Friday, 20 April 2012

Dracula, Vampires, And Vampire

Bram Stoker died one hundred years ago today, leaving behind a variety of short stories, some largely forgotten novels, and of course Dracula.

While Lord Byron brought "vampire" into the English language and Polidori popularised it while pretending to be him, and Carmilla was out of the gate a quarter-century before the Count, the idea only really took off with Stoker, and especially with Bela Lugosi up on the screen in a very loose adaptation. (Looser than Nosferatu, which was close enough for Stoker's widow to win a lawsuit and have almost every copy destroyed.)

Still, for a century (give or take) Dracula has defined what a vampire is in popular culture and other takes react to it. Louis dismisses it as inaccurate fiction, Buffy fights Dracula and later teams up with him (and Spike never gets his eleven pounds back), Eric Northman views him like the Great Pumpkin.

Vampire: The Masquerade gives him an entire clan (even though the Gangrel and Ventrue would do the job fine) and Requiem a covenant (complete with multiple interpretations of him), while also addressing the impact of the book on the Masquerade. (I always wondered if Nosferatu exists in the Masquerade setting, as it's a much bigger breach...)

But, I feel, he doesn't really fit into those worlds. Dracula is the vampire as a singular thing, with only himself and those he turns. Having another vampire going about his business in the next valley along might make good fantasy worldbuilding but lessens him as a creature of horror.

How did Dracula become a vampire? Answering that question makes him less unique and frightening. Quantifying your monster inevitably makes it less monstrous. It's even more significant in a setting with lots of vampires because then he's just a big name in a crowd.

Masquerade made him self-siring and Requiem made him a sireless anomaly, but personally I'd address his existence if asked but wouldn't answer anything definitively or bring him on-screen unless it was to do something radically different. I'd say Count F****** Dracula qualifies as radically different. Like Buffy Versus Dracula it's partially a joke about fame, copycats trading on the name and the like, and if he really is Count F- Dracula about the burden of expectations of a highly successful ancestor...

Dropping him into another genre entirely, like Kim Newman's Anno Dracula making him the archvillain of a historical adventure story or Marvel Comics' use of him as a stock villain who only sometimes goes up against specific vampire-hunting heroes, is more likely to surprise than having him turn up in a game where vampires are expected.

(Being the PCs and many of the NPCs they'll meet, vampires in both iterations of Vampire are often taken for granted. Playing a vampire somewhere else can be a very different experience, and I make sure to include mortals in major roles and other ways to keep players guessing when I run Vampire.)

Put a vampire on a spaceship and you've got a plot hook. Not necessarily a good one, but it will stand out.

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