Libris Monstrum #9: Vampires
Good evening everyone! The Libris Monstrum has not come out for almost a month now (I think) and the main reason is because i wasn’t sure which monster I wanted to write about. You may be saying, “but you can just keep writing them so who cares which one is next!?” Well, you would be kind of right. The next one will be down to a vote, and while I do have some (specifically choosing 4 options) control over that, I don’t have true control. Then there is the fact, in case you missed it, that the 10 installments after that one will be a re-visitation of the first 10. I want to get to the things i didn’t have a chance to. The things people have pointed out. The aspects that I neglected. That sort of thing. So really this was my last big choice in the next 12 installments. After some thought, some Cows of Strahd (yes Cows), and a tangent in the latest Untamed Rant I finally decided to go vampires. There’s actually more reasons for it but…SPOILERS. Needless to say, vampires have been on my mind recently and I want to talk about what we can do with them. Not everything I want to type will make it to this part, but that’s what the re-visitation will be for! So, let’s get down to it and talk about those undead of the night.
So Many Forms…
I want to start here, because it is important. Because it is one half of why I love vampires so much. First, though, let us get something out of the way. I don’t love new-age vampires. I don’t hate them, but I don’t hold much love. Sure they have their place and good urban fantasy like what The Hollows books give us is some great contemporary vampire action. Actually the Underworld movies are pretty good too. But I prefer my vampires to be gothic as F**K, and not the black eye-liner gothic. I like to see elaborate stone buildings, Victorian clothing, power plays, and the like. Of course From Dusk Till Dawn is also a great version that is somewhere between. Enough of that though, what do I mean by forms?
This is where we get to my second caveat. I am NOT talking about mist, bats, or rats. These are great, and maybe I’ll discuss them in the revisit, but what i am talking about are the blood suckers from around the world. Vampir, Penanggalan, Upyr, Vryolakas, Strigoi. Various mythologies have their vampires and many would label them as such with a quick run down. Of course, when you start defining vampire you start throwing many out the window. That is one of the great things about vampires. So, with that in mind, I want to define a middle-ground. Bram Stoker, dark castles, Hammer Films, and Christopher Lee. This is my middle ground. THE basis for the vampire concept in modern times. If I refer to a standard vampire or most vampires or a normal vampire, that is what I am referring. If I contradict myself you get bonus points for pointing it out, but vampires are flexible enough that it doesn’t matter much.
Undead, But Charming
One of the most important aspects of vampires is their undeath. There are lots of undead out there and plenty of them are smart. One of the biggest things to me is how intelligent things like ghouls are, but so many are horrifying. Vampires are not. These are charming, beautiful creatures that you might never know are undead. Common traits include increased strength and speed, but it is their charming and intelligent nature that leads them to be more than just simple monsters. Vampires could be, in the right context, anyone. The noble helping you. The stable boy. The evil dictator. Anyone. There is an aversion to the vampire because they drink blood and, often, manipulate. But, that doesn’t have to mean they are evil. They simply are what they are.
Dealing with something that lives forever and drinks blood and hypnotizes you is no easy task. The mythologies around fighting vampires is as robust as the mythologies about what they can do. There are some major specifics out there, though. First you can try to repel the vampire. This is actually fairly easy so long as you are careful. Garlic and hawthorn will repel the creature, but easiest is the fact that they must be invited into a building to be able to enter. That second part can prove difficult, however, as generally by the time you know them to be undead they may already have been invited. The real questions is whether rescinding that invitation is a powerful enough act to save you. Should these preventatives fail to work, the next step is to directly ward off the creature. Vampires are notorious for being unable to handle crucifixes, holy water, and hallowed ground. These tend towards the Christian dominance within the developed mythos, but is often extended to general blessed or holy objects. Of course if you want to destroy a vampire you must utilize sunlight or a stake through the heart. To keep it dead that stake must remain or the spirit locked up or the body buried beneath running water.
When it comes down to it, it is easier for a vampire to deal with problems politically and outlive competition. If that doesn’t work…well…good luck killing one. But that is what makes them so great. You could deal with one for years (in game time of out of game time) before ever knowing what they were. They make excellent NPCs and villains and are so flexible in their use. How could you not love them?! Just wait till we talk about the different kinds!
History of Vampirism
I think it is important that we try to stick with my original intent of this series and address the real-world aspects of vampirism. I’ll probably explore ancient vampires and vampire-like creatures in the revisit, but I want to first get into what drove the concept of blood-devouring humans to be believed, sometimes to the point of mass hysteria. Interestingly enough there are a number of dieases or physiological processes that could lend credence to the vampire myth. I will not go through all of them, but some of the major ones. Lets just start with early misunderstanding and ignorance. Decomposition was not well understood for a long time. To be fair, it may have been better known before the Dark Ages. We lost a lot during that time. Regardless such things as movement and gas release aren’t uncommon, but without proper understanding these might lead to someone believing a corpse is coming back to life. Of course this works for most undead myths, and not just vampires.
An interesting, and frightening, concept that would lead to belief in the living dead is something that might even escape today’s doctors’ notice. Medicine and people are weird like that. Premature burial, I can imagine, would have been a problem before things like heart monitors and understanding of the miraculous ups and downs a body can go through. Coma and/or rest will do a lot for a human body. In fact I know I have slept like the dead for 13 hours and woke up feeling better than I had in weeks. Imagine something like that except in a time where it is safest, easiest, and best to bury the dead fast. Imagine waking up in a coffin and part of that swift burial means you aren’t too deep. You could them climb out, probably a bit delirious from the experience, and “plague” the living. Such an event would be a horror for the ignorant and superstitious!
Of course diseases have a multitude of insane symptoms and of which could include the aspects of vampirirsm to add to myths. Paleness, gaunt form, and the like are even common among diseases. If you don’t know of a disease, let alone what it does, then you might add it to other occurrences and cry vampire. Two diseases (not necessarily unknown at a specific time) are especially interesting to look at with regards to vampires. The first is porphyria, a rare blood disorder. I won’t get into the biology or pathology or anything like that but a treatment for it includes intravenous heam, the stuff that makes blood work the way we need it. It was even claimed at one point that vampires were just those with such a disorder who obtained heam through the consumption of blood. This isn’t an accurate representation of how biology could work, but it is an interesting concept and a simple leap.
The disease that sticks out is rabies. Common among creatures like rats, wolves, and bats (often linked to vampires) and a disease that causes them to act strange and aggressively (as they would under a vampire’s control), rabies is easily linked to vampirism. Rabies is a deadly and odd disease whose effects include changes to the brain. This includes hypersensitivity, hypersexuality, and strange sleep patterns. The latter of these are obvious vampire attributes, as they are very sexual undead and also sleep through the day. Hypersensitivity would add onto the aversion to sunlight and a strong flavor/smell like garlic. Of course myth begets myth, because it is said that a man who can look at his reflection is not rabid. Could this be an odd link to vampires not having reflections? All I can say is how complex and amazing the myth of the vampire is, and all the more reason to include them at the table of ANY RPG.
Examples In Play
I won’t get into specific vampires, at least not yet. I also won’t go into specific myths either. Instead I want to wrap up this entry by talking about specific vampires that have stats in one edition or another. First we should mention vampire spawn. This is an important addition to the mythos that allows a wider spread of vampire encounters with regard to player level. These are folks who are cursed or killed by vampires without actually becoming true vampires. Depending on how you interpret it, they are simple creatures who haven’t gotten power yet or just a cursed undead minion connected to the power vampires. What is important is it expands the power of vampires and their possibilities to be included in campaigns. Another classic creature is the vargouille which is essentially a terrible bat-winged and fanged head. They are weird vampiric monsters that are basically super-horrifying mosquitoes, but it makes them a weak but thematic monster to utilize.
Lets move on to the creature that the vargouille is likely based off: the penanggalan. These are horrific creatures from Asian myths that is vampiric in nature, but very different from your normal vampire. You see, these creatures magically fly but in an odd way. The head detaches, but it drags along with it, its own entrails as it flies around and seeks fresh blood to drink. So much of the image of a pananggalan is horrifying and add just that much terror to a vampire game. Of course there is another Asian-inspired vampire known as the hopping vampire or jiangshi. These poor cursed souls are created when the chi is drawn from a person rather than their physical blood. They get their name from their method of locomotion, specifically hopping around arms outstretched to attack victims and steal their chi. In concept it is a vampire, but in execution it provides players with something completely different to deal with.
There are so many more examples both within RPGs and in myhtologies, but I will get their during the re-visit. If there are specific versions or aspects that you would like to see, just leave a comment. Favorite character or vampire trait? Let me know!! If you just want to talk vampires hit me up on twitter or e-mail me!