Vampires are one of the most widely recognized and feared monsters in Dungeons and Dragons. They are an often lethal combination of speed, intelligence, and power and can easily be the final boss of an arc or even a whole campaign. With how complex they can be, shaping vampires in your campaign can be a difficult process.
Here are some basic tips on how to use vampires in your D&D 5e Campaign:
Make them powerful and intelligent
Give them a lair or stronghold
Figure out the vampire hierarchy
Decide on their larger goal
Covering those bases will help ensure that your players feel like the vampire is an actual threat that must be dealt with instead of a tired cliche that must be tolerated. Still, there is significantly more to be said about making them into the incredible undead threats that they are.
Before we get going, if you are thinking about using vampires in your campaign, you will need some miniatures! Check out our friends at Noble Knight Games and get your minis from a realstore!
Understanding Vampire Lore
Vampire lore in Dungeons and Dragons is somewhat unique compared to the classic interpretations of undead lords that are often shown in media. The basics are still the same, though.
Vampires are undead creatures who feed on the living by drinking their blood. They are immortal, as they cannot die of old age, and have some common weaknesses such as sunlight and running water. Mechanically, they have quite a few more features that will be covered later. For now, it is important to take a look at the lore of vampires and see how they came to be in the Dungeons and Dragons universes.
As a quick note before explaining the history, remember that, in your home games, you can take as much or as little of this history as you would like! Be sure to change the history to fit the type of story you want to tell.
Changes In Vampires
When someone becomes a vampire, they may not lose all of their memories from life. This, however, may often end up being an additional curse. Vampire spawn eventually lose all happy emotions they may have experienced while alive. Friendship is replaced by envy, love may turn into obsession, and life’s pleasures turn into bitter reminders of what has been lost.
Often, vampires will fixate on something or someone that reminds them of what has been lost. A vampire who was young and gifted may focus on a child, given their symbolism of youth and potential. Perhaps a vampire who was poor in life becomes obsessed with collecting riches and living undeath in excess.
What Makes A Vampire
Only a vampire can create more vampires, turning them into a spawn by biting them. These spawn are weaker than a fully independent vampire but still certainly a threat to be careful around.
Vampire spawn must listen to and obey the commands of the vampire that created them. They also cannot create more vampires. Vampire spawn can win their freedom, so to speak, when their creator allows them to draw blood from its own body. Spawn also become free when their creator dies.
By the very nature of this chain of command, there is a hierarchy that must exist for vampires. While lords will almost always remain independent of each other, families around those lords tend to crop up and become threats.
Strahd Von Zarovich
Strahd Von Zarovich is the original vampire, spawning all others. This is stated in the Monster Manual, although left to some debate. Even if you decide Strahd is not the first vampire in your game’s lore, he is an essential piece of the Dungeons and Dragons vampire puzzle and an interesting vampire in his own right. His story is a particularly vile and sad one, great conditions for creating any vampire.
Strahd was a great warrior and strategist when he was alive, fighting often for his people. Eventually, after years of service, he moved to the valley of Barovia and built his castle, named Castle Ravenloft. His much younger and more handsome brother, Sergei, eventually came and lived with him as a sort of advisor.
As always happens with vampires, Strahd became jealous of his younger brother’s looks and potential, eventually souring the entire relationship with hate. Strahd’s betrothed, Tatyana, turned to Sergei and planned to marry him instead, the final nail in the proverbial coffin.
Strahd, now fully enraptured with hate and anger, made a pact with some unknown dark force that made him immortal. He then went to the wedding between his brother and previous love, confronting and killing his brother. His love then ran away and flung herself from the towering walls of Castle Ravenloft.
For his despicable actions, Strahd was then turned on by his men who sought to kill him. However, they could not – Strahd’s turn into a vampire was complete.
How Strahd went on to sire more vampire lords and spawn is never made clear, so starting with his origin story is a great way to get more vampires into your own campaign. The story of Strahd and the valley of Barovia was also made into an adventure by Wizards of the Coast for D&D 5e, titled Curse Of Strahd. You can find the digital version here at dndbeyond if you want to see more of Strahd’s story or get even more great vampire advice.
Types of Vampires (Lords vs. Spawn)
In Dungeons and Dragons, there are two main types of vampires. A few modified versions have been added in other sourcebooks which will also be briefly discussed, but they are often specific to a setting such as Ravnica.
The two main versions of vampires that exist in D&D are vampire lords and vampire spawn. The differences between these two types of vampire can be quite large, though both are very powerful. Here are some of the key differences:
Vampire lords can create new vampires. Spawn cannot.
Vampire spawn must obey the commands of their own lord.
Vampire lords often have their own lair.
Vampire lords may have the ability to cast spells or wield powerful weapons.
Vampire lords are simply called vampires in D&D 5e. They are extremely powerful and are often what people think of when considering vampires. Vampires in D&D 5e are legendary creatures, meaning they can take extra actions that other creatures could not. If you aren’t sure how to use these Legendary Actions, make sure to read my post all about them!
They are meant to be powerful, final bosses of arcs or campaigns. Due to this, they have an enormous range of abilities and options to try and kill or convert the player’s characters into vampire spawn.
There are a few defining traits that vampires have over their created spawn, as noted above. Key among these is the vampire’s ability to create new vampires. Because of this, and the implicit control vampires have over their spawn, it would be rare to fight a full vampire without a couple of additional spawns around to turn the tide in their favor.
Another vital bonus that vampires have over their fledglings is the ability to charm humanoids into being on their side. Ultimately, this can allow vampires to get away with crimes if there is a witness or even charm a king into supporting the vampire’s plans.
Vampire lords also come in two variants; a vampire spellcaster, and a vampire warrior. Think of these as vampires which were highly trained at either of those schools in life, transferring their skill into undeath. They are even more powerful than a traditional vampire!
Despite being significantly weaker than a full vampire, vampire spawn are still a force to be reckoned with, especially in the lower levels of play. A single vampire spawn could have enough power to fully devour a whole town, if their vampire lord allowed them to.
The power relationship between a vampire spawn and its master is the most essential quality to understand about them. While some lords may allow the spawn to act fairly independently, a spawn is never allowed the final say. Vampire spawn are also weaker across the board, losing their shapeshifting and charm abilities and generally doing less damage.
When utilizing vampire spawn, consider the hierarchy of power at play. Does the vampire lord allow these spawn relative freedom, or does the lord keep them on a tight leash? Does all feeding happen independently or must sacrifices be brought back to the lair? Answering questions such as these will help vampire spawn feel more alive than just weaker vampires.
Vampires in D&D 5e are powerful creatures of the night, capable of bringing ruin to whole kingdoms if allowed to operate unchecked. The features and abilities vampires are given supports this power.
While some of the features vampires have are standard across all fiction, D&D provides some interesting additions that can make playing a vampire villain even more engaging than you might have thought.
Positive Vampire Abilities
A full vampire’s list of abilities can be overwhelming to new dungeon masters or people unaccustomed to running monsters with a host of abilities. To make it a bit easier, here are some of the more important or easy to forget positive abilities:
Vampires can shapeshift into mist or a bat when not in direct sunlight
They can charm people for 24 hours, turning enemies into allies
Vampires can summon swarms of wolfs, rats, and bats once per day
Vampires regenerate hitpoints every turn when not in sunlight or running water, making them incredibly hardy
They must be killed in their coffin, otherwise they will come back to life
As you can see, the list of positive attributes a vampire has is tremendous, and that is to say nothing of the incredible power they have when actually dealing damage. In addition, they get further power or control when in their lair, physically shaping the area around their resting place. Be sure to use all of these abilities to their potential when playing as a vampire – remember, they are intelligent creatures!
Negative Vampire Attributes
Of course, there have to be a few negative attributes to vampires after all of the bonuses they receive. These are attributes that your players will and should try to use against the vampire if they have any hope of defeating it:
Vampires cannot enter a home without an explicit invitation
They are weak to running water, losing some of their abilities and taking damage when in it
They are extremely weak to sunlight, taking damage and even attacking and defending with disadvantage when in it.
A stake to the heart while the vampire is sleeping will paralyze it until the stake is removed.
These negative attributes may seem fairly steep, and they certainly can be if your players take full advantage; however, it is important to remember that vampires are intelligent and aware of their shortcomings. As such, they will most likely do everything in their power to limit how many of these can be utilized against it.
To cover for these, a vampire may spread lies throughout a region that it cannot be harmed by water, or have magical darkness spells around its lair. Be creative!
Avoiding the Cliche
While vampires are meant to be fearsome and incredible opponents, it can be easy to fall into tropes and cliches while attempting to utilize them. While this is not inherently a bad thing, your players viewing the vampire as a joke may break the image you are trying to give your vampires and make play more difficult.
There are a few steps you can take to ensure that your players respect the vampire as a threat while ensuring that your monster feels unique:
Make them deadly – a vampire should follow through on threats. Otherwise, it could seem like the vampire is not utilizing its full potential.
Give the vampire a backstory – often, the cliche around vampires is them living in a brooding castle all alone, dark and angry at the world. Give your vampire a unique backstory and the whole cliche can be avoided easily! For instance, what if the vampire was the leader of a traveling circus troupe?
Define their personality – Consider what is classically considered the vampire cliche when defining a personality for your villain. Then, flip a few of the common denominators on their head. Rather than lusting after human flesh, maybe the vampire wants to rid themself of the need for blood in the first place. Perhaps the vampire is amicable and goes into public often, with people viewing them as a good person until the dreaded secret is revealed.
Undead Monsters to Use with Vampires
In various fiction, vampires have been called “Lords Of The Undead”. While D&D 5e doesn’t give that as a title, pairing vampires with other undead monsters is a great way to get a group of fearsome villains together for a final boss or set-piece.
When considering undead monsters to pair with a vampire, consider these things:
Vampires want to control – the other monsters should listen to the vampire
The other undead should not need to feed – normally, a vampire may only share blood with its spawn (if at all)
The other monsters need to be weaker – the vampire should not feel threatened by them
Ultimately, vampires need a firm hierarchy with them at the top. The supporting cast of undead monsters should support this order and most likely be below even the vampire’s spawn. Here are some undead that vampires could utilize.
While vampires traditionally do not have the ability to raise skeletons, it is not out of the realm of possibility. Some vampires keep spellcasting abilities they had in life. If your vampire was once a great wizard, consider allowing for them to have raised skeletons to fight alongside it.
Skeletons are great for any vampire that needs a large number of undead mobs. While they are not powerful, skeletons are enough to keep any normal person in a D&D world in line or to wage war with.
Ghouls & Ghasts
Ghouls and ghasts are undead that feast on corpses. They tend to travel in packs, swarming enemies to bring them down and then eating the bodies. A vampire could easily use ghouls to clean up victims after blood has been drained, or for some more powerful bottom ranks.
Ghasts are intelligent as well and may seek to work with a vampire if one is in the region. This would allow the ghasts to continue feasting while ensuring that they do not incur the wrath of the much stronger vampire, so it is a win-win.
Looking for some more creative options to back up your Vampire Lord? I have a whole list of unique and fun undead creatures for your campaign! (And there’s not a zombie in the bunch!)
Teasing a Vampire Final Boss
By now you have probably gathered that a vampire can be used to great effect as the final boss of a campaign. They can have far-reaching effects even before the players know they are dealing with a vampire, offer great utility to make the final boss fight interesting, and have enough weaknesses that the players could enter into the final fight with a surprise upper-hand.
Armed with all of that knowledge, how do you tease the players with a vampire final boss? When teasing a vampire final boss, consider the vampire’s goals and actions. Due to how powerful vampires are, they can have highly ambitious goals. Maybe they want to find an ancient lost civilization or turn a whole kingdom into their spawn. Once a goal has been set, the vampire’s actions will do much of the teasing.
Due to the scope of the vampire’s goals, the players should hear about the effects of their efforts long before ever meeting the vampire. For instance, if the vampire’s goal is to convert a kingdom, players should hear of rising vampire attacks or a larger number of wolves in that kingdom. The vampire’s actions should leave crumbs that the players can use as a trail.
Tips for Using Vampires
Vampires are complex monsters with a toolkit so large that it is easy to forget about all they can do. Throughout this article, tips for using vampires to their fullest and making them deadly, terrifying enemies have been laid throughout.
For a quick reference and recap, here is a shortened list of tips for using vampires to maximum effectiveness:
Vampires are intelligent – This is a centuries-old monster we are talking about here! Your players should be afraid to fight a vampire
Vampires have underlings – vampire spawn and other undead should be weakening the vampire’s enemies long before the big one has to actually step in
Vampires should have lofty goals – they have until the end of time to achieve their goals, so make them big! The effects of them going after their goal is what will tip off the players to them
Vampires are charming – they will probably turn allies against each other to gain an upper hand
Utilizing these tips and more, you should have a great vampire as a main villain that is sure to provide fun and engaging gameplay for both yourself and your players!
It really is a shame vampires have become a cliche shadow of their former selves. These monsters are intelligent, ancient, powerful, and brutal. What they need is a few good DMs to bring them back!
And I have a feeling you just might be the one. Happy hunting!
Until next time,
May your game have advantage, my friends!
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