Using Vampires in Fantasy RPGs
Vampires are one of my favorite creatures of myth and legend. I’m not sure exactly why.
I, by far, prefer the traditional sinister quasi-demonic type of vampire over the more modern “romantic” vampires of Twilight or even the brooding vampires of Anne Rice’s works. Regardless, the vampire as a powerful evil undead is a far better fit for fantasy RPG’s like D & D and such.
I wrote a book about a vampire called “Drasmyr” with a fantasy setting. But that’s just a shameless plug. Let’s get into the intricate details.
Vampires and Religion
I think I’m partly attracted to the vampire myth because of how it can be interpreted in a Christian religious perspective. Much like Bram Stoker’s original “Dracula”, vampires in D & D have always been evil undead creatures of the night. As such, many holy symbols can be used by clerics to turn them.
Although D & D typically doesn’t relate vampires to Christianity specifically, let’s look at some of the connections to Christianity vampires can have. Realize some of this was inspired by Wes Craven’s movie Dracula 2000.
Blood and blood sacrifice has particular significance in Judaism and Christianity. The basis of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth atoned for humanity’s sins by offering his blood (The blood of the Lamb) as a sacrifice to God. With that background, one can look at the vampire’s thirst for blood as a type of sacrilegious perversion. This enhances the demonic aspect of this particular undead creature.
Another connection to Christianity comes from the vampire’s weakness against silver. Although in SRD rules I don’t think Vampires are vulnerable to silver, in many myths they are. Much like the werewolf, a vampire can be slain by silver weapons. The connection here (as Wes Craven made in Dracula 2000, many years ago) is the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas to betray Christ.
Wooden stakes, of course, remind one of the wood of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. A vampire, naturally, is vulnerable to a stake through the heart because the stake is typically made of wood and the heart is the seat of love.
A vampire’s weakness against roses is an often overlooked characteristic. It certainly makes no appearance in D & D. However, in the original “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, a rose placed on a vampire’s coffin would keep the vampire confined within as long as the rose remained in place. And what do roses have? Why, thorns, of course. And this can suggest the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head.
Sunlight or light, rather, has often been considered symbolic of the truth, goodness, and the divine. In Christianity, Jesus is often called “The Light of the World.” So, of course, vampires are susceptible to sunlight. It can burn them to a crisp, or at least weaken them considerably. In the original Dracula legend sunlight simply weakened the vampire. It did not destroy them.
Many vampire myths portray vampires as shapechangers. Most often, vampires can take the form of a bat, a wolf, a man/vampire, or a cloud of mist. In Dracula, the vampire can also take the form of specks of dust. Some traditions might (like Plato/Socrates) associate the ability to change shape with evil. Why? Because shapeshifting is a form of deception. And only evil beings deceive.
The matter of invitations might be another perversion of Christianity. In the Christian religion, you are supposed to invite Christ into your life. And, according to the vampire myth, a vampire cannot enter a building unless you invite it in. That may be a stretch. But not too much of one, I think.
Typically, vampires are not associated with ravens except, perhaps, for the setting of mood and atmosphere. Perhaps thanks to Ravenloft, the notion of sinister ravens with black plumage just seems appropriate for a vampire’s castle. In any event, I don’t think ravens have a connection to Christianity or any other religion, but I do kind of connect them with vampires nonetheless.
Anyway. in D & D the Christian connections to vampires are rarely realized. However, in my view, vampires provide a kind of worldbuilding template for the creation of other monsters. The strengths and weaknesses aren’t just a slew of stats and features, but they have real symbolic heft to them and a meaning that is deeper than just modifiers to a die roll.
I find the connections of the vampire to Christianity incredibly interesting. They give the vampire a mythological substance and force that other creatures lack. All those weaknesses and strengths tied to a particular religion make it far more intriguing to me.