You’d be hard pressed to find a tabletop RPG that veteran game designer Kenneth Hite hasn’t touched in the last few years. Like D&D 5e? His name is on the credits page of the Player’s Handbook. World of Darkness, he’s contributed to plenty, not to mention being brought on as the lead designer of Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition. Cthulhu? In addition to contributing to Delta Green, Ken only wrote Trail of Cthulhu, widely considered one of the best versions of Call of Cthulhu on the market. Google his bibliography, the point is, he’s widely sought after because he’s good at what he does and he knows what he’s talking about.
Vampires have become a fairly ubiquitous subject in tabletop RPGs. Even outside of the obvious culprits Vampire the Masquerade/Requiem, D&D 5e got a playable vampire race in Planeshift: Zendikar, (and before that Vampire was a class in Heroes of Shadow) and just about any game can feature a vampire as a villain. In another of his creations Night’s Black Agents, (a game of super spies versus vampire conspiracies, and yes it is as awesome as it sounds) regarding the possibility of vampire agents as player characters, Mr. Hite says rather definitively, “If it were up to me, nobody would ever get to play the good vampire again, in any medium.”
If that’s the first time you’re reading that sentiment, I know what you’re thinking. It sounds like totalitarian drivel from someone who’s trying to tell me how to run my game. I felt the same way, but, given the pedigree involved, I decided to give it some thought.
Do we humanize vampires too much? A vampire is a predator. A vampire is undead. A vampire doesn’t belong in nature. The question that needs to be asked is, how do these experiences shape the character? How do they affect the way the character thinks, acts and sees the world?
1) The Vampire Is Fundamentally Alone
“When the last vampire is extinct, who will mourn our passing? Will she? Will anyone? Can anyone understand this pain, this loneliness?” - Meier Link, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
Do you have a “safety blanket?” Have you ever tried to turn to something familiar after a traumatic or life changing experience to try to regain some feeling of normalcy? Imagine a freshly turned vampire, who has not only faced their own death but come through the other side. What would they turn to for that sense of normalcy and comfort?
Doesn’t matter, it’s all gone. All of it. A vampire is cut off from that which would bring them comfort in a way that we who will live and die as humans will never understand. Their relationship with anyone they could turn to is now forever one of predator and prey.Their loved ones are in danger any time they’re in each other’s company. Should they ignore that fact and selfishly seek them out anyway, they will always feel that pull, that urge to rip open their veins. Depending on the specific folklore, they may not be able enjoy their favorite foods any longer, or any others for that matter. Even if they can, it will never be as satisfying as it once was, never as satisfying as what flows through someone’s veins. Smaller things like a favorite movie or a sentimental gift can sometimes tend to lose their impact for a time following a sufficiently traumatic experience, but even if they don’t, it was made for a world the vampire no longer belongs in. From the moment they reawaken,the vampire has only themselves to lean on, except maybe, if they’re lucky, an even more inhuman monster monster that’s already completed their slide to Hell; the one that turned them.
2) Violation Is A Matter of Survival
“Evil is a point of view, God kills indiscriminately… and so shall we.” - Lestat, Interview With The Vampire
Consider, for a moment, all the institutions put in place to facilitate your survival. If you are hungry, there is very likely a store within a few blocks where you can go to purchase food. If you can’t afford to purchase food, we have programs in place like food stamps and WIC to help you afford it, or at the very least there’s a soup kitchen or a mission somewhere where you can get something to eat once in a while.
We as a society have made absolutely no provisions for the survival of vampires (ignoring the fact that it would be absolutely ludicrous to do so). Ergo, a vampire has no legal means whatsoever of securing the sustenance they need to survive. It has to be taken. It has to be stolen.
Even if a vampire decides to prey solely on animals, the animals have to come from somewhere. They might be able to live off pigeons and sewer rats for a time, but there’s a litany of studies out there to show what happens to a population when a new apex predator is introduced into an environment. It’s only a matter of time before little Timmy’s puppy goes missing. It’s only a matter of time before the neighborhood runs out of puppies.
Let’s say our fledgling vampire was lucky enough to find a human friend that consents to letting them take blood from them. What happens if one day the vampire needs more blood than their donor is willing or able to give? What happens if the vampire desperately needs blood and their donor isn’t around? Just by drinking blood or killing animals, the vampire has most likely already made a compromise they never saw themselves making. As much as we’d like to think of ourselves as paragons of morality, the sheer fact of human nature is, once you start giving an inch, the next compromise is only just another inch. Eventually, just to continue “living” the vampire is going to have to break the law. To continue “living” the vampire is going to have to completely disregard the law. They give another inch, and they’re attacking people. They give another inch, and they’re killing people.
3) Eternity Fans The Flames
“Gazing out across the plains of possibility, do you not feel, with all your soul, how we have become like gods? And a such, are we not indivisible? As long as a single one of us stands, we are legion. That is why, when I must sacrifice my children to the void, I can do so with a clear heart.” - Kain, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
You can only have never killed someone before once. You can only not be used to killing people for so long before it becomes just another Tuesday. At this point the fledgling has long ago discarded the rules and moralities of others as a matter of survival. They’ve seen human lives come and go, and they realize that they’ll most likely see the cycle continue for generations to come unless they’re destroyed. A vampire at this stage would have absolutely no respect for human life. It’s just a human, and we would reproduce like rabbits to their worldview. This is why so many elder vampires think nothing of killing indiscriminately, either a stranger or a servant. It’s just a human, and humans are a dime a dozen. Consider the casual disinterest of Rudolph Hoss, the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz who, when tried for his crimes expressed that his only regret was not spending more time with his family. He was 46 when he died. What would someone be like who’s had hundreds of years to become desensitized?
So, do we humanize vampires too much? Honestly, when we create a “good guy vampire,” I think the problem is that we don’t humanize them enough. What if the real horror of the vampire is not that they’re inhuman, it’s that they might be too human. It may be as small as the guy who cuts you off in traffic, or the guy on the internet who feels comfortable displaying his cruelty behind anonymity. It could be as big as the drug pushers and human smugglers we see on the news. Either way, does humanity not constantly display how callous and self serving it can be? What if the nature of the vampire is simply what happens when mankind is forced outside of its societal obligations and tribe mentality, no longer forced to uphold a false veneer of empathy? Never forget, humans tell stories of monsters to reflect upon humanity. What does the vampire reflect about us?
Chaz Lebel is a fiction author and member of Caffeinated Conquests, a YouTube channel dedicated to nerd comedy and tabletop gaming. He and his team once produced some promotional videos for High Level Games that they probably wish they could forget. Chaz can be found on Twitter @CafConIsOn
Picture Reference: https://lefturn.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/vampire-art-wallpapers-by-artist-avelina-de-moray-vampires-9800318-1600-1200-jpg/
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.