Monster of the Week: The Living Dead

Category: Monster of the Week
Created on Friday, 29 October 2010 Written by Steve

Also Known As: Zombies, Walking Dead, Animated Dead, Walking Corpse, Brain Eaters, Fleshbags. They are also sometimes called ghouls, though this usage is technically incorrect. It is important to distinguish between the living dead and zombis or the re-animated (see “BMA Classification”).  

Art by Eddie MeffordDescription: Since the living dead are corpses that have become animated, their appearance varies considerably depending on what happened to the body after death. Corpses that have not been embalmed or that are buried in a humid environment will decompose quickly, for example, while corpses stored in dry, arid areas are likely to be mummified. While it may be possible to reanimate skeletal remains using magic, the spell would have to provide some mechanism for forcing the bones to maintain a cohesive form. Since it’s much easier to let tendons and ligaments serve this purpose, animated skeletons typically indicate the involvement of non-human forces or very powerful magic.

BMA Classification: The living dead are either mindless killing machines or under the control of someone with a game plan that includes the step “bring corpses back to life” (typically not considered a sign of stability), so they’re definitely classified as Monsters by the Bureau of Monster Affairs. However, there are two exceptions:

  • Zombis: People turned into zombis using traditional Voudoun magic are the still-living  victims of mind control (often combined with some degree of brain damage caused by being buried alive). As such, they should only be harmed if they are an immediate threat to human life. Otherwise, M-Forcers should make every effort to help them escape their servitude.
  • The Re-Animated: This category of “undead” refers to people who have been brought back to life using scientific or magical means that allow them to retain their intelligence and memories from life. Despite the fact that the re-animation process nearly always turns the formerly departed into a twisted psychopath of some sort, the variety of re-animation methods and the fact that the re-animated are seemingly intelligent humans precludes their inclusion on the Official Monster List.



Powers: Since the living dead are already deceased, they can’t really be killed, just incapacitated. In most cases, this is achieved by destroying the creature’s brain. Additionally, the condition is communicable in many cases.

Vulnerabilities: Although there is a brief window during which the living dead can approximate the movement of a living human, most move slowly and awkwardly, initially due to rigor mortis and later due to the decomposition of the body’s muscular system.

Biology and Habitat: The study of the living dead is full of pitfalls. Since they revert to regular corpses when destroyed, they must be kept “alive,” which is dangerous and in some cases requires a supply of human brains for prolonged experimentation. The fact that the creature was once a living person also brings up a number of moral and legal concerns for researchers. Furthermore, the sheer number of ways in which the dead can theoretically be animated makes it difficult apply findings to all living dead with any real confidence.

Corpses animated using magic have no free will or self-preservation instinct and are wholly subservient to whoever animated them. They have limited intelligence and can follow only the simplest of instructions, but they are unable to feel fear. Unlike most other zombies, those raised magically have no biological needs and therefore do not hunger for brains or flesh. Magically raised zombies also typically stop decomposing while animated. In some cases, the body parts of magically animated zombies continue to function (lashing out blindly) even after the brain is destroyed.

Zombies animated through non-magical means vary greatly depending on the animating agent. Known or suspected animating agents include nuclear and cosmic radiation, chemical waste products, and a rare (and possibly human engineered) virus. The following general rules seem to apply to corpses animated by non-magical means:

  • The living dead who are animated through non-magical means continue to decompose when animated. The rate of decomposition varies with environmental factors as it would for a non-animated corpse.
  • Although they apparently do not retain any memories or even basic animal instincts from life, but they are capable of learning from experience or example. For instance, a zombie will not fear fire until it is burned or witnesses another zombie reacting to being burned. Some zombies are also capable of simple tool use--for instance, using a rock to bash in a window.
  • While the living dead do have (or, more accurately, learn) some self-preservation instincts, their insatiable hunger and limited intelligence often trumps their desire to stay alive.
  • While popular culture depicts the living dead as brain-eaters, in reality only a small percentage of zombies hunger specifically for brains. While nearly all zombies have an insatiable appetite, the vast majority will eat whatever flesh they can get. Zombies who only eat brains typically consume only human brain matter, ignoring the brains of other animals.
  • Researchers have found that while most of a zombie’s biological systems shut down, its brain and nervous system continues to function on some level. This may explain why the creatures only stop moving when the brain is destroyed.
  • In many cases, the bite of the living dead can pass the condition along to the victim. Some forms of the virus only affect those who are unlucky enough to die while the toxin is in their system. In other cases, the toxin actually kills the victim and then re-animates them.



Sightings: The living dead have been reported throughout history and are still unacceptably common today. A selection of confirmed cases from the Quinn Library files include:

  • 1877: According to Jake “Six-Gun” Sawyer’s journal, The Six Gun Seven arrived in Buzzard’s Breath, New Mexico in early September to find the whole town overrun by the living dead. By the time the living dead were destroyed, only about 40 uninfected townspeople remained. The cause of the outbreak was never discovered, but based on Sawyer’s descriptions most researchers have ruled out magic and the animating agent.
  • 1944: The only survivor of an American bomber crew operating in the Pacific theater claims that crew members killed in a particularly vicious air battle were re-animated following a strange explosion of green light. After crash-landing the plane on a small island, the pilot encountered more of the living dead.
  • 1970s: Cosmic radiation causes at least 3 large-scale outbreaks of living dead activity in Pennsylvania.  
  • 1985: A New England scientist creates a chemical that can bring the dead back to life, but once revived the subjects become violent and murderous.
  • 1985: Louisville, Kentucky suffers the largest zombie outbreak on record. The destruction was so wide-ranging that federal authorities seriously considered destroying the city with an air strike, but Dr. Henry Field directly intervened to prevent such extreme measures from being taken. It is generally agreed that the dead were animated by a chemical or biological agent en route to the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Kentucky, but federal authorities prevented M-Force from performing any tests on the corpses.
  • 1987: Chemical waste results in an outbreak of living dead activity in rural Maryland.
  • 1994: The Lime Mill, Kentucky office of M-Force reports a minor battle with zombies raised by an evil sorcerer.
  • 2004: The still relatively new M-Force organization in Great Britain is called upon to deal with an outbreak of the living dead in London. The re-animation is caused by a viral agent of some sort, but it’s origin is never discovered.
  • 2008: A Georgia high school prom is attacked by the living dead. Industrial waste from a plant near the town cemetery seems to be the animating agent.
  • 2008: A viral outbreak (possibly the result of a military experiment gone wrong) results in  living dead activity centered around a strip club in southern California.



Additional Information: The recent cultural phenomenon of  “Zombie Walks” are rife with potential for tragedy. M-Force offices are strongly encouraged to stay informed of such events, but not to discount reports of zombie activity simply because such an event has been scheduled.

Magically Animated Living Dead
Body: 15
Brain: 3
Nerve:
0
Job: Mindless Slave (13)
Gimmick: Fearless (20); Hard To Kill (12)--If a magically animated zombie is reduced to zero HP, make a Gimmick roll. If the Gimmick succeeds, the zombie remains alive. Each time a zombie with zero HP takes damage, it must make another Gimmick roll. If the roll succeeds, the zombie lives on but the damage from the attack is applied to its Body Number. When the Zombie’s Body Number reaches zero, the zombie is sufficiently dismembered that it no longer presents a threat.
Weakness: None
Skills: None
Armor Rating: 0
Damage Bonus: +1 (claws)
HP: 15
Yum Yums: 0

Non-Magical Living Dead
Body: 11
Brain: 6
Nerve: 12
Job: Animated Corpse (12)
Gimmick: Hard To Kill (12) --See Above
Weakness: Hunger (15)--When a zombie is in danger but has the chance to sate its hunger, it must make a Weakness roll resisted by its own Nerve roll. If the Nerve roll wins, the zombie will take steps to preserve its own life. If the Weakness wins, it will eat.
Skills: None
Armor Rating: 0
Damage Bonus: +1 Claws/Teeth
HP: 11
Yum Yums: 0

Zombie Disease
There are two forms of “zombie virus,” both of which are usually possessed by non-magical living dead. These zombies have a “Contagious” Gimmick with a Number between 8 and 15 (depending on how easily the infection spreads). Whenever a zombie claws or bites a victim, the victim must make a Body roll against the zombie’s Gimmick roll, with failure indicating that the victim has been infected.

  • The first type only affects a person who dies with the “poison” in his or her system. The amount of damage from the zombie attack determines the number of days that the toxin remains active. If the victim dies before the infection leaves his system, he becomes a zombie.
  • The more deadly type of zombie infection actually kills the victim. When a character contracts this type of zombie disease, the GM should record the zombie’s Gimmick roll. Every hour, the infected character must make a Body roll against this number, with failure resulting in damage equal to the difference.


The amount of time between death and resurrection is up to the GM based on what would be most dramatically appropriate in the current situation.

Zombis
Zombis have their normal stats, but have an effective Nerve of 3 while under mind control. In addition, most victims of the zombie ritual suffer brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. For every hour the character is buried, he must make a Body roll or lose 1 point of Brain. Once the spell is broken, Nerve points return at the rate of 1 per week. Lost Brain points typically can not be regained.

The Re-Animated
The Re-Animated have the same stats as at the time of death, though those who died violently may lose Body points and pick up a “Terrifying Appearance” Weakness due to the injuries that caused death. In addition, most people who are re-animated come back “wrong” in some way, usually represented by a Weakness such as “homicidal.”

 






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Monster of the Week: The Living Dead.
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