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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Vampires

In this guide, I will attempt to give an overview on how vampires can be used in Dungeons & Dragons. I'll go over their stats and abilities in each edition, and then I'll discuss popular vampire movies that you can mine for more material.

There's so much stuff out there that I'm going to try to just go over the main books and dragon articles. I won't discuss the main vampire NPC in D&D, Strahd, as I've already written a guide for him. If you think I missed something major, let me know.

In my opinion, there are two things you should check out if you plan on using a vampire as a major villain in your campaign:
  1. Van Richten's Guide to Vampires: This 2nd edition sourcebook is brimming over with useful ideas.
  2. Bram Stoker's Dracula: This movie is, in my opinion, really under-rated. I watched it the other day and it blew my mind. If you are going to run Curse of Strahd, you should most definitely check this out.
The Essential Information

This is the basic stuff you should know when running a vampire:
  • Those who have their blood drained by a vampire and drop to 0 hit points become a vampiric thrall.
  • Vampires must rest in a coffin during the day.
  • If they are dropped to 0 hit points, they aren't slain - they assume gaseous form and flee to their coffins. There, they rest and heal.
  • Vampires have innate regeneration.
  • Can turn into a bat at will.
  • They can charm people as per the spell.
  • Vampires have the ability to summon hordes of bats, rats, or wolves.
  • They recoil from garlic, mirrors and holy symbols.
  • Direct sunlight kills them, as does being immersed in running water.
  • Holy water damages them.
  • The most effective way to kill them is to drive a stake through their heart (which paralyzes them) and then cut off their head. 
  • There are a ton of vampire variants with all sorts of different powers and abilities.
AD&D 1st Edition

The vampire is in the Monster Manual and he is the "...most dreaded of the chaotic evil undead..."
  • Vampires live in two planes at once - the material and the negative material.
  • Vampires have an 18/76 strength.
  • If it hits an enemy, the enemy loses two levels. Yes, from each attack.
  • There's also a note about vampires of the 'eastern world'. They're invisible!
  • Creating a thrall involves draining their life energy and then burying them. The thrall rises up after a day. "If the vampire which slew the creature is itself killed, the vampires created by it become free-willed monsters."
Dragon Magazine 126

This issue has a few articles on undead and vampires.

Hearts of Darkness

We are given a rundown of all the ins and outs of being a vampire. There are a few interesting notes:
  • At night, a vampire is invulnerable to most attacks.
  • Ingesting food and drink causes them pain. They can only nibble on a few crumbs and sip wine.
  • Vampires have no soul, and that is why they have no shadow or reflection.
We get an in-depth history of the real-life Vlad the Impaler and full-blown stats for Dracula. There's stats for a few other creatures:
  • Vrykolakas: Greek vampires. The vrykolkas are corpses possessed by demons who like to spread fear.
  • Baobhan Sith: Evil demons who appear as young women. They trick their victims into letting them drain all the blood from their victims' bodies.
A Touch of Evil

This article fleshes out undead creatures. It provides vague details on a demonic type of vampire:

Demon Vampire: Demon vampires are "...among the greatest and most evil servants of Orcus." These vampires rise up after being killed by the kiss of a succubus. They don't rest in coffins and they can walk during the day. At night they can summon demon-spawned vampires from the abyss. Sometimes they serve or marry the succubus that slew them.

AD&D 2nd Edition

There are a million variants of vampires in 2nd edition. First I'll go over the main (errata'd) entry, then I'll add in notes on other types.
  • They cast no shadow or reflection. They move in complete silence.
  • 2e vampires have the ability to spider climb to scale sheer surfaces.
  • They recoil from lawful good holy symbols.
  • When destroying a vampire, holy wafers must be stuffed in its severed head.
  • Vampires can't enter a residence without being invited. Charmed victims can be used to invite the vampire in.
In Dragon Magazine 150, an updated version of the vampire appeared. Apparently there were some errors in the vampire that appeared in the compendium.

Ravenloft Vampires: There are three ways to become a Ravenloft vampire:
  1. Deadly Desire: This person gives up a portion of their spirit to the Dark Powers of Ravenloft. They are stripped of their humanity and become vampires. Over centuries, they come to regret the decision and seek out their own destruction.
  2. The Curse: The person becomes a vampire through a cursed item (like a ring) or someone curses them. Often this type of vampire hates who they have become.
  3. The Victim: Those slain by a vampire become a vampire.
Cerebral Vampires: These vampires absorb mental energies of their victims. They sink their fangs into the back of a victim's skull. These victims become ghouls under the vampire's control.

Drow Vampires: Drow consider it an honor to become a vampire. Their touch drains hit points and their gaze can make enemies become awestruck. They can turn into spiders and assume the form of a poisonous cloud.

Dwarf Vampire: These guys can permanently drain points of constitution. They can walk through stone and are harmed by water from a natural spring.

Elf Vampire: They transform forests into places of death and decay. They drain Charisma and leave victims with permanent scars.  Their own faces are scarred and twisted, causing those seeing them to make a saving throw or be paralyzed with horror (and if you roll a natural one... you die!).

Gnome Vampire: Gnome vampires have a "painful arthritic attack." Yep, they drain Dexterity and cause stiffness to the joints and muscles. Seriously. They can laugh hideously and cause people to feel the effects of a Tasha's hideous laughter spell.

Halfling Vampire: Halfling vampires radiate an aura that fatigues enemies. They can't stand the odor of a smoking pipe, and burning hearths can destroy them.

Illithid Vampire: These are from the high-level Ravenloft adventure Thoughts of Darkness. Vampire mind flayers! They are utterly insane. Their mind blast causes victims to make a madness check.

Vampyre: These creatures are variants. They are not undead.
  • They "...employ the wanton garb of a harlot to lure victims into their clutches."
  • Vampyres lure some poor sap to their homes, and then they and their vampire friends pounce on him or her. They drink the victim's blood over the course of a few days.
  • They travel in packs and are able to have children.
Van Richten's Guide to Vampires

This sourcebook is by the late, great Nigel Findley and it's pretty much the best source of vampire material for D&D that I know of. I am going to present some of the good stuff, but there's a lot more in the book that you should definitely check out if you're thinking of using a vampire as a major villain in your campaign. Vampires are categorized according to age. Vampires under 99 years old are known as "fledglings". Vampires over 1,000 years old are known as "patriarchs".

Vampire Blood: It actually does d6 damage if it touches bare skin. If the blood is in a vial and it is exposed to sunlight, it explodes!

Gaseous Form: Vampires can modify their gaseous form, changing it to a thick fog to a thin, almost invisible mist. The book suggests that some vampires may have their coffins in a building with no doors. The vampire enters and leaves simply by passing through a tiny crack in the wall while in gaseous form.

Blood Lust: Some vampires suffer from this curse. The mere sight of blood sends them into a frenzy which can be satisfied only by the ingestion of that source of blood, by any means. Once the vampire drinks the blood, it won't suffer from blood lust for 2d6 turns (1-2 hours).

Vampiric Curse: Some vampires can cast a special curse spell that slowly transforms someone into a vampire. They need to make a saving throw every time the sun rises. Fail means they lose a point of Strength. Once it's at 0, they die and rise up as a vampire under command of the vampire.

Using a Stake: The stake must be wood, and should be made from wood that relates to the vampire's personal history. If the stake is removed from the vampire's heart, the vampire will rise again. You have to cut off its head. Attacking with the stake means rolling to hit an AC of -1 (AC 21 in 5e terms). If the monster is immobile (ie, asleep in its coffin), no roll is required.

Sunlight: Fledglings can't use any powers in sunlight, and all they can do is try to get out of it. It dies in a minute and is completely destroyed. Each round, the vampire takes 3d6 damage and the exposed flesh will burst into flame. Ancient vampires might survive in sunlight for up to an hour. Patriarchs can actually walk in sunlight with no ill effects. 

Vampires That Don't Drink Blood: The book has a lot of cool ideas on other things a vampire might feed on, including spinal fluid, hearts, memories, or good old-fashioned hit points.

How Often do Vampires Feed?: Fledglings need to drink 12 hit points worth of blood every 24 hours. Patriarchs can live on 6 hit points worth per day.

Creating a Vampire Groom or Bride: The vampire can bestow a "Dark Kiss" on a mate. Hold on to your pants:
  1. The vampire drains the blood of the mate three times, almost to death on each occasion.
  2. This process causes no pain. In fact, it is "...the most euphoric, ecstatic experience, in comparison to which all other pleasures fade into insignificance."
  3. Then the vampire lets the mate drink the vampire's own blood.
  4. The mate goes into a blood frenzy! The vampire may actually have to struggle to survive this process. The mate can only feed for a short time, or they will be driven incurably insane and will die in agony within 24 hours.
  5. The mate goes into a coma for an hour or two, and then rises as a vampiric bride or groom.
  6. Usually the mate's sanity isn't completely intact.
  7. The vampire and the mate share a telepathic bond.
Miscellaneous Stuff:
  • If a vampire is blinded by a spell or effect, it can shift into its bat form and use sonar. Deafness would shut down the bat's echolocation ability. 
  • Polymorph spells only last for a minute, and then the vampire resumes whatever form it was in previously.
  • Those with evil holy symbols can "turn" a vampire - success means the vampire is under their control! The vampire will obey the letter of the commands, but not the spirit. 
  • Blessed weapons harm vampires, but do minimal damage.
  • 3/4ths of the vampire's body must be submerged in running water for an entire minute the water to kill it. The heart in particular must be under water.
Drinking Blood: This section is awesome. It gives a lot of fun details on how the process works.
  • The vampire uses its 'eye teeth' to open a major vessel, usually in the throat. "Sometimes vampires will choose another major blood vessel such as the femoral artery, on the inside of the thigh near the groin..." Egad.
  • Vampires drink the blood like "..a babe drinks its mother's milk."
  • Usually a vampire will open a small wound and drinks just a bit of blood. They don't want to kill their victim because they generally don't like creating subservient vampires (potential rivals).
  • They can feed from freshly-slain victims, but the blood spoils rapidly. Once four hours have passed, the blood is no good.
  • Drinking the blood of animals makes a vampire ill.
  • No PC Vampires: This book repeatedly warns DMs not to let PCs become vampires. If they do become vampires, they should turn over their character sheet to the DM and let the DM run them as an NPC. The reason for this is because the character will simply be far too powerful.
D&D 3rd Edition

In 3e, vampires are a template - a set of stats you slap on to an existing creature.

They can now dominate a foe - completely controlling them for as long as the vampire spends a standard action.

They still drain 2 levels per hit, and now they gain 5 temporary hit points per level drained.

Dragon Magazine 348 - Bloodlines: Three Variant Vampires

This article gives us a few new types of vampires:
  • Savage Vampire: Ogre vampires! Those they slay rise up as zombies under their command. They can turn into animals and can summon animals like bears or crocodiles.
  • Shadow Vampire: These vampires can literally travel between shadows as if they were dimension door spells.
  • Terror Vampire: These creatures feed on fear. They can suppress their vampiric traits for 7 rounds per day, appearing to be 'normal' living humanoids. Their gaze attack is identical to the eyebite spell which can sicken you, panic you or even put you into a coma. Terror vampires also have a suite of spells they use to mess with people.
D&D 4th Edition

Many of their resistances are gone. They're not harmed by garlic or even wooden stakes!

A vampire lord has a spiked chain and can use a nasty power when an enemy is bloodied - blood drain, which weakens the foe and heals the vampire for 46 points.

Heroes of Shadow

Get a load of this. In 4e, vampire is also a character class! It's in the Heroes of Shadow supplement.
  • A vampire character can actually take healing surges from willing characters during a rest.
  • When bloodied, vampires gain regeneration equal to their Charisma modifier.
Over the course of 30 levels, the character gains all of the powers of a vampire, including the ability to turn into a bat, dominate foes, and assume gaseous form.


Even weirder, this book also includes a vampiric race called the Vryloka. You could make a Vryloka Vampire. Vryloka are basically 2e Vampyres - living vampires. They keep their true nature a secret and live as nobles displaced from their ancestral homelands. It was a weird choice to make them have red hair.
  • When they kill or bloody an enemy, a Vryloka can gain temporary hit points, move or gain a +2 to hit.
  • They have eyes that turn red when angered or excited.
  • Most of them have red hair and pale skin.
  • Their origin involves a Red Witch who gave the original Vrylokas a blood-bonding ritual. It gave them the power of vampire without the taint of undeath. Some think the Red Witch and the Raven Queen are connected somehow.
  • As they gain levels, Vrylokas gain the ability to turn into a "bloodwolf" (a shadow wolf with red eyes). They also eventually gain the ability to fly by assuming the form of a hazy red and black shadow.
D&D 5th Edition

I think they did a great job with vampires in the 5e monster manual.The 5e vampire is very powerful and has a lot of cool options. I also think that legendary actions are a fun way to give major monsters a big boost.
  • 5e vampires have extremely strong regeneration. They train 20 hit points per round! Sunlight does 20 radiant damage per round.
  • They take 20 acid damage per round in running water.
  • 5e vampires get two attacks per round. Ideally, they grapple you as part of their unarmed strike, and then bite you. The bite reduces your hit point maximum and the vampire regains that amount of hit points.
  • They get legendary actions, which take place at the end of other creature's turns. They can actually make another unarmed strike/grapple and a bite before their next turn.
  • Their lair has a lot of regional effects, including a large population of bats, rats and wolves, withered plants, shadows that are gaunt and seem to move on their own, and creeping fog.

To gear up for Curse of Strahd, I watched a bunch of vampire movies. Many of them are Dracula films, as that's what the Strahd story is similar to.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Gary Oldman as Dracula
This film really blew my mind. I think if there's one movie to watch before you run Curse of Strahd, this is it. The movie is just dripping with utter creativity.

I can't express just how dirty and zany this thing is but I'm going to try: Dracula's brides (one of which is a topless Monica Belluci) eat a baby! And then we get an extreme close-up of Keanu Reeves in full-on Bill and Ted mode screaming and gnashing his teeth in a truly comical fashion.

This movie is really fun. It's too long, but there's enough good parts to make it worth watching.

Van Helsing

Richard Roxburgh as Dracula
Hugh Jackman plays the vampire hunter in a movie that is absolutely overloaded with action scenes and horror movie monsters. I enjoy the spirit of the thing, but some of the concepts just don't work. The idea that Dracula's vampire brides gave birth to hundreds of stillborn bat-babies that need to be brought to life by Frankenstein's lightning contraption is just too stupid for me, even when I'm trying to cut the film some slack.

Dracula Untold

Luke Evans as Dracula
This film creates a backstory for Dracula. Most of the movie is set in the 1400's, and tells a story of how Dracula decided to become a vampire to save his people. This is a very, very D&D vampire movie. Vlad is ridiculously powerful once he gains vampiric abilities. He literally fights 1,000 soldiers and kills them all. Then, later, he summons a swarm of thousands of bats to create a cyclone and.. well, it's ridiculous. I think the best way to describe this movie is "a bad idea done well". It never should have been made, but they did the best they could with it.

Nosferatu Phantom Der Nacht

Klaus Kinski as Dracula
This one's in german and is directed by the great Werner Herzog. The Dracula in this movie is the Nosferatu version, and he is really creepy. The film moves real slow, but it's very good for the first hour or so before it starts to drag. Compared to the panicky explosion-per-minute feel of Van Helsing, this feels refreshing. This movie is good if you want to run a really creepy, more monster-ish type of vampire that is in no way sexy at all.

Interview With The Vampire

Kirsten Dunst as Claudia
This film is based on the extremely popular "Vampire Chronicles" novels by Anne Rice. In the '90's, the Vampire: The Masquerade RPG was a very big deal and there were lots and lots of people really into this stuff.

If you haven't seen this movie, the idea of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as vampires may not seem like something worth seeing, but this movie is really awesome. It gives you a very viable alternate view on vampires, particularly on how and why they make other vampires and the rules in which they govern themselves.

This movie also has a truly great vampire NPC - a little girl vampire named Claudia. Her mind is old, but her body is eternally young.

Let the Right One In

This one doesn't really have many D&D implications, it's just a great movie and I feel like I should point it out in case some of you haven't seen it. This movie also involves a child vampire and how it survives. In Interview with the Vampire, the vampires are killing a few people per day, and nobody seems to notice. In this film, the vampire has to go to great lengths to pull off such a feat.

This film has a really cool take on what happens to a vampire when they enter a residence uninvited. This is one that will stick with you after you see it, especially if you read up on it a bit. I haven't seen the American remake of this, but if you can handle subtitles you should definitely check this version out. Here's the trailer. As of this writing, it is on Netflix.

Mina Murray from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Mr. Hyde is fond of Mina
I want to talk about one "NPC" in particular in the Dracula movies. The female victims, Mina and Lucy, are used in different ways in each film. Mina, wife of John Harker, is usually the object of Dracula's "affection."

In Alan Moore's comic, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Mina is the main character. Mina was bitten by Dracula, but Dracula is slain and thus the vampiric curse is lifted from her (in the movie version, she is a vampire).

Alan's take on vampirism is very amusing. As a result of Dracula's feeding, Mina has these burn scars on her neck. His take seems to be that vampirism is similar to a sexually transmitted disease - an idea that I find hilarious.

Also, there's this underpinning notion that since Mina's fleeting encounter with a vampire, her husband just doesn't do it for her (although in the comic, he has rejected her because of her scars). You get the feeling that if given the choice, she'd pick the vampire over her husband despite all the baggage that comes with it. Now she's out in the world searching for similar thrills from other adventurers and monsters.

Further Reading

Vampire Name Generator
Hack and Slash: Ecology of the Vampire
3rd Edition Vampire Template
Dice of Doom Vampire Overview
Types of Vampires Wiki


Timothy Brannan said...

Excellent analysis as always!

Coffeemate said...

Excellent, I agree… but what about good old Bram Stoker?

Bronk said...

Awesome article! I love reading these... they really offer some great lore and some perspective too.

3.0/3.5 also had Half-Vampires, Monstrous Vampires that reformed in a tombstone instead of a coffin (so pretty much anything could be a vampire, I ran some of the 'monsters that should not be' vampire unicorns in a game once, all skittering across the ceiling towards the heroes like giant spiders), and Vampiric Dragons.

The description for Vampiric Dragons is pretty funny:

"They can’t enter a home unless invited, but most simply destroy the home and then pick through the rubble for their victims."

Awesome! Vampiric Dragons... are genre savvy!

Sean said...

Timothy Brannan: Thanks pardner!

Coffeemate: Do you mean the actual novel by Stoker, or are you referring to the old Bela Lugosi Dracula movie? I couldn't find that movie. I have a friend who read the book, and he said it is really boring and there's tons of fainting in it.

Bronk: Vampire unicorns!! Vampire Dragons sound cool too. In general, I don't own a lot of 3rd edition stuff so it's hard for me to write about it. I'd say 3e is definitely the edition I am least familiar with, as I didn't play it that much when it was out.

Anonymous said...

I really love the idea of vampires having variant abilities and weaknesses depending on their species, too bad they seem to have dropped the concept

I'm glad they dropped the soulless thing tho, a vampire without a soul never made sense to me unless it's a classic floating zombie vampire, in my view if a creature still has a consciense then it means it still has a soul even if it's corrupted

Travis said...

This is awesome! I've always thought of compiling something similar from all of the editions, sort of a "Vampires Through the Ages" thing but you've gotten to it first and done a better job than I ever could. I didn't know that 1E vampires didn't have Spider Climb, that was interesting.

Couple of things I would add: Nosferatu vampires from Red Steel and Ravenloft don't energy drain and just drink blood in the form of Constitution. Red Steel nosferatu can walk around in the daylight without any vampiric powers and Ravenloft nosferatu can form a blood bond with their victims and communicate with them telepathically much like Dracula did with Mina.

In terms of movies, Fright Night from 1985 is one of the greatest. The vampire moves in next door to a high school kid and shenanigans ensue. The first part is a little Hitchcockian like Rear Window but pretty soom the awesome vampire action ramps right up. Plus there's sweet '80s techno music. What's not to love?

Long story short, great job on the list!

Sean said...

Travis: Thanks! I have never read any Red Steel stuff, I always wondered what that setting was all about. I never saw Fright Night, I'll check it out. Thanks for the kind words!

feanor said...

A question about Curse of Strahd. If a party can get into K86, Strahd's Tomb, and totally burn his coffin, spread his earth around away from the coffin, and dump a lot of holy water over the destroyed coffin, will Strahd then be destroyed when he comes to his coffin to rest? The Monster Manual (pg. 295 under the "Chained to the Grave" section) says: "Every vampire remains bound to its coffin, crypt, or grave site, where it must rest by day". Note the word "must". So, when daylight comes and he goes to his coffin, what happens?
Thanks in advance.

Sean said...

feanor: First, I guess if the group destroyed his coffin and somehow removed all of the dirt there.. or maybe if they collapsed the chamber... I guess Strahd would have a problem.
I'm not sure how often Strahd needs to rest. On page 24 of Curse of Strahd, it says that it is so cloudy all the time that Strahd can walk around during the day with no ill effects. How often does a vampire need to sleep? I don't know.
I looked at the MM entry, and it says that often a vampire will have multiple resting spots. If it were my game, I would say that either he'd get his underlings to clean up his resting spot for him or I'd have him have a backup resting spot (with transported grave dirt) where Baba Lysaga is, and she'd take care of him. I would imagine that Strahd has prepared for this and has a contingency plan.
It would be pretty cool to fill Strahd's coffin with holy water and shove him into it and seal him inside!

Travis said...

Back in the day Strahd had a contingency spell active at all times that would teleport him to another coffin located in the Balinok mountains in a hidden cave on on its highest peak, Mt. Baratok. Since 5E Strahd doesn't have those 2 spells yet I'm sure he still has the coffin there, just not with the handy spells to get there quickly. Also, since Strahd is lord of the land he can sleep anywhere since all of the land is considered his native soil. This is also the reason he can bypass the Forbiddance vampire weakness in other modules.

I think,the Whitewolf games Strahd is the most accurate depiction of him from the I, Strahd books. He was a 4th level Fighter/16th level Necromancer Ancient vampire.

Ed said...

Thanks, really helpful for my next campaign!

Appreciate all the effort that went into this.


Sean said...

Travis: I have never looked at the white wolf Ravenloft stuff. I guess I assumed it was 3rd party, so it wouldn't be canon. Sounds like I should check it out, thanks!

Ed: You're welcome, I thoroughly enjoyed writing this thing. I would love to make a list of all the vampire NPCs in various D&D book but there's so many. Just the 2e Ravenloft books alone would have dozens.

Kate Barin said...

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Mike said...

Great article, but I can't help but notice you missed one of my favourite vampire movies - THE LOST BOYS

Anonymous said...

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