© Wizards of the Coast by Anna Steinbauer

The Dhampir in DnD 5e: A Hunger Within

We’re all very familiar with vampires. Since the “vampire craze” of the 1720’s it seems like every few years brings the creatures of the night back into the limelight (don’t worry, it’s UV free). From Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Twilight, Blade to Underworld, popular culture is obsessed with these blood-sucking menaces. 

Now, what if I told you that one of those I just mentioned isn’t focused on a vampire. Blade, the Marvel superhero popularized in his portrayal by Wesley Snipes, is in fact a dhampir.

You see, as Eric Brooks was born, his mother was bitten by a vampire. This process led to certain vampire enzymes being transferred to the baby boy, and he later developed some of the superhuman abilities that vampires possess.

Without getting ridiculously into the vampire lore of Marvel comics, Blade is a really cool example of a dhampir as a part-time vampire, full-time badass. And that captures the concept of the dhampir really well.

Being part-vampire comes with some interesting territory. They gain incredible supernatural abilities from their vampiric heritage, but that’s not all. They also gain an insatiable hunger.

Most dhampir try to fight off this hunger as best they can, but only the strongest of will can resist it completely.

Therein lies the struggle of the dhampir. Not fully a part of either world, they often find themselves using their connection to the supernatural to become monster hunters themselves. Combining their newfound abilities with a hatred for monsters and the being that made them what they are creates a particular blend of destructive energy.

Dhampirs are an existing myth that don’t get as much attention as they could in the media. Fortunately, D&D 5e introduces us to the dhampir in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, along with a couple of other “lineages” to give our character an extra spooky spice.

Lineages are transformative characteristics such as dhampirism, which change the features of a given race. If you were to choose the dhampir lineage when building your character, you would still choose a race as a template. Then you would decide on which characteristics to keep. More on that in a bit.

Creating a Dhampir

Before we get into all the fun stuff, I want to mention how dhampirism works in 5e. Simply put, you can either become a dhampir in the midst of your campaign, or make your character a dhampir at character creation. 

Mechanically, these two methods don’t work all too differently, but it will affect how you roleplay your character. A dhampir who has been afflicted since long before the start of the campaign is going to have a much more cohesive goal then someone who is transformed suddenly in the middle of a campaign.

Talk with your DM to see which option is right for you, and to see how well dhampir or other dark lineages fit into your campaign. A half-vampire will probably fit more easily into a Ravenloft campaign than one set in Eberron.

Dhampir Abilities and Traits: What Characterizes the Dhampir

  • Ability Score Increase. Increase one ability score by 2 and increase a different one by 1, or increase three different ability scores by 1. If you are replacing your race with this lineage, replace any Ability Score Increase you previously had with this.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one other language that you and your DM agree is appropriate for the character. If you are replacing your race with this lineage, you retain any languages you had and gain no new languages.
  • Creature Type. You are a Humanoid.
  • Size. You are Medium or Small. You choose the size when you gain this lineage.
  • Speed. Your walking speed is 35 feet.
  • Ancestral Legacy. If you replace a race with this lineage, you can keep the following elements of that race: any skill proficiencies you gained from it and any climbing, flying, or swimming speed you gained from it.

If you don’t keep any of those elements or you choose this lineage at character creation, you gain proficiency in two skills of your choice.

  • Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light. You discern colors in that darkness as shades of gray.
  • Deathless Nature. You don’t need to breathe.
  • Spider Climb. You have a climbing speed equal to your walking speed. In addition, at 3rd level, you can move up, down, and across vertical surfaces and upside down along ceilings, while leaving your hands free.
  • Vampiric Bite. Your fanged bite is a natural weapon, which counts as a simple melee weapon with which you are proficient. You add your Constitution modifier, instead of your Strength modifier, to the attack and damage rolls when you attack with this bite. It deals 1d4 piercing damage on a hit. While you are missing half or more of your hit points, you have advantage on attack rolls you make with this bite.

When you attack with this bite and hit a creature that isn’t a Construct or an Undead, you can empower yourself in one of the following ways of your choice:

  • You regain hit points equal to the piercing damage dealt by the bite.
  • You gain a bonus to the next ability check or attack roll you make; the bonus equals the piercing damage dealt by the bite.

You can empower yourself with this bite a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s start off with ancestral legacy

It says “If you replace a race with this lineage” which implies that we don’t have to. This is a bit interesting, and Van Richten doesn’t give us much in the way of how a dhampir with no starting race would look.

There is a dhampir origin table (next section of the article), with one of the options being a reincarnation of a vampiric ancestor. Perhaps a dhampir with no other race just looks like a vampire? That’s up to you to decide.

But let’s not mess around, we’re going to want to choose some sort of base race. Specifically, we’re going to want to pick a race that has skill proficiencies and/or a flying, climbing, or swimming speed. Everything else your starting race can do goes to the wayside. 

Personally, I think this needs a bit of reworking. Sure, it makes sense to lose out on certain racial features, like the aasimars’ various divine abilities for example. Minotaurs and tabaxi come to mind though, with their horns and claws. Natural weapon abilities that are so innately a piece of the character seem like they wouldn’t just go away.

Keeping with RAW, anything that’s not a skill proficiency or a speed is gone, but I’d strongly suggest that any DMs ruling on a dhampir (or any lineage) consider the implications. 

An option is to let the characters choose any one of their racial abilities to keep, rather than just speeds or proficiencies. Otherwise we’re left with everyone picking aarakocra for the 50ft flying speed. This way each race is equally (more or less) viable as a template, but the dhampir isn’t insanely overpowered. 

We want the characters to be balanced, and we also don’t want a Loxodon to suddenly have no idea how to use their trunk just because they’ve got a little bloodlust.

With that out of the way, let’s look at what makes a dhampir a dhampir. As a lineage, you get a really fun ability score set. A total of three points to spread out, either +2 and +1 or three +1s in ability scores of your choosing. This is going to open up just about any class as an option, a reason that many players have been choosing to play variant humans for quite some time now.

Your creature type is Humanoid. This is pretty standard, but it’s notable since you’re not truly Undead, and therefore gain no benefits or deficits that come with that typing.

Your size is an OPTION?! As of right now there isn’t any errata or sage advice conflicting this, so let’s talk about it. Independently of the race you base your dhampir off of, you get to choose the size of your new character, either small or medium.

This creates some hilarious and exciting options, like a size small goliath (who are typically 7-8 feet tall) or a size medium halfing. There is a lot of room to exploit things here, picking up racial feats that have size small as a requisite. Squat Nimbleness can be picked up by any small race for an extra 5ft walking speed, along with some other cool choices.

Deathless nature lets us not breathe, a huge benefit if it’s something you remember. Like carrying capacity, the necessity to breathe is often ignored, or at very least forgotten. I mean, you probably just became conscious of the fact that you are breathing right now. 

Not needing air in our lungs means being able to do some cool things like not breathe underwater, eliminating the need for spells or potions. It also allows us to hide inside of a bag of holding, which is an amazing tactic I highly suggest you use. Breathing creatures only last up to 10 minutes until suffocation, but you can stay in there indefinitely… have fun. 

Alright, we’re ramping up steadily here. Time for spider climb. Very similar to the spell of the same name, which is a 2nd level concentration spell, this ability lets us walk on walls and ceilings at 3rd level. The climbing speed really just holds us over until we get there.

The terrifying visage of a vampiric Gary Oldman hanging from ceilings comes to mind here, as well it should. You’re going to be able to do a lot of cool things, in and out of combat, with this ability.

For starters, you can get almost anywhere you need to, so long as a surface of any kind gets you there. But you can also lie outside of the reach of other creatures in combat to protect yourself from melee combat. You could also grapple a creature, carry them very high up and drop them for some wild damage output.

Finally, we come to the vampiric bite. At first glance, this is an amazing ability, but there are a few specifications which err on the side of annoying. 

First, the bite uses constitution instead of strength. Great for anybody with a low strength, but detrimental to someone like a barbarian or fighter with a monstrous strength score. Normally, this kind of clause includes the word ‘may’ so this is an option, not a must. Really, no one is going to have a negative CON modifier, but it is a bummer for strong builds.

Then, we have the extra abilities relying only on the piercing damage. If your bite’s damage is somehow increased with some other damage type, let’s say fire damage, you’re still only getting the 1d4 + your con modifier for either of the abilities. There are ways to make the piercing damage go up, but it’s important to note that it’s not just all damage that you use.

It is still an amazing racial trait though. With a really high con modifier and some optimization, you can heal a lot on a turn, or get a huge bonus to your next ability check or attack roll. A 17th level monk with max constitution could deal 30 piercing damage with their fangs on a critical hit, basically demolishing any upcoming attack rolls.

Dhampir Hungers and Origins

Not all dhampir are built equally. Different circumstances can lead to their creation, and they can have a variety of different hungers to fight off. The go to is one vampire parent and a thirst for blood, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

When creating your vampire character, consider how they came to be the way they are. Who is responsible for your new lineage? Were they a traditional blood sucker, or was their appetite a bit more… unusual? 

Of course, if you are turned in the midst of a campaign, these options might be more up to your DM, and are heavily reliant on which creatures you come into contact with. If not, use the following tables, or your own creativity, to come up with your unique brand of dhampir.

Dhampir Origins

d8Origin
1You are the reincarnation of an ancestor who was a vampiric tyrant.
2Your pact with a predatory deity, fiend, fey, or spirit causes you to share their hunger.
3You survived being attacked by a vampire but were forever changed.
4A parasite lives inside you. You indulge its hunger.
5Tragedy interrupted your transformation into an immortal.
6You are a diminished form of an otherworldly being. Slaking your hunger hastens your renewal.
7One of your parents was a vampire.
8A radical experiment changed your body, making you reliant on others for vital fluids.

Dhampir Hungers

D6Hunger
1Blood
2Flesh or Raw Meat
3Cerebral Spinal Fluid
4Psychic Energy
5Dreams
6Life Energy

What Classes are Well Suited to the Dhampir

Because of the ability scores bonuses, this lineage could really be well suited to any class, or even multiclass, build. Making the most optimized build boils down to making the best use of the traits available, which is normally only our secondary concern when looking at how race and class complement each other

Before we talk about the classes that make the most sense, let’s just talk broadly about the types of builds in general. Classes range from full-caster to fully martial classes, with quite a few stops in between. 

Melee-focused martial classes are where we’ll see the vampiric bite flourish. It won’t be hard for these characters to get up close and personal for some light snacking. They’re also going to have an easier time boosting the piercing damage for the added effects. 

Casters and ranged martial classes are going to make better use of the spider climb ability. Being away from the fight and having a safe ceiling or wall to cast spells from is an unheard of advantage. In general, this kind of traversal ability lets any ranged combatant be on top of things. 

The following are some ideas for classes that can improve upon or make good use of the abilities of the dhampir:

Druid

The druid’s wild-shape allows you to keep your racial abilities so long as the creature you change into is capable of them. Wild-shaping into anything with a stronger bite would imply that the vampiric bite is then improved as well.

Even if a DM rules that the d4 stays, you’re still going to have some fun vampire creature choices (maybe even a bat!).

There’s also the fact that any creature now gets spider climb. If a bear with glowing eyes walking around on a ceiling isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is. 

Monk

Monk weapons are defined as any simple melee weapon that doesn’t have the two-handed or heavy properties. This means your fangs qualify, boosting up your damage die every few levels, and potentially allowing you to use your dexterity instead of constitution. 

Monks also get some pretty amazing movement, which is only going to make your vampiric speed even more impressive, ceilings or no ceilings. 

Specifically, the Way of the Shadow monk is an amazing theme fit. Jump from shadow to shadow, become invisible in dim light and darker, and cast a few cool shadowy spells? Sign me all the way up.

Paladin

I love this, it’s the religious vampire trope in full effect with some fun mechanics. Vengeance, conquest, or oathbreaker paladins are going to be the best fit, with a lot of fear-based abilities to supplement your darker nature. Oathbreakers going as far as to have some necromancy powers at their disposal.

The fun part here is that you can smite with your fangs, smite bite if you will. The extra damage won’t be piercing, but it’s a good way to make it a more viable attack when you do want to bite for health or a roll bonus.

Ranger

I have to throw them in here because of the monster slayer conclave. Dhampir are often described as choosing a life of hunting monsters, and what better way to do that then to choose this subclass. 

There aren’t any substantial mechanical synergies, but if your life goal is to hunt down vampires, or some other entity, this subclass has everything you need.

Best Races to Turn into Dhampir

This whole section disregards my previous discontent for the ancestral legacy trait. If you decide to go against the RAW, this section doesn’t matter because all races will be just as viable.

If you are sticking with RAW, here’s a list of races that give you flying or swimming speeds. If you’re looking for specific skill proficiencies, focus on your background. Climbing speeds don’t matter for dhampir since they automatically get one.

RaceSpeed
AarakocraFlying 50ft (no medium or heavy armor)
Water GenasiSwimming 30ft
LizardfolkSwimming 30ft
TritonSwimming 30ft

Dhampir Appearance

Becoming a dhampir only causes small changes to the appearance of a creature. They tend to become a bit more pale, and their hair tends to darken. In comparison to other members of their native race, they have much more attractive features. 

Your dhampir origin will likely have some effect on how your appearance differs, if at all. You can use the origin from the table, or your own custom origin, to infer what sort of vampiric characteristics you might gain. You can also roll on the following table for help deciding.

d8Characteristic 
1Pale skin
2Dark hair
3Upturned nose, similar to that of a bat
4Elongated, pointed ears
5Glowing eyes of a red or yellow hue
6Long, clawed fingers
7Angular features
8Extremely noticeable fangs

You’ve got everything you need to make a dhampir now. Will you succumb to your hunger, or fight the forces that have cursed you? The decision is yours, and we wish you luck with this exciting character.

And as always, happy adventuring!