The Monster Manual zombie isn’t a complicated or sophisticated attacker, but it possesses one trait that makes it memorable: Undead Fortitude, which allows it to pop back up and keep fighting even after it’s reduced to 0 hp. You never know how many hits it will ultimately take to stop a zombie. Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft additionally (and accurately) notes, “The horror of the shambling dead lies not in their individual menace … but [in] their numbers, their persistence, and their disregard for their own well-being.” One zombie, in the right circumstances, can be played for laughs; many zombies are legitimately unnerving, regardless of context.
Even so, after a while, zombie fights can become ho-hum affairs—especially past level 5, when clerics’ Destroy Undead feature can clear them out en masse. How can a Dungeon Master keep the thrill alive?
We can find part of the answer by looking to an unrelated monster: the troll. A troll, out of the box, is nothing but a hard-to-kill brute. However, the Loathsome Limbs variant, which allows the troll’s severed limbs to keep fighting independently, turns a troll encounter into something special. In a similar vein, suppose that a town’s response to an invading zombie horde was to make absolutely sure they didn’t get up again by hacking the corpses to pieces—and even that didn’t work. That’s one way you might end up with a swarm of zombie limbs.(more…)