Voodoo Zombie
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Basic Information

Arguably the original version of the zombie, emerging from the Caribbean Voudoun tradition but with its roots in traditional African religions a Voodoo Zombie is the servant of a bokor (or voodoo sorcerer). Officially, the zombie is one who has had his soul stolen - or at least bound - by the bokor's magic and, having died, is then brought back from death to serve his new master1. In reality it appears that the potential zombie is given two drugs - possibly blended together in a dust that is blown into their face, a procedure known as the coup de poudre2. The first slows down their metabolism and induces a death-like state3. The second is a dissociative chemical, that muddles the brain4. The victim is then traditionally buried alive, paralysed but still aware, before being dug up again by the bokor who then performs a ritual to "raise them from the dead" as their slave. A combination of cultural programming, psychological trauma and the power of suggestion, aided by the mind bending effects of the dissociatives, persuades the "zombie" that he is one of the walking dead and must serve the will of the bokor who raised them.

Obviously, this sort of zombie is not necessarily undead but may or may not have had his soul sucked out and put in a soul jar.

In fiction, they may be depicted as a dim-witted serial killer, mindless automaton, or chemically neutered servant. The cause is magic, psychological, or chemical, and not viral. As such, this form of zombie-ism is not going to be spread by bite. They are likely to have the Zombie Gait, though. They lack the standard strengths and vulnerabilities of movie zombies. Whilst having a high pain threshold (a zombie completely immune to pain is also likely to ruin itself quite quickly), increased endurance and a significant tolerance for hunger and thirst, this zombie probably still needs to eat, drink, breathe and rest from time to time and can be poisoned (unless, of course, it really is dead). Against that it might actually retain some of its skills from life (allowing it to perform relatively complex tasks) and probably lacks the mindless aggression of most kinds of zombie.

The Caribbean zombie generally may be a metaphor for the horrors of slavery - and for the mindset that allows a slave to become inured to his lot and give up all hope of being free. This becomes more terrible still when the zombies are actually undead - when this happens, the slave comes to realise that even when dead he will not find any rest from labour, but will find himself toiling in the plantations again before his body is even cold.

Pirates once sailed the same Caribbean islands where Voodoo developed. Therefore, it's not too big a stretch for Voodoo Zombies to also be Zombie Pirates or vice-versa. This may be hampered by the tradition that a zombie could be paralysed by the sight of the sea (which would probably have made them rather hard to use on some Caribbean islands) and its curse broken if it tasted salt (which may be why they are often depicted with their mouths sewn up).


2. Book: The Serpent And The Rainbow by Wade Davis

Game and Story Use

  • This is where the zombies depicted in D&D drew their inspiration way back in the 70s. Getting in touch with the roots can help put some flavor back into your campaign.
  • May be a good fit for a low-magic campaign, one where a Doubting Thomas needs a little shaking up.
  • Can justify why the mooks are slow and stupid.
  • The drug induced hypnosis/actual magic thing can be kept fuzzy - as can the enslaved/undead thing. The Agent Scully of the team might need quite a bit of convincing … rightly or wrongly as it occurs.
  • For low end magic, the drugging and burial may assist in undermining the victim's ability to resist the magical attack which binds them to the bokor's service (with or without removing their soul).
  • Caribbean zombies are often used as slave labour - this can be exported to other settings with menial, unskilled tasks in a variety of settings being performed by the undead. Traditionally this would be agricultural work, but could easily be changed to industrial tasks or even rowing a galley.
  • To extend the coup de poudre for a wainscot-fantasy setting, the powder may include an entheogen which exposes the victim to spiritual attack and binding-magic.
  • In all out fantasy, a powder that kills the target and brings them back as a zombie would seem in genre, especially for "sword and sorcery" style settings.
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