Need monster ideas for a vampire's thrall

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So the BBEG that my PCs are the most pumped about putting an end to is a human vampire wizard, and I need some good underlings for him.  Very soon the PCs will be following a wagon they think is filled with a bunch of kidnapped folk in distress, but will actually be a group of undead horrors the vampire hopes will dispatch them.  The obvious choice is a bunch of vampire spawn, and while it could be a lot of fun to throw a lot of minions at the PCs, that idea is falling a little flat for me.  

I'm also thinking about how to populate his castle.

Any ideas?
So the BBEG that my PCs are the most pumped about putting an end to is a human vampire wizard, and I need some good underlings for him.  Very soon the PCs will be following a wagon they think is filled with a bunch of kidnapped folk in distress, but will actually be a group of undead horrors the vampire hopes will dispatch them.  The obvious choice is a bunch of vampire spawn, and while it could be a lot of fun to throw a lot of minions at the PCs, that idea is falling a little flat for me.  

I'm also thinking about how to populate his castle.

Any ideas?

The usual: ask your players.

You're aiming for a surprising encounter, I get that, but while I think your scene would be cool in a story it seems like a gotcha for a group of players who thought they were doing a good thing. Either they'll figure out the trap and just not try to spring the "villagers," or those will be the last villagers they try to save, lest they be "gotcha"ed again. But, if the players are into the idea, and would have their characters fall for it it, then you can get their help to make it something that none of you think falls flat.

The same goes for the castle. Only your players know what they think will be a cool bunch of denizens to combat.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

The players are on board, but they don't want to design monsters/encounters
The players are on board, but they don't want to design monsters/encounters

I don't blame them. Ugh. Sorry. I'll think about it. It's a cool situation.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Time it, so that the "kidnapping" occurs just prior to the rising of a full moon. The players reach the kidnapped townsfolk, kill the madmen driving the wagon, who die laughing, and then the transformed townsfolk rip their way out of the wagon.

I like vampire cultists, like the gypsies in Dracula. Set them loose in the castle. They take the front lines and engage the people with radiant attacks while the undead deal with the others.

If you're planning to kill any of them, consider wraiths. They're the zombies of D&D (besides infectious zombies in Open Grave).

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Werewolves and dopplegangers come to mind as common Vampire tropes, so why not Werewolves and or Changelings as common enemy types? You can also "vampirify" other more common placed creatures for added effect. I'm thinking something like an aquatic trap with a Vampiric shark as an example.

A Vampiric Warforged as a semi big enemy would be neat. The idea of drills for fangs always struck me as both awesome and terrifying XD

Hope this helps. Happy Gaming
The players are on board, but they don't want to design monsters/encounters

I don't blame them. Ugh. Sorry. I'll think about it. It's a cool situation.


Yeah, why do I think I'm coming to you people for a quick answer?  

Seriously though, I like the transformed townsfolk ripping their way out of the wagon.  Any ideas about mechanics?  I'd like it to be a large, though not terribly powerful force.  The shock is the big narrative focus, so the combat itself should move quickly after that.  The characters will feel had, on the ropes for a second, and then they'll be angry and wanting to plan their revenge as soon as possible.  

I also like the idea of vampire cultists.  I wanted the keep where the vampire is holed up to have humanoids as the face, it is hiding in plain sight, so that was a bit of a sticking point for me.
Seriously though, I like the transformed townsfolk ripping their way out of the wagon.  Any ideas about mechanics?  I'd like it to be a large, though not terribly powerful force.  The shock is the big narrative focus, so the combat itself should move quickly after that.  The characters will feel had, on the ropes for a second, and then they'll be angry and wanting to plan their revenge as soon as possible.

If they players look into the wagon, they see a bunch of sick-looking, shivering townsfolk, some of whom look like they've been attacked by wild beasts. If they don't look right away, the townsfolk begin screaming and the wagon is rocking. When a player approaches it, a werewolf blasts out and tackles him. If no one approaches it, it calms down and goes dead silent and then the werewolves explode out in all directions.

It doesn't have to be a  fight to the death, just enough for the werewolves to spread a little moonfever, and then they scatter. Some head for the town, some head for the farms on the outskirts of town, some head for the logging camp in the other direction, some head for the vampire's castle.

I also like the idea of vampire cultists.  I wanted the keep where the vampire is holed up to have humanoids as the face, it is hiding in plain sight, so that was a bit of a sticking point for me.

I don't know the tone you're after, but the people in the castle can be dark and brooding, or horribly debauched, or anything, but they are all stark mad.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

@Toe Sama, thanks for the feedback.  I do like the warforged idea.  In the Threats of the Nentir Vale book, there's a stat block for a Cadaver Collector that I think looks fun to play and may figure prominently in the vampire's keep.  Werewolves are pretty tempting.  I'm going to pass on the changelings, but not because it's a bad idea at all -- a group of antagonists the PCs are also dealing with is headed by doppelgangers and I don't want to confuse them.  Do you have any other ideas for typical monsters that might lend themselves well to being "vampirified?"

@Centauri, the tone will be pretty dark, but the guards/rabble/whatever at the keep need to at least play it straight.  The PCs are alone in their knowledge that the BBEG is a vampire, and they run the risk of making some powerful enemies if they spread around accusations like that about the baroness's son.  I like debauched but in an under the surface kind of way.  Also, really digging the possibilities for the start/end of the encounter.  Thanks.
I once did a gladiatorial colosseum type of battle in a vampiric stronghold with vampire lions. Vampiric Manticore also seems viable in that respect. I've been looking for a chance to do something with insectoid vampires, like Vampiric Thri-Kreen or Umber Hulks, so any bug sort of beasties would be neat. Vampiric birds would make a nice replacement for bats to mix up the flavor a little. A friend once played a vampiric minotaur who didn't have fangs, but drained blood through his horns instead, so that might be neat to do up as an enemy too.

Really, anything can be made a vampire. You could probably even turn other types of undead into vampires (Vampiric Ghosts are a particular favorite concept of mine), so just flip through monsters books and try to think of what would be really cool addition to the Vampire Lord's menagerie of blood sucking pets and cronies
Very soon the PCs will be following a wagon they think is filled with a bunch of kidnapped folk in distress, but will actually be a group of undead horrors the vampire hopes will dispatch them.



They are a bunch of kidnapped folk in distress - ghoulish nobility from the White Kingdom on Thanatos, taken by or possibly traded to the vampire. At least one of them, if not all of them, is quite important to Doresain, King of Ghouls, for reasons that will be made clear to the PCs at some point during the encounter when Baron Femur fills them in.

The ghouls have been couped up for some time and, though they are normally somewhat approachable and reasonable (if incredibly vile) when faced with capable opponents, they give into their ceaseless hunger for living flesh when released from the wagon. They do so until they are bloodied or some other condition is met at which point a lingering sense of self-preservation allows them to control their urges and parley with the PCs: They can help the ghouls and gain some meaningful recompense or slay the ghouls and earn the enmity of Doresain himself (he starts to threaten some other goal or interest of the PCs indirectly).

To complicate matters, Doresain has captive the vampire's One True Love, a deva who is destined to fulfill some great purpose in the world. And that's why the vampire kidnapped the ghouls in the first place - to gain the leverage necessary to free her (for his own reasons, of course, screw the rest of the world).

What happens when all these motivations intersect in the middle of a combat encounter? (For mechanical stuff, I'd need to know level. What I suggest is doable in just about any tier.)

I'm also thinking about how to populate his castle.



Whatever it is, it should point toward his enduring love for the deva being held by the King of the Ghouls. But, you know, gross.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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@iserith, very cool.  I'm trying to wrap my head around it, and I'm coming up against a few logistical problems.  Hopefully you can help me out.  The vampire kidnaps or somehow obtains a number of ghouls, one of which is dear to Doresain.  The vampire needs that ghoul in order to get his deva love out of bondage.  But, the vampire decides to use that chip in order to slay the PCs?  I can see that maybe the vampire has already got the information that he needs out of the ghouls but could see one last use for them before setting them free.  That could work, but is there another way to spin that that I may be missing?  
@iserith, very cool.  I'm trying to wrap my head around it, and I'm coming up against a few logistical problems.  Hopefully you can help me out.  The vampire kidnaps or somehow obtains a number of ghouls, one of which is dear to Doresain.  The vampire needs that ghoul in order to get his deva love out of bondage.  But, the vampire decides to use that chip in order to slay the PCs?  I can see that maybe the vampire has already got the information that he needs out of the ghouls but could see one last use for them before setting them free.  That could work, but is there another way to spin that that I may be missing?  

As I read it, the vampire isn't using them to kill the PCs. The vampire's intention with the ghouls doesn't involve or require the deaths of the PCs, but when the PCs free the ghouls ("thinking" they're townsfolk) the ghouls attack, etc.

I recommend against using deliberate ploys to attack the PCs indirectly. If he has something that can attack them, and wants them dead, they would just attack directly. The vampire can't know for certain that the PCs will try to rescue the villagers, and won't figure out that it's a trap. It's an interesting scene, but as a deliberate ploy I'm not seeing it.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

@iserith, very cool.  I'm trying to wrap my head around it, and I'm coming up against a few logistical problems.  Hopefully you can help me out.  The vampire kidnaps or somehow obtains a number of ghouls, one of which is dear to Doresain.  The vampire needs that ghoul in order to get his deva love out of bondage.  But, the vampire decides to use that chip in order to slay the PCs?  I can see that maybe the vampire has already got the information that he needs out of the ghouls but could see one last use for them before setting them free.  That could work, but is there another way to spin that that I may be missing?  



Ah, you saw what I saw then. It was purposeful. Yes, like all true villains, this could easily be a matter of hubris. Or, as I thought was established, the characters screw up and unleash the ghouls on themselves. Additionally, the wagon busts open because hungry ghouls want to suck the marrow from the bones of the living and was nothing the vampire planned or did.

Imagine the tough choices to be made during this scene. The vampire needs at least one of the ghouls as leverage to get his love back. The ghoulish nobility wants to go back to the White Kingdom. Doresain needs the ghoul(s) for reasons and is willing to give up the deva (who is important in some other way in the campaign) in exchange for them. The PCs engage in battle, things go sideways (no doubt). Monsters start getting bloodied and start to parley. 

Could the PCs end up allying themselves with the BBEG they so badly want to stake? Do the ghouls offer up a way to get the deva back if the PCs will kill the vampire and free them? Or do the PCs kill the lot and put the deva in a bad spot as well as earn the ire of Doresain? Those are the kinds of stakes questions I like to have in the scenes in our games.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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@Centauri, the deliberate ploy is a non-negotiable.  I don't always sign off on story elements with the players, but when I do I feel obligated to provide them with what was discussed.
@Centauri, the deliberate ploy is a non-negotiable.  I don't always sign off on story elements with the players, but when I do I feel obligated to provide them with what was discussed.

So, I take it they asked you to come up with a deliberate ploy that they would have their characters fall for?

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

@iserith, I'm really digging the tough choices, and I like that there will be a payoff for the players that will build upon what they're expecting.  This is also kind of exciting because the PCs are aware that the vampire has been working against a cult of Orcus, but they don't know why.  I didn't know why either, but am I right in assuming that established lore has Doresain aligned with Orcus.  Of course, if not there's no reason why he won't in my world, or I could simply turn some things around, but I like where this is heading.  

@Centauri, the ploy was my idea that I floated to the group.  As we've established, I'm not a fan of gotchas and wouldn't feel comfortable leading the PCs down this particular path without their say-so.  But they jumped at the idea and want to know no more until it comes to pass.  Story-wise it makes sense for the vampire to send others after the PCs because he's aware that they've acquired some relics that are specifically designed to work against vampires.  If he can, he'd like to stay out of the fray personally, but also the PCs have been in his mother's city, and he would like to avoid creating chaos in the streets. 
@Centauri, the ploy was my idea that I floated to the group.  As we've established, I'm not a fan of gotchas and wouldn't feel comfortable leading the PCs down this particular path without their say-so.  But they jumped at the idea and want to know no more until it comes to pass.

Does that mean there's no chance of the characters not walking into the trap?

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

@iserith, I'm really digging the tough choices, and I like that there will be a payoff for the players that will build upon what they're expecting.  This is also kind of exciting because the PCs are aware that the vampire has been working against a cult of Orcus, but they don't know why.  I didn't know why either, but am I right in assuming that established lore has Doresain aligned with Orcus.  Of course, if not there's no reason why he won't in my world, or I could simply turn some things around, but I like where this is heading.



Did I somehow guess that conflict with the cult of Orcus? (And yes, Doresain is a vassal of Orcus in 4e lore iirc.)

@Centauri, the ploy was my idea that I floated to the group.  As we've established, I'm not a fan of gotchas and wouldn't feel comfortable leading the PCs down this particular path without their say-so.  But they jumped at the idea and want to know no more until it comes to pass.  Story-wise it makes sense for the vampire to send others after the PCs because he's aware that they've acquired some relics that are specifically designed to work against vampires.  If he can, he'd like to stay out of the fray personally, but also the PCs have been in his mother's city, and he would like to avoid creating chaos in the streets. 



Maybe I missed this part? What's this ploy we're talking about? I thought it was just a reveal that the townsfolk are something other than they seem. I'm not sure that needs to be a deliberate ploy. Or is the vampire supposedly using these prisoners as bait?

Even so, I assume the vampire has some other servants and beasts to protect him as he travels with the wagon. The ghoulish reveal is just an escalation of what the PCs may think is a standard BBEG battle. One or more people get bloodied and the ghouls bust out to feed. This obviously causes trouble for the vampire as well who needs those ghouls alive.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

@Centauri, the ploy was my idea that I floated to the group.  As we've established, I'm not a fan of gotchas and wouldn't feel comfortable leading the PCs down this particular path without their say-so.  But they jumped at the idea and want to know no more until it comes to pass.

Does that mean there's no chance of the characters not walking into the trap?

I'd say there's a small chance that they won't fall into the trap.  They know the circumstances around the trap, so I doubt it, but there's no accounting for the way that they may decide to play things the day of.  If not, I'm not too worried about it; there's plenty else they could be doing.