Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Further Meditations and Thoughts on NOSFERATU: PLAGUE OF TERROR Part III For Your Old School Horror Campaign

A splash page from the upcoming NOSFERATU: PLAGUE OF TERROR Kindle ebook by Rik Levins and Melissa Martin Ellis.


Please read this part for an overview of the graphic novel Part I HERE And Part II HERE

The following is a continuation of NOSFERATU: PLAGUE OF TERROR which is going to be coming out as a downloadable ebook soon. I used the graphic novel as the basis for a World of Darkness and Kult crossover campaign way back in the 90's. But ultimately I ended this campaign when the players went their separate ways.  The themes of the campaign followed the graphic novel and the film from which is is derived. They can be broken down into the following : 

  1. The curse of the vampire as supernatural disease and its effects on the victim and the pollution of the soul. 
  2. Immortality as a curse and personal hell. It places the victim outside of the laws of God and man. The person becomes a blight on the face of reality itself. 
  3. The vampire as walking disease vector and font of corruption. 
  4. The loose ends of both the graphic novel and the film and exploitation of those ends as story hooks for newer horrors. 
Photo: Very moody splash page by Rik Levins and Melissa Martin Ellis from the upcoming NOSFERATU: PLAGUE OF TERROR ebook.

The following is a thought exercise and  riffs off of  Plague of Terror and the original movie. Each issue of  Plague of Terror weaves its way through the centuries and hits the high notes about the battle between Orlock and the hero of the piece. Its a good solid story and a ripping yarn.  That being said there are loose ends that a DM can and should use for their own campaigns.
A plot overview from Wiki : 

Returning from the Crusades in the eleventh century, English knight Sir William Longsword stops at the castle and finds the nuns dead or dying of plague. Longsword’s squire, seeking treasure, inadvertently frees Orlock who kills the man. He bites Longsword but does not turn him into a vampire—rather, he becomes immortal for reasons known only to Orlock. The series tracks Orlock throughout history as he perpetuates his evil, instigating wars and bringing down plagues. Longsword tracks him through 19th century India and the madness of the Vietnam War and finally catches up to him in an abandoned cathedral in contemporary Brooklyn.
The final chapter ends in a conflagration in which both Orlock and Longsword are killed but the curse of the Nosferatu is passed onto an innocent, as it was to Longsword ten centuries before. The series was notable for presenting a vampire character drawn from European folklore rather than the refined Anne Rice model that was in vogue at the time.
Nosferatu: Plague of Terror compilation in graphic novel format was released by Millennial Concepts in October, 2009.

The Burden Of Immortality 

English knight Sir William Longsword is ultimately a very tragic figure in the series. Orlock makes him immortal. A fellow member of the damned. He's consigned to his own personal hell of living along side his hated foe for eternity.  He's a hero because even as the world winds down through the centuries he's still out there fighting both his own existence and as a warrior. 
Yet what does he do throughout the centuries? Simply moving from one war to another in pursue of  Graf? There's a lot of room for a DM to fill in gaps right here.  A being that can not die might be a monster in his own right. The source of immortality is the carrier of a plague of evil beyond compare. 
The burden he carries is harsh and very nasty. The idea of a never ending existence raging across the world trying to end your own existence? That's not living at all. Its simply trading one hell for another.  
What secrets might Sir William Longsword hold? In a world of Darkness setting he's a rather unique figure in a world of mages, vampires, and werewolves. A lost soul damned down through the centuries pursuing his prey. Or is it the other way around? 
 The series centers on Orlock but really its Longsword whose the intriguing one. With a setting like Kult, this knight has some very rare insights into how the world really works. A being who might well be sought out by others because of his own legend. An undying warrior in pursue of an evil merely whispered about in certain occult circles and dingy bars. 
A warrior who walks in a sunset world of half truths,legends, and the living hell of the immortal damned. 
 Surly he couldn't be used in a AD&D or OD&D setting? I'm ultimately reminded of the old Keep Adventure by Mayfair games. In this one the party is part of a plot in the Dark Ages involving the adventure location and then their own descendants get involved again. I can see using Longsword in the same way.  


The series is a solid tour of a strange and through a glass darkly history of a very dark and dangerous world. A world of vampires,plagues, immortals, and violence, which makes it a perfect place to adventure. Ultimately is the fact that its tied into the fact that it is its own mythology. The mythology of its authors and creators which I hope at some point they return to. Its a good jump off point for a very distinct campaign. But in the end its a very complex chess board for an immortal chess master who creates war and plague moving through the shadows of history.
However its not one that I would use myself again. 

Everything that follows here is going to be based on the silent film  Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. Which was based on Bram Stoker's character Count Dracula.
The Plot according to Wiki: 

In Nosferatu, Count Orlok is a vampire from Transylvania, and appears to be the haunt of many nightmarish creatures, including a werewolf (which was actually played by a hyena in the film). Orlok, known locally as the eponymous "Nosferatu", is a living corpse also known as "The Bird of Death", which feasts upon the blood of living humans.
Count Orlok dwells alone in a vast castle hidden among the rugged peaks in a lost corner of the Carpathian Mountains. The castle is swathed in shadows, and is badly neglected with a highly sinister feel to it. He is in league with the housing agent Knock, and wants to purchase a house in Wisborg. Local peasants live in terror of Orlok and never venture out after dark. Thomas Hutter scorns their fears as mere superstition, and ventures to the decrepit castle; however, the coach-driver will not take him over the bridge leading to it. A black-swathed figure in a black coach (Orlok in disguise) drives him the rest of the way. He is greeted by Orlok, who claims as it is past midnight all his servants have gone to bed, and the two dine together and discuss Orlok's purchasing of a house in the fictional city of Wisborg, Germany. Hutter accidentally cuts his hand when slicing bread and Orlok is barely able to control himself from drinking from Hutter's wound. After Hutter collapses in a chair, Orlok feeds off of him, but this is not shown on screen: Hutter discovers two bites on his neck the next day but is unaware that his host is a vampire.
Hutter only realises the horrific truth later in his chambers after further reading from "The Book of the Vampires", and he discovers that he is trapped in the castle with the Nosferatu. Orlok advances upon Hutter, and Hutter's beloved wife, Ellen, senses through telepathy that her husband's life is in mortal danger; she screams for him and somehow Orlok is powerless to touch him. The next morning Hutter searches the castle, and discovers to his revulsion that Orlok is "sleeping" in the basement in a filthy coffin filled with earth. Hutter then witnesses Orlok loading a cart with several coffins filled with soil, one of which he then hides in and they are driven off to be loaded on to a ship headed for Wisborg. This soil is later revealed to be unhallowed earth from Orlok's grave; according to "The Book of the Vampires", all Nosferatu must sleep by day in the unholy earth from their graves to sustain their power.
On board the ship, he kills every crew member until only the captain and his first mate remain. Later when the first mate goes to the cargo hold to investigate, Count Orlok rises from his coffin, terrifying the first mate who jumps overboard in fear. The captain ties himself to the wheel of the ship when Count Orlok creeps up on him and kills the captain. His journey by sea spreads plague all over Europe.
Upon his arrival in Wisborg, Orlok infests the city with rats that sleep in his coffins, and countless people fall victim to the plague, forcing the local authorities to declare a quarantine and provoking hysteria among the citizens. Rather than come back as vampires, however, his victims simply die. Ellen and Hutter know the causes of the plague but fear they are powerless to stop the vampire. Ellen watches sullenly as lines of coffins are carried through the empty streets, and she realises Orlok must be stopped. Ellen learns from "The Book of the Vampires" that - rather than a stake through the heart - the Nosferatu can only be vanquished if a woman pure in heart willingly allows him to feed off her long enough to prevent him from seeking shelter from sunrise. Ellen coaxes Orlok to her room and lies in bed whilst he drinks from her neck. The sun rises, and Orlok is burned away in a cloud of smoke. Knock is able to sense Orlok is dead. Ellen dies soon after.

The Children of Orlock 

 There is an entire world within the film itself  which never gets mentioned today. We get lots of deviations or reflections upon this dark world but never any real expansion. 

 Ultimately the coming of Orlock brings the plague of corruption onto the shores of Europe. The plague spreads like wildfire throughout the whole of Wisborg. Those who contract it die.
 This is a sickness of the soul and spirit. The rats moving through out Europe spread it. The disease is very nasty and spreads quickly through cities. Yet everything stems from Orlock himself. 

A reflection of evil in the very beginning of the film. The character of Knock looks and acts like a miniature Orlock and even the contract for the house he wishes to buy is a satanic contract if there ever was one. 

One thing that has always bothered me is the end of the movie. The sun comes up and the evil is extinguished.  There are several ideas that occur. Why was orlock spreading this horrid plague in the first place? "In Plague of Terror" we are given one possible answer. But let us look at this through the lens of the DM for a moment. Was Orlock trying to create an empty kingdom of the dead? A place were the plague vicims were stacked six foot high. Those bitten die and receive the curse of the vampire. Orlock was going to be a king whose throne was those of bleached skulls. A world of death ruled by an undead king.  Why kill your food source?
 Those who survive are likely to have wounds upon their souls. Divine healing might be needed and even then it might not be a sure thing. Insanity, degeneration, and worse might await the plague survivors.  

Aftermath of the Plague Bearer  
 What I'm about to say is has caused some very large arguments. Count Orlock isn't Dracula or even a close reflection of him. From Wiki:  "Orlok does not create other vampires, but kills his victims, causing the townfolk to blame the plague, which ravages the city. Also, Orlok must sleep by day, as sunlight would kill him, while the original Dracula is only weakened by sunlight. The ending is also substantially different from that of Dracula. The count is ultimately destroyed at sunrise when the "Mina" character sacrifices herself to him."
Evil like this does not simply wither with the coming sunlight even according to the Book of Vampires in the film. Could there be plague victims trapped in a living undead hell just waiting to tear into the streets?  You bet they are. Remember Orlock isn't Dracula or even a shadowy reflection. Just use your favorite game's version of zombies add fangs and plague. Parodies of humans that might fall between the cracks of reality itself.  

 The Shadow Kingdoms of Orlock 

The world of Orlock is a shadowy place where the final stages of death caused by the plague makes things seem to fade away. Each day the second hand of the clock brings Orlock's vision of reality closer to reality.
 This isn't the World of Darkness or Kult but the world of Orlock. And what does this creature want for the world? A look at his Carpathian origin point paints a very grim picture indeed. A place 
swathed in shadows, and is badly neglected with a highly sinister feel to it.

This is a kingdom of phantoms,vampires,undead, and werewolves.The day brings final dissolution of the things of the night. But only for that night. This is a vastly different world from the more traditional games of Vampire or Kult or even OD&D.
This is a world affected by the ravages of the plagues of the vampire. A place of the damned and haunted. A place that might be swept away at dawn's light into the pages of someplace like Kult or Limbo.
A place where the living,half living, and undead are under the sway of both angels and demons.  Caught up between the Illusi
on and Death itself. 

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror Itself As Future Horror Rpg Campaign 

The movie itself might also be transported to a very bleak steampunk kinda future where the Count once again begins his attempts. The PCs might be plague survivors, undead hybrid things, vampire slayers or even 1900's Undead Bounty Dogs hunting down the last remains of this horror.
This kinda campaign is perfect for Mutant Future or a science fantasy campaigns. This kinda of campaign would be populated with vampire worshiping cults, Reverents, ghosts, werewolves, crazed survivors, and even other vampires.  

 Relics of The Grave

 When we speak of any world infected by the evil of Orlock and his ratlike minions. We are also talking about former treasure houses of the living. These places are folded between the pages of history books. Lost unto themselves. Items from these sort of places carry their own curses.
 According to Hoyt "Lust For Blood The All Comsuming Story of Vampires"  Items handled by the undead carry with them a curse all their own. In the world of Orlock even the items of survivors of the plague might well carry this sort of haunting. Items cursed by fate. Diaries of survivors and photos of the world of the undead.
Vampire touched gold with its guardian rats. All these options are on the table.
There is one item that threads its way through the movie itself that tells of the evil of the Nosferatu but of which we know little about. 

"The Book of the Vampires" threads its way throughout the film despensing critical information, acting as chorus for the plot,and we almost nothing about it. Who was the author, where did the book come from, and why is it the authority on the undead?
This book gives a DM the opportunity to create his own book of the undead with critical information for his games. It allows one to insert highly critical info to players with little fear of doubt.
The author knows his subject and isn't afraid to deal with it. 

The Rats of Orlock  

One loose end that bothers me are the "Orlock disease vector". The rats with the coffins spreading the plague. So Orlock is banished. Do the rats vanish with him? Or do the little furry minions wait for another day to spread the taint to a new unsuspecting world? 
Are these rodents of unusual aspect? I've used them any number of times to spread some nasty disease upon unsuspecting players. 
These minions could be awaiting the return of their master.Just waiting for the opportunity to swarm when the night comes to arise from sewer and storm drain. 

The Blight of Reality 
Legends of Orlock point to a seething cauldron of horror just waiting to be tapped for your games. The truth is that this often neglected classic needs to be dusted off and used more often for table top rpging. 
NOSFERATU: PLAGUE OF TERROR is a decent and concise way of delivering the horror of  Orlock but go back to the source material to get the full effect! You can purchase the book right over HERE



  1. I am definitely going to pick this book up.

    Now I want to run a game where a mad lich picks some hapless low level adventurers and curses them to be plague bearers, Typhoid Marys for some horrible disease. Then he'd reveal the only way for them to break the curse would be to destroy him. Then he just sits back and enjoys it, as something for a bored, mad immortal to do.

    This Nosferatu take also would work well with something out of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique stories.

  2. Tom - Those are fantastic ideas! I hope to hear and see how those work out! Glad they've got you thinking about dealing with a hard core Nosferatu story.

    "This Nosferatu take also would work well with something out of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique stories."
    Yes it would and I've got some ideas on using this with a Crypts and Things style game!
    Thanks for the great comments and there will be more to come!