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As popular culture has been saturated with zombies in recent years, I've gotten at least half a dozen ideas for zombie RPG campaigns. The main difficulty with using well-known systems for these, however, is that most RPGs emphasize combat against individuals, not against hordes.

I want to find a system that provides rules for battling and wading through hordes of zombies. More than anything, it should not force me to handle each and every zombie individually, because that will require too much time and effort when hordes grow large.

That being said, I'm not looking for rules on "mass combat" in general, because zombie scenarios are about a small group of people fighting an enormous horde, not about two armies meeting in a pitched battle.

Which systems can emulate battles against zombie hordes?

Note: I know there's a question about zombie systems in general, but the two of those that I have checked out don't seem to provide specific rules for zombie hordes, so that's why I'm asking this more specific question.

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I notice a lot of the answers are not addressing the heart of the question. Please read carefully. "general zombie horror games" is not the question, submit those to the other question he linked. He is specifically asking about modeling hordes not as individuals. –  mxyzplk Aug 24 '11 at 16:46
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Actually, using FATE and modelling the horde as a scene Aspect would work great. Fighting it would be maneuvers to add favourable Aspects to the scene, like Distracted By Fresh Meat or Scattered By The Blast. Not exactly what the OP is asking for, but something I'm going to stick in my toolbox… –  SevenSidedDie Aug 25 '11 at 2:51
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I'm afraid to answer this question, as asked (and interpreted by voters). Lots of answers are getting -1 votes, and my answer (which I think is reasonable) may be precluded by a strict reading of "not as individuals". –  F. Randall Farmer Aug 25 '11 at 17:27
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Yes, downvotes are the natural outcome of not answering the question as asked... And it's part of the SE mindset that says "Please open your mouth only if you are going to answer the OP's question." That having been said, it's not like having a downvoted answer besmirches your name for generations to come. If you think it really is a brilliant alternate solution, toss it out and let the votes/OP decide. –  mxyzplk Aug 29 '11 at 12:47
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The reason why this question asks for existing rules as opposed to ways of modifying other systems is that I would really prefer to have a set of complete, playtested rules that already work. The minion mechanic does fit that request to some extent, but as we have discussed below I'm not fond of a system that actually forces me to control each and every zombie, even in cases when their actions are trivial. I was expecting there to be some more abstract rules already developed that fit this bill, so I will wait for a bit longer before accepting any answer. –  Jakob Aug 31 '11 at 16:12

7 Answers 7

D&D 4e has a monster concept known as a swarm. You can change the size of the swarm as you see fit, from medium, large, humongous etc. If you ever need a member of the swarm to break away, you can pop out zombie monsters or minions as desired.

Swarms work as follows:

swarm [keyword] A swarm is composed of multiple creatures but functions as a single creature. A swarm can occupy the same space as another creature, and an enemy can enter as warm's space, which is difficult terrain. A swarm cannot be pulled, pushed, or slid by melee or ranged attacks. A swarm can squeeze through any opening large enough for even one of its constituent creatures. For example, a swarm of bats can squeeze through an opening large enough for one of the bats to squeeze through.

Swarms also tend to have an Aura 1 feature, which causes some negative affect to any creature which ends it's turn, adjacent or inside of the swarm, as well as its own standard action attacks.

A good example of this from the D&D essential Monster Vault is the Stirge monster. It has swarm versions and individual versions.

Here is an account from a blogger of using swarm rules on human sized monsters and swarms.

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Why the stipulation "not as individuals?" Seems like the DnD/Gamma World 4e minion (1-hp) model would work very well for zombie hordes.

Slow movement, big negative to initiative (players always go first), 1-HP each, nasty plague bite.

To get through a table of them requires a machete.

I've run 30 minions on the board at once, and they took less time than their leader-with-lots-of-powers-and-hitpoints.

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Why not as individuals: "it shouldn't be possible to 'kill all the zombies'". I imagine that your players killed all those 30 minions, didn't they? The OP is talking about a horde that is more like a sea of undead than a mere 30 walking corpses. This, not this. It's not about rules handling speed, it's about modelling overwhelming, implacable force. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 25 '11 at 18:16
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The problem is that such a solution would require upwards of 20 zombie attack and damage rolls per round if the party is swarmed, which really puts the focus on individual attacks rather than the situation as a whole. How would you solve that problem with this approach? –  Jakob Aug 28 '11 at 14:34
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@jakob: Really? (Say 5) party members each with at least 4 adjacent zombies? I've never seen that many minions get that close in a single round. If the zombies are that close, there's a whole lot of zombification about to happen. But to reply: I'd pick up enough d20 for the adjacent zombies and roll them all at once, count the hits and roll that many "damage" dice. Once for each PC. I've also used a one-to-hit-roll-per-mob-on-a-pc variant - and used the size of the mob as a damage roll modifier (+2 damage per zombie adjacent to PC) –  F. Randall Farmer Aug 29 '11 at 4:04
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I find minions and swarms will work just fine for this in DnD –  GMNoob Sep 4 '11 at 11:05
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Sure, except the question explicitly stipulates no individual mechanics. Doesn't matter if you think it would work—the OP has already tried individual zombie mechanics, rejected them as a category, and turned to us for help with finding non-individual mechanics. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 4 '11 at 13:41

Treat Them Like Swarms

The first thing I thought when I read your question was - "It's not an army - it's a swarm!"

Several game systems have mechanics for dealing with swarms - adversaries comprised of many smaller entities.

I would look at first. I remember swarm rules in GURPS as early as the late '80s, so I'm sure they're there. It's been a while, but I'm pretty sure that the GURPS rules dealt with destroying and dispersing swarms by area, not by individual, and that it dealt with them as terrain features as well. The swarm rules I recall were in GURPS Horror, and therefore dealt with birds (for The Birds), rats (for Willard), and bugs. But I'll bet a more modern GURPS Horror book would have rules for zombie swarms as well. I just got the last version of the 3e Horror book at GenCon and the upcoming 4e isn't out yet. I'll check that 3e book when I get home and update this answer then.

And if memory serves, has swarm rules as well.

EDIT: Yes, GURPS 4e has a small section on swarms - for small creatures, as I remembered. My 3e Horror book has nothing in particular about zombie hordes. I just downloaded the preview of the 4e Horror book and it has an index entry for "Zombies, mobs". So that might especially be worth your checking out.

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Yeah, swarms! Savage Worlds has scalable swarm rules too. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 25 '11 at 2:46

I think it depends on the mood that you're intending to invoke.

If you're going for the action-adventure mood, you might look into Feng Shui (as suggested above) - the Mook rules work perfectly for those hordes of zombies that just have to be hit to be killed - they have defenses, but no staying power, and one hit takes them out. I'd also suggest the FATE system; you can scale that to either type of mood.

In the horror mood, All Flesh Must be Eaten is always a good fallback.

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I'd suggest using a success-based system (many dice, one target number per die).

Each success with an offensive skill would have an abating effect on the horde, for example pushing it back or letting you move some distance through it. The horde would attack as a normal character with more than one position and several attacks.

To simulate zombie density around a character, you could use a tiered threat system. For example, green-yellow-red-black where green means a character is clear of zombies, yellow means the character has some zombies near him/her, giving the horde one attack on him/her, red means quite a few zombies, giving the horde two attacks and black would mean the character is overrun, giving the horde three attacks.

The tiered system could also be used to regulate movement speeds, with each threat level imposing different penalties.

Systems off the top of my head that could be easily modified like this are Shadowrun and the Storyteller system.

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My group actually did this with D&D3.5, and it worked pretty well. –  chaosys Aug 24 '11 at 18:55
    
We used the multi-dice approach too. The GM added in a mechanic that if we could score enough hits in a given number of rounds we would get an extra round of free attacks to represent pushing back the hoard faster than it was advancing. It added a nice bit of tension as we got towards the end of each section as we were counting down the hits required to get our free attacks. –  Colonel Sponsz Sep 5 '11 at 8:30

To some extent, I suspect that modeling zombies as Mooks would make it playable with Feng Shui. However, I have not tried it and only vaguely know the system, so...

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A modification to any combat system you could use is that of splitting the attack roll into X successes. As its base, a success represents a zombie kill. Fractions of X are of course, zombie' parts trying to get you. You could use successes to either move somewhere or push the horde back some distance or kill some zombies or help another character escape. It would require a little thought and play testing... Something like Fate could well model this fairly well.

In classical zombie films, contact with infected blood makes you infected. This would suggest that characters would flee from zombies rather than fight them. In Left4Dead style zombies, the above system should work well.

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