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The last time we played, I left my players in the current situation:

The players have just defeated some zombies. Suddenly a big dark cloud is materializing above them, hiding the sun. Right after, the zombies' commander just shows up, facing them, bellicosely. It is a frail women who obviously knows magic: she magically created a helmet to protect her head.

I asked them to make a "Perception" roll, saved their score, and ended the game with no further information.

Here is my dilemma: one of my player made a critical success with his roll. So I have to give him some relevant information but I don't want him to understand immediately what they are up against.

I would like they start the fight as if they were fighting a human, and eventually they will guess her true nature during the fight, like:

OMG, all those clues, how did I not find the truth earlier!!!

They are actually facing a female vampire. As I said, they probably already figured out she is a witch. So I can give him some details about her magic cloud spell to divert his attention on her magic skills instead of her true nature. But as I said, I would like to give him some innocent clues about her vampire condition.

Canine teeth, diaphanous skin or things like that are too obvious to be given to the player. I am looking for other vampire specifics that I can give him without drawing his attention.

Actually, they already have some clues :

  • they are in broad daylight and the woman invokes a dark cloud to hide the sun
  • she invokes a helmet to protect her head but also hide it from them (the helmet covers her whole face)

Concerning the game system, I am using the dK² system (a french system derived from D&D 3.X editions, I don't know if it is known outside of France). Anyway, I do not think it is relevant since I am only asking for narrative-technique to achieve my goal.

Concerning the background, it's a custom one, in a medieval-fantasy world. Nothing is set about vampires. I have some classical ideas in mind (diaphanous skin, blood list, -shine burn under sun ray, etc), but you can take your inspiration in a lot of background. It could be a lead to give innocent clues to my players as neither them or their characters know exactly what is a vampire and how to recognize them.

I also intend to give him the results of his roll and start the game immediately so he cannot process all the information right away.

(Excuse me for my english, I am not a native speaker and not familiar with this kind of english vocabulary, please correct me if I am using wrong words)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I edited my question to provide the requested elements. But why is the game system relevant ? I am only asking for narrative technique to trick my players. \$\endgroup\$ – fharreau Feb 13 '18 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see what you mean. The dK² game system is derived from the D&D 3.X. I never played to the 3.X editions but in the dK², the 20 is a critical success. But let's pretend the game system is not relevant. I choose to give him detailed information about the magic cloud, which will satisfy his information lust, but I also want to give him hidden clues about the vampire condition \$\endgroup\$ – fharreau Feb 13 '18 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fharreau can the characters understand that there is a vampire standing in front of them? If not, why? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Feb 13 '18 at 19:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, they never encountered a vampire, just heard about them from legends. They do not have any specific knowledge concerning such creatures. They could understand if they catch a very specific and well-known attribute (like the canine teeth for example) but it is unlikely they could figure it out right now, except for a critical success in perception :D. \$\endgroup\$ – fharreau Feb 13 '18 at 19:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know about the rule to not answer in a comment, but truthfully, I don't have a full answer, just something I don't read in any of the answers below.... Vampires are long lived. As in you could start out saying this leader has been one for many years, so long people aren't sure if it's the same one or not. If one of the answerers wants to incorporate this into their answer, I'll gladly delete this comment. \$\endgroup\$ – CGCampbell Feb 14 '18 at 19:51
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The thing is, you want them to think they might be fighting a vampire, not any kind of undead.

So the question is raised : What's the biggest difference between vampires and other undead?

I'd go with charisma.

Vampires are gracious, mysterious and very charismatic creatures.

I'd say, maybe, try to focus on ornaments. Like golden rings with wonderful precious stones. The golden is important, as, obviously, vampires can't touch silver.

I'd also focus on the eyes. IMO, eyes are the most dangerous part of the vampire, because of the domination spell they can cast using them. Try to describe them as powerful/blood lusted eyes, you know.. make it dangerous looking!

Finally, if you feel like it, make the vampire kill some folks. Don't use the bite attack, you don't want to sell it, but make it a fast and elegant death.

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So I don't actually know much vampire lore, so my answer will be based on the Dracula novel and movies.

So first, let's go over some characteristics of our good friend Vlad, as well as some other modern pop-culture vampire signs. Dracula had:

  1. Pale skin and long, sharp canines
  2. No reflection
  3. A sense of "Wrongness" about him - the main character, even when thinking Dracula was a human, was completely uneasy around the vampire.
  4. Dracula only lost his powers in the day, the "burned by sunlight" thing came later, or perhaps earlier from real vampire legends
  5. In at least one of the movies, Dracula's shadow acted independently of his body
  6. In many vampire novels/movies, vampires have red/glowing eyes.

Now, your own vampire is covering herself, so most of the physical characteristics probably won't be noticed. Furthermore, I doubt there'd be any reflective material, nor enough light to see her shadow (due to the dark cloud) unless there's any nearby fire.

So one thing you can do is tell the player with the critical success that something just feels off about everything, that they can't help but feel some unnatural evil force radiating from the "witch". If there is indeed an open flame nearby, you can also mention that her shadow doesn't quite match up with her movements (which is something that might take a critical success to notice anyway).

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In this tvtropes page there is a list of the common characteristics associated with vampires. As there are many exception don't hesitate to eliminate those which just don't fit to the vampires of your universe. To sum up those which could be a visual clue:

Physical traits that could work:

  • weird eyes: obvious if you describe it as red mesmerizing orbs, less obvious if you switch a bit from that (for example she could have a white pupil)
  • traditional physical features uncommon in modern vampires (eyebrows that met over the nose, fingers all the same length, hair in the center of the palms or backward-facing palms). Those probably won't make the player more able to identify the vampire but tell about its inhumanity.
  • vampires are physically strong. Maybe the vampire is carrying an armor way too heavy for a mere human.
  • vampires are fast. Noticing the opponent is fast would as a bonus be useful for the fight, even if it is not enough to recognize a vampire.

Other traits that could work:

  • vampires have specific weaknesses that they will probably try to cover. You already thought about sunlight, but there is also fire (maybe the clothing of the vampire is in a rare fireproof material?), running water (maybe the vampire had to get round a small stream), religious symbols (maybe the vampire actively avoids to look directly at the cleric)...

Some traits that make the vampire's identity obvious:

  • no reflection
  • no breath: hard to figure, and not that obvious.
  • very pale
  • fangs

Some traits that shouldn't need a critical to be noticed:

  • most animals react negatively to the presence of a vampire. Make a flock of birds fly away as the vampire appears can be seen as a dramatic description, but the characters shouldn't need a critical to notice that.
  • they can be either very repulsive or very good-looking (which translates by their high charisma in any case)
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List out all the ways that someone could detect a vampire:

  • Physical appearance: do they look different from people? Are the canines too long to hide? Is anyone close enough to see these?
  • Physical abilities: do they demonstrate abnormal strength or resilience? Do they turn into a wolf, mist or a bat?
  • Aura - do they give people the "heebee jeebees" or cause animals to go wild?
  • Mystical traits - do they not show up in mirrors or not cast shadows?
  • Mystical detection - do the characters have the means to detect vampires mystically and do they use those means?

Simply describe any of the above that the characters can experience (by being close enough or taking the action to do so). Then look to see if the characters have any relevant knowledge skills and have the character make a roll.

I once had a female vampire working with a group that contained a paladin (they don't have detect evil on all the time). They rescued her from a succubus and she gave them no reason to suspect her. She also helped them track down the big bad vampire of the city (her rival). She even made sure she was standing behind the paladin when the paladin turned undead to force the big bad into the sun where he would be easier to deal with.

By the time the party found out she was a vampire, they were good friends.

It really drove the paladin nuts. Four months of playing just for that reveal. Worth it.

She ended up talking her way into surviving the party by promising to only eat evil people, help them take out bigger threats, and to stay out of the way of the paladin.

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