This ain’t Twilight! Michael and Peter Spierig’s recent release Daybreakers takes traditional vampires and reminds us just how bloody, violent and cool vampires actually are. The visual style and the futuristic setting feel like a combination of Gattaca, The Matrix and Minority Report, and the vampires are reminiscent of Blade, 28 Days Later and 30 Days of Night. None of these vampires are cute, cuddly, pretty-boys. They’re monsters pure and simple.
I originally saw this movie at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September 2009, and ever since then I’ve been thinking of how this idea can be applied to a D&D adventure. You have a complete society that is made up of monsters, and in this case they still try to act and behave like humans. This is the part that really intrigued me as a DM.
Before I go any further I feel obligated to provide a quick plot summary and review of the film so that readers who haven’t seen the movie, or perhaps haven’t even heard of it, have a better understanding of where I’m going with this idea.
Set in 2019 the world’s population has been infected by vampirism. Only 5% of the population remains human and most of them are harvested for their blood. Society has advanced considerably now that everyone is a vampire, but everything takes place at night. Homes and offices have no windows and cars are equipped with daytime shielding and cameras.
Edward Dalton (played by Ethan Hawke) is a scientist working for the corporation that supplies the world with blood (its CEO, Charles Bromley, played wonderfully by Sam Neil). While Dalton attempts to synthesis human blood, the vampire society is on the verge on collapse as the dwindling supply of humans die. But Dalton is a reluctant vampire and is sympathetic to humans. He meets Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (played by Willim Dafoe), a human who has been cured of his vampirism and together they try to create a cure that can be massed produced.
This film is a good balance of sci-fi, horror and action thriller. I’d strongly recommend it if you’re a fan of traditional vampire movies or just a fellow sci-fi nerd.
Getting back to the D&D connection, I’m interested in exploring how a society of monsters might work in a typical fantasy RPG. A lot of materials are already out there exploring the ecology of various monsters. Books like the Draconomicon focus exclusively on the way in which monsters (in this case dragons) have evolved to fit into the game world. But this isn’t exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about.
What if you take a random monster for the Monster Manual and create a town full of them. Now give them the traditional societal norms and conventions that you’d expect to find in a human village or town. How would that work?
Imagine Ettins or Githyanki or Minotaurs behaving like humans and peacefully working together to keep their community running. They’d do all of the day-to-day jobs and chores from tilling fields to running the tavern to operating a specialty shop. Every task necessary to keep the town functional and prosperous is done by the monsters.
I’ll admit that it’s highly unlikely that this would happen naturally, but in a magic-rich fantasy setting anything’s possible.
Perhaps the most interesting question is how visitors will react upon finding this strange community. Will they just accept it as one more strange thing in a world of diverse creatures or will they feel obligated to discover why such a town exists? Will the PCs assume that because the town is full of monsters that they have to fight everyone they see or will they judge the townsfolk by their actions rather than their monstrous heritage?
In Daybreakers the monsters try to act and behave like humans but as the movie progresses we see that some of them have become the evil, horrifying monsters that we expect vampires to be. In the monsterous community I describe above, it’s entirely possible that they began as an idyllic community but have since veered back to whatever their traditional society is like. For example, Drows who chose to live on the surface, embrace order and live peacefully might begin slipping back to their chaotic, back-stabbing ways.
So if you venture out to see Daybreakers, or if you saw it this past weekend, think about how the setting of this great vampire movie can inspire your next D&D campaign. There’s plenty to draw on if you’re just interesting in the vampire angle. But for DMs it should remind you that monsters aren’t just wandering vagabonds. They have their own home and their own society. All monsters came from somewhere and imagining what that somewhere might look like is a great way to start an adventure.
Daybreakers: 9 on a d10