I’m not a console gamer, so I had to Google the latest Penny Arcade comic. Turns out it’s a reference to The Last of Us, a post-apoc survival/horror game. And so now I’m reskinning my old zombies and ghouls as Cordyceps-infected…
The Cordyceps Infection causes humans to undergo a strange transformation. It is induced by a mutated strain of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.
Over time, the hosts’ physical appearance changes. Fungal growths make their faces completely unrecognizable. At later stages, fruiting bodies erupt from their heads, and more fungi can be seen along their skin. Eventually, they die and become spore-producing cadavers.
This fungal infection spreads via spores. These are typically delivered through bite wounds, claw attacks, or simply by breathing them in.
The Initial Infection causes few effects, and can be cured by timely medical treatment (a filterdose shot, for example):
Initial Infection (Negative Condition): -2 to all d20 checks, and infected feels a ‘nesting’ urge to seek safety among others.
1d4+1 days after the initial infection, victims are transformed into Cordyceps Crazies. Since the eyes are first targeted by the fungus, Crazies have fading vision, but maintain human skills (and mutant powers). Their body language makes it seem as if they are still trying to resist the fungus. Sometimes Crazies hesitate, especially in combat:
Cordyceps Crazy (#Enc Usually 1): As original humanoid, plus hesitation (-1 to initiative) and fading vision (-2 to ranged attacks).
Strong-willed individuals may retain a degree of control over their actions at this stage (such as PCs), but most succumb to the disease (becoming monsters under referee control).
The Crazy stage lasts slightly more than a month, and Cordyceps Stalkers are the next phase of infection. Fungal growths erupt from the victim’s head, and vision is greatly diminished. Stalkers retain some human instincts, but do not resist the fungus anymore and they can only use simple Primitive-Tech weapons (such as clubs or rocks). Player characters become NPCs. At this point, Stalkers able to spread the Cordyceps infection via bite:
Cordyceps Stalker (#Enc 1d4): HD 2d8, AC 8 (or by armour), MV 6″, SV +2, bite (melee Atk +2, 1d6 + spores) or by weapon (typically melee Atk +2, 1d6 or ranged Atk -2, 1d4), 200 XP. Poor vision (-4 to ranged attacks, easily surprised), spores (victim contracts Cordyceps plague on failed fortitude save).
Stalkers retain the mutations which they possessed in life and are able to use these powers (except psionics) normally.
After about a year as Stalkers, the infected transform into Cordyceps Shamblers – also known as Clickers. They are completely blind, but maneuver via echolocation by using a clicking sound. Their hideous heads are skewed and scarred by fruiting bodies growing from their infected brains, through their ruptured skulls, and right out of their eye sockets.
Shamblers are also much more aggressive than Stalkers, and act solely on instinct because their humanity completely destroyed. At this stage, any of the Shambler’s physical attacks can transmit Cordyceps spores.
Cordyceps Shambler (#Enc 1d6): HD 2d8, AC 6 (or by armour), MV 3″, SV +2, bite (melee Atk +2, 1d6 + spores) / 2 claws (melee Atk +0/+0, 1d4/1d4 + spores), 200 XP. Echolocation (Range 3″), spores (victim contracts Cordyceps plague on failed fortitude save).
Shamblers are still afflicted with any mutant flaws which they once possessed, but can only benefit from perks which do not require conscious thought.
Their metabolism is much reduced, and Shamblers can persist for decades (perhaps even centuries) with minimal nourishment. Due to this extended lifespan, these are the most commonly-encountered Cordyceps-infected strain.
The final stage of infection occurs when a Stalker or Shambler dies. The corpse becomes skeletal and brittle, but the fungus continues to grow. At this stage, the fungus is capable of releasing airborne spores. This Cordyceps Corpse is more of an environmental hazard than a foe:
Cordyceps Corpse (Environmental Hazard): Airborne spores (victim contracts Cordyceps plague on failed fortitude save). Susceptible to fire.
A Cordyceps Corpse can remain virulent indefinitely, leading to new infections as careless scavengers disturb their remains…
As you can see, these are way creepier than boilerplate zombies, and fit better with Tempora Mutantur‘s biopunk ethos.