I came home this evening, opened my e-mail, and saw an e-mail from StarWarsShop.com. I subscribed to their newsletter to check out some of the cool action figures they have, as well as all the other goodies that are way out of my price range.
This time was different. You see, it seems that StarWarsShop.com wanted to get an early start on Halloween this year, so they sent out an early Halloween newsletter. I opened the e-mail, and to my horror (pun intended), I saw a picture of Princess Leia as a vampire.
I was utterly disgusted. First, to use Princess Leia as a vampire is just ridiculous. This was originally some sort of Halloween party invite that was turned into a product to sell. Fine, I get that. No problem with them wanting to make a buck. Then they made the pic look like it was straight from the pulp era. Fine, no worries there. But Princess Leia as a vampire?
Vampires have gone from being unique, or at least rare, monsters who scare you to being the everyday, average monster on the block. We no longer have Dracula, Nosferatu, or Strahd. Now we have entire vampire societies, roaming about. In Stargate: Atlantis, you have the Wraith, who are little more than space vampires. Even in Dragonlance, you have the Beloved of Chemosh, who are a variant of vampires in their own right. No matter how you disguise these monsters, they keep coming up as vampires.
Let’s also consider why we glorify them so much. There’s supposedly some sort of sex appeal there. Beyond physical beauty, I don’t see it. I don’t find sucking blood to be attractive – not unless you happen to be a leech. Maybe it’s the horror factor. We have been bombarded by vampires so much in the last few decades that they no longer seem to scare. It’s kind of like how you watch the evening news and are no longer shocked by a murder. Likewise, vampires just don’t scare me anymore.
Why did Lucasfilm do this? Because it was easy. Vampires sell, and making money off of this is a guarantee. Yet in the process, the Princess’ image of a strong female protagonist is tarnished. How could the Princess fall prey to the likes of a vampire? Why should a company known for its creativity resort to the most uncreative thing they could do?
There are a few lessons that we, as gamers, can learn from this. First of all, a unique monster is more memorable than several. Dracula scares me. The umpteenth vampire that Buffy slays doesn’t. This is also true of other gaming elements too. Let’s take Tasslehoff’s Magic Mouse Ring for example. As a unique magic item, the ring has a certain notoriety. When they revealed it to be one of many, the ring became lackluster.
Be true to the characters. If you have a white witch NPC who suddenly dresses in black and wears a rainbow wig, your players will look at you funny. If your dumb goblin suddenly sprouts off Shakespeare, something isn’t right.
Don’t take the easy way out. Let’s say your players are fighting against a cult dedicated to your local God of Death. Good thus far. But then the cult reveals themselves to be vampires, or sends zombies after you, etc. etc. You might as well give all your players pillows for their nap. Mix it up some. Find a new monster from your latest monster book, or invent something new. If you must use a vampire, then at least take some time to give it some unique qualities. Maybe your vampire absorbs natural light, or is blind, or is a vegetarian due to his religion.
I am very disappointed in Lucasfilm, as I expected better. Certainly, they deserve a punch in the junk from Krazy Joe of Slice of SciFi fame. However, this is part of a larger issue that permeates pop culture. We need to get away from this vampire hysteria so that they can become a monster to be afraid of again, rather than being commonplace, like goblins.
What path will you choose? Will you take the easy way out, or will you push the bounds of your creativity to come up with something unique to wow your players with?
I hate Twilight. And I absolutely loathe this book:
Now, I’ve never read or seen Twilight and I know full well that the book I’m not even close to being the target audience for the book I linked to. That said, I really dislike how they portray vampires as these romantic and often misunderstood cute beings. Sure, you might say that it’s about redemption and/or tragedy or whatever else kind of theme you want to apply to a story about vampires, but to me vampires are monsters. Vampires are evil. Vampires are top of the food chain. Vampires are an affront to every living, breating being in the setting in which they’re featured.
And this is not just my personal opinion. In Real World folklore, vampires have appeared in countless different shapes in many different cultures, yet there is one universal truth that shines through in every version I’ve come across: Vampires are evil. They’re unholy beings who’ll suck you dry and rip you away from everything you love. And you ain’t coming back.
Does that mean that vampires are ravenous fiends? Of course not. At least not all of them. Vampires are just as varied in undeath as they were when they still breathed air. Some are indeed ravenous killers, others cunning masterminds, others still intelligent predators. And this is something that makes vampires very powerful as villains in a roleplaying game. In spite of their curse, the way that curse manifests differs from vampire to vampire, and that makes it very easy for GMs to create memorable villains with common traits, yet very different mindsets, personalities, and histories.
Unfortunately, pop culture has applied certain templates to vampires. Either it’s about sex and passion or it’s about vampires struggling against their curse to find a life in mortal society. I think that’s a damned shame and a waste of wonderful potential. Vampires make perfect monsters and villains simply because they’re extremely diverse yet universally monstrous, not because they represent one or two hot topics. At least that’s the case in my game.