In my custom fantasy world, raising the dead is really simple. Before the Great Act of Beautiful Death, raising a body and keeping it alive (undead?) for at least a week was a part of entrance exams for any University of Magic worth its wands. The reanimated body does not have any intelligence or free will; however it can understand simple orders as "Hit this person" or "March this way". There is no limit on the count of raised bodies, nor on the time that one can keep a single body working. A good mage, straight from said University has enough power to keep a small army working all day, finding it no more exhausting than a short walk on the beach. After casting, a mage does not need to be concentrated on the spell - Plug(magical energy)&Play(Murder)

Zombie have no feelings, no morale, and feel no hunger. The sugars/ATP in muscles is substituted with magical unobtainium. However, oxygen is still required, so no underwater walking. After the magic in them vanishes, the body will start rotting, but nothing happens while it is animated. The body can be killed in any way that would kill a normal person, because all the magic does is force blood flow and send signals to body parts. However, the body will move for as long as there is enough blood to keep muscles oxygenated. And even without any blood, zombie will still keep attacking for a few minutes due to anoxyreaction of unobtainium (which destroys it in the process). Still, they are more durable than any human warrior, and can swing heavy weapons all day without becoming exhausted.

From this short starting, you can think that any of those mages could easily overwhelm any human army. It is, however, not true.

An army of 1000 undeads is a good match for maybe a dozen heavy riders (think of knights), if they are on flat ground. The only way for this army to attack a city is to flow over dead bodies of their fallen comrades, so actually as long as defenders have enough arrows no zombie can get in.

One Very Evil Black Mage, very intelligent but detached from society, has closed himself in his tower for ten years, and came up with plan to dominate the kingdom - he will have an army of said 1000 Zombies and attack the capitol! To much of his disappointment, his army was defeated in a fast manner by a small garrison of troops.

But how? Why was an army of fearless, tireless murderers who would kill a puppy without a second thought, who will obey any simple order, defeated so easily?

EDIT: Only a person who created a zombie can control it. The death of the controlling mage does not dispel the undeads, instead, they are going on with the last order they were given.

EDIT2: No city has any undeads, because of GABD. Necromancy is forbidden and nobody can do that, unless he wants to be hanged. If he is lucky, that is. It is similiar to biological weaponry in our world - it is forbidden and no lawful state will create it, but terrorists may. So no fighting fire with fire.

EDIT3: Zombies are not as nimble as humans. Yes, they can run, but slower cognitive functions cause them to fall easily. Still, outrunning a horde is not a very good option, as you will run out of breath long before you lose them.

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    $\begingroup$ While 1000:12 seems farfetched to me (after the zombies have 1000 chances for a lucky blow), I agree with Erik that their inability for advanced tactics is their biggest disadvantage. The mage would have to micromanage them in order to do flanking, encircling (effective), or whatever else comes to mind. Given the vulnerability of them towards conventional weaponry and more natural injuries (like falling from the top of the town-wall or getting hit by falling zombies) combined with the impossibility to hide an army of marching zombies your mage should come up with another plan. $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Feb 19 '16 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Feanorek just noticed, congratulations on this first question and welcome to worldbuilding. $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Feb 19 '16 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ As an anedoctal example I can cite my experience on a MMO with a massive AvA. A big "zerg" (mass of misc players without coordination) is easy pray to a well coordinated (by using team speaker/raid call, with a good leadership) team half its size. A hardcore team (dedicated good geared and confident in each other team mate) can defeat a zerg multiple times it's size. So two words: TEAM WORK $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Feb 19 '16 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ This appears to be the 5,000th question on Worldbuilding. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Feb 20 '16 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ It is not a direct answer, so only a comment: You need to explain why in this world every corpse would not be burnt for exactly this reason. Rulers do not want to give possibly hostile people a free army (even if this is only a small one, it is enough hassle to terrorize people) and you surely do not want that your died loved ones attack you! $\endgroup$ Feb 20 '16 at 22:28

17 Answers 17


The zombies are idiots.

Zombies can attack or defend, but they can't attack intelligently, and they can only do both at once with a lot of attention from the sorcerer. In a fight, a skilled fighter (person A) is constantly assessing their opponent(person B) or opponents. Person A's goal is to hurt person B without being hurt in return, so person A puts a lot of effort into predicting person B's actions and reacting to that.

Zombies can't do that themselves: they need a skilled sorcerer acting as their puppeteer. Even the best sorcerer's zombie is at a severe disadvantage in a fight because the human fighter acts at the speed of thought, while the zombie doesn't react until it's told to. It's always a second too late.

With only one person controlling 1000 zombies, no zombie is getting any individual attention. When it goes to attack a knight, it leaves itself open to be killed in return, often by being run over when it didn't even try to dodge the horse. The knights themselves are heavily armored, and can only be seriously injured by blows that hit the joints of the armor or the head. The zombies don't know what to aim for, and the sorcerer doesn't have the concentration to tell each zombie how to handle their current opponent.

That said, if it's hand to hand, it will be a struggle for the knights because each knight will have to take down just over 80 zombies, and that many opponents, even when they are idiots, can pull down a skilled fighter by surrounding him with sheer numbers and determination. They could get around this by working with infantry who could back the knights up defensively: look up pike squares for one example of how.

The sorcerer should have given his zombies distance weapons, which would get around the need for quick thinking in close-up fights. A single person ordering "Pick up and notch an arrow," "aim at an enemy soldier,", and "Shoot your arrow at that soldier," would kill a lot of knights before they reached the zombies and mowed them down.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Aim at enemy soldier results in shooting the ground in front of him to gravity drop. We have instinctive parabolic correction; the zombie won't benefit, and humans have to re-calibrate for anything other than a thrown rock anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Feb 19 '16 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ A skilled soldier would not just sit there and pose waiting for a zombie to aim and shoot at them. Without any intelligence a bow would be a wasted weapon in the hands of a zombie and for an enemy would be enough to not end under a volley. Plus through the ages entire walled cities and citadels were built with narrow roads and passages to allow a few men to defend against many. $\endgroup$ Feb 19 '16 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ "Zombies Are Idiots" just makes me laugh. I want to put it on a t-shirt. $\endgroup$ Feb 19 '16 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ In typical medieval combat with bows, the "aim at an enemy soldier" thing was often skipped. Arrows were fired en masse without actually being aimed at anyone in particular, the objective being to carpet-bomb the area that the enemy was in with arrows so that at least some of them would hit a target. The reason the English longbow was a great weapon is that it had a helluva pull strength (estimated at up to 185 lbf, which is A LOT if you've ever used a bow) which translated into being able to launch an arrow a helluva long way. $\endgroup$ Feb 20 '16 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ Now all I can picture is a zombie trying to pull back a war bow and then looking surprised when his arm pops out of it's socket and flies across the battlefield. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Mar 20 '17 at 8:59

Zombies have no sense of self-preservation.

If you tell a zombie to walk to the castle, they'll do it, even if there's a moat in the way. Or caltrops. Or fire. There is no difference between the actions of a normal zombie and a zombie on fire, unless given a specific order otherwise. A bleeding warrior will stop and get bandaged; a bleeding zombie will keep bleeding until they stop moving forever. While a zombie wouldn't suffer from an infection, losing all its blood because it stepped on a sharp rock is easily possible.

Zombies are dumb as a box of rocks

If you tell a hundred zombies to hit that guy over there, they'll do it... even if he's dead. Unless you have some really specific orders, zombies are going to react very slowly to surprises - if they react at all. If you don't tell a zombie to do something, it won't, even if that includes something as simple as "defend yourself". Zombies have absolutely no way to think for themselves, so the wizard will have to do all their thinking for them; not a big deal if all they're doing is moving rocks, but once every zombie is doing something different, it's going to be hard to coordinate. Tactics are limited to "overwhelm them".

Zombies are super weak

While an individual zombie may be as strong as a normal human, that only means zombies terrify farmers. It would take ages for human-like hands to beat on a heavily armored knight enough to actually do any damage; even a big sword or club would only do damage if it connected. Being unarmored, a single well-placed strike could disable a zombie enough to put it out of the battle. What's more, a quickly-reacting human will see any efforts made by the zombies to surround him and will simply move out of the way. A single fighter, given enough time and a good horse, should be able to destroy an unlimited number of undead with simple hit-and-run tactics. Killing blows don't have to fully disable a zombie; just slash it enough that it bleeds out, and move on. The rest of the zombies will probably stomp it into the dust anyway.

Zombies might as well be deaf, blind, and mute

While a zombie may be able to see or hear, or even speak, it won't do so unless ordered. If it can't speak, it has no way of relaying information. Without information from the front lines, the wizard will have no idea what's going on unless he uses other magical means. Even with a scrying pool or a crystal ball, he can only mentally focus on spot at a time. If a few strong, noisy, tough-looking guys get in front of the zombie horde, the wizard may be distracted enough watching them and telling the zombies how to fight that he'll miss the half-dozen men gutting zombies from behind. Even if the zombies see the rear attack, they have no way of telling the wizard, and without orders from the wizard, they'll just stand there and get slaughtered.

Overall, I'm surprised it took that many troops. Trying to maneuver a thousand stupid zombies over hills and fields without getting any of them killed (rekilled? Un-undead-ed?) is hard enough; facing pre-built traps made with zombies in mind is nigh-on impossible. Maybe if the wizard had an army of millions and dozens of helpers, he might have had a chance, but with a paltry thousand? He didn't stand a chance.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the term is "redeaded" :P $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Feb 20 '16 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for flanking the zombies or attacking them from behind. $\endgroup$
    – jpmc26
    Feb 22 '16 at 4:48

In medieval times and earlier, in any battle of trained units versus armed farmers the trained units indeed had fair odds of beating engagements that were 10:1.

Zombies are not simply poorly trained units. They are completely untrained, disorganized, unled, and literally brain-dead units.

Zombies don't suspect or prepare for an ambush in a spot that's perfect for an ambush. Zombies don't know how to retreat from a losing battle. Zombies don't know when to stop chasing an enemy. Zombies don't know running through oil when the enemy is readying fire arrows is bad. Zombies don't know how to use shield formations. Zombies don't know how to counter shield formations. Zombies don't know how to brace against a cavalry charge.

My guess is the Zombies were done in by a single rider who was riding circles around his brother, who had a bow and 5000 arrows. Or by a single horse archer. Or by a peasant with caltrops.

As for the actual question, why did the intelligent evil sorcerer lose? He did so on purpose, because now the city council is scared of more zombie attacks and will finally fund his anti-zombie army made of intelligent yet perfectly obedient stone golems.

  • $\begingroup$ That's a lot of caltrops for one peasant to carry... $\endgroup$ May 21 '17 at 1:55
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    $\begingroup$ I'm gonna call your well-reasoned explanation for why did the evil sorcerer lose on purpose "the Palpatine Gambit". $\endgroup$
    – xDaizu
    Jan 30 '18 at 12:51

The zombies are bad at navigating around eachother

Hey all you zombies. Hit that knight. Every zombie runs directly toward the knight. A mindless zombie hoard is going to have trouble not tripping over itself. Zombies don't march, and they certainly don't have enough coordination to not run into and trip over another zombie. The zombie hoard may be 1000 dudes, but how many do you think will actually make it to their target if they are all told to run toward it? I think not many. I imagine something more along a pile of zombies all trying to get up and knocking eachother down in the process. Think along the lines of a fairground if every single person tried to get to their destination, completely ignoring the presence of anyone around them. This can only be made more hazardous with sharp objects (weapons) in the mix.

  • $\begingroup$ For on old, old game based on this principle: isaacsukin.com/sites/daleks Play Dr. Who against dozens of zombies / Daleks. $\endgroup$
    – gnasher729
    Feb 19 '16 at 22:16
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    $\begingroup$ Head-cannon; the Sims are actually zombies. (if one Sim is standing in the bathroom door another will wet themselves trying to get in.) $\endgroup$
    – Jekowl
    Feb 20 '16 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ Also terrain will be a big factor. With large armies, the necromancer would have to issue different marching orders for zombie-groups in different places. $\endgroup$ May 21 '17 at 1:57

Zombies Only Follow Orders

First, a comparison:

Think of any video game you've ever played that has NPC's. They fight based on a set of code that helps them determine what actions to take and when. It's taken YEARS of tweaking to get computer programs that can fight somewhat close to human levels. Besides that, they're only a challenge because they either have much strong stats or because they have inhuman reaction speeds because they react to your input in a way that a normal human cannot.

Second, apply this to zombies:

Now these zombies, they follow orders. But no matter how specific your orders are, if they can't think for themselves, they can't adapt well enough to beat an army. You can tell them to

  1. Stay alive
  2. Kill the enemy

And have them follow those in order, but that still doesn't account for nearly everything. They will use what they have at their disposal, but they're still no smarter than a computer AI. It would take years of talking and commanding them to get them to follow a string of orders that would make them comparable to an actual soldier, and I doubt they have the brain capacity to remember or understand it all.

Third, apply your additional constraints:

The zombies aren't very strong, they are vulnerable to death (again), they only understand simple commands. There is no way they can win a fight other than through sheer numbers.

To Win Using Zombies

If the Nercomancer wants to win using zombies, he's going to need different tactics other than straight

Stealth Zombies

It's stated that they move like normal and that they just need blood flow. They also don't rot while they are animated. It would be possible to dress zombies in normal clothes and make them smell normal and give them a simple command such as "Walk into the city and then kill everyone."

Modified Zombies

They can also be altered in ways that would be too painful for normal humans. Attach blades where their hands should be. Blood can flow through the rest of their body and they won't feel pain like the normal people, but now the zombie is more powerful and likely to kill someone in their kamazakee state. They can even be implanted with explosives or other surprises since they can withstand it.

Strategic Summoning

There doesn't seem to be a limit on the summoning aspect of this necromancy. So long as there are bodies, you can make a zombie. So using some of the techniques above should create more soldiers. If you're trading more than 1 zombie for each person you kill, then you'll run out of people. The goal should be to maximize the amount of zombie converts for each zombie lost. So if people want to war with you, let them. Find a way upgrade the zombies and then get a good kill ratio. Don't summon more until it's safe to gather the zombies and upgrade them as well. Sending them all in to die against an army is careless use of a limited resource.

  • $\begingroup$ I like these ideas. Perhaps you go in with modified stealth zombies, who are positioned to kill as many as possible to raise an army inside the city. $\endgroup$
    – Rob Grant
    Feb 21 '16 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ problem with the Strategic Summoning bit. Original Post clarifies that whatever can kill a human can kill a zombie, so a corpse with a bunch of cuts in it from being killed by a zombie that has lost a lot of blood will not be a zombie for very long. $\endgroup$ Mar 13 '17 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @MarshallTigerus that is a good point, but the assumption is that you can still patch them up and they should function since they mainly need blood flow. Sacrifice a few zombies to clear an area, hopefully at least a few bodies are repairable enough to make more and you're good to go. $\endgroup$
    – ChronoD
    Mar 14 '17 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ Reminds me of a particular Grimtooth trap, one mummy with a keg of black powder wrapped up in it. What is the usual counter against mummies? Right, fire. Bad choice, in that case. Could work with zombies, too.... $\endgroup$
    – Anonymous
    Feb 19 '18 at 12:10

The weak point of the necromancer's army is not the mass of inhumanly strong, utterly loyal, tireless, and fearless soldiers. Appropriately, the army is vulnerable to a decapitation strike that removes the leadership: defeating the necromancer may not dispel the zombies but it makes them useless for besieging a city. This paints a target on anyone who wishes to use an army of the dead.

You could get some narrative work out of the necromancer controlling his minions much more effectively when he has line of sight. This would alter your scenario a bit: on an open battlefield a zombie could be a match for any mortal knight so long as the necromancer assumes direct control. Direct control allows the zombies to wield weapons, fight effectively, coordinate their actions, and perform any clever tactics the necromancer conceives of. In a siege the necromancer could direct them to climb walls and bypass other defenses, as long as he is present to do the thinking.

This makes it all the more important to quickly kill the necromancer. In a normal army, intelligence is distributed across all officers and soldiers. If the field marshal falls there may be a hit to morale, but someone else will take command and every soldier can still act independently. With all intelligence centralized in one person, his death essentially disbands the army. The necromancer might also have difficulty attracting a mortal retinue; who wants to be part of an army where the other soldiers could go berserk and turn on you if the leader falls?

So how do you kill the necromancer? One approach to an overwhelming opponent with a weak point is a small, elite strike team. There are mage-hunting assassins trained to bypass magical defenses. Perhaps a magical rite that renders the user invisible to dead eyes, or a young bowman who can hit an apple from 200 yards away. Is the necromancer arrogant enough to assume he would only need 20 deathless servants for personal protection? The bards may tell the story as 1000 zombies vs. 12 knights on the open battlefield, but in reality the 12 struck stealthily and were only later knighted.

Uncontrolled zombies might still be dangerous, depending on the last orders they received from the necromancer. For example, they could have been ordered to kill any living thing they meet. It's a crisis, but it's a manageable crisis. They're disorganized and stupid. They don't wield weapons or know how to defeat armored warriors. They walk heedlessly into traps, and never learn to avoid them. They have no self preservation as they're picked off with ranged attacks.


(This is my comment converted to an answer and extended A bit more extended).

Some assumptions you didn't specify in your question

but partly confirmed in comments:

  • Commands from the mage arrive instantly
  • The mage can order commands as fast as he can think
  • The mage can order any subset of zombies and can select groups in the same area in one thought (think of selecting units in a strategy game), but has to scan through all zombies to select based on a condition (all with one leg for example).
  • The mage can potentially see, hear, ... everything his zombies can, but not all at the same time (sensory overload and stuff)
  • Zombies are able to do basic pathfinding (evade static obstacles mainly)
  • The zombies can remember and execute simple conditions, up to a small number (for example "Direct order always wins against any other order", "If their is fire go away from it", "If on fire roll on floor" and "If enemy is in range hit it") (This is not required by my answer, if it is not valid it makes it easier for the defenders)
  • Zombies don't naturally heal (in the timeframe of this question). However, blood exiting their body still clogs, so minor wounds seal as usual.
  • The zombies feel nothing.

In my opinion your zombies have 3 advantages over normal fighters:

  • They don't get tired
  • They feel no injuries
  • You're zombies are not very agile anyway, so you can armor them up

This leads to some suicide-advantages:

  • They can go into overdrive-mode, doing work much greater than a human, but destroying their muscles in the process. Default zombies do not heal, so you trade (un)life time for strength.
  • They can operate with injuries that disable humans. Sadly most injuries that disable humans are also quite deadly for humans. Lighting a zombie on fire makes a burning swordsman for 5 minutes, lighting a human on fire makes a messy pile of pain.

Now to the disadvantages:

  • The evil mage would need an army of mages to apply tactics against your enemy, as a single mage can order only so many orders per second and still has to be a tactical ace to oversee the whole situation. If the evil mage has an army of mages, why bother with (just) the zombies.
  • Any enemy with small military knowledge can outsmart a zombie. Place two archer-troops on both sides of the army and watch them wander helplessly between the two groups. When the mage organizes his troops there, use it and strike elsewhere or move your troops out to apply another tactic) -> This basically grinds down the zombies.
  • If ranged weapons are not an option, use hit-and-run tactics. Come from a direction where the zombies are not looking, smash some zombies and run before the mage realized what happens. You can not outrun a zombie on the long run, but you can hide.
  • The zombies won't see obvious traps. Pitfalls, stones at the top of a cliff they wander along, you get the point. Still effective even when the mage looks through the front-most eyes, as one can build traps that don't trigger immediately (or are remotely activated).
  • I assume it very hard to hide 1000 soldiers, even when they can march day and night and are really silent. They will leave traces. Humans can strike way before the zombies reach the city.

What if you get them somehow to the city without anyone noticing?

12 Soldiers won't be enough to kill all, simply because they don't have the strength to fight that long. 200 soldiers would probably have a hard time in melee-combat. Also no one has 2000 Arrows (2 per Zombie, not every shot kills) ready to fire. Luckily (for your defenders) there are lots of other weapons. Fire, siege-weapons, slingshots... Your defenders have to send way more than 12 knights, but we're speaking about the capital. You can draft civilians (just keep them away from the front line, you don't need more corpses risen by the mage).

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    $\begingroup$ I kinda forgot which side I was arguing for in between, so excuse slight focus shifting. Will probably rewrite when I have a decent keyboard. $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Feb 19 '16 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ Given the question and your answer, 12 soldier are more than enough to kill all: just set them on fire outside the city walls and wait five minutes. You are fighting against a soldier that don't avoid traps if not ordered to, the zombies don't stand a chance $\endgroup$
    – Gianluca
    Feb 19 '16 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Gianluca you forgot the mage controlling them. When he notices the fire he orders them to spread, or to roll on the ground. He'll likely still loose a few with each fireattack, but not nearly enough. $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Feb 19 '16 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ The mage is the weakest point, in my opinion. To control his zombies he has two options: keep them united, and then vulnerable to trap, or spread them and loose the control over them and since they are spreaded out they become vulnerable to the single knight. Note that the mage also need to order to every zombie to attack every single knight. (as posed, it seems that if the mage order a zombie to attack me, he ignore you). And if the knights set a good fire trap, the mage can loose way more than half of his armada $\endgroup$
    – Gianluca
    Feb 19 '16 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ I thought mass-orders are possible, otherwise such an army is unreasonable in itself. Also an armored knight with a good weapon likely can't even rais their arms 100 times, yet alone fight. Anyway, we're loosing ourselves in details we can't know. Let's wait what Fearnok says to that. $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Feb 19 '16 at 15:48

Mages need to sleep.

Scouts from the capitol have been keeping watch over the zombie army several days walk away from the capitol.

They notice that at night the zombies seems to be extra stupid, and correctly deduce that the mage is sleeping.

The last night before the army would have reached the capitol, a group of trained night fighters sneak into the army camp and (re)kill everybody. (Let us not use the ugly word assassin, shall we?)

Now, the zombies themselves won't be sleeping, but they might as well be since they are so stupid. They will have some standing orders like "attack anybody who is alive." but they will not be smart enough to coordinate those attacks. And uncoordinated attacks are easily dodgeable.

When the mage wakes up, the battle is already over.


You say it yourself: the zombies has no free will or intelligence.
A good soldier is capable to adapt to the situation and change his action based on the actual situation, following his order.

Your zombies are basically useless to anything else that to obey direct order, by only one person which then must control everyone of them every time.

For the zombie to be useful, you need to give them a extremely detailed order (hit him, evade this and this and so on) and still you are unable to avoid traps or a simple change of strategy from your opponents. Not to mention that it is not very handy.

Updated to address the clarifications
Edit (1) make this person the weakest point since it must be near the battle and then vulnerable (to long range attack for example). Once incapacitated to command the zombies, the battle is over, with the risk to not begin in the first place.


Well if the zombies are less intelligent than earth worms then even medieval fortifications and warfare would favor intelligent opponents, compared to a group of brainless dums dums. After all it means that if one guy is yelling at the top of a wall every zombie around will pile up next to the wall and uselessly reach to one guy dozens of feets above them.

Then it is only a matter of work to dispatch of such undeads easily. Literally you just carry rocks or oil and smash and burn near endless amounts of zombies that just keep piling up below the wall.

This is just one example of how to destroy unintelligent opponents that naturally lack self preservation, any kind of basic tactics or situational awareness.


The zombie intelligence and reflexes answers already given are excellent, there are two additional reasons that might come into play as well though.

The first option is that zombies may be weaker or less co-ordinated than a living body, magic sustains them but they are still weaker and slower than they were in life. This is a decision you can make as to whether you want them to be stronger or weaker than in life, faster or slower, and also how much damage is needed to stop them moving.

The second option is that they may have specific weaknesses that human defenders know about (after all if zombies are common so are counter measures). Maybe a blow to a certain area kills them, or holy water burns them, or grave dirt prevents them passing, etc.

  • $\begingroup$ You cheater, used the time I needed on my ansaeer to pump out your own :P $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Feb 19 '16 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @J_F_B_M That's not cheating by any usual definition :p $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Feb 19 '16 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ If you use a computer and I use a smartphone, it is, you should go on the same diffulty level :D But only after commenting I noticed with horror that there are three answers besides mine. Lesson: use computers to answer. $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Feb 19 '16 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ Worry not @J_F_B_M - I will wait till at least tomorrow to mark best answer as accepted. And I upvote every single which is worth time to read, as all give me ideas :) $\endgroup$
    – Feanorek
    Feb 19 '16 at 15:06

If our Very Evil Black Mage is as intelligent as you claim, why would he attack the capitol with only 1000 simple zombies? Why didn’t he spawn more zombies? My suggested answer to this is: To create more zombies he would need bodies and to create bodies I assume he would need to attack smaller settlements (having already emptied a graveyard for his starting army). Small enough settlements and that even if the settlers knew how to defend themselves, there would be no risk losing more zombies than he would gain from the attack and then some. And if by saying “There is no limit […] on time one can keep single body working” you are only talking about magical limit then there would still be the physical limit on how long a zombie can walk before falling apart. So a lot of zombie soldiers are lost or weakened while traveling between conquerable settlements.

As more and more smaller settlements get wiped out he moved to slightly bigger villages. Once that resource was exhausted, he figured attacking the better defended cities would only result in losing more zombies than he was able to regain afterwards. The capitol is tightly packed with people. If the mage could get most of his zombies inside the wall they can start killing civilians and he could raise the newly deceased to resupply faster than the soldiers could destroy them. Cities, panic and narrow streets are the best battlefields for necromancers and their zombies.

But for some reason the capitol was notified, and the local garrison met the zombie army in an open field, a battlefield which the zombies have every disadvantage. And that was why an otherwise very threatening army was easily defeated.


TL;DR: Zombies following orders can't adapt. They are simple programs. They can be forced into a loop, or forced to do something that doesn't make sense.

Humans have initiative

A human army is guided by a general. Orders are relayed between the divisions of the army by messengers, or using ranged communications (radio, flags, pigeons, etc). They can work as a team, holding, pinching, striking from the rear, etc.

They can also adapt to changing circumstances. The leader can relay orders. If the cavalry is attacking a hill, but the archers have already moved off onto another hill, the cavalry can divert to another target. They can use their initiative, or they can respond to new orders from the general.

Zombies simply follow orders

As you mention, zombies simply follow orders.

"Go here, hit these people till they die". Well, what if those people all jump on horses and ride away. Do the zombies keep following them blindly around the field while the arrows rain down on their heads and horsemen cut them down from behind?

"Attack the city and kill the people in there." Well what if the people go outside the city and stand on the hill. Do the zombies just stand in the city square while an onager on the hill slowly pounds them to pieces?

A human with an understanding of zombie programming might outwit them easily.


I'm assuming that, though you can't outrun zombies in the long term, you still can get some distance.
1. Run away and shoot flaming arrows at zombies. They can't die from the burns, but they'd die from lack of oxygen.
2. Run away, cross a river and break the bridge behind; zombies still try to chase you and drown. Or go through a swamp (assuming that you know the path). Or go through a frozen lake, and break the ice behind you.
3. Again, run away and climb on some cliff. Hopefully, zombies are bad at climbing and you could just stay there and throw rocks at them. (Though knights make bad climbers, too).

I guess, melee combat is not an option. 1000 undead is a huge crowd, and even if zombies are complete idiots, the mage could just bury knights into zombies. Then the knights would be finished with a few lucky stabs or bites (corpses are still poisonous, right?).

  • $\begingroup$ They can die from burns. Blood becomes ash, no oxygen - no zombie. $\endgroup$
    – Feanorek
    Feb 19 '16 at 15:48

Angering the Gods is a Bad Idea

In a fantasy world, angering the gods tends to be a bad idea. The gods don't necessarily agree; in Greek myths you might survive angering one god if another has your back. In fantasy settings there may be some form of balance between the gods. For the sake of this answer I assume a balance between life and death

The good guys might not always win easily. The gods of life might support them, but the the gods of death are open minded on the whole "murder" thing, and are willing to hear the prayers of the villains. Unless those villains are uppity wizards who regularly steal souls from the halls of the dead to murder the living. In that case their actions would not be blessed by any of the gods.

If the very evil mage doesn't catch a hint, they might assume that their initial loss is because the zombies are less nimble, or less independent. He may come up with some clever stratagem around this weakness, but when the gods are unanimous in their displeasure, in one way or another the mage will find his comeuppance sooner rather than later.

Depending on the fantasy world, gods may not be an issue for necromancers. In general if you break the laws of magic you often have bigger problems than mortal authorities. Angry spirits, magic residue, druids, nature spirits, plagues of carrion feeders and magically enforced anti-necromancy treaties could all give necromancers a bad day.


Zombies don't have good immune systems

One of the reasons why a zombie army is a bad idea is because their immune systems are still defected. This makes it worse if Mr Very Evil Black Mage is using an ancient army because diseases tend to adapt to the modern immune system, seeing that an ancient undead army uses an ancient immune system, they won't be able to defend against the new diseases as well as the average human.

Just refer to the aboriginal Australian small pox epidemic or the native American population after European contact to get the idea

Due to a lack of information about how far the distance is between the Very Evil Black Mage's location and the capital I'm going to say it's a fair distance away. Due the the times the Very Evil Black Mage fails to understand basic germ theory

To be fair, the kingdom also doesn't understand much of it either

As for why Very Evil Black Mage fails to understand basic germ theory, in real life the first microorganisms weren't even discovered until 1665 and weren't proven to cause diseases until the 19th century. Because most of fantasy is based on medieval Europe and I have no idea what time period this fantasy story is based of I'm going to assume it's about late medieval Europe (so no gunpowder or wooden armor). In this fantasy world I would assume that almost nobody knows about microorganisms and as a result so doesn't the Very Evil Black Mage

Otherwise why bother sending a horde of zombies to the capital if a virus could decimate almost the whole population?

The Very Evil Black Mage may not know anything about microbiology but he is still very intelligent so he puts them in a tight, slow but effective formation (something like a phalanx or cohort formation) nothing could go wrong! Right?


As the zombies are marching towards the kingdom a few mosquito along the way bit the zombies and as soon as a few days passed by the whole horde is infected by the disease. As great as magic is, unless if the Very Evil Black Mage knows what a virus, bacteria etc. is and knows how to deal with it, because it is tightly packed and slow moving, the whole horde would be wiped out by the disease... If the humans didn't wipe them out first.

Now extremely weakened by the infection, all the zombies continue to crawl towards the capital (If they could do so that is), a fair amount of the original horde remains as their blood is still pumping however they are severely weakened by the disease and the humans have them on sight.

Taking advantage of their current immobility (Thanks to the diseases) the army dug a large long ditch and pushed the zombies in. After the ditch was fairly full they set the zombie filled ditch on fire and a few of the army wearing full plate would sweep out any remaining zombies with their swords, arrows and spears.


Basically my response is on the same lines as @Karen

Numbers don't mean anything on the battlefield in this particular case , you may have 1k troops but you only got 1 brain controlling them all for a veteran warrior an undead's movements would be something similar to playing a videogame in slow motion(what i mean is that their movements will be clunky and easily telegraphed) sure if it's the first time you set foot on a battlefield it might be scary but after a few it will be a true walk in the park.

Magic attacks from other mages...you said necromancy is like biological weapons ... ok can we still have nukes do? I don't mind casting only one spell a day if said spell engulfs a field 500meters wide in hellfire that won't burn out until any organism is burnt to ash.

Throw some fire arrows in the direction they will go through and watch them walk through the blazes ... if they survive repeat ... if they get to close hit their head(or what's left of it after so much fire) with something solid and rather hard like a hammer).

Just a few ideas (there are a ton more) but the basic idea is zombies= dumb fcks ... dumb fcks react slow and that is their most exploitable weakness on a battlefield scenario.


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