Fantastic Food

Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus by Giuseppe_Arcimboldo

Everyone’s gotta eat. Well, except the robot and the lich I guess. Most of the time food is not an interesting part of a story – it’s something that is assumed to happen, like sleeping, travelling to the next location, or repetitive practice while learning something new.

It can become interesting though if it is somehow special, or if it is not available.

If food is in short supply, starvation becomes a possibility. If lots of people are starving, there can be all sorts of repercussions – MI5 claim that Britain is only four hot meals from anarchy, and that could easily hold true in fantasy worlds, possibly an even smaller margin if people have less to lose.

If the heroes are short of food, (perhaps trapped in a desert, or a dungeon, or a… um… dreadful diner), what would happen to them? The effects of starvation are slow but potentially deadly- 8 to 12 weeks is normal, but people have survived twice that without any food. Initially fatigue and irritability set in, the the body starts to digest its own fat and muscle reserves. Before long it has to move on to internal organs, and by then even if food is made available the victim may be too weak to even try to eat, and if force fed may suffer permanent organ damage. In a heroic fantasy tale, kidney failure does not make for a good story, so under most circumstances main character will probably manage to find food before organ damage sets in.

But what about when food is available?

Usually “and the heroes eat again” is not very interesting, so much so that in D&D “Create Food and Water” is a very low level spell which solves the problem entirely so long as there’s a cleric in the party.

Sometimes, though, food matters. George R. R. Martin is famous for his descriptions of what the characters are eating, and I seem to recall David Eddings describing a meal of bacon and gruel in rather more detail than was necessary.

A special meal deserves mention, though, whether it be in The Hobbit when the dwarves all show up and eat everything in Bilbo’s larder, or the welcoming feast for the new students at Hogwarts in Harry Potter. These feasts tell us something about the characters and the situations – Bilbo is a creature of comfort who keeps plenty of food in his larder, and Hogwarts is a comfortable and welcoming place (at least on the surface).

Food can, then, tell us things. If a lord throws a banquet and everything is delicate little dishes on fine china that says something quite different to a banquet where the centrepiece is a boar the duke hunted himself, and he tears legs off geese and eats them with his bare hands. But in either case it says that this person is rich, and likes to show it off in the form of entertaining and feeding his guests. In one episode of Batman the Animated Series, the extremely fat villain is seen to always be eating, while not allowing his slaves to do the same because they should be working – unsurprisingly he gets quite satisfyingly beaten up by Batman!

Let me finish on an anecdote: I was playing in an epic level D&D game when we entered a halfling city. I decided my character wanted to buy a cake (he was a by this time recovering psychopath, and wanted to treat the party to something nice), so I went into a nearby cake shop and asked for one. The halfling baker – seeing an opportunity to fleece a rich adventurer – upped the price from about two coppers to two silvers. Not knowing anything about the value of money, I apologised and offered a rare astral diamond instead – that was about a million times more than the cake was worth, but I didn’t wait for change. Being an enterprising halfling, he invested the money in some very special equipment, and from that point on magic potions in the form of cakes have been a running joke in our games! [ED: Ginger cake is an especially good source of fire resistance]

Now, I think it’s time I went and made dinner.

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Music and Sound in Fantasy Games

In character

Music in character is usually either of the PCs making – often on the level of  “bluff bluff bluff the stupid ogre”, or from the GM as part of scene setting. Your players may run the gamut of skills in music or lyrics, so other than saying “if you find a bard with any actual talent, encourage them” I’m going to focus on what you can influence as a GM..

Every book, talk and advice from older GMs on scene setting I have ever come across features the hint “use all the senses” Seeing as I’m the musician of the team. I figured I’d focus on sound.

Think about the ambient sound in any location. Is it busy and cosmopolitan, with many voices in multiple languages?. Is the only sound the rustling of the trees? Is there music, and if so, what? From the 1920s onwards, is there a radio or TV – or hyperview? Tuned to what channel?

For help with what kind of sounds are appropriate (technically, it’s called building a soundscape) imagine loading up one of the old fashioned computer RPGs – Ultima, Baldur’s Gate or Fable. When you walk into the pub, it plays “Jolly Pub Theme” when you walk into the woods, it plays “Spooky Forest Theme” What theme would your location need? Take a look amongst your DVD collection, at the extras. Do any of them have a piece on Sound in This Film – Men in Black 2 had an awesome piece about foley work – getting the right sound of footsteps or bodies falling. Or aliens exploding, but that was less transferable.

Musical styles invoked in description can bring a sense of place, or of pace. Think of walking into a nightclub. Is it a metal bar? Is it full of thumping techno? A jazz lounge? The picture in your head is likely very different in each case. Use that to evoke what kind of emotion your players feel – a biker might be tense in a pool hall that played classical, but much more at home if it played “Hits of the Seventies”

We can use music to colour in civilisations too. Use the pentatonic sound of Japanese music to shade in a place where elves hang out. Perhaps the islanders here play reggae? Deciding on the musical style of a culture can help you – and your players – get a handle on what kind of people these are – by paralleling them to the mundane culture that developed that kind of music.

 

In games

Over time, every GM acquires a repertoire of what I call ‘effects’. Things you can do to bring the game to life for your players. Music is one of the easiest of these, but I’m going to throw a few others into the mix too.

Voice time

I’m going to assume you can act a bit here. Think about the voices of your NPCs. Not everyone can pull off convincing accents – but if you can, consider making some characters have a Southern drawl, an Irish brogue, a Geordie twang. Even if the NPC has the same accent you do, think about tone. A reedy “when shall we three meet again?” has little in common with “I’m Brian Blessed”. Although you should take care not to annoy the neighbours, you could vary the volume – think Good Morning Vietnam’s “I’m in Artillery!” A character who whispers (or stage whispers) could make what he says seem more important.

Terminator tapping

So the party are investigating a haunted house. The ghost in question is an Iteration X construct – basically, a Terminator. So when the players are busy rolling to investigate the attic, I start to tap on the arm of my chair. Da Da Dum Da-Dum.  Da Da Dum Da-Dum – until one of the players notices. Then stop. Then when they’re arguing about what they’ve found, again. Da Da Dum Da-Dum.  Da Da Dum Da-Dum.. The same player looks at my fingers, tapping. “Guys, I’ve got a gut feeling this isn’t a human thing. Can robots leave ghosts?” Cue the one member of the party with the skill roll a Mage Lore check and leap to the thought that the pool of mercury wasn’t ectoplasm, it was body remains.

This trick only works if the musical theme is instantly recognisable – think the opening from Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Ode to Joy; or Land of Hope and Glory. Movie and TV music are good for this – Cantina Band, the Indiana Jones theme, X-files  Instantly set the mood for cinematic games with the “title sequence” – this was very effectively done in a convention game with the Nerf Herder track for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer game

Give a major NPC a ringtone that indicates something about him. Have a theme song for characters to indicate hidden influence in a scene – even if it never makes it out of your notes, it can help you remember the emotional backdrop – spooky, pensive, tense, lighthearted, comedy.

 

Phone box mobile

So, another convention game – Shadowrun this time. Contact Bob has two pieces of useful information for the party – one he will reveal for the asking, and one he thinks of later. So what would a good buddy do. Call you back.

A call from a friend became much more real when the GM’s mobile rang with “BOB” on the screen. The GM hands the phone unanswered to the player whose contact is Bob. “it’s for you” Player picks up the phone, answers, and “Bob” – with a similar drawl to the GM’s first personation – rattles off Information Point Two, and finishes up with ‘gotta go, think the cops are coming. See ya’

Achieved by priming a steward pal to slip out to the phone box in the hall, ‘any time after you get the text’. Turned out to be exactly right timing, but by more luck than judgement. Not really something you can pull off every week, but nice for a showpiece.

So, sound in RPGs.-  Music, rhythms, voices, ringtones, Think about the tools you have – computer, phone, hands to click or clap, and use them to develop a soundscape that complements your gameworld.

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Visual Art In Fantasy

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

 

When you say “Art” to most people they think of paintings, and maybe sculpture – Visual art or fine art. Wonderful though that is, it’s not the only thing to which “art” could be referring – last week’s post on nursery rhymes are looking at a more low-brow sort of artistic expression. Later posts will address music and food.

But for now let’s talk about visual art.

More often than not it is relegated to “some paintings” on the walls of the local lord’s manor or describing a palace as “richly decorated”. This tells us something about the individual, but just a little more description can tell us a lot more: Pictures of ancestors that tells us the lineage of this noble is long (ste: or if they are few in number that the lineage is short but with great hopes for the future) – if the decorations are not just rich but beautiful it shows us this person has good taste.

Or to reverse them, maybe the paintings are of someone else’s ancestors, and this person is a recent usurper trying to claim credibility and status they may not deserve, if the decorations are gaudy or clashing it tells us the lord has more money than sense or at the very least no taste. If someone’s fingers are dripping with rings, and they are wearing crowns, brooches, pendants and the like it tells us they like to display their wealth at all times, wherever they are.

If there is next to no art in a manor house it would feel very empty. Maybe the noble is broke due to bad investments, or debts come calling. Or maybe they have no care for art, they concern themselves solely with functionality – the only concession to decoration may be a suit of armour or a pair of crossed axes over the fireplace which are as functional as they are decorative.

A little more description again can tell us yet more. I’ve touched on portraiture and military regalia, but what of other things?

Delicate vases are unlikely to be on pedestals around boorish drunken lords (well not for long), and delicate princesses are unlikely to have gory battle scenes in their bedrooms, so their lack or presence would set expectations. Of course expectations can and should be reversed occasionally – maybe that boorish drunken oaf has a butler always three feet behind him to catch all the delicate vases, which he has on display because he simply loves to have fresh cut flowers around him at all times. Maybe the princess has a tragic back story and it’s the last remaining picture of her true love after the incident… Maybe she’s not really the delicate princess she appears to be, but she can’t express it in public for some reason. Or maybe she’s a psychopath.

Sometimes art is used as treasure – heroes find jewelry, gems and artworks in a dragon’s hoard – it’s more plausible than finding gold bars, I guess, but it tells us basically nothing unless it was a curated collection (in which case it’s akin to the examples above)

But what of making the art the focus of the plot rather than a roundabout way of describing a character or extra-bulky cash? That can work very well. Probably the most famous example is the One Ring from Lord of the Rings – the entire plot circles around that little band of gold. It is not treasured for its artistic value though, but rather for its power as a magical artifact.

In some settings magic and aesthetics can be tied together – a magical sword must be beautifully crafted to hold the spell in place and therefore a beautiful sword is likely magical. If a suit of armour is finely crafted yet non-magical it may even become magical simply by being used by great heroes on their quests…

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The Death of Kalendra – Nursery Rhymes in Fantasy

Remember, remember, the death of Kalendra,
Staked, beheaded then burned.
If Kalendra’s beheading was held at a wedding,
T’would be the birth at which she returned.

If you don’t recognise that rhyme then I’ll be quite surprised, but if you recognise the words I’ll be astonished.

Nursery rhymes have a powerful ability to infect the mind – they’re like ancient earworms – but they can also convey significant amounts of information and emotion about the history of their origin.

To illustrate, let’s first look at what the original rhyme would tell us if we were not of this world:

Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Well, the fifth of November is clearly a date, and one on which a major event happened. An event that involved gunpowder (the meaning of which will become clear once we discover that guns are a type of explosive crossbow), and treason.

So we have a little idea of what’s going on, but not a huge amount – it’s not a well-structured rhyme for worldbuilding, but it doesn’t need to be. Still, if we want more information we could look at the rest of the poem (which is, in my opinion, much less well composed):

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.

By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

Now we know that we’re dealing with a monotheistic monarchy (with some sort of parliament supporting the king), that Guy Fawkes is the traitor in question, and that burning someone is a fitting punishment for treason. All portrayed in a much more fun way than just listing it out.

Now for the breakdown of Kalendra’s tale – For this act I’ll go line by line, for by design it’s densely packed.

Remember, remember, the death of Kalendra,

So we start with the fact that Kalendra is someone important who is now dead. Simple enough, but slightly useful for worldbuilding.

Staked, beheaded then burned.

Okay, so someone really wanted this Kalendra dead – and from the staking we can guess that vampires are a thing in their world.

Now “hung, drawn and quartered” is a thing in our world, so overkill is entirely plausible as a torture method – but beheading wouldn’t come before burning in that case, as you don’t want them to be actually dead until the third act.

If Kalendra’s beheading was held at a wedding,

An odd image. Obviously it wasn’t held at a wedding, but the fact that it’s something that would be suggested says that just as public executions could be celebrations in our world perhaps they could be combined with other celebrations in this world.

T’would be the birth at which she returned.

This line is the most important one – obviously Kalendra came back after being massively overkilled, but significantly she didn’t do so until after the expected gap between a wedding and the first child.

So Kalendra was not a simple vampire, but if she is a Lich or similar then she is not one that can just pop back up an hour later, but one that must regain her strength – more like Voldemort than Vecna.

Slightly less obvious is what this tells us about weddings within this world: Weddings can work in many different ways in different places, but here it is clear that wedding and birth are intimately linked – and not just in the abstract “married people have kids” sense – either the fertility in this world is quite high, and as such it is to be expected that the first pregnancy will occur within a few months of the marriage, or it is commonplace that people get married during the pregnancy.

In Your Games and Stories

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Why is Halloween Monstrous?

Samhain Offerings by Avia Venefica

 

This time of year is associated with ghosties and ghoulies and long leggedy beasties. But why? Apart from “it’s cold and dark and time for fires therefore stories”.

The derivation of Halloween from Samhain is a classic example of cultural evolution.

The exact details of the original festival are unclear, because the Celts wrote down very little – most of our sources are later and/or Roman, and thus it is akin to studying the Blitz using only present day memories or German sources. Still, we know many of the details, and as the festival never fully died out much more can be recovered from the later forms.

The world of the ancestors flows away from and towards our own, and comes close four times a year – at the beginning of each of the seasons. At Beltane – Mayday – the helpful spirits of the land cross over, and their blessings are welcomed with flowers and dance as summer begins. But at the beginning of Winter, darker spirits roam, and meeting one brings only curses. So the prudent householder would bribe the spirits with whatever he had excess of to ward off their ill will. The barley harvest falls in early September, so six weeks later, the first beer of the new year would just be ready, apples have also just been harvested and milk is less seasonal, so these became the traditional gifts. If one had a good harvest, one would share with neighbours, so that the spirits would see one as a good friend and be unable to harm the good man.

Young people would dress up as “spirits” and wander the village, claiming the bribes on behalf of the spirits. After all, are we not kin of the ancestors – and if they don’t turn up in person, don’t let it go to waste! The fact that the feast falls at the end of a period of very hard work – preparing for winter – probably contributes to this part of the celebration

Enter Christianity. The early church sought to adapt facets of the older faiths – it’s why Christmas falls so conveniently at Yule/Winter Solstice. The old spirits can’t possibly be good, therefore they must be devils. And anyone who feeds them must be witches. Of the old-crone-cursing variety, not our modern follower-of-a-nature-faith variety.

So, the Church co-opted the idea of reverence for the gone-before, and invented All Saints and All Souls – an opportunity for any local do-gooder to be remembered and prayed for, reducing time in Purgatory. They ditched the pagan aspect, and made the returning spirits evil. The sharing-with-neighbours part fit too, and became the Harvest Festival.

When the Americas were settled, Irish migrants took the old stories with them. As the USA developed its own culture as a blend of its constituent parts, the Irish merged with the French and Germanic witch and fairy traditions (for example, Oberon is first seen as an antagonist of Charlemagne) and All Hallows Eve became the time to mock the evil spirits by dressing as them. As sugar became a more prevalent product, giving the ‘ghosts’ a piece of sugar cane became easier than beer or milk. Sugar cane became chocolate, became any kind of Treat, to ward off the Tricks of the “fairy folk “.

Now Halloween means hordes of small children begging for candy, and teenagers demanding money in return for not putting fireworks through your door.. I’m not sure I like the evolution, so I celebrate this time of year by sharing the fruits of my labour. Here you go, neighbour! Have a whole lot of thinking.

So what?

If your fantasy culture has been around for a while – centuries or millennia – it has likely evolved in a similar fashion. There will be those who keep fast to some version of ‘the old ways’ and some who have applied them in new ways. If a nation has been conquered, colonised or even conquered others, the newcomers bring new customs and new gods, and few conquerors allowed the natives to worship unhindered. Even mundane things like introducing a new crop can reflect in the spiritual life of a people. According to a Papal Bull, capybara are officially fish (despite being rodents) so Catholics can eat them on Fridays.

Think about how the new gods and the old interact. Do you follow the Ice and Fire model of “some worship one set, some the other, mostly they coexist, and that’s fine”

The Roman model of “Zeus? You mean Jupiter. Sulis? Oh, you mean Athena.”

The Christian model of “Our god is the only god and all others are evil”

Or even the Mongol model “there are many gods, and yours are ok, as long as you don’t try to convert us”

When languages merge, you get dialects and creoles. When cultures collide, you get history. And what is history but another branch of storytelling?

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T is for Thunderbird – Monstrous Mondays

Thunderbird

No i’m not talking about the tv series – though that’s a fun thing too.

History

In a lot of ways the thunderbird is not exactly a monster, it seen as many thing to a lot of people, to some a god, to others a nature spirit – and to most it’s the bird from the new Harry Potter film – but what is its story?

A thunderbird is a giant bird, that shoots lighting and eat whales (especially orcas) it’s also a sky spirit of some Native Americans tribes from long before Europeans ever set foot in their land. Story of the great thunderbird could be hard from the tribes Northwest Coast through to the people of the plains, and each tribe has a different one to tell.

The Algonquian mythology tells a story of a thunderbird that controls the upper world and a great horned serpent that rules the underworld. The thunderbird throws around thunder and lightning at the underwater creatures.

Menominee a northern wisconsin tribe tells of the thunderbirds that dwell in a floating mountain, they control weather like thunder, lightning, the hail and rain all the brutality of a storm. In their stories the thunderbird is also the messenger bird of the sun and they like to do great deeds like fighting the minions of the horned snakes known as the Misikinubik.

In Ojibwe story they serve to hunt down evil people and the dark spirits of water, and live on the four winds.

The Winnebago actually have a truly monstrous story of the thunderbird – one steals away a orphan boy and feast on the contents of his stomach and planned to do the same to the boy afterwards, but he was saved by his loyal pet pigeon hawk. These darker thunderbirds still fight with the water spirits, but they don’t distinguish between good and evil ones – in fact in Winnebago myth the thunderbirds started the feud.

Because of this mixture of stories and origins it is seen a variety of ways, and while it need not be a monster it can easily become one.

 

Physiology

From beak to claws

  • They have the head of a bird but some pictures depict them with ears where others have them having horns.
  • They have bird like eyes but they shoot lightning from them.
  • They can have a beak or teeth.
  • The body is that of a bird but covered in many different bright colours.
  • Wings that when they clapped together they make thunder.
  • Claws big enough to pluck a killer whale from the sea and carry it away to feast on.
  • They live in the mountains and other high up hard to reach places.
  • Their feathers are often brightly coloured – especially when they’re actively creating storms.

Ideas

A dark thunderbird could be at the top of a mountain and your player have to fight it to save children it has abducted.

A cool character might be a warlock, or even a cleric with the thunderbird as their patron – strong electrical powers but an utter hatred for the sea.

Or maybe the evil water god has stolen all of the thunderbirds so he can take over the earth and you the heros must free them to bring back order.

 

If like to know more about this here some link you might find useful.

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U is for Ubume – Monstrous Mondays

An image of an ubume created by Toriyama Sekien in the 18th century

The first of the Japanese ones, it seem to be that if you’re looking for something starting with a odd letter u or x or o look outside Europe and you’re more likely to find something – transliteration of foreign alphabets can result in unusual spellings.

 

History

A monster that been part of japanese myth since about the twelfth century, in tales of a ghost twisted cronefaced woman that died in childbirth. The haggard woman appears on stormy nights carrying her baby, crying for help asking passersby to hold the baby, once they take it she disappears and the baby becomes heavier and heavier then turning into a boulder crushing the person. A ghost born out of the story of a woman who had an untimely tragic death, there are many of them cross the world.

The lady in white and La Llorona are a few more close-to-home ghosts of this type. The lady in white is a type of ghost found in  rural areas across the world but most commonly in the UK and the New England part of America, it is said that she has had a tragic death just after and due to the death of her child (or sometimes betrayal by her husband) but roads, cars and horses can sometimes be involved too. She is seen on her own in the middle of nowhere, and causes anyone that communicates with her to die shortly afterwards – sometimes seen as a hitchhiker and whoever picks her up crashes and dies.

La Llorona is a Mexican story of a woman who lost her children in the river and cries while is looking for them. One version tells of her doing this after she has drowned them herself in a fit of rage, after finding her husband in the midst of an affair. It is said that she will try to steal children away to drown with herself now and again, or sometimes simply that she causes misfortune to those who see or hear her due to her extremely cursed natured.

I find La Llorona a lot more scary than the white lady but comparison between these two and Ubume is interesting – they all show how a ghost is born from pain and how misery loves company.

In media, whichever of these beings they use is usually just treated as a ghost story – but sometimes in TV shows like Grimm and Supernatural she is shown as some kind of monster that people need to be saved from because she is trying to kill them, which is tragic in that if someone had saved her from her pain then she would not be a ghost in the first place.

 

Ubume Physiology

  • A crone faced woman, with long wet black hair and crying eyes.
  • A woman body wrapped in red silk, carrying a babe in her arms.
    • Sometimes she is instead heavily pregnant.
    • Or her body is covered in blood and she is carrying her underdeveloped fetus, since she miscarried and died in the process.
  • She usually wears no shoes but sometimes she has no feet at all since she is a ghost and a lot of them don’t.
  • She some shown to have bird like features, like a beak on her face and feathers on her and/or bird like feet, if so it said she has come to steal a baby away. These two very different image of her are because of some linguistic coincidences (baby-snatching bird and birthing mother being somewhat similar) and the conflation of the original japanese myth with a chinese bird-woman who could shed her feathers to appear human.

She is found on stormy nights near where she had the baby which is often depicted as near a river or woodland. And she and other ghost like her are always found on there own just wanting a bit of help, just reminding you how much helping a stranger can hinder you sadly.

Ideas

  • The hero could be there and find the baby if it alive give a home, it dead lead it and the mother to rest. It shouldn’t be too hard as the ghost only appears near where she gave birth.
  • The boulder/baby she gives could be a spell component for many a transmutation spell, a death curse or a necromantic ritual. Where an ubume baby is needed you would have to stop it becoming the boulder, while if you want the boulder you have to stop it killing you.
  • Now this one really cheesy – a time traveler how chooses to go back to try help all these ghosts when they’re still alive so they don’t die tragically so they don’t become these ghost.

 

If want to read more about any of these monster feel free to look at the  links below.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Lady_(ghost)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Llorona

http://yokai.com/ubume/

https://hyakumonogatari.com/2010/12/29/two-tales-of-ubume/

https://hyakumonogatari.com/tag/ubume/

http://matthewmeyer.net/blog/2010/10/23/a-yokai-a-day-ubume/

Edo Kabuki in Transition: From the Worlds of the Samurai to the Vengeful female ghost

 

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V is for Vampires – Mythic Mondays

Isabella Livingston photographed by Lana Lee

Vampire

They’re everywhere today, usually as some teenage girl’s love interest, if we knew their history would we find them so attractive?

History

Though the concept of blood-drinking corpses is an old one, the exact forms have varied over time – and the modern vampire concept owes its shape to a surge in encounters in Eastern Europe during the “Age of Enlightenment”.

Whispers of vampires became louder in the late 17th century in the Balkans and most of Eastern Europe, with mass stakings of corpses to pin them into their coffins. From there the stories spread to the rest of Europe in tales of the ugly, pale creature that comes in the night to drink your blood – a vampiric human that lives forever, as long as they stay out of the sun, and looks like a corpse but never rots.

Over the years many stories have been told, they’re one of the best known monsters in pop culture and they feature prominently in YA and urban fantasy. But it is the stories of Carmilla and Dracula that gave birth to the vampire we know today, the killer that we fall in love with because they are always beautiful, that hypnotise us and change into animals at will. Taking humans as their partners turning them and loving them forever or killing them slowly in a state of ecstasy.
Those stories may well have drawn not just from the Eastern European vampire but from the Daemonologie written by King George, in which corpses could be inhabited by incubi and succubi, with properties similar to those of vampires but with more beauty and lust.

 

But what caused these stories of vampire to start, what are they really? Well many aspects of the physiology of vampire can be explained by diseases.

Porphyria is one of them, it is an inherited disease which comes in a few different forms – one of them is that the skin becomes sensitive to sunlight, if sufferers go out in the sun they blister and burn far worse than normal. This not only explains the idea that vampires don’t go out in the day it also provides their pale skin and the idea that they burn up in the sun.

Tuberculosis (TB) may be another disease from which the theories of vampires spawn. It is an airborne bacterial infection, that mostly affects the lungs of it victims – it often makes them turn very pale, with swellings in their neck, tiredness and fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss and can cause them to cough up blood because of the damage to their lungs. All these symptoms have been mentioned as a sign that someone has been fed on by vampire in a lot of the old stories.

Catalepsy is a nervous condition that makes the body go rigid, it could be connected to the idea the vampire could stand so still. It also slows down someone’s heart and breathing rate meaning they may appear dead, and after some time they would be able to move again and the heart rate and breathing rate return to normal, so they may get back up after someone thought they were dead.

People understood less about how the body broke down after it died back then, how the body decomposed and the form that decomposition took, like how the hair, nails and teeth sometimes appear to grow for a few days after the death, as the skin covering their roots peels back, and how the decomposition of the body takes some time to set in, especially in cold places like the Balkans. After death gases in the body build up, these gases can make the body make noise and muscles move which means they sit up, move arms, legs or roll over when they are dead, and these gases also inflate the abdomen which makes the body look like it has gorged on something, and if you were to stab that inflated abdomen then it would rupture and fluids would drain out.

 

In a more mystical vein the reason they can’t be seen in mirrors is because it was once believed that mirrors allowed you to see people’s souls and vampires have no soul therefore they cannot be seen. The same applied for cameras when they were invented which is why they cannot be seen in a photograph or video in some stories.

 

Physiology

Head to toes

  • Human undead
  • They sometimes have glowing eyes and/or pointy ears
  • Fangs – sometimes just the top 2 canines, sometime all 4 of them and other have nothing but fangs – no teeth that aren’t sharp.
  • They feed on blood, or sometimes on life essence such as the chinese ones, the Jiangshi, that feed on chi – and hop everywhere which is just funny, although potentially horrifying for ones that are half-rotten.
  • Humanoid chest and arms.
  • Humanoid hands sometimes with sharp claws.
  • Human legs and feet.
  • They’re sometime veiny all over, but usually pale.
  • Sometimes they’re stunningly beautiful, other times gaunt and unattractive – it’s rare for vampires to be of average appearance.
  • They have no soul.
  • Superhuman strength and speed
  • Some can turn into animals
  • Unaging, they can only be killed by a few things
    • Decapitation
    • Fire
    • The Sun
    • Silver
    • A stake through the heart – but in some stories this only serves to nail them into their coffin, so if it is ever removed the vampire may wake again.
      • Sometimes this is the preferred method as the vampire is possessed by a dark spirit – and destroying the body completely would allow it to possess another, while trapping the body traps the spirit.
  • Some vampires can make ghouls which are partly turned people, they eat bugs and the leftovers the vampire make like body parts and bones, sometimes these ghouls can be controlled by the vampire that created them.
  • Some vampires can make thralls which are hypnotised humans, whose wills are slaved to the vampire. They usually drink from these thralls, and some may use them as a source of power within mortal governments and the like.

 

Ideas for your story and games

You could write a story or game from the thralls’ or ghouls’ point of view, how they see the vampires.

What if the reason vampires never look the mirror is not because they can’t be seen but because they can truly see the nightmares in it instead – forcing them to regard their own monstrousness.

Since they can turn into an animal can they become stuck in that form, how do they feed in that form, is that where the first vampire bats came from?

If they lose their soul when they’re turned, what happen to their soul? Does it die or disappear, or does it become a ghost linked to the vampire forever seeing all the hell that they bring about?

Could you give a vampires a soul – and would they get their own back or a new one? This could be done as a curse of remorse, or maybe a vampire would quest for their return to humanity, or perhaps their lover could give them it – if so, did they go on a great quest to find a new soul or is it a heart shaking story where they give the vampire part of their own soul, so they are forever connected, in some ways the two are one. Perhaps a marriage ceremony might have this effect – possibly even surprising a vampire who was getting married to help hide their nature.

 

p.s. There’s three days left on our Jigsaw Fantasy Kickstarter – take a look before it’s too late.

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