Zombies in popular fiction are sometimes able to survive without a head. Can a zombie in D&D do the same?

This is relevant for an effect like the vorpal sword's, which says:

When you attack a creature that has at least one head with this weapon and roll a 20 on the attack roll, you cut off one of the creature's heads. The creature dies if it can't survive without the lost head.


3 Answers 3


A standard zombie would be killed

There is nothing in the zombie description to indicate that it can survive without a head. So by default, decapitation by vorpal would kill it.

Some further support for this is given by the Undead Fortitude trait that says that a zombie has a chance of surviving normally fatal damage unless the damage is radiant or a critical hit (and a natural 20 from a vorpal sword would also be a critical).

This is likely meant to represent the classic film zombie that is incredibly hard to put down unless it takes massive damage and/or you blow its brains out!

Of course, as a DM, you are totally free to adjust this and come up with a zombie that's even harder to kill (though it must either have some other vulnerability or else possibly a higher CR to compensate).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice answer and good inclusion at the end to consider CR rating if you decide to allow headless zombies. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 19:58
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I am Ichabod Crane, and I approve this message \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 20:42

There is precedent for a headless zombie

Standard zombies are already covered in PJRZ's answer. However, you may be interested in knowing that there is at least a particular creature that may indeed survive being decapitated (Curse of Strahd spoilers)

The Strahd Zombies from Curse of Strahd, described as seeming to have brittle bones, have the Loathsome Limbs feature which allows them to easily lose their head (or some of their arms and legs) when taking bludgeoning or slashing damage. Not only does a strahd zombie survive losing the limbs but the severed parts are also able to continue to fight!


Does a zombie survive headless?

  • I would say No, because a Zombie are created as a whole and as such, a severed head would severely damage it as a whole. Just like most references outside of D&D, to defeat zombie by destroying or decapitating the head.

but ...

  • If someone argued Yes, then it would more than likely still die depending on the zombies HP. The magical properties of a Vorpal sword require a Nat 20 (auto-hit/critical) and wouldn't allow for Con save via Undead Fortitude.

Per successful Nat 20 Attack roll:

Crit Damage 20 - 78 vs Zombie HP to die, denying Con save.

  • 2d8 longsword
  • 12d8 extra damage
  • +1 to +5 Str
  • +2 to +6 Proficiency
  • +3 magical properties
  • +other variables you could add

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