This is just a quick and dirty set-up for rules, magic and cosmological changes to a fantasy setting that I believe will aid in running a pretty tight zombie apocalypse campaign. These ideas are fairly generic rules wise and can be easily adapted to any OSR or D20 based system. With a little work one or two of the guidelines below could work for WEG D6 systems.
1. Hope is not the theme of any zombie apocalypse in film, television, literature. As such the gods of the fantasy world should be silent and distance, their priests and clerics suddenly powerless in the face of the oncoming threat. This accomplishes the following:
a. Takes away divine powers that could make a zombie apocalypse a less terrifying experience. This includes healing and turning/dominating abilities.
b. Gods represent hope and faith. Taking gods away could lead to more personal, societal and political upheaval in the game world making even “safe havens” dangerous.
c. Adds questions to the possible story of the game. A thing the players could either hunt for or hear in the background in many places. The gods just vanishing would, logically speaking, cause panic and rumor and more than one fool would attempt to discover why.
2. All zombies have a 75% chance of infecting the victim of their bite. Victims will “turn” in 1d4 rounds of dying and immediately join the horde in search of living, flesh.
3. Zombies should be kept at vanilla stat numbers. The strength of the zombie horde is never how strong it hits or how fast it is but in its numbers. The only change I would recommended is giving zombies a + 1 to HP for every zombie adjacent to it.
4. While the majority of zombies should cluster around urban areas like cities, town and villages they should also be found in small packs in the countryside and on roads and farmsteads. Believing you and your party are safe in that old barn for the night should nearly never be true.
5. Magical means of healing or curing diseases should not work against a zombie infection. The player of the infected character should know there is no hope and make his or her decision about what he will do. He or she may be surprised that the party does not agree and takes matters into their own hands.
6. Zombies cannot die unless one of two things occurs. One, the zombie is decapitated or somehow has its brain removed from its body. Two, the zombie is brought to the negative value of its hit points x2.
7. If starting a campaign based on these guidelines from scratch limit the magic-user of the party to 0-4th level spells. Past this point the spells become to powerful to keep the tension and questioning nature of survival alive within the game.
8. Healing can be done through two methods. One is by extended rests as described in your game manual. The other is by “binding” wounds which enables the character to recover his or her constitution modifier after battle.
9. The focus of the game should be on three things. The party, the slow destruction of civilization and, of course, the zombies!
10. Finally, a zombie apocalypse is not just a threat to the player-character races of the world. Strange allies and bed-fellows should begin to appear as the game goes on. A Goblin, human, Bug Bear controlled safe haven is a good example.
The players are outsiders to any society under nominal circumstances. During a zombie apocalypse, however, they will most likely be met with hardship and suspicion even more so. If they are not from the safe haven they attempt to enter they may find the entrance barred to them or even have local militia and “zombie-hunters” attempt to run them off or kill them.
Again these are just some quick guidelines that I believe (thanks to 3 decades of watching zombie films/video games) will lend well to a tense, hopeless, zombie game within the system of your choice. I hope you enjoyed the read and tell me, if you can or want, what you thought.
One final note: This entire post came about due to a bumper sticker I saw today that said “don’t brake for zombies”.