One other yr, one other Dungeons and Dragons marketing campaign on the books. Absolutely enveloped inside the trendy resurgence of the basic fantasy roleplaying recreation, I’ve been operating (“dungeon mastering”) a collection of campaigns for my wife and our group of greatest buddies over the previous few years. We simply wrapped up a six-month campaign the place our celebration of intrepid adventurers vanquished the menacing vampire Strahd von Zarovich, lord of the cursed land of Barovia.
The get together attained victory despite their greatest efforts to derail the campaign, which have at numerous occasions included stuffing scrambled eggs within the books of an insidious aristocrat, making an attempt to leap on Strahd and experience him like a steed, flirting with pretty much every non-player character within the recreation, and deliberately spilling beans all over the place. I mean all over the place. As icing on the cake, our heroes allowed a well-known vampire hunter (within the vein of Professor Van Helsing from Bram Stoker’s Dracula) to be summarily executed with out doing anything in any respect to cease it, and failed to stop a whole city from burning to ash. That was a enjoyable plot-hole to attempt to dig them out of. Phew.
After several misadventures, and towards all odds, the celebration’s human bard/barbarian Terry Crews (my little brother) reached Strahd’s tomb, hidden deep beneath Fort Ravenloft, and slammed his magical Sunsword into the guts of the arch-villain, breaking the curse over the land of Barovia once and for all. Victory! Ah, a cheerful ending. The clouds have lifted, and a brand new day dawns. All is true on the planet.
No less than, I feel that’s obtained to be true. Strahd is the blight upon Barovia, and his destruction at the hands of the adventurers is the “pleased ending” to the tale. Proper?
Having lived behind the dungeon master’s display for six months, obsessively reading and re-reading the campaign ebook and digesting every part concerning the massive dangerous evil man of the adventure, I’m truthfully unsure that its vampiric hunt offers either me or my gamers with the clean-cut pleased ending we expect we deserve. Nicely — on the very least, that’s true for me. I feel my gamers have been just glad stuffing eggs in individuals’s pockets, however such is life.
The character of Strahd von Zarovich initially appeared in the Superior Dungeons and Dragons module Ravenloft, which was revealed in 1983. Strahd appears closely drawn from two main sources: Bram Stoker’s archetypal Dracula, and the brief story “Vampyre,” revealed in 1819 by Lord Byron’s doctor Polidori and based mostly heavily on Byron himself. These early vampire stories look like the supply of our widespread understanding that vampires are basically and irrevocably evil (which in fact clashes with newer retellings of the vampiric fantasy, à la Stephenie Meyer’s gold-standard Twilight saga and the mass-market teen vampire sub-genre it spawned).
Tracy Hickman, who along together with his spouse Laura is the original creator of the Ravenloft module and its vampiric villain, writes concerning the influence that the historical Lord Byron holds over the construction of the early “romantic” vampire in literature:
For Laura and me, [the decadent and predatory characteristics of Lord Byron] have been the elements that really outlined Strahd von Zarovich — a selfish beast ceaselessly lurking behind a masks of tragic romance, the illusion of redemption that was ever solely camouflage for his prey. (four)
Equally, in Stoker’s story, Dracula uses his huge riches, lifetimes of accrued army expertise and intelligence, and supernatural powers to bend others to his will, feasting on their blood and reworking them into his thralls. On no account is Dracula a superb man. Stoker is completely unambiguous concerning the darkness brooding inside the Rely.
In these early romantic vampire tales, the near-human and sympathetic traits of the vampire are an entire sham, a lure utilized to unwitting humans as bait for the vampiric lure. The core of the classical vampire upon which Strahd von Zarovich is predicated is cruel, inhuman, and topic to the bottom animalistic tendencies of the hunter looking for its prey. There’s nothing redemptive in the main thread of the vampiric fable.
And yet, if we dig beneath his layers of false romanticism and vile darkness, Strahd von Zarovich maintains the morally gray whisper of a still-deeper core of ontological brokenness. With a view to put together the dungeon master for the marketing campaign, the Curse of Strahd module describes the events which brought Strahd to his lordship over the lands of Barovia and led to his transformation into a vampire. Strahd, having murdered his brother Sergei out of jealousy for Sergei’s fiancee,
saw the faces of his father and mom within the thunderclouds, wanting down upon him and judging him. He had destroyed the family bloodline and doomed all of Barovia. The fort and the valley have been spirited away, locked in a demiplane surrounded on all sides by lethal fog. For Strahd and his individuals, there can be no escape. (9)
As much as Strahd is pushed by the bottom tendencies of the vampire, there are clues all through the marketing campaign that he’s additionally driven by self-hatred for the doom he brought upon his family and his individuals by means of his greed. Within the last encounter with Strahd, deep beneath the stones of the vampire’s fort, the adventurers don’t discover him sucking the blood of some hapless commoner, or whispering foul incantations in a darkish crypt. They come across him weeping over the tomb of his brother, wrapped up in grief over the ache and struggling he created.
When Terry Crews lastly killed the vampire lord, the module instructed me to learn,
Surprise turns to rage, and the Pillarstone of Ravenloft trembles with fury, shaking the dust from the ceiling of the vampire’s tomb. The shudders abate as Strahd’s burning hatred melts away, replaced eventually with aid… (207)
Similarly, if we look at Bram Stoker’s Dracula at higher size, underneath the blatant overtones of moral black and white and good vs. evil, there are delicate strokes of unhappiness and regret. The protagonists take time to mirror on the tragedy of what Dracula has turn into, and acknowledge that beneath the layers of darkness there’s (or no less than was) a human being. Mina Harker, who’s the character most weak to contracting vampirism for a lot of the novel, states,
That poor soul who has wrought all this distress is the saddest case of all. Just assume what shall be his pleasure when he too is destroyed in his worser half that his higher part might have religious immortality. You have to be pitiful to him too, though it might not maintain your arms from his destruction. (327)
Inside the classical vampiric story, the romantically tragic “near-goodness” of the vampire speaks in two voices: primarily, it’s a finely tuned ruse used to entrap human prey. That is the studying all of us have internalized concerning the vampiric fantasy — the vampire is at its most harmful when it is a sympathetic character. On the similar time, a still small voice acknowledges that the tragedy and the pain of the vampire is undeniably actual. The vampire was, at one point, a human just like the heroes of the story.
In both Bram Stoker’s story and our marketing campaign, the vampire is each antagonist and victim. Simultaneously vicious and damaged, seemingly invincible and neurotically aware of its own weaknesses, the classical vampire is primarily corrupted past restore and completely evil. Concurrently, the tragic shadow of what was, or what might have been, is subtly woven into the mythos. This conflicting duality dooms the vampire to parasitically leech the lifeblood it subconsciously is aware of it ought to be capable of attain itself however can’t. The everlasting lust for blood is a symptom of a more elementary loss of humanity which the vampire continuously experiences, regardless of whether or not it consciously acknowledges or understands its want.
And in a perplexing means, the sliver of humanity inside the vampire mixes the moral black-and-whiteness of vampire searching into big gobs of grey mess. For Van Helsing and his crew, and for my group of heroic adventurers, a quandary turns into readily obvious: how a lot of their vampiric hunt is outlined by their very own need for prey? Would my players have been heroes should they’ve been unable to kill Strahd, and, in their very own approach, draw the blood of the ‘different’?
The ‘good guys’ in these tales are pressured to match their very own humanity towards that which is ‘sub-human’ and in doing so seal the doom of the vampire. And yet, both the vampire and the non-vampire are killers. They are both killers in the literal sense of ‘driving the stake via the guts of evil,’ and ‘sucking the blood of the harmless,’ but in addition in small methods, or within the phrases of the Ebook of Widespread Prayer, “by what [they] have accomplished, and by what [they] have left undone.” What both teams “have carried out” is concrete bodily violence; what they “have left undone” is equally condemning. Neither the villain nor the heroes are innocent.
The paradox of the vampire is universally relevant to all of us: as a result of a glimmer of previous humanity remains, the vampire is driven to suck the blood it knows it should already possess. It thinks when it comes to “prey” and “non-prey,” dwelling in a continuing zero-sum recreation the place humanity is a scarce useful resource that have to be outlined by taking it from those it deems as ‘lesser.’
By definition, the heroes are required to act in primarily the same approach. They wouldn’t be heroes in the event that they did anything totally different.
The protagonists in Dracula condemn a lady who succumbs to vampirism to damnation for the “sin” of contracting the curse at the hand of the Rely. My Dungeons and Dragons group let their vampire-hunting ally die and a village burn to the bottom in their comically inept hunt for Strahd. We all “suck the blood” of the other, making an attempt to validate our own humanity by condemning the alien and the inferior. We expect that our bloodsucking habits will provide us with the sustenance and lifeforce we so desperately crave, however it is finally a farce and a sham; our hunger stays unsated and the will for brand spanking new victims isn’t quenched. On this method, the unequivocal evil of the vampire, the curse of Strahd, which remains an absolute and non-relativized evil, can also be a condemnation levelled upon us, the ‘real people,’ because we ourselves act like vampires every single day. The shadow of the vampire hangs over all of us, it seems. The thirst for blood is universal.
Catholic theologian James Alison supplies insightful commentary on the position that communal scapegoating plays within the story of the Gerasene Demoniac from the Gospel of Mark. The account is one among my favourite stories from the Gospels. In the country of the Gerasenes, simply read as a biblical Barovia or Dracula’s Transylvania, there’s a demon-possessed man who has been dwelling “Night time and day among the tombs and the mountains…all the time howling and bruising himself with stones” (Mark 5:5). What an eerie and haunting sentence. Like a vampire, alive but dwelling among the many lifeless, this man who has been outcasted from his group seems to have turned on the only prey obtainable to him: himself. Jesus, participating in a completely unorthodox and paradigm-flipping “vampire hunt,” lands on the shoreline and steps out of his boat. Alison picks up the narration of the story:
The man, or the spirit, acknowledges Jesus from afar. He runs and worships him, and adjures him by God not to torture him, for Jesus has informed the spirit to go away him. Jesus asks the spirit to call itself, and it names itself Legion ‘for we are many.’ It begs not to be despatched overseas. Not shocking, for Legion is solely a part of the financial system of that place: it is the interrelationship of compulsions and driving forces that maintain that folks collectively by enabling them to agree on having somebody who represents what just isn’t them, all that’s dangerous, unsavoury, and evil. (125)
In our marketing campaign, Strahd is the Gerasene Demoniac. He is the scapegoat that permits the heroes to avoid confrontation with the methods during which all of them act like Barovian villains, searching over their lands from their spooky perch in Ravenloft fort. He represents what is completely totally different and distinct from them, and subsequently damnable, regardless of the snapshot of humanity that is still within him.
But this is not the logic of the Gospel. Within the logic of the Gospel, the language of demonic and of exorcism has a fairly totally different perform: it factors to the Creator peacefully calling to life these whose being has been trapped by the violence of cultural belonging…that is the actual dynamic behind the story of the Gerasene demoniac. It’s the story of what it appears like when the dwelling God, the completely vivacious Creator out of nothing, draws near to the ersatz god of group being and belonging, and by taking the weakest member of the group, begins to break down the group’s belonging, humanising the ‘dangerous guy’ and thus initiating the potential for a fairly totally different kind of social formation. (130-131)
The Gospel speaks powerfully into this universal financial system of “us vs. them,” of “vampires vs. humans,” by acknowledging that the elemental circumstances which drive vampiric myths are universally experienced by all of humankind — vampire and hero alike. Thus, when Jesus humanizes the “dangerous man” within the story of the Gerasene Demoniac, he also humanizes the group which made the Demoniac the villain within the first place. In encountering the individual of Jesus, each the Demoniac and the villagers understand the commonalities between them — that both have a desperate need for blood which they can’t attain on their own.
Equally, the reality is that both Strahd and the heroes who sat around our recreation desk every week reside in a state of brokenness. The distinctions between our halfling thief, dwarf paladin, elf assassin, and the vampire lord himself are smaller than we’d assume. All are blood-suckers who can’t save themselves. All are in need of grace.
Thus, the Curse of Strahd module, rewritten based on the Gospel edition of DnD, would involve Jesus calling each Strahd and the adventuring celebration out to some lonely hilltop. He would absolutely acknowledge that each one of them are vampires — all of them are guilty of bloodsucking. After which he would present them the scars of his crucifixion in acknowledgement that the zero-sum recreation of the vampiric predator-prey relationship has been broken. Jesus’ own blood has entered the financial system of the vampire and broken it utterly. The blood that both the heroes and the vampire so desperately want has been shed for them already. There’s no more want for bloodsucking.
And that may be that. No rolling for initiative. No skill-checks with the Sunsword. The sport would already be over as a result of everyone — each the celebration and Strahd, both Van Helsing and Dracula — have been given victory by means of the true hero who was pushed by means of the guts with a picket stake for all of us vampires.
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