Vampires are according to most folklore and fiction blood-sucking nocturnal creatures of at least vaguely human-like appearance.
It is hard to define a vampire since in legends the attributes of vampires vary greatly, such as Bram Stoker's Dracula versus Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, some traits are more common like others however, but it is unrealistic to mention all traits attributed to a vampire. Here follows some of the more common ones.
- Superhuman Resilience (due to the undead state)
- Superhuman Strength
- Shape-shifting (often into animals such as a wolf, a bat, or perhaps a whole swarm of bats and sometimes into a mist or vapour.)
- Sharp/Superhuman Senses
- Superhuman Speed of Movement
- Vulnerability to Sunlight
- Need to sleep in a coffin or other specific object/space
- Repelled and/or injured by objects considered to be blessed
- Inability to cross running water or large bodies of water
- Unable to cross a domestic threshold without being invited
- Compulsive behavior such as the counting of small objects, or unknitting of all encountered knots
- Vulnerability to things considered to be blessed, such as crosses, holy water and sacramental bread
- Required to drink blood.
- Cast no reflections.
Other powers and weaknesses will depend on setting - and sometimes on the vampire's ancestry.
Here follows some more in-depth information on the topics discussed above
Vampires are Undead Creatures
in most old legends vampires are essentially walking corpses, which has held true even up to recent days. The obvious aspect of it has been downplayed in most recent media however, and now the most common type of vampire looks like a slightly pale human.
Regardless this should (but sometimes seems not to) render them immune to most of the vicissitudes of life - including suffocation, starvation (with the caveat about their need to drink blood), disease and poisoning (with a few rare exceptions and, occasionally, issues of tainted blood) - electric shocks are also unlikely to be all that effective, their tolerance of cold and heat should be improved and it should be a lot harder to knock them unconcious (if it is possible at all)1. Opnions vary on the ability of vampires to heal any damage that doesn't kill them - in some cases, anything non-lethal simply doesn't leave a mark, in others, vampires can heal alarmingly quickly - especially if well fed. A vampire that doesn't have supernatural healing abilites should become disgusting quite quickly. How well it heals may be affected by what caused the damage - specific banes like wood, sunlight, fire and silver may be harder to fix.
Note however that many (but not all) Japanese vampires, especially in fiction, are not at all undead.
Vampires have Superhuman Strength
In the most popular legends vampires possess superhuman strength, often to great levels.
Many stories tell tales of vampires with the strength of ten, or even more, men. This is usually justified as an effect of whatever unnatural power keep them animate. This may or may not be correlated to implied secondary powers such as great speed, jumping ability and the like.
While almost all vampires seem to possess this trait, some folklore tales explain that vampires are very weak and frail, and thus must attack sleeping victims to avoid getting overpowered and destroyed.
Vampires being dead are in many legends very close to immortal, sometimes requiring complex procedures to dispose of.
For example, a legend might require a vampire must be staked with a special wooden stake2, have its mouth filled with garlic or holy water, and then have the head chopped off, possibly followed by burning of the body and reburying the remains at a crossroad. Other legends make vampires out to be slightly easier to destroy, requiring simply that the coffin is nailed shut, a wooden/iron stake to piece its heart, or simply burning the body. In some cases the vampire may re-constitute from its ashes and can be very hard to dispose of on a permanent basis.
Modern vampires are in contrast usually far easier to get rid of, sometimes easily killed by simply blood-loss or a bullet to the head. Absolute resilience may be a function of age - the younger and more human the vampire, the easier it is to kill.
Most varieties of vampires are unaging, although in some instances vampires become physically less human as they age - although this can be a feature of diet, personality or other, less direct factors that are tied into living for a long time as a vampire.
Vampires frequently have "Renfields", human thralls who run errands for them and take care of the coffin while the master is sleeping during the day, etc. They could be creepy and pathetic with annoying laughs and bug-eating habits, like the character Renfield from the Bela Lugosi movie, or tough bodyguards who can easily break the head of any hunter who thinks that the vampire is vulnerable in the daytime. They lack the vampire's weaknesses and are totally loyal to him - confusingly, these are sometimes called ghouls.
In addition, some vampires can also control creatures like wolves, bats or swarms of rats to do their bidding. In fantasy, they will frequnetly command lesser undead as well.
Vampires suffer in Sunlight
In Hollywood most vampires combust in flames, or otherwise suffer harm in sunlight. This is however little based on folklore, where most vampires disliked sunlight merely due to being nocturnal creatures - although in some folklore sunlight left vampires powerless or even paralysed.
Vampires sleep in Coffins
In old folklore most vampires returned to their coffin when the night was nearing its end, and this was the time when would be vampire-hunters or mobs of peasants would/should strike them, since they were according to most legends defenseless during the day.
This legend is rarely every used in modern media, and is in fact frequently ridiculed by modern vampires
Vampires fear Crosses and other Religious Symbols
In much of the Christian legends unholy beings such as demons or vampires could be turned away or forced to flee via the power of faith, or some symbol thereof. Crosses and other symbols where often used to ward dwellings from creatures such vampires, demons and evil spirits.
Once again, like coffins, modern media vampires often ridicule this legend in various ways and/or try to dilute its religious aspects. If you would rather subvert this trope, try bringing on a transubstantian vampire… . Of course, this may require you to take a theological position - do all religious symbols work or only some? Alternatively you might require True Faith from the symbol user - or at least some religious belief on the part of the user in the power which the symbol represents. Or you can follow Joss Whedon's example and think up a more or less credible explanation3 to avoid taking a theological position. For a more subversive, humourous or just variant campaign a vampire might fear a symbol of anything it feared or betrayed in life - whether religious or political.
Vampires drink blood
At least most of them do - older versions might drain life in other ways (for example by sucking the breath from people's lungs or draining their youth away) and several of the Oriental varieties drain "ki" or "chi" energy instead (possibly by drinking blood, but possibly through biting your shadow…). Some, more bestial versions may eat raw, bloody flesh instead or as well. This may be all a vampire can eat or drink, or it may be capable of consuming more mundane food - although it is unlikely to gain any benefit and may have to vomit it up again later. Transubstantian vampires - if they exist in a setting - are an obvious exception. How much blood is required will vary - sometimes it will only be a small amount which does the victim very little harm and sometimes the victim is sucked dry4. Gorging with more blood than is required may or may not enhance the vampire's powers. Frequency of feeding, as well as volume may be an issue. The blood may have to be human - or animal blood may suffice (sometimes it depends on the age of the vampire) - and vampires may be quite picky eaters if they have the option. In some cases there will be a distinct case of "you are what you eat" about it and vampires that don't feed on humans will take on animalistic characterisitics from their prey. What this means for the transubstantians is possibly better not dwelt on too closely for reasons of game balance. Failure to feed generally won't kill a vampire, but the hunger may drive them mad after a while…
Some traditions suggest that a vampire can be weakened or killed if it drinks blood from someone who is already dead … stored blood from the blood bank may or may not be drinkable, but is unlikely to be pleasant for them.
Vampires cannot cross a threshold without being invited in
An old superstition with a surprising resilience in modern media - that the vampire cannot cross the threshold of a home without being invited in. In some cases, the vampire may even require an invitation from one of the household - not just anyone inside. Opinions vary as to why this might be - to some, it's merely a figurative result of the vampire being a mythic allegory for a variety of human sins (and thus requires consent to enter into a person5), in others a result of the aforementioned vampiric OCD or just an unexplained side effect of the vampiric condition -in more subversive cases it only works if the home in question has been properly dedicated/consecrated according to some specific set of rites. It is generally accepted that to require an invitation, the place must be someone's permanent (or at least typical) residence - hotels, rental cottages and the like don't count … university and school dormitories might. Non-human residences aren't usually considered much. Again, this can be subverted, especially in a feudal setting where the vampire happens to be the household's overlord, but anywhere else where it has right of entry. In a modern setting, you may be able to keep your vampire landlord out simply by keeping your end of the tenancy agreement6 … or the fact that he owns the building may mean you're doomed. And, as usual with magic, there may be the added wrinkle that the vampire has to know about a rule before it applies to him (and the GM can play this any way, including for laughs in the right setting). Once given, the invitation may (or may not) be revokable - simply telling the vampire they are no longer welcome probably won't work (but might). Come to think of it, what constitutes an invitation to enter may vary - in some cases, the invitation must be spoken and addressed specifically to the vampire, in others simply putting a "welcome" mat outside allows them in. As so often when dealing with the supernatural folklore is your friend - as long as you're only worried about local hazards. Also, remember that not being able to enter a property, doesn't usually stop a vampire from getting onto your grounds, nor from setting the building on fire and waiting for you to emerge.
Vampires cast no reflection
And/or sometimes no shadow. This was based on the old idea that the reflection showed the soul of the reflected person. Obviously this is hard to reconcile with what shadows and reflections actually are. If this trope is being played straight, vampires may also not show up on CCTV, film or the like, which will need a lot of plotting work, subverting it is less congruent with the myths but easier on the sanity, however, a vampire that is secretly very horrible and using a glamour to disguise itself as a human may look very different in reflection.
Vampires In The News:
- News: Boston Latin officials seek to quash 'vampire' rumors
- News: Florida Vampire to run for President
- News: Nicaragua's Vampire Problem
- News: 'Vampire' discovered in mass grave
- News: Vampire corpses unearthed in Bulgaria
And vampire-related monsters.
- Ch'iang Shich
- Leanan sidhe
- Vampire Bat
Game and Story Use
- Adventure Seed: Red Reign of the Rat King
- Folklore vampires are often good and creepy monsters. The concept of a walking corpse coming to drain you of your blood has a similar type of horror value as that of a moaning brain-eating zombie. Player also often expect vampires to be both stronger and more intelligent than zombies, which if used right can make them very frightening.
- Modern/Hollywood vampires are often intelligent beings who retain much of what they were in life, while having many supernatural abilities, which can make them great antagonists. Many versions are also quite human in behavior, which can create moral dilemmas about killing them. This can depending on the campaign be a good or bad thing.
- Vampires are sometimes used for player characters in some campaigns. Their functionality as player characters is very variable since there are few set rules for what traits a vampire should have.
- Player-characters could be vampires, or vampire-hunters. Either end of the equation is open game.
- Photos of Vampire Hunting Kits could make a good prop, or at least inspire some cool equipment ideas for your game. Real dedicated vampire hunters, especially ones who do so out of religious motivations, are likely to have some fancy tools.
- Given the variation in kill methods, a serious amount of research might be needed to figure out what measures are needed for a given vampire.
- The role of the vampire as plague-dog should also not be overlooked - some myths suggest that vampires were often accused of spreading some plague or the other during their nocturnal feedings - and that was before the idea of mosquito vectored diseases was widely understood. In the modern era of the shared needle and it's trail of HIV and Hepatitis infections, the vampire can easily regain this role.
- Vampires also inherit some of the role of the incubus and sucubus (and before them lilitu and older demons) as erotic, nocturnal predators - as such, modern vampires can also have at least a veneer of deviant sexuality.