You wake in a fetid darkness. The only sound is your breath as you heave for air, pinned down by something wet and heavy on your chest. The smell of decay, the coppery scent of blood, and the sick odor of viscera assail your nostrils. You realize there’s a corpse across your chest, weighing you down. Then movement stirs to your right as your eyes adjust to the moonlight. The blank eyes of the dead all turn in your direction and the broken bodies begin to lurch upright and towards you.
PCs are heroes, but they can’t win all the time. Sometimes the table turns and the heroes have a run of bad luck. Sometimes a TPK happens. Sometimes war happens. Sometimes a new campaign just needs to begin with a pile of dead bodies. Whatever the scenario, waking up in a weakened state in the middle of a pile of dead bodies is sure to shake up any stalwart warrior.
I started my first level players not just in a war, but as casualties of war. They began prone, laying near each other, with only one healing surge apiece, and waking up in a pile of dead bodies gathered by the enemy for manufacturing more undead soldiers. It made a great roleplaying intro to have the players describe the horrific almost-deaths each of their characters faced as they fought side-by-side with some of the soldiers and mercenaries they were now laying next to. It also worked well in that I did not have to hedge in reasons for the characters to know each other – the only requirement being they were all present for the same battle. I used random cards to set up flashback-style memories of the massive battle that caused their “demise”. You can download those same cards here. Print, cut, shuffle, and the players draw one apiece. The cards are intentionally brief, I asked the players to elaborate on the events leading up to the scene described on each card.
After reminiscing about their defeat, the players realize they must escape the area and make their way back to friendly territory. Unfortunately, their dead comrades-in-arms are up and fighting again. So many undead rituals performed in an area caused heavy concentrations of necrotic energy to linger. Unfocused, the miasma is sufficient by itself to animate the freshly dead corpses.
The Left For Undead scenario is less about the damage and more about the horror of the body count. When planning your encounter, make two things your goal: 1) leaving is really hard and 2) staying is not an option. Adjust for party level and make sure you’ve got plenty of minion tokens. When I planned my Left For Undead campaign opening, I had plenty of great zombie stats to choose from. For a first level party, there’s not a lot of hit points to spare, you can start with several generous waves of Grasping Zombies mixed with a few Grave Hunger Zombies. To keep up the desperation of the never-ending wave of zombies, when any zombie is reduced to 0 hit points, replace them with 1 hp Shuffling Zombies. If your party is a bit higher in level, you could have a lot of fun with Reg06’s Romero Zombies and subsequent Zombie Plague. Even if undead disease is not your theme here consider using it because, well… piles of dead bodies are just not sanitary places to take naps!
You can increase the difficulty of Left for Undead by applying one or more terrain or hazard effects. These can make escaping very difficult, but be careful not to overwhelm your players, especially if they’re very low-level.
- Simply Difficult: treat all squares with corpses in them as difficult terrain
- Piled High: These corpses are piled in an unstable heap several feet high. Whenever a creature ends a move action in a corpse square they immediately slide one square towards the edge of the pile.
- Grasping Hands: Zombies trapped beneath the weight of the pile still claw and grab at their enemies above. The corpse pile is treated as a zone. Enemies in the zone that become prone are instead prone (save ends). Add ongoing damage (save ends both) if you’re really vicious.
And be sure to check out the other awesome stuff at Going Last’s May of the Dead Blog Carnival!