How to Role-Play a Vampire in D&D
Vampires have existed in various folklore for centuries, appearing as blood-sucking beings that subsist on human hemoglobin. The modern image of a vampire, that of a pale, charismatic human, dates from 1819 with the release of The Vampyre by John Polidori and became famous in 1897 with Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Though vampires have undergone many changes throughout the years, evolving from bloodthirsty beasts to sparkling teenage boys, these alluring villains act as compelling monsters in whatever form they take. In 5th edition (5e), vampires are imagined similarly to Dracula: highly intelligent, charismatic, and cunning.
As undead creatures, vampires have a pale or gaunt appearance. They retain the form that they had in life and gain “immortality” in undeath, meaning that they never age. A young child vampire will always appear to be a child, even if they have lived for hundreds of years.
Strahd von Zarovich, the original vampire in the DnD universe, is a lord with a taste for the exquisite things in life. His love for decadent clothing meant for nobles persisted even after his undeath. Similar to Strahd, vampires retain the personalities they had during life and are likely to continue dressing in the same manner.
It can be difficult to tell if an NPC is a vampire, as they look relatively the same as they before being turned. Though vampires are often pale or have reddened eyes, this could easily be covered with makeup or explained away. However, vampires do not cast shadows or have reflections, which can easily be spotted by discerning PCs. Because vampires are highly intelligent and aware of their newfound traits, they carefully remove mirrors or bright light sources from their lairs to prevent suspicions from arising.
Vampires are powerful creatures, and often very rare, and so they are rarely seen in groups of three or more. However, vampires are capable of creating vampire spawn, a form of lesser vampire, which they use for companionship and as minions. Vampire spawn are easily controlled by the vampire that created them, making them ideal servants and bodyguards. Though, vampires also frequently employ other monsters, especially undead, to protect them. Along with this, vampires commune with bats, rats, and wolves, and can summon them as servants at any time.
With a tendency towards lawful-evil, vampires focus on maximizing their pleasure, operating within the bounds of the law and their moral code. Because vampires are highly intelligent and charismatic, they often work within the limits of the law to create environments in which they can flourish, manipulating those around them to achieve their goals and protect their identity.
Vampires are usually the main villain of an organization, preferring to work alone with many underlings to support them. Vampires are often found hiding in plain sight, operating as leaders or nobles within the community. A vampire’s lair is extravagant as well as functional, containing many trap doors and hidden nooks which the vampire can use to their advantage to spy on guests, escape sticky situations, or summon reinforcements.
Vampires are incredibly powerful foes to face in combat. Vampires should always have other creatures to support them in combat, such as ghouls, wights, and shadows. Because vampires are highly intelligent, they construct situations to ensure they have the best chance of survival, planning ahead to ensure they are not caught off guard or alone. If a vampire is ambushed, they can open combat by using Children of the Night (1/Day) to summon bats, rats, or wolves as support.
The vampire focuses on Charming creatures with low Wisdom scores, utilizing its Bite attack on charmed PCs. If unable to Charm PCs, the vampire uses its unarmed strike to auto-grapple characters and then immediately follow up with a bite attack. Vampires are intelligent fighters, using their Multi-attack to heavily damage spellcasters and other squishy targets. The Legendary Resistance feature is used to resist mind-altering and other spells that would force the vampire out of combat.
Vampires have three Legendary Actions (Bite, Move, and Unarmed strike). The Move action allows the vampire to move up to its speed without provoking opportunity attacks. This action proves itself especially useful in positioning during battle and maneuvering out of tight situations. If a vampire can successfully grapple a PC, they will make full use of the Bite actions available to drain health as quickly as possible. Not only does the Bite action heal the vampire, but it causes PCs to turn into vampire spawn under the vampire’s control if killed by the bite attack.
If necessary, the vampire can escape by using Shapechanger to morph into a bat or gaseous form. If the vampire is reduced to 0 hit points, they use Misty Escape to transform into mist and return to their resting place, where they will regenerate into their full vampire form.
Creating Vampire NPCs
Vampires tend to be lawful evil and quite intelligent, having had centuries to read and study magic, battle tactics, and more. Because of this, vampires are often present at high levels of society, usually as nobles, scholars, or leaders, who can disguise their vampiric traits. Vampires use cunning and manipulation to get what they want, surrounding themselves with willing followers.
Imagine a vampire queen, ruling over an isolated kingdom which follows her every whim unconditionally. She strives to fill her undeath with luxuries, ruling over her subjects with an iron fist.
A vampire scholar lives among a group of monks, seen as a monk master who has achieved transcendence and, as such, never ages. He is revered as a visionary spiritual leader, carefully sculpting the future of his society to his own ends.
Or a vampire seductress, the madame of a brothel which is serviced entirely by her vampire spawn. In exchange for eternal youth and beauty, she demands the undying service of girls, who manipulate customers and provide her with juicy secrets.
If you're interested in running a 5th level adventure with a vampire as the main antagonist, check out our free interactive one-shot, "The Rose's Spawn."