Should Zombies be armed or should their bite be enough?

How do you feel about Zombies, both in media and on your gaming table, with weapons?

  • Arguably some Zombies are fast and some are slow. Some have only their bite but some have swords or firearms. It really depends on the setting. But which do you prefer and why?


    Fast zombies with guns

  • Unarmed zombies, of course, their main weapons are teeth, fingernails and abive all numbers. A slow but unrelenting wave of dead is enemy enough. 

  • @Vitor Soares I agree.

    However others disagree, for example George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones and Fireforge’s Undead.

  • You could always use weapons from other kits to give your zombies. But I suppose it doesn't hurt to add some melee weapons or tools

  • Some zombies may clutch or drag a remnant of their former life but they will not use it.  I.E. a zombie Soldier may retain his rifle but he will actually employ it as such.  

  • @Grumpy Gnome 

    I like your original post image.  That looks like a true cinematic masterpiece.  Certainly credit is due where it is due for the title.

  • The only issue is that when you do the basic maths an average human jaw wouldn't be able to exert enough force to peirce armour thicker than padded cloth, and even if the zombie doesn't feel pain, finger nails are as likely to snap off if used to scratch and swipe like an animal's claws.

    If they have the cognitive capacity to be able to run or retain object permamence then they have the cognitive capacity to be tool users.

  • Hi Grumpy, JTam, I`ve a love for armed, Soldiers and Zombies, Prime Video, and I belive  Army of the dead the bank heist. It puts a new and very deadly creature after you. I use the D20 rules Against the dead, and they have a section on Armed Zombies. Grump love your blog, could talk to you for hours on Weird Wars from Spartans to today, I really rate them. Centurions comming on I`ll post soon. Miss you guys Have a Cyber pint on me guys Cheers Geoff.  

  • options for improvised weapon would be nice, but mostly unarmed makes sense.

  • @Geoff Maybury I am always pleased to hear someone say they enjoy my blog, it helps me justify the time and effort I put in. I am not an “influencer” or fancy “content creator” getting free kit to review but hopefully what I write is helpful and entertaining.

    I have been inspired and assisted by a number of folks and their blogs. It is nice to return the favor if I can.

    Getting honest feedback will also help me improve it. 


  • It depends of the genre...


    In a fantasy/ swords and sorcery setting... where they are animated by a necromancer and there is a reason/ agenda why they exist then its is ok for them to be armed... The animating magic allows them to be able to wield weapons... but really only melee weapons. Nothing super complicated or that requires reloading or skill beyond swing, bash or stab. Zombies like this I think would be less likely to bite... 

    Edit: This does not include scifi fantasy... Like If there were zombies in Starwars, I would not want them armed... Just doesnt really fit... at least to me. 

    In a non fantasy setting... whether that is in the past like 1800's old west or modern or even near or far future... they should be mindless claw and bite beasts. The one thing humans have is their tech and if zombies have that too, then there really is no hope. 

  • All of the above.  Give us options.

    I (half-heartedly) try to make a distinction between zombies and ghouls, with most of what we call "zombies" actually resting pretty firmly in ghoul territory: 

    Zombies (or "voodoo zombies") would simply be either corpses reanimated to work as slaves, or people convinced they are corpses reanimated to work as slaves.  Most such zombies would have worked on plantations and the like, using tools to get their work done - why not weapons, if they're being forced to serve in a zombie army? This zombie theme played itself out in Hollywood by the 1940s or so, mostly popping up in a post-jazz age fad for Hollywood voodoo and in its last days exotic island cultures. I would argue the Phantasm movie series was one of the last incarnations of the old Hollywood voodoo-zombie trope, with the Tall Man raising up armies of shrunken lurker zombie slaves to work on a plantation in another dimension.  This seems to be a sister trope to the fantasy skeletons, which would have been raised by necromancers in Harryhausen stop-motion adventure movies to have exciting sword-fights with Argonauts or Sinbad and his crew, while Hollywood's voodoo zombies are more likely to be found hanging out unarmed in Bela Lugosi's castle basement or in decaying gothic mansions or in the atmospheric plantation fields of Val Lewton's I Walked with a Zombie, so it seems that our traditional fantasy skeletons tend to be armed with (typically Greek) swords and shields, while traditional fantasy zombies are unarmed. It doesn't have to be that way, but it's the way the tradition seems to have worked out.

    There's a related sci-fi angle of aliens turning people into soulless "zombies" (or "alien zombies"), which I assume originally popped up in pulp-inspired serials, before moving over to the menace of WWII German super-science with German mad scientists raising up armies of atomic super-soldier zombies, before getting absorbed into the 50's UFO fad and finding its niche in paranoid saucer invasion stories like Invaders from Mars or Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.  The sci-fi branch of zombie stories would be right at home with armed zombie armies, or alien pod-people pretending to be human. These are most likely to be seen in miniature in the form of pulp-style armed WWII German zombies. (There seems to have been a very closely-related fad for American Civil War Confederate zombies in '70s exploitation movies, which never seemed to make it very far out of their niche audience.)  Mostly, though, outside of some neo-pulp revivals here and there, these zombies seem to survive in Hollywood in their alien invader form: mostly indistinguishable from living humans, aside from being cold, soulless, and fanatically dedicated to the invasion.

    Then, there are the ghouls:  these seem to have been their own animal, both mythologically, and in terms of sci-fi/horror subgenre.  These ghouls are cousins of vampires and werewolves:  eating flesh rather than drinking blood for sustanence, and transforming into corpselike mockery of humanity rather than a wolf, with their bite almost always spreading the "cult" of ghoulishness from victim to victim in more or less the same way as a vampire or werewolf (compare to the zombies, who are typically raised from the grave via science/medicine, or voodoo or other ritual, or pehaps created with serums or alien implants:  the zombie is deliberately raised/created to serve a zombie master as slaves, while the ghoul is almost a force of nature, or perhaps by man "digging too deep" via science, creating and spreading itself via biological, chemical, or radiological means, merely to serve its own unnatural hunger....)  One of the earliest film appearances of the modern ghoulish "zombie" was the Vincent Price vehicle The Last Man on Earth (notably based on Matheson's vampire story "I Am Legend"), followed a couple years later by Night of the Living Dead (which seems to have really codified this subgenre for modern audiences!)  Rarely do modern ghoulish "zombies" use tools or weapons, but in their earliest incarnations - such as the vampires from The Last Man on Earth - they could be seen beating on the doors of the protagonist's fortress with improvised clubs, and later (SPOILER) organized squads of the vampires hunted the protagonists through the streets in trucks and jeeps, while armed with machine guns.  (Interestingly, these "zombies" could talk, reason, and organize, but were also repelled by sunlight, garlic, mirrors, and crucifixes, and clearly drank blood rather than eating flesh... still, they looked, sounded, and acted like modern ghoul "zombies" in every other way.)  Instances of weapon-using "zombies" could also be found in the more influential Night of the Living Dead, such as the iconic zombie-girl who stabbed her father to death and cut up his body to eat with a gardening trowel!  So, weapons are not typically seen in the hands of modern ghouls, but only as a matter of tradition:  there's no reason they couldn't be armed, and in the early days they were armed, when the story called for it!

    The ghoulish "zombie" might popularly be broken down further into some distinction between "fast zombies" and "slow zombies", but I think that distinction mostly misses the point for any discussion other than one of the story's mood.  In terms of weapon-using ability, they're identical:  it seems they could use tools, but generally don't today, because they're assumed to lack the intelligence to do so, except for when the development of intelligence is a plot point (as is the case of later intallments of Living Dead sequels.)


    And finally, there's the demonically-possessed Deadite, as seen (and named) in the Evil Dead films and television series:  a form of "zombie" that plays by its own, supernatural, demonic rules.  A Deadite is similar to a vampire, but doesn't commonly seem to drink blood or eat flesh, and instead seems to be motivated entirely by scaring, tormenting, and demoralizing its victims, and leaving them vulnerable to their own possession.  Expect bizarre transformations of the body (bulging or glowing eyes, claws, fangs, twisted limbs and body, etc.), levitation, menacing threats and taunts, spell-casting, tool-using, and a bewildering range of less describable suprenatural abilities and deformations.  Mythologically, the Deadite most resembles the dybbuk, a corpse possessed by a trickster spirit who torments the living with horrible pranks while wearing their loved one's corpse like a disguise. Throughout the Evil Dead franchise (and in similar horror movies about demonically reanimated corpses), we frequently find Deadites armed with ritual daggers, chainsaws, boomsticks, swords, and so on, and one assumes that magic wands, spellbooks, and the like are equally possible, if not commonly seen, so the Deadite is definitely no stranger to weapons, though the use of weapons seems to run mostly on rule of scary, as the Deadites seem to be just as dangerous without weapons....


    In short, I think all the major varieties of what might broadly be called movie "zombies" can use weapons, but many of them are rarely depicted doing so, mostly through inertia of tradition in copy-cat media that seems to lose a little of the original detail with each copy of a copy of a copy..... 

    Any basic zombie multi-part kit should include a few improvised weapons, with the option not to use them....  And I'd prefer generic weapons sprues to optionally arm zombie hordes with spears, bows, or whatever for those who want to make a well-armed zombie army, and who don't have a stash of appropriate bitz....

  • @Yronimos Whateley Informative as always mate! 

    For kits I prefer choices, always. It is the challenge of making the Fireforge undead peasants without weapons that has me concerned about being pushed into using weapons for my preferred slow moving bite only mindless zombies.

  • This is really dependent on the setting to me and threat level. I think Zombies should follow the Ninja-power-level rule. The more zombies you see the less potent they should be. You have hordes of undead against a few survivors, then I prefer tooth and claw attacks, but if the sides start to tip in the living's favor than you need something special to make it interesting. That could be weapon use, demonic powers, indestructibility, strange mutations, or easy contagion, something to make them a threat. 


    For a miniature game? It's hard to make a horde a threat without clogging the table with junk. Give them thematic weapons and powers 

  • @Grumpy Gnome @William Redford 

    I'd like to modify my answer.  Modernish zombies don't use weapons.

    However, I agree with William Redford, fantasy zombies raised by a necromancer probably do use weapons.  I imagine them to be so slow and clumsy with those weapon that there would be little difference between these armed zombies and bite only zombies in game terms.

  • @Olympian Gamers 

    One doesn't really think to run though.  If you ARE thinking about it when you run you are probably doing it wrong.  Toddlers start doing it without any training.  It's basic, instinctual stuff.

    Inserting a magazine, charging the weapon, operating the selector switch, and aligning the sights with the target, while conducting a smooth trigger squeeze is a bit of a different thing.

    And armor should be effective against zombie bites.  Step 3 of zombie survival: tape magazines around the forearms.


  • I'm thinking a great deal of it comes down really to the genre/subgenre you're working in, the setting, the mood and aesthetic, and the context.

    A game based on "The Walking Dead" is a different animal from a D&D dungeon crawl, which is a different animal yet again from something based on "Hellboy" or "Wolfenstein", or "Doom" or "Quake", or something informed by the hordes of the White Walkers from "Game of Thrones".

    Zombie grunts from "Doom"/"Quake" would be kinda weird and disappointing if they didn't have guns, while walkers from "The Walking Dead" would be pretty weird with them.

    I'd never quite heard of that Ninja Power Rule before, but I like it - and it also plays into genre expectations.

    Speaking of genre expectations, one of the notable things about the "Living Dead" movie genre is that the living dead are almost never the story's real antagonists - in fact, surviving the "zombies" should usually be pretty easy, if everyone just got along with each other, and kept their sanity:  the dead traditionally move pretty slowly, they aren't very clever, they only have their numbers and ability to quickly multiply in their favor.  The modenr zombie movie's real antagonists are almost always the survivors themselves:  they bicker among themselves in the least constructive ways possible, too many of them are only looking out for themselves to make a cohesive group, the best survivors are criminals and psychopaths and sociopaths, etc.  The best defenses against the living dead will inevitably crumble because nobody involved prepares for anything more than the living dead once they settle into their gun store or shopping mall or isolated house or prison or whatever, and soon find themselves overwhelmed by biker gangs, military defectors, and so on.  The "zombies" in this genre rarely have weapons, because they're rarely the point:  in the movies, at least, the dead are practically obstacles, or perhaps random wildlife encounters, added to a climactic skirmish game between human factions.  (Game adaptations may or may not realize that, and focus on zombie-bashing for points instead, but writers for the best movies in the genre do understand this!)

    The other "flavors" of "zombie" story are each telling a different type of story from that, and usually from each other... dungeon crawl variations on the "Hollywood voodoo zombies" might represent obstacles controlled by a necromancer, with the power and capabilities of the undead being raised being more a function of balance against the party's level, mixed with rule-of-cool, than anything else, and so weapons are a little more optional. 

    Those Deadites from the Evil Dead are the movie's villains, and actually seem to represent a cosmic horror that Ash and his cast of fellow victims cannot really triumph over completely - the power of the Deadits and the Kandarian demons that possess them adjusts as needed to drive home just how out of his depth Ash is, even as he unwillingly and unwittingly stands against them anyway, like any good cosmic horror protagonist - weapons are fair game in the spirit of the Rule of Scary and the Rule of Cool. 

    Doom/Quake "grunts" are designed from the ground up as low-level first-person-shooter monsters that shoot back as part of the game's challenge. 

    Pulp Atomic superman zombie soldiers are meant to be a larger-than-life villain for a pulp hero to two-fist his way through, preferably in a dramatic setpiece climax to the story, with weird magic, explosions, and whatever else it takes to get the job done. 

    The "Game of Thrones" undead (which are probably the inspiration for Warhammer and other fantasy wargame zombies) are a reskinned Sauron-style fantasy "evil empire" for flawed protagonists to fail to properly work together against in George R.R. Martin's distinctly cynical and unconventional take on epic fantasy cliches:  weapons, armor, and magic serve to drive home just how dangerous this enemy really should be, and how woefully unprepared the protagonists are against them.


    SO, in gaming terms, a "Walking Dead"/"Living Dead" style game should probably put more emphasis on a skirmish game between rival human factions, in a world that happens to include undead obstacles to complicate things.  Undead weapons not included.

    An undead army faction for a rock-paper-scissors tabletop wargame like Warhammer should probably be equipped like an evenly-matched army.

    Anything might go in a pulp horror game, pulp adventure, or pulp fantasy dungeon crawl.

    And so on....


    So, all of the above are, I feel, quite valid options, in the broadest sense.  Things narrow down quite a bit, however, when you pick a specific game, genre, or whatever!

  • @Grumpy Gnome Hi Grump me old mate,  I wish i had more time to do that blog of yours justice, I really enjoyed the time i was able to spare. There was a grain of dark humor running through some post and i felt the irony of some of your decisions weather to share or not. Ithink you were informative with out being pushy, free with ideas, willing to share and most of all very honest. I hope to be able to do them more justice in the future. Sadly my real enemy is time, I never seem to be able to enjoy the task at the moment,  any way last night, Eileen and myself did relax with a film, Hugh Jackman in Reminiscence. I would love to do a board with floods like that, cities taken by the sea. We rate the film quite highly both story wise, nice plot twists, acting and stuning  scenery. Take Care all, Geoff  

  • @Yronimos Whateley Always a joy to read your informative posts. As usual I agree with the bulk of what you are saying. Of course different types of zombies apply best to different settings. I am curious as to what style of zombie, and its appropriate setting, most people prefer.

    @Geoff Maybury Time is the universal enemy of us all mate. Thanks for the kind words and the tip on the movie. I will have a look for it.

  • If I had to pick just one narrow set of zombies/ghouls, and had to make them as general-purpose as possible?

    Short answer is "unarmed" - it's easy enough to add spare weapons to an unarmed zombie, and I'd rather have lots more zombie (and non-zombie monster) heads, than extra zombie weapons.


    To me, the best compromise kit would be:

    • Heads:  A wide variety of generic, decayed undead heads and a few skulls, and include additional heads with assorted monstrous/demonic features like fangs, bulging eyes, long tongues, pointed ears, ghost-faces, etc., and ghoulish heads wearing top hats, lich crowns, bandages, cowls or other spooky headwear....
    • Arms:  Mostly unarmed with reaching, grasping hands and claws.  Include a few improvised weapons:  boards, branches, bones, shovels, picks.  (I'd rather see more monstrous heads, than more weapons.)
    • Torsos:  Dress them in a mix of decayed suits-and-ties, loose and simple ragged shrouds, and barefoot with indistinct rag shirts and trousers in as generic a fashion as possible, so that the zombies can be used for most common eras (fantasy, gothic, and modern zombie apocalypse), with only a little fudging - really, only the suits and ties would be a bit tough to fit into generic fantasy, but would otherwise work well enough for gaslight to modern zombies, while the shrouds and rags can fit any era....


    For pretty much anything other than the common and popular unarmed zombie hordes, such a kit could be kitbashed easily enough against, say, the French Resistance or a hypothetical Peasant Uprising set for variety, or Dark Age Irish or Goth torsos and arms for armed medieval zombies, or torsos and arms from soldiers from pretty much any era for zombie armies (zombie Deathfields Grognards, perhaps?)

    If limited to one frame, I'd rather dedicate limited sprue space to heads than weapons - keep any improvised weapons small and simple (minus arms, just being held in hands that cna be transplanted onto arms), or leave them out altogether.  If the kit could instead extend to one and a half frames, I'd say put the torsos, arms, and weapons on the full frame, and all the heads (and only heads) on the half-frame, which can be sold both as part of the zombie set, and separately for kit-bashing monsters and aliens for other sets. 

    Ideally, there should be a FEW zombie weapons in such a kit (where else would you get rusted junk, crude femur clubs, meat cleavers, butcher knives, weaponized tools, and other zombie/ghoul weapons?), but I think one could do a lot more with an imaginative variety of undead, ghost, possessed/demon, and monster/alien heads, grasping claws, and fairly generic and timeless torsoes in rags and even ragged suits-and-ties, than with a copy of a Mantic or GW-style stylized and fairly uniform army of revenants, ghouls, and zombies.  And, I'd rather be spoiled with extra unique and hard-to-find monster heads I don't think I'll need, than with more generic fantasy weapons of the sort that can be found in any bitz-bin or fantasy/dark-ages kit worth its salt, just for the sake of arming a full complement of zombie soldiers with a choice of common spears, bows, and swords.

    Anyway, that's the way I see it:  such a set would provide generic enough zombies for either a zombie-apocalypse game or a dungeon-crawl, along with enough heads of different sorts for a variety of other projects.  Any wargamer who needs weapons for a zombie army can find them easily enough - either in all the leftovers from the bitz bin, or in any of the great kits available already from Wargames Atlantic or the competition.

  • @Yronimos Whateley Brilliantly put mate!

  • @Yronimos Whateley I think you've hit the nail on the head with your post - kitbashing the "generic" Zombies with other sets to give the horde the flavour of the era they'll be used it.

    @JTam - regarding my point on cognitive capability, dextrous/comple activities like reloading a modern assualt rife are out, but swinging clubs, throwing weapons or shooting guns (without reloading) are all still feasible.

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