|Zombies? Nope - vampires! The Strain.|
To quote my teenage daughter, I've become "low-key obsessed" with Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain. I binge watched the four season TV series on Hulu, and am working my way through the source novels (I'm on Book 2). The novels were written with the help of Chuck Hogan, a spy novel author, and so they read like page turner thrillers with a horror twist. The TV series presents a squirmy, gruesome re-envisioning of the vampire myth with plenty of visceral body horror. It's a perfect take on vampires for your LOTFP game, and in time for Halloween if you're looking for some horror reading or viewing.
The books have been out since 2009 and the series came to TV in 2014, so I'm not spoiling any ground-breaking new show as I discus the general plot. Be warned, some discussion of the plot will follow. The series starts with the arrival of a dead airplane landing in JFK Airport, a 21st century re-imagination of The Demeter crashing into Whitby along the English coast. In The Strain, the 200+ dead passengers on the airplane are infected with vampirism, going through a biological transformation while their bodies are sent to various morgues around the city. They awaken at night and wander off to infect their loved ones and passersby, and suddenly a vampire plague begins to quickly spread across the Five Boroughs.
New York is honeycombed with subways and transit tunnels that give the vampires places to hide during the day, and the plot features wealthy opportunistic "human familiars" teaming up with the vampire lord, The Master, by spreading misinformation and slowing down the response of government agencies. Instead of an apocalyptic zombie plague, New York faces a vampire plague, which spreads beyond the city, and the series eventually goes full-on apocalyptic, with nuclear winter providing safety from UV radiation for a dystopian future ruled by the vampires. It's bonkers.
The Strain upends the glamor that has claimed hold of the vampire myth - there are no sparkling, handsome or beautiful sexy vampires here. They are victims of a fast-acting, incurable, mutagenic virus, spread by worms, that rewrites their biology to turn them into giant leeches or ticks - they eventually lose their hair, sex organs, and even their nose and ears will wither away. Instead of fangs, The Strain vampires (called the Strigoi in the series) have a six foot mouth stinger that lashes out and attaches itself to a victim, followed by a slow glug glug glug as it siphons out all of the victim's blood. Anyone bit by the stinger is infected with the vampire worms, and anyone engaging in combat with the Strigoi risks getting infected if splashed by the vampire's white blood. There are many moments of body horror in the series as wriggling worms burrow into open wounds or eyeballs to infect a new host.
|From the cover of Book 1 The Strain. It's gruesome.|
Classic D&D vampires had that weird problem where they've got the blood-drinking fang equipment, but really what they want to do is touch you in melee and drain life energy levels. The Strigoi represent a terrifying way to put blood draining vampires back into your game in an action-oriented style that plays well with classic fantasy and D&D style combat.
Strigoi (Munchers - the newly formed)
Unarmored, Move 120'. Hit Dice 1-4. Attack range 6' doing 1-4 damage + specials, Morale 8. Chaotic.
Newly formed Strigoi start with 1 HD and gain a HD each week they're able to feed. There are powerful free-willed strigoi (Lieutenants and Ancients) that are significantly more capable than "munchers" - we'll tackle them another time. Munchers have animal instincts, with an innate desire to return home and feed on their loved ones. However, they are connected through a hive-mind back to the Master, who can force groups of Munchers to apply tactics or carry out more complicated actions as the situation dictates. Strigoi have 60' infravision and heightened senses, including hearing - sensitive enough to hear nearby heart-beats.
In melee, the Muncher uses it's 6' stinger attack. A hit target must save vs paralysis or be helpless while the muncher drains constitution at the rate of 1d6 per round until the target dies. The stinger is unarmored and can be severed in combat by an ally with an edged weapon attack doing 2 or more points of damage. Anyone hit by a stinger in combat is infected with capillary worms (see below).
|Glug-glug-glug. This should terrify any D&D character.|
Strigoi are vulnerable to silver weapons, and must make a morale check at -2 when confronted with silver weapons and each time they are hit by silver. They will likewise shun silver mirrors, as such mirrors reveal their true nature (undead and riddled with parasitic worms). They are destroyed in sunlight.
Strigoi take half damage from normal weapons due to their mutated biology. (Alternatively, I suppose you could say any damage roll in the lower half of the damage range is ignored, while a roll in the upper half represents a hit to a vulnerable area like the neck or head - whatever is less fiddly and more fun for your table. I like the latter.)
Each time a Strigoi is killed in melee combat, roll a d6 - on a 1 result, the victor is splashed by Strigoi blood (including the parasitic capillary worms) which seek to burrow into the victim's flesh and cause infection. Like rot grubs, the victim must immediately apply flame to the worms (1-6 hit points of damage) or a worm burrows into their flesh. At that point, only a cure disease spell can end the transformation into a Strigoi. (In the series, modern UV lights can also destroy capillary worms). Anyone hit by a Strigoi stinger is automatically infected by worms.
The disease weakens the host over a 24 hour period as the capillary worms multiply and overwhelm the victim's system, colonizing the victim's organs and growing the vampiric hinged mouth and throat stringer. Strigoi have heightened metabolisms and "burn hot" for purposes of infravision, a possible way of detecting them at a distance if your game uses infravision. The newly formed Strigoi will arise the following evening and return home, seeking to infect their loved ones.
Although the TV series focuses on a biological, viral explanation for the Strigoi, there are mystical and alchemical elements in both the show and novels that involve a Judeo-Christian mythological view of the vampires and their origin. Their history is recounted in a book of esoteric lore called the Occido Lumen. While the Strigoi disease appears to be a purely biological phenomenon, they are actually a supernatural plague and count as true undead, meaning they can be turned by clerics with a Turn Undead spell or ability. Munchers are turned as Wights.
Potion of Longevity Ingredient
In the series, 3rd century alchemists created a formula to leverage the capillary worms as a component in a potion of longevity - more to come as I get deeper in the books.
I don't think I'm done with The Strain or the Strigoi yet, as I read further I'll likely provide some stats for the powerful free-willed "Lieutenants" and the terrifying "Master". It's the Halloween season, after all.
Note: All the images are from The Strain TV series, subject to copyright, and used here only under fair use as part of a review and discussion of the work.