“So what do you intend to do? Will you, as so many others have tried, attempt to destroy me? Do you think to douse me with holy water? Or perhaps you have a source of true sunlight to burn me with? Perhaps you intend to drive a stake into my heart.” The vampire then procured a wooden stake from his vest and laid it on the table. “Well go on then. If you think it will work.” /u/erotic-toaster: Give Me Your Best “Strahd Von Zarovich” Quotes.
Vampires are an iconic and immortal figure of popular culture, and have been a staple of D&D campaigns ever since the campaign module Ravenloft seared Strahd into our collective conscious as Dungeon Masters. Vampires have maintained a status as mythical monsters for centuries, and demand respect whenever they are introduced into a campaign. Dungeons and Dragons takes the lore from the world and spins it into it’s own archetype, of an ancient evil whose once pure ideals become twisted by undeath. Close the shutters to obscure the mist, and pull up closer to the fire to hear more about the lair of the legendary Vampire.
The Mind of the Sociopath
Vampires have survived where other monsters have not, because they are humanity in it’s most vile form. Sociopathy given power. Lacking empathy for the feelings of others, a vampire will act on their most selfish instincts often to the peril of those around them. Social constructs and consequences may hold other sociopaths back but for a vampire with uncontested rule over their domain, the tragic end of a beloved lover is simply supper with grim entertainment.
While a Vampire may act outside the bounds of mortality, they are still bound by their vampiric form. One of the main limitations holding vampires back is the confines of their coffin. A Vampire must rest in a coffin each day and are obligated to consume blood at least once a month. With these restrictions, a Vampire has to exercise some self-restraint in order to keep their meals within a nights flight.
The most famous D&D vampire in Strahd Von Zarovich keeps his victims close thanks to his curse that prevents anyone from leaving the mists of Barovia. Other Vampires can keep their cocktails around by offering defense of the town in exchange for one meal a month, treasure to those who feed their lord, or simply tyrannical subjugation backed by an army of Vampire spawn.
Vampires are in essence, the purest form of the 7 deadly sins. They lust for the youth and life they cannot have. Gluttony comes in the form of overindulgence on the population of the town, and the greed of vampires is seen through heavy taxation and fine ornamentation. They are slothful with the apathy that comes with immortality. The wrath they express is legendary, the envy they have of a simple life, and the pride that comes with the knowledge of being untouchable.
“Instinct is no match for reason.” (Richard Connel, The Most Dangerous Game).
When the party comes into town, a Vampire will express interest in them because they are one of the few things that can actually pose a threat to their existence. Self-proclaimed monster hunters and bounty seekers are expected to seek out the greatest threat of the region, and none pose a greater challenge than a Vampire. The Vampire is not only aware of this but will welcome it, as they get to play a game of cat and mouse where the mouse believes it is the hunter.
The lair of a vampire is very often associated with the past life of the vampire who lives there. They will fill it with mementos of the life they once had, and will yearn to return to the simple pleasures of food, sleep, and sex. Vampires will choose lairs that are grand yet defensible as an air of authority can help to keep control over the peasants of the town. This tends to lead the vampire towards castles, manors, or a walled abbey although hidden lairs such as caves can offer power through mystery.
Vampires unlike many other iconic D&D monsters do not actually have lair actions. Their lairs are usually mundane with any enhancements being made through the use of spellcasting or by guarding the area with ravenous spawn. A lair of a vampire may not have the same magical properties that the lair of a beholder may have, but through the use of the vampires special properties it can be just as effective.
Vampires are famous not only for their great strengths, but also for their many weaknesses. According to the monster manual a Vampire cannot enter a home without an invitation. Attempting to cross running water is painful, and true sunlight burns them. The only way to destroy a vampire is to drive a stake into their heart while they are paralyzed in their resting place, or drop it to 0 hit points over running water or in sunlight.
These weaknesses are potent, but they do not include the wealth of false beliefs that surround vampires and can even be disseminated by this undead. Rings of garlic hang uselessly in the town, while every virgin keeps a holy cross for good luck. Silver weapons are prized commodities even though they line the walls of the vampire’s mansion. A ring of salt keeps the vampire at bay, with it hissing at them in fear until it begins to laugh and slaughters them all mercilessly. With so much history and superstition surrounding these sordid villains, they could do well to twist the minds of the commoners away from the true fears of the vampire.
Even the weaknesses of the vampire can be worked around. If the players flee over running water and the vampire senses weakness it can chase and take the penalty for the damage, trusting in it’s regenerative properties to heal it on the other side. Powerful abilities that the players take for granted such as Turn Undead, can be simply waved away with a single Legendary Resistance. A Vampire never wants to win a battle by the skin of their teeth, they will want to build the party up and lead them to believe they are powerful, only to utterly dominate them and show them what true power means.
Lair and Regional Effects
While it is true that a Vampire may not have any lair actions to choose from, it is well within your right to give them some to choose from. After all, a Vampire is the master of their domain and the ancient magics that propelled them to become undead can give their home a few extra pushes. I would suggest lair actions along the lines of what appears in the Curse of Strahd adventure book (they can be summed up as summoning shadows to attack for a turn, locking doors, and allowing Strahd to move through walls with ease). Or perhaps you could include your own that involve animating plate armor, bolts of lightning that can blind the party, or plunging the area into total darkness. To keep things simple, I will just discuss the regional effects that Vampires can have.
- There’s a noticeable increase in the populations of bats, rats, and wolves in the region.
This is a simple regional effect that can have large consequences. More bats and rats means more diseases in town and make it easier for the vampire to disguise himself among the vermin thanks to their shapeshifting ability. The vampire can also offer cures to these diseases if they are willing to give the proper tribute. More wolves means that livestock will be extremely hard to cultivate, netting easy quests for the players, but hard times for the common folk. Life in a vampire’s town is harsh, but perhaps the protection they provide is better than life away from the mists.
- A creeping fog clings to the ground within 500 feet of the vampire’s lair. The fog occasionally takes eerie forms, such as grasping claws and writhing serpents.
This creepy fog that surrounds the lair can serve quite a few purposes. First, it offers wonderful atmosphere that will hopefully spook your players sorely. Second, it can offer legitimate cover for anything that the vampire hires to patrol their grounds. A bugbear stalking through the fog will handily kill any unsuspecting victim. Finally, and most importantly, if the vampire is in a stable enough mental state (and if you are feeling particularly mischevious as the DM) when the vampire dies and reverts to mistform, they can retreat to the fog to lose the party before they retreat to their coffin and restore their health.
- Plants within 500 feet of the lair wither, and their stems and branches become twisted and thorny.
While this is another great source for atmosphere, withered plants will also make an excellent flammable source. If the Vampires dying act involves throwing a torch into the woods and setting everything alight, the rush to escape the flames will be a perfect way to end an encounter with a Vampire.
- Shadows cast within 500 feet of the lair seem abnormally gaunt and sometimes move as though alive.
Who’s to say the shadows aren’t alive? The Shadow stat block, while easy to defeat, can inflict some nasty strength drain that will severely weaken a party in a way that draining their health simply cannot.
Lair of the Lavish
The lair of a Vampire is far more than the coffin they sleep in. The castle that imposes over a small rustic town filled with terrified people is the true lair of the vampire. When will someone you know be taken next? Are there steps that can be taken to appease the dark lord? These brand new adventurers that just came into town arrived in time for tribute day, and we have no more daughters to spare.
A Vampire is an enemy that exudes power unlike anything else because of the way they subjugate the people underneath them. It is not the stat block that make these creatures something to be feared, but the way in which they impose themselves on the party. Power moves are the bread and butter of a vampire, and breaking the wills of their strongest foes is far more appetizing then the blood of a virgin. They will toy and play with the party, much like a cat plays with a mouse, because they are confident that they have already won. Pride may be a vampire’s biggest sin and could spell their downfall, but they have plenty of reasons to believe that nothing can defeat them.
What makes Vampires so enduring is that their legacy is constantly being tinkered with. If Stephanie Myers can be successful turning this iconic monster into a sparkling vegan twink, you should feel free to experiment with the formula and transform the Vampire into something that is uniquely yours. With such a rich history to draw from, your players should always be second guessing the information that they obtained about your vampire, and whether it will actually be useful in vanquishing their foe.
The holy symbol burned a brilliant white light, banishing the mists away from the paladin as he called upon his deity to force the undead before him to grovel in fear. The vampire turned towards the divine knight, pale bloodshot eyes piercing throuh the brlliance. He then walked up to the paladin and grabbed the symbol, the sizzle of burning flesh stinking up the room. “The one whom you worship has no power here. You see, Barovia is my kingdom – and here I am god.” /u/Frognosticator: Give Me Your Best “Strahd Von Zarovich” Quotes.