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Thursday, 4 December 2014

Your Vampire Primer

There are some people who contend that the United Nations is fighting a secret war on sovereignty and democracy in its pursuit of a ‘one world government’. This is not true. It is fighting a secret war, not against sovereignty and democracy, but a threat insidious and hidden that preys upon humanity–vampires. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) fields ‘Special Action Units’ (SAUs) dedicated to the study, location, and eradication of vampires. Armed with automatic shotguns and assault rifles that fire blessed and consecrated rounds of wood, silver, and graphite, and wearing armour incised with religious iconography and inscriptions, once these teams have a target, they are sent out aboard ‘black helicopters’ to strike at the horridly implacable creatures that are vampires.

This is the set-up for Vampires: A Hunter’s Guide, published by Osprey Books as part of its Osprey Adventures line. Best known for its its military history books, each diligently researched and meticulously illustrated with period photographs and fully painted colour plates, entries in the Osprey Adventures series goes beyond the facts to meld it with fiction. The result is a sourcebook of ideas for a gamer’s current game or a background for a whole new game. All a gamer needs to do is add the rules of his choice. The series has already looked at The Nazi Occult and given us Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide–amongst others... 

Vampires: A Hunter’s Guide most resembles Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide, being an examination of several types of vampire, their creation, their feeding and hunting habits, their relationship to humanity, and humanity’s response to each of these horrors. It does these for five continents–Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, and South America. In doing so, it focuses upon five types of vampire–the Strigoi, the Asanbosam and the Obayifo, the Jiangshi, and the Chupacabra. Of course, the various chapters are nicely illustrated with pieces of period art, photographs of various artifacts, and full colour artwork.

It begins with the Strigoi in Europe and a raid on a nest during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, before delving into the history and types of the Strigoi. They are closest in type to the vampire of the modern era, typified by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but other types exist in the Balkans and beyond. The Strigoi of course feeds on blood, is capable of transforming themselves into bats or wolves, and possess a certain sexual allure. The Papacy was the first organisation to recognise the ‘satanic’ threat and attempt to deal with it, such that many of the creatures took the opportunity to flee to the New World. Here the only rivals they had were each other, for North America had no vampiric tradition, and so they hid themselves and through wise investments, managed to protect themselves with great wealth. This makes them extremely difficult to track down and identify–it can take years of careful work by the FBI before an SAU can strike.

Less familiar will be the Asanbosam and the Obayifo, the vampiric creatures native to modern day Ghana and the historical Ashanti Empire. The Asanbosam is an arboreal bat-like hunter that reaches down from the trees for its prey, which is driven to mankind when they enter and then cut down the forest. In response, vampire hunters would train to enter the canopy, armed with short, gold-tipped spears and knives, and often protected by the juju or magic of the Marabout. Where the Asanbosam feeds on blood and flesh, the Obayifo, a spirit vampire, feeds off negative empathic energy. There is the possibility that the Obayifo are capable of controlling the Asanbosam, but where the Asanbosam seems confined to the diminishing forests, the Obayifo seems to have spread beyond Ghana’s borders.

Conversely, the Jiangshi will be familiar to devotees of Hong Kong cinema. The ‘stiff corpsed’ hopping vampire takes decades to form after it was improperly buried and grows tougher, stronger, and develops a more potent breath over time. It is an empathic vampire that can track its prey by their breathing. Again a group trained to deal with the threat, this time of the monks of the Shaolin Temple, who would use their martial arts skills and meditative calming techniques to prepare themselves against the Jiangshi. Lastly Taoist magic is used to still the vampires so that they can be led away for a proper burial. Of course, with founding of Chinese communities around the world, there are innumerable cities where the knowledge and ability to deal with a Jiangshi has been lost.

The last vampire detailed in Vampires: A Hunter’s Guide is the Chupacabra, a large bat-like creature that in recent years has spread out of the cenotes found across the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico into the great cities of North America with their extensive subterranean infrastructure. In rural areas the dreaded ‘goat sucker’ is known to feed on large livestock, but in built up urban areas, the primary prey is humanity–particularly its dregs.

In addition to these five or so vampires, various other types are also discussed. For example, other types of Strigoi include the Balkan/Czech Pijavica which preys upon former family members and the Polish Vjesci which can be recognised by the caul its head. Similarly, the Dhampir human/vampire hybrids, hated by their parents, are said to have found a home with some SAUs. As much as Vampires: A Hunter’s Guide discusses its monsters, it is small details such as this and the fact that SAUs work with FBI forensics and behavioral analysts that provide hooks upon which to hang the role of SAU members or support staff, for example in creating a roleplaying campaign.

Unfortunately, a GM will need to extract such details if he wants to use them for his game. In a traditional Osprey Books title there will be colour plates depicting what an SAU operative wears and is equipped with, accompanied by suitable descriptions. Sadly, this is not included. Equally as disappointing is the lack of a bibliography in Vampires: A Hunter’s Guide. Where Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide had a short if imperfect section entitled ‘Further Reading, Watching, and Gaming’, but this is absent in Vampires: A Hunter’s Guide. There are some very obvious inspirations for many of the vampires presented in its pages–for example, the movie Encounters of the Spooky Kind for the Jiangshi and the ‘El Mundo Gira’ episode of The X-Files for the Chupacabra. Others like the Asanbosam will be more difficult to provide inspiration for, but it would certainly help the reader with his further research. Similarly, a list of games would help in applying the content of  Vampires: A Hunter’s Guide. Obviously, Pelgrane Press’ Night’s Black Agents is the go-to RPG for fighting vampires, but Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Savage Worlds, White Wolf Inc.’s Hunter: the Vigil, Evil Hat Publishing's FATE Core, and even the recently released Cryptworld from Goblinoid Games would all work.

Vampires: A Hunter’s Guide is readable and a decent source of material to apply to the vampire hunting game of your choice. The lack of application to that end–no bibliography and no immediate material upon which to hang campaign, for example, does mean that it is just background when it could have been just a little more supportive.