ZOMBIES!!!

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Hey guys. New DM here. I recently had everyone in my group create a backstory as a way for us all to get to know their characters a little better, and so that they could understand why their characters may not make the same choices that they themselves would make. It's really helped! I've been able to incorporate little snippits of their past into the current campaign, and it's really delighted them, making them feel like they're partly writing the story. 

One of them described an epic battle in his past where his dwarven clan fought with a goblin horde. I'm about to have them stumble upon a cult of orcus, raising undead minions. I'd like this particular character to recognize some of his old clan among them, which will give me a good hook for a further quest wherein the party travels back to his homeland to find out what's happening.

All was going well in my planning until this morning when I realized that I had no idea how to make a zombie dwarf. Do I just use standard zombie stats? Do I follow standard dwarf stats, plus necrotic damage and maybe some form of regen feature? How do I go about determining stats for a monster that is not listed in the PBHs? :Scratches head:
Just use a regular zombie stat block and describe him fictionally as a dwarf.

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A "zombie" is not a defined thing. It can really be anything. Any of the standard zombies would work fine, even the gravehound, with the right reflavoring. If you want, give them the dwarven ability to resist being moved around. Or, as you suggest, use the dwarf blocks, and give them zombie-like immunities and vulnerabilities. Or use any other monster block and reflavor it. Good luck.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Thanks  for the help, guys! I keep forgetting that as a DM I basically do what I want. I don't have to follow the book to a T. I think I'm going to use standard zobie and skeleton blocks with some creative descriptions. 
A "zombie" is not a defined thing. It can really be anything. Any of the standard zombies would work fine, even the gravehound, with the right reflavoring. If you want, give them the dwarven ability to resist being moved around. Or, as you suggest, use the dwarf blocks, and give them zombie-like immunities and vulnerabilities. Or use any other monster block and reflavor it. Good luck.



The bolded part is the first thing to pop in my mind, if you really want them to mechanically feel like dwarves.  But really, just using zombie stat blocks will work for you fine.

Thanks  for the help, guys! I keep forgetting that as a DM I basically do what I want. I don't have to follow the book to a T. I think I'm going to use standard zobie and skeleton blocks with some creative descriptions. 

More power to you. Have fun. You've got a cool idea going. Consider bringing your players even further in on the development of it.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Thanks  for the help, guys! I keep forgetting that as a DM I basically do what I want. I don't have to follow the book to a T. I think I'm going to use standard zobie and skeleton blocks with some creative descriptions. 



While reflavoring stat blocks isn't a matter of "breaking" rules, I would recommend following whatever rules you've agreed to during play. I don't think it's good advice to tell DMs to "break the rules." This impacts trust in the group and makes the game inconsistent. Players need consistency to make decisions.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
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I know you don't mean this, but it's easy to read this or be told this and believe that it means things are set in stone. I have a feeling that's what led to the 3.5 approach of all members of a particular monster type having certain traits. 4th Edition dropped that, but really only replaced it with a wider consistency, so that things like sneak attack and ranger bonuses work on everything, not just certain things.

It's still annoying though to hit something in 4e with, say, radiant damage and get basically a random result: extra damage, a deactivated monster ability, nothing, or something else. My group was fighting a lich in an LFR game and radiant damage apparently had no effect. It might have done something, but this DM apparently assumed that anything you didn't roll a knowledge check for is undetectable. It wasn't a huge deal, so I was sort of implicitly bought into the fact that this lich was "different," but it was still vaguely irritating.

So, I'd agree with TunicaDartos that the DM can do anything, but add "with the players' buy in."

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

So, I'd agree with TunicaDartos that the DM can do anything, but add "with the players' buy in."



Right, as in my post above, it comes down to agreement. I find the memes of "DM can do what he wants" or "rules are just guidelines" to be toxic. The truth is that the DM can only do things by consent of the players (who are free to leave the game if they don't like something). The other truth is that official rules or house rules aren't "guidelines"... they're agreements. You're agreeing as a group to play a certain way with certain rules for mechanical resolution, whatever they may be. Breaking agreements is not good for the game, neither by the DM nor the players. Agreements can be amended, of course, but not unilaterally just because someone happens to have a silly title.

And just to be clear to the OP: Reflavoring stat blocks isn't breaking the rules in any way, shape, or form.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

The goal isnt flavor. Zombie is a zombie how ever you flavor it... its a dwarf, its your townsfolk etc = flavor. Once encounter starts players interest gravitates to the mechanical aspect. All the flavoring in the world dont matter. Then in order for your story of dwarves turned zombies to impact and matter to the player, you must translate your flavor into mechanics. You want your zombies to have "special" impact to the players... you cant do that without adding mechanics that is also "special". Or its just another MM zombie to the pc.
Make them regenerate, unkillable like a troll unless use holy weapons or something, bite attack gives pc zombie disease...change the mechanic of your zombie so when your players encounter them... they literally say for real, holy cow...and the roller coater ride begins.
I would recommend following whatever rules you've agreed to during play.I don't think it's good advice to tell DMs to "break the rules." This impacts trust in the group and makes the game inconsistent. Players need consistency to make decisions.

Nothing new to add. Just this. 


Change the rules between, before, and after sessions with heavy involvement from players. Doing it on the almost never works. If you do need to make a change on the fly, explain its temporary and the group can review it later.

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"

I would recommend following whatever rules you've agreed to during play.I don't think it's good advice to tell DMs to "break the rules." This impacts trust in the group and makes the game inconsistent. Players need consistency to make decisions.

Nothing new to add. Just this. 

Change the rules between, before, and after sessions with heavy involvement from players. Doing it on the almost never works. If you do need to make a change on the fly, explain its temporary and the group can review it later.


I've found that it works if it's in the player's favor. My players were fighting a dragon and immobilized it. The player described the dragon falling out of the sky. I was a bit bummed about this, but went with it. Turns out we were wrong, so I had technically "changed the rules."

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Yeah, that falls into my "With heavy involvement from the players" caveat. You rarely hear players complain when you rule in their favor because you don't know. I'd just make it clear then that "It works like that this time. We can look it up later and find out for the future". 


I could have been more clear that the caveat still applied to the second statement about rules on the fly.

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"

Dm designed monsters are predominantly more fun over mm. You can cater it to group make up and liking, but most important part,  the encounter itself is a discovery. MM monsters players are prevy. Its abilities and capabilities are no longer a mystery. You face a gnoll out of MM, players know its stats & abilities and players instantly can gauge the outcome before it begins. You face a non MM gnoll looking creature of dm's creation.. the start is tense. Real player emotion comes into play. There is no "faking" surprise and RP'ing tension or stress in my book. Either players are or they are not. No such thing as pretend you are. Might as well tell them to "pretend" having fun too then. A good encounter is the one that effects players not necessarily the pc.  Too many dm focus on the pc when the true focus should be the person sitting on the table.   Surprise, create tension, stress out the Person.  If Monster creation or alteration is what it takes, it has nothing to do with the rules, by all means create and surprise.
Ghost007, I find it also helps to tag on an aditional name to justify them being different. A Warpainted Gnoll, or Cracked Skeletons, or Caven Bodies come out of the water, moving like zombies...
Ghost007, I find it also helps to tag on an aditional name to justify them being different. A Warpainted Gnoll, or Cracked Skeletons, or Caven Bodies come out of the water, moving like zombies...

Oh definitely. Dont want to mislead the players.