designed to do. I also like blending genres, which my players in Man Day Adventures will soon discover. (Muahaha!) As I pondered Giant Boy’s question, I thought these thoughts:

“The system needs to be something simple. Rules lite seems better than rules heavy for this sort of game.”

“The system needs to be something I already have a copy of.”

“The system needs to be something decidedly not intended for survival horror.”

One RPG kept pressing itself to the forefront of my brain each time I asked these questions. Yes, that’s right. Beyond Belief Games’ Go Fer Yer Gun!. What could be cooler than a blending of 28DL with cowboys and Indians? (Yes, yes, I know about Deadlands, but I’m not going for the weird west).

With that decision out of the way, it was time to brainstorm about my zombies. Foremost, I don’t want slow-moving, brain-eating undead. I mean, I love George Romero as much as any red-blooded American boy, but Romeroid zombies just seem so typical nowadays. 28DL was intense because its zombies aren’t zombies, and they’re fast and relentless. I mean, really fast. Those raging maniacs could windsprint like nobody’s business even after they were set on fire. On top of their speed and relentlessness, 28DL “zombies” didn’t have to bite you to infect you. They could projectile vomit blood at you instead. They could splatter on you when someone hacks them with a machete. They were a bloodborne pathogens worst-case scenario on steroids. As Frank (the most affecting and best acted character in 28DL as portrayed by Brendan Gleeson) demonstrated, even a single drop of blood from one of the infected after death could turn a loving father into a frothing-at-the-mouth killer in a matter of seconds.

Now that’s scary.

So, now I had the beginnings of a “zombie” checklist:

1. They’re not really zombies. They’re infected by a super-virus.
2. They’re jacked up on adrenaline and homicidally psychotic.

After this, my mind wandered toward other source material. You know how zombies eat brains? Do you know why zombies eat brains? It was explained in The Return of the Living Dead. Zombies eat brains because they’re in constant pain from decomposition, and brains act as a sort of anesthetic. I also recalled the two of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s novels in their Strain Trilogy (which reminds me that I still haven’t read the third installment). Those books are about vampires, but not Bela Lugosi vampires. Instead, Strain vampires are infected with a bizarre parasite that transforms the host’s entire physiology in grotesque, horrifying ways.

Two more things for the checklist:

3. Motivation for cannibalism.
4. Physical changes caused by virus.

That looked like a good start, and so I took Giant Boy’s ubiquitous pad of drawing paper away from him while we waited for Mrs. Chance to get done at work. I jotted down some notes about traits of the infected:

Trait 1: The host’s lymph nodes swell into buboes. These buboes fill with a mixture of blood, pus, and live virus. Not only can they pop if roughly handled, the virus changes the host’s body so that the host can vent its buboes’ contents via the mouth and nose.

Trait 2: The infected do not respirate the way humans do. Their lungs do not serve any particular purpose. More physiological changes, however, give an infected the ability to voluntarily control its thoracic diaphragm. By contracting or relaxing this muscle, an infected can inhale or exhale, permitting it produce limited vocalizations. The infected cannot speak, except perhaps single syllable words that would be more hissed than articulated, but they can growl, moan, et cetera.

Trait 3: Further physiological changes alter bone structure and density. The proximal and distal phalanges fuse (N.B. limited finger dexterity), and the fused bones grows into something very much like a spike. Since the bones are denser as a whole, the infected is more durable and less suspectible to injury.

Trait 4: The infected’s brain changes as well. It enters a hyper-adrenaline state which constantly floods the infected’s body with this powerful hormone. At the same time, the nervous system is less sensitive to pain and fatigue.

Trait 5: The infected kill and eat the non-infected because uninfected human tissues contain a variety of hormones which nourish the virus. Chief among the hormones that the infected crave are arenaline and cortisol, the hormones that trigger the flight-or-fight response.

As Giant Boy read this over my shoulder (which I find annoying but tolerate because I’m so loveable), I could hear him shuddering. I think this first draft of “zombie” traits is a good start for an Old West survival horror scenario.

Next post, I’ll turn the spotlight onto the player characters. Since this looks like the sort of setting that lends itself to high levels of PC death, I need to implement some sort of “survival of the fittest” considerations that keeps the threat of death very real for characters but also makes it easy to keep the players involved in the game after their heroes get eaten.

June 11th, 2012  in RPG No Comments »

U Is for Undead Turning

Remember the good old days when your cleric unleashed some turning against some undead? Some of them ran away. Others exploded. What variety! Nowadays with Pathfinder, undead take damage from turning, which is now called channel energy. The undead get a saving throw for half damage. Your cleric can get them to run away if he happens to have the Turn Undead feat. Again, what variety!

And, just in case my sarcasm wasn’t detectable, by “What variety!” I mean pretty much the opposite. Unleashing all that channeled positive energy at the undead ought to do more than a few d6 points worth of damage, and it ought to do so without having to spend precious resources like feats to get a limited effect. So, here’s my latest, completely unplaytested idea.

Whenever a cleric channels positive energy, he can opt to sacrifice a certain number of d6s of channeling damage in order to tack on additional effects. The two quickie charts below show the number of d6s of channeling damage that must be sacrificed to gain a desired effect for a desired duration. N.B. The maximum duration for dazed equals 1 round.

Additional Positive Channeling Effects
1d6: dazed
2d6: fatigued, shaken, or sickened
3d6: blinded, stunned, exhausted, or frightened
4d6: nauseated or panicked
5d6: paralyzed

Positive Channeling Effect Durations
0d6: 1 round
1d6: 1d3 rounds
2d6: 1d4 rounds
3d6: 1d6 rounds
4d6: 1d8 rounds

All additional effects can affect undead creatures even though undead are normally immune to such effects. The positive energy overwhelms normal undead immunities when channeled properly. The undead affected still get a Will save against the channel energy at the same DC as before. If the save succeeds, the undead takes one-half the damage and the additional effect is negated.

For example, Bob the Brewer is a 9th-level cleric who channels 5d6 worth of positive energy. He confronts a ghoul pack, and lets fly with some holy power. Bob sacrifices 4d6 to add 1d3 rounds of blinded to his channeling. The ghouls attempt their Will saves. Those that fail suffer 1d6 points of damage and are blinded for 1d3 rounds. Those that succeed take one-half of 1d6 points of damage.

Of course, we don’t want to leave the evil clerics without some of the fun. Evil clerics normally can channel negative energy to damage enemies or to heal undead creatures. Instead of the latter, evil clerics can channel negative energy to make undead temporarily more formidable. N.B. The maximum duration for “+1 move action” equals 1 round.

Additional Negative Channeling Effects
1d6: +1 move action
2d6: +2 profane bonus to Strength or Dexterity
3d6: +4 profane bonus to Strength or Dexterity
4d6: +4 profane bonus to Strength and Dexterity
5d6: haste

Negative Channeling Effect Durations
0d6: 1 round
1d6: 1d3 rounds
2d6: 1d4 rounds
3d6: 1d6 rounds
4d6: 1d8 rounds

For example, Evil Ed is a 9th-level cleric who channels 5d6 worth of negative energy. He and his ghoul pack confront a gang of adventurers, and Ed lets fly with some unholy power. He sacrifices all 5d6 to add 1 round of haste to his undead minions.

April 24th, 2012  in RPG 2 Comments »