[Editor’s Note: Like the creatures in the Dying Earth, and those in Trail, each Night’s Black Agents campaign has a different vampire. This excerpt introduces you to vampire design.]
Now, it’s the opposition’s turn.
This chapter presents a series of questions to answer and decisions to make for the Director. Why do vampires exist? Where do they come from? What are their powers? How do humans stop them? When did they begin to corrupt Europe – or mankind as a whole? Who do they control? This chapter also presents a wide variety of answers to those questions, and options for those decisions. The Director builds her vampires, and their conspiracy, from those answers and choices, and from her imagination and creativity. Thus, no two games of Night’s Black Agents will have exactly the same vampires, so the players won’t know what to expect even if they expect vampires.
As a starting point for design, consider the following four general types of vampires: Supernatural, Damned, Alien, and Mutant.
These are not mutually exclusive by any means: a mutant vampire virus could have come from outer space or from Hell; all supernatural phenomena might be fundamentally demonic or, following Lovecraft, fundamentally misunderstood alien science. Is the “astral vampire” a supernatural being, or a paraphysical one? Especially in modern fiction, vampires can partake of all four types: evil infected humans who follow alien physical laws that eerily resemble vampire folklore. Much of the fun of postmodern horror comes from blurring these boundaries, and the Director should feel free to do so. Nevertheless, much of the thrill of Gothic horror comes from playing into the tropes and stereotypes of the genre, so the Director shouldn’t necessarily discard the default version or traditional answer for a given vampire.
The symbols in front of each type recur through this section, providing just such a default answer, or general guidelines for vampire creation within each type.
Vampires are the result of magical or other supernatural activities on Earth: spirits, ghosts, necromancy, witchcraft, and the like. Their markers are strange superstitions, often surrounding childbirth and burial customs; their emphasis is hunger. Most folkloric vampires are supernatural: a person born with a caul on a Saturday, or one whose family allows a cat in the room with his corpse, might rise as a vampire.
Vampires are the work of Satan or other explicitly demonic entities opposed to mankind and God. They may be demons who possess corpses, revenant suicides or heretics, or humans who made a specific pact with the Devil before death. Their markers are holy symbols and symbolism; their emphasis is seduction. Starting in the 17th century, most literary and legendary vampires are damned.
Vampires are alien beings, or earthly beings who nevertheless follow different laws of physics. Such “paraphysical” vampires might be alien invaders, psychic phenomena, corpses animated by alien science, or just “humans” from another dimension. Their markers are various uncanny effects; their emphasis is invasion. The alien vampire begins with H.G. Wells and the birth of science fiction in the late 19th century.
Vampires are earthly beings infected or changed by (or into) some freak of nature. Such “parabiological” vampires may be mutants, constructs of some black program, humans adapted to future conditions of plague or global cooling, insane humans obsessed with blood, or sentient diseases that possess their hosts. Their markers are medical symptoms; their emphasis is infection. The mutant vampire begins with Enlightenment skeptics connecting vampirism and tuberculosis, and flourishes in science fiction and addiction horror.
Campaign Modes and Vampire Types
Although any vampire type works with any campaign mode, and vice versa, some symbolic and thematic alignments exist. The general considerations below also apply to the various modes in significant ways. [The modes of play were discussed in a previous article]
Burn: In games focusing on emotional damage and cost, agents face the agony of staking their own friends and loved ones. This works best if vampires actually come back from the dead, if vampirism can “infect” civilians, and if they retain some aspects of their old humanity: part and parcel of supernatural and damned vampires, and some mutant vampires.
Burn, Dust: In Burn mode and Dust mode games, vampirism should probably be incurable to emphasize those modes’ characteristic themes of loss and powerlessness, respectively.
Dust: Realistic, low-fi games fit the tone of either “realistic” mutant vampires or the grimier sort of supernatural vampires. Some alien vampires play well in “realistic” campaigns, also. That said, the sharp contrast between gray realism and crimson Hammer horror makes damned vampires a vivid contender in Dust mode games. Realistically, other observers would likely have spotted a large vampire population before the agents uncover them. In Dust mode games, either keep the number of vampires minimal, or add at least one underfunded vampire-hunting group or agency.
Mirror: Damned vampires foreground questions of allegiance and seduction, just as Mirror mode games do. The invasion themes of alien vampires also fit well, as do vampires who choose their own fate: necromancers, unorthodox epidemiologists, and psionic vampires. Vampires in Mirror mode games should definitely be able to pass for human, raising the “who do I trust?” question every time an agent gets briefly separated from the party after sundown. Factions of vampires can betray each other, or hire the agents under false flags to stake their foes; a very helpful option for Mirror mode games.
Stakes: Games of belief and motivation work well when the vampires themselves are motivated by an ideology (as with damned vampires) or are simply existential threats (as with alien and infectious-disease vampires).
Even before you begin to build your vampires mechanically, take some time to consider the phenomenon of vampirism in your campaign. What kinds of stories do vampires highlight? What do they make possible, or impossible? Your campaign vastly alters if there is only one true vampire in the world working through a horde of Renfields, instead of six enormous vampire clans tracing their descent back to ancient Dacia wrangling over their own internal politics.