This Speculative Fiction Trope details the archetypes and classes of Zombie. The TV Tropes Wiki divides them into Types V, C, F, and P, for Voodoo, Construct, Flesh-Eating, and Plague, respectively. They also use hybrid multi-letter forms, such as the all-too-common Type FP, the Flesh-Eating Plague Zombie.
See also Romero Zombie and Rage Zombie for a somewhat different take on what are the important differences between zombie subtypes. Since this is an RPG site, we also need to add the fantasy zombie - a distinct type which TV Tropes, being mainly about media, more or less ignores.
One of the biggest variations is in how easy it is to kill the zombie - in some (usually fRPG) types they are vulnerable to the same sorts of damage that kill humans, just requiring more for the same effect. Cinematic zombies often require a headshot to kill them, whilst more carefully considered undead have no vital areas and need to be thoroughly dismantled before they cease to function with severed parts sometimes remaining hostile until destroyed. Sometimes specific attack types (such as fire) have an enhanced effect and zombies may also be vulnerable to holy objects and/or be repelled by various things (a line of salt works in some traditions).
Infectivity is also a big thing - how contagious is zombiedom? Most of the more cinematic ones can infect their opponents with a bite (but sometimes with other injuries as well), whilst the worst cases (such as those in 28 Days Later) have highly infectious bodily fluids that can contaminate a victim across almost any mucous membrane or injury. Progress of the infection can they vary immensely (often based on the demands of plot). More classical zombies are only infectious in as much as any other dirty wound can be - you might get tetanus or gangrene but won't develop a hunger for brains.
Game and Story Use
- There's no reason why you can't come up with your own zombie subtypes or variations. Spicing up the old common monsters is fun. You get the benefits of name recognition without the players instantly knowing how to solve all the challenges.
- PCs who are too genre savvy can be reformed by convention breaking undead - if their characters are mysteriously quick to guess that "headshot kills zombie" hit them with the "total dismantlement" kind - or even the "lots of normal damage" kind who aren't specially vulnerable to headshots.