Skeleton/Zombie Hit Dice are Confusing

Last weekend, I was copying some information from my OD&D Reference Sheet roster and realized that the line for Skeletons/Zombies was totally different from what I recalled from the Vol-2 text itself. Then I backtracked and realized that the entry in the 1st Printing PDF was totally different from the 6th Printing. I wrote a whole blog analysis about that, then realized that the folks at the OD&D Discussion forum hashed this out a few years ago. Here I ruthlessly swipe the findings by moderator "waysofthearth" and other researchers:

This hot mess completely changes how I've thought of Skeletons and Zombies in OD&D over the last ten years. To my surprise, their hit dice actually started off at (1, 2), and then through a series of typographical confusions and bum-fungled attempts at correcting the ambiguous use of two slashes, changed to (½, 1) in the main text... and some semi-random permutation of those in places like the Reference Sheets and Holmes Basic. By AD&D Gygax had them back at (1, 2) where they started (and likewise any other edition post-Holmes). In the linked thread, Mike Mornard also testifies that the classical play always had them at those latter values.

So at this point I'm going to chalk up the (½, 1) values as just a never-fully-corrected typo confusion that crept into OD&D, and should likely be ignored. The (1, 2) values are certainly what almost all players of classic D&D are familiar with.

As a result, in the last few days I've changed those values in the OED Monster Database to (1, 2), and thus relievedly have them more compatible with most editions of D&D. At some point I need to inject the edits into other places like assessments, monster level tables, Book of War armies, etc. Glad I looked into this, and big thanks to the OD&D Discussion guys for the invaluable work.

P.S.: It's slightly awkward that with Zombies at 2 HD, the Monster Metrics program assesses them at 1.4 EHD, which nominally rounds down to 1 (the same as Skeletons). Zombies with 2 HD and crappy armor, attacks, and move are either the toughest monster in the Level 1 table, or the weakest monster in the Level 2 table. I guess I'll manually set them to 2 EHD so that they're in the Level 2 table, partly for purposes of tradition and completion.


  1. Zombies have always seem to be less than the sum of their stats.

    It is funny how random typos or mis-remembering can creep into everyday use.

  2. Skeletons are as tough as zombies in some cases; you can't shoot a skeleton, for instance - you have to melee it or magic it.

  3. I prefer the 1/2HD skeleton and 1HD Zombie (or 1+1HD zombie) ... because of how those numbers integrate better with (a) the 'Animate Dead' spell, (b) HD of Normal Men, and (c) the Clerics' Turning Table.

    The description of Animate Dead (in B/X) says skeletons have the same HD as the original creature, and zombies 1HD more than the original creature. Since Normal Humans are 1/2 HD, it seems the spell ought to create 1/2 HD Skeletons, and 1-1/2 HD Zombies.
    ... ((Admittedly, other humans in the monster section are 1HD (Nomads, Pirates) or 1–1HD (Natives), so I guess it's all about what type of humans are being animated.))

    And if "generic" Skeletons and Zombies were 1/2 and 1 HD, then you could replace the monster-names on the Clerics' Turning Table with HD ranges (for -any- undead creature):
    - Skeleton would become "less-than-1 HD"
    - Zombie, "1 through 1+"
    - Ghoul, "2 through 2+"
    - etc ...

    It's (mostly) wishful thinking, but I think all these factors need to be taken into consideration for a whole system to hang-together well.

    1. None of that is true in OD&D, and we also expunge Clerics and turning on this site.