Zombies in Fantasyland – or creating a fantasy world that experienced a zombie apocalypse 100 years ago.

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A friend and I are working on a high fantasy zombie apocalypse setting for play amongst our yet-to-be-formed group.  We were toying with the idea of your standard, garden variety zombie apocalypse taking place in a standard, garden variety high fantasy world.  One where Elves and Dwarves were in decline faced with the faster multiplying, less rigid Human society.  Then one day – a patient Zero and all hell breaks loose.  Now we find ourselves 100 years after.

This is more a series of notes than anything else but we’d really, really like to see your comments.

Most likely a D20 system.

100 years ago, a zombie apocalypse happened.

In the present, the population of intelligent races has shrunk to about 5% of what it once was.

Societies are bootstrapping and starting to pull themselves together.

Humans are susceptible to the disease – one bite = zombification.

Zombies will instinctively attack and try to consume any warm blooded creates.  From mice up through dragons.

This means that a large portion of this worlds population has been killed off.  Many races are currently living in walled cities.

New magical means of detecting the undead have been created.  In addition to this, lighter-than-air craft have become the safest mode of transportation.

Clerics have become the new nobility.  With their ability to turn the dead (undead) they have become the wealthy elite, admitting very few in to their ranks and supplanting kings and emperors as the new, untouchable power.  Anger them and their protection can be withdrawn, leaving you and yours to fend for yourself.

The historic treaty of Groznakc, signed 29 years ago, when the High King Gronk, ruler of over 72,000 Orcs submitted willingly to the rules and laws of the human kingdom Fareweather. Now the Orcs labor as second class citizens, enjoying protection but little freedom.

Wizards have become something of a rarity, as the practice and study of magic is a luxury not often had when fighting for mere survival.  While the number of sorcerers in the population haven’t declined, wizards have dropped to about 15% of the level they were previously at.  In this world’s society, wizards are something of a legend to themselves.  The lay people would look at a PC wizard as a curiosity and a person to put their hope into.  What’s left of the old nobility would seek to manipulate them in their secret war against the Clerics.  Clerics look at wizards as lesser magic users who are more shut-in scholars than a threat.

The once mighty Guild of Wizards have found themselves a client to the Clerics. Much reduced in numbers and wealth, the formal guild now exists solely to serve the whims of the Gods of Light.  They assist the Clerics in such matters as teleportation, offensive magic and the creation of weapons and items to assist the Paladin Army.  They are mostly kept out of the public eye and have found themselves subservient to the Clerics.

There are rumors of a small island containing the last operating wizards collage not affiliated with a Clerical overseer but at this point, they may just be rumors.

Hmm – some world building ideas.

The world of (your name here)

101 years ago.

Demographics – total world population 11,500,000 sentient individuals maintaining friendly relationships with humans.

Humans – 70% of the population.  – 8,500,000
Dwarves – 15% of the population. – 1,725,000
Elves – 10% of the population – 1,150,000
Other sentient races – 5% of the population – 575,000

Orcs, Goblins, Trolls and other “unfriendly races” – total population 2,000,000.

Although no formal census has ever been taken, it’s felt that Orcs comprise roughly 85% of that number.


Demographics – total world population 800,000 sentient individuals maintaining friendly relationships with humans.

Humans – 20% of the population – 160,000
Dwarves – 45% of the population – 360,000
Elves – 34% of the population – 272,000
Other sentient races – 1% of the population – 8000

Orcs Goblins, Trolls and other “unfriendly races” – total population 1,200,000.

With the rise of the Orcish empire it is estimated that roughly 1,000,000 of these are Orcs.

The Orcs have taken the opportunity presented to them with the fall of humanity and the subsequent decimation of the other “higher” races to form their own contemporary civilization. They have banded together under several kings, answering to a High King  and are currently multiplying faster than the other races.  Goblins, Trolls and other “lower” races who share a tendancy to tribal existence did not fair anywhere near as well as the Orcs and are now often finding themselves as client villages to the Orc state.

[tags]zombies, rpg, role playing games, high fantasy[/tags]

28 thoughts on “Zombies in Fantasyland – or creating a fantasy world that experienced a zombie apocalypse 100 years ago.

Add yours

  1. In order to have a lighter-than-air means of transportation, the weight of the craft would have to be equal to the weight of air minus the weight of the transported object. How will you explain that? It’s illogical


  2. First off, Chelsea, a lighter than air craft becomes lighter than air through the magic of physics. Aerodynamics, thrust, lift, not that it actually weighs less than air. I guess airplanes and such are figments of my imagination. Plus even barring that, given the realm this is taking place in it could be lifted through magical means.

    Ben, this sounds like a great jumping point. I’ve considered doing something like this but never put it into action. I’d love to see this expanded upon. Given the demographic shifts you have a huge potential to not just have the obvious zombie conflict but also a potential civil war between the orcs and other “higher” races. Then if you continue down a long storyline you could potentially have the rumored wizard collage come into play and rise up against the now standing cleric hierarchy.

    Now the zombie issue itself has a lot of varied potential. You said it affects humans in a single bite, but does it affect other humanoids as well? Could there be zombie orcs? Elves? Perhaps entire dwarf cities taken over? And since the zombies go after any warm blooded creature what about zombie beasts. Reanimated dragons needing to be put down or the like could provide interesting rumors and side quests along the way. Can also bring in necromancer cults rising in the outer territories taking advantage of the past hundred years of turmoil, assuming that the diseased zombies can be controlled as standard undead can.

    Anyways, lots of potential and I’d love to see this worked on.

    Good luck and, as always, have fun with it.


  3. @Chelsea – I think MadHatter said it all. In a world where Dragons aren’t ‘illogical’ I find lighter than air craft acceptable.

    @MadHatter – It certainly does open up a huge area for politics in the world. The GM and characters could get as immersed as they’d like. That’s also the plan for the Wizard’s Guild, at least, that’s my plan for the plan.

    My original concept and the one I think I’m going to stick with for this world is it’s a human only contagion. I think they would be standard zombies – modified slightly so that a single zombie or three wouldn’t pose a huge threat to the characters but a hoard would.



  4. Its extremely easy to explain lighter-than-air transportation. MAGIC! Its a fantasy setting isn’t it? you can explain pretty much any broken law of physics by just using magic.


  5. Sounds like a great concept. It’s a bit out there, combining modern day elements with fantasy to create something completely mind-bending and that’s just your alleged “lighter than air” ships.


  6. Looks like a lot of fun. Some suggested reading: Unhallowed Metropolis. It’s obviously very different from this world, aside from the whole zombie apocalypse thing, being a steampunk alternate reality and not fantasy, but the chapters on the history, and how England survived (and didn’t) the zombies is fascinating.


  7. In a high fantasy setting it would be important that there be at least one significant modification made to the zombies: regeneration. It could be non-combat regeneration, regeneration that only restores 1 HP every ten minutes, but there needs to be something that keeps the horde marching onward. (Perhaps only radiant damage can truly kill the zombies.) In a world with 40 AC walking-tank fighters, fireball-flinging wizards, and giant dragons with hundreds (or thousands) of HP, there needs to be a reason why the zombies have not been stopped dead in their tracks. Perhaps a jinx-aura or innate anti-magic shell. It’s simply too easy for huge quantities of zombies to be leveled with a snap of a single wizard’s fingers for an apocalypse to happen — with the zombies as is — in a world where, for example, entire Mage Guilds exist.


  8. @Chimaboo – Ha! I like that and yes, it works. 🙂

    @Ian – good point. I think there are several ways to deal with this. The first is to make magic users and magic itself just not all that common. Common enough for there to be an organization of mages? Sure. But not common enough that you’ll have hundreds of high level magic users roaming about.

    I prefer (and really, this is totally just personal preference) the RPG world where 99.9% of the population is your average Joe and Jane. They have a craft, they work for a living, they may have some basic training and skills when it comes to fighting but most are the equivalent of level 1 – perhaps aspiring to become the equivalent of a level 4 whatever as their personal peak.

    It’s only the truly inspired, truly unique individuals who rise up to become heroes (or villains). 15th level characters should be the exception in this world, not the norm.

    Same with dragons and other magic based beings.

    That’s how I plan on running this when/if I ever do. Sure, a dragon could lay waste to thousands of zombies. However, tens of thousands of zombies can lay waste to a dragon. If dragons are scarce to begin with . . . .


  9. Oh, no, your plan is fine in an endgame state, the 100-years later scenario. It’s ever reaching that point that I’d personally find difficult to believe if I were an obnoxious player in the campaign. Which is the reason why, if I were to ever run such a game, the apocolypse would have begun via a truly epic-level curse that blankets whole regions, nations, continents with a corruption that, for instance, provides slow regeneration for all undead. If it were a grimdark low fantasy world, zombies could readily do their thing — it’s in high fantasy were some of the mechanics become difficult to explain. Consider me a devil’s advocate, or proxy for — like I said above — that real obnoxious, potential player.

    Yes, tens of thousands of zombies all walloping on a dragon could probably kill it despite armor class or damage reduction. If only dragons could simply fly above the zombies’ heads raining fiery doom before retreating to impossibly steep cliffs to rest… oh wait! 😉


  10. @Ian – lol! I know the people I’ll be playing with and I’m not worried about the ‘obnoxious player syndrom’ (OPS).

    But – if I were ever to take this a step further and expand it beyond my blog and a few friends, I would have to either create an entire world where this sort of thing was within the bounds of the rules that governed it or make it jive with the whatever system I’m basing it on.

    I think for the most part dragons would be safe. They can fly, head up to places where zombies just can’t really reach and generally open a can of whoop-ass. But every race has it’s darwin award recipients and I’m sure dragons are no exception.


  11. @Ian – I can understand what you mean. Initially the zombies would have a hard time getting enough numbers for that “horde” status that Ben was talking about. But if they were introduced into a rural area, where most people are the average Joe Shmoe and farms are spaced far apart, just one zombie might be able to take out a whole family of inexperienced folk, and then you have 5 or 6 zombies. It probably would take a couple years before the zombies could even approach cities. Nevertheless, most of the people are going to be in that sort of rural situation. And by the time the zombies *do* reach the cities, they would have quite a bit of momentum and possibly even some advanced undead with levels of their own. Yes, they will run into high-level characters, but it just takes one bite to down a human, and 1 in 20 will automatically hit by d20 rules.
    Now, theoretically, if a city found out about this, they might start an initiative against the potential zombie invasion (probably once the zombies are attacking areas that supply the city), but these would be very advanced cities, and that means corruption. Corruption is key here. Any sort of legislation or act (whatever the government) will require new positions and more bureaucracy and very little funding or effort would actually make it to a real offensive because people involved will be greedy and lazy. Now you have a weak offensive going up against the zombies. They would be easily defeated and simply offer a bunch of new bodies to the zombie horde. The zombies are still working through the outer rural towns and the city still sees no immediate threat to its safety until it is too late and the zombies have too much momentum. The neighboring cities won’t do too much to help–not worth the risk–and may, out of competitive spirit, stall on sending help with intent to damage other cities, or not send help at all. But this just gives the zombies more resources. Ultimately the pattern will continue, perhaps with cities forming coalitions against the zombies but likely not in time to have the fighting capacity needed for defense against the zombies. And those few that do, probably those that have good defensible surroundings with choke points or cliffs or islands or whatever, will be the cities that survive over that 100 year period.


  12. Also a point – the cities that survived past the 100 year point would also have a strong clerical base. Or at least, a base full of clerics. I’m planning on two major factions when it comes to clerics.

    The White Hand (or some such suitably goody two-shoes name). “Good” clerics who’s stated mission is to defend humanity from the undead hoard but who’ve devolved into a corrupt organization bent mostly on gaining wealth and power.

    There will also be a contingent of “Evil” clerics (god O’death worshipers) who are actually doing something about the problem other than growing rich.

    The gods, over the past 101 years have remained strangely silent.


  13. It could be nice if a bite doesn’t infect someone automatically. That would create the need to wait for the incubation period to end before considering them zombies. One could create asylums or congregations that take care of this poor souls and extermine them if all hope is lost.

    It would be better for player characters because one lucky zombie could kill any player character at any level on a 20 otherwise. That would allow GM to have a second level security for not killing PC.

    May be being a zombie is not a one or nothing things too, some might keep partial memory ?

    Very good plot. I’d love to play this.


  14. I’ve been thinking about the one bite = one infected human equation. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to handle that.

    A few ideas (not all of them good, admittedly) are:

    1. Play non-human PCs. One bite = lots of pain but no infection.
    2. Create artifacts/potions that inhibit or stop the infection. These would be prohibitively expensive though and doled out by the GM sparingly. Enough to save human PCs or well loved NPCs but not so much that the party would be swimming in them.
    3. Saving throw. Er. . . .
    4. Some other mode of infection.

    Other ideas?


  15. I think that a fairly high DC save (25-30) for the zombie venom/virus/whatever could be used, with increasing DCs for number of bites say +1 or 2 per bite within a 10 minute period, save at each bite or after a short time like 30 minutes. This gives the players a chance to not be infected, but still explains how high-level characters got defeated. Also, if a non-human gets bit they could have a bonus to their save based on race, like +5 for half breeds, +10 for elves and orcs and others compatible with humans, and +15 for other humanoids. This makes the non-humans more resilient but still vulnerable to a larger horde. You could also have an incubation period, make save upon bite, then a couple hours or days later have the change happen, and auto-change upon death after a failed save or from bites. With the incubation period cities in the past would have opened their doors to the zombie hordes without knowing it, when a wounded army came back from battle. Most zombies will probably travel in small groups no larger than a standard adventuring party, but there will be some necromancers commanding armies, given these zombies can be controlled.


  16. Hi Jordan,

    A couple of things:

    First – if this works for you, go for it! It’s a great set of ideas but it doesn’t fly in my campaign.

    I’m envisioning more of a Romero Dawn of the Dead scenario. The zombie bite, while painful and potentially fatal to all, only turns humans into zombies. So the other races need not worry about becoming undead.

    Zombification. . .ism. . .izing. . .whatever is spread through a contagion. Not magical means. This means that the zombies are not controlled nor have they been created by a magician or priest.

    Incubation period is pretty short for the purposes of my campaign. I want a real sense of danger looming over the party. But not everyone who dies becomes a zombie. You have to be infected.

    Having said that, the party will be equipped with a limited and very expensive way of not becoming zombies.


  17. I have to agree with Ian. His modification of your initial idea makes sense. If the zombie plague also gives the zombies regeneration, then you can have the apocalypse that you have always dreamed of. Otherwise, a few wands of fireball, and a couple of high level wizards would stop the zombie horde in it’s tracks. Especially in a high fantasy setting, as high fantasy = lots of magic.

    It really is just a small addition to have the zombies regenerate. If you want, give them an additional weakness to fire or acid because of this. Or make it so that to kill them, you need to chop off their head.

    One poster brought up the idea that corruption would lead to a weak response from the area’s highly advanced cities. I doubt that this corruption would last too long. Think about it, most people would change their tune when faced with imminent destruction. When people have been faced with overwhelming calamity, they tend to bond together in an attempt to survive. To get to the overwhelming odds state, regeneration would give you the necessary tool. It can be part of the contagion.

    This would also probably dramatically increase racial tensions between humans and the other races, as the humans would probably be very quickly deemed as “unclean” or “unworthy”. This tension could lead to some good role-playing situations.

    Lighter than air ships is a cool idea. Look at Spelljammer. Also there is an author who had a series with lighter than air ships in them in a fantasy setting. You could check those out too, though the author’s name is escaping me right now.


  18. I’m going to leave zombie regen off the books for now. At least, until I can play test this with and without it.

    It’s not quite the ‘classic’ zombie feel I’m going for. That said though I always urge you to remember 3 points.

    1. You can take what you’d like out of this and add/remove/modify to suit your own needs.
    2. Knives are sharp. Load them in the dishwasher pointy side down.
    3. There are things that I’m not going to publish here or anywhere else until I’ve actually gotten this campaign off the ground and until my players have experienced them. Why? Because I don’t want to give stuff away!

    As for corruption. I think 100 years ago, 99 years ago corruption ran rampant. Now though, folks would think long and hard before bringing a potential infected person into their city, village or home.

    Racial tensions…yes! One thing I’ve found out is this world I’m creating could have so much depth politically, societally, etc. There’s a lot to work with here. It’s awesome.

    I too am fond of lighter than air ships. 🙂 Best way to avoid zombies is to never let them touch you.


  19. I suggest washing your good knives by hand, dishwashers dull even the best ones.

    What have the wizard classes been doing during this apocalypse. I would assume the smart ones could have picked up some clerical expertise. I believe that no wizard would let themselves being regulated to swordsmith for anyone.

    Another fun scenario would be that necromancer creating his army of magically undead and unleashing them on the non-magical undead. An army armed with severed arms beating the heck out of each other.


  20. I was curious to know what the status is on this fantasy World. Are you guys going to (or maybe I missed it) publish any eBooks/PDF Campaigns for people to use or is that left up to our own Dungeon Masters to decide? Oddly enough even though I’m a huge fan of zombie movies (especially pre-1990 zombie movies), and I grew up playing D&D, I never even thought of merging the 2 ideas together. This has some killer potential


  21. @Combat Arms NX,

    Aruneus is indeed moving forward! We recently received a bit of funding for a short run print book and a long run PDF source book, totaling around 100 pages when complete.

    I expect this out next year.

    In addition, there are three official Aruneus expansions available, and a number of free downloads with histories at:


    With more expected in the next few months.



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