Ginger Nuts of Horror
A vampire’s never just a vampire. Through decades of fascination and elaboration, these classic bloodsuckers have divided into camps with vast variety. Today we have savage incarnations that leave bloody wakes, idealized seducers, and all manner of inhuman leeches and manipulators. They’re all vampires, whether they take the shape of Rice’s Lestat or Murnau’s Nosferatu, but their breeds grow more fractious by the year.
Just as there’s no one type of vampire, there’s no one vampire tale. Certainly certain vampires and their plots tower over the undead masses, but these creatures’ abilities and versatility provide so much fuel for nightmares that there’s always another morbid twist to explore. We could dismiss these as just blood-soaked monster stories, but vampires tap into something intimate, begging to know not just what, but how, we desire.
Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound gave me an opportunity to wade into exactly this breadth of vampiric possibilities. While Larsa, Bloodbound’s hero, lives with the blessing and curse of being half-vampire—a condition leaving her with a frequently indulged addiction to blood—she’s arguably not a monster. It’s not so much fangs and a low body temperature that makes one a servant of the night. At least, that’s the argument Larsa’s allies insist on.
If that’s the case, then Bloodbound’s other vampires demonstrate what does make a monster. This is where the versatility and possibilities of vampires take center stage. In the course of Larsa’s journey, she encounters uncontrolled vampire spawn, vicious night-stalkers become slaves to their lust for blood. These are the simplest of vampires, brute monsters akin to horror movie slashers or wild predators. They hunt, they kill, they drink, and the next evening they repeat the process. They’re inelegant and lack some of the greater supernatural powers of true vampires, but they make up for that in savagery. We’ve seen these feral vampires before, in the hordes of I Am Legend or 30 Days of Night, beings overwhelmed by not just their hunger, but by the power to indulge that desire. Of course, this viciousness becomes all the deadlier when directed by another’s ambition.
Larsa faces greater threats in the form of true vampires. We’re all familiar with these creatures as Dracula’s kin, beings with mystical powers, terrible lusts, and centuries of experience. They’ve forsaken the frailties of the living, but blend in with human society, relying on stealth and subtlety to hunt. But time, boredom, and fading memories of life bring with them a hunger for control. With arrogance and distain adding themselves to the common list of vampire sins, all manner of dark and increasingly inhuman ambitions take shape. In Bloodbound, the most audacious of these drives pits vampire against vampire, with an ignorant mortal population caught in between.
The last of Bloodbound’s vampire breeds are the true ancients, creatures old even by immortal standards. These beings play with the tropes of mysterious, undead lords and even more inscrutable creatures, like the alien vampires from Lifeforce. Regardless of their terrible forms, these bored few distance themselves from the squabbles of the living and the dead. What once made them human—if ever they were—has faded, leaving them to indulge ambitions that unfold over the ages. Sires to generations of lesser vampires, these overlords seek to control everything, brooking neither rebelliousness nor compromise.
While only three variations from the vampire multitudes, this family of bloodsuckers isn’t made terrifying by their bloodlust, but by their proximity to humanity. Bloodbound’s vampire spawn, for example, are beasts, possessed by their hungers. The fears they inspire are the same evoked by any predator or killer. They might look human, but there’s a demon inside them. They’re not like us anymore. This sort of fundamental monstrousness makes them similar to the oldest of vampires, beings whose inscrutability comes from weird powers and alien perspectives. Like their lesser kin, these vampire ancients have lost any similarity to humanity, becoming (or having always been) just monsters.
It’s the true vampires, that middle tier, that prove most unsettling, then. It’s not because of their strange powers or thirsts alone—certainly there are superheroes that live with stranger. Rather, it’s how they choose to use those powers. Like Dracula, these vampires use their abilities to pursue familiar desires, indulging their powers to take what they want. Power, acceptance, success, love, a vampire takes what it desires without the struggle or patience common to the human experience. There’s an unnatural element there—especially when coupled with a vampire’s methods—a closing of the gap between craving and earning whatever it is that one desires. It’s that indulgence, that selfishness, which in part makes vampires monstrous, but also so seductive. In so many vampire tales, these tempting terrors ask a single, simple question: given the power, wouldn’t you take what you want?
Certainly that’s the motivation behind Bloodbound’s villain. The plot Larsa faces isn’t designed to imperil nations, it’s more basic, and more selfish: one individual’s insistence on reclaiming a spark from a life that burnt out long ago. And, of course, if that demand isn’t meant, Larsa’s foe has the time to make sure he doesn’t suffer alone.
That’s part of why I think we keep coming back to vampire stories. They’re stories about craving and about control. There’s an appeal to having our every wish fulfilled, but also consequences, and in those consequences, we see how easily our desires might make us monsters.
Larsa is a dhampir half vampire, half human. In the gritty streets and haunted moors of gothic Ustalav, she's an agent for the royal spymaster, keeping the peace between the capital city secret vampire population and its huddled human masses. Yet when a noblewoman's entire house is massacred by vampiric invaders, Larsa is drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse that will reveal far more about her own heritage than she ever wanted to know.
F. WESLEY SCHNEIDER has published countless gaming products for both Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons and is a former assistant editor of Dragon magazine. Bloodbound is his first novel.
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