Guide: Convert any D&D monster into a zombie

zombie hands

Halloween is coming, so here at Crit For Brains HQ, we’re whipping up some zombie adventures.

But to craft your very own zombie adventure (or convert one from another source) you’re going to have to do a little bit of work.

To help you along, we made a guide to creating zombie monsters for D&D’s 5th edition. Use the guide and you can make any monster into a shambling undead.

We used D&D’s 5e Monster Manual to get some traits every zombie should have, but we also worked up some of our own using other monster traits.

Use these ideas and you’ll have an army of undead with which you can combat those pesky PCs.

So how do you use this guide?

Take any monster in the Monster Manual.

Run it through this guide step-by-step.

At the end, we’ll show you how we made two new zombie monster stat blocks for an adventure we’re converting.


The features all 5th edition zombies must have…

All undead in the Monster Manual have the following features, and you should add them to your zombie monster.

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.

Immunities: Zombies are immune to poison and the poisoned condition.

Darkvision. Zombies have darkvision to 60 ft.

Languages: Can’t speak but understands the languages it knew in life.

Adjusting ability scores, armor class and hit points….

Ability scores: Zombies are deteriorating, and their ability scores should, too.

  • Strength: Stays the same.
  • Dexterity: Lower by 25 percent.
  • Constitution: Lower by 1.
  • Intelligence: All zombies have an Intelligence of 3.
  • Wisdom: Lower by 40 percent.
  • Charisma: All zombies have a Charisma of 5.

Armor class: Zombies are slow and their armor is decaying or incomplete. (If they have natural armor, it’s rotting right off.) Decrease the monster’s AC by 3.

Hit points: Drop the monster’s hit die one level (d12 to d10, for example) and recalculate using your zombie’s new Constitution bonus. (An regular minoitaur with 76 HP would drop to 58 HP as an undead minotaur.)


Add some new abilities and traits…

If you want more than a shuffling undead, you can spice up your zombie with some fun abilities we whipped up based on other monster effects.

Bite: Zombies want brains. So they bite. You can add this as an action option, and you may want to add Multiattack as well so your zombie can bite and do a second attack.

Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: (1d6 + STR) piercing damage.

Life drain: Zombie bites not only hurt, they can turn you into a zombie. This will really mess up PCs, and should make them run scared from the undead. This is a bonus action that can be added to a zombie with a bite or claw attack.

Bonus Action. If the target is hit by the zombie’s bite attack, the target must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or its hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken in the bite attack. This reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.
A humanoid slain by this attack rises 24 hours later as a zombie unless the humanoid is restored to life or its body is destroyed.

Infect: We like the idea of zombies that infect their targets. You can add this to give a lingering effect to zombie bites.

Bonus action: If the target is hit by the bite attack, the target must succeed on a 12 Constitution save. On a failed save, the target takes 2d6 necrotic damage and suffers from the poisoned condition. The target can reroll the Constitution save at the end of each turn to end the condition.

Zombie goop: What’s worse than a zombie that’s walking toward you? One that can hit you from afar with nasty, decaying goo. Add this action to really mess with your players’ perceptions of zombie fights.

Throw Goo. (1/Day) The zombie hurls a ball of infectious goo that explodes at a point it can see within 30 feet. Each creature in a 10-foot radius sphere centered on that point must make a  DC 15 Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 1d6 poison damage and 1d6 necrotic damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.

Death cloud: Kill a zombie. Get exposed to its nasty zombie grossness.

Death Burst. When the zombie dies, it explodes in a burst of guts and decay. Each creature within 10 feet of it must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw, taking 2d6 poison damage and receiving the poisoned condition for two rounds on a failed save OR half as much damage on successful one.

Sunlight weakness: Zombies aren’t all-powerful. We like dropping an old-school undead weakness onto a zombie.

Sunlight Sensitivity. While in sunlight, the zombie has disadvantage on attack rolls, as well as on Strength checks.




Using the guide…

Crit For Brains contributor Wooly Toots found a great Dungeons & Dragons adventure called Dead By Dawn where adventurers confront wave after wave of zombies inside of an old tomb.

Unfortunately, it’s designed for 4th edition.

That’s no knocking 4e. We dug it and we played a whole lot of it. But these days, Toots is running games of Pathfinder and 5th edition.

His question to me: Should I run it as-is or take the time to convert it?

Adventure conversions involve a lot of math (Damn you, challenge ratings and XP totals!), but there’s also a lot of monster tweaking involved, especially with the limited options of a new system such as 5e.

That’s what we’re looking at here: How do we make the variety of zombies we need?

The 5th edition monster manual only offers three types: a regular old zombie as well as an ogre zombie and a (shudder) beholder zombie.

Dead By Dawn feature several different kind of zombies: zombie adventurers, zombie soldiers, zombie rotters, corruption corpses, hobgoblin zombies and shard zombies.

So how about we create two of those zombie types using our guide above…

Let’s start with the hobgoblin zombie.

We took the original hobgoblin stats from the 5e Monster Manual and gave him our treatment. We also changed his Longsword Attack to a “Rusted” attack, dropping the damage die from a d8 to a d6. We also gave him the Bite and Infect options we described above.

Here are his stats (click to enlarge):

hobgoblin zombie

Then how about the zombie adventurers from Dead at Dawn? They’re a party of adventurers who were infected when they attempted to the same adventure before.

We took the stats from a Veteran NPC in the 5e Monster Manual and gave them the same treatment.

Since these zombie adventurers were made this way by other zombies, we also gave them the Life Drain option from above. Lose to these guys and you’ll end up in the same boat.

Since the Veteran is a somewhat beefy NPC, you’ll probably need fewer of these guys than what is described in Dead by Dawn.

Here are the stats (click to enlarge):

zombie adventurer




So what do you think? How would you modify a monster into a zombie?

If you use our conversion guide in your adventures or campaigns, please tell us how it worked.

Let us know all about it in the comments.

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