[RPG] What damage type vulnerability makes sense for disease-based Zombies rather than being undead?

damage-typesdnd-5ehomebrewmonsterszombies

I am running a campaign with a disease that makes humanoids become mindless zombie-esque creatures. However they are not undead: they can be cured and returned to their original selves.

In the MM page 316 a zombie has the following special trait:

Undead Fortitude: If damage reduces the zombie to 0 Hit Points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5+the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.

Due to the nature of my zombies, them being particularly affected by "radiant damage" makes no sense. However if I remove the "radiant damage" part of this special trait I think the zombies will be far too powerful against my three level 1 PCs.

What could I replace the "radiant damage" part of the trait with that will make more thematic sense and still be intuitive to the players? The list of damage types in the DMG doesn't really include a type that makes sense against a diseased creature. Or should I just make it fire damage or something to allow for some fun role play without worrying about it "making sense"?

Best Answer

It's not terribly unbalanced to let your zombies have undead fortitude minus radiant damage exclusion. In fact, many teams have no way to deal radiant damage and can kill zombies just fine. If you really want to have a specific kind of damage take radiant's place, it will depend on how your zombification works:

  • If they are decaying while zombified, necrotic is a good option (accelerating decomposition)
  • If the disease is akin to a parasite, fire would make sense (burning the disease, in fact)
  • If the nervous system is still the main controller of the zombies, lightning would be suited (short-circuit, in a way)

Just decide, or think about, how your zombie-disease works. Especially if this is going to be a recurrent trait in many monsters, not just in the relatively weak zombies. If you just decide fire damage is apt and you have a wizard, his cones of fire and firebolt will be way more effective than your other player's tools (though it's the same with clerics and paladins in normal undead campaigns, so you could be fine with it).

It would make sense if the way to kill them and the way to cure them is related. In general, try to have a reason for every design choice, having a consistent world is better for your players (since they can make deductions, they could discover cold is what cures zombies and thus deduce freezing them kills them easier) and for you (since you don't have to keep track of a bunch of unrelated rules without cohesion).