Monday, September 26, 2016

Monsters with a twist: Vampires

Vampires are an old trope, but usually we keep circling around to Bram Stoker.  With all due respect to the wonderful Dracula and all that it has inspired, there's still a lot of rich vampire folklore from around the world that gets left unused.  What about Chinese hopping vampires?  

We don't even have to get that exotic, because even with the Germanic and Slavic folklore, there is great variation to the precise nature, powers of and proofs against vampires.  Isn't that just like folklore?

This is one of these situations where it can be very appropriate to embrace this variation. Vampires, if nothing else, are supposed to invoke fear, and nothing enhances fear like lack of knowledge.  You can make an interesting adventure out of the quest just to discover how to kill a particular vampire.

Anyway, that's my approach, here.


In the context of this setting (and indeed, in the greater context of real-world folklore), a vampire is a name for a broad category of creatures.  A variety of creatures may be referred to as vampires, and in many cases, such designations could be considered accurate.  But this isn’t exactly Linnean taxonomy, so it’s kind of hard to pin down.

For our purposes, we will define a vampire as any sort of undead that, in some manner, drains the vitality of the living.  This could actually overlap with other kinds of categories like ghosts (yup, vampire ghosts...I told you this wasn’t a taxonomy), although besides that one requirement, there are many tendencies among this category.  

First of all, the manifestation of a vampire is usually as an unliving soul that has possessed a body that is no longer alive.  Some form of magic animates the vital functions of the body, but it is an unnatural thing, and such bodies are typically very difficult to slay.  Different vampires will have different kinds of weaknesses that disrupt this animating power, although it is almost always possible to slay a vampire by thoroughly destroying the body.

This state of demi-life is often what results in the terrible need of the vampire to feed on the living.  The mechanisms for feeding can vary wildly; there are the traditional blood-drinkers, but also flesh-eaters, and even psychic vampires that drain their prey of the will to live.  In most cases, this feeding is required for the vampire to sustain itself, and without regular feeding, most will enter a deep torpor.  In addition to these physical needs, most vampires are also deeply compelled to seek out sustenance, and indeed cannot resist the hunger for long.

Another tendency of vampires is that they most of them retain all of their intelligence, making them deadly adversaries.  In fact, the unholy power that animates them is often able to provide greater cunning, strength and quickness than the vampire possessed in life.  Many vampires will remain among living men, hiding their true natures while feeding on their neighbors.  Inevitably, though, such disguises wear thin, and such creatures tend to move around frequently to stay ahead of suspicion.

Beyond the main requirement and these various tendencies, there is a great deal of variation among vampires, and as stated, these tendencies are just that.  There are mindless vampires, and vampires that exist purely in dreams.

But even among the more common types of vampires, there are many powers and vulnerabilities that have been cataloged, with little consistency.  Perhaps the most common kind of power, besides life drain and enhanced physical and mental prowess, is the power of contagion. Some forms of vampirism can be passed to victims.  Typically, this results in dead victims of a vampire to rise up later with the same form of vampirism.  Contagion may or may not be under the control of the infecting vampire, and it may vary in terms of how frequently is actually occurs.  

The effects of contagious vampirism can lead to horrific epidemics, although those sorts of things tend to burn themselves out.  Since all the vampires of a strain will share the same weaknesses, once these weaknesses are discovered and word gets around, the infestation will be too vulnerable and visible to survive for long.  

There have been historic exceptions, where vampires have established footholds that lasted for years at a time before being wiped out by concerted military campaigns.  But when the contagion is under the control of the infecting vampire, this can be the most insidious situation.  It is far more plausible for a vampire and his court to gain control of a region, and retain their dominion for some time.  This is even quietly tolerated in situations where the vampire-lords act like reasonable neighbors and prey only on their own peasants.

Vampires are not inherently evil, in most cases, although the situation eventually lends itself to a mindset where the vampire sees living humans as little more than prey.  This doesn’t make them any less dangerous, and not a few happen to be sadistic or insane.  Unnatural immortality can warp the mind over the centuries.

In terms of other powers, almost anything is possible.  Sometimes, it’s hard to tell whether a power is due to the vampirism, or due to the fact that the vampire is a mage (many vampires are actually sorcerers who have chosen this as a path to immortality).  Glamours and mind-bending sorceries are common, any many vampires mutate in ways that give them strange physical abilities, like leaping or clinging to walls.  Some develop a long proboscis for draining blood or other fluids.  One type of vampire was observed to swallow victims like a snake, unhinging its jaw in the process.

As for vulnerabilities, these often take the form of small things that are extremely mundane, and sometimes common to the point of ubiquity.  That doesn’t mean that every vampire is vulnerable to sunlight.  It can be quite a task finding out what a particular vampire is vulnerable to.  The process is largely one of trial and error, but, if one is intimately familiar with the “patient zero” of a strain of vampirism, the source of the vulnerability tends to make sense as some meaningful reminder of their mortal life.  

The effect of a vampire being exposed to its vulnerability can be one of several.  The effect can vary between immediate destruction (pretty rare), to a slow weakening through exposure, to a nullification of some or all of the vampire’s usual powers (including its physical resilience).  So again, we’re talking about variation.

What creates vampires?  In general, they are usually created by a deliberate act of magic.  This could be in the form of a terrible curse, or the deliberate act of a mage seeking immortality.  The other main cause is through infection, but vampire epidemics can always be traced back to an initial magical event.

Anor Nodt (cursed vampire), HD: 6, HP: 48, Move: 45’
HC: 12, AC: 18, Protection: 5 (heavy mail + undead flesh)
IM: 6, AM: +6, PM: +7
Ref: 9, For: 7, Will: 9, Wits: 9, Mind: 11
Attacks -
  • longsword - Damage: 1d10 damage, Thrust+1 or Penetrate+1
Notes: Anor was once a knight questing against the forces of evil.  Upon assaulting a witch’s coven, he was captured, cursed with eternal undeath, and locked in an iron coffin.  There he stayed for two long years, partly losing his mind and developing an insatiable hunger for human flesh.  Eventually, his companions slew the witches and freed him, but the foul coven had its final revenge, as Anor emerged in a frenzy, to slay and devour his saviors.  

Anor has been unable to find a restful death.  The witches told him that he must be slain by a great and noble knight, as he once was, in earnest combat, and could not die until then.  His body does not burn, and although he may be grievously wounded, Anor’s flesh will retain its unlife - even the most ghastly injuries will repair themselves gradually, unless prevented from doing so. Part of the curse is that Anor is unable to speak of it, which makes it very difficult for him to even seek help.

In the meantime, Anor remains a hermit in the wilderness.  When he becomes overcome with hunger, he roams the open road, seeking mighty knights.  Then, Anor will pose as a minstrel, singing his true story as though it were a fanciful tale, but in such a way that it will be apparent that he may be describing himself.  If the warrior attacks him, he will defend to the best of his ability, hoping to be defeated.  If the warrior lets him go, Anor will then stalk him, seeking to prey upon his might thews and suck the marrow from his bones.

Anor suffers a compulsion to feed on human flesh.  If he goes too long without it, he could lose his soul completely, and his body would be left to prey upon mortal men without pity.  Anor knows this, and so he seeks an end that will stop him from feeding his appetites without leaving him tortured for eternity.

Other than this hunger, Anor’s apparent unkillability, and how tough a fighter he is, there are no other obvious signs of his undeath. Besides fulfilling the condition of his curse, it would take potent magic to truly slay Anor. Of course, it is also possible to simply imprison him, although this would be an extremely cruel fate, and eventually transform Anor into a mindless monster, lacking reason or conscience.

For those who are able to slay Anor, he keeps the gold of those he kills as a reward for whoever puts him out of his misery. He may also possess some kind of magical treasure, at the GM's discretion. This would probably be something that provides assistance in the stalking of prey.

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