Tuesday, February 9, 2016

D&D: Dhampyr Homebrew (Part 1)

Eek!  A vampire!
My daughter Emma surprised me this weekend by telling me that she wants to play a vampire in our next game.  
So yeah—ugh.  
But she’s ten.  What can you do?
We’ve been talking about playing D&D quite a bit lately, and the topic of vampires came up because I really want to play through the Curse of Strahd in our home campaign, but full disclosure, our lives have been majorly busy of late, and as a result, we’ve not actually played in quite a long time.  We’ve just been talking about playing.  
Nevertheless, this vampire thing gives us something to talk about, and it’s been a while since we did any D&D on the blog.  Also: if Emma wants to play a vampire, there’s not actually a reason not to let her.  We just need to put something together, so she can do her thing.
Vampires in 4e
D&D has tackled the issue of vampire PCs before.  I’ve no idea when the first iteration came about, but in 4e, you could play a dhampyr (half-vampire) via the game’s feat trees and power-swap mechanics, which you could then bolster by choosing to make your Character a revenant—and thereby undead.
This was good for a couple of reasons.  First, there is no “correct” way to be a vampire.  I would probably describe Bram Stoker’s Dracula as an anti-paladin with psionic powers, but it’s just as easy to imagine a vampiric sorcerer or wizard and/or a vampiric savage who is little better than a barbarian.  Thus, being a vampire isn’t a full-on character choice by itself.  There is room to adapt the mythos to your Players’ needs or to make their condition a mere part of what animates their story.  Moreover, even choosing to play a revenant wasn’t an end by itself.  Revenants were given some small vestiges of the racial traits they held in life, making an elf-revenant-vampire somewhat different from a dwarf-revenant-vampire, etc.  By using the power-swap feats and paragon path mechanics, you could then engage your Character’s vampirism as much or as little as you wanted.  4e had room for sparkly vampires who succeed through charm and cunning, i.e. the eladrin-revenant bard with the dhampyr feat and a focus on charm spells, right alongside the semi-human creatures of the night.
Wizards of the Coast released the Dhampyr feat-tree and its associated
powers in Dragon #371.
Wizards of the Coast eventually released a full Vampire class towards the end of 4e, but it was a step back in my opinion.  It was hyper-specific, and I don’t know anyone who actually liked it.  Going that way gave you far less choice of powers, and it was redundant with much of what had come before.  

Ultimately, though, there was a lot of this in 4e.
Adapting for the Fifth Edition
I particularly liked the way that the power-swap mechanics of 4e gave players a chance to make their characters hyper-customized.  5e doesn’t have nearly that level of customization, but it has feats and subclasses, so there may well be room to work.  First, though, we have to think of what lies at the core of being a vampire.  Then we have to decide whether vampirism should come via feat or as a choice of race.
The first part of this is easy.  Vampires bite; they drink human (well, sentient) blood to make themselves immortal.  This is what makes a vampire unique.  The vampire’s bloodlust is its most iconic feature.  Clearly we will have to put this at the center of whatever we create.
The mechanical piece is a little more challenging.  Using feats is problematic because:
1)  The vampire power set is over-powered for a single feat, but
2)  5e doesn’t give enough feats to allow for feat-trees, and
3)  We don’t get to choose a feat until 4th level.
By that time we’ve already chosen our subclass.  This is a problem, especially for further specialization down the road.
For better or worse, this leaves us to create a new race for our vampire PC, which I wound up doing via the Dragonborn from the SRD.  There were other potential choices, of course, and depending on how strictly you want to force your players to observe the vampire’s weaknesses and restrictions, those might make more sense.  For example, using the drow’s sunlight sensitivity makes sense here.  However, I personally do not want to enforce any restrictions on my ten-year-old’s vampire, so the Dragonborn model makes sense for me, with the note that this is actually a dhampyr design rather than a design for an actual vampire.
I can live with that.
Homebrew Race: Dhampyr
The curse of vampirism runs through your blood.  You may look and move like a member of your original race, but you are no longer pure.  You now hunger for the blood of the living.  This may be a curse, but it is one that makes you powerful.
Racial Background. Choose an origin race.  You have the size, speed, age, and language proficiencies of that race.
Vampiric strength.  You gain +2 to Strength and +1 to Charisma.
Night’s Sight.  You gain dark vision to a distance of 60 feet.
Vampire’s Bite.  When you succeed on a grappling attack[1], you can use your bonus action to feed on your target’s blood.  The target takes 2d6 necrotic damage, and you regain half as many hit points.   This damage increases to 3d6 at 6th level, 4d6 at 11th, and 5d6 at 16th.  Once you have used this power, you cannot use it again until after you have completed a long or a short rest.
Vampiric resistance. You have necrotic resistance.
Blood Lust.  You eat and drink as normal, but you must also drink the blood of living, sentient creatures.  If you do not do so at least once every 48 hours, you gain one level of exhaustion.  For each 24 hours that passes beyond the original 48, you gain a further level of exhaustion.  When you become exhausted unto death, you do not die but fall unconscious and wither, becoming a desiccated husk.  You can take no actions while in a desiccated state, but you can only be revived by being fed the blood of a living, sentient creature.
Embracing the Darkness
This gives us the quintessential piece for a vampire PC, but it hardly captures the full width and breadth of vampiric mythology.  Some other things vampires might do include:
1) Take mist form
2) Control wolves and other predators
3) Take wolf form
4) Hypnotic gaze
5) Gain strength from feeding
6) Use telepathy and mind-control
7) Fly or turn into a bat
8) Spider-climb
9) View people as either followers or cattle.
10) Tempt or seduce
There are many vampiric archetypes.  Vampirism is often portrayed as coming in stages, with the vampire’s methods changing as he or she ages and gains sophistication.  A young vampire may be little more than savage, attacking from the shadows and ripping its victims into pieces.  Older vampires are generally presumed to be more sophisticated and intelligent—though often no less ruthless.  One can imagine a vampire who starts by trying to cling to his humanity, attacking only criminals or those who “deserve” it.  Slowly, though, his conditions progresses through rationalization and into megalomania and even madness.
We got started on this because I told my kids about the Curse of Strahd.
Surely there is room for this in D&D?
Next week we’ll try to break some of this down a little further and design a few subclasses to support a more fully-realized version of our would-be vampire.  Stay tuned…
More promo art from Curse of Strahd.

[1] This is the same amount of damage that the dragonborn’s breath weapon does, with the healing feature balanced by the fact that Vampire’s Bite only attacks one target.

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