Legend of the Archons: The Learned Man’s Guide to Vampires

The following is detail relating to the vampires of Occida, the setting of my Legend of the Archons RPG.

Vampires are abhorrent undead monsters that prey upon the living to slake a terrible blood-thirst and fuel their own immortality. As they age, they grow increasingly inhuman in both body and mind, and their blood-powered supernatural gifts grow increasingly potent. These gifts vary but may include immense physical strength, unnatural speed, physical transformation into wolf-like forms or dispersion into a cloud of bats, misty intangibility, mind control, telekinesis, pyrokinesis and even sorcery. Those vampires with telekinetic powers often demonstrate a particularly gruesome application of this power: exsanguinating a wounded or helpless victim from many paces’ distance, calling the precious blood to their waiting mouths in a stream through the very air.

Vampires are very difficult to kill and their wounds close almost as quickly as they are inflicted due to the power they steal from the lifeblood of others. Beheading appears to be effective, and impalement through the heart can immobilize them as well – any lesser injury will do little to hinder them however. Thankfully, most of these undead horrors are highly vulnerable to the pure elemental touch of fire, sunlight and running water (all of which sear and burn them horribly).

There are many and contradictory folktales and theories of how a corpse may be revived as a vampire, ranging from burial in an unhallowed grave, black magic, demonic possession of a corpse to being bitten by an existing vampire. Most serious scholars discount that last, for were such the case there would be a great many more vampires than there are. The mechanism (or mechanisms, if there be more than one way to do the deed) by which vampires are created appears to be a closely-guarded secret that even most vampires have not managed to obtain; those vampires and necromancers that have it appear to guard this darksome knowledge jealously. On one known occasion during the darker former times when Mordamund himself was a newly-ordained Archon, a vampiric lord rose up to create a horde of fledgling vampires in a bid for not only infiltration but outright conquest. Putting down this vampire lord, whose name has been purged from the annals of history, was one of the greatest and most arduous crusades of the Yenisarii.

Interestingly, the greatest weakness that the vampires possess, the burning touch of sunlight, does not come upon them all at once. A rank fledgling can bear the sun at first, though even they find its glare hateful and uncomfortable. After a few nights or weeks, this vulnerability becomes progressively stronger until it can burn them to ash within a matter of minutes or even seconds. However, as their weaknesses are becoming more pronounced, so too are their powers, strength and alienation from their own former humanity.

While every vampire becomes less and less human in both appearance and thought processes as time goes on, not all of them express these traits in the same way. All vampires are fanged and most develop vicious claws as well, but that can often be where the similarities end. Over the course of their centuries of unlife, many devolve into shapes that can only be vaguely attributed to their former mortality – and some of the eldest bear virtually no resemblance to even the shape of Men, becoming eldritch scuttling multi-limbed or chiropteran things.

Many vampires divide themselves into lineages, claiming descent via creation to various powerful progenitors. It appears that a vampire’s get will show a predisposition towards the specific talents and powers that he himself possesses, and so too will they demonstrate any additional or increased weaknesses that he may have developed. For example, one noted line demonstrates a greater-than-usual vulnerability to sunlight, but has acquired immunity to water’s touch and certain other aquatic adaptations and so use the depths as a means of refuge from the sun’s malice. Strangely, while the oldest members of these lines are the most powerful and usually the least human in appearance due to their many centuries or millennia of existence, it appears that their descendants degenerate into physical and mental monstrosity more rapidly than did their mightier ancestors. Some of the latest of their younglings are little more than feral animals in their own right.

The Great Vampire Purge. Or, The Third Crusade.

Historically, vampires have been content to live as skulking predators that terrorize the living populace of their regions or to try to set themselves up as petty princelings of tiny private domains so that they can feed in peace, but occasionally one becomes more ambitious and has the means to act on that ambition. The greatest and by far the most successful of these was the being now referred to as the Vampire King. Not only did he know the secret to creating more of his kind, but he taught his closest offspring and lieutenants to do the same, leading to a vampiric population explosion on a scale that has never been seen before or since. Several centuries ago he set forth to crush all of Occida under his heel, proclaiming a new era where the nobility of the night would rule. This Vampire Lord built up his undead army and began infiltrating the institutions of Occida and slaying any that dared stand between him and continental dominance.

Meanwhile the forces of Autumn roused themselves and the long-oppressed Fomori and their Lost allies descended on vulnerable communities and refugees in an orgy of vengeance, fearing little retaliation from defenders that were already overtaxed fending off the vampires’ horde. It was a bleak and dreadful time in Occida’s history, but the worst was yet to come.

The Heiligen Empire, though strong at the time, was not prepared to face a foe so cunning and whose forces were supernaturally empowered on such a scale, even though the vampires never came near to matching the numbers of the forces that humans, durgans and alanir could bring to bear. This sort of thing had simply never happened before; there was no precedent as to how best to deal with such a threat. The Emperor and other lords cried out to the Church for succor, and the Council of Archons dispatched numerous sorcerer-knights of the Yenisarii alongside Episcopal Witch-Hunters to root out the undead scourge. In vengeance for their sponsorship of these highly effective hunters and warriors, the Vampire Lord slew several of the Archons themselves in a surprise attack on their very Sanctuary. During his rampage, he first had to defeat their most renowned warrior and protector, the Yenisarius Chief Praetor Gottfried, although that hero survived the beating that the vampire gave him. This act horrified and demoralized the people of Occida, causing many of them to lose hope.

Others took the butchery of their spiritual leaders as a call to arms. In response to this outrage, the young Archon of Vision Mordamund and the Archon of Death Aesulias preached the Third Crusade, which in time came to be known as the Great Vampire Purge. The full might of the Yenisarii was mobilized and received many more recruits, plus other military orders were formed at this time. True men, alanir and durgans flocked to the Archons’ call and joined their lords to fight back against this menace. The purge was long and brutal, with many atrocities committed on both sides. In the end the Archons, Yenisarii and other crusaders put their vampiric enemies to the pyre. Eventually Mordamund sent Gottfried and his men in a daring raid to the heart of the Vampire Lord’s defenses in which they succeeded in destroying the supernatural horror and most of his key lieutenants. From there, it was a mopping-up action rather than a war. Across Occida, vampires were rounded up and impaled on stakes, then raised upon them in grisly fields and left for the purifying sunrise. The mortals that had fallen to worshipping or collaborating with their vampiric overlords frequently fared little better as their fellow-citizens turned on them.

Many of the names of the noblest and most successful Yenisarii, heroes and vampire hunters from this period have passed into popular legendry, as have some of the most notorious of their monstrous enemies. As for the Vampire King, his name was stricken from the annals and is no longer spoken. Some peasant tales fearfully tell that he lies restlessly in his grave, waiting for another opportunity to rise up and sweep all of Occida into cattle-pens for slaughter and consumption. Mordamund, on the other hand, gained tremendous prestige for his dauntless and insightful leadership. Between this fact and the deaths of several of the more senior Archons (including the Archon of Horizons, who survived the purge itself but disappeared and died within a year of the close of hostilities), the stage had been set for his recognition as the chief of the Council of Archons. Chief Praetor Gottfried, though hailed as the hero that had personally vanquished the greatest menace of his time, is said to have grown increasingly despondent over his failure to prevent the slaughter of Archons that had been under his protection and eventually departed for parts unknown on a quest for absolution.

Vampires today are relatively few, and are mostly furtive creatures seeking to avoid overmuch attention lest they whip up a frenzy of torch-brandishing peasants or, worse, competent monster hunters. Vampire hysteria breaks out every so often as some community or other decides that there must be a bloodsucker in their midst and desperately tries to root the fiend out and put it to the stake, and a number of innocents have perished due to misguided accusations. Outbreaks of disease are sometimes blamed on vampires, and plague-ridden communities are especially prone to rash action in this regard. Even the fomori cannot be said to be as hated and feared as the undead. Feral younglings and those vampires that have regressed into a bestial state, while lethal in the extreme, are at least comparatively easy to find and run to ground. The behavior of such incautious beasts, however, tends to distract from their subtler relatives. Today’s Knights Palatine cannot claim to have as high a rate of success in their own hunts of the smarter class of vampires as the Yenisarii did in theirs for they lack that defunct order’s sorcerous resources, but they are sufficiently dangerous that most of the wiser vampires are careful to avoid the notice of such agents. Some inquisitors and witch-hunters claim that the number of vampires present in Occida is once again on the rise now that their greatest enemies have been brought low, and they worry about the implications of such a thing.

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