Hi, my name is David. I am a GM, and I have overused the undead as adversaries in role-playing games.
I'm sick of zombies.
I'm sick of vampires.
I'm sick of ghouls, which everyone else calls zombies but we know what they really are.
Popular culture has developed an Undead Bubble. The glut of zombie films and vampire romance novels have diluted the concept of the walking dead as a threat. We've seen it all before: get the priest, aim for the head, kill it with fire, yadda yadda yadda. It is amazing how something that by definition is unnatural has become so... mundane. For an RPG, the use of undead in an adventure just doesn't have the same level of menace that it used to. We need something new to put our players on edge. Or at the very least, to use what else is already available to scare the crap out of them.
Golems and Other Automatons
|The Golem of Prague|
Personal Theory Alert: I think part of the problem stems from GMs tending to blatantly state what a creature is to the party, even though the PCs may have never seen nor heard of anything like it in their lives. Would the average peasant farmer know the difference between an ogre and a hill giant if they never seen either one and judged the creature solely on it's appearance. The same applies to the "golem" family of creatures. The moment you tell the party that they are facing a golem, they go instantly know that it was created by some wizard and it becomes just another bag of experience points to be claimed. But what if we went with a different name that was a better description of how the creature looked, instead of what the monster books say it's called? For example:
Don't Call Them Straw Golems, Call them Scarecrows
modern versions of the scarecrow no longer look like people, the image of the man of straw in raggedy clothes is still with us. So why not use this image for the weakest of the golems?
Imagine the looks on the PCs faces when they come upon a field just after dusk and see dozens of scarecrows coming off their posts and walking intently towards them. The party will likely still throw their flaming oil at, but not before the cleric likely wastes a turn undead attempt.
Forget Wood Golems, be a Puppet Master!
Put your hands down, I can't see you.
Sorry, lame joke.
Golems are traditionally used as brutes in RPGs. They are either the boss' heavy hitter, or the guardian of something. That is because most golems are huge. But wood golems tend to be smaller than most humans. Some, when inert, resemble dolls and can be carried surreptitiously into an enemy stronghold with none the wiser. Once inside, they are free to do whatever they were sent to do. Add little things like knives for hands and you have a formula for terror.
If You're Gonna Use Flesh Golems, Invoke the Most famous One
These are just a few ideas for using golems in your campaign. Whether the PCs face an army of straw-stuffed scarecrows, or a single iron colossus, a GM needs to be able to invoke the threat of the creature with more than just knowing it's THAC0 and hit points.