The Rot - My take on zombies in Mouse Guard

So, last year I wrote a little something to use for GenCon, but ended up not making it. Since I’m not going again this year I thought I’d share in case someone else had some use for it.

I call it The Rot, and to be honest I’m pretty sure it was inspired by something I heard on a podcast a while back, but it’s been so long that I’m afraid I can’t give proper attribution to whoever gave me the idea.

Anyways, it’s my take on zombies in the Mouse Guard setting, only they are really zombies, as there is no magic or the like. It’s more like Ophiocordyceps unilateralis meets the potato blight, only with more cannibalism.

The text of the document is placed below for easier reading:

The Rot blew in with wet autumn winds and infected the plants. At first it seemed like little more that the usual mildew or mold, but it took hold more rapidly than anyone expected. By the time of the first freeze the fungus had settled in, decaying the ground cover, the crops, and even the mighty trees from within.

When winter’s hard freeze came we were actually glad. There was little food to be had and we knew that sacrifices would have to be made, but we hoped at least the blight would perish even as we starved.

It seems now that we were fools.

The famine was hard on us all. Many a mouse died, and we all lost something. When the spring finally came there was a relief that, in retrospect, I find hard to imagine.

With the thaw however, came the blooms. The molds that had decimated our food stores gave way to stalks that rose from the decay and spewed forth terrible spores that only served to spread it further. Only now it wasn’t just in the plants, you see. It was in us.

From the first sign of the Rot Lockhaven had sent down word not to eat food that had been turned by it. But the mice of the greater world were starving, and the Guard was far away, resting warm and full bellied. That’s what we thought anyhow. In the end, I think we were justifying what came next.

We ate it, and we began to change.

Some who ain’t seen the Rot might not understand, so let me say to you that we changed physically and mentally. Some grew patches of something like lichen under their fur. Some became sullen and withdrawn. Some simply left, wandering off into the melting snow never to be seen again.

Some part of us must have known we were sick, but we refused to believe it. We were too busy mourning the dead and comforting the dying. Too busy deciding how little we could actually survive on eating.

Then the dead began to rise again, and we knew of our folly. We fought back as best we could, but their bite was even worse that eating the Rot. Mice died and rose again in minutes or hours, and so their ranks swelled. Whole towns were lost before anyone even knew what was happening.

And now it is happening to me. I can feel it coming, and I’ve seen it enough to know the signs. I ate my share of the swill over with winter, just like the rest did, and now I can’t stand the thought of leaving my cool, dark room. Where just yesterday the Corrupt (what we’ve been calling those who succumed to the Rot) were beating at my door, now they leave me alone, like I was already one of them.

I write this in hopes that the Guard will find it, that they will be able to spare others of our folly. That they will be able to stop this before it spreads.

-Scroll found in the abandoned ruins of the town of Wolfpointe. Much of the village was burned and destroyed, but no mice or corpses were located by the Guard.

The Rot
The Rot is a mysterious fungal disease that seems to have blown in from the east last Autumn. Little is know about it, but we’ve already discovered nearly a half-dozen settlements abandoned, and many lone mice (as well as more than one patrol) have been lost or failed to check in. Rumors continue to pour in of corpses disappearing, or mice dying of the disease only to rise again and attack their neighbors.

Regardless of the truth of these outlandish and superstitious claims it is clear that something is happening, and if a disease is threatening the territories it must be investigated and eradicated.

The Corruption of the Rot really comes in three forms: That which it inflicts on the plant life, that which it inflicts upon those who eat it, and that which the Corrupt inflict on others that they infect.

Plants infected by spores of the Rot show few outward signs of tumors and bruising, but underneath they decay into a black, viscous fluid with an incredibly foul smell. Most animals will avoid eating such an obviously rotten food source, but after the starvation of a long winter and the lack of fresh foods some were left with little choice. In warmer weather, especially following a rain or thick humidity, the Rot will spore, producing small stalks that look like tiny mushrooms. As they die or are disturbed these shoot forth heavy clouds spores that can infect nearby plants as they nestle in their roots, or animals unfortunate enough to swallow or breathe them in. Anyone affected in such a manner, or who eats plants that are corrupted, automatically gains the Infected condition (see below).

At its heart being Infected is a condition, just like being Tired or Hungry, and it actually has a great deal in common with being Sick. Characters with this condition gain a -1D penalty to Nature, Will, and skill tests. Further, they gain a -1D penalty to Resource and Circles tests as they become more withdrawn and people are less willing to deal with those who start to show obvious signs of the disease.

More importantly, if a character who is Infected does not already have Nature (Corrupt) they gain it at rank 1. Those who already have ranks in this Nature do not gain additional ones from spores or eating infected foods, but they might if they are bitten by someone else who is Infected.

If the characters are engaged in a conflict that results in violence with someone who is Infected, then this condition should always be a part of any Compromises they are forced to make. Minor Compromises might be able to avoid this fate, but a full Compromise should result in at least one character who has gained the condition, and a Major compromise should result in several (based on the number of Infected characters participating), divided among the victors as their players see fit.
Recovering from Infection
Like all conditions, Infected may be removed by characters willing to spend checks to do so. The cost is one check if this is done during the Player Phase, or two if done during the GM Phase. It is always the last condition to be cured however, so it may not be removed as long as the character is inflicted with any other negative condition.

Removal of the condition does not however remove any ranks the character may have gained in Nature (Corrupt). Mice may remove all outward signs of the disease through rest and proper hygiene, and they may even slow its spread, but the insidious seeds of corruption are already sown, and they are far harder to remove.
Nature (Corrupt)
The nature of corruption within a creature is always vying with its inherent instincts. To represent this, those who have been Infected gain a second Nature, one that runs counter to, and seeks to overcome, their first. These two natures become paired, never adding up to more than 7 between them. Thus, whenever a character gains a rank in Nature (Corrupt) it must be compared against his Nature (Mouse). If the two would add to more than 7, the Mouse Nature would automatically decrease to accommodate the change.

Note that the reverse of this is not true. This new number becomes the new maximum level of Nature for the mouse (or really any creature who has been Infected). Anything that would increase his Nature beyond this would instead force the character to withdraw from society and retire, just as if he had hit his normal maximum (only with a greater likelihood that he might take up the hobby of eating his neighbors). For example, if a character has a Nature (Mouse) of 4 and a Nature (Corrupt) of 3, but is forced to gain another rank of Corrupt, her Mouse Nature then automatically drops to a 3. If something should happen that would increase the Mouse Nature again before she is able to lower her Corrupt Nature, she must retire if she can’t bring it back down before the end of the Session.

The descriptors for Nature (Corrupt) are Fearless, Flesh Eater, Predator, and Uncontrollable Hunger. Like the competing Natures, no character may have more that four descriptors for their Nature. As the character’s corruption advances she must choose one descriptor from her Mouse Nature and replace it with one from the Corrupt Nature. This is done when Corrupt reaches ranks 1, 3, 5, and 7. Characters with this Nature may act with it or tap as normal using these descriptors, though they may not intentionally deplete it. Instead, if the Nature is ever taxed to 0 the character lowers their Corrupt Nature by one permanently rather than taking on a new Trait. Otherwise, taxed Nature is recovered in the winter session (during the first spring thaw) as normal.

Certain actions or circumstances might force a Nature roll, which can hurry the advancement of the corruption. If any of the following come up in the game, make a test using the character’s Nature (Corrupt). Passing the test can mean a momentary loss of control, perhaps leading to the need of the character’s friends to restrain him. Failing the test allows the character to remain in control of his actions - for now.
Tasting freshly spilled blood or flesh: OB 1.
Being Injured: OB 2.
Becoming Hungry and Thirsty or Angry: OB 3
Seeing fresh blood spilled: OB 4.
Becoming Tired or Sick: OB 5.

If Nature Corrupt ever reaches rank 7 and stays there until the end of the session the character does not retire. She dies and rises again. From this point the player has no hope to regain control of the character. It has become a mindless monster living only to feed and spread the infection.

Three years later after the post, sorry I’m so late.
I really love this idea. I Had started to think about a campaign like this but it wasn’t at all fleshed out; this is perfect and really what I was going for.
Thank you for sharing! :slight_smile: