Libris Monstrum #19: Vampires Revisited
Tonight we come back to the topic of vampires. In the first entry on vampires, I had plenty to talk about. From the kind of vampires I enjoy to the myth’s origins to some vampire-like creatures featured in D&D, there was plenty to cover. I even went through some variant vampires in a Re-Skinning article recently. In fact there was enough to talk about that I had two entries. If you want to hear about some neat vampires of D&D or some ideas for creating new ones check those out. If you want to here more about real world vampires, though. This is the place for you!
Dracula, Strahd, & Their Ilk
I already glossed over my love for the gothic vampire, but let’s talk about the origins to this image. The penny dreadful series and other short fiction of the 1800’s featured vampires fairly regularly, but the origins of many of the ideas that surround vampires are older. For almost every culture or region you can find a myth that involves one or more creatures that feed on the blood or life energy of mortals in order to continue living. These fictions eventually lead to one of the most recognizable horror novels about vampires ever: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Here is where we get our classic gothic vampire and the most common tropes about these fearsome undead. Over time the legend was tweaked and refined into what we might recognize today. Modern films and tales involve vampires of even greater speeds, strength, charm, and ferocity. Whether we are talking Dracula, From Dusk Till Dawn, or Underworld the vampire is recognizable by similar features. The only true deviant is the clothes and lack of refinement from the vampires in something like John Carpenter’s vampires is just the result in a group of vampires away from their ancestry. Everything else about them remains.
Personally, I think Strahd from the Ravenloft setting is the perfect example of the culmination of vampire mythos. He is Dracula after all the refinement of the 1900s and put back into the same relative era as Dracula. More than that, I think Strahd is a better representation of what folks might picture when the picture Dracula. That’s just my opinion on the topic and the realization that he’s the only one with the powers I list in my head for vampires. Looking back at various movies and stories, that list is a combination of those and don’t all belong to one in particular individual. That being said, we should definitely look at other vampire types.
I love what has happened with vampires and Nosferatu in recent years when it comes to RPGs and the mythos. Nosferatu, for those who don’t know, is an old silent German film about a vampire, the titular Nosferatu. This vampire is terrifying in ways that others are not. It is tall and lanky, standing hunched and stiff with clawed hands. Its head is bald with pointed ears and wide, staring eyes. The mouth does not contain a pair of fangs but numerous needle-like teeth, almost like the mouth of a piranha. Games like Pathfinder have latched onto the idea that these vampires are a progenitor to the more cultured ones we commonly see today. They are ancient and fearsome, almost feral in nature. A similar take is also hinted at in the film What We Do In The Shadows, which is a hilarious movie about vampiric roommates. In it their is one who sleeps in the basement, in a stone coffin, whom does not speak and is modeled after Nosferatu. Other than physical appearance and social skills, the nosferatu have much of the same powers as normal vampires. One exception from the Pathfinder ruleset is that they turn into swarms of vermin instead of bats and wolves. Regardless, these are an easily added creature to any game or setting that allow you to explore a feral or ancient version of vampires.
These vampires are a bit more interesting. Not from any real unique features that they exhibit, but because of their origin. Vrykolakas are a Greek monster that, honestly, isn’t really vampiric. There are a lot of similarities to the vampire in terms of physical appearance and methods of killing them. They tend to grow more powerful the longer they exist and, like vampires, cannot come into a dwelling without permission. It is said that you should not answer a door after only the first knock, instead waiting for a second. A vrykolakas will move along to the next dwelling if there is no answer but a person will knock again looking for an answer. While the mythology also states that a vrykolakas will become gorged on new blood, from what I have seen this does not involve vampirism. Instead it seems more to be the result of the corpse coming back to life. There are various methods that someone can become a vrykolakas, but they involve a sacrilegious life or dying as a werewolf. It seems that, perhaps blood (and likely flesh) are part of the creature’s diet but the act of sucking blood is a marginal similarity at best.
Nevertheless, the name is used for vampires. When works are originally in English and translated, the term vyrkolakas is commonly used. This occurrence is, probably, part of the reason for the monster’s relation to vampires. Still, for our purposes all we really need to do is tack on the idea that is sucks blood and it becomes a specific sub-species of vampire. Again, Pathfinder uses the vrykolakas as a type of vampire that is more bestial and dangerous. Unlike the nosferatu which acts as a proto-vampire, these are more animalistic and barbaric creatures with fur and bestial qualities that harken back to the true myth’s ideas. In fact, Paizo does an excellent job with the mythology, because they do not give this creature blood-drain as an ability, though it is a type of vampire. Instead it has the ability to drain the energy from its victims.
Finally we come to a type of vampire that is more of a cousin than anything else. If you haven’t realized by now, despite the image which so readily comes to mind when discussing vampires (Dracula), there are many different types in the real world mythologies. RPGs have done a decent job of making those differences distinct and not all vampires are blood drinkers. Not all vampires even have full bodies. What is common about anything that is called a vampire, however, is the fact that they must take or drain something from living victims. They do this either to survive or to sate an irresistible hunger that they cannot control. Psychic vampires are just such a creature, though the term vampire is probably a bit more modern an assignment.
Monsters of Asian mythologies like the asura and rakshasa are just two examples of demon-like monsters which have been said to feed of the psychic energies of living creatures. Whether we talk about ki, chi, life force, prana, or some other similar concept, the psychic vampire does not drink blood. The toll it takes is a mental, metaphysical one. These types of creatures appeal to me, especially since we can, rather easily, create a whole range of vampires that are psychic instead of blood-sucking. We can give them mental abilities, even physical capabilities, that are unique when compared to the other vampires. The simplest route to take this is in using D&D as an example and using psionics. Psychic vampires would be quite dangerous in these settings. Pathfinder does something similar by including them in the monster counter-part to their occult guide. I also like the idea of them toying with emotions and causing nightmares. These would be darker creatures capable of manipulating your mind beyond even the charms of vampire by mixing it with powerful telepathy.
Vampires are one of the classic monsters of D&D and other table top games. There is a wealth of mythologies from which they’re based and a load of ideas to be taken from games like D&D, Pathfinder, and more. If you think of any vampires from other universes that are interesting, let us know in the comments below!