This review is of the reviewer’s own copy of the trade paperback printed in 1991 by TSR. Reprints and e-books are available.
Are you thinking of running a campaign featuring vampires, but you aren’t sure how to go about it? Maybe you already know that you don’t want to make them too arch like Bela Lugosi, too silly like Leslie Nielsen and certainly not as dull, yet sparkly as Robert Pattinson. However, you aren’t sure where to turn for a unique take on a vampire that your players aren’t going to be bored with. You can’t go wrong with basing your vampire on Jander Sunstar in ‘Vampire of the Mists’ by Christie Golden.
Jander Sunstar is a gold, or sun elf who was, in life, a neutral good fighter who is a follower of Lathander Morninglord. Bored of his native island of Evermeet, he leaves in search of adventure. ‘Vampire of the Mists’ tells how he becomes a vampire against his will in flashbacks to Jander’s adventuring days that could be a good template for creating a campaign in which one of the adventurers becomes a vampire after the game starts, especially the flashback in chapter twelve. Unlike most vampires in these story-worlds of Forgotten Realm’s Toril and Ravenloft’s Barovia, Jander somehow manages to hang on to his faith and struggles valiantly to remain good while still having to satisfy the needs of a vampire.
Count Strahd Von Zorovich stands as a stark contrast to Jander, at least on the surface, seeming to be the very epitome of the Count Dracula archetype. He’s a lawful evil necromancer who was once an equally evil human fighter who slaughtered almost countless victims in the name of conquest. The story of how he becomes a vampire makes him at the same time despicable, yet perhaps a bit sympathetic as well. In a way, his situation is something of a dark mirror of Jander’s. A dungeon master would do well to consider making enemy vampires in the campaign as complex as Strahd appears in this book.
The story is set primarily in what seems to be the province of Barovia, but turns out to be a twisted, evil copy of it on a demiplane in the Shadowfell. Barovia is in many ways similar to the version of Transylvania that appears in most Dracula stories with long, dark nights; short, overcast days; frequent storms and an ever-present fog or mist. There are little villages of fearful and distrustful people retreating into their humble cottages and barring the doors and windows at night. Roving bands of gypsies, led by fortune-telling women visit now and again to trade. Most characters and places have Eastern European sounding names. It’s a very Gothic setting that can seem somewhat normal in the daytime, but there’s always a sense that something isn’t quite right.
There are several very interesting characters in the village of Barovia and who come from one of the gypsy caravans who would make excellent NPC. Some could even be the basis for a player character, especially Sacha who is an interesting protagonist in his own right. He’s a half-gypsy cleric of Lathander caught in the middle of feud between the gypsies and the townspeople. His complex relationship with Jander is a fascinating complication in the main plot.
There’s a pervading evil that makes this place different from Toril and that makes creatures behave differently than they might elsewhere. That the Dark Powers can whisk people away to this demiplane from any other place, including settings like Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Greyhawk and Eberron (as well as unofficially any setting you choose, or create yourself), makes it an ideal location to add to almost any campaign.
Then, there’s Castle Ravenloft. It’s a blend of location and character in and of itself. It is described in such fine detail in ‘Vampire of the Mists’ that a DM could use this book, along with an adventure supplement, such as AD&D’s ‘Ravenloft’ by Tracy and Laura Hickman, to create a vivid setting for players’ adventures in and around the castle. There are also adventure modules featuring Ravenloft in almost every D&D edition, including 5e’s ‘Curse of Strahd’ by Chris Perkins and Jeremy Crawford, all of which would be made all the richer by including details from this novel. Players could create their own versions of many of the events that happen in the castle in ‘Vampire of the Mists’. Will they handle them the same way Jander did, or will they come up with surprisingly different solutions? You could include these scenes in your campaign and find out.
‘Vampire of the Mists’ was the first novel published in the Ravenloft setting. Many more have been written since then. Two of them by P.N. Elrod, ‘I, Strahd: The Memoir of a Vampire’ and ‘I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin’, might also be especially helpful in creating a fascinating vampire themed campaign.
‘Vampire of the Mists’ is also a finely written novel in its own right with plot twists and surprises that even a reader very familiar with vampire stories won’t see coming.