Re-skinning: Vampires Part 2
Last time we talked about taking a vampire stat block and tacking on some traits to make it unique. Simple things like making it a dwarf or dragonborn for an encounter a little more memorable than your average vampire. I also mentioned some possibilities, like gnolls or centaur, that could be truly frightening and might beef up the CR a bit. Today though, we are going to go crazy. Let’s talk about some creatures that you wouldn’t want to meet in vampire form!
Examples From The Source
Dungeons & Dragons already has its fill of crazy monsters, so it shouldn’t be surprising that we can find ourselves with examples of this already. Before we explore some of our own ideas, I just want to cover some of those. This will give us a nice reference point for how crazy these things can get and let’s be honest, many of them might not really be vampires after we’re done. We can look at 4th Edition’s Open Grave supplement for some perfect examples. I want to pull two specifically from there: the spirit vampire and the vampire muse. The spirit vampire is what happens if we, essentially, take a wraith and make it vampiric, or vice versa. It too hungers for blood but can only take a meal when it possesses a humanoid creature. In its normal form it can still attack, but it benefits from taking advantage of a single dead or unconscious creature. From there it strikes, simultaneously healing and bringing down opponents, jumping from host to host as needed. It is little different from a normal vamp, but definitely adds to the fear and worry by making your allies the target instead of it. The vampire muse is interesting in that it is a fey vampire of sorts. As such, it has more control based powers along with a psychic typed damage. In addition, the vampire muse is a bit harder to kill. Where a normal one may seek to run so that its unconcious body cannot be destroyed, the vampire muse can fight till the death. When it dies it turns to dust, leaving no body to destroy. Like a lich with its phylactery, the muse has a cauldron of blood which allows it to reform after only a month’s time!
There are other examples throughout D&D, such as the vampiric illithid we talked about in Untamed Rant #10. There are also two more that I love: the deathkiss beholder and the blood hag. The deathkiss beholder is one I have loved since seeing the 4th Edition art for it. This is, to my knowledge, the only time it was considered undead and it has great art to match. While I have never seen it linked to vampires in any way the connection is obvious, because instead of eye stalks it has blood sucking mouths at the end of tentacles. The art from Volo’s Guide is probably the best, though, as it has an almost albino, undead appearance. Because beholder’s are created from the dreams of other beholders, these are formed from nightmares about blood loss. Still, it could be played up in game for players to expect a normal vampire or you can twist yours to be created by a vampire. When we talk about the blood hag, on the other hand, we are talking something descended from the unholy alliance of hag and vampire. These are truly terrible hags that can be found in the Tome of Beasts by Kobold Press. These things have blood drinking hair, innate spell casting like a hag, an ability to make victim uncontrollably bleed, and one unholy move called face peel. This lets the hag try to peel off someones face. Even more horrific is the fact that it is an animate pet with the owners personality and memories that she can wear to aid in disguising herself. I shudder just thinking of it.
I want to start with something that would have great synergy with vampirism: the yeti. In 5th Edition there is the yeti and then there is the abominable yeti. Both of these already have keen smell, improved camouflage in the snow, and an ability called chilling gaze. Chilling gaze is terrifying in a vampire scenario, since it paralyzes the victim for a minute. While a saving throw could snap the victim out of it, this does give the vampire a chance to deal with other adventurers while leaving itself a snack as needed. Yetis are not too low on intelligence, so it would be perfect to make vampiric yetis much smarter than their cousins. The result would be a yeti would weakens the enemy with cold breath and fights ruthlessly in hand to hand combat. When it becomes weakened it can use it’s chilling gaze and haven opponent from which to more easily draw blood from. Just imagine a smart vampiric abominable yeti leading a bunch of yeti vampire spawn. A northern highway might be made impassable for months before anyone could figure out what was happening.
Ettercaps make for strange near-humanoids that could make great deep-wood vampires. While all vampires have spider climb as an inherent ability, the ettercap would also be able to move freely among webs and feel when something is on its webbing. You could say that ettercaps are made for the vampire lifestyle as well. Being as spider-like as they are, they could have many spider minions with bats living among their trees. Webbing is the perfect way to keep food until they are hunger, perhaps building larders when prey is plentiful. I might even give them some kind of special paralytic bite to help. Since they are the enemy of fey this makes for a great off-beat vampire scenario as well. Imagine an ettercap vampire living in the deep woods and hunting elves, sprites, eladrin, and the like. Whole trade caravans taken to larder and the occasional missing scout. What is even better is that they could take great pleasure by turning such into vampire spawn minions, perfect undead monstrosities that used to be so close to nature.
Where would this article be without dragons. A draconic vampire would be very dangerous indeed. I picture a dragon vampire bending the will of creatures larger than wolves and spiders. Perhaps their giant kin or perhaps things like dinosaurs, drakes, and more. A newly made dragon vampire might lay waste to a country-side leaving the drained corpses of giants all over as it learns to deal with its new powers and blood lust. Then it might bend other giants to its will or make vampire spawn of them, the better to raid the smaller folk for fresh blood. The right dragons could also stroll into town in a humanoid form and drink while visiting, leaving when things get too noticeable. Imagine a particularly vain-glorious dragons who obtains both sacrifice and riches by asking for not just gold but blood. Personally I can picture the exploration of exsanguinated giants into the cave of a dragon who also lies dead and bloodless. The hoard would remain, strangely, untouched. What terror could do such a thing? I would like to see the fear of a giant vampire turn to the fear of a dragon vampire in the players’ faces.
Out of this World
This is where I want to get weird and suggest some crazy vampires that probably won’t come into existence through the usual means. You know, like the horrific blood drinking beholders that I mentioned earlier. There are two major directions that we can go with this. One is by targeting creatures that are vaguely humanoid but aren’t mortal creatures like elves and dwarves and humans. These might be more like the original idea of a vampire, like the vampire muse of 4th Edition, but with some unique abilities and quirks. The second is by going crazy and taking something completely unlikely to come into contact with or be attacked by vampires and turn it into a blood drinker (again, like the beholder).
One example I really want to explore is the idea of a vampiric angel. I thought about including demons or devils in this mix, but most of those are already horrific soul mongering creatures as it is. Generally speaking though, especially in 5th Edition, angels are humanoid in shape. I find them to be an excellent choice because it can help highlight the idea that a vampire might not be evil. Just because an angel is cursed with vampirism, does not mean that they are inherently evil, right? We can still consider these creatures celestials, for such creatures don’t obey death like mortals, but we can make beautiful angels horrific in a few ways. Making eyes glow in dark colors, especially reds, would work wonders and fraying, burning, or skeletonizing their wings would go a step further. One might thing they were fallen angels, and perhaps they are. They might feed on the living for sustenance but truly seek divine blood, believing that enough of it would restore them to their former glory. This could act by targeting clerics and paladins of any faith and power, perhaps even attempts to summon and drain other angels. The party that suspects some powerful fiend would be quite surprised in finding a vampire angel.
Another idea that I had that was more narratively different was the sphinx. These creatures are already powerful and frightening in their own right, but what of one that guards dark and forgotten secrets. In this case the sphinx could, perhaps, make known the secrets they keep exist and challenge all to come and claim them. The catch? There are a few possibilities. Simplest would be to grant access to those who can solve a riddle. Those who do not will become the next blood meal of the sphinx. Maybe kings and emperors have come to seek the greatest secrets promising a realm’s worth of meals in exchange. Piece by piece the emperor is granted these secrets for every victim provided to the sphinx. However, owing to its nature and curse and like the vampire who cannot enter uninvited, the sphinx must give each victim a chance to answer a riddle. Failure supplies the emperor with a secret and the sphinx with a meal, but success grants the victim a secret and his life.
There are limitless vampiric creatures that we could make simply by going through the various monster manuals. Each one can be tweaked, twisted, and molded into blood-drinking horrors to surprise the most seasoned vampire hunters. At some point, perhaps around Halloween, I will work on getting out a 3rd part to this series further exploring monstrous vampires and some bullet point mechanical changes for you to use in game!
Crazy ideas of your own?? Let us know!