Nosferatu Tactics


“Nosferatu” is a word that looks like it ought to mean something but doesn’t seem to actually come from any language, let alone the one to which it’s attributed. Cited in the works of a couple of 19th-century German folklorists, and later made famous by Bram Stoker, the author of the seminal vampire novel Dracula, it can’t be authoritatively traced back to any standard Romanian word of the time. It might be from a nonstandard local dialect, it might be a mistranscription of a word now lost to time, or it might be that some Romanian wag was pulling the Germans’ legs. Etymologists aren’t sure of much when it comes to this word, but one thing they are sure of is that no-sferatu clearly doesn’t mean “un-dead,” the back-formed translation that Stoker proposed for it. But the German silent film director F. W. Murnau latched onto it and made it the title of his loose cinematic adaptation of Dracula, and it’s been synonymous with “vampire” ever since.

The nosferatu in Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft is a degraded vampire whose compulsion to feed is utterly overpowering. Unlike the standard Monster Manual vampire, it’s too strung out to play the long game. Every night of its existence is a desperate scramble to find warm-blooded prey before daybreak. The nosferatu’s dependence takes its toll on its Intelligence, which is reduced to the level of an ape’s. Intriguingly, however, its Wisdom remains very high—the better to sniff out victims with—and even its Charisma is well above humanoid average.

Its standout abilities, however, are the physical trio, particularly its extraordinary Strength and Constitution. The tough, stringy nosferatu is a dangerous brute, made more so by its proficiencies in Perception and Stealth—the profile of an ambush predator—and the Spider Climb trait, which it shares with other vampires.

The wording of its Multiattack action leaves little room for tactical variation. It always comprises two Claw attacks and one Bite attack, and the Bite attack is made with advantage if and only if it hits with both Claw attacks. By necessity, therefore, the Claw attacks come first, even though—unlike other vampires—the nosferatu doesn’t grapple on a Claw hit. The nature of its compulsion would suggest that, like a ghoul, the nosferatu would always feel an overpowering urge to Bite, if it had the choice. But it doesn’t have the choice, except when making an opportunity attack.

Blood Disgorge is an area-effect ability with a standard 5–6 recharge. It deals more damage than Bite, and per the Targets in Area of Effect table in chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, it typically deals that damage to two enemies. If a nosferatu can manage to disgorge blood over three or more enemies from its hiding place, it’s worth using this ability as an opening salvo, forgoing the advantage it would gain on its first melee attack if it Multiattacked instead. Otherwise, it uses this ability reflexively whenever it’s available and can affect at least two enemies from where the nosferatu is standing—I imagine it usually being something of an involuntary reflex, rather than a deliberate assault that the nosferatu carefully positions itself for first.

Its subpar intelligence means that the nosferatu can only follow its instincts; it can’t come up with a sophisticated plan or adjust when things go wrong, although it can be driven off by dealing enough damage to it. Its compulsion to feed implies a drive to continue its pitiful existence, and it will flee to save itself, though only after being seriously wounded (reduced to 34 hp or fewer), whereas a typical predatory creature gives up and seeks easier prey after receiving only moderate wounds. Its high Wisdom, however, gives it just enough restraint to refrain from pouncing on a party it’s clearly outmatched by. Unfortunately, it’s not great at assessing its targets’ weaknesses, but it does have the sense, as any competent predator does, to stalk the weak, isolated and oblivious rather than try to take on a whole alert, well-armed group at once.

When it’s locked on to its target, it launches itself out of the shadows to attack with surprise and savages its victim until it’s made to stop. Only sunlight or serious injury will induce it to break off its attack, whereupon it instinctively takes the Dodge action as it flees. Radiant damage, which suppresses its Regeneration trait, doesn’t drive a nosferatu off entirely, but it does repel it, causing it to avoid the creature who dealt the damage as best it can even as it keeps attacking.

Next: jiangshi.

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9 responses to “Nosferatu Tactics”

  1. Jeff Avatar

    A useful guide as always, thank you. Since this may eventually be published (I have all four hardbound books), please note that it is Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, not Ezmerelda’s.

      1. Jeff Avatar

        Wait, are we not talking about the same thing? I’ve got Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft (WoTC 2021) right here with me. Nosfertu is on page 239 and Jiangshi is on page 236. Is there another book called Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft that also has these monsters?

  2. Matthew Bivins Avatar
    Matthew Bivins

    Haaa!! I was also confused by this, Jeff, as I missed the death’s head and boneless article and explanation. But I’m fully on board, Keith. In our CoS campaign, Ezmeralda is also the chosen one, a Vistana born a blonde by natural mutation, smarter and more powerful than her ever-watchful mentor “Ripper” Van Richten. So it’s fully “Buffie’s Guide to Ravenloft” for us, too.

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      The flaw in this analogy is that Giles rocks.

    2. Jeff Avatar

      Yeah I was clueless until Keith posted that link. Now I’m on board.

  3. […] being said, it’s not even followed consistently throughout Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft: The nosferatu, for instance, still splits its Multiattack between Bite, which reduces max hp on a hit, and Claw, […]

  4. Matthew Bivins Avatar
    Matthew Bivins

    It’s true. Giles rocks, which would make the analogy less than perfect. But Rupert “Ripper” Giles was a violent teenage punk that dabbled in dark magics until he became the wiser more compassionate “Giles”. I just pretend that Van Richten never saw the light.

    Still less than perfect. But fun anyway.

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