It seems that binging on television shows is becoming a way of life for many people. All the various means of watching seasons upon season of our favorite shows makes this easy. I am no different, except that maybe instead of indulging in all of the new modern entertainment, I look, instead, to the past. I’ve been watching shows from my childhood, for the most part.
I have also been watching, however, a few shows that came a long time before I was born. One of these old shows is the original thrilling soap opera “Dark Shadows”. For those who are unfamiliar with this show, it is about an old family who basically runs a town and their “cousin” Barnabas shows up and takes up residence in the old house, supposedly where he grew up. Barnabas is a vampire and, as you can imagine, shortly after he arrives, things begin to spiral down hill.
I have been fascinated with the depiction of the “vampire” in “Dark Shadows”. Barnabas is not the style of vampire I have read about in many other fantasy settings. He is well spoken, of course, and quite fancy in his dress, in his manners, and in his way of life. This is no different than those other vampires. He has supernatural abilities, such as the ability to drain blood from others, the ability to turn into a wolf, he has great strength, and, of course, everlasting undead life. He also has the power to hypnotize mortals and the power to make mortals his servants.
Some of these abilities, however, seem a bit different. It is these differences that fascinate me with the depiction of Barnabas as a vampire, and it is these differences that I think could create a superior vampire GMC within Questing Heroes (or any other role playing game).
Draining Blood From Others: This appears to be a means of both taking life force from them, but also a means of making them weak and cursing them into such a state that they must obey him, or at least are much more susceptible to his controlling powers. After being bitten, his victims appear to be not just weak, but actually appear sick with some sort of disease that gives them a fever and causes a confusion or delirium. This sickness goes away after a short time, unless the vampire bites them again and drains even more blood. The town doctor even begins to think that a disease could be spreading and is afraid of an epidemic forming
The Ability To Turn Into A Wolf: So far, I have not seen Barnabas turn into a wolf. However, there have been numerous instances where howling, barking, and growling have been heard off-set, and we are led to believe that it is Barnabas, in wolf form. Moreover, it is insinuated that Barnabas’s servant, Willie, has been given the ability to turn into a dog or wolf, as well, as there is more than one creature heard a few times.
Great Strength: To be completely honest, feats of the vampire’s great strength have only been shown two or three times in a couple of seasons of “Dark Shadows”, and these feats do not seem to be any different from any other vampire I’ve seen or read about. We’ve been shown at least one set of thick iron bars bent and torn, and Barnabas has used his great strength to physically punish his servant. In this instance, we are made to believe that the beating he gave his servant, Willie, was simply extraordinary. Of course, the time period in which “Dark Shadows” aired would not show the beating to the audience, nor would the after-effects be horribly gruesome to view. The reaction of the other characters tell us more about the beating than anything else (this type of story-telling is a completely different subject, however).
Everlasting, Undead Life: At this point, the audience has not been told how old Barnabas Collins actually is, though we are given many clues that he is very old. His long life does not appear to be much different from any other portrayal of a vampire, though the means of telling the audience is interesting. There is a portrait that hangs in the family’s main house of Barnabas from days past, and everyone comments on how much Barnabas looks like the man in the painting. They also comment on how far back in the family line the man in the painting could be found. Barnabas simply tells them that many of the men in his side of the family have very similar facial characteristics. There is also a small, older house on the family property, the house into which Barnabas decides to live. Barnabas tells numerous times how he grew up in the house, and how the family lived in the house long before he lived there.
Hypnotizing and Forcing His Will Onto Others: Of all of the vampire’s abilities, these seem to be the most peculiar in the depiction in “Dark Shadows”. Typically, we see a vampire simply looking into the eyes of his victim and they are his. They cannot look away, and he will call them to his side and tell them what actions they will and will not take. Barnabas does this, as well, but to a much lesser extent. Barnabas’ form of control is, instead, closer akin to brainwashing and mind control than it is hypnotizing. This is seen most in his interactions with another character, Maggie. Barnabas thinks she is his reborn lost love, Josette. Aside from using a minor amount of ‘eye-to-eye contact hypnotizing’, Barnabas tells her over and over and over that she is Josette, that she is his lost love, that she will be his bride and live with him for eternity. He forces her to repeat what he tells her, forcing her to believe what he is telling her.
To reinforce these thoughts, Barnabas takes two other actions. First, he constantly leaves Josette’s music box open, playing a little tune that gets into Maggie’s mind, making her forget who she really is. Then, when Maggie begins to fight back against the mind control, he turns her fear against her. He tells her he must punish her, but instead of beating her, as he has done with Willie, he forces her to lie in a closed coffin “until he summons her”, to think about her continual disobedience. A short time after this, Barnabas places Maggie in a barred cell underneath the old home, and tells her she must stay there until she “becomes Josette”, or until he decides to kill her. Again, he leaves the music box with her, to help her pass the time, he tells her.
I think by creating a vampire similar to Barnabas Collins, and using more storytelling and atmosphere to create tensions within the game, you could run a much more interesting GMC vampire character for your players. Not simply an elegant, well-spoken undead demon-creature who sucks blood, but a GMC who can mess with the characters’ minds, who can be their “friend” and enemy all at the same time, who can terrorize an entire town without being suspected of anything except being willing to help find the true culprit.