Posted by: allhailthoon | April 15, 2010

A Few Words on the Ancient Scourge Known as the Vampire

Perhaps more than any other monster, vampires and the ways they are viewed are strongly bound to time and ideology. This may be very Lit 101 for a blog about D&D, but bear with me.

In Slavic legends, vampires could be anyone from a dead witch or murderer to someone who hadn’t been buried with the proper rites. Their souls had been rejected by heaven and their bodies by the earth. Existence for such a vampire was a sort of purgatory on earth, during which time they fed on the flesh and blood of the living.

As time passed and stories of vampires captured the imaginations of the rest of Europe, the nature of the monster also changed to reflect the sins and fears of the times.

In 1897, Bram Stoker wrote his novel Dracula. Though he was an impressive villain in his own right, those were Victorian times and the Count was very much a Victorian monster. He was a powerful, charming, exotic, and completely sexual character. He didn’t prey on people’s fear of being eaten alive or rejected by God; he preyed on their fear of having their daughters and wives turned into sluts. (In a similar vein, the 1872 novel Carmilla addressed the issue of lesbianism, inspiring the instant classic Lesbian Vampire Killers.)

Of course, as time progressed, so did the western view of sexuality. In 1976, Anne Rice published Interview with the Vampire, presenting her audience with the concept of vampire-as-protagonist. Where Count Dracula was an appealing villain, Rice’s Lestat and Louis were brooding anti-heroes and their sexual and homosexual overtones were designed to titillate rather than warn. Where Dracula’s bite brought pain, damnation, and ages of wandering in the shadow of death, the embrace of Rice’s vampires brought pleasure, eternal youth, and power.

Another step away from real horror came in 1991 with the publication of the game Vampire: the Masquerade. Suddenly, the vampire was a player character. Players could choose from a number of different types of vampires with different abilities and they could make them as good or evil as they wanted, effectively destroying whatever scrap of inhuman terror the damn things had left.

And of course I can’t talk about modern vampires without giving at least a nod to Twilight. Of course I’ve never read the books or seen the movies, so all I can say is that apparently vampirism is still nothing more than a metaphor for wanting to get your freak on. Though I suppose if vegetarian vampires just suck the blood of animals, maybe they should go vegan and stop sucking.

All history and context aside, this brings me to my real point: Can vampires still be scary? Is it still possible to get players to see real horror in a monster that has become little more than a metaphor for the psychological and sexual zeitgeist or its era?

I would like to think that the answer is yes, but it definitely takes some thought and work.

Generally, the more old school you go with a vampire legend, the creepier it will probably be. Hint before you show and wrap your monster in legend and superstition. Don’t just have the peasants hang garlic and shout, “Vampire!” Build unique rituals and wards, make the most of the environment.

If the area is occupied by a vampire, make the town, the peasants, the forests, the road signs, the castle, and everything else as creepy as your monster. Even some of the harmless things should be tinged with the macabre.

Ultimately, a DM really needs to think about his or her players. What disgusts them? What makes their skin crawl? What strikes a raw nerve hard enough to make them wince but not walk away offended? And for the love of Thoon, don’t just send them to a vampire masked ball or night club! I mean seriously, it’s undeath, not a VIP pass.

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Responses

  1. Can the vampire still write bad love poetry?

  2. That’s a racial ability. – 5 to Craft (Poetry) and + 10 to Perform (Reading) while using a silly accent.


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