APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 9 October, 2000


Return of the Shadows of the Living Dead

Scott R. Blow


Two months ago we discussed how to adapt cinematic zombies to the Silhouette role-playing system. This month, we are going to take a look at the living dead from a tactical-level perspective. Although the following guidelines were written with Gear Krieg specifically in mind, they can of course be used for Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles without any major modification. Just adjust the reason for the zombies' existence into a genre-appropriate one, think about the power level you want the zombies to have, and you're ready to either feast on the flesh of the living or to plug some undead geeks in the head (depending on what side you're playing).

Gear Krieg and Zombies

Warfare and the living dead go together exquisitely, like peanut butter and chocolate. Whether huddled in a trench surrounded by his dead comrades in the killing fields of the Great War or creeping through the steamy jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia, for the average grunt, horror is omnipresent. After witnessing so much death and devastation, encountering walking corpses is less of a surprise than it is just one of many incomprehensible miseries for our poor, beleaguered GI to bear.

The Second World War has been a popular playground for zombies in fiction. Hitler's twin obsessions, scientific innovation and the occult, ensured that if either necromantic resurrection or the medical revival of the dead had been possible in that era, the Nazis would have found a way. With the pulp-fiction super-science characteristic of the Gear Krieg universe, however, perhaps the dead will yet receive their chance to rise and feed again...


Anyone with an ounce of imagination could easily come up with a dozen pseudoscientific or magical means by with corpses can be yanked out of their graves and pressed into service once more. These methods can involve mad science, the occult, a combination of the two, or some other reason entirely. Below are two treatments of WWII zombies in two different role-playing games, followed by some ideas of my own.

The Nazi living dead from Eden Studios' "Mein Zombie" setting for the All Flesh Must Be Eaten RPG, for instance, are mainly scientific in origin. Regular German soldiers are given frequent injections of a mysterious super-serum, a process that allows them to rise post-mortem as zombie foot soldiers. Although their intellectual capacities are dimmed considerably by the transition into un-life (they are able to fire their rifles adequately well, but the task of reloading them is beyond their capability), they are incredibly resilient and retain enough of their mental faculties to resist attacking their living German comrades / handlers.

The zombies described in Pagan Publishing's Call of Cthulhu supplement Delta Green, however, are a completely different story. These shambling dead owe their second existence entirely to the Mythos-inspired rites and rituals of the secretive German occult cabal known as the Karotechia. Resurrected by sanity-shattering forces powered by unspeakable gods, these "resuscitated casualties" were mindless terror weapons and indiscriminate killers. Although effective in their role, these beasts were every bit as dangerous to their own countrymen, especially to unarmed and terrified German civilians.

Almost all of the standard movie-zombie creation rationales can be imported into the world of Gear Krieg. If the existence of occult magic, no matter how limited, is unacceptable to your vision of the game world, you can always have the zombies created by chemical weapons, viral infections, cosmic rays, and so forth. On the other hand, if this kind of magic doesn't seem too out of place when compared to walking tanks (If you're gaming pulp fiction, why not go all the way and throw a little Raiders of the Lost Ark in as well?), the Karotechia and their nefarious plots can serve as the progenitors of the zombie menace.

Or, if you prefer, you can choose to have absolutely no rationale for the existence of the shambling dead. Perhaps they just showed up one day, and no one knows why or how the dead have started to walk again. Maybe, as the man said, there's no more room in hell. This option is perfectly acceptable. Not only has it been utilized in dozens of zombie films, including some of the best, but also fear of the unknown is perhaps the most effective theme in horror storytelling.


Now that the game world rationale (if any) has been decided upon, we can choose how we want our zombies to behave. I've provided tactical-level translations of the two zombie types mentioned above. As always, you are free to combine, modify, or mutate these zombies to your heart's content. You won't hear them complaining!

Karotechia's "Resuscitated Casualties"

The first type of zombies are very much George Romero-style living dead, transplanted into the World War II milieu. Zombie infantry (and being incapable of piloting, driving, or firing artillery, they are always infantry) have a Stamina rating of 10 and a Skill Level of 1. These numbers represent their supernatural toughness and their intellectual clumsiness. They do not carry weapons, as they lack the wits to use them. They are slower than normal humans and can only move one hex per turn, regardless of the hex's terrain cost. However, despite their slowness, non-infantry units attempting to fire on a zombie squad without using specifically Anti-Infantry weapons still incur the -2 penalty to their attack roll. Unlike normal artillery, zombie troops cannot be Pinned (see the main rulebook, p. 64, for rules on Pinning). Additionally, for Morale purposes, zombies are considered Fanatical, as they are beyond fear. However, you should ignore the rule that states that a Fanatical unit has double the Threat Value of a regular unit.

Apart from their fearlessness and incredible resilience, their slowness and lack of a ranged attack are serious handicaps. However, they make up for this by being incredibly vicious close-in fighters. If they can occupy the same hex as an enemy infantry squad and are not eliminated before their turn to attack, they immediately wipe out a number of living infantry equal to twice the number of active soldiers in the zombie squad (i.e., five attacking zombies can destroy a ten man squad). These fallen humans will rise as zombies at the beginning of next turn, form their own undead squad under the control of the player owning the zombies that killed them, and then seek out the flesh of the living. This special close-in attack also works on crews riding in vehicles with the Partially Exposed and Exposed Crew Compartment flaws, but zombie infantry are completely ineffective against buttoned-up vehicles. When vehicle crews or passengers become zombies in this manner, they abandon their vehicle and become infantry units.

These zombies are somewhat risky to use, however. They are mindless beasts who will unerringly seek out the nearest unprotected humans, no matter their nation of origin. In order to reduce "friendly feasting" incidents, commanders utilizing resuscitated casualties are advised to refrain from using both zombie squads and human ones on the same battlefield. Because of their slowness, zombies work most effectively when they are ferried to the hot spots in APCs. Friendly vehicles can then pin enemy infantry with suppressive fire, thus preventing them from movement, while the zombies can wade in to clean up the mess and "recruit" the enemy. Zombie infantry are also especially effective against stationary targets such as artillery emplacements. As with most zombies, the strength of these undead lies in numbers. A handful of squads will not prove very effective, but a massive horde of self-propagating zombies can prove a valuable asset.

For Threat Value purposes, count a squad of zombie infantry as the same as an equivalently sized squad of Qualified riflemen.

"Mein Zombie" Troopers

If the player prefers, he or she may field a smarter breed of zombies, ones that are able to use weapons for ranged attacks. These zombies may use all simple, direct fire forms of infantry weapons (they lack the cognitive ability to place accurate mortar fire). However, these smarter zombies are still less competent with their weapons than human infantry. Consequently, they fire as if they were Rookie troops. Additionally, they suffer a -1 penalty to the Accuracy of their weapons. This is combined with whatever Accuracy bonus or penalty the weapon normally possesses, and reflects the living dead's lack of fine motor control. They might be slow and poor marksmen, but these troopers are every bit as tough and fanatical as their less gifted zombie brethren. They lose the close-in cannibalistic attack possessed by "resuscitated casualties"-style zombies, but they are smart enough to identify and resist attacking their own countrymen, and therefore do not need to be controlled as strictly.

When computing the Threat Value for this type of zombies, treat them (for TV calculation only, not for actual skill purposes) as Veteran-class infantry. After assembling the squad and totaling the individual TVs, double this result to find the final Threat Value cost of the zombie squad.

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APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 9 October, 2000