From Valachan to Barovia, few creatures embody the worst horrors of the Core like the vampire. Vampires and their minions are enemies that adventurers should expect to encounter from the very beginning of their careers up until the very end. There are many magical spells and enchanted items that adventurers might covet to deal with the ravenous undead, but not everyone is lucky enough to own a Sun Blade, a Holy Avenger, or an Oathbow. Woe betide the hero who finds himself both magic- and cash-poor just as the latest sinister plot has been unraveled, revealing at its center a vampire mastermind! If you don't want to serve yourself up willingly to the princes of the undead world, then consider the following items that every vampire hunter should keep in his arsenal.
1. Mirror- Most vampires do not cast a reflection into a mirror, a trait common across many vampiric strains. At 5gp, a steel mirror is a handy life insurance policy. It can be used to identify a vampire in a crowd, to pick out which member of a pack of animals is really their vampire master, or to verify that the hero who just rejoined the party isn't the vampire in disguise. Furthermore, some strains of vampire (like the dwarven vampires) find the very presence of a mirror to be abhorrent, and can be repelled by such objects. In a pinch, a mirror can even be used as a weapon: to redirect deadly sunlight onto a vampire who believes himself safe behind or beneath cover.
2. Holy Symbols- Another 5gp investment, the holy symbol is anathema to almost all vampires, regardless of subtype. While most strains require the symbol be presented with conviction, a few are repelled by its mere presence, meaning spare holy symbols can be concealed within packs or beneath a sleeper's clothing as a crude trap for nosy bloodsuckers. An especially cash-strapped hero might find the clergy of a deity of life, sunlight, or healing willing to part with a holy symbol free of charge if the adventurer confides that she is intending to hunt vampires in the immediate future.
3. Garlic- Alliums like garlic grow so well in many areas that their price is almost negligible. While not proof against every strain of vampire, enough types are vulnerable to the herb that its presence is almost mandatory in a good monster-hunting kit. While the traditional method of deployment is a garland worn about the neck or hung across an entry point into a building, the nature of garlic as a foodstuff lends itself to numerous other uses. Heavily garlic-laden food can be used as a method to sniff out bloodsuckers attempting to masquerade as human, and may even ferret out loyal servants, many of whom seek to emulate their vampiric masters in order to be recognized as peers and transformed. (Players looking to stretch the usefulness of garlic to the limits might emulate the heroes of Barb and JC Hendee's Noble Dead series, who have been known to boil large batches of garlic infused water and douse themselves in the pungent concoction before a fight!)
4. Aromatics- In the same vein as garlic, a number of other strong smelling options make good vampire hunting tools. Certain vampires are repelled by rosemary or myrrh, aromatics which share with garlic an association with purity. The desperate vampire hunter might try any such herb in the hope of finding a similar connection. Other possibilities with occult associations to protection or purity include sage, holy incense, yucca, heather, lilies, gardenia, aconite (also useful to assassins, as it is a potent poison in its own right), white roses, curry, lemons, raspberry leaves, acacia, heather, daisies, and bloodroot. Even if such substances fail to achieve a supernatural deterrent, many of them are incredibly foul by virtue of their taste and smell alone, and might easily send a vampire in search of a more palatable meal. Furthermore, many of these come in the form of seeds or granules, which can be scattered to confound undead with a counting compulsion (a common mental illness amongst vampires).
5. Burglar's tools- The number of adventurers who have slain a vampire only to allow it to escape in mist form and return to exact revenge later quite probably outnumber all existing vampires put together. One of a vampire's most insidious traits is its ability to affect a vaporous escape; if the heroes lack the ability to expose the gaseous villain to the sunlight or running water which will kill him even in mist form, his return (and their demise) is almost a certainty, as the vampire will be able to seep through cracks, keyholes, and tunnels that heroes may not be able to follow through. A good lockpick, backed by a muscle man with a hammer and crowbar, can level the odds quite a bit, hopefully finding the fiend's coffin before his regeneration is complete. A good burglar's pack will only set a hero back around 16 gp, which is more than a fair price to pay to only have to finish a fight once.
6. Fire- Fire is one of the most effective vampire hunting tools, and the best part about it is that it's completely free. (If the party is lucky enough to count a half-vistani among their number, starting a fire is not only free--its a free action!) When confronting a vampire in its lair, anyone with a free hand should have a torch. Glass oil lanterns are also a viable option, since both can be turned to use as a weapon in a pinch. Some vampires are foolish enough to make their lairs in buildings constructed of wood, or filled with flammable riches like tapestries and paintings. If a situation becomes truly dire, setting fire to such a lair may be a useful last resort.
7. Holy Water- Although expensive at 25 gp per vial, holy water is a useful tool, and every vampire hunter should try to pack at least a small amount. Although an effective (if costly!) weapon, to a frugal vampire hunter holy water is far more valuable as a tool of detection or deterrence. If soaked into clothing or armor, holy water can damage undead that attempt to grapple a target for a meal. A small amount flicked from the fingers (or slipped into a meal or beverage) can be used to detect hidden vampires or their most corrupted of servants. Adventurers such as Gorm 'Greyskin' Swayne even advocate consuming holy water on a regular basis, considering their argyria (the discoloration of the skin to a grey or blue-grey color as the result of ingestion of silver) to be a small price to pay for the resistance they claim to enjoy from undead depredation.
8. Bait- The typical vampire is a monster possessed of both free will and a genius intellect. However, starvation or desperation can drive a normally cool headed bloodsucker to a famished rage. Not all vampires operate at a higher mental level, either. Vrykolakas and ustrels are little more than blood seeking animals. When encountering such creatures, it might be useful to have a distraction on hand. Fortunately, prey animals (never use predators for this purpose--many vampires can dominate and control predator species) are cheap and readily available in most lands. Rabbits, guinea pigs, swine, goats, sheep, or even cows are available from prices ranging from 1-10 gp. These creatures can be injured and released to draw a blood crazed vampire away from the party and buy the heroes some precious time to regroup. The same tactics can also be used against the predators that so many vampires employ as animal servants. Although the vampire can regain control with ease, doing so will waste precious seconds that the adventurers can capitalize on.
9. Van Richten's Guide to Vampires- Just because you think you're facing a vampire doesn't mean you're prepared. Is it a nosferatu, or one of the more rare cerebrospinal vampires? Perhaps it's an elf who has become a vampire, or maybe it's an elven vampire (two radically different monsters, with different weaknesses and powers). Could it be a vrykolaka, a chiang-shi, or ustrel instead? Perhaps it isn't a true vampire at all, and you've misread the signs of a vampyre, vorlog, or dhamphir? Fortunately, someone vastly more experienced than you at hunting the undead has already written a guidebook to identifying and destroying these fiends, and even more fortunately, these books are available for purchase! In all seriousness, there's no excusable reason for an enlightened adventurer to soldier into the darkness without first having perused the pages of Van Richten's informative guidebooks. Purchase a copy today, and be living proof that forewarned truly is forearmed.
To conclude: hunting vampires is a dangerous game. A vampire is likely stronger, smarter, and faster than you. With the wisdom of the ages and the unholy powers of the night at their disposal, only the truly arrogant would attack a vampire without fear. Hunters with a scrap of common sense (and thus, the ones likely to live to a ripe old age!) are the ones who seek to eke out every minuscule advantage over their opponents that they can. While all of these tools are circumstantial at best, the heroes who pack tools they might need go to the tavern when the adventure's over; heroes who don't pack tools they might not need go to the undertaker.
Wishing you all the best,
Frankie "Farshot" Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.