"Well the murderer who lived next door, seemed such a normal guy … if you try to swallow what they shove at us, you'll run out of tears to cry"
(from) Rexroth's Daughter Greg Brown
A serial killer is a specific type of murderer who has killed at least three victims in seperate incidents, usually with one or both of a common theme between victims or a distinctive style of killing and a span of at least a month. The definition usually excludes those who kill "in the course of business" (such as assassins or armed robbers), being generally restricted to those who kill for personal reasons. Also excluded are those who get all (or most) of their killing done in a single session (those are spree killers). Identifying a killer's motivation and/or theme amongst victims can be a useful tool in their capture.
Motivations vary, from sexual perversion (relatively common), through religious or moral justifications to those that simply hunt humans for sport (which is fairly rare). Serial killers may well also indulge in rape, torture, cannibalism, "black magic" and various other deviations - often including forms of trophy taking. Trophies in this case being anything from photographs of victims to shrunken heads.
There are a variety of different sub-classes of serial killer, but a common classification method is to seperate them between the organised and dis-organised varities. The dis-organised is impulse driven and frequently disfunctional, whilst the organised killer can be extremely methodical, good at covering their tracks and often apparently normal.
If it helps the serial killer usually begins with a catalogue of petty crime, cruelty towards animals and firestarting … this can begin in childhood, and may have some bearing on what type of killer they later become: the organised killer learns to control their behaviour and may appear to have been cured, the disorganised one never does.
Historical Serial Killers
- Christman Genipperteinga - late medieval German bandit, serial killer and alleged black magician.
- Gilles de Rais - medieval French child killer.
- The Grim Sleeper - modern American killer with a strange gap in his pattern of killing.
- Jack the Ripper - colonial era English killer of prostitutes.
- Peter Niers - late medieval German bandit, serial killer and alleged black magician.
Serial Killer Tropes
Game and Story Use
- These people make good villains for a relatively low scope campaign.
- Where PCs aren't involved in law enforcement, a killer can prey on their dependants or community, or they could even find that one or more of the party matches the victim profile.
- The "Dexter" style serial killer - a form of the heroic sociopath or possibly anti hero can be an interesting NPC … or even PC given that a lot of the killing PCs get up to may well be murder in the eyes of the law.
- More so in the sort of campaign that involves Van Helsing "Hate Crimes"