A lot of Most problems in Dungeons and Dragons are solved by punching or magic-ing things to death. If we Dungeon Masters aren’t careful, this formula can make most combats feel awfully similar to one another.
Combats across a campaign shouldn’t work like a DLC pack of new skins/costumes: it looks different as the monsters have changed, but the experience is practically the same. And to the credit of Wizards of the Coast, there are plenty of nifty variations and mechanics to many of their monsters to help avoid this very problem.
What I’ve done below is whip up an encounter with a fun and interesting mechanic variation that might force players into a different tactical and strategic approach. Insert it into practically any campaign for a quick change of pace and a bit of fun flavor!
D&D 5e Encounter Idea: Zed-words.
- Suggested Party: 4 Level 3 characters
- Monster Composition: 5 Zombies
- CR of Encounter: 2
This encounter isn’t meant to be difficult; it’s meant to be FUN!
I did a little homebrewing for this one! I took your vanilla zombie from the Monster Manual (CR 1/4) and added the Loathsome Limbs table from the Strahd Zombies (pg. 241 Curse of Strahd). Here is what that table says:
Whenever the zombie takes a least 5 bludgeoning or slashing damage at one time, roll a d20 to determine what else happens to it:
1-8: One leg is severed from the zombie (if it has any legs left)
9-16: One arm is severed from the zombie (if it has any arms left)
17-20: The zombie is decapitated.
If the zombie is reduced to 0HP, all parts of it die. Until then, a severed part acts on the zombie’s initiative and has its own action and movement. A severed part has an AC of 8 and any damage it takes it subtracted from the zombie’s total HP.
- A severed leg is unable to attack and has a speed of 5.
- A severed arm has a speed of 5 and can make one claw attack with disadvantage on its turn.
- If the zombie’s head is severed, it loses its bite attack and its body is blinded unless the head can see it. The severed head has a speed of 0. It can make a bite attack, but only against a target in its space.
- The zombie’s speed is halved if missing a leg. If it loses both legs, it falls prone. If it has both arms, it can crawl. With only one arm, it can still crawl but its speed is halved. With no arms or legs, speed is 0.
I also gave the vanilla zombie a bite attack (+3 to hit, 1d4+1) and a claw attack (+3 to hit, 1d6+1) to enable the severed appendages their own attack, but not multiattack a la the Strahd Zombie. That would raise the CR a bit higher than I wanted for this encounter.
So if you play this encounter right, limbs and heads will be everywhere–each moving and attacking on its own until the zombie is killed outright. And if your party has never encountered a Strahd Zombie, they’ll get all nervous when they deal 5+ bludgeoning or slashing and you ask them to roll that d20. But imagine their surprise when it lops off a limb and changes the battlefield in a fun way!
D&D 5e Encounter Idea : Zed-words.
It is absolutely worth reading through the Monster Manual (or Bestiaries if you’re running Pathfinder) to pick out a few monsters with some fun mechanics and play them up! Design unique encounters around them to shake up the standard combat formula and keep your sessions dynamic and interesting!
We have a whole series of these mash-up encounters called “Fantastic Fights.” Click here to browse through them all.
Guess what? You can even submit your own encounter idea! Just click here.