Anyone who plays tabletop RPGs eventually starts coming up with ways to pervert the concept. A group will only play good and neutral heroes for so long before they start to consider playing evil characters. They’ll only play as humans, elves, and dwarves for so long before they start to wonder what it would be like to play as an orc or a goblin. It’s only natural for a person to look for unusual and flavorful experiences, particularly in a game which is already about exploring the fantastical. Even Gygax would purportedly send his D&D players into Western or Science Fiction scenarios–still wielding sword and spell. Deviations like these can be great fun. and it was while entertaining these perversions that I struck upon the idea of having my players take the reigns of mindless undead creatures.
I would start with a dungeon, probably on the smallish side. Perhaps only a single level. It would be filled with everything you would expect to find in a dungeon: interesting rooms, treasure, traps, and so forth. It would even have adventurers. The only thing it wouldn’t have is monsters, because that’s where the players come in. Each player would take command of a single skeleton or zombie with a very simple task: prevent adventurers from defeating the necromancer who was kind enough to animate them. They would be given a map of the dungeon, as well as guidance from their master’s divinations about the location of the invading adventuring party. They would be free to use any tactics they wished to defeat the adventurers. I, in turn, would move the adventurers through the dungeon, rolling for damage when they passed a trap and buffing them up a bit each time they encountered treasure.
I would do my best to defeat the zombies, but until the adventurers slay the necromancer, a new zombie or skeleton will always join its fellows within 1d6 rounds of its predecessors death. So no matter how many the adventurers kill, they’re fighting an uphill battle through the dungeon. Any time an adventurer is slain, one of the undead may spend a full round eating its corpse to regain all of their health. Any time the undead succeed in causing a TPK, all of the individual undead involved gain 1HD, and are allowed to add +1 to their damage rolls henceforth.
The cool thing about the idea is that player death really doesn’t matter all that much. When a player has invested a lot of time into creating, or playing a character, it can be a sobering experience for that character to die. It’s one of the big weaknesses of Pathfinder’s involved character building process. But when all of a character’s abilities and statistics are found under “S” and “Z” in the Bestiary, there’s no character creation process to go through. And since the new character appears a mere 1d6 rounds later, I imagine it won’t take long for players to start wantonly sacrificing themselves to create barriers, or to lure adventurers into deathtraps. And while a character who has leveled up might be a little too valuable to just throw away, I doubt any player would grow so attached to a few more HP and a +1 to damage that they’d feel at all sad to lose the character.
The way I imagine it, this would be a pretty fun evening of gaming to run. A brief deviation from the norm to cleanse everyone’s adventuring palette. Little will the players realize the insidious information they’re inadvertently providing to their GM: tactics. It’s just a side benefit really, but I know I’ll be watching my group carefully to see what they come up with. And I’ll be sure to use something similar against them next time they’re unfortunate enough to be level one adventurers taking their first wary steps into a dungeon.
In truth, this is closer to a board game than it is to an RPG. The only reason I wouldn’t call it a board game flat-out is because of tactical infinity. There are no limits to what the players can do to defeat the adventurers, so long as they can convince the GM that the idea is plausible.