I have been meaning to write this article to get back into the re-skinning series for a while now. I wasn’t sure what it would be about initially, but when I did the Libris Monstrum about vampires and we talked about them on the illithid episode of the Untamed Rant, I just couldn’t help myself from going there for this article. In thinking about and planning for some vampire re-skins I ended up deciding that this would have to be two parts. This first part if going to cover some minor re-skins for vampires to switch it up from the standard stat block a bit. A few things that you should keep in mind here. First I use D&D as my assumed system because that’s what I tend to use, but it can just as easily be used for Pathfinder and the theories are sound in any system. Second I do not over-trouble myself with the rules. I am not going to delve into the specifics of if this or that idea works because x line on y page in whatever book says it wouldn’t. Who cares anyways?
Vampires In D&D
The classic vampire has a long history in D&D with Strahd von Zarovich, the quintessential “Dracula” of the game. Like that same vampire, there are a lot of cliches about vampires that run strong in the game. There are also a few myths, legends, and ideas about them that are simply less known or spoken of. Just as each iteration of Dracula gets some tweaks. These things aren’t really changes to the vampire, though, and doing so doesn’t go out of the way to re-skin the vampire in the way that we would like to. Still it benefits us to look over some of the things the classic D&D vampire has and we will use 5th Edition as the example. The following are some of the major features of a vampire:
- shapeshifting in a bat
- becoming mist
- climbing like a spider
- must be invited in
- harmed by running water
- paralyzed by stake through the heart
- sunlight kills
- can call bats and wolves
- charm magically
- drain blood (duh)
Making A Vampire Unique
We don’t need to get super complicated to make an individual vampire unique. We can leave that list above alone. In fact, we can leave nearly the entire stat block alone. The vampire, and most monsters that used to be normal beings, assume something about the original individual. That they were human. The reason for this is, as much as anything else, because the game treats humans as an unremarkable base-line. Sure, sure we’re adaptable and not limited by certain racial traits or whatever, but when it comes down to it the baseline is human. Every vampire, werewolf, mummy, and more are assumed to have been human and we kinda picture them that way in our heads unless we are told otherwise. Why wouldn’t we?
The best way to make your vampire a bit more memorable is to go ahead and break that mold and assumption. You don’t need to make it a caster or some raging barbarian vampire, though those would be memorable as well. No, simply make it another race. One of the base races are easiest. Tell your players that it is a dwarf, an elf, or a dragonborn and simply add the racial abilities that they have. A halfling vampire who can’t roll ones. Look out team! Or a dragonborn vampire that breathes poison. That will surprise them for sure. When it comes down to it, the rumor and assumption of vampire tends to appear before one ever does. There is a build up to what it might be and when the reveal is there the players are likely frightened and vindicated, but the fear is only so high. They expected it after all, so the fear is a baseline fear of how they will handle the vampire. Escalate that fear by making it non-human.
Going The Extra Mile
OK, so a dwarven vampire or a goliath vampire are frightening. We can go one step further though and make it a little more monstrous. Make it a goblinoid of some kind, ruling a tribe that raids and kidnaps people for food. There are plenty of low-tier monsters to choose from and a number of stories to be derived from your choices, but there are also some more powerful races that could prove to be extremely dangerous by virtue of their inherent abilities. These will, of course, prove a little more difficult to re-skin, but I have some ideas for ones that can still utilize the original vampire’s stat block.
The main problem with these examples is that they are stronger than your average human by significant amounts. You can easily tack on the abilities they have, but then there needs to be some tweaking. These abilities are based on CRs generally a good deal lower than the vampire. They need to be beefed up to make up for that. After doing that, some of these might be a significantly higher challenge than a normal vampire. Sure a dragonborn breath is good, but it might not be CR changing good. Take the size boost and invisibility of a duergar and that could spell doom for PCs fighting that vampire. You may want to beef up the CR and, as a result, boost the HP a bit. Other stats can probably be left alone, but HP generally needs a boost under normal circumstances for a good team.
Why stop here? Well, because the rest of this conversation is for next time. I will leave you with where we are going though. When I first wanted to write this Part 2 is what i had in mind. Illithid vampires are terrifying. Bloodkiss beholders are fearsome monsters. What other horrors can we unleash upon the world by making them vampires. This is why I mentioned base facts about the vampires of 5th Edition. Next time I am going to throw out some examples of creatures that we can turn into vampires. Instead of tweaking the vampire stat block, we will tack on vampire traits to them. It might get weird and they might barely be vampires by the end, but I have some good ideas of what to explore.
Any suggestions? Use a weird vampire yourself? Remember something from a different edition or game? Let me know below!