Vampires might be the most iconic monster in, well, all of fiction.
Bloodsucking fiends have been a part of human folklore pretty much as long as our species has been around, from the blood-drinking demon Lilith in ancient Persia to the bloated Strigoi from medieval eastern Europe, who visited their dead relatives dressed in burial shrouds.
It makes sense then, that vampires have been recurring villains in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns since the very first edition of the hobby, although D&D’s vampires are very much aligned with the 18th-century conception of vampires as velvet wearing, pale skinned, and aristocratic popularized by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and later on Nosferatu.
Facing down a vampire in D&D 5e is a terrifying prospect.
A fully fledged vampire is a formidable CR13 monster, capable of creating minions known as thralls, commanding creatures of the night, shapeshifting, hypnotism, and all manner of other powerful offensive and defensive abilities.
However, students of vampire lore will also find themselves well armed to escape or even defeat a vampire, as they share many of the limitations displayed by those in popular culture and myth.
Welcome to our guide to vampires.
We’re going to break down how vampires in D&D 5e work, how to fight them, and how dungeon masters can use them to great effect in their campaigns – as well as recommend a couple of great vampire-centric adventures from current and past editions to terrify and delight your players.
Vampires in D&D 5e
A vampire is a powerful type of undead that subsists on the blood of mortals.
Vampires are immortal and are able to exert great sway over the forces of darkness, commanding wolves, bats, and the weak-willed to do their bidding.
They possess fearsome physical strength, they can change their form at will, and their very presence causes the lands around their lairs to take on a shadowy, gothic guise.
Was that candle always so dribbly? I swear we oiled the hinges on those doors last week. Bats? At this latitude?
However, all that power, eternal life, and the ability to look really, really good in black comes at a price.
Not only must vampires in D&D 5e drink the blood of humanoids (virginity totally optional), but they’re also burdened with many of the same limitations as vampires in other media.
Deacon : “I think we drink virgin blood because it sounds cool.”
Vladislav : “I think of it like this. If you are going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had f***ed it.”
Source: What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Sunlight burns them, as does running water.
Vampires are bound to sleep each day in their own graves or crypts (a vampire not buried before they rise again must still return to the place where their mortal form perished to bury themselves under several feet of grave dirt), although a vampire can still take up a new residence if it brings enough of its own grave earth with it.
And a stake through the heart – while not the instant kill guaranteed in most vampire fiction – is still pretty much guaranteed to ruin their day.
Let’s take a closer look at the mechanics of this CR 13 monster.
Medium undead (shapechanger) , lawful evil
AC: 16 (Natural Armor)
HP: 144 (17d8 + 68)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR 18 (+4); DEX 18 (+4); CON 18 (+4); INT 17 (+3); WIS 15 (+2); CHA 18 (+4)
Saving Throws: DEX +9, WIS +7, CHA +9
Damage Resistances: Necrotic; Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks
Senses: Darkvision 120 ft., Passive Perception 17
Languages: The Vampire knows all the languages it knew in life
Challenge: 13 (10,000 XP)
Proficiency Bonus: +5
Shapechanger. As long as the vampire isn’t in direct sunlight or running water, it can spend an action to polymorph either into a Tiny bat or a Medium cloud of mist or back into its true form.
- While in bat form, the vampire can’t speak, its walking speed is 5 feet, and it has a flying speed of 30 feet. Its statistics, other than its size and speed, are unchanged. Anything it is wearing transforms with it, but nothing it is carrying does. It reverts to its true form if it dies.
- While in mist form, the vampire can’t take any actions, speak, or manipulate objects. It is weightless, has a flying speed of 20 feet, can hover, and can enter a hostile creature’s space and stop there. In addition, if air can pass through a space, the mist can do so without squeezing, and it can’t pass through water. It has advantage on Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution saving throws, and it is immune to all nonmagical damage, except the damage it takes from sunlight.
Legendary Resistance (3/Day). If the vampire fails a saving throw, it can choose to succeed instead.
Misty Escape. When it drops to 0 hit points outside its resting place, instead of dying, the vampire transforms into a cloud of mist. If the vampire is in sunlight or running water, it cannot transform. If it can’t transform, it is destroyed.
While it has 0 hit points in mist form, the vampire can’t revert to its vampire form, and it must reach its resting place within 2 hours or be destroyed.
Once in its resting place, it reverts to its vampire form. It is then paralyzed until it regains at least 1 hit point. After spending 1 hour in its resting place with 0 hit points, it regains 1 hit point.
Regeneration. The vampire regains 20 hit points at the start of its turn if it has at least 1 hit point and isn’t in sunlight or running water. If the vampire takes radiant damage or damage from holy water, this trait doesn’t function at the start of the vampire’s next turn.
Spider Climb. The vampire can climb difficult surfaces, including upside down on ceilings, without needing to make an ability check.
Vampire Weaknesses. The vampire has the following flaws:
Forbiddance. The vampire can’t enter a residence without an invitation from one of the occupants.
Running Water. The vampire takes 20 acid damage if it ends its turn in running water.
Sunlight Hypersensitivity. The vampire takes 20 radiant damage when it starts its turn in sunlight. While in sunlight, it has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks.
Multiattack. (Vampire Form Only). The vampire makes two attacks, only one of which can be a bite attack.
Unarmed Strike (Vampire Form Only). Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) bludgeoning damage. Instead of dealing damage, the vampire can grapple the target (escape DC 18).
Bite. (Bat or Vampire Form Only). Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one willing creature or a creature that is grappled by the vampire, incapacitated, or restrained. Hit: 7 (1d6 + 4) piercing damage plus 10 (3d6) necrotic damage.
The target’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the necrotic damage taken, and the vampire regains hit points equal to that amount. The reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest.
The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0. A humanoid slain in this way and then buried in the ground rises the following night as a vampire spawn under the vampire’s control.
Charm. The vampire targets one humanoid it can see within 30 feet of it. If the target can see the vampire, the target must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw against this magic or be charmed by the vampire.
The charmed target regards the vampire as a trusted friend to be heeded and protected.
Although the target isn’t under the vampire’s control, it takes the vampire’s requests or actions in the most favorable way it can, and it is a willing target for the vampire’s bite attack.
Each time the vampire or its allies do anything harmful to the target, it can repeat the saving throw, ending the effect on a success. Otherwise, the effect lasts 24 hours or until the vampire is destroyed, is on a different plane of existence than the target, or takes a bonus action to end the effect.
The called creatures arrive in 1d4 rounds, acting as allies of the vampire and obeying its spoken commands. The beasts remain for 1 hour, until the vampire dies, or until the vampire dismisses them as a bonus action.
The vampire can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below.
Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature’s turn. The vampire regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.
Move. The vampire moves up to its speed without provoking opportunity attacks.
Unarmed Strike. The vampire makes one unarmed strike.
Bite (Costs 2 Actions). The vampire makes one bite attack.
Let’s break down some of the vampire’s defining abilities.
First of all, its ability scores and proficiency bonus are fantastic, meaning it’s going to be a nightmare for spellcasters trying to force it to make saving throws.
If it fails, it still has three legendary resistances per day to just “nope” out of something that would really screw up its plans, like Hold Monster or Sleep.
This actually brings up two interesting points.
Firstly, vampires are, I think, the only undead that aren’t immune to a lot of the effects that can’t affect things like skeletons, ghouls, liches, etc.
Poisons, enchantments, and sleep spells are all solid plays against a vampire, although the average adventuring party might not think to try these options.
Secondly, vampires are smart. All my favorite types of monsters are the ones that let me flex my tactical muscles, and the vampire backs up its intelligence with a whole suite of nasty abilities.
Things like spider climb and shapechange (not to mention it can move as a legendary action without provoking opportunity attacks) mean that the vampire almost always gets to engage on its terms.
And, unless it likes its odds, the vampire won’t engage a party of heavily armed and bloodthirsty PCs.
Instead, its gaseous form, double-range darkvision, +9 Stealth bonus, and ability to call down a whole host of bats or wolves to run interference for it mean it’s more than well equipped to outmaneuver the PCs and pick them off one by one using either its Vampire Spawn minions or charm person.
If the vampire decides that it does want to get into combat, its claw attack packs a punch and comes with a grapple effect built in, which the vampire can use to whack-bite-drag away in repetition each round until none of its enemies have an hit points left.
Also, the fact that – as long as it avoids radiant damage, sunlight, holy or running water – the vampire regains 20 hit points every single turn means it can ambush a party, drain some max hit points, or turn into a bat or a cloud of gas and escape, ready to rinse and repeat in a few moments’ time.
Player Survival Guide: Why Fighting Vampires SUCKS
Honestly, preparation is the name of the game here.
A party that wanders into Dracula’s castle in the middle of the night, low on spell slots, and fresh out of holy water is going to have a very bad time – especially if they try to treat the vampire as a big bag of hit points like a dragon.
To kill a vampire, you have to come correct.
First, let’s talk gear and spells.
Vampires are hypersensitive to sunlight and, while you probably can’t bring the actual sun with you into the vampire’s crypt, having a cleric in your party is basically the next best thing.
As an aside, if you haven’t watched The Strain, which sees Guillermo del Toro reframe vampires as an epidemic, complete with awful writhing blood maggots and prehensile throat tentacles, you should.
The dialogue is beyond stupid, but the heroes in that show do a great job of tooling up with powerful UV lamps to bring the sun to the children of the night.
The (pretty high level) spells Dawn, Sunbeam, and Sunburst all create daylight, which will deal some juicy additional damage to a vampire.
Just be careful; sunlight is a mechanically protected term in 5e, and the spell Daylight does not create actual sunlight, which is weird but makes sense from a balance point of view.
Essentially, if your party is lower level, radiant damage and vials of holy water are your best bet. Both put a temporary freeze on a vampire’s regeneration, and enough of it will probably be enough to force one to retreat.
Old School Gear
The adventuring gear list in BX/OD&D definitely thought you’d be fighting a lot of vampires. It’s a relatively short list of supplies, but out of the 24 items you could buy, five of them were essential vampire-hunting kits.
Yeah, you could use a mirror to combat creatures like cockatrices and basilisks, but one of their primary uses was as a vampire-detector.
Also, wooden stakes and garlic? There’s no other monster that has so much gear specifically designed to counter it in a basic equipment list.
Amusingly enough, the first official module to feature a vampire as the main antagonist wasn’t published until almost a decade later in 1983.
Speaking of which, fighting a vampire is trickier than, say, a dragon, because you usually only have to fight a dragon once.
Come at a vampire unprepared, and you’ll rapidly find that, unless you know where all of its resting places are (any self-respecting vampire has a backup), and have a way to prevent it from escaping, you’re going to have to fight it again in barely over an hour.
You might get to have a short rest in that time, but the vampire is going to be back at 100% health.
If you figure out that you’re up against a vampire, there are some steps you can take:
- Only venture outside in daylight: Pretty obvious.
- Buy a house: Vampires and vampire spawn can’t enter a dwelling without permission. Getting property in your name is the best way to make sure that the vampires stay outside, although this doesn’t stop them trying to take you out with mortal servants.
- The river is your friend: While it won’t kill them, vampires will definitely try to avoid touching running water. Find out where the nearest river is and go jump in it if things get hairy.
- Find the lair: This isn’t going to be over until you stake and destroy the vampire in its resting place or find a way to cut it off from its resting place.
- Stick together: Aside from the obvious, vampires love to use their charm abilities to undermine a party, even turning one member against the others. Stay together, and maybe cast Dispel Magic on anyone acting suspiciously.
Strahd, Ravenloft, and Vampire Adventures
If you’re looking for some great vampire-centric content to run out of the box, Curse of Strahd might hands down be the best adventure module written for D&D 5e.
It perfectly blends gothic horror with nail-biting (neck-biting?) action and walks a very tricky line between a very freeform, sandbox-style campaign and a single, very clearly defined objective: kill Strahd.
Other than Curse of Strahd (and the additional sourcebook Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, which gives you more scope for running adventures in Strahd’s domain of Barovia), 5e is a little light on vampire content.
If you want a virtually inexhaustible supply of great (and not so great) vampire and horror modules, I’d advise turning your attention to D&D 2e, which spent most of the mid-80s to late 90s turning out one gothic horror adventure after another.
From the Shadows, Ship of Horror, Night of the Walking Dead, and Feast of Goblyns are all bursting with dark horror and opportunities to put your trusty wooden stake to good use.
DM’s Guide To Using Vampires in Your Next Campaign
Vampires make for a great focal point of any adventure or even a campaign because, by and large, your players are going to know exactly how screwed they are the second they realize what they’re up against.
Vampires are fun for players to square off against because, in a lot of ways, they’re predictable.
The vampire plot has remained largely unchanged for more than a hundred years at this point: they set up a lair, feed, extend their influence, and turn more and more people into vampires.
You can put your own spin on it, but at their core, the broad strokes of a vampire narrative are well trodden and comfortable.
By the way, classics are classics for a reason. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a classic vampire narrative in your D&D campaign.
In much the same way that it’s fun to explore what happens to the local area when a fire-breathing dragon moves into a nearby cave, it’s really fun to drop a vampire into a town or city and watch things unravel.
I think the most important thing to remember about running a vampire as a villain in D&D is that your players don’t just have to fight the vampire.
Vampires are smart and old and capable of bending people to their will. Any self-respecting vampire is going to use money and influence to just as much effect as a +9 bite attack.
Whatever confrontation your PCs walk into, the vampire has probably stacked the deck against them.
They’ve charmed local nobles and authority figures, bought vast amounts of property to allow themselves freedom of movement, established safe houses and bolt holes, or maybe even paid to make sure the local bat population is healthy – use your imagination.
Similarly, in combat, a vampire isn’t going to just mindlessly run forward and impale itself on the PCs’ swords. First, it’s going to get them talking, offer to strike a bargain, threaten them subtly, and maybe even win them over a little bit.
One of my favorite things about vampires is that, while they’re unrepentantly evil bloodsuckers, they’re also sophisticated, charming, and downright cool.
Maybe the PCs believe that the vampire thinks they’re cool too. Use this opportunity to charm PCs one by one until the party is, like, totally cool with the vampire using them as a mobile juice box.
The vampire will only resort to violence as a last resort and will flee at the very first sign things aren’t going its way – which it can do with ease using its legendary move action, legendary resistances, and regeneration.
Ideally, an adventure based around fighting a vampire is like a very dangerous game of cat and mouse where no one’s entirely sure who’s the cat and, if the PCs are the cat, then why does the mouse have a gun?
There should be repeated encounters. It should be frustrating. Heart wrenching maybe. There’s nothing quite like seeing a treasured NPC or even a deceased player character return as a vampire spawn.
That’s everything we’ve got for you today on vampires, how to fight them, and why you should use one in your next campaign.