Vampires, Games & Anita Blake

Vampires aren’t myth or fable; as long as they register with appropriate government agencies, they’re treated, in most ways, like anyone else. They are covered under the human rights clauses of any number of international treaties, and the US Senate is currently debating giving them full voting rights. For those vampires that can’t seem to give up the habit of killing humans…well, the “three strikes” rule has a slightly different connotation, here. Zombies, ghosts, and poltergeists exist as well. Many government and private agencies are capable of laying these lost souls to rest or raising them in the first place, if necessary. They may be called upon to clarify a will, to find out where the silver is buried, or to take a statement for use in criminal investigations.

Werewolves and other lycanthropes are still stories with which to scare the kids, but in this world, lycanthropes are the victims of a long-misunderstood disease, like AIDS in the early 80’s or leprosy in the Middle Ages. Weres try to keep to themselves; you don’t want to somehow catch lycanthropy from one and fall under their social (and sometimes legal) onus, and you certainly wouldn’t want one teaching your children. Nevertheless, werewolves (and -rats, and -leopards) are people, too, and they’re out there.

Vodoun priests, raisers of the dead (animators), necromancers, psychics and other magi are not faerie tales only fit for the credulous: you can get a degree in Preternatural Biology from many accredited universities in the US, and some schools offer theoretical and applied magical studies, as well.

Welcome to the world of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, sometimes known as the Executioner, professional animator and licensed vampire hunter. As a setting, the series lends itself well to most of the White Wolf product line, a modified Shadowrun game, a modern-day D20 campaign (especially considering the Third Edition vampire and lycanthrope templates), and any number of GURPS titles.

So, it’s not quite a world of darkness. More of a world that has quite a few dangerous nooks and crannies. The shadows are still there, dark as ever, but the average Jane knows enough about the Things That Go Bump In The Night to take a few healthy (and useful) precautions.
The Anita Blake,
Vampire Hunter series

    Guilty Pleasures (1993)
    The Laughing Corpse (1994)
    Circus of the Damned (1995)
    The Lunatic Café (1996)
    Bloody Bones (1996)
    The Killing Dance (1997)
    Burnt Offerings (1998)
    Blue Moon (1998)
    Obsidian Butterfly (2000)
    Narcissus in Chains (2001)

Each of the ten books in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series is a good mix of hard-boiled mystery, modern fantasy and lightly kinked sex: think Mike Hammer or Kinsey Milhone as the main character of a Charles de Lint/Anne Rice bodice-ripper; Mickey Spillane’s V is for Vampire. A word of warning to potential readers: the bulk of Hamilton’s characters are intensely sexual creatures, and this aspect of the series may put some readers off. The fact remains that Hamilton has created a world that is ripe with serious gaming possibilities.

The Marks
When a vampire wants a loyal bodyguard and day watcher, a competent servitor, and someone with which to pass the aeons, in some myths he or she would create a ghoul or similar beastie. Not here. An old vampire can actually share some of his or her essence with a human, making what is known as a human servant (as opposed to an animal servant, which we’ll look at in a bit). This transfer of essence is called a vampiric mark, and there are four stages to the process. Each of the marks adds another link between vampire and human. The human ages much more slowly, may tap into the superhuman vitality of their master, and gains increased immunity to vampiric mental powers.

The vampire does well by the exchange, of course. The first mark establishes the relationship. The second allows the vampire to perceive the sensoria of the human, and to enter the human’s dreams for communication purposes. The third allows the vampire to use the life energies of the human at a distance, as it were. The fourth and last mark is the most intimate of bonds, and with its placement a true master-and-servant pair is created.

An old vampire would also be wise to find a lycanthrope with which to share energies, and could do so by placing the four marks on a potential animal servant. However, the master/animal bond is similar to, but not the same, as the marks placed on a human: it’s not nearly so intimate. The partners will be aware of one another, but not capable of say, tasting each other’s meals, or visiting during the other’s dreams. A vampire with both human and animal servants is called a triumvirate, and is a powerful force in preternatural society.

A second vampire may cancel the first’s marks by placing marks of his or her own on the subject. The death of a vampire cancels all active marks that he’s placed.

Beautiful People and Other Dangerous Things
Anita Blake, the main character of the series, is a fascinating study in the way a character can grow and change from book to book. Guilty Pleasures, the first in the series, shows us a wisecracking, Dr. Seuss-quoting animator who is occasionally called on to knock off the odd vampire. Animators, Inc. pays the bills, but monster work comes with the territory. Anita is tough, feminine, and a lot of fun. She changes quite a bit over the course of the ten books, and not always for the better. The character is engaging, however, and it’s easy to see why the series remains popular. If one wanted to apply her in a White Wolf campaign setting, such as Vampire the Masquerade, Anita-as-NPC might have the advantages of True Faith and Iron Will. In any game, she’s small, fast, and a crack shot.

Guilty Pleasures is also the first appearance of Jean-Claude, a vampire in the St. Louis area. JC (as Hamilton fans affectionately know him) becomes quite entangled with the inimitable Ms. B in The Laughing Corpse. Jean-Claude is of the vampiric lineage known as La Belle Morte (The Beautiful Death): he’s exquisitely handsome, immeasurably seductive, and quite dangerous in his own right. Jean-Claude has the distinction of being the only other character to appear in every one of the Anita Blake books. Anita has quite a time with this undead Adonis, who has a reputation that makes Casanova look like a Jesuit priest. As an NPC, Jean-Claude is the vampire’s vampire. If he makes an appearance, he’s smarter, wittier, and sexier than anyone else in the room.

Conversely, Edward, AKA Ted Forester, is definitely not a lot of fun. A distant associate of Ms. Blake, Edward is a bounty hunter (specializing in monsters that walk on two legs) and a sociopath of the first water. Killing vampires and other preternatural monsters isn’t just a job to Edward: he likes it. He likes it a lot. The implication is that Edward found killing humans a bit too easy. He likes the prospect of hunting, torturing, and killing things that look and scream like humans, but that don’t die so easily. Edward makes his first appearance in Circus of the Damned, and turns up now and again in later works. Edward is, notably, one of the very few people that Anita actually fears. In a campaign, GMs should play Edward cold. Let the PCs know that with this guy, one false move is two too many.

Vampire Computer Games and Downloads

Circus of the Damned also marks the first time we meet Richard Zeeman, Anita’s werewolf friend. Richard, apart from getting furry with great regularity, teaches in a local school. Due to his choice of career, he’s had to stay in the closet about his lycanthropy. He also has great respect for all life, which makes things difficult for him with the local werewolves. Richard is an alpha, clearly a dominant within the pack, and the others expect him to either challenge and kill the current alpha, or to follow the alpha’s lead. Neither option has merit, so he’s a bit stuck. Richard is the perfect foil to Edward: one is a monster holding tightly to his humanity; the other, a human who is more of a monster than those that he hunts. Anita’s trials and tribulations with Richard are the subject of several books in the series.

The good guys in the white hats make an appearance early on in the series. Guilty Pleasures introduces Rudolph “Dolph” Storr, the archetypal good cop. He’s the honorable police captain in charge of the St. Louis area Regional Preternatural Investigation Team, the Spook Squad with jurisdiction over crimes committed by the monsters. If there’s something weird, and it don’t look good, call RPIT. Dolph and Anita get along fairly well, though she’s closer to other members of the team. Dolph has hidden depths, and is something of an enigma. If Dolph makes an appearance in a campaign, PCs should wonder how such a good cop got stuck with such a low-prestige position.

For every Batman, there’s a Robin. Anita’s sidekick-in-training is a fresh-faced country boy named Larry Kirkland. He’s learning the animator business from Anita, and doing a good job of it, too. Larry, and to some extent, Dolph, is Anita’s moral weathervane: when she says or does something that the kid finds questionable, Anita ruminates on it for a while, and occasionally agonizes over her loss of innocence. In an ongoing game, Larry might serve as a source of information, or Animators, Inc. might send the new kid out with the PCs.

Organizations and Affiliated Groups
Regional Preternatural Investigation Team, AKA RPIT (“rip it”), AKA the Spook Squad
RPIT is one of several governmental organizations that deals with preternatural phenomena. In this case, they are the police force tasked with investigation of crime involving preternaturals. Widely considered to be a punishment detail, RPIT is still in its fledgling stages of funding, prestige, and organization. In many campaigns, RPIT may be the PCs first line of contact for an emerging plot line (“Thank you, ma’am. How well would you say you knew the deceased?”).

The word “regional” in the title strongly implies that there are more of these organizations in the USA, but Anita & Co. deal with the team based in St. Louis. It stands to reason that there are other, similar groups, not unlike the FBI, Scotland Yard, and Interpol.

The Church of Eternal Life
A peculiarly preternatural religion, the Church of Eternal Life promises exactly what the name says: there’s no faith required, no waiting, and no questions. Want to know what it’s like to be dead? Ask a church member! Thinking of themselves as more mainstream than the average undead, they even recruit from door to door. “Hello. Do you have a few moments to discuss the possibility of living forever?”

Lycanthrope Groups
Wererats, werewolves, and wereleopards are some of the extant lycanthrope varieties. They form themselves into hierarchical groups, with rat kings and alpha werewolves at the top. Wererats make a cameo in Guilty Pleasures, and werewolf society is explored in some detail in The Lunatic Café and Blue Moon. Lycanthropes seem to thrive only within an organized society, to the point where lone wolves, leopards, and so on will attach themselves to whatever power base presents itself, whether it be a vampiric court, a powerful mage, or a different clan of lycanthropes. Weres will even imprint on a normal human when it’s demonstrated that the human can protect them.

Places: Left your heart in San Francisco? Leave your blood in St. Louis!
St. Louis is the main setting of the series, though Anita & Friends do get out of town every now and then. Many of the series titles lend themselves to locations in said books. Guilty Pleasures, for example, is a male strip club staffed by vampires. Leave your cross at the door; they have a holy item check girl. The Laughing Corpse is an undead comedy club; the Circus of the Damned is an indoor amusement park/arcade with a staff best described as unusual; The Lunatic Café is a coffeehouse with a large clientele of lycanthropes. Other places around St. Louis include Dead Dave’s, a bar and grill run by an undead ex-cop; The Leather Den, an bar for gay lycanthropes into BDSM; the Full Dark Beauty Salon, service for and by vampires, and the Vault. Not a club, the Vault houses the bodies of those slain by vampires. Victims that rise again are treated with kid gloves until they come to a measure of acceptance of their new “lives.” All accommodations are reinforced with steel, and include a feeding tank to take the edge off the new vampires’ bloodlust.

Guilty Pleasures concerns a serial killer that seems to have vampires as his chosen victims. The most powerful local vampire wants Anita to find the killer. The Laughing Corpse is about a rogue animator who has raised a zombie. An old zombie. So old that a human sacrifice was required. Anita has to stop the rogue, but she has to find him first. Circus of the Damned is about a vampire turf war, with Anita serving both as pawn and the grand prize. Several notable characters first appear in this pivotal.

The Lunatic Café has the local pack of werewolves coming to Anita for help. A number of them are missing, and Anita’s on the case. Bloody Bones concerns a two-hundred-year-old land dispute and some sort of rogue vampire. Anita must solve the one and find the other, before the killings continue. The Killing Dance has Anita as the main target. Someone has put out a hit on Ms. Blake to the tune of five hundred thousand dollars, and she goes to Jean-Claude and Richard for assistance. Burnt Offerings has an arsonist focusing on businesses owned by vampires, and he, she, or it isn’t just burning buildings. Blue Moon sees Richard jailed for assault and attempted rape. The full moon is due in the next few days and if he’s still behind bars when it rises, things will go from bad to worse.

Obsidian Butterfly is the first time Edward calls in a favor from Ms. Blake. He’s stumped by a series of gruesome murders in New Mexico, and the killings are getting more frequent. This time, the cavalry wears low heels. Narcissus in Chains has two wereleopards abducted from the title club, with Anita trying to find them.

Things To Do In St. Louis When You’re Dead
The Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series has a lot to recommend it to both the gamer and the casual reader. Hamilton gives the reader engaging plots, vital characterizations, and fascinating commentary on the society of the monstrous. The gamer gets interesting organizations, fun locations, and tons of background material for the modern monster on the go. These books are an untapped vein of flavor and color for any modern horror campaign, just waiting for a discerning player or game master to wander by to sink in a tooth or two. Enjoy.