October 8, 2013
Iconic Antagonists: Vampires
Vampires. Love them or hate them, love or hate the books and movies written about them, they are a solid part of our popular culture. Thus, it should come as no surprise that they are found in almost every game that involves the supernatural in some way, shape, or form. From games written about them like Vampire the Masquerade to the various courts in The Dresden Files RPG to the horrific legions of the Vampire Kingdoms of Rifts, whatever game you are playing, you are likely to come across these blood sucking lords of the undead.
The thing with vampires is that they are always different. There are so many myths and legends about them that games have a hard time in picking and choosing which ones to follow. Do vampires burn in sunlight? Usually, yes. Are they repelled by the cross? Sometimes, though a popular trend in gaming is to have it more based on the faith of the one holding the cross than the cross itself, and it does not always need to be a cross. Can they cross running water? Can they turn into wolves, bats, or mist? How do you kill them? More importantly, how do you make sure they stay dead this time? All of these questions have varying answers depending on the game in question, and that is in part what makes vampires such great antagonists; player assumptions.
You can assume that, just like your players, the characters will have many assumptions about vampires. The trick to making a vampire a wonderful antagonist is not to let them know which ones are right and which ones are wrong. All too often, players are quick to ask to roll some sort of supernatural knowledge skill to see what they know, and they are not actually wrong to do so. However, if them knowing will detract from the fun of the encounter, you need to be prepared to give them something without giving away any of the vampire’s secrets. Telling them things like “You know that vampires exist and you are aware of a number of their weaknesses, however it is hard to tell the difference between what is factual and what is pure fiction” gives them the successful roll without giving away anything that would take the tension away from your game.
Personally, my favorite vampire antagonists come from Vampire the Masquerade, when I use them as antagonists for other World of Darkness games. In Masquerade, vampires are so varied and strange, possessing so many unique and wonderful powers that no two encounters with them are going to be the same. Once your player characters may encounter an angry Brujah, and think that vampires are mostly physically powerful brutes, only then to encounter a blood-magic wielding Tremere or a madness inducing Malkavian.
Vampires make great antagonists, so long as you are able to keep what is truth and what is myth shrouded in the haze of uncertainty. Keep your players guessing, keep them doubting, and you will create an encounter that they will not soon forget.
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