In most respects, vampires are exactly what you'd think: blood-drinking immortal undead beings that burn in the sun and change others through their bites. But that's just the tip of the iceberg - read on to find out more about what they're like and where they come from.

Basic Characteristics & Vulnerabilities

Vampires are vulnerable to sunlight; brief exposure (such as a few seconds) to direct sun will sting and itch, and continued exposure will create damage that culminates to severe burns in a few minutes. If left in sunlight long enough (typically for several hours), a vampire will burn away completely. When vampire flesh burns, it does not ignite into flames; rather, it smolders. There is a risk of fire spreading if combustible objects come into contact with a vampire's burning flesh.

A vampire in good health will recover from minor wounds in a matter of minutes. Extensive or serious injuries can take up to several hours - especially if bones are broken. Underfed vampires may not recover much at all until they've been given enough blood or egg yolk to regenerate themselves with. A vampire low on energy whose body is damaged beyond being able to swallow blood and hold it inside of themselves long enough to regenerate with it will eventually starve to death. This can include severe brain injuries - a healthy and well-fed vampire might be able to recover from a brain stem injury, but one who is not will die unless food is administered some other way.

In 1934, a vampiric coal miner named Isadore Clements working near Pittsburgh received a severe head injury while at work. Clements's skull was shattered and his medulla and cerebellum suffered extensive damage, rendering him comatose. A doctor named Conrad Horner administered human blood to Clements via a feeding tube, and he made a full recovery within seven hours.

Vampires have heightened strength and reflexes, but it should be noted that a fairly strong human with good experience in martial arts could mop the floor with an untrained vampire in physical combat quite easily. (Simply being strong and being good at fighting are two different things!) They have excellent night vision and an enhanced sense of smell, as well as a heightened sense of hearing. (Their sense of smell and hearing is useful in helping them gauge a human's state of health before feeding.)

Some vampires do have an aversion to garlic, but not because of any mystical qualities of the garlic - it's just that they can't stand the scent, and having an enhanced sense of smell makes it worse. (That said, garlic is still a component in many effective anti-vampire charms.)

Crosses and silver as such have no effect on vampires unless they have been specifically blessed or warded against creatures perceived as evil. A silver cross necklace from your local jewelry shop will do nothing until it's been blessed specifically to have such an effect. Whether this means that vampires are inherently evil is a matter of debate, with some folks pointing out that blessings to ward off "evil" tend only to affect whatever the one doing the blessing perceives as evil and that many vampires are in fact quite religious.

They also have reflections, and stakes to the heart do not do any special damage to them.

Cold can also be dangerous to vampires. Because they don't naturally produce their own body heat, they can be very susceptible to extremely low temperatures. Though their magic will stave off the freezing process to a certain extent, if they are low on energy they will be unable to do this. Freezing will damage their bodily tissues just as it will anyone else's. A fully-frozen vampire will most likely die without intervention once thawed, and one who is given treatment will still need significant time to recover. Thus, winter can be an incredibly dangerous time for vampires who are not well-fed or do not have safe shelter.

Vampires have the ability to morph their fingernails into sharp claws; this is what they typically use to make incisions for feeding. They can also cast small glamors for small personal touch-ups, such as looking more like a living human. Some vampires use this to look inhuman if they think it'll get them the right kind of attention - they might make it seem as if they have red or purple eyes, or near-luminous skin. (Most, however, don't do this, since the vast majority of people are not particularly impressed by it.)

Vampires always have pointed canines, though their length and size are consistent with the longest and pointiest examples of human canines. They can enlarge their canines, but this is more for display purposes than practical purposes - enlarged canines can make them appear more threatening, or simply show off the fact that they are well-fed and have energy to spare. (Vampires with at least slightly enlarged fangs are often seen by other vampires as more attractive and desirable than otherwise, though enlarging one's fangs beyond about a centimeter and a half is often seen as tacky and trying too hard, and three centimeters and beyond is usually considered pathetic and ridiculous.)

As glamors and shape modifications take power to maintain, vampires typically only use them when necessary. Some vampires have even taken to using ordinary cosmetics and sharp knives in place of glamors and claws to conserve their energy and reduce their need for blood.

Vampires can induce a euphoric trance state through their bites. This can be used to keep captured victims from struggling further or making noise, though as this is magical rather than chemical it can still be resisted, particularly by the strong-willed and magically powerful. Those who have experienced a trance-inducing bite report that they could still feel the bite; they just didn't care that they were being bitten.

Vampires do not strictly need to sleep in order to survive, but doing to helps them conserve energy and gives their bodies a better opportunity to heal. Furthermore, vampires who go for extended periods without sleep (such as for more than a few days) begin to experience issues with cognition, short-term memory recall, and long-term memory formation.

They are also capable of having sexually intimate relations, though most vampires have a far lower desire for sex than typical humans. They cannot produce biological offspring.

The Origin & History of Vampires

Exactly what's fact and what's fiction where vampires are concerned has always been a little bit hazy to the general populace. Legends of assorted bloodsucking demons go back to ancient times, but whether many of them were actually vampires as currently understood remains in doubt - many of these creatures had very specific descriptions that were very much unlike what's actually known about vampires.

Many ideas have been proposed over the years, some as speculation and many as actual fact. Various tales claim that they came about through curses connected to Cain's murder of Abel, Judas's betrayal, and even the French Revolution. It's also been claimed that they're really aliens disguised as human beings, that they were created by the Vatican, or that they're an ancient race that pre-dates humanity.

Around 1894, a vampire by the name of Margot Clare claimed to channel an ancient spirit responsible for the creation of the vampire race in a lost Mesopotamian city known as Sangoria. This idea became popular for awhile, but no evidence of Sangoria's existence was ever found in the region the city was claimed to be in, and local myths from the cities that were there fail to describe anything very much like known vampires at all. (Plus, "Sangoria" doesn't even sound remotely Mesopotamian.)

The best-attested origin of vampires goes back to a mage in the late 18th century. 22-year-old Robert Rivers was the son of a wealthy English merchant in a family that had dabbled in magic for generations. Rivers himself was an exceptionally talented, charismatic, and somewhat unscrupulous young mage. Fascinated by sundry dark topics and by the idea of immortality, Rivers was smitten by the romantic, if morbid notions of vampires of his day. Eventually, Rivers and his peers (of whom he had always been the pack leader) became convinced that the key to immortality was found somewhere in these tales. The group of a dozen or so men and women began to research and experiment, studying every book they could find, consulting with other mages, and conjuring any spirits who could give advice. Gradually they learned that such a thing was possible, though it would be difficult to achieve and would not come without a trade off of some kind. Rivers and his cohorts were determined that whatever price they had to pay, it would be worth it. Besides, they felt they had worked too hard to give up.

Somewhere along the way, Rivers's parents disappeared. The last anyone had seen of them, they were going to the beach for a picnic and to take a boat ride. Many believe that the sudden inclement weather had something to do with it and that it was all a terrible accident, but others suspect Rivers himself had something to do with their disappearance. Either way, what exactly happened would never be proven one way or another. With no other close family members, the young man was left to manage his affairs alone; there was no one to hinder him in anything he wanted to do.

The ritual took place in a cemetery. It was a cold November night, the first night of the new moon. It was now 1789, nearly four years after they began their quest. Ancient forces were petitioned and called upon. A sacrifice was made of a local drunkard, whom they had convinced themselves that they were doing the world a favor by getting rid of. Each of them took a sip of the blood and offered the rest to the beings they had petitioned. Thus, the first vampires were created.

Rivers and his friends enjoyed their new gifts. They would often go out on wild all-night romps (often causing distress to locals) and sometimes even amuse themselves by causing each other gruesome injuries and watching them heal. Rivers often threw lavish parties, and it was during these parties that many grand plans were born - such as preserving the world's greatest minds by granting them immortality and establishing a world where these great minds were allowed to rule and govern humanity.

Every now and then someone would be inducted into their circle - perhaps a friend who seemed worthy of sharing in immortality, or a sweetheart whom someone was utterly convinced was an eternal soulmate, and even a few people who seemed like powerful and influential sorts. Over the course of several years, the circle widened to about fifty vampires.

But all of this was not to last. The Rivers family fortune dwindled - in no small part because Rivers spent more time partying than working. When the horrifically-mauled bodies of a few local girls and a priest turned up, it was not at all hard to imagine that Rivers and his raucous gang had something to do with it. Most suspected George Boulton, who had never behaved himself well with the local girls. Some believed that Rivers himself had a hand in it. But people - and now law enforcement - had their eyes on Rivers and his affairs.

At this point, some of the vampires chose to quietly slip off or just stop coming by. One former associate of Rivers, a Helena Davys, reported that in many ways it was all for the best. Rivers had become tyrannical, using intimidation and threats to get his way. She also reported that a few of Rivers's close associates seemed to take pleasure in telling people (especially the impressionable new blood) all sorts of wild stories about vampires being descended from ancient kings or gods, and that Rivers never saw fit to discourage it. Notions that they all had a grand purpose and were made to be better than humanity were seriously believed by some. And many new vampires ended up used as servants for work that Rivers and his close companions deemed too degrading. Davys also reported that when one girl who was sent out to catch rabbits for blood failed to return by dawn, no one seemed particularly concerned.

Eventually an attempt was made to arrest George Boulton for murder, but he attempted to flee. It took place about noon, and George wore gloves and a large hat. Eventually he was cornered, and when an officer attempted to remove his hat, Boulton lunged to bite his arm. Another officer shot Boulton in the head with a pistol, neutralizing him immediately. Boulton's hat flew off and soon his skin began to burn until the officers covered it again.

Although the full significance of this was not yet understood at the time, the officers were convinced that they were dealing with something very unholy. Boulton's remains were given an exorcism before internment, and that was the last anyone ever saw of him. Rumors sprang up that Robert Rivers and his gang were devil worshipers, and more and more of his gang quietly slipped off - whether to return to some semblance of their former lives or to assume new identities and start completely new lives elsewhere. Eventually, the Rivers home fell into disrepair, and Rivers himself vanished.

Because of the reputation that Robert Rivers and his people developed, few vampires would admit to being associated with him. Some claimed they were turned by enigmatic figures they only saw once, others claimed to belong to an ancient bloodline, and some even claimed to be hundreds of years old themselves. A few eventually came out and told the truth, but not before these other stories had time to catch on.

In the meantime, these vampires met a myriad of fates. A few of them tried to keep the dream of an elite society alive and began their own little group, turning those whom they deemed worthy. Some who had no real fortune of their own agreed to turn those with in exchange for a home and money. Some offered their services in gainful employment, taking almost any job that could be worked in relative darkness. And many of these vampires turned others for a variety of reasons - such as to save a sickly friend or a good employer, to give someone the strength and power to get something done or overcome a challenge, or simply out of fondness for the one who wanted it.

Others sought to find a cure for themselves. In 1831, Henry Rushton, one of the original vampires turned in the ritual, enlisted the help of a few mages and created a spell to expunge the vampiric powers from his body. The spell succeeded, but as Rushton's body no longer had the ability to biochemically sustain itself, he immediately perished. Thus far, no one has succeeded in finding a true cure for vampirism, despite the variety of methods and techniques used over the years.

Ultimately, even the vampires who were lucky enough to be wealthy lost their fortunes; some chose to vanish before others found out their true natures (whether because they might be in danger or to protect their families' reputations), some lost it through irresponsibility, and some lost it through bad luck. It's estimated that by the early 20th century, there were somewhere around 200-400 vampires in the world.

Although the possibility of vampires before Robert Rivers's time cannot be positively ruled out, there is no reliable evidence of vampires existing outside of myth and folklore before this point. When claims of such are investigated, they trace back to one of the vampires from Rivers's group. It must also be noted that while many people have speculated or claimed that conspiracies of vampires are behind various historical events and political movements, reputable evidence consistently shows otherwise. While certain individuals involved may have been vampires, there has never been a major conspiracy of vampires per se. Likewise, there is no reputable evidence that any major world leaders have ever been vampires.

On the other hand, many vampires have been exploited for labor at various times and places. Owing to their strength and resilience, many of them have been forced to work in extremely dangerous environments, both legally (such as being used as penal labor) or illegally (such as through human trafficking).

As of 2015, it was estimated that there were somewhere around six to ten thousand vampires in the world, and this number has not likely changed significantly since then. And although a few vampires live well-to-do lives (and then usually only by making their services available to someone very wealthy), the vast majority do not.

The Turning Process

Most vampires experience an instinct to turn someone at some point, which often peaks 15-30 years after they themselves were turned. Although they're hardly compelled to turn the first person who walks by, they will usually feel a longing to turn someone else eventually - typically someone who seems like a stable and reasonable adult. (The thought of turning minors is something that most vampires instinctively find repulsive.)

Transformation occurs when a vampire wills a tremendous amount of its own magical essence into someone through a bite. Typically, physical contact must be maintained between for about thirty to forty seconds - any less, and it's not enough to sustain a full transformation and the one being bitten may die; longer, and the vampire risks dying. (Many botched transformations have resulted in the death of one or the other.) If done correctly, the process begins immediately and takes approximately forty-five minutes to complete.

Those undergoing transformation will begin to feel ill; they will experience increasing dizziness, weakness, and the sensation of being uncomfortably hot and cold at the same time. Within several minutes, they will be too weak to move. During this time, their bodies will cease to "live" as is conventionally understood, and the magic will take over in sustaining them. About thirty-five minutes in their strength will start to return and the other unpleasant symptoms will begin to subside; in another ten minutes they will be gone entirely and the transformation will be complete.

Although the process is not excessively painful, it can still be an extremely distressing experience for those not prepared for it.

Turning someone takes a huge toll on the vampire, leaving it drained and weak for at least a few days, essentially leaving the vampire at the mercy of whoever is nearby during this time, including the new vampire. Because of this, very few vampires will turn anyone they don't trust. It's also important that the vampire who does the turning be in good health, or else death is possible.

Although vampires used to be somewhat cavalier about whom they turned, they gradually adopted a more cautious approach as they came to realize just how many ways turning someone on a whim could go wrong. Many of these new vampires ended up regretting the choice or were very unprepared for the realities that they would now face. By the mid-19th century, vampires began to adopt a policy of waiting at least a few years. Around that time, a poem about a fictional vampire deciding whether or not to turn someone was printed; the vampire character named three years as a bare minimum, five being preferable, and seven sometimes being appropriate. It seems this poem caught the attention of actual vampires, because this was eventually adopted as a custom by many. (And that said, it's a custom and not a law - some vampires occasionally ignore it altogether, though they are seen as very irresponsible and reckless.)

In the US, it has been a felony since 1983 to turn anyone under the age of twenty one, punishable by 5-20 years in prison. The legislation was passed under growing concerns that young people were being turned for reasons of exploitation. Similar laws exist in numerous other countries.


The most nutritious source of nourishment for a vampire is human blood. However, human blood can be difficult to obtain for numerous reasons - such it being expensive or some areas lacking available donors - so many vampires resort to alternatives and supplement with human blood if and when they can get it. Animal blood can be bought from certain shops (such as butcher shops), and some vampires may set out traps to catch live vermin or get it from local farmers, if possible. Raw egg yolks can also work, though few vampires can bring themselves to drink eggs on a regular basis. That said, many report that egg yolks are especially useful in regenerating from injury.

Few vampires subsist only on human blood, as such a lifestyle is either highly expensive or highly destructive. Even vampires who don't care much for humans are still usually smart enough not to leave a trail of bodies (or even a suspicious lack of bodies) behind, as this tends to get them into trouble, whether with vigilantes or law enforcement. (Because drinking from the unwilling is still assault to murder depending on how it goes, and vampires can indeed be tried and imprisoned for it.)

Vampires do not experience any kind of blood lust or "feeding frenzy" effect. They are always as in control as any human. Any vampire who claims to experience such is lying.

On average, a vampire will consume about 3-5 cups of food per week, with variance depending on quality, availability, and how active the vampire is. Also, vampires in hot environments run the risk of becoming dehydrated, so they may need to drink some water as well.

Vampires can consume and process ordinary food, though they will gain no significant amounts of vitality from it.

Vampires And Magic

Beyond the above morphing and glamor abilities mentioned earlier, vampires have little to no ability to use magic. The reason for this is that their bodies hold fast to whatever magical power they can obtain, as they need it to sustain themselves. (Because of this, they are also largely unaffected by magic-absorbent materials such as iron, steel, and aluminum.) Vampires can still potentially overcome this and learn to cast magic anyway, but in doing so they risk harming themselves (as they are casting from their own "life force," so to speak), and their magical potential will be very limited - even experienced vampire mages will be limited to small feats of magic.

Vampires also tend to absorb ambient magic from their surroundings and from other people. Those who are sensitive to magic may feel themselves being drained thus when vampires are near. It must be noted, however, that vampires are unlikely to completely drain a magic user thus (they won't usually absorb more than a fraction of the mage's power), and mages can put up shields to prevent any more of their magic from being siphoned off.

While magic absorbed directly from environments and people does increase their own vitality, they cannot subsist on it alone any more than an ordinary human could subsist on nothing but tree leaves and skim milk.

Public Perception & Awareness

As scarce as vampires are (it's unlikely that there are more than ten thousand of them in the entire world), most people will never encounter a vampire in their entire lives, let alone meet anyone who has. Additionally, most vampires do not go out of their way to reveal themselves for what they are any more than they absolutely have to. Revealing themselves can have numerous undesirable consequences. Even if they aren't in danger of being killed outright, they might still be shunned and ostracized. It's also not unheard of for someone to wheedle the truth out of a vampire, only to turn around and use it as blackmail material.

The US government keeps to a policy of not drawing any more attention to the existence vampires than they absolutely have to due to concerns that too many US citizens might become vampires and thereby cause a socio-economic collapse. When they began encouraging the publication of anti-magical literature in the 1950's, they made it clear that society should be cautioned against "blood rites," "diabolical gestures of affection," and "unwholesome lifestyles influenced by horror films," and were careful not to bring up, let alone confirm the existence of actual vampires.

So although the existence of vampires is not an aggressively-guarded secret, most people are not aware that they exist. Thus it's easy to believe that the existence of vampires is nothing more than urban legend and wishful thinking, and many believe exactly that. Those who do suspect or believe that they are real are not usually well-informed and often get sidetracked with nonsensical conspiracy theories about vampires having complex underground societies and ancient plans of world domination.

Related SoulMettle content:

Magic: An Overview

Other pages of interest:

Random Vampire Generator
Tips For Writing Better Immortal & Long-Lived Characters

Back to Articles & Stories