(build a better monster)
(build a better monster)
I. Vampire Philosophy
III. Mental State
VII. Bonded Vampires
VIII. Mortal Thralls
X. Community & Culture
I. Vampire Philosophy
Vampires are creatures of transgression. They are composed of the violation of borders – somewhere between death and life, monster and gentleman, parasite and predator, gluttony and famine, beast and man, greed and restraint – and the fulcrum on which they revolve is blood.
The most basic understanding of vampiric composition can be understood as an axis. The further they are from feeding on blood, the closer they are to the animal, the profane, the unhuman, slavering hunger of a beast. The more recently they have fed the closer they are to humanity, to reason, to strength and the flush of life. It is not uncommon for a freshly-fed vampire to experience a surge of amorous affection or manic joy as a result of their pseudo-return to life and the accompanying emotions that are deadened in them the further they are from feeding.
When they take blood, they move further from death and back into the light of life.
Blood is composed of two essential parts; the physical, which is necessary for the bodily function of a vampire, and the spiritual, the “life force” that sustains them.
A freshly-fed vampire has the same basic performance as a living human. The heart beats, the lungs expand, and the blood moves through the veins, enlivening the limbs. There are a few key differences; the stomach of a vampire is withered and is never revived. Their system cannot handle any food or liquid besides blood, and should they try to swallow it, they will inevitably throw it back up.
Starvation begins to shut down these vital processes. Some vampires can consciously choose to shut down their organs, but other times it is forced on them by hunger or external circumstances (such as after being submerged in water – after taking enough water into the lungs they will shut down of their own accord).
Blood is the currency of memory and when a vampire drinks blood they tap into a victim’s past. One or two feedings only yield scant, confused images (although the vampire may pretend otherwise), but the more often blood is taken, the more is revealed. Deep-rooted phobias and pivotal moments in a person’s history are often the first to surface.
Eventually, an almost clairvoyant bond is formed in which the vampire can sense the other's presence over a distance and can receive fleeting impressions of thoughts and strong emotional states. These impressions are never words but only transitory images that are difficult, sometimes impossible, to interpret. This is the beginning of the creation of a mortal thrall.
Blood is changed after it is consumed by a vampire. It becomes, like its owner, a paradox; both curative and lethal. A vampire’s blood, if swallowed by someone who is still very much alive, induces a strong, nearly hallucinogenic state. However, the images the victim sees are not figments but a result of their hyper-sensitive senses. Their sense of sight, sound, scent, taste, and touch are all amplified to the point of painful sensory overload. The results of this amplification vary, but the most commonly reported phenomenon is of the “familiar dark” in which shadows appear to be sentient, living creatures that are under the vampire’s control. The effects of the consumed blood fade after a few, often panic-stricken hours.
Swallowing large quantities of vampiric blood is fatal. Mortals killed in this manner run the risk of being resurrected by the toxin. This is not the intimate ritual of a proper turning. Instead, these poor victims are usually bestial, ravening beings with minds broken by their agonizing death, and any sensible vampire would put such a creature out of its misery as soon as possible.
The effects of drugs, alcohol, or other mind-altering substances are ineffective, as a vampire’s biology is generally unyielding to these chemicals. However, should a victim partake of these substances before being fed on, the effect (though partially diluted and more generalized) transfers through the blood. Vampires are also immune to all forms of conventional disease or infection as micro-organisms cannot interact with dead cells (which doesn't necessarily exclude the vampiric community from their own strange kinds of sickness).
III. Mental State
Vampires are not necessarily any more intelligent or cunning when they have just been turned. However, years of accumulated experience and a vital hunger with very few consequences for their actions tends to encourage predatory cruelty and guile.
Vampires do tend, whether through natural or super-natural means, to have an increased aptitude for learning new skills. They are instinctive learners, and can pick up on new customs, currency, and language in a foreign land with impressive speed. Many vampires are more curious than they were in life, pursuing people, places, and talents that challenge them. Their mental faculties enjoy a certain lucidity that is often lost to mortals; it is not uncommon for vampires to be able to read and understand two sets of text at the same time without losing any information.
Some vampires do not experience verbal “thoughts” the same way that a mortal does. After a time, their subconscious overtakes the conscious mind and they operate in the way of an animal, on impulse. This often fluctuates depending on how recently an individual has fed, and the degradation (or more alarmingly – the inability) of speech is a sure early warning of a dangerously starved vampire.
All vampires share certain base traits. They are stronger, faster, and more durable than they were in life, and they heal rapidly (not instantaneously – wounds still take time to repair, and they still go through the progression of fresh wound to scar before fading away entirely). Their senses are keener and their power of perception is exceptional.
Vampires can see in near-total darkness. They are extremely photo-sensitive, and a bright, sunny afternoon is seen as a painful glare. Their eyes are best adapted to the evening and the night. Colours appear far more vivid, and objects gain a kind of fullness or weight, as though they have gone from viewing the world in two dimensions to fully realized 3D. Mortals look very different to vampiric eyes; the blood beneath the skin stands out in shades of red and purple, gathering in seething scarlet where the flesh above is thin (new vampires often have trouble averting their gaze from the compelling splash of red that pounds beneath the throat).
Vampires do not dream and they do not have a reflection in any silver or silver-backed surface (including most mirrors). Generally, animals are able to detect the presence of a vampire and react with fear, but there are exceptions. All vampires are capable of receiving fleeting images of a victim’s life through their blood.
Vampires gain strength as they age, and sometimes they discover new abilities in addition to the intensification of their old ones.
The process of being returned to life is a mysterious and sometimes unpredictable one and some vampires gain additional abilities that include, but are not limited to:
- The ability to influence a mortal (and the immortal, though to a lesser degree) through speech or suggestion. Some vampires can slip victims into a nearly hypnotic trance.
- The ability to choose to go unseen to the naked eye. This usually appears more like blending into a crowd unnoticed than true “invisibility”.
- A supernatural sharpening of their own dexterity, that allows them to scale previously impossible surfaces, sometimes including sheer walls.
- The ability to sense the overall well-being and conditions of one's immediate environment and the people within it. Some vampires have a stronger affinity to nature that allows this ability to work with animals as well.
- The ability to very quickly understand foreign languages, a natural polyglot. Most vampires share this to some degree, but some are truly exceptional.
- The ability to read or sense the emotions and/or control the emotions or feelings of others.
- The ability to perceive the future. It is most often expressed in vague dreams while asleep or as abstract feelings of panic and doom.
- The ability to receive information about an item’s past by touching it. Known as psychometry or token-object reading, this information can be any number of impressions, visions, or thoughts.
- The ability to erase or dampen the memories of another.
- The ability to create or manipulate darkness and shadows, usually to cloak themselves or induce fear in a victim.
These vary wildly from person to person. They sometimes seem to manifest from an individual’s natural talents and other times seem to appear at random. Flavours of extra-sensory perception and what may be called psychic abilities are common, but mortals who require spirits or other incorporeal beings necessary to perform their magic will find their powers stripped from them as a vampire, as nearly all supernatural creatures (dead, un-dead, or otherwise) display aversion to vampiric presences. Some vampires practice witchcraft or gain powers by other supernatural means, but these are auxiliary to their nature.
The greatest power a vampire has is the power of illusion; the ability to deceive the perceptions of another. This is usually subtle (and most commonly sensed as an unnatural calm despite the obvious danger that a vampire presents) but some vampires have been known to induce hallucinations in a mortal, or even force them to follow commands against their will.
Vampires are carnal creatures. Many mortals find them to be alluring, which is often a boon for a predator who relies on proximity to their victim.
Vampires must feed on blood. They are not equipped to swallow anything else, and won’t gain any of the necessary life force they are lacking if they try.
If a vampire does not feed, they begin to change. They move closer to death, and appear less healthy. Their skin turns ashen and pale or lifeless and grey. They look more skeletal and their bones and teeth jut. Their eyes lose their luminescence and become dull and cloudy, and eventually lose human intellect and gain an animal hunger.
A vampire cannot abstain from feeding for long. They will eventually lose all sense of reason and attack any living creature without restraint. Should a vampire be physically unable to feed (if they are shackled underground for a long period of time, for instance) they will “lose their mind” in the most literal sense and become a mindless, skeletal avatar of hunger. They will lose all sense of self and be little more than a starving beast, desperate and willing to wound themselves or others in their all-consuming desire for blood.
Starving is an excruciating torment that cannot end in death (as they cannot die of starvation). The first symptom of hunger is the weight of their teeth in their mouth that feel unnecessarily in the way (similar to how a mortal becomes more aware of their stomach when they are hungry). After a few days of abstaining, a vampire’s veins begin to burn and sting, prodding them to feed. Their skin becomes sensitive, and even minor touches can be agonizing. Their organs shut down. Their thoughts cloud and speech may become slurred or disorganized. Eventually, they will experience blinding headaches and very strong impulses to harm any living creature near them. The pain spreads to the rest of their internal organs and turns their insides to a hive of stinging, throbbing agony. After a period of about three months, they lose their sentience completely and will do anything to escape the pain that sears the thoughts from their head.
Vampires can drink the blood of any animal and even insects can be utilized in a pinch, but it is thin and unsatisfying and will begin to induce a minor starvation state if used long-term, as it lacks the necessary life force they require. The same is true for blood that is stored for later use (although every vampire is different, and some will immediately regurgitate blood that is not drawn from a living source).
Most vampires use their elongated teeth or sharp, pointed nails to open a victim for bleeding. Favourite places to feed from include the throat and wrists, as the veins and arteries are close to the surface, but other prime locations are the shoulders, the bend of the elbow or knee, and the genitals. Most anywhere will suffice.
Experienced vampires will allow a victim’s heart to pump blood out of the wound once an incision has been made, which mitigates their labour. Fledgling vampires, or a vampire in less-than-ideal circumstances, will often have to make multiple incisions or actually suck the blood in order to drain their victims.
It is possible for a vampire to sustain themselves on approximately three pints of blood per feeding, which is just enough to keep a victim alive. However, this is incredibly dangerous and usually only possible for older, more experienced vampires. The vast majority of feedings result in the death of the victim.
Drinking blood is an ecstatic experience that is highly pleasurable for body, mind, and spirit. Feeding returns a vampire to the side of the living. Veins that were withered and thin become plump and full, and emotions and sensations that were dull are immediately enlivened. The brain is inundated with blood and operates at maximum. The sensation is so intense as to be painful; hot blood rushes through the tepid arteries, resulting in a “pins and needles” sensation and the vampire is usually foggy and light-headed for several minutes until it dissipates and the fully-fed clarity returns.
The blood of the dead is highly toxic to vampires. Should a vampire continue feeding after their victim has died, they risk serious and sometimes permanent impairment or injury.
A freshly-fed vampire bears little resemblance to their starving self. Their eyes regain their luminescent clarity, their skin flushes with blood, the bones and teeth are not so prominent, and they are often giddy with the rushing return of sensation.
Vampires cannot reproduce. They are sterile and barren in every sense of the word. They are capable of creating more vampires only through a ritual of death, the transfer of blood, and unnatural rebirth.
Vampires cannot be made accidentally. Potential vampires are chosen carefully, as once a mortal is turned they are bound to their maker until either of them is destroyed. The sharing of blood confers a portion of power to the fledgling vampire. It is an intimate experience that has no analogue in the mortal world.
It is necessary to die in order to become a vampire. Most vampires choose to kill their prospective companion, but some are taken prematurely by disease or fate, and others are allowed to live out the span of their mortal life before being turned. A functioning heart is necessary for the conversion, so any corpse with an intact heart is suitable (decay is usually the prime culprit in damaging the heart beyond repair, but cremation and a manner of death that involved piercing the heart will also suffice to make a corpse unsuitable).
Once the intended victim is dead, they must be revived by consuming the blood of a vampire. It is customary for the vampire to bite open their own wrist to allow the blood to drain into the mouth. The blood, so overwhelming for a living target, quickly restores the victim’s body upon reaching their heart. Fledgling vampires return to the world gasping and choking, overwhelmed by the sudden, intense stimulation of their newly-heightened senses. They return consumed by the single-minded need to suckle the blood draining past their lips, and quickly latch on to their maker’s vein until they are properly sated.
Accounts of what the un-dead experience while truly dead vary wildly. Some report landscapes and figures from personal or cultural mythologies, and some claim to have lived entire lives in the span between death and un-death. Others contend that there was nothing; that they merely blinked out of existence until they were revived. Most refuse to discuss it.
A new vampire loses their teeth within minutes of being revived. The top canines and the lateral incisors beside them are spat out (and rarely, uncomfortably swallowed) to make room for the fangs that will erupt within three days. During this time, the fledgling is at a considerable disadvantage and relies heavily on their maker to provide the blood required to keep them from starving. This is a period of intense bonding, and many vampires seclude themselves away with their wards until the new fangs have grown in and they can emerge, blood-starved after surrendering so much to the ravenous fledgling.
A vampire’s fangs are their most precious tool. It is possible, but very difficult, for a vampire to survive without the use of them. They are a good deal larger, thicker, and sharper than a mortal mouth could accommodate, with a deep root that makes extraction challenging to the point of impossibility.
When a new vampire is revived there are some immediate alterations to their appearance. The eyes of a vampire are luminescent and bright, sometimes eerily so. They can lighten or darken noticeably. Very often they acquire almost metallic flecks like the eyes of a cat. All vampires have the eyeshine of an animal when light strikes their tapetum lucidum (the growth of which causes an irritating itching sensation in the eyes for a day or so following the turning), which makes their pupil appear to glow.
Skin and hair can also change. The skin tends to appear “bloodless” and some vampires are perpetually pale or otherwise ashen. Hair can lighten significantly, although the most common effect is a shimmery, almost silvery look, regardless of colour. Fingernails thicken and turn sharp, and will continue to grow for the duration of a vampire’s life.
Any fully-healed scars or other marks of injury (such as missing limbs) that the fledgling sustained while mortal will not disappear unless they are still in the process of repair; a vampire’s healing will only mend what is actively injurious, not disappear blemishes. The wounds from their maker’s teeth and claws inflicted during the turning will scar and remain permanently. Some makers will take advantage of this and intentionally mark their companions.
A responsible maker educates the fledgling they have sired over the course of several years to successfully equip them to survive the many and varied dangers they will face.
VII. Bonded Vampires
Vampires tend to be solitary creatures, a tendency amplified by the propensity of mortal confidants to betray and try to kill the un-dead or to die and abandon them after a few dozen years. Despite this, the impulse to create a companion is a strong one. Once a fully-fledged vampire has succeeded in siring a vampire, the two share a bond that can only be severed by the final death of one.
A vampire is permanently weakened by sharing their blood. They surrender a portion of their power to their new companion. However, unless the maker is very weak to begin with, this power exchange is not enough to level the ground between them – fledgling vampires begin their new life vulnerable and inexperienced, and inherently closer to their frail mortal selves than their maker’s supernatural strength and knowledge. This naturally limits the number of mortals a single maker can sire, and most vampires only turn three or less over the course of their lifetime, if they choose to do so at all.
Bonded vampires who share blood have a strong mental and emotional connection to one another. They can sense the presence of the other regardless of distance (although this does not guarantee they will remain together - sometimes it is as simple as crossing an ocean to strand a companion who does not have the resources to follow). They possess an innate knowledge of whether their companion is dead or alive and whether they are in immediate danger. Bonded vampires are also inherently better at understanding one another – although they cannot communicate in any literal telepathic sense, their intimacy and familiarity often results in them needing few words to convey a depth of information.
The relationship between bonded vampires is very close, but it is possible, after a time, that it is not co-dependent. Some vampires live happily for temporary or extended periods of time away from their maker.
Abandoning a vampire you have sired is a cruel undertaking that harms both parties. Vampires are not perfect and not all possess the self-knowledge (nor are suited for the obligation) necessary to turn another. Some makers are capricious and fickle, others are simply irresponsible and reckless. Whatever the case, it is usually viewed as preferable that disputes that cannot be resolved end in the death of one or the other, to avoid the constant anguish of an unhappy separation.
Vampires who sire multiple mortals typically remain close to all members of their family. These “siblings” share a much weaker connection with each other than they do with their maker, but are still capable of sensing their death. Vampires that these fledglings sire in turn share a similarly watered-down bond with the original maker.
VIII. Mortal Thralls
A thrall is a mortal that is forcibly under the control of a vampire. The thrall will be in active service to their vampire master, working in the mortal realm to benefit the vampire’s needs and interests. Thralls are always servants, but not necessarily slaves.
Thralls can be created regardless of their willingness. Traditionally, mortals choose to become thralls with the expectation that their service will be rewarded by being turned; an agreement that a vampire may or may not choose to fulfill.
A thrall is created by a blood bond. A vampire will feed from the same victim repeatedly (note that a vampire drinking the blood of a human with the intention of creating a thrall will merely “sip” without the intention of sating themselves, or they risk succumbing to bloodlust and killing the victim) until they have established a suitably strong connection. They will then feed a small amount of their blood to the mortal, binding them to their will.
Thralls have limited free will and view their respective vampires with reverence and obsession. They must be maintained by occasional feedings or the bond begins to fade. Neglected thralls eventually return to their true selves with clouded, broken memories of their service.
The ability to create a mortal thrall is not one that every vampire chooses to utilize. The disadvantages of such a relationship include the strain it places on the vampire to maintain the blood bond, and some vampires opt instead to use their considerable powers of persuasion or intimidation to force a mortal into their service without the supernatural assurance of the blood bond.
Vampires are not truly immortal. If left unmolested they can survive indefinitely, and some have lived to a truly remarkable age (a vampire is considered “ancient” when their time on earth reaches about 1,000 years, but such a feat is uncommon and most vampires range from 200 – 600 years. The oldest vampires are hardly recognizable as such, although whether this is a result of their succumbing to their bestial natures or of having been turned at some primeval stage of human evolution is unknown). There are a variety of means by which a vampire can be destroyed.
Wooden stakes, while iconic, are not sufficient to destroy a vampire. However, wood from oak, ash, hazel, birch, hawthorn, alder, elder, or yew trees can be used to paralyze a vampire if driven directly into the heart. The vampire is unable to move any part of their bodies while the stake is in place. Historically, this was used to affix a vampire to the inside of a coffin which was then buried (which is not sufficient to put an end to their life) or burned (which is).
Fire presents a serious threat to even the oldest vampires. Burns are exempt from a vampire’s preternatural healing and they heal at a mortal’s slow crawl, which can place a vampire at a severe disadvantage. Wounds from fire are extremely painful. If a vampire’s body is reduced to ash (or if a significant majority of it is), they cannot be revived and will expire. Similarly, light and heat in any quantity are unpleasant for a vampire, and they will usually seek out cool, dark places to inhabit, away from the prickling of the sun.
Blood drawn from the dead is toxic to a vampire’s system and consuming enough of it will permanently shut down their vital processes and kill them. This toxic effect is effective regardless of how it is introduced, and some enterprising hunters will dip their weapons in the blood of the dead to amplify their damage. Fascinatingly, blood from other vampires (who are once dead, but no more) has the reverse effect. It is thicker, richer, and more potent than the blood of mortals, and will speed up the restoration of an ill or injured vampire.
Silver has an adverse reaction, but only on a vampire’s blood. Vampires can handle and manipulate silver objects with minimum discomfort (although it may feel uncomfortably hot and sustained contact results in painful blisters), but it will blacken and burn once it breaks the skin and is exposed to the blood.
Humans are typically of little danger to a fully-fledged vampire, and usually only manage to kill severely wounded or very weak vampires. However, a group of well-armed vampire hunters have the advantage of numbers on their side and can overwhelm a target. Some use cunning to force vampires into traps which are then burnt. A vampire taken by surprise is dangerously vulnerable. At the very least, a vampire discovered by humans will be forced to uproot and flee. Most vampires choose to tread carefully in mortal settlements and pursue their prey surreptitiously to alleviate this potentially troublesome problem.
In addition to physical dangers, vampires face a great deal of internal strain. Immortality achieved only by the slaughter and cannibalism of the creatures whose communities you once belonged to is not easy for everyone. Self-destructive urges are very common among vampires who fall prey to ennui, apathy, and despair. The accumulation of years also takes a severe toll on the psyche, and older vampires have developed a variety of strange coping mechanisms that sometimes manifest as bizarre mannerisms, figures of speech or dress, or lapses into madness, mania, or savagery. The single greatest cause of death amongst vampires can be summed up as the lack of will to continue surviving.
X. Community & Culture
Vampires live most comfortably either by themselves or in small family groups (usually from about 2-5 members) composed of any number of bonded vampires and their mortal thralls. The composition of these families naturally shifts over the course of several hundred years.
However, as with any rule concerning vampires, there are exceptions. Sometimes nests of vampires living together will form in one area, usually as a result of fledglings who were turned by a maker who was destroyed or who surrendered their responsibility too early in their education. These orphans are weak and cling to one another out of necessity. Some of these colonies manage some semblance of structure, with hierarchy, rules, social codes, and a shared culture, but most are disorderly and draw unnecessary attention, and are swiftly eradicated.
Because vampires are so uncommon and so rarely form functioning societies of their own, their culture and shared sense of community are highly localized. Knowledge is passed down verbally from maker to fledgling and is sporadic and incomplete. This leads to an interesting problem in which they have no shared vocabulary. There is no universally agreed upon set of words for their experiences; few vampires even have a proper name for themselves. It is improbable that there is a single vampire who knows everything that is written here and downright impossible that they would use the same terminology to describe these phenomena.
However, vampires in any one area tend to pick up the language of their neighbours and these titles almost always reflect their own self-important nature. Popular themes with which to describe themselves are variations (in many languages) on “the eldest”, “the hunters”, and “the lords [commonly árchontas; masters/overlords] of blood”. Other descriptors that have been used at various times amongst vampires are the “nătâng” to describe the creature that is made when a mortal consumes too much vampiric blood and is brought back gibbering and broken (nătâng is a play on a Romanian word that means ‘zombie’ but is used to indicate that someone is a dunce; it may have gained popularity in part due to its resemblance to the English word “nothing”) and the colonies of frail vampires have been described as “yatim” – an Arabic word meaning “fatherless”.
The mythology that vampires develop also express this vain-glorious view of themselves, and often coincides with imagery of gods and mythical predators.
Vampires are decidedly idiosyncratic creatures and none of this information is standard. Treat with appropriate disregard when necessary.