Urban Undead Campaign

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So, I had an idea for what I think could be a pretty cool campaign setting, but I need some serious help pulling it together and thought this would be the best community to point me in the right direction.

The basic idea is a city overrun by undead, quarantined within the city walls. No one knows what's going on in there, or if there are any survivors, so the king has assembled a group of adventurers (by whatever motivational means fit the characters, be it monetary reward, royal pardon for past crimes, etc) to investigate what's going on inside the city. The party is escorted through a side gate to the city, and then the campaign begins as they explore the city, investigating the cause of the undead outbreak and encountering survivors.

I think the best way to construct the campaign would be to make one continuous map of the whole city and allow the players to discover it block by block as they went where they choose, gaining objectives as they run into survivors and enemies. The interesting part would be that they'd have to keep track of where they've been, find ways to sneak around groups of enemies too powerful or plentiful to fight, make decisions about when to retreat vs fight, and most importantly, they'd have to find safe places to rest between encounters/sleep. I think it would make for a pretty unique, frantic campaign which allows the players a pretty free hand in making their own decisions.

The largest difficulty, obviously, is building the city. My plan was to steal structural elements from existing maps (walls, doors, flooring, etc) and construct the whole city from scratch. This, obviously, is a pretty ambitious goal, but one I think would be worth enabling the high level of player autonomy within the campaign world. However, I'm having trouble finding enough map elements to lift for my map. Any suggestions on where to pull urban map elements from, specifically of roughly similar artistic styles?

I'd also be happy to hear suggestions about what sorts of buildings, encounters, survivors, etc to put into the city. I've got a fair number of ideas, but the more to choose from the better!

Thanks in advance everyone, for both the logistical and conceptual advice! This project is obviously in the very earliest stages of development, and any advice, suggestions, or other input at all would be incredibly welcome!

Do you have the Open Grave supplement? It provides a great deal of background on undead in general as well as basic guidelines for undead lairs as well as additional undead templates and diseases and premaid encounters complete with map layouts. 
I would also recomeend looking through previous D&D encounters and/or printed adventures if you have them, a lot of them have some sort of town/village map which you can canabalize. Also, don't feel that you need to reinvent the wheel with every house or building, if you look at any city you will notice that houses in a particular area share most of their features (the same number of floors, layout, floor area etc.) so you can reuse building designs and maps when nessecary. 

In terms of the city as a whole, could I ask how many "ruling powers" there are going to be? If you have a number in mind, you can shape the city as a whole accordingly. For instance, if you have three primary powers in a city, The Royal Military Garrison, The Arcane University and the Church of Pelor, you can divide the city into a roughly triangular shape, with each power more or less ruling one corner of the triangle. You can then have a central area for trade or as a general living area (whatever suits your purpose). This can also influence how the PCs act, for instance they may wish to research previous undead outbreaks similar to the one going on, at which point getting in good with the University would be their main goal. Alternatively, they may wish to drive the undead back with divine aid, so cozying up to the Church would be their goal. Trying to ally with one or more powers will give you an idea as to what to focus on in terms of city design and where you should invest your energy (if the PCs seem very keen early on to go with the church, I wouldn't spen a huge amount of time desiging the other areas). This division can be based upon whatever defining charateristic you want (maybe you have three dominant races, or three social tiers, or only two colleges, one for psioninc and one for martial characters). These can also serve as a basis for future skill challenenges (e.g. doing arcane research or conducting military drills).

You might also consider how the PCs are going to get food and drinking water, although it won't be a problem early on, in a medieval based game food would spoil quickly, and simply feeding themselves would be a challenge in the long run. This can also influence their willingness to help the villagers, sharing their food would decrease their own provisions, bt give them access to a small, if untrained, army.
Further, and I know this is going to sound odd, what are the demographics of the city? The different races presented in the handbooks would all have slightly different views on how to take back their city. For instance, elves would probably prefer to conduct guerilla warfare, destroying an entire horde of undead from a distance before vanishing to regroup and examine the next target. Dragonborn may prefer to drill themselves in the art of warfare for a month or two perfore taking back the city in on fell swoop, while dwarves might be a mix and prefer constant raids inbetweein training sessions. I'm not saying this is how it should be, I don't know what your races are like, but bear these preferencess in mind when the PCs try to rally supporters. Appealing to the races different preferences for warfare or failing to could alter the DC for the appropriate skill check.

Finally might also be an idea to consider how far you want to take this undead apocalypse idea, is it contained to just this town or have other areas of civilization fallen under siege? Also, how are the undead "reproducing"? Is it the work of an acient Lich, a wannabe necormancer, or an ancient and malevolent god? 

Hope that helps.
I love the idea of some survivors still persisting in the quarrantine zone. Maybe some feral children, who could be the best allies and a way to hand out information and guide the heroes in certain directions.

As for a city map: Having an idea of the general districts, as well as 'points of interest' within those districts would be almost as far as I would go with a specific map. I would provide specific encounter points: "You are in a narrow back alley, with one iron ladder that leads to the roof of a 1 story building when the zombies approach". Or other encounters in more vague locations: "You are in the heart of the slaughterhouse disctrict."
As for details, let the players participate. Do you want to hide behind some barrels? go ahead. Want to duck into the nearest building? go ahead.
Mapping out the entire city for the DM and then the players seems tiresome.
Thats just my style of DMing though.
I will also be running a necropolis in my current campaign. I am adding a few creapy touches to try and set the atmosphere.
Days will not seem to have a consistant length. Sometimes the hours will stretch out and sometimes a day will end after what should be hours. (also gives the party a chance to recharge if the DM thinks they are having too hard a time of it)
A random percentage of thier food will rot each day, with a chance thier water is also 'tainted'
Encounters with undead that are not interested in the heroes unless they are bothered. They are more interested in eating dead bodies or stealing the eyes from corpses, or other such creapy behavior.
Heroes will have a hard time sleeping, and will have strange dreams that predict, mislead or confuse if they pay attention to them.

I would be interested in hearing any specific effects or cool encounter ideas you may have.

Thanks guys, these are some great suggestions!

Just to clarify on the map thing, I don't intend to actually produce the entire city before the campaign starts, that would be a little overly ambitious, ha. Instead I plan to build it district by district as the party ventures further into the city, with difficult encounters at the borders in case the players try to move faster than I can map. I do think the intensive mapping would be worth it though, since it would help make things like tactical movement, scavenging, hiding from big mobs of zombies, finding places to rest, etc far more dangerous and important, which is a major aspect of what I'm going for in the campaign. Unlike a normal dungeon crawl they aren't guaranteed safety at regular intervals, they have to find ways to make short and extended rests happen, which amplifies the danger.

I was intending to have the organization of the survivors be fairly limited. It would mostly be isolated pockets of scared and desperate townsfolk who would be willing to trade much needed safety/resources to the players in exchange for their help. I'd also have a barricaded keep at the center of the city where the remaining professional soldiers and the ruler of the city remain. That way breaking through the siege and gaining access to the keep would be a major arc-ending set of encounters through which the players could gain a relatively safe base of operations and good information on what happened and what they need to do to save the city/stop the villain. I like the idea of a cathedral with some holy artifacts that could help the party though, as well as the university/wizards' tower.

And the whole “corrupted” flavor to the region is a great idea! It would really add to the claustrophobic, paranoid vibe! The nightmares that become relevant subsequent events is a great idea! I also plan to add some vampires/other subtle undead that can pretend to be survivors on rare occasions, just to keep the players on their toes and keep them paranoid and distrustful. I also intend to construct some sort of rules for the ramifications of sleep deprivation. This will make being always on the run even more dangerous, and keep a haggard feel to the whole campaign and make finding the occasional safe haven all the more rewarding. I don't want the whole campaign to end up feeling depressing and hopeless, as that sounds too taxing to the players, but I do want wandering the city of undead to feel very dangerous, and to make completing mini-quests and successful scavenging runs feel extra satisfying.

I'm also toying with the idea of zombie bites slowly converting the players into zombies themselves unless they get it treated. I'm not sure how to keep that balanced though, as it might just result in the campaign turning into a boring slog of back and forth between objectives and the local cleric, etc. What do you guys think? Of course if players' characters do die they could always bring in a new character as a discovered survivor or another agent sent in by the King, etc.

The biggest trouble I'm having right now is finding enough map elements to use to build the city map itself. I'm especially short on walls, furniture, flooring, etc for the interiors of buildings.

Thanks for all the suggestions, the advice is great so far, and I intend to incorporate most of it! I'll certainly be sure to share whatever I manage to create!

Hi again, sorry for the late reply. Do you have a photo-copier machine? If you do, then you can just copy the building elements you already have onto a seet of paper, cut them out and paste them onto some cardboard to serve as stand in props.  You could also try finding some images via google and doing something similar. 

For the zombie bites, why not have only one or two zombie in a given hoard carry the disease? These zombies could be identified via a moderate religion check. This gives the PCs a chance to determine which zombies they need to avoid or take down first. 

You might even consider making the disease bearers into minons, so they go down relatively easily but still get in one or two bites. Further, you could also make discovering a sort of anti-venom to the bites a mini-quest or even a skill challenge, providing the PCs with some sort of "cure-zombie infenction" potion at the end. This way, they don't have to stop and retrace their steps every couple encounters  but still need to be careful when in battle, as they'll only have a select number of potions.

Hopefully that is helpful. 
Some random thoughts.
Hat Brim of protection from Evil.
 I once had a were-wolf hunter who owned a snappy hat with a silver hat brim . This hat could be thrown like a chakram from the Dmg,think Oddjob from Goldfinger. It could also be tossed on the ground and expand to a 15 foot protection from evil spell. This provides a temporary safe zone.
Perhaps the players should be present for the End of the World as we know it (consider playing "It's the end of the world as we know it".
its the end of the world as we know it
A huge black meteor is entering the atmosphere and as it heats up green flames are emitted. As the residents look up in horror the meteor comes down in the city. (sort of like the meteor that hit russia.) Shortly after landing a pulse of green energy sweeps thru the city killing 10% of the population. Spend a few minutes describing the dead bodies. Then the bodies begin to twitch and jerk around on the ground while people react woth fear. The skeletons inside the bodies rip themselves free and begin attacking passersby. "The Night of Bloody Bones" has begun. If for three days every time someone dies their body erupts into a bloody skeleton it floods the city with low level undead. As the meteor sends out other pulses more types of undead appear?
By having pcs be there at the end it heightens involvement?

I will immediately report any Phishers or Lonely Hearts Scam Artists.

When I was playing I had a rubber stamp for trees that I would use for terraign maps. I wonder how much it would cost to have Office Max create rubber stamps for benches and crap? Rember you dont have to have zombies to have an undead apocalypse. There is a big gap in ability berween intelligent undead like ghouls and wights and "stupid" undead like zombies and skeletons. A few classes added to a ghoul or wight makes for a relatively tough opponent. I myself prefer ghouls to zombies. A ghoul might disguise themselves as a living being in need of help(remember the scene in return of the Living Dead where the zombie went on the radio and asked them to send more paramedics.). Ghouls sometimes burrow from grave to grave creating tunnels under a graveyard. Wights often defend a site important to them in life, as the party explores they come out like jack-in -the -boxes.

I will immediately report any Phishers or Lonely Hearts Scam Artists.

No idea on the map; but I would suggest you only make it in chunks; no need to build an entire section of the city if the players don’t intend to go to it; I would end each game by asking the players where they wish to travel in the next game so you could prepare it.

Have you considered the sewers? Maybe that is how they have to get in to being with; it would be very easy to make a map of a sewer system; the players could use it to get into the city, and if the city is very infested it might even be a smi-safer way to transverse from one section to another (aka- lets fight a few hundred undead to get a few blocks over, or lets fight the 20 or so that fell in the sewers to get there)

Also would be cool to have some of the survivors turn out to be bad guys; who are very happy the undead have destroyed the authority and are running their own chiefdom in the ruins.

Survivors who are willing to trade information and help for food would be nifty as well.

Last thought- an undead zoo; maybe the city kept magical animals and monsters in a local zoo, but the virus has spread to them too; would give you an out to have some cool boss fights; the PCs could be in a side street trying to hide from the undead when they notice a giant zombie ant charging at them with several of its brethren in to. Maybe the cities bank is being guarded by a pack of zombie bulls or other critters.

Really like your idea; I have done a zombie world theme before, but I like the twist of it being all in one big ole city for the PCs to rummage through.

GL and let us know how it goes.


I didn't think to ask, do you own the reference books Cityscape and Libris Mortis?

I will immediately report any Phishers or Lonely Hearts Scam Artists.

I'm sure you can draw ideas from The Walking Dead show as well; I'm stowing some tips for a future undead campaign idea.
RIP George! 4-21-11 RIP Abie! 1-2-13
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Consider modifying the undead slightly. Zombies that scream at the sight of fresh meat are unnerving, especially if you give vent to an unexpected scream yourself. The chattering teeth of a skeleton can be represented by wind-up teeth. Zombies that shuffle along at 10' but burst into a speed of 60'.

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