Tuesday, April 16, 2019

N is for Nosferatu

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic for this year's #AtoZchallengeRevamping the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in a way that doesn't disregard its B/X roots]

N is for Nosferatu, and assorted monster "nonsense."

One nice thing about GAZ1 is that it contains a list of the various "monstrous, magical, and unusual creatures" that inhabit Karameikos, as drawn from the first four BECMI rule sets (Basic, Expert, Companion, and Master books). While the lack of some monsters (and the presence of others) can prompt some WTF moments, it's a pretty standard assortment, and appropriate considering the "flavor" of the Grand Duchy...very streamlined compared to a standard "kitchen sink" campaign setting.

[of course, folks who prefer something more gonzo for their game setting can...and will need to...do with Karameikos as they will. It's not really Operation Unfathomable material as written]

GAZ1 also includes two new monsters: nosferatu and chevalls. I'll deal with the chevall first, because (I think) what I have to say will be shorter.

The chevall is a beefy (7HD) magic creature that can "change at will" between two forms: that of a horse and that of a centaur. My initial thoughts on the creature are not complementary. It originated with B10: Night's Dark Terror, a module I own but have never run/played.  It cannot be harmed except by silver and magic weapons, it communicates freely with horses (regardless of form), and it exists to "strive for the good of all horses"...checking up on domesticated equine to make sure humans (and demihumans) aren't abusing them. Oh, and it can summon war horses that magically arrive in 1d4 rounds, once per day.  GAZ1 updates this description only slightly: it doubles the number of war horses that can be summoned (from d3 to d6) and states that chevalls were "created by the Immortal Zirchev to be the protector of Horses in Traladara lands."

My opinion: this monster is dumb and completely unnecessary. Yeah, yeah, I suck. Listen up: I am fine with some kind of magical "protector of horses" if you want a more fairy tale-esque type of Karameikos. But then simply make it a centaur...heck, re-skin all centaurs with this type of background if you don't want it to be a handful of concerned eco-guerrilla types. OR (if you prefer your centaurs to be of the Grecian "wine up and rape" variety) simply make the "chevall" a magical faerie horse, something like the Celtic pooka. Mixing your already-weird animal hybrid with a magical animal shapeshifter is just adding syrup on sweet, you know? Yuck.

And anyway, the original creature (from B10) seems to have been yet another moralistic bludgeon to force players to act heroically: "Oh be good or the seven hit dice, un-hitable centaur will sneak up on you (disguised as a horse) and free all your livestock." Hey, DM: F that noise. Seriously. This is just plain stupid.

OKAY...now that's out of the way, I can move onto the "main event."

Another good role for
Willem Dafoe.
In Karameikos, a nosferatu is "a powerful indeed creature that strongly resembles the vampire." The word, of course, comes from the term made popular by the Bram Stoker's novel Dracula and the German (unauthorized) film adaptation of Stoker's book, which took the word for its name. Stoker (and others before him) alleged that "nosferatu" was the Romanian word for "vampire" (it is not), and the etymology and origin the term is open to debate. Still, for a fantasy monster in a fantasy setting resembling a fantasy Romania...well, why not?

The creature resembles a vampire in most aspects, including powers and "most weaknesses" (one assumes clerical turning, too, though this is not explicit). However, unlike other B/X undead the nosferatu retains the class abilities it had in life (including spell use, etc.); they can be of any alignment (lawful cleric nosferatu? Interesting), and very old Nosferatu are unaffected by the light of the sun. Fortunately, a stake through the heart of a B/X vampire finishes the creature (without the need for decapitation and holy wafers), otherwise destroying an aged nosferatu would be tremendously difficult.

The other difference (most would probably say the main difference) is that nosferatu do not drain energy levels for sustenance; instead, they drink blood. They have a bite attack that does 1d4 damage, but will otherwise use standard weapons/spells in combat...they don't even gain the 1d10 melee attack from their "powerful blows" that has been present since Supplement I (Greyhawk).

Gosh Bradstreet had
great art in VtM.
As a vampire mod for DMs that want a little more Stoker/cinema and a lot less energy drain (and players complaining about energy drain), the nosferatu is fine, perhaps retaining the vampire's regular (strong) melee attacks, perhaps adding some of the traditional eastern European folklore (like the creature being the illegitimate offspring of two illegitimate persons). It's tempting to make the monster as hideous as the World of Darkness clan of the same name...but I prefer not to heap curse upon curse (as vampirism is its own curse without the extra mutation).

Only one question remains that continues to irritate me: why retain the normal vampire as well as the nosferatu? Why have both a Lord Zemiros Sulescu (nosferatu) AND a Baron Koriszegy (vampire)? Why retain both monsters in the same culture?

Eh. It's late and I'm nit-picking. It's a very easy thing to pick one form of immortal bloodsucker over another. Just as the creators of the Chevall should have chosen one form of magical horse protector.


  1. Replies
    1. Take a page from White Wolf's Vampire RPG. Multiple bloodlines of vampires.

    2. @ Kelvin & TimS:

      As a guy who played VtM for many years, I am well acquainted with the potential/possibilities of feuding clans and vampire politics. I really don’t want my D&D game to turn into that however.

  2. Yeah I always used the Nosferatu blood drain even with "standard vampires." Energy Drain was way too gamey and harsh for me. (I've since adopted a house-ruled energy drain that I put up a couple years ago... life energy, not entire levels.)

    Also: Seconded on Bradstreet. I keep meaning to find a copy of VtM 2nd edition just to have his work on my shelf. (I have it on PDF, but I prefer to look at gaming art on the actual page, you know?)

    1. @ DMW:

      If I had had more time to write I would have talked about that as well...I did something similar (removing energy drain) from the vampire monster for my 5AK RPG, and I am tempted to re-skin vamps in similar fashion for B/X. Still, I go back and forth on the issue.

  3. In a sense all vampires in my world are Nosferatu since I always went for the blood drain and dropped the energy drain. Much scarier in my mind.

    1. @ TimS (again):

      See my above comment to DMWieg.

  4. I was thinking maybe Nosferatu are the original source of vampires, they were the ones that made a 'pact with the devil' and normal vampires are their spawn. Of course I'd have to adjust the rules for both.