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Like Vampires but Spelled Funny
While a vampire is far too powerful to put into the character’s hands as a playable race, dhampirs fit the power level just fine with all the style, black eyeliner, and edgy fangs you could want. Dhampirs have been stalking DnD for quite some time, sometimes as monsters, sometimes as playable characters, but finally with the release of Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft we have the opportunity to play them in 5th edition. Grab your darkest and broodiest coat and a hunk of some very raw and bloody steak as we go through everything you need to know.
What’s a Dhampir?
Dhampir used to be just sort of “half vampires” but this new edition broadens them out to include all sorts of horror tropes that might induce a dark hunger. You could literally be the child of a vampire, or you could be cursed with vampiric magic somehow, the result of a failed ritual, have a very hungry parasite, or anything really. The important defining characteristic is that you’re imbued with some spooky power at the cost of a specific and very difficult to resist craving.
While you don’t get any hard and fast rules for how your cravings work mechanically, but you’ve got the munchies for something or other sourced from living beings. By far the most common dark craving of choice is blood, but it can be anything really. It could be simply raw flesh, maybe something as intangible as psychic energy, but in general it’s got to be something you drain out of people and usually not in a nice way.
You’re not under any compulsion to feed on this stuff mechanically, but from a roleplaying standpoint you should either be regularly indulging or resisting your dark urges through extreme willpower. Play it off as a stalwart vigil against your worst instincts or perhaps just go ham as a blood fiend, it’s up to you.
Dhampir no longer have one unified source and instead can have any sort of horror trope origin you can come up with. It’s intentionally vague so that you can tailor your dark past to fit your character however you’d like. One vampiric parent and one non-vampiric parent is a standard option. Also, vampire bites or exposure to something magically vampire themed are solid options. You don’t have to be boxed into the “vampire” tropes though if you don’t want to be. You could be a cursed dream eater, an emotional vampire ‘ala “What We Do in The Shadows”, a ravening ghoul, or even just a dude with a rare magical eating disorder.
You could even turn into a dhampir mid-campaign (though as a note to DM’s I recommend discussing this with a player ahead of time). Dhampirs aren’t a “race”, rather they’re a lineage which works a bit differently.
Lineage Not Race
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced lineages as a sort of alternative to races, and dhampirs are designed as a lineage as opposed to a race which is a bit more complicated.
You can take a lineage later through roleplaying (say you get bit by a vampire, suddenly you could be a dhampir) which means you could easily be a dhampir human, or a halfling dhampir, or a dragonborn dhampir. I found that the book explained this whole situation poorly so but you basically have 3 options for playing a dhampir:
- Create a dhampir during character creation, using only the Dhampir stats.
- Create a dhampir during character creation, using another race’s stats that are then modified by the dhampir stats.
- Create a character using a different race, who then becomes a dhampir during the campaign and has their stats modified to dhampir stats.
Dhampir Characters in Major Pop Culture
What exactly constitutes a dhampir is a bit nebulous but the “half-vampire” trope is all over the place. Alucard from Castlevania is the son of Dracula and a human, Blade of movie and comic stardom gained immunity to vampirism and some vampiric traits because his mother was bitten while pregnant with him. Nezuko Kamado from Demon Slayer (you may know her as the anime girl always seen with bamboo in her mouth) is a good example of a dhampir with a demonic source who resists her demonic urge to consume human flesh through willpower.
As this is a lineage rather than a race what exact features a dhampir has are a bit malleable. We also can’t print the exact rules here (WotC wants you to buy a book) but we can paraphrase the rules so you get the gist and then explain what they’ll mean for your new dhampir character.
Ability Score Increase
If you make your dhampir from scratch, you have to follow the lineage rules for picking out your ability scores. Lineages don’t have presets on your ability scores, instead you simply put +2 in an ability score of your choice and +1 in another ability score of your choice. Or, you can put +1 in three different ability scores.
Where it gets weird is what happens if you take a race and transform into a dhampir? The book uses some very loose and funky wording, but best I can figure you’ll have to replace the existing ability score bonuses of your race with the “pick whatever” mode of a lineage.
In a very strange wording, you “choose” to either be small or medium when you create your dhampir. This is obviously to accommodate any race that you want to use as your “original” form from before you were turned into a dhampir.
You get to make this “choice” on your size when you gain the lineage, and the way it’s worded you could actually choose to distort your “base race” size if you wanted. So bizarrely, this feature allows you to create things like small-sized goliath dhampirs, or medium-sized halfling dhampirs.
Dhampirs get to be quicker than most, and you’ll be moving around at 35 feet.
This is the “big” part of your original “base race” you get to keep while everything else gets chucked in the bin. If your base race gave you any skill proficiencies, you keep them. If your base race had any alternate movement speeds (climb, fly, swim) you get to keep those too.
If your base race didn’t grant you any proficiencies or special movement types, you instead get to gain proficiency with any two skills of your choice.
This was a very strange way of doing things that weirdly incentivizes you to choose a “base race” that grants alternate movement speeds and ideally proficiencies as well. Dhampir have their own climbing ability but tacking on a fly or swim speed is a major improvement. Two skills isn’t a bad trade off either so it’s not obligatory, but I anticipate a lot of “triton or aarakocra dhampir” in the future from people trying to game the system. For reference the 5e races that grant either flying or swimming speeds are: aarakocra, genasi (water), lizardfolk, merfolk, and tritons.
As a newly bitten creature of the night, you get darkvision.
Nothing special here, but darkvision is always nice to have.
A feature that may or may not prove useful depending on how creative you get with it, as a dhampir you don’t need to breathe, you undead thing you.
This means you can “hold your breath” underwater indefinitely, you don’t have to breath in nasty toxic gasses, and you can even survive in a lot of extradimensional spaces like the inside of a bag of holding. You’ll be surprised how often this can come up, and it’s particularly useful if you pick out a base race that includes a swimming speed for some aquatic undead shenanigans.
You get a climb speed equal to your movement speed (so 35 feet), but that’s just the start. Once you reach 3rd level you get actual spider climbing, which means you can do the cool vampire thing of just walking straight up a wall without even using your hands.
It’s constant, doesn’t take any uses, and man, I’m betting WotC and DMs everywhere are going to regret it. With constant permanent spider climbing, you get free reign to be obnoxious with ranged weapons. Simply build your dhampir with some form of ranged attacks in mind, and whenever combat breaks out you can run right up the nearest wall or tree and take potshots from the ceiling. In a lot of combat situations, you’ll be all but untouchable.
What vampire is complete without a bite? As a dhampir you get your own toothy maw and you get one of the most interesting and unique natural attacks we’ve ever gotten in 5e. It’s only a 1d4 natural attack, but it strangely uses Constitution for attack and damage rolls. Then, if you make the attack while at half your hit points or below, you get two options for additional effects to your bite:
- You can choose to heal an amount equal to the damage your bite dealt.
- You gain a bonus equal to the damage your bite dealt to your next attack roll or ability check.
You get to use those 2nd optional features up to a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and those uses recharge on a long rest.
That first option can be pretty useful at early levels if you’re close to death, and that second ability will be useful for a very long time, almost justifying using such a low damage output natural attack. However, since you can only pick from those options when you’re at half hit points or below, you basically never want to use it when you’re healed up.
In addition, one thing you may have noticed missing from this list was a “languages” trait, and that’s because the new lineages system doesn’t have them. Instead, you know common and one language “you and your DM agree on”. This is obviously pretty squishy, but it’s an effort to let the DM dictate the languages of their setting rather than your racial selections. However, if you start your dhampir build as a race, you just keep the languages that race had.
Your race actually constitutes a pretty small portion of your character, and lineages make up an even smaller part of that equation as your starting ability score increase is now fully interchangeable. You can build literally anything as a dhampir, and you won’t have much trouble. However, there are a few strategies that mesh particularly well with the dhampir features that you may want to consider:
The dhampir spider climb feature turns you into an extremely mobile firing platform starting at 3rd level. This will work as an archery-based fighter, a ranger, or really anything that can pick up a bow and arrow. Admittedly it doesn’t do much in an open and empty field, but in any situation with a wall or point of elevation you can easily walk to relative safety and fire away with impunity at any target in range. Yes, you yourself are still also targetable by ranged attacks, but there will be some monsters that simply can’t reach you up there on the ceiling. You may find that your DM starts building their dungeons with severely low ceilings, but hey, it’s still a proven strategy.
Vampire Bird Mage
Your ancestral legacy lets you keep a “base race’s” alternate movement speeds, so why not take the best alternate movement speed in the game? If you choose the aarakocra as your base race before taking the dhampir lineage, you’ll not only have the amazing spider climb feature but you’ll also have a whopping 50-foot fly speed. This is pretty amazing on its own, but then combine it with a spellcasting class like warlock, wizard, or sorcerer devoted to some ranged damage spells and now you’re edging into broken territory. The “flying mage” tactic is already tried and true, having actual wings means you not only don’t have to waste a spell slot on flying, you also don’t have to make any concentration checks if somebody manages to hit you all the way up there. Not to mention this strategy still has all the benefits of a “wall archer”, and you can stay out of harm’s way 9 times out of 10 while still dishing out damage all over the battlefield. A word of warning though, most DMs don’t allow the aarakocra race to begin with, and I have to imagine the number of DMs that would allow this sort of cheese will be slim to none.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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