Monday, January 29, 2018

DMs, Think Outside Traditional Templates (Orcs Can Be Vampires, Too, You Know!)

A while ago I came across a forum post from a DM asking for help. The situation was that he had a vampire as the big bad of the current arc of his campaign in Golarion, and he wanted it to be sort of a mystery as to who the leech was. The problem was that as soon as the players walked into the local tavern, they saw the lord of the manor seated near the fire with his manservant. He was tall, angular, pale, with a high widow's peak, a commanding presence, and he didn't seem to eat anything.

And when the party trigged that the baron was the vampire? Well, the DM didn't know what to do.

Well, making it someone less obvious might have helped.
Now, there were all sorts of things the DM could have done here, but pretty much all of them boil down to, "Don't make the vampire the most obvious guy in the room!" The most common suggestion was to make the lord a servant to the vampire, but have his "manservant" be the actual vampire. With all the eyes focused on the baron, no one would have noticed someone so lowly and unimportant. A few folks suggested going a step further, and making the vampire the innkeeper, or a traveling merchant, but mostly the consensus was to make it the guy standing next to the most suspicious dude in the room.

All I could think, looking at that setup, was that the vampire should not only have been someone different, but someone that no one in the party would have expected based on trope and stereotype. For example... what about the soldier of fortune from the Mwangi Expanse? Or the traveling mystic from the Dragon Empire? Why not the Varisian fortune teller, or the Taldan tinker?

While those were all fine options, it eventually struck me that vampire is a template we can apply to any living creature. So while changing the nationality into something we don't expect a traditional vampire to be, that's just the tip of the ice berg (and one I explored in The Draugr's Bastard, An Unexpected Dhampir). The vampire could have been nearly any fantasy race as well... and that idea opened up all kinds of possibilities that I think DMs often overlook.

Step Outside The Box, And See What You Can Make

The first scenario that came to my mind was a small army of orc sellswords, led by Garrak Blooddrinker. A huge, heavily muscled brute, Garrak has a vicious bite, and he often tears out the throat of his victims on the battlefield. It's said he drinks the blood of his enemies from a goblet made from a jeweled skull, and that he avoids the daylight like the plague. His eyes are bright red, and glow in the dark when he rages across the field, encarmined sword in hand.

Because why wouldn't an orc war master be a vampire? All the clues are there, but because we think, "Ah, he's just an orc, that's what orcs do!" it has the potential to teach a valuable lesson. Take nothing at face value, and always ask if what you're seeing might mean more.

And then my mind went to silly places.
At that point, I asked why one would stop with vampires? There are dozens (if not hundreds) of templates in Pathfinder alone, so why apply them only to traditional, predictable circumstances? Because sure, we expect an alchemically quickened creature in a crumbling castle full of bizarre laboratories... but why not apply the template to a tiefling assassin who stalks the party on behalf of his unknown masters? The apostle kyton is a terror to behold, but to add some extra horror, why not add it to an aasimar to create a true perversion of celestial beauty? If your players are raiding the ruins of a giant's tomb, why not have stone giant mummies? Or boreal lizardfolk who hunt the frozen peaks of the northern mountains? Why not make fire giant werewolves who command packs of hellhounds?

With so many options, and so much potential, why do we limit our thinking when it comes to our monsters? Make something new, or unexpected, and you might be surprised at the reactions you get from your table. If nothing else, you'll teach your players to make Knowledge checks to be sure they aren't overlooking a big hazard.

And for more fun on templates, and resurrecting fallen minions, check out this advice from the Dungeon Keeper!

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. Hopefully it gave fuel to the fire, and has some folks thinking about what to do with their monsters in the near future. If you'd like more content from yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I put shows and skits together with other, talented gamers. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help me keep doing what I'm doing, consider heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Or, if you'd rather do a one-time tip, you could just Buy Me A Coffee. Either way, I'll be happy to send you some sweet gaming swag as a thank you!


  1. One of my favorite ideas came from the very realization about the Vampire template: it can apply to anything that is alive.

    This includes Elementals.

    Enter the "Rock Salt" Earth Elementals. Applying the Vampire template to Earth Elementals and suddenly you have white stones that drain moisture(levels) from anything they touch!

  2. What I really love about your suggestion of an orc vampire is not only is it unexpected and new, but it's also sneaky as hell.

    An orc with elonged canines doesn't look like blood sucking undead; they sound a nasty, even more orcy sounding orc. Aversion to sunlight is already well established in fantasy lore for orc, so an orc avoiding sunlight isn't particularly suspicious. Orcs are already well know for being hard to kill, so supernatural toughness is expected. While we usually seem to think of orcs as green; pale, ashy grey orcs aren't unheard, and the Hobbit already gives an example of a really terrifying one. Gaunt, angular structure might be the biggest giveaway, but this can also be passed off as age, and lets be honest, an old orc that still manages to be the biggest, most unkillable badass on the field is far more imposing than a younger one. Plus they already eat humans, so our orc vampire's habit of drinking blood can also be disguised as eating human taken to a whole new, brutal extreme. The party might have to "kill" this guy multiple times before they discover the truth