Brain Harvest

I had painted up loads of undead figures, and wanted a scenario to make use of them. The figures were sold as ‘zombies’, ‘ghouls’, ‘wraiths’, ‘skeletons’ and the like, but I chose to make no distinction. They were all dead bodies, made animate by magic.

“My school of necromancy is better than your school of necromancy” I said to my opponent, and then we set about working out our stats.

I defined a standard zombie. This standard zombie would be worth ten points, and had the following stats: Quality Rating 1 (same as a peasant) for combat, QR 2 for armour (resistance to missiles – my thinking was that zombies would be harder to kill with missiles than living men, and so they were treated as men-at-arms for this purpose), movement rate 4” (fairly slow), control range 10”.

The control range was the distance a necromancer could control a zombie from. If a zombie moved to the edge of this range it would then stop and wait. If the necromancer moved further than this away from the zombie, the zombie would collapse on the spot. Zombies would also collapse if the controlling necromancer were killed.

This standard zombie could then be altered with powerful spells. Magic is costly however, and this was reflected in a points cost for upgrading a zombie. Similarly they could be down-graded for a saving in points.

  • Per 2" of control range: 1 point
  • 1" of speed: 1 point
  • Increased armour Quality Rating: 3 points per level (min level 1, max 3)
  • Increased Quality Rating in combat: 5 points per level (min 0, max 4)
  • Mounted (including the 12" speed of a normal horse): 10 points

Necromancers could only control zombies of one type. This kept things simple. A basic necromancer cost 40 points, and was treated otherwise as a QR 2 figure. Necromancers could be upgraded just like zombies.

Example zombies: Basic cost 10 + QR0 for combat (-5), Movement 5" (+1), Control Range 8" (–1) = 5 points per zombie. One standard necromancer (40) with 32 of these zombies under his control (160 points) makes a unit with a cost of 200.

Example #2: Basic cost 10 + QR2 (+5), Movement 10" (+6), Control Range 12" (+1), Armour QR3 (+3) = 25 points per zombie. A necromancer to control them with QR3 armour (+3) and a speed of 10" (to keep up with his own troops, +6) is 49 points.

Other zombie upgrades are of course possible: extra good marksmanship for archers perhaps, or some sort of magic for jamming the enemy’s ability to control zombies.

1000 points per side is a reasonable amount.

The set up

I set up a squarish table, with a large village in the middle, with seventeen villagers in it. The table had quite a lot of terrain on it. Each player deployed up to 8" in from one end of the table. Obviously, all zombies had to be deployed within control range of their necromancers.


This is a competitive brain harvest. Fresh brains are very valuable for necromantic reasons that we needn’t bother ourselves with. They just are. Each player had to use his zombies to kill villagers and carry their fresh brains off his deployment edge of the table. A zombie could carry one villager and move at normal rate (you might want to slow them down slightly, but not much). A zombie could pick up a body it was next to and move away in the same move, but could not move to, then pick up, and then move away with a body. A body could be handed over from one zombie to another. If a necromancer died, his brain was fresh and could be harvested in the same way.

Villager Behaviour and Turn Sequence

After both players have had a turn, the villagers have a turn. Villagers not seeing zombies will stand around until they see one. Villagers having some reasonable cause to move will move half the time and stay still half the time and dither. A simple die roll determines which (4+ on 1d6). Usually the direction of fleeing is quite easy to determine from the situation, but if not it can be randomised. Villagers do not flee off the table, but instead flee to cower in cover in one of their buildings. Most of the buildings in the playtest had two entrances, and zombies entering from one end of a longhouse would flush the villagers out the other end. If one player’s zombies attack a villager, then the other player decides what the villager will do: fight, flee, or whatever.

Rules Considerations

Some rules for target priority are needed, because otherwise the game could be ruined by both sides just shooting at necromancers all the time. Simply forbidding zombies to shoot at necromancers is not the best idea, however, because there should be a level of threat to necromancers to keep the game exciting. The rule I used, and I think it worked well, was that every zombie between the archers and the enemy necromancer must be shot at by at least one zombie archer in a given turn, before any zombie can shoot at the necromancer. For example, there are five archers in a position to shoot at a necromancer (they have line of sight to him, and he is within range), but between the necromancer and the archers are three zombies. Three of the archers must shoot at the nearer enemies, and at most two archers can target the necromancer.

The control range in playtest was used as the limiting factor for control. The game would be more of a challenge, and would encourage player to spend points on more necromancers, if line of sight to the zombies under control were also required. Zombies passing out of sight would stop and wait. If attacked, they would fight at a substantial disadvantage. For a more advanced game, you could have zombies with very limited powers when not under direct control. For example, zombies that can keep walking in a straight line (useful for ferrying bodies off-table), zombies that can fight normally if attacked, and zombies that when passing out of sight of their controlling necromancer, have some chance of finding their way to him.

Victory Conditions

The winner has the most points at the end. Each fresh brain carried off the home deployment edge is worth 1 point, and killing an enemy necromancer is worth 5 points.

Tactical considerations

Since every upgrade costs points, there is balance to the scenario. A player who has many zombies will have rubbish zombies. A player who has fast zombies will have few zombies, or very weak ones.

The villagers in playtest were often very uncooperative with the zombies trying to harvest them, and having small units of fast zombies to rush forward and kill villagers before the enemy got there didn’t work brilliantly, because both sides had a similar idea, and it took a fair while to kill many villagers.

Having a fast unit to rush round the table was a good idea, as this forced the enemy to surround his necromancers with zombies for protection, and meant that he could not ferry his fresh brains back to his home table edge without fear of enemy interception.

Having at least one unit with lots and lots of rubbish zombies was a good idea, because these could clog up large amounts of the table and make things difficult for the enemy.

Having a necromancer and a few fast zombies with the sole task of ferrying brains back to the home edge was a good idea that neither side tried in playtest. Sending a necromancer back to the home edge, to carry brains off table was a very costly thing to do tactically, because it meant withdrawing all his forces from the front line.

Alternative Setting

Having played this scenario, I think a similar one in which Achaeans and Trojans fight it out to harvest panoplies of armour might work nicely. An army could consist of timorous human troops lacking any personal initiative, egged on by charismatic leaders. The humans would be behaving much as the zombies do in this scenario.


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