Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Cold, Cold Dead

Snowmageddon Dos. This time, we have about six inches of snow, which is much more like the snowfalls I remember of my youth. Once the kids get up, I'm sure they're going to want to do a little sledding in the park. I'm just glad it's a Mexican wife gets as giddy over snow as any eight year old, and I'm sure she'll to want to play, too.

Me? Well, I'm not so enthused. "Brrrr" is the thought that comes to mind as I look out the window, sipping reheated coffee in the early morning hours. Pretty to look at, sure. But it's nice and warm in here. Glad I don't have any reason to drive in it.
Outside my window.
I'm sorry, I was going to write some more cleric-related posts ...actually, I wanted to get back to posting some undead musings and mods for B/X, like that mummy post I did the other day. Thing is, the snow kind of sucks the air out of my sails. It's not just that I'm driven to distraction by the need to mention it (or my feelings on it), but I don't really like mixing my undead with my snow fascination. Necromancy just isn't something I associate with an arctic climate.

Weird? Yeah, probably. I have done "dead in the snow" themed monsters and adventures before. Snow mummies, for example...they're a "new monster" that appear in my adventure module BXC1: In the Realm of the Goblin Queen. That whole thing is a set in a snow-filled pocket dimension...had to find some way of incorporating an undead or two. Hmmm...maybe I should get around to finishing that one up and publishing it.

[one more project to add to the list this month]

Yes, yes...most everyone loves Game of Thrones with its frozen undead ("the white walkers") and impending Death Frost Doom, zombie apocalypse plot arc. Me, too (do I really have to wait till April for the last season? Jeez!). But the thought of least in terms of D&D...leaves me a little, um, cold.

First off, there's the whole "creep factor" that comes with undead...for me, it just doesn't mesh well. Undead are these unholy things that lurk in half-buried tombs and forgotten caves, sneaking silently through the darkness, ready to catch you up in a cold, clammy dead grip, possibly chilling your soul (in the case of energy drain attacks) .

But everything is cold and clammy in a frozen environment. Everything scary is going to emerge from the dark in an endless winter or blizzard-swept setting. Everything is going to be creeping silently when you can't hear over the howling wind. In any snowy fantasy, it just ends up doubling up all the creepy strengths the undead already possesses...and to me, that's as ridiculous as shouting "More cowbell!" Give me a break. Undead already have a scare factor of ten...but undead in winter go up to eleven, right?

It's overkill. I prefer fur-wrapped goblins or axe-wielding savages to emerge from the snows. Hell, just give me a pack of hungry wolves (dire or not). Give me something that's going to eat the party (because it's cold and food is scarce)...not something that's going to "freeze them with fear." It's already freezing outside.

And then there's the whole (imaginary) visuals...undead just don't juxtapose well with a snowy landscape. If it's a sunny day, a field of snow and ice is bright. You can't chase a party with a group black-cowled Nazgul across something like that! You need a polar bear...or some sort of fantasy war-sledge driven by ice bandits or whatnot.

And wouldn't bone-chilling cold and snow (factors that already slow movement) grind a zombie march to a halt? Could a skeleton even wade through deep snow? How?

Can you see a wraith in a snow flurry? I don't think so. And an encounter with an invisible wraith is the kind of thing that makes players want to lynch me on that.

No, I just can't say I'm a fan of the concept. A snowy scene outside my window does NOT inspire me to write about undead, unfortunately...I need dry, sandy tombs or humid, disease-ridden swamps or creepy, mist-soaked graveyards. Snow-covered landscapes make me think of hot cocoa and jingle bells...or the jingle of mail and war harness on a gang of axe-swinging Vikings. Not the undead.

So...sorry about that. Hopefully, Seattle will be thawed out by next week and I'll be able to get back to my thoughts on the undead (including how to use them in a world without clerics). Just not today. There's simply too much white outside. And I should probably do some stretching before the snowball fight that'll inevitably occur sometime this morning.

Tell you what: I'll cut-n-paste the snow mummy entry for you. Feel free to add it to your campaigns this winter (or whenever). Later, skaters.
: )

Snow Mummy*

Armor Class: 2                                       No. Appearing: 1-4 (1-4)
Hit Dice: 7+2*                                       Save As: Fighter 7
Move: 60’ (20’)                                      Morale: 12
Attacks: 1                                               Treasure Type: E x2
Damage: 2-16 + cold                             Alignment: Chaotic

Snow mummies are a form of undead found only in Snowfell and other cold regions…they are created using an unusual form of mummy preparation before being stored in ice. Often created to act as un-dying guardians, snow mummies have all the usual mummy immunities, as well as being immune to both cold and fire. They do not cause disease but are freezing to the touch, causing an additional D8 damage to anyone not protected against cold. In addition, anyone hit by a snow mummy must save versus paralysis or be chilled, suffering a -2 penalty on to hit rolls and initiative and only moving at half speed. The effects of chill can be removed by the use of a restoration spell or spending 1 turn bundled up in front of a roaring fire.

[ it's more like eight inches of snow]


  1. Hope you survive the snowpocalypse.

    An aside: Back in college, a friend of mine ran a one-shot of All Flesh Must Be Eaten (zombie survival rpg if you've never heard of it) The zombies were cold-based and had an endless hunger for heat. They drained the body heat from the living, turning them into the cold dead as well.

    In the end, it turned out to be a failed experiment to make astronauts able to survive in space with less equipment, so SCIENCE!! was our hand-waver for cold dead not having the mobility problems you outlined above.

  2. I've spent the last couple days building an igloo in the neighborhood park with my family. After several hours of real manual labor (making, shaping, and lifting blocks of hard-packed snow) I am shambling like a zombie myself.

    Skies dumped another 4-6 inches last night, so my kids are home again this week. Normally I would have been up writing (early) this morning, but I really needed to sleep in after yesterday exertions. Maybe tomorrow...

    1. That is great. Do show a photograph of the igloo.