I have been continuing to experiment with large groups of relatively weak creatures to threaten my epic level party. As the party has also been marching into a dying Nentir Vale, where the dark power of the rift under the Keep on the Shadowfell has been allowed to grow unchecked, zombies seemed the way to go.
In this campaign I tend to use the terms zombie and ghoul interchangeably since I am modeling it after ‘zombie’ movies where the zombies want to eat their victims, a decidedly ghoulish act. The epic party has encountered some zombie/ghouls previously and has developed a healthy respect for the threat that they pose. Though individuals are easily dispatched by the party, they tend to splatter gore on their killers which is apparently a way for the zombie infection to spread.
The players haven’t seen this happen to any of them yet (the only one infected so far was later struck by a powerful radiant attack which seems to have cured the infection . . .) so there are no mechanics for the disease attached to the monster stats below. The errata sheet for Open Grave has just such a disease so it’s probably similar if you want to use a zombie plague for your own campaign.
The culmination (so far) of the zombie threat is the Massive Ghoul Throng. There are a lot of trait effects, with a lot of description so it might look overwhelming at first. On the other hand, it is supposed to be used solo with perhaps some outlier zombie/ghouls to help herd the players and to reinforce the throng.
The main theme to keep in mind with this monster is “don’t get caught.” It is designed to be a comparatively slow moving monster that is relatively easy to hit. It grabs and tries to devour any targets it can reach. The throng will make a grab attack against any one adjacent to it, but the worst threat is that a character is automatically grabbed if he starts his turn in the throng’s space. If the character starts his turn grabbed, the damage increases and the throng begins to devour him. After all, in the movies if a victim disappears into the zombie horde, you’re not likely to see them again, at least not alive.
Another thing to pay attention to is the fact that this throng can’t be affected by any conditions that aren’t caused by area of effect attacks. Then, even if it is an area, burst or blast, the throng is not subjected to dazing, stunning or unconsciousness effects unless they are caused by radiant attacks. Instead the throng is slowed. In essence you can’t stop this thing in its tracks, but you might be able to slow it down enough to escape. By the same token, particularly large amounts of damage from single attacks or even larger amounts of cumulative damage will slow the throng. It is worthwhile to note that the cumulative damage slowing effect only works until the end of the throng’s first action so it could conceivable double move and travel 7 squares. If that puts it adjacent to a victim or, even better, brings a victim within its space, that’s all it really needs.
The defenses are low for its level, but that isn’t a great issue, since you can use individual zombie/ghouls rushing to ‘Dinner Call’ to heal the throng and the throng will rarely be unable to act. It is however meant to be very susceptible to Turn Undead and similar powers.
An additional effect that I ruled in-game was that the party could “sunder” the throng for a moment with a powerful enough area of effect spell, allowing the party and their refugees to scamper through. Basically I let the player roll a saving throw for each square that he hit for more than 30 points of damage. The high damage caused no slowing effects for this attack. It was a blast 4 and he affected 10 squares, so I let him designate 10 squares that were “free” of zombies, (aside from crispy zombie corpses) and the party used that corridor to escape. Of course this was a situation where the party was surrounded by the throng and they had to move through it, rather than flee it.
On that note, the creature is listed as colossal, but I don’t limit it at all to a square shape. The throng goes where the food is, wherever that may be.
As a final note, the creature has a power, Clamber Over, that was designed to interact with the shield wall ability of the legionary squads I had previously created. These entities haven’t clashed yet, and I don’t envision it being useful against individuals because of the throng’s ability to enter other creature’s spaces, but I suppose it could be used to cross hindering terrain with an attack.
So if you are looking to reenact a favorite zombie movie or really just want to have your party for dinner, maybe the Massive Ghoul Throng is for you.
(The monster builder did it to me again. The splattering gore should be triggered at bloody and again at dropped.)