Monday 25 October 2010

Vampires...why does it have to be Vampires?

Unless your postcode is MOON 1, you'll have noticed that we seem to be in the middle of a prolonged period of vampire infestation. If it isn't drippy Edward, it's Justin Cronin and his infectious bloodsuckers, a theme mirrored by Del Toro and Hogan in The Strain. Then there's Blood and Ice by Robert Massello, The Vampire Diaries, Blood Ties, True Blood, Blade, the obligatory Buffy and Angel re-runs...

Afficionados of UK TV will remember Ultraviolet (the TV series not the film) which had a Vatican-backed government hit squad taking out bloodsuckers while they plotted to blot out the sun and farm us like livestock, but that was 12 years ago and at the time, innovative and fresh. Shame it only had one series.

I started to watch Cronos (del Toro again) the other night and found it quite interesting until the old guy escapes cremation and finds himself smouldering in the sun and getting a taste for blood. I turned off - Vampires! Again!

In RPGs, it's a common theme as well, with Ravenloft and VtM (or VtR, depending on your choice) leading the pack. The vampire is regarded as the mightiest of the undead in the MM and often serves as the Big Bad when it comes to evil opposition.

So is it heresy for me to say that I'm all vampired out? I can't get enthusiastic about drippy, sensitives, plague-ridden predators or castle-bound counts. In short, I think I'm going to axe them from my MM.

The vampire itself is an interesting phenomenon. I've often speculated that their mythology has a lot to do with anti-Semitism - the blood libel, the day that begins at sunset, the rejection of the cross. The psycho-sexual undertones of Gothic vampire horror; yeah, they're a great subject but I don't think they'll work for my game.

We all have pretty fixed ideas about the fanged ones. Some say they can't go out during the day. Others say they can drink animal blood instead of feasting on humans. Some say they convert only the willing, others that they prefer the unwilling. Whatever trope of vampirism we might adopt for our games, it's bound to clash with someone else's.

So, what to do? I need something really original, something that's not doing the rounds, something that's going to surprise. The vampire, methinks, won't work for me.

So what's your take on the fanged ones? Edward or Angel? Strahd Von Zarovich or Nosferatu? Good for the game or time to go?


  1. Roger the GS wins one internet.

  2. Try "The Last Man on Earth" with Vincent Price. Slow, and clumsy, with infection via a pathogen rather than bite.

  3. Freely downloadable:

  4. Vampires have been the victim of "taxonomic reduction" - over-described, they've lost all mythic power. You're right to junk 'em.

  5. "the day that begins at sunset"

    Actually that's part of the Christian -- well, medieval Christian -- liturgical calender too.

  6. Also: I generally like vampires, at least in fanged count form. I sometimes go for the bloated corpse idea, but yeah.

    They may be played out, but I like them. They aren't mutually exclusive.

  7. In thirty years of being a DM, I've never once used a vampire.

  8. I saw this the other day and thought it appropriate:

  9. It's all about the hunters, not the leeches. The original "Hunters Hunted" for 1st edition Vampire was pretty darn good...the supplement, not the RPG. Perfect for running a one-off game like Lost Boys, Salem's Lot, Fright Night, etc...hell, even John Steakley's novel Vampire$. I've run games using just those two books.

    Of course, I prefer my vampires to be without shred of redemption. Give me the Winnebago-driving hedonists of Near Dark to Edward or Vampire Bill any day of the week. "Oh, I miss my humanity!" Sure you do, pal...*stake*

    ; )

  10. This post really got my little grey cells working:

    Drelzna*, the vampire from the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, was the one I had the most fun wreaking vengeance upon my players.

    Strahd was a game-changer as an NPC. Definitely extended the use of a vampire for a while, but really overshadowed every other vampire since (And, even if your vampires don't cast shadows, he's still impressive!).

    I don't think your anti-Semitism theory holds up. Mostly because ghosts and the undead returning to feed upon the living are pretty universal within many cultures. Burial practices and local climate also meant that corpses were usually buried quickly, so there was more chance of a Lazarus occurring due to premature burial. Cremation wasn't historically permitted within the 'Big 3'. Blood sacrifices were also quite popular.

    I think the best 'origins' description of vampires was in Anne Rice's 'Queen of the Damned'. Don't know if it would be worth reading on it's own, but it sure appealed to my 18 year-old self.

    I'd recommended a look at the penanggalan too. Roger the GS's description is awesome. With just the head and entrails, they are particularly effective for evoking 'the horrors'.

    I also ran an NPC that was effectively a magic sucking vampire. Any spellcaster, scroll read or spell cast in it's proximity would be reduced in efficacy while increasing it's own terrible abilities.

    The Draugr might be better suited your style for a bad-assed undead creature.

    * Many thanks to Jim over at Carjacked Seraphim for putting up a decent image of her on the internets!

  11. There was a pretty good vampire (or was it?) sequence at the start of the Coens' "A Serious Man". And Marcus Sedgwick's YA novel "My Swordhand is Singing" shows how they can still evoke a little shudder.

  12. Vampires want to be human. They were cursed, infected, duped, whatever, but they now find their existence horrible and unbearable.

    The only way a vampire can become human is by drinking human blood. After a feeding, their withered, pallid, rock-hard flesh becomes plump and pink and warm. They can feel, smell, and enjoy being human again, for about a week; then they slide back into their tortured but vicious nightmare forms.

    In their inhuman forms, they are all but invulnerable and savagely deadly. Only in their human form are they easy to kill, as easy as killing any other human, but it is while they are in these forms that they most desire to continue to live. Only during the week of their blood-filled euphoria do they experience heavenly respite from their hellish eternal existence.

  13. I like Miéville's addict-vampires, but I've generally gone off them a bit.

    My favourite vampire-gaming memory is running Horror on the Orient Express. The vampire Fenalik is on the train, in the corridor outside the players' cabin. The players are inside, with the MacGuffin Fenalik wants. He attempts to charm them, but he's a rotten, haggard old thing, and no Christopher Lee. He gets increasingly angry with them, as they get increasingly amused by his impotent rage. Because, of course, he can't enter their cabin without an invitation.

    Finally, his patience gone, Fenalik assures them that though he can't touch them now, he will soon kill them all in the most gory way imaginable. They laugh, then one -- caught up in the moment -- responds:

    "Just come in and try it!"

    I've not used vampires in my game since, because I don't think I could ever top that.

  14. @kelvingreen - +1 internet for Fenalik story.

    Speaking of CoC, you could use a star vampire with appropriate stat mods.

    Or use 1E oriental vampire (naturally invisible) or a slithering tracker and rename it as a vampire.