A few years ago, I hosted an roleplaying one-shot session for a few friends of mine with a simple conceit: You're playing realistic characters in a zombie apocalypse here in our home city of Hamburg, Germany. The second largest city in the country, we have the Bernhardt-Nocht-Institute for tropical diseases so there we would have the cause for the zombie-outbreak. I excessively used google maps and our own knowledge of the city for the campaign, which had three random survivors simply trying to reach the central police station from a southern part of the city, having to cross the port and the river in the process.
Now if you're going to play in the current day, why not take a place everyone at the table knows and can relate to? Where all you need maps-wise is available on line? Exactly. This has lead me to a new thought experiment though: How would a zombie-infestation in my city actually turn out? Let's find out!
The Ground Rules
First of all let's get this out of the way: They must be slow zombies. Fast zombies... Aren't real zombies to me. Sorry. Your opinion may differ on that one but 28 days later isn't a zombie movie to me. More like vampires? I don't know. I prefer the slow ones as they make the human fallacy in failing to defeat these harmless shamblers due to pathetic cooperation even worse. After all, a good zombie story reflects more on the character relations under pressure than on the actual action. So slow zombies it is.
In order for a slow zombie to be a threat, it must be pretty damn indestructible. No Resident-Evil style Shoot-it-six-times-it's-dead. No bash-it-in-the-head-it's-dead. For these zombies to be stopped, you better dismember them fully and even then a hand might still be an annoyance. This, of course leads right into the next paragraph:
They better be supernatural. Although with A LOT of handwavionics, you may get zombies that spread via a contagious plague, but these wouldn't spread too well in the real world, as this cracked article points out quite effectively. Unless you have a long incubation period where people run around normally and undetected, spreading the germs. But that wouldn't leave room for much stories to be told later, as everyone would be (un-)dead. So magical resurrection it is, which also eases the concept of a disembodied arm trying to choke you even after days of lying around, flopping like a fish on land.
So, the zombies are magically reanimated corpses. Infection is irrelevant. You die, you come back as a Z. Animals? Well good question. Zombie-ants crawling around would make the whole thing impossible to survive, so let's keep is Buddhist by saying vertebrae with the exception of fishes can be zombified. Better think about becoming a vegetarian now that your steak twitches in the pan... So, corpses reanimate and try to kill you. They don't need to eat so they won't but they will bite you until you bleed to death. They aren't intelligent so they may choke you to death if they are lucky enough to grab your neck. They will follow your scent if they can't hear/see you. They are as strong as a human being but without feeling pain that is a bit more than your average person. Have you ever been grabbed by someone who doesn't care about pain? I have. I had bruises for two weeks. Asshole.
So these are our Z. The cause is irrelevant and probably not to be found out unless you start believing weird oracles, religious fanatics and self-proclaimed mediums, all saying mutually exclusive crap about hell, spirits, aliens and/or the end-times. This time, we're going to assume that it's a local phenomenon, Raccoon-City-Style, so there will be outside interference after a while. The global thing may be explored in another post. So let's see how it would play out.
How many Z do we start out with? Well we're going to have to estimate how many corpses there are in the city at any given time. Hamburg is a metropolitan region with about 150 deaths per 10 000 inhabitants per year. There are roughly two million people around here. That's 30 000 people dying per year. Let's assume that corpses are kept in morgues about two to three weeks before being cremated or buried. While buried corpses would reanimate, it would be nearly impossible for them to dig themselves out from under six feet of earth. Only a shallow grave would allow for a Thriller-style hand-out-the-ground raising. Anyways, we have around 1/20th of the 30k yearly corpses present at any given time. That means our first generation of Z, most of which are corpses of the elderly, are numbered around 1500. They wake up mostly in drawers in morgues, some in their apartments, some in hospital beds, one or two at the sites of accidents, a few at police stations. Some medical preserved specimens may also wake up in the university hospital. Ew.
Monday, 7:06 in the morning. All dead bodies in the city of Hamburg start moving. It's the morning shift in the morgues and hospitals across the city. Most of the dead are in drawers, unable to free themselves but there are, of course, people around who hear them move about. Thinking that there are people trapped in there, mistaken for dead, they open trays and unleash the undead scourge on themselves and subsequently the city. Medical specimens in jars and those plastinated animate as well, but most of them are actually stored in a cold-war-era bunker underneath the university, making it even creepier than it already is. Let's just hope that the countries creepiest doctor and his show aren't in town at the time. The initial wave of attacks creates more zombies but that will be generation 2. The first frantic wave of emergencies, calls, viral cellphone-videos and weird stories starting to course around will not immediately have effect on the large scale yet, as the whole situation is not centrally recognized yet and is just so damn unreal. Status:
Zombies animated: 1500
Zombies destroyed: 0
City population: Uninformed. Oblivious. Endangered.
Monday, 9:13 AM. The emergency phone line has collapsed and nobody knows just what the hell is going on. The confusion has allowed the Z to spread (relatively) fast around the morgues, killing hospital employees and patients, in turn making them corpses that re-animate. The only successful attempts of stopping them for now are limited to local heroic actions of barricading them in/out. Even if there were many firearms involved they would prove ineffective as nothing below a hatchet does any good against these supernatural monstrosities. As the Z have the element of surprise and doubt on their side, people still trying to help them and/or plea with them, not understanding that there is neither reasoning nor beating them to death before it's too late, each zombie may kill, let's say, an average of three people in the first two hours of zombieing around. After this period, it is likely that authorities will realize that there is a city-wide emergency going on but reports will as-of-yet be sketchy and seem conflicting on what exactly is going on. Thus, there isn't any coordinated reaction as of yet. It's possible that some radio stations start telling inaccurate short information on their news. Status:
Zombies animated: 6000
Zombies destroyed: 0-10, probably none.
City population: Something is up. Have you heard about the hospital?
Monday, 5:13 PM. While the cellphone network has started shutting down, the police have started to figure out something is up and are now keeping the morning shift at work so they have more people at the ready. They know that something is happening and the weird reports are from around the cities hospitals, spreading. Police cars cruise through the city and tell the people over their speakers in German, English and Turkish to get home and stay inside. There may be local evacuations around larger hospitals, as a city that still finds unexploded blockbuster bombs from world war two in its soil is actually equipped to handle such logistics. The police, however, are currently unable to stop the assailants and keep the hell out of the hospitals. There are roughly 10 000 hospital beds in the city and those patients unable to flee are killed, as is any staff refusing to run away or unable to barricade themselves in. This spells the end of medical services in the city but the effects of that will be felt later. For now, the zombies can kill some more people but not quite as many, as people start to realize and react to the crisis. Status:
Zombies animated: 18 000
Zombies destroyed: A few, not really enough to be relevant.
City population: Growing weary. Local panics erupting. Around half of the police force of about 10 000 cops are mobilized.
Tuesday, 6:30 AM. Emergency is declared. What exactly is happening is unclear, scientists and doctors are dead, frightened or really really confused at the inexplicable re-animation of dead flesh. Setting up barricades has slowed down the spread of zombie-related killings in the night but the areas around hospitals are very dangerous indeed and the police has yet to figure out how to permanently stop the undead, often simply locking them up in their armored transports (as police does not carry machetes...). The collapse of medical emergency services has also led to a secondary wave of deaths as people with accidents and such can no longer get medical help. The fact that people need to stay at home and at-home-care personnel is likely to seek out their own loved-ones rather than go to work doesn't help with that either, so some elderly people die outside the hospital-quarantine-zones the police has blocked off. An early-morning emergency meeting of the government in Berlin has yet to get any conclusive plan of action and the THW (national disaster relief) is currently mobilizing its logistical might to get help into the city. More police are requested from the surrounding Bundesländer of Schleswig-Holstein and Niedersachsen, but that will take time as this is, unlike a soccer-match, an unscheduled event. The zombies meanwhile kill people who somehow missed the media-buzz that is developing. When someone scratches at your door, you might just open it for them... The first crazed doomsayers are patrolling the streets with hastily painted signs about the end-times and that their respective creeds were right and we better f'ing repent in the name of Jesus, Mohamed, Xenu or whomever. Status:
Zombies animated: 36 000
Zombies destroyed: ~1000, most of them not dead but locked up/stuck somewhere
City population: Aware of catastrophe, not yet clear on what is happening. Paranoid people start hamstering food and/or packing up to leave town.
Tuesday 5:44 PM. Things outside the city start moving, albeit a bit slow for those still in town. Streets leading out of the city are clogged with people trying to flee to the countryside, having heard that the event is a local thing. My girlfriend and I are probably sitting somewhere on the Autobahn, stuck in traffic in our car, trying to get out to my fathers house in the countryside, possibly with one or two friends in the back of the car. The THW is trying to help with the traffic situation, getting blankets and emergency food rations so people can spend the night in their cars. The army is starting to get ready in bases in the countryside but without order from Berlin they can't do anything yet. Also if they do go in, they will go in unarmed, as the German army is not allowed to use their weaponry on German soil unless the country is under direct attack from a foreign nation. Meanwhile, the police are getting tired and the barricades are incomplete enough so that Z seeping through and raising in other parts of the city cause more casualties among the population. The spread is severely slowed down by people barricading themselves in though. Also, the police may by now start figuring out how to destroy the zombies with a mixture of gardening-implements and the use of heavy machinery such as anti-riot armored cars. Status:
Zombies animated: 72 000
Zombies destroyed: ~2000
City population: Hiding or fleeing. Getting aware that, yes, the End may indeed be near.
Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of our tale of the End of Hamburg.