Zombies Grappling/Shoving

ZenBear

Villager
By RAW, I don't know if Zombies are technically allowed to take special attack actions like Shove. However, I think that's kind of a dumb rule. I was watching the zombie battles in Game of Thrones and noticed how the horde was particularly dangerous because the sheer mass of bodies slamming into the defenders prevented them from getting solid swings or maintaining a coherent battle line. It made me think that it would be more interesting in-game to have Zombies charge in with Shove and Grapple attempts to keep the players on the ground, rolling disadvantage on attack rolls or spending actions escaping grapples, rather than just rolling Slam every round. Has anyone ever done this before in your game? Do you think zombies should be too dumb to use such tactics? Would it make for a tougher battle, or would the potentially wasted grapple/shove attempts just lower the average DPR beyond the potential gain?
 

Sabathius42

Explorer
Rule 0 says the GM can pretty much have monsters do whatever they want them to do. D&D (and tabletop roleplaying games in general) is remarkably distinct from boardgames and videogames because of this. If you want to model a battle like in Game of Thrones and it makes sense for your zombies to Grapple, Push, Knock Down, or whatever then you just have to come up with the rules (in this case you can mirror the rules for characters doing the same action) and be a fair judge that you are making the overall challenge something that the players have agency in dealing with. You should never feel constrained as a GM because of what is written in a book, but you should always use that as a guide for how to adjust things to fit your game.

In the specific case of the Game of Thrones army of undead, especially as shown in the outside portion of the battle, I don't think individual zombies switching Slam to Grapple or Knockdown really models this effectively. That undead hoard was more of a swarm (in the 5e rules sense) and in a battle like that I wouldn't even reflect the undead with individual models. You would be better served treating them as a spreading unkillable "blob" that can at best be pushed back a square at a time or kept from spreading and have an organized retreat or "hold for X turns" objective for the PCs.

DS
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I’ve always found it odd that zombies in D&D mostly just pound on opponents with their fists, when in most other media their tactics usually consist of grab-and-bite. I say go for it!
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I use zombie mobs as mid-to-high level monsters. Exact implementation varies a bit but they act quite similar to a swarm of rotting corpses.

I don't have my notes handy from last time but they could surround people, knock them prone and "swarm" which basically meant that no one could tell where they were for purposes of targeting. If you were prone they could immobilize you and get advantage. I think I also added in a con save for retching because of the smell.

Let's just say the first encounter went from "ho-hum zombies" to "OMG! What just happened to Chuck! Chuuucckkk!!!!" The big guns started coming out the next time they showed up.

But even normal zombies can shove and grapple, pretty much any creature can within size limits. So even if you don't use mob rules, have them knocking prone and swarm. Remember that they don't really have any sense of self-preservation so if they go after the squishies in the back, that's just par for the course. The biggest problem is the slow movement, which is why I sometimes have them rise up from shallow graves in confined spaces.

Individual zombies are an annoyance. A horde of zombies can be a challenge, the trick is how to make it not be a slog.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I will just have the bard play music and zombies will follow. I saw that in a movie once or twice.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I’ve always found it odd that zombies in D&D mostly just pound on opponents with their fists, when in most other media their tactics usually consist of grab-and-bite. I say go for it!
Well, D&D zombies aren't like those in the media. Modern media has zombies that are basically mindless predators that eat human flesh. D&D zombies don't need to eat, and have no particular drive to do so, so behaviors designed for feeding are of no particular use for a D&D zombie.

I also think Oofta has a good idea. What you see from one or two lone zombies may be different from what you see when you have a full horde of them. Make a zombie swarm different from just a bunch of individual zombies.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Well, D&D zombies aren't like those in the media. Modern media has zombies that are basically mindless predators that eat human flesh. D&D zombies don't need to eat, and have no particular drive to do so, so behaviors designed for feeding are of no particular use for a D&D zombie.
Sure, but that's the same problem from a different angle. D&D zombies don't look like the thing most people think of when they hear "zombie."
 
A GM friend of mine ran a short campaign that was basically "Flee the undead horde and find a place to hide."

He'd implemented a key house rule to increase the horror. When you reached zero, instead of falling unconscious, you got 2 levels of fatigue. For that hit and every time you were hit after that, you made a Con save equal to the damage, and if you failed you gained another level of fatigue. You'd only die at 6 levels of fatigue. If you got above 0 HP, you'd remove 2 levels of fatigue. So you could theoretically hold on for a long while if you were taking very small hits of damage.

Like zombie bites.

(Also, out of combat, hit dice only replenished if you rested for a week.)

We started in medias res, with our party fleeing down a shallow canyon. Zombies started tumbling down the sides, some in front, some behind, and I was playing a dwarf, so outrunning them wasn't an option. Two of the zombies got up to me and tried to grab me. One succeeded. I broke the grab and hacked at one, but didn't kill it. The next turn two more zombies reached me. They proceeded to grab me, then trip me. I tried to fight back, but couldn't actually kill one. My teammates hacked at zombies and managed to kill two.

The next turn four more zombies reached me, and they all bit me. I had heavy armor on, so I only took a bit of damage.

Then the next turn they dropped me to zero. I kept fighting. A cleric healed me. The zombies ignored him and kept biting me back .

Eventually over seven turns they managed to hack through a dozen zombies, and drag my 5-fatigue ass with them.

So yes, it's a good tactic for zombies to use.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
By RAW, I don't know if Zombies are technically allowed to take special attack actions like Shove. However, I think that's kind of a dumb rule.
It's also a rule that doesn't exist. So don't worry about it. Zombies can absolutely grapple and shove.

MM, p. 10: "When a monster takes its action, it can choose from the options in the Actions section of its stat block or use one of the actions available to all creatures..."

Has anyone ever done this before in your game?
Did it last session, in fact. Some zombies grabbed the cleric and dragged him away from the rest of the party who were dealing with an ogre zombie, doppleganger, and a necromancer in a crowded marketplace. The cleric had already turned the ogre zombie before these other zombies arrived on the scene, so the cleric didn't have that option available to him when they grappled him.

Do you think zombies should be too dumb to use such tactics?
Any good tactic that a zombie is seen to employ (or any monster for that matter) can be explained away. Fiction is mutable - just make something up if you have to. Perhaps these zombies are just grasping at flesh and inadvertently pushing the characters back and not grappling for some great tactical reason the zombie came up with.

Would it make for a tougher battle, or would the potentially wasted grapple/shove attempts just lower the average DPR beyond the potential gain?
That's very situational. Consider adding a terrain feature like a necromantic aura on a statue or whatever that does damage to living creatures if they enter or start their turns in it. Then have the zombies grapple and drag PCs into it and hold them there.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Sure, but that's the same problem from a different angle. D&D zombies don't look like the thing most people think of when they hear "zombie."
Yeah? So? I don't see the problem. Do people's heads explode when the game's zombies don't match a movie zombie?

The "zombie eats flesh, and the bitten turn into zombies" is a pretty narrow story space to deal with. It is fine when you specifically want a zombie movie, but otherwise it kind of takes over any world in which you put it. And, if the game's zombies worked that way, the Create Undead spell would be a risk of an extinction level event every single time it was cast, and thus *WAAAAAY* higher than 6th level.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Yeah? So? I don't see the problem. Do people's heads explode when the game's zombies don't match a movie zombie?

The "zombie eats flesh, and the bitten turn into zombies" is a pretty narrow story space to deal with. It is fine when you specifically want a zombie movie, but otherwise it kind of takes over any world in which you put it. And, if the game's zombies worked that way, the Create Undead spell would be a risk of an extinction level event every single time it was cast, and thus *WAAAAAY* higher than 6th level.
I have thought about running an apocalyptic zombie game where there's an infectious version of zombies slowly taking over the world and I think it would be tough to implement, especially depending on how infectious the undead are. Do they have to get a good chomp in? How are they going to do that against someone in plate? Doe a mere scratch do it? Short campaign, have fun playing zombies vs humans.

If you tweak the mythos a little bit they could be like wights, the victim only turns if killed. Or maybe being reduced to 0 (or some other threshold) means you have a chance to be infected, perhaps treating it something like lycanthropy. So with magic there's a chance to recover but there's not enough magic around to cure everyone. I think the real danger (if following modern zombie tropes) is that anyone that dies becomes a zombie. At a certain point if there's a plague or other significant cause of mortality the problem is not the zombie horde outside the walls, it's the child or your spouse sleeping next to you that die in the middle of the night.

In any case, when I've done anything like this there was a significant source of necromantic energy driving the hordes so it was always a self-contained mini-apocalypse and it was never infectious. But maybe someday as survival horror mini-campaign. :hmm:
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Yeah? So? I don't see the problem. Do people's heads explode when the game's zombies don't match a movie zombie?
No, it's fine, but that doesn't mean I don't find it odd that D&D's zombies slam instead of grappling and biting once a grapple has been established. Like, there's nothing wrong with that take, it's just not what I typically expect out of zombies.
 

Warpiglet

Explorer
No, it's fine, but that doesn't mean I don't find it odd that D&D's zombies slam instead of grappling and biting once a grapple has been established. Like, there's nothing wrong with that take, it's just not what I typically expect out of zombies.
You could have them grapple and do damage either way by raw. For extra creep factor have some damage be piercing or slashing via bite. It changes nothing about the challenge rating imho.

Got for it.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I started playing in 80s so only bad zombies movies were in my head. They were stupider than D&D zombies. How about this save vs zombie plague. DC 5 + total amount of zombie damage. This is an increasing number. Get hit and the dm doing avg damage. DC 9. Second hit DC 13. DC only resets when a person is magically healed to their max hit points. Person turns in 1d4 days.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Keep in mind that 5E has dispensed with the notion of "mindless" creatures. Int 3 is smarter than most predatory animals, and predators are certainly capable of using knockdown and grappling tactics.

Zombies may have no sense of self-preservation, but if their intelligence is good for anything, killing the living should top the list.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
I think ghouls are supposed to represent the infectious zombie in D&D (although it seems like by the 1st or 2nd undead splat book of each edition, there will be a plague zombie). I like the swarm idea, particularly since you can play with the difficulty: "easy" only does 2 zombies' worth of damage to anyone who enters it, "lower medium easy" does 3, "medium" does 4, etc. with some adjustment for other effects (like grappling).
 

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