Building a Better D&D
There are tons of monsters in AD&D that could really use a face lift. There are a lot that even need complete reconstruction in concept from ground up. As 'Exhibit A' I give you the Vampire.
Now first, let me note that while its only logical that D&D includes vampires, werewolves, and mummies I find it odd that the 4th member of the classical quartet is not well represented - Frankenstein's monster. Oh we have the Flesh Golem but that's hardly the same thing since a golem is a programmed creation. We have a number of monsters which are noted specifically as being creations of reckless magical experiment, but no humanoid monsters that have resulted from magical/pseudo-technical experimentation.
Anyway, I've recently been rereading Dracula and noting again, as I have in the past in reading this classic work that the D&D vampire is jarringly dissimilar to what must be its primary literary source. The vampire as presented by Stoker is of course adapted from any number of related cultural myths and tales but all of our present popular cultural visions of vampires stem first and foremost from Stokers book. Movies took the basics of Stokers vampire, added, deleted and modified, and in the last 10-15 years vampire tales have all but solidified as a genre in their own right distinct from horror stories in general. But it still all goes back to Stoker.
Several things strike me about the differences between Dracula and the D&D vampire. First is that Dracula was not rendered “powerless” or damaged by daylight (as in helpless and unable to defend or act), but that he did lose much of his special abilities. Dracula was seen several times in full daylight. Though it was plainly indicated that he DID need to return to the dirt he was buried in to rest (and that at daybreak) it was just as plain that he did NOT need to remain there. Though once resting it seemed that it was actually difficult to accidentally wake him – Harker searched Dracula’s body in his coffin for the castle door key while he slept. The lead lining of Lucy’s coffin had to be sawed open only a few minutes after she entered it so she was truly “dead to the world” only moments after entering.
The really big thing is that D&D energy drain is by successful hit in combat alone (touch attack) and nowhere is it stated that a D&D vampire needs to feed on human blood! Third edition actually makes the vampires attack a Slam attack – simple, brute force. Only after the physical contact of fisticuffs is a character subject to energy drain - not a BITE attack. Maybe it was sort of supposed to be taken as read but there is no MECHANIC or even descriptive need in any edition for the consumption of blood to happen - but ANY representation of vampires outside of D&D focuses on it (with the rare exception of an "energy" vampire such as presented in the movie Lifeforce).
In the book it required several visitations before Dracula ever killed anyone by draining blood. A range of 3-12 visits (!) for adults would not be unreasonable. The first obvious victim, Lucy, was being drained for days on end even before she was given transfusions prolonging the process. Even then the transfusions provided less delay than you’d otherwise expect suggesting that a certain number of visitations may have been more important than the actual volume of blood drawn. Lucy had FOUR transfusions but was dead in about a week, otherwise to that point it had taken a couple of weeks to reduce her to that critical state. Even the children that had been reported disappearing also seemed not to have been drained in single attacks given the tales of a mysterious lady they encountered and sickliness being evidenced among them.
Dracula's presence and touch induced nausea and dread in people and animals until it was dispelled in some fashion. The dispelling, however, was typically a superficial sort such as verbal encouragement, a moments summoning of courage, or confidence-imparting touch on the arm or shoulder of a "shaken" comrade.
Not only was he able to turn into a mist, but he was able to SUMMON mists in his vicinity as well as a measure of darkness. It was even stated that he could exert a degree of weather control in summoning clouds (again mostly to maintain visual obscurity, shadow or darkness in his vicinity).
Dracula cast no shadow (which ought to provide appropriate adjustments to surprise in appropriate circumstances), and cast no reflection. The latter means he detests mirrors but was hardly held at bay by them. Oh, and garlic may cause some hesitation but won’t necessarily keep a vampire at bay. It didn't keep Dracula out of Lucy's room, but still it seems it would depend on their use. Stokers narrative indicates it has to do with the vapors/odors they produce so more is better and in a closed room where the vapors remain built up. Dracula wasn't kept out because the importance of how this effect of garlic works wasn't made clear to everyone in the house as it should have been. The windows to Lucy's room were repeatedly opened at night enabling Dracula to continue to come in and feed on her.
Lastly, though it said nothing about being killed by running water it stated he could not CROSS running water except at high/low tides (which, of course, bears directly on the position of the moon in the sky).
All these differences mean the great Dracula was a monster of subterfuge and cunning, whereas the D&D vampire is one of almost mindless direct assault. It has most of the means for surreptitious action and secrecy but none of the NEED to behave that way even for descriptive/roleplaying purposes. So, having noted all these differences wouldn’t it be more fun (or at least an interesting variation) to run vampires in a fashion closer to Stokers’ Dracula rather than just use them as touch-draining combat ass-kickers? Let otherwise flavorless undead creatures like the Wight be the mindless brutes. Vampires should be more dangerous because of their subtlety, not their casual brawn.
If nothing else a D&D vampire modeled after Dracula would be more threatening because it CAN operate in daylight, despite reduced abilities. It would be more appropriately threatening because the weakness and ill health of victims must be noticed as being from the vampires bite instead of the vampire just casually beating the snot out of 0-levels and creating an undead army under his control in a single night. It opens up the possibilities of dealing with a vampire through more interesting means than just direct assault.
Now I'm not saying that this is the ONLY way vampires in D&D should be designed and handled, but I am saying it's a far more INTERESTING way than is presented in the MM. In particular the greatest sin of omission here is the drinking of victims blood in order to drain energy levels. Without that none of the other powers of escape, obfuscation, or subterfuge are even necessary. With an ordinary melee energy drain attack the vampire has every reason to simply wade into combat and no reason at all to employ his secondary abilities unless/until PC's outmatch him toe-to-toe.
Even before Ann Rice's books started to make vampires popular again (pretty sure that's what led us to where we are today) they were gaining ground among players as templates to explore character personalities. Of course now vampires of all kinds are VERY popular in movies and fiction and every one seems to tweak the concept of what a vampire is or can do to a greater or lesser extent. I mentioned Lifeforce, but other movies with various vampire concepts are The Lost Boys, Interview with the Vampire, From Dusk til Dawn, After Dark, Twilight, Underworld, Blade, Van Helsing, True Blood, some of the old Hammer films with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and of course a couple different takes on Dracula himself and the original story. Those are just off the top of my head. It shows that at the very least the MM treatment of vampires is easily improved upon.
A big part of this project will be to go through the MM one monster at a time, examine the concept, and redesign it from the ground up as needed. The goal is actually increasing the usefulness and appeal of monsters. Take humanoids as another example (orcs, kobolds, hobgoblins, etc.) Other than hit dice what makes ANY of them different from others - as presented in the MM? Not a damned thing. Oh you personally may handle them differently, placing them in different areas, giving them different cultures and behaviors, but by the book they are otherwise indistinguishable and that is dang near criminal. This is what needs to be addressed.
Now this part of the project is likely to be shelved until the very end due to the work load involved. Its most likely that I will consider the project ended with only a few such monsters redesigned and leave all future redesigns to be done on an as-needed basis as the game is played. But then that's the sort of thing DM's should be doing anyway as a matter of course.
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