‘That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.’
It has to be said that I was rather bemused when the whole Zombie genre appeared. Why?
Slowly it dawned on me. Zombies may be the only ‘people’ you are allowed to gun down cinematically anymore? Obviously in that distant benighted time when I was young, John Wayne could gun down all sorts of ethnicities. But now? Zombies it is then.
So who’s speaking up for zombies then?
Now I’m not knocking zombie games (zombie movies on the other hand I confess I’ve no time for). I’ve played several of them and they tend to be well put together and it’s obvious that a lot of thought has been given to getting the balance right. I’ve had a lot of fun.
But on Caldoom I have slightly different issues to deal with.
In the blog post ‘Running in, please pass,’
I mentioned the Cult of the Magus Geneticae. The cult has cultists who provide bands of not entirely convincing fighters. But also there are other, less pleasant creatures, which appear to have escaped from either the laboratory or the charnel house, the difference appears nugatory. The bulk of these are known, colloquially, as zombies.
Perhaps this name is given to them by locals who don’t want foreigners with ways different to their own moving in next to them, and certainly don’t want their daughter to marry one. Or perhaps it’s merely an honest assessment of the creatures from people who have to deal with them in real life.
When it came to dealing with these zombies I didn’t want mindless creatures who just blindly attacked into overwhelming firepower. I wanted something which displayed at least a degree of elementary cunning. My spurious scientific justification for this was simple. Whatever was managing to keep the body functional obviously allowed some brain functions. I just allowed it slightly more.
Now I am not privy to the inner councils of the Magus Geneticae so I cannot claim to know what exactly they do to create these creatures. Perhaps they are infected by some sort of modified plant life, a gene edited yeast, or a vaguely sentient alien fungus. But whatever it is, this ‘extra ingredient’ lives in some sort of symbiotic relationship with the body it is currently animating, and I assume that the result of this symbiosis wants to keep the show on the road. Whatever its plans for the future, getting smeared over the road by a passing vehicle is unlikely to further them.
Now with Hell by Starlight I had a secret weapon which is also present in Hellfire. (This means that you can play the scenario in 6mm using Hellfire, but you’ll have to tweak things a bit. A bunch of five figures will become a bunch with five bases.) It is the Reaction Tables. Now in the rules I give several Reaction Tables to cover various troop types. But these tables are not the last word. It’s more a case of, ‘these are the ones we used and they worked for us.’ There’s no reason why you shouldn’t create your own. Similarly with the Results, which run from a to v, you are perfectly at liberty to dream up results which fit for the troops you’re trying to model.
One thing to bear in mind is that when you create your new Reaction Tables with new Results. You better label things properly as there are only so many letters available and if you’re not careful you could have your disciplined marines react according to the screaming alien horde results. Proper headings at this point can be your friend.
But still, I decided to do a separate reaction table for the Zombies. They also have different results to everybody else.
When the Zombies have to react, roll a d6 and read off the appropriate column.
Factors to add or subtract to Default Table:
-1 Under fire.
-1 Suffered casualties.
+1 Controller within one move.
A note here about a Controller. I’ll bring them into a separate blog post/scenario so I can look at them properly, you don’t get one in this scenario.
So looking at the table, when faced with a chance of melee, our Zombies will take it, but are less likely to attempt it if they are under fire and taking casualties.
If they’re surprised they have a fair chance of responding by hurling themselves on the enemy. But they may also try to stick to cover and work their way round the flanks.
Only if nervous will they take to terrain and hide or fall back
They’re wary of vehicles (the dozer blade on the front of that pickup looks less than inviting) and they’re upset by artillery, trying to hide or fall back. Not sure about you but that strikes me as entirely sensible.
When they first see the enemy, they’re far more likely to attempt something sneaky than just hurl themselves at the target.
Finally with the Voluntary column, this is for when there is no reason to test but you want to get them back on track.
So hopefully our Zombies will be a bit sneaky and perhaps even cunning.
But there is no reason why it should stop there. You can randomise their arrival. If you assume they have been sent out by the Cult of the Magus Geneticae one assumes it is done as part of a plan.
Scenario. Perhaps it wasn’t a plan.
This is a solo game.
Given the cultists are widely regarded as feckless and workshy, this scenario assumes that some fool has left a gate open and the zombies have wandered out.
Anybody who has worked with livestock will know the feeling as they see that the yard is empty and the gate hanging open. The usual procedure is to simultaneously start hunting for those who have gone astray whilst simultaneously summoning everybody available, ideally on your phone unless you can shout really loud.
For our cultists the problem is that admitting the zombies have escaped is likely to lead to people getting disciplined. This, I suspect, is a ‘bad thing’ and ought to be avoided at all costs.
On the positive side, unlike lost livestock, where neighbours phone in and explain that your cattle are currently rampaging across their garden/vegetable patch/forty acres of wheat, it is most unlikely that the Free Farmers are going to pick up the phone to complain to the Cult of the Magus Geneticae.
So you are going to have to find them.
Let us make some reasonable assumptions.
- The Zombies are probably hunting, and some of them have been deployed before. So they’ll go in the direction of their last good hunting.
- Whilst your cultists may not be the greatest of trackers, the Zombies aren’t trying to hide their passage. So you should be able to work out where the bulk of them are going.
- The Zombies haven’t been given orders, one of the most important ones (strengthened by the Controller who deploys with them) is not to eat Cultists. So it is entirely possible that the creatures will regard you as the prey. So Zombies hiding in the terrain and letting cultists walk past could well leap out and attack them with fatal consequences to those attacked.
- Ten Zombies have escaped and ideally when those in charge glance into the pen as they pass, they’ll see ten Zombies in there. Shooting them is probably not going to help.
- Whilst ten is the perfect number, let us be honest here. You could get away with nine as how many people count them that closely. Indeed you could probably get away with seven or eight if you shifted Zombies from another couple of pens and fudged the records.
- Once in the field the Zombies will split into two groups, each of five. They will tend to go in the same direction, and the groups will probably stay within a foot to eighteen inches of each other. But it is perfectly possible for the player to inadvertently increase that distance.
You have fifteen cultists. Their firearms count as slug firing shotguns. All count as ‘Feudal followers’ with 14 reaction points. They wear limited flak armour covering a third of the body (so a roll of 1 or 2 means the weapon fired at them hits the armour).
As well as the usual firearms, your cultists each have a stun prod. This has two settings, one knocks the Zombie out cold, the other setting merely shocks it. A group of Zombies in contact with a bunch with Stun Prods who have been shocked react as if they were under artillery fire. You can guide their slinking off, fleeing, by placing cultists with stun prods to guide and direct the flight in the right direction. If the cultists are attacked by surprise, they cannot ostentatiously gesture with their stun prods and don’t get a bonus.
Zombies will flee directly away from a group of cultists that hit them with stun prods.
They will veer away from another group that has stun prods without coming within six inches. Imagine the group of cultists is a flat plane, the Zombies will ricochet off that flat plane at the same angle as the ‘hit it’. They won’t actually hit it, they won’t go within six inches of it. But the ricochet effect is the same as if they had.
Mark a point on one edge of the wargames table, this is the ‘route home’. If the Zombies leave the table at a couple of inches from that point, they’ll make their way back to the pen, realising that it’s probably close to feeding time.
Zombies who have been knocked out cold have to be carried, two cultists per Zombie.
Zombies in Close Combat.
The Zombies only take part in close combat, they don’t use missiles. Personally I would treat them as;-
Superbly trained in close combat. 2 Dice shifts up
Zombies facing ostentatiously gestured stun prods 4 Dice shifts down.
Let’s be honest, they aren’t trained at all in close combat, they just have a natural affinity for it. But they have no scruples and an unhealthy appetite. What else are they going to do, “Shoot ’em all down with the flash of your pearly smile?”
Playing the Scenario.
I suggest that there is a time limit on this. To start with the Zombies aren’t in any particular hurry, they’re bumbling along, sniffing the flowers, trying to mug rabbits and generally enjoying their freedom. But all the time they are heading towards where they remember there being good hunting and food.
On the other hand the Cultists, driven by panic and the knowledge that somebody is going to get really really angry about this, are moving a lot faster.
Roll a d10 for the cultists and a d6 for the Zombies. The Zombie score is the number of moves they’ve travelled. If the cultists roll is less, they haven’t caught up and you have to roll both dice again and add this to the previous total. Eventually the cultists will accumulate a biggest total and have caught up.
If the total is 20 or more, the Zombies have arrived at a Free Farmer farm, a small fortified house and buildings with five defenders, men and women.
They will be one bunch, Militia, and armed with shotguns capable of firing slugs. They are also green troops, (they’re not really soldiers at all) but they are defending their families so we’ll give them 15 reaction points.
They will defend themselves and obviously are going to shoot at Cultists as well as Zombies. If a Cultist has something to make a white flag, they can stand in the open waving it and explain they’re taking the Zombies away. The cultist can roll a d6, the Free Farmers a d10, and if they roll less than the cultist they don’t believe him and stop shooting. If they roll the same at least they tell him to run before they open fire. If they roll more, they just keep firing.
If the score is 15 to 20, there is a bunch of 5 hunters, these are the same as the other Free Farmers, and will try to get away off table. But they’re perfectly capable of causing problems even as they do this.
Otherwise the number is the number of moves that have already happened. It also the number of moves it will take to get the Zombies back when you get them off the table.
When the Midden hits the Windmill.
At some point somebody important is going to walk past and notice the empty pen.
This will happen in d20+10 moves. Do not roll this until you have got the Zombies back under control and off the wargames table.
If the Zombies are not back by the time somebody notices, try the following excuses.
- Yes, we moved them so we could clean the pen.
- Exercise time your Sanctity.
- Zombies. There? Was there?
The first time you use an excuse, it wins you d6 turns extra.
The second time you use an excuse, it wins you d3 turns extra.
The third time you use an excuse, it wins you 1 turn extra.
Your mission is to get ten (ish) Zombies back in the pen before you run out of time and excuses.
And the figures?
They are from Knucklebones if you have a printer. Or Iliada Game Studio has a licence to sell them ready printed
Hell by Starlight is available from Wargame Vault for £4 as a pdf.
It’s available from Amazon on Kindle for £4 or for £9.50 in paperback.
And if you want to know more about Caldoon