Image: Curse of Strahd from Wizards of the Coast
With Halloween right around the corner now, it almost seems fitting to talk about my favorite adversaries to throw into a game. Vampires are versatile and interesting because of their close relation to the rest of humankind. They have the cunning of dragons, the ferocity of a beast and the reasoning of intelligent races. As an apex predator, they are extremely interesting as an adversary, an ally or even someone who’s just there in the setting.
The creature is truly timeless but can be hard to use in a way that does them justice. Me personally, I’m totally sick of the high collared, cape wearing, overly cryptic vampire that we’re so used to. In a world dominated by mortals, a vampire should do all he can to blend in, not be the creepy guy who’s always lived in the castle on the ridge that no one goes to. The intelligence that they wield is a tool that adapts to the mirrored skill of their prey. Kenneth Hite’s Night’s Black Agents does a beautiful job of redefining what it means to be our favorite blood sucker. Every vampire is drastically different, they pull the strings behind our own society and they are extremely nasty to deal with due to their superior evolution. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
When you put a vampire into your RPG campaign, usually they become the long term villain until the PC’s can figure out how to kill it for good. Seize this opportunity like you have never seized it before! Making their adversary easy to kill in a predictable, vampire-y way makes them quick work usually. Think outside the box as to how to really kill a vampire, but then again don’t go in such an arbitrary direction that it’ll never be figured out. When the conflict comes to a head, there’s also opportunity for some really cool research to be done on the particular figure. Humans and most other fantasy races are notorious for being very short sighted. Maybe the PC’s are in a library reading about historical happenings and find this image of a man the reoccurs over and over but with all different names. Ta da! You have a creepy realization that this vampire has been traveling all over the setting and shaping things for a millennia, and it doesn’t have to be for necessarily nefarious reasons.
Vampire conspirator from Night’s Black Agents
Perhaps it’s the adaptability of the creature, or perhaps it’s the primal fear of having a natural predator, but vampires just make people uncomfortable and it leads to a lot of fun scenarios. The relatable businessman or too intelligent scholar can easily be turned into NPC’s with a dark secret. These varieties of the creature will usually bargain with PC’s to be let go or to be forgotten about. Moral dilemmas posed by these situations can be a really interesting conversation point and create a memorable game session/plot line. Sometimes a vampire’s arrogance can lead him to defeat when faced with a small band of adventurers. Such a grave error can change someone’s outlook in a flash before it’s too late.
On the flip-side, a bestial creature can co-exist with the more intelligent of their ilk in a setting. The Witcher series does a fantastic job with this juxtaposition within a species. It helps give the creature a depth that mirrors humans and our variety of evolutionary steps. Not to delve too much into science for a fantasy idea, especially since evolution can be a touchy subject. Alas, having these different strains outside of the cunning bastards we know and love can relieve some tension, or maybe create some in all the right places.
Ekimmara from The Witcher 3
Having both strains of such a creature creates fear of conspiracy, traps and being outsmarted but also brute power, senseless blood lust and being simply prey and nothing more. With the range of abilities that you can possibly give the different strains of vampire, it helps each one feel fresh, unique, interesting. Cutting down on the predictability leaves players uncertain and intrigued. Players that are kept on their toes are the easiest to work with.
Whether it’s an evil mastermind or a ravenous fiend, vampires can be a lot of fun to tinker with and use over the course of a campaign or adventure. Get as crafty as you possibly can, let the dice fly and the blood flow!
Stay Metal \m/