Vampires are sick, plain and simple. They have been used throughout media in countless different ways, but in 3.5 they are an undead creature you loathe to mess with. A template capable of being added to any humanoid or monstrous humanoid creature (though there are other template variations for other creatures), the vampire is a monster of doom to the PC who covets their character, for it can not only drain their Constitution, but also bestow 2 Negative Levels once a round should they be hit with a Natural Attack. Coupled with the fact the template is made for more fighter oriented characters, the Monk can get pretty darn scary when you optimize it with the template (an example is shown in Monster Manual 3.5, which makes me smile). And just to make matter worse, should a PC die against a vampire, they become a vampire or mindless spawn (which has a variant level progression with Libris Mortis).
Which brings in We Xogo, a gaming blog I found through our mutual attraction to Metagame. Read through the blog a bit, and found a story of a time two of the characters got turned into vampires and killed the other two Level 2 PCs of the party. Granted, I don’t know how Level 2 characters become vampires and not spawn, because it’s a rule only Level 5 are allowed, but that’s beside the point. The issue in that case came in the form of the two new vampires being too powerful, making it so that the other two players couldn’t do much to compare with them (or as it turned out, against them).
To give you an idea of what’s going on here, an example: Four Level 5 PCs destroy a vampire’s home, but one of them gets turned into a vampire in the process. That Level 5 PC is now considering to be Level 13. The same issue occurs with lycanthropy, where in not only a Level Adjustment is thrown in, but Racial Hit Dice as well. If a Werewolf bites you at Level 5, you get a Level Adjustment +2 and +2 Animal Hit Dice, making you Level 9. In both scenarios, the other PCs are now weaker than the changed PC, and encounters that are hard for them will be easy for Mr. Vamp/Wolf/etc. (or Ms. if we are getting technical)
It’s an issue of balance! Which is why We Xogo presented a concept of a level progression for the vampire. Should one want to be a vampire or become a vampire in the middle of the game, they now have a means to do so with no big bridge in power between them and the rest of the party. A good idea in my eyes, which would allow the PC to slowly bleed into their new powers and not have it all at once. Granted, the execution of the progression is lacking, for it takes a little longer to become anything quite like a Level 5 Vampire PC in 3.5, but let’s have a look at the progression and see what it has to offer.
The Vampire Class presented is a 20 level progression which one can begin to take once they have been turned by a vampire (more on this later). During the progression, you gain HP/Base Attack/Saves as usual (saves may need to be rewritten), but also ability bonuses, new abilities the template vampire doesn’t have, and a selection of vampire feats made specifically for the class which improve upon your new body. I like this idea! A customizable vampire is great, for it gives the PC pride in having a vampire they can truly say is different from the others around them, based on what feats they chose. It’s just a shame the execution of great ideas didn’t turn out so well.
First, how does the template compare to the class? Outside of level gain, weaknesses and what happens in direct sunlight changed a tad. Holy symbols now must be of an opposed alignment of the vampire, rather than just be a holy symbol in general. Might have something to do with the fact vampires don’t have to be evil in the class, but whatever. Direct sunlight gives penalties to certain numbers and abilities, and won’t kill the vampire in two rounds either. Heck, if you got a great fortitude save, I’d be surprised you could die at all, as the first round will damage you for half your HP lest you make a DC 25, and after that suffer no damage at all if you continue to make the save…you just die if you fail is all. And should you burn to cinders, just take those ashes to your coffin and you will come back to “life” in 1d10 weeks. This makes the vampire more adventuring savvy, with daylight no longer being as huge a threat (walk around in Darkness all day), and the potential of a free Raise Dead should you have a nice and accepting adventuring party. Though I do wonder why vampires need to take double damage from fire. They’re not mummies, and Wall of Fire already does double damage against undead, so…?
The progression itself makes me…sad. As the intention of creating the vampire class was to have a PC build up their powers rather than get them all at once, all a PC has to look forward to is improving upon their weak vampire powers. Sure, there is the new “Flight” ability a vampire can do along with their Gaseous Form, and the extra movement at Level 11 and 20, but that’s it. It’s a little like the Dragon Disciple, but that one is preferable to this, for even though you are spending 10 levels to become a Half-Dragon, you’re getting bonus spells along the way (Fighter with lots of Enlarge Person?), which is more than you would get with 20 levels of Vampire. As a muticlassing option, the vampire class doesn’t compare well to others. If a Wizard had the option of taking more levels of his main class than improving upon his new body, I think he would stick with what he knows.
So how long does it take to become on par with power to a vampire via template? That’s when it begins to hurt the most. As mentioned, you gain your vampire powers through the feats presented, becoming a true vampire over time. This is when the customizing feature should be fun, but I can’t help but feel lulled when I see myself at level 13 and that 5th Level vampire over there already has more powers than I do. Mind you, I like the idea of a “Daywalker” with the right collection of feats, but to get to that point, you would need to get all the way to Level 20…ignoring all other other major feats after 16th Level. And there are key major feats that must be taken in order to even be similar to the template vampire, such as creating spawn and the base Fast Healing 5. This is bananas. Why? Because the vampire template gives a Level Adjustment of +8, and it takes 16+ levels in the vampire class to get the same strengths of one who is turned at 5th Level (a 13th Level character).
Then there is the method of becoming a vampire, which again can only be done with “help” from another vampire of at least 16th Level. The vampire drains the blood of his victim, lays with the corpse for 3 days, after which the corpse will awaken. The victim must then drink the vampires blood within 1d4 hours or die for good…not even a Resurrection can bring them back. A little rough, making the vampire a much more dangerous foe, but I kinda like the idea of random spawn coming forth after a vampire comes rushing through, rather than a necessary ritual. Though I do must say, it’s a fine way for the PC to go out: die forever, or live the life of a weak vampire.
I mean, really? 20 Levels of any base class versus vampire and you see the huge cliff of power. Sure, you’re a fully formed vampire at Level 20, but I can cast Implosion four times a day with my Cleric. What now? Yes, probably a waste of spell slots, but you get the idea. A shame to say, because I see a lot of potential with the ideas presented in the class progression. I would perhaps be more forgiving if they condensed the 20 levels into the +8 LA the template gives. Heck, even Wizards of the Coast created a template progression, and it’s within the LA limits of the original. What I’d like to see is this class emulate such an idea, and utilize the differences it made, bring in more customization options, and expand it further than the 8 levels with dreams of being something more…like a Daywalker.
To We Xogo, I express my apologizes if you found my words harsh. Creating something, let alone a balanced class, is no easy task, and because I haven’t made one of my own yet I wonder if I have much ground to stand on. Perhaps that should be a goal of mine if I need to redeem myself in some way. As it stands, I appreciate the work you do, and think the class could work with a bit of tweaking. Placing it up on D&D Wiki for mass feedback and editing may be an idea, which is where I’ll be placing my own progressions should I ever get around to it. Ideas already forming. Not good, considering the obsessions I can get. Ug.
Back on the talk of vampires, there are many other methods of playing a vampire, including a Vampire Lord, and a Bloodline as presented in Unearthed Arcana. However you wish to introduce the horror that is vampire into a game, make sure you plan it through, because it can get crazy pretty fast. Still haven’t thrown in vampires in my own game yet, but I’m getting there, that I am. God help me when it goes down. Yes, me, not the PCs, because I’m the guy that has to take the assault of words from them when they realize they lost 4 Levels in one round. That will be fun.
In other news, I have watched this over 10 times. And counting.