Across all my writing about 4e D&D I’ve spent a lot of time espousing cool things that you can do as a player without really needing any input from a DM. The game design is robust and reliable enough that you can make things like a werewolf or a ghost-haunted pile of crystals and the game system handles it so the DM doesn’t have to make something specific for you so it worked.
I have mentioned the Vampire from time to time, but always with a drawn-in breath of ‘if you want?’ or something like that. A warning, a gentle one, but a warning nonetheless. The vampire, you see, for all that it is part of this game system I like and does something I like, doesn’t do it very well, and for that, it needs to be presented to players with a warning that hey: This could go wrong, right? You need to be prepared to be okay with that.
The Vampire is a Striker, introduced in Heroes of Shadow. It uses the sigh Shadow power source, and has the general structure of an Essentials striker. For those unfamiliar, the Essentials classes were an attempt to make 4e characters behave more like 3e characters. They had things like a reliance on basic attacks, with powers that triggered off that, and fewer (or none!) encounter attack powers. Daily powers still existed, and they usually had some very limited flavour in their design, like ‘sword knight, staff knight, mace knight’ as opposed to ‘knights can use melee weapons.’ Strikers made under this tended to be less powerful than other versions of themselves – the Ranger is an absolute beast and its cousin the Scout, by dint of simplifying how it works, is merely ‘pretty good.’
Essentials characters aren’t necessarily all bad. Sometimes they do a necessary job of stitching together different visions of a character that the game didn’t previously present well. I think the Cavalier is great, for example, when its main job is taking the Straladin and the Chaladin and putting them under the same overcoat. It’s not like being an Essentials character is inherently bad for a character option.
The problem the Vampire has isn’t even about its special mechanic for healing surges. See, the basic thing the Vampire has going on is that they have one healing surge. Period. They can gain more healing surges by slurping them out of people they attack or consenting teammates, and when they spend a healing surge they get twice as much healing out of it, but by default, vampires are always going to be looking at the world around them in terms of ‘what can I eat to stay alive.’ This mechanic, and the package of Miscellaneous Stuff along with it is pretty cool!
No, the problem of the Vampire is that you have almost no options for powers to take that let you do your job of beating people up, and the options you have are kinda blegh. Just as a comparison, for your at-will attack powers, a vampire is dealing 1d6 damage at a range of 5, while a sorcerer is dealing 1d10 damage at a range of 20. A monk, which is also an implement-driven melee character, gets the power Crane’s Wings, which is a better version of the Vampire Slam power, and Crane’s Wings brings a whole extra power along with it (letting you make a big ole jumperoo). And this is at level 1 where the Vampire’s powers are the closest to their striker compatriots.
I think the choice of turning the Vampire into a class is one of the best ones you can make for this kind of creature. There aren’t a lot of monsters like the Vampire that fit this sort of progression. A troll is a troll and even if a troll gets bigger and tougher and stronger over time, that’s just changes in qualities, it’s not new abilities. It’s just being big and tough. By comparison, Vampires have a wide breadth of fictional space to draw from but also make roughly equivalent sense with some common traits between them.
Vampires in general, feed on people. They don’t have life of their own to sustain themselves, making them parasites who feed on people. You could have your age-draining vampires, your flesh-eating vampires, your dracula style aloof blood drainers, your Legacy of Kain long distance straw-suckers, your Count Orlock gobble-feasters, but the important thing is the Vampire is a thing that feeds, and therefore, even if you use the Vampire to represent a different kind of Vampire to the Vampire I assume you mean with Vampire, it’ll still be pretty close to a Vampire that even the different types of Vampire will still feel Vampire enough.
Now the word ‘Vampire’ doesn’t make any sense does it, eh.
Vampires in myth can do a lot of things, and the Vampire as a character option, presents a way for a player to do that and pick through their own specific representation of it. It’s a thing that expands too, where at first you may kick off with a particular set of general things that feel Vampire-y but by the end of your career you’re standing tall with like, wolf minions and the ability to dominate people’s brains with a glance. It’s not only great to have Vampires as a class option, but honestly, I can’t think of any other monstrous player option that fits a class nearly as well as the Vampire could.
It’s a shame then that the Vampire is so breathtakingly weak. It’s a shame because it means that this isn’t a failure of concept that I think you can just throw in the trash and forget about but a much more painful failure of execution. Because the Vampire is made up of so many parts and they’re all a bit of a failure from the bottom up, the only way to solve it is to fix all the powers and feat support, and then to go through the powers that are present and add a bunch more to give the Vampire more ways to develop.
That sucks in particular because it’s so much work to bring a pretty interesting Striker idea up to say, the level of the Warlock. It’s not like the Vampire isn’t playable, after all, it can definitely do things! IIt’s just that the type of design it is has problems and the solution to those problems is a lot of work, and by that point you have a bespoke class design you need to introduce to each dungeon master and ask ‘please?’ and even then that’s assuming you (meaning me) get the balance right a second time around!
Ah, Essentials, you fucked up.
The post title wasn’t a pun, by the way, it’s just what sprang to mind when I started to write.
This article was reposted from Talen’s personal blog.
You can find the original at Press.exe