Um, yeah, I’ll shut up now. Pop culture is going through a bit of a zombie bubble right now. It's actually hard to avoid zombies—I mean, a zombie episode popped up in my Star Wars: The Clone Wars binge just last night.
Pop culture’s zombies don't actually much resemble Pathfinder and D&D’s shambling corpses (though Pathfinder Adventure Path #45: Broken Moon’s apocalypse zombies correct this). But echoes of the same lessons can still apply. First, in fiction zombie plagues are interesting for what they tell us about ourselves in times of crises—they are typically a metaphor for something else (often contagion or race/immigration, for instance). The classic Pathfinder/D&D zombie probably doesn’t rise to that level of thematic import, but zombies still offer clues to a story: A grave has been defiled. An evil spellcaster is on the loose. Yellow musk creepers or akatas have infected the local populace. When you have zombies, you have a disorder that must be corrected.
Second, in fiction zombies are scariest for how they make the everyday dangerous and strange. In Pathfinder/D&D, this translates to finding unexpected ways to spring zombies on your players. A zombie in a dungeon is not scary. A zombie in a spaceship is terrifying. The recently released Pathfinder Adventure Path #80: Empty Graves kicks off with a surprise zombie attack, and it’s awesome because (spoilers) it takes place in the middle of an auction, when PCs (and players) are prepared for social encounters.
Third, even when they're not infectious, zombies’ sheer numbers and implacability start to tell after a while. If your players aren't scared of zombies yet, it just means you need to send more zombies…
The dead have no rights in Listerpol—the poor dead, anyway—and zombies are used for menial labor and as beasts of burden. Listerpol’s aristocratic youths with spellcasting ability often make a game of wresting control of zombies from the local death priests and sending them to cause havoc in the streets.
In the New World, nothing is the same—the men shift into the skins of animals, the snakes have feathered wings, and crows whisper secrets to the linnorms. And when the dead rise, as they too often do, they do not shamble—these so-called “fast zombies” run.
Peasants are ordered to line the streets and cheer when the army trudges home. But this is no parade—included in the processional are litters and wagons bearing wounded officers on their way to the temple healers. But necromancy was used on both sides of the war, and some of the officers have been infected with zombie rot. When they die en route to hospital, their corpses immediately rise and attack the assembled peasants, causing mass hysteria and an outbreak of plague zombies.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 288–289
I am not a zombie expert. I’ve played maybe 15 minutes of The Walking Dead video game, haven’t yet cracked the comics, and watched Braindead in college and World War Z recently. In today’s pop culture terms, that makes me practically a zombie virgin.
More zombies can be found in…well, pretty much every low- to mid-level adventure ever. In particular, check out the aforementioned PAP #45: Broken Moon and the voidstick zombie from PAP #57: Tempest Rising (as well as the also-aforementioned PAP #80: Empty Graves.) Meanwhile, we already covered the juju zombie and will tackle the zombie lord tomorrow.
Oh, and by the way, break out the champagne—with this entry, we have completed the Pathfinder Bestiary. That’s from start to finish, every monster from the aasimar on down. (What about the yeti, you ask? Check it and like it, yo.)
The good news is we’ve now knocked out two out of the four hardcover Bestiaries. The bad news is that those tend to be readers’ favorite monsters (if likes and reblogs are any judge), and they offered the most overlap for D&D 3.5 fans (as well as our many 1e and 2e AD&D-playing readers). As we move into a lot more unfamiliar and Pathfinder-specific beasties, I hope you all will stick with us—there are still lots of great monsters to come, and I'd hate to lose any of you just because the syllables start to get weird.
Besides, if you stick around till C we’ll be covering Cthulhu…
Holy long weekends, Batman! With yesterday still being part of the weekend, it didn’t occur to me to give you my usual Monday link to my radio show.
The tech guys have been doing some end-of-the-semester monkeying with the board that I haven’t become accustomed to yet, the net effect of which meant that I had the music way too hot and the mic levels way too low. So forgive me if the sound quality is a bit off. Hopefully all the new Tangerine, new Jurassic 5, old Veruca Salt, and new(!) Veruca Salt will make up for it.
(As usual, if the feed skips, go up to the File menu and Save As an mp3. Link good till Friday, May 30, at midnight.)