Zombie Apocalypse Encounter Ideas

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My girlfriend is making a story in a new campaign setting based on a post-zombie-apocalypse in the real-world and I was looking for ideas and stuff. Be creative and show what the forums can do! :D

We are gonna use basic 4e rules and classes (with a lot of reflavouring) along with inherent bonuses and add some gamma world options into the mix (like changing skills and such). It's gonna happen in the city of Reykjavík in Iceland and gonna be pretty cool. It's basically a two part "go there and get that stuff" adventure. Firstly we try to find a safe place to stay, skirmishing our way across the city. We gather hints along the way about a "cure" that was being developed in the early days of the outbreak. When we get to "chem lab A" we find that a cure WAS being developed and we actually find a sample. It's only a small dose, small enough for us to use to cure ourselves. This way the heroes can be damaged in battle and not be turned. Note that the players don't know this until the optain the cure, so they spend the first part of the adventure scared of being turned. (How should I portrait that btw?). Now the heroes know a cure was being developed at "EVILCORP" and they go there (skirmishing across the city once again) and eventually unravel the mystery behind the zombie apocalypse.

So, think of all your zombie movies and video games and throw all your ideas at me! I am a pretty good encounter-builder so simple concepts and ideas is enough to get me started. If you got something more that, that is also great.


Look at my Playable Illithid, my Monster Generating excel file , my Lifestealer in progresss (Heroic tier almost complete!) , our Improved Orc, our Improving Kenku and our Improving Duergar
Also, take a look at my friend's Improved Minotaur, Gadren's amazing Arcane Archer and of course the Avatar Project
More links! Qube's Block Builder, Classless D&D and the characters I've created using the classless system.
I'm currently running a Zombie Apocalypse game myself, only in a fantasy settings.
Most encounters I did were just standard, I was only varying terrain over time (city was starting to burn because of some plot twist).

One situation though was especially funny: Guards had taken shelter and were expecting a major attack. They asked the PCs for backup.

I had planned a couple of waves of zombies, increasing the difficulty with every wave.

First wave was only a horde of minions, and the guards mostly shot them down without much interference from the PCs, so the party was taking the whole thing very lightly.
Further waves had some artillery mobs, and guards started dying.

Before the last wave there was only a handful of guards left and my party was REALLY worried what would come next.

They still handled the behemoth that charged them very well, but it was just great to see how they went from overconfident to wetting themselves from wave to wave.

My advice:  NPCs.  Nothing adds tension to a simple monster survival game like a group of other "normal"  humans who may be a threat or a tenuous ally.

I like to use NPCs to complicate my games because their goals neither line up with those of the party or the bad guys.  Therefore their actions usually rest on how the PCs handle them. 

The obvious trope to use is the survivor who has gone insane.  (maybe he was experimented on by EVILCORP; think Stross from Dead Space 2)  Here would be an NPC that the PCs would have to talk down from doing something to seriously endanger them or their mission, or maybe just keep from giving away their position.

Go beyond just minions.  Go with mobs.  I know there is a monster in one of the MMs that uses this method.... I ran across it briefly after I created and ran a mob attack.  Here's the basic premise and in my game it was enjoyed enormously. 

1. Group was attacked by two large mobs of angry villagers, one from each direction
2. Each group had one or two instigators leading them (these were regular monsters)

The Mobs:  Each mob consisted of 48 figures, one for each hit point.  If a player connected with a hit then one fig was removed and a HP deducted.  AOEs would remove one fig for each hit.   

On its initiative, a mob would get one attack against any player adj to any member of the mob.  For each member of the mob adj to the player the attack bonus would go up by +1 and damage up +2 (this was for a lvl 2 party)

The mob never gets the bloodied status.   

The mob had a base move and each fig could move that far as long as at the end of its each member of the Mob was adj to at least one other member of the Mob.

The players had a blast slowly wittling the large group of figs down while also tackling the more formidable instigators.  The strikers and controllers where moving all around to avoid getting to many of the mob on them while the defender and leader waded in with a smile on their faces.  

When making encounters I often start with the terrain features and build up from there. Here is a cool one I saw on the compendium.
Bonepowder haze.  Effect: Fields of bonepowder haze are lightly obscured. Any living creature within a square containing this terrain regains only one-half normal hit points from healing effects. Furthermore, whenever a living creature receives a healing effect while in bonepowder haze, each undead creature within 3 squares of it gains a +2 power bonus to attack rolls until the end of the undead creature’s next turn.

You could have a zombie army crossing a bridge that has obivious weak points in supports. The players will attack the weak spots destroying the bridge. A cloud of bonepowder haze erupts forth. If your players are like mine they will take a short rest right there. After the five minutes, or you can shorten it 4 minutes if you want to mess with the PCs, sporadic moans come from the wreckage of the bridge. Zombies climb out of the pit and attack the PCs in the haze.
I would make the whole map haze.
Love the idea of a bridge that needs to be knocked down, definetly using that one (although it is a bit grand and will cause a lot of noise, i think the idea is cool enough to ask for some willing suspention of disbelief).


Look at my Playable Illithid, my Monster Generating excel file , my Lifestealer in progresss (Heroic tier almost complete!) , our Improved Orc, our Improving Kenku and our Improving Duergar
Also, take a look at my friend's Improved Minotaur, Gadren's amazing Arcane Archer and of course the Avatar Project
More links! Qube's Block Builder, Classless D&D and the characters I've created using the classless system.
God invented flaming arrows for this purpose
Here's a decent modification for I used for a Z-apacolypse:

1) Zombie Grab (MM Zombie pg 274) [atk v Ref, target is grabbed w/penalty to escape]
-combined with-
2) Infectious Bite (OG Infected Zombie Template pg 217) [atk v AC, dmg + contract Zombie Plague disease]

I ran an apocalypse module with tons of zombie minions that each had these two abilities.  I further modified the Infectious Bite so that
* It did minion level damage
* It required a target to be immobilized
* The DC of Zombie plague increased by 2 with each bite.

I also made the zombies extremely interested in tasty grabbed targets.

As far as encounters, I'd suggest some flexible skill challenges in between encounters.  Two that work well are:
* Avoid Notice: Sneak from point A to point B.  Try to be quiet, create distractions, use terrain knowledge/creature knowledge to gain advantage, keep a sharp eye, quietly open things (sometimes locked), and run when the coast is clear.
-- Skills: Stealth, Bluff/Arcana, Thievery, Nature/Religion, Perception, Endurance, Athletics

* Run & Gun: A lot of something is chasing you, with probably more joining mid-run.  Run fast, climb roofs/ladders, break windows/doors, jump over obstacles, barrel through things/creatures, barricade, think fast, and run faster.
-- Skills: Athletics, Acrobatics, Endurance, Insight, Nature/Religion, and attack powers (single/duo minons in front of you)

The only issue I had with my own module was player turtling.  In some areas the players preferred to turtle in the main streets rather than use their zombie movie/video game knowledge and do thinks like barricade rooms, seek higher ground, and keep mobile.  The real issue here is not the players, but the zombies.  Eventually all zones will expire, arrows will deplete, healing powers will be used, and surges depleted but in a apacolypse the horde just keeps coming.  If you think your party might be prone to this tactic, look for ways to encourage them to move.  Maybe after x number of bites they lose a healing surge.  Maybe they'll recall (or see) an area that is safe just ahead, or hear a voice. 

I tell you one of the worst moments was when I realized they were gonna try to outlast the horde.  To me that defeats the purpose of 'apacolypse'.  Luckily they were escorting a few villagers who started to panic a bit at the increasing number of zombies and started to chart their own course.  The players equated dead villagers to less xp and started moving.

One last tip for you - theme music for your zombies.  This really works well for this type of scenario, expecially if you're mixing in stealth with your module.  Re-trigger your zombie song each time the party and the zombies re-encounter each other, or if the players fail stealth challenges.  I personally have used and recommend 'Fall' from 'Tron Legacy'.

Anyway - good luck.  Let us know how it went.
I would recommend having a look at the adventure "Lord of the White Field" in Dungeon 184.  It's one of the best Dungeon adventures I've seen and it's pretty much exactly what you're trying to do.  You could scale a great deal of it for any level or types of undead (the adventure focuses on ghouls and is for levels 6-8).  Some of the nice ideas you'll find are:

a) A skill challenge for getting around the ghoul-infested town between encounters
b) A mechanic for more and more ghouls to show up during most encounters
c) An escort encounter
d) An encounter where you're defending a house against waves of ghouls
e) An encounter where you get swarmed on a bridge
First, decide on the type of zombies that your campaign will have.  There are a few archtypes to work with:

1) Zombies are slow, mindless but relentlass creatures who are difficult to kill.
  To make zombies difficult to kill, but slow moving and mindless.  Set their speed at 2 or 3 squares.  They are injured by damage.  Reducing them to 0hp does not kill them, it forces them to a dazed & slowed state, but they continue to press their attack.  Zombies are only killed by a critical hit (represents cutting of their head)

2) Zombies are normal speed, with a narrowly focused mind
  Picture the zombies from I Am Legend.  They're capable of minor tactics and directed thought, but driven by an overwhelming hunger.  Here you want to use basic zombie stats and light tactics in their plans.  Likely they're driven by a leader, who have the ability to coordinate attacks.  Zombies can have minor skill and may even posess a feat.  They are able to use simple weapons/tools

3) Zombies are fast, but mindless
  Give zombies a move 8 and reflex / ac bonus, but keep them mindless.

4) Zombies are fast, cunning and adaptable
  True nightmare senerio.  Combine the above with the use of skills, feats and tactics.

As you move along this scale of zombie feat factor, you'll need to move down in the numerics factor.  Typically, Number 1 involves zombies being an ever-present, countless number who rapidly reproduce when exposed to living flesh as a simple bite eventually transforms the victem.  Number 4 should have very specifc requirements for creating new zombies as a fast, cunning foe with unlimited numbers would quickly overwhelm the world.

My personal favorate is 99% of zombies are in catagory 1, a very small number (likely turned adventurers) are able to maintain some part of their former abilities through the transformation and become the nightmarish type 4 zombie.  Most encounters with zombies will involve masses of type 1 zombies.  Type 1 zombies travel in small packs searching for uninfected flesh to eat.  They have reduced senses, but respond with curiousity to any sound, movement or disturbance they detect.  If they detect living flesh, they attack mindlessly, with the commotion drawing the attention of others.

Occationally, the party will meet type 4 zombies who may be working with (or even leading) groups of type 1 zombies, or wandering alone.

People without adventuring levels (or less than some threshold) who are infected by a zombie (bite, claw, etc) and die, rise up 2d4 ROUNDS later as a basic zombie.

Adventurers who exceed a certainl level (which the PCs should meet) who are infected by a zombie take longer to come back, 24-48 hours, but come back as a type 4 zombie, with some of their original skills, and enhanced zombie powers.

For tasks:  Surviving the zombie apacholyps requires establishing a strong hold with sufficient population to sustain and defend itself, including locating a suitable strong hold, finding the people and supplies and defending it.  This is likely how you want to start the campaign.

The apocolyps is in full swing, but still expanding.  There are pockets of living people, the party is one.  They learn of a location that people are living in and decide to make their way there.  Along the way, they encounter other living people (with various levels of skills, abilities and resources) as well as zombies.

Short Rests trigger a perception check from wandering zombie packs.

Long Rests trigger an encounter unless the PCs are in a secured location, in which as they trigger a perception check.

Movement triggers a perception check modified by the type of movement used.

Depending how long you're into the apocolyps, resources may be plentiful, but involve spending time searching (triggering zombie perception checks) or they may have become scarces, with other survivors already hoarding, using or used/destroyed.

Early in the apocolyps, many people will still recognize money, however the further you move into the apocolyps, the less effective government currency becomes.  First, goods and services barter will spring up, likely along with precious metals, which, despite their uselessness, seem to retain value.  If you want to provide an immediate, useful currency - give zombies a regeneration with vulnerability silver and suddenly silver is hugely valuable.  (or make it gold if you want)

Much later on, market houses that establish themselves with large amounts of goods available may develop their own form of currency, which may or may not be recognized by others, depending on how much trust they play in those vendor's promise of value.

Once the party reaches the "strong hold" they will need to integrate into this society, so decided where in its development it is.  It should have use of, if not need the characters skills and abilities.  Characters can make great leaders, scavengers, defenders or even offensive strike forces.

If the party saved the others they encountered and protected them along the way, they can learn of more survivors somewhere else and consider moving everyone they're with to a new location, or striking out to escort those survivers back to this location.  The party might also be asked to find resources rare in the colony, or scout out a better location.

For end-game, consider allowing the players to determine what caused the zombies in the first place, and play an intregal rule and "saving" mankind, whether it's a cure for the disease, destruction of the zombies or retreating to a sustainable, defensible location as a "new eden" to start over  (this would likely be an island to prevent zombies from eventually over-running it, unless your zombies can swim.

Some other thoughts:

1) Do animals eat zombie flesh?  If so, what happens to them?  If no, will zombies infect animals?  Can they be turned into zombies?  (might be a clue into what causes zombies to form if animals are different than people)
2) How much "zombie lore" do the players know?  How much do the people they meet know?  Is it all correct, or maybe some of its wrong.
3) How do you want to handle scarce resources?  Darksun uses an abstract food/water system, that might not be a bad solution.
4) Does magic work?  Has magic returned to our world and zombies awoke sometime later?  Did magic cause them?  Can magic change the fate of the world?  What else, if anything, has returned?
5) What resources do the players start with?  Do they have firearms?  Vehicles?  Swords?  Flamethrowers?  Are you going to use Gamma World's ammo abstract or make players count bullets?
The first time I ever DM'd I threw a zombie encounter at my PCs, mostly because we all love zombies. We had all played Left 4 Dead and that is where I drew inspiration for the encounter I had set up.

In the encounter I included several types of zombies:

1) Minion zombies which would try to bite, slam, or grab
2) Lasher zombies which had reach and would try to grab onto a PC and pull them towards them
3) Boomer zombie which, when killed, would explode and spawn another zombie swarm

At the time that combat had started I began playing L4D zombie music. Immediately my friends faces began glowing. As the music continued and battle raged on, the boomer explodes. The music then changed to the sounds of a boomer vomiting. Following this the zombie swarm music came on and I began placing zombie minions on the board. My friends were in amazement and thought it was the best thing ever.

This was only the second adventure we had ever played and before then the DM didn't do anything exciting, mostly because we were all new to the game. We were still new to the game at the time I DM'd, and throwing the music on (the right type of music that is) really brought the players into the game and they loved it. 3 years later now and that is still one of our most memorable moments, even though it was so simple. 

Anyhoo, that is just a story of the first zombie encounter I ever DM'd, might give you some ideas!