Savage Progressions
Gaining a Template Midcampaign
By Sean K Reynolds

The D&D game offers a very powerful tool for customizing characters and monsters: templates. Who hasn't wanted to play a half-dragon, werewolf, or vampire? Templates make it easy to create such a character, and the Monster Manual provides a level adjustment for most templates that tells the Dungeon Master approximately what level of power a templated character has. With this information, the DM can decide whether an incoming character with that template is too powerful or too weak to join an existing adventuring party.

But what if an established character gains a template in the middle of the campaign? Many of the templates presented in the Monster Manual are acquired, which means a character can gain them during the course of a game. What happens when your 10th-level ranger is attacked by a lycanthrope, gains the wereboar template, and thereby jumps from ECL 10 to ECL 12? Suddenly your ranger is more powerful than the other PCs, and balancing encounters becomes much more difficult for the DM. An encounter that's challenging for the ranger's allies is easy for him, and one that's challenging for him can be deadly for his allies. Such an imbalance can also make the other players jealous or resentful of the templated character. Fortunately, there is a solution.

Savage Species takes dozens of existing monsters from the Monster Manual and presents them as though they were character classes -- that is, it breaks down the monster's benefits into levels and presents them as advancement tables. Thus, a young ogre (ECL 1) could join a 1st-level adventuring party and gain levels along with his friends. Upon reaching his full growth (at an ogre's base ECL of 6), he begins gaining class levels like the rest of the characters.

The Savage Progressions article series does the same with templates, breaking each into a number of class levels equal to its level adjustment. Such a treatment allows a character who acquires a template to progress through these template "class levels" just as she would normal character levels, thereby maintaining the same relative level of power as the other PCs in her party. The player of the templated character gets to gain abilities at every level, just as the other PCs do, and her presence doesn't cause balance problems for the DM.

This series of articles will cover all the templates presented in the Monster Manual -- inherited as well as acquired. After all, cases might also arise in which inherited templates, which are meant to be present from a character's birth, could nevertheless be acquired midgame. For example, a fighter might submit to a magical process that imbues him with the essence of a dragon, thereby allowing him to gain levels in the half-dragon template class of his choice. Or a cleric could perform a quest for his church in order to gain levels in the celestial template class. The same balance problems can occur in cases like these, since inherited templates also have level adjustments, so the same process is applicable.

General Rules for Template Classes

The following rules apply to the "class version" of any template.

  • A character may take a level in a template class as long as the DM approves and the character has earned enough XP to gain a level.

  • The DM may wish to require an appropriate ceremony, quest, ritual, or experience before allowing a character to gain levels in an inherited template class. This same option also applies if a character wants to gain levels in an acquired template class without the appropriate trigger (such as an attack by a wereboar to acquire the afflicted wereboar template).

  • Template classes follow the normal rules for template acquisition according to creature type. For example, the wereboar template can be added only to a humanoid or giant. Thus, a half-dragon character (whose inherited template has already changed his type to dragon) could not take levels in the wereboar class.

  • Unlike the regular template rules as given in the Monster Manual (see Adding More Than One Template, Monster Manual page 293), this variant rules system allows a character to gain levels in a desired inherited template class after gaining levels in an acquired template, if desired. (In effect, these rules turn all inherited templates into acquired templates that have special circumstances for acquisition later in a character's life.)

  • The DM should disallow certain redundant combinations of monsters and templates. For example, it makes no sense for a hound archon to gain the celestial or half-celestial template, since it is already a kind of celestial.

  • A character cannot take levels in a template class if she already has that template or has taken all the levels in that template class. For example, a natural wereboar (a character who already has "wereboar" as an inherited template) cannot take levels in the wereboar template class.

  • Characters are not required to complete all the levels of a given template class in uninterrupted succession. For example, a character who takes a level of wereboar could then take a level of fighter and a level of rogue (or any other combination of other class levels) before taking another level of wereboar. A character must still take the first level of wereboar before taking the second, just as with a normal class.

  • Each level in a template class increases the character's level adjustment by +1, just as would a level of any other character class.

  • Template class levels can be lost due to any effect or circumstance that would normally cause a character to lose a level.

  • Levels in a template class do not count when determining whether a character takes an XP penalty for multiclassing.

  • In some cases, a certain monster ability presented in the Monster Manual for a given template is split over two or more class levels in a template class (often by limiting how often an ability can be used at the start). Alternatively, variant abilities may be introduced to build toward an ability that is too powerful for a lower-level character. In these situations, the template class features section explains how the ability works at each level. By the time a character has acquired all possible levels in a template class, the completed set of abilities relating to that particular function works exactly like the normal ability described in the Monster Manual.

    Example: In the vampire template class presented below, the template class has abilities called alternate form (lesser) and alternate form (greater). The description of the alternate form ability given in the class description explains that the vampire initially has access to only two of the vampire's normal alternate forms (bat and wolf) but will eventually be able to assume the other two forms (dire bat and dire wolf), as described in the Monster Manual.

    Example: In the vampire template class, the character slowly becomes more resistant to critical hits and sneak attacks via the fortification armor special ability. This ability thread culminates in immunity to those attack types once the creature finally gains the undead type. At that point, the fortification ability becomes redundant and can be ignored, and the vampire built with all levels of the template class works exactly like one built with the Monster Manual template.

  • Unlike standard character classes (and the "monster classes" from Savage Species), most template classes do not increase Hit Dice, base attack bonus, base saving throw bonuses, or skill points with level. They also do not affect when a character acquires feats, since feat acquisition is based on HD, not ECL. However, some of these aspects of the character can be affected indirectly by alterations in Hit Die type, ability score changes, special attacks or qualities, bonus feats, and so on.

The Vampire

"Vampire" is a fairly common acquired template among adventurers. When an adventuring party is attacked by a vampire, those slain by its special abilities may rise as vampires themselves if the proper measures are not taken. If the vampire template is applied to such a character, she would appear to be dead for a time, then return to a tenuous life, slowly succumbing to the seductive lure of the vampire's hunger, sharpened senses, and evil nature.

Table SP-1: The Vampire Template Class

Level CR Special
1 +0 Con -2, blood drain (lesser), resistances (lesser), spawn slavery, spider climb, vampire bonus feats (Alertness, Dodge)
2 +0 Str +2, blood drain (moderate), fortification (light), vampire bonus feats (Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes), vampire skills +2
3 +1 Cha +2, Dex +2, coffin sanctuary (lesser), dominate (lesser), gaseous form (lesser), resistances (greater), slam
4 +1 Str +2, alternate form (lesser), blood drain (greater), dominate (moderate), natural armor +2, vampire aversions, vampire skills +4
5 +1 Wis +2, children of the night (lesser), coffin sanctuary (greater) , damage reduction 5/silver and magic, dominate (greater), fortification (moderate), gaseous form (moderate), sunlight & water vulnerability (lesser)
6 +2 Int +2, Str +2, fast healing 1, natural armor +2, vampire skills +6
7 +2 Dex +2, children of the night (greater), create spawn (lesser), dominate (superior), energy drain (lesser), gaseous form (greater), sunlight & water vulnerability (greater), undeath, vampire bonus feat (Combat Reflexes)
8 +2 Cha +2, alternate form (greater), create spawn (greater), damage reduction 10/silver and magic, energy drain (greater), fast healing 5, natural armor +2, turn resistance +4, vampire skills +8

Vampire Template Class Features

All of the following are class features of the vampire template class.

Ability Score Changes: The ability score in question increases or decreases by the indicated amount. Ability score increases are unnamed bonuses that stack with all other bonuses. At 1st level, however, the ability score change is a -2 penalty to Constitution, which represents the physical trauma involved in starting along the path toward undeath. No spell or other effect can remove this penalty.

Blood Drain (Ex): Starting at 1st level, a vampire can attempt to bite a victim with his growing fangs and suck blood. If the vampire makes a successful grapple check and pins the foe, it sucks blood, dealing 1 point of Constitution damage each round that the pin is maintained. With each such successful attack, the vampire gains 1 temporary hit point.

When the vampire reaches 2nd level, his fangs are fully developed, though he has not yet perfected his technique for drawing blood. At this point, his blood drain attack deals 1 point of Constitution drain.

At 4th level, the vampire has mastered the art of drawing blood from a victim. His blood drain attack deals 1d4 points of Constitution drain, and he gains 5 temporary hit points with each successful blood drain.

Resistances (Ex): At 1st level, the vampire gains cold resistance 5 and electricity resistance 5. When he reaches 3rd level, each of these resistances increases to 10.

Spawn Slavery (Su): Typically, a vampire is created when another vampire kills its mortal body by draining all of its blood (see Create Spawn, below). A vampire created in this fashion is under influence of the master vampire's dominate ability, even if it is normally immune to mental control or mind-affecting effects. This control lasts until the master is destroyed. Vampires created through other circumstances (such as unholy rituals or strange, spontaneous magical effects) are not under this sort of control.

Spider Climb (Ex): Beginning at 1st level, the vampire can climb sheer surfaces as though with a spider climb spell.

Vampire Bonus Feats: At 1st, 2nd, and 7th level, the vampire gains the feats indicated on Table SP-1, assuming that he doesn't already have them. If the vampire doesn't meet the prerequisites (if any) for a bonus feat, he gains the feat but cannot use it until he does meet the prerequisites.

Fortification (Ex): When the vampire reaches 2nd level, his internal organs begin to cease functioning as they become unnecessary to his altered metabolism. This process makes him less vulnerable to critical hits, sneak attacks, and other attacks that target a creature's vital spots. The vampire is treated as if he had the light fortification armor property active at all times. This ability gives him a 25% chance to turn a critical hit or sneak attack against him into a normal attack. If the vampire already has fortification from another source (such as a spell or magic item), use the better value.

At 5th level, this ability becomes moderate fortification (50% chance to turn a critical hit or sneak attack into a normal attack).

Vampire Skills: At 2nd level, a vampire gains a +2 racial bonus on Bluff, Hide, Listen, Move Silently, Search, Sense Motive, and Spot checks. This bonus increases to +4 at 4th level, to +6 at 6th level, and to +8 at 8th level.

Coffin Sanctuary (Ex): Upon reaching 3rd level, a vampire chooses a coffin or similar small enclosed space as his primary resting place. Thereafter, if he is brought to -1 to -9 hit points (if living) or to 0 or fewer hit points (if undead) while outside the coffin, he is forced to assume gaseous form (see below) immediately and flee for his coffin so that he may heal. If the vampire cannot use his vampiric ability to assume gaseous form (for example, if he has expended all his daily uses of that ability), he cannot enter gaseous form under these circumstances and dies immediately.

Any damage dealt to the vampire after he is forced into gaseous form has no effect. If the duration of his gaseous form ability expires before he reaches his coffin, or more than 2 hours pass after he is forced into gaseous form in this way, the vampire must assume his normal form at his current location. In that case, he either begins to die (if he is a living vampire) or is destroyed (if he is an undead vampire). If he succeeds in reaching his coffin, he is helpless for 1 hour, after which he heals 1 hit point and the helplessness ends. A nonhelpless vampire resting in his coffin has fast healing 1.

A 5th-level or higher nonhelpless vampire resting in his coffin has fast healing 5.

Dominate (Su): At 3rd level, a vampire gains the ability to crush another creature's will just by looking into its eyes. This ability is similar to a gaze attack, except that the vampire must use a standard action, and those merely looking at him are not affected. Anyone the vampire targets must succeed on a Will save or fall instantly under his influence, as though via a dominate person spell (caster level 12th). The ability has a range of 5 feet and is usable once per day.

At 4th level, the vampire can use this ability three times per day at a range of 10 feet. At 5th level, his range increases to 30 feet. At 7th level, the vampire may use his dominate ability at will.

Gaseous Form (Su): Starting at 3rd level, a vampire can assume gaseous form as the spell (caster level 5th) once per day as a standard action. He can remain in gaseous form for up to 10 minutes. A gaseous vampire's fly speed is 20 feet.

At 5th level, a vampire can assume gaseous form three times per day. At 7th level, he may become gaseous at will and remain in gaseous form indefinitely.

Slam: At 3rd level, the vampire gains a slam attack if he didn't already have one. If he is a Medium creature, his slam deals damage according to the following table.

Size Damage
Fine 1
Diminutive 1d2
Tiny 1d3
Small 1d4
Medium 1d6
Large 1d8
Huge 2d6
Gargantuan 2d8
Colossal 4d6

Alternate Form (Su): At 4th level, a vampire can assume the shape of a bat or wolf as a standard action. This ability is similar to a polymorph spell (caster level 12th), except that the vampire does not regain hit points for changing form, and he must choose from among the forms allowed for his level. While in his alternate form, the vampire loses his natural slam attack and dominate ability but gains the natural weapons and extraordinary special attacks of his new form. He can remain in his alternate form until he assumes another form or until the next sunrise, whichever comes first.

At 8th level, the vampire can also take the form of a dire bat or dire wolf.

Natural Armor Improvements: At 4th, 6th, and 8th level, the vampire's natural armor bonus increases by +2. A character that does not normally have a natural armor bonus (such as a human) is considered to have an initial natural armor bonus of +0 for the purpose of this ability. Thus, a human's natural armor bonus would increase to +2 at 4th level, to +4 at 6th level, and finally to +6 at 8th level.

Vampire Aversions: The vampire gains the classic aversions of his kind. He cannot tolerate the strong odor of garlic and cannot enter an area laced with it. Similarly, he recoils from a mirror or a strongly presented holy symbol. These items don't harm the vampire -- they merely keep him at bay. A recoiling vampire must stay at least 5 feet away from a creature holding the mirror or holy symbol and cannot touch or make melee attacks against that creature for the rest of the encounter. Holding a vampire at bay requires a standard action.

Most vampires are also unable to cross running water, although they can be carried over it while resting in their coffins or aboard a ship. (A vampire that has a natural swim speed may freely cross running water and is quite comfortable in water of any kind). Vampires are utterly unable to enter a home or other building unless invited in by someone with the authority to do so. They may freely enter public places, since such areas are by definition open to all.

Children of the Night (Su): Vampires command the lesser creatures of the world. Starting at 5th level, a vampire can call forth a rat swarm, a bat swarm, or 1d3 wolves as a standard action once per day. The creature or creatures arrive in 2d6 rounds and serve the vampire for up to 1 hour.

At 7th level, the vampire can call forth 1d6+1 rat swarms, 1d4+1 bat swarms, or a pack of 3d6 wolves. The creatures arrive and serve as above.

Damage Reduction (Su): At 5th level, a vampire gains damage reduction 5/silver and magic. At 8th level, this protection increases to damage reduction 10/silver and magic. A vampire's natural weapons (the slam attack, for a humanoid vampire) are treated as magic weapons for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.

Sunlight & Water Vulnerability: A 5th-level or higher vampire exposed to direct sunlight is disoriented. While in this condition, he can take only a single move action or attack action in a round, and 3 full rounds of such exposure destroy it utterly. Similarly, immersing a typical vampire in running water robs it of one-fifth of its hit points each round until it is destroyed at the end of the fifth round of immersion. (A vampire with a natural swim speed is not harmed by immersion in running water.)

At 7th level, a vampire's flesh becomes even more vulnerable to sunlight and running water. Upon exposure to sunlight, he takes the above penalties and is destroyed utterly in the next round if he cannot escape. The vampire loses one-third of his hit points each round of immersion in water instead of one-fifth, and he is destroyed after at the end of the third round of exposure instead of the fifth round.

Fast Healing (Ex): Beginning at 6th level, a vampire heals 1 point of damage each round so long as he has at least 1 hit point, whether or not he is resting in his coffin. A living vampire reduced to fewer than 0 hp or an undead vampire reduced to 0 hit points is automatically forced into gaseous form (if he still has uses of that ability available) and must retreat to his coffin (see the Coffin Sanctuary, above).

At 8th level, a vampire's fast healing increases to 5.

Energy Drain (Su): When the vampire reaches 7th level, any living creature hit by his slam attack (or any other natural weapon he might possess) gains one negative level. For each negative level so bestowed, the vampire gains 5 temporary hit points. He can use his energy drain ability once per round.

At 8th level, the vampire's slam attack (or other natural attack) bestows 2 negative levels.

Undeath: Upon reaching 7th level, a vampire gains the undead type, with all of its normal benefits and drawbacks. He no longer has a Constitution score, and he loses any Constitution bonus or penalty on hit points, saving throws, or skills that he may previously have had. He uses either his Charisma modifier or his Constitution modifier (+0), whichever is better, for all skills, save DCs, and other quantities that previously incorporated his Constitution modifier. The vampire becomes immune to many attacks but is subject to turn or rebuke undead attempts and is immediately destroyed if brought to 0 or fewer hit points. All of his current and future Hit Dice increase to d12s. (Rather than rerolling all the character's Hit Dice, you can simply add 4 hit points for every d4 Hit Die the vampire previously had, 3 hit points for every d6 Hit Die, 2 for every d8, and 1 for every d10, if desired.) The vampire immediately becomes evil and subject to the special rules for staking a vampire through the heart.

A vampire cleric may become an ex-cleric if his deity does not accept evil clerics, but character can remedy this problem either by changing allegiance or by devoting himself to an evil cause or a source of evil divine power (selecting new domains if appropriate). A vampire cleric who could normally turn undead loses that ability but gains the ability to rebuke undead, and one who can spontaneously convert spells into cure spells now converts them into inflict spells.

A vampire sorcerer, wizard, or other character who has a familiar is shunned by that creature unless it is a bat or rat, but he can acquire one of those creatures to replace the previous familiar.

Create Spawn (Su): A humanoid or monstrous humanoid slain by a 7th-level or higher vampire's energy drain attack rises as a vampire spawn (see the Monster Manual) 1d4 days after burial. If the vampire instead drains the victim's Constitution to 0 or lower, the victim returns as a spawn if it had 4 or fewer HD and as a vampire if it had 5 or more HD. In either case, the new vampire or spawn is under the command of the vampire that created it and remains so enslaved until its master's destruction.

At any given time, a vampire may have enslaved spawn whose Hit Dice total no more than his own. Any spawn he creates that would exceed this limit can be created either as free-willed vampires or as vampire spawn, at the creator's option. If he chooses the latter option, he must immediately free one or more spawn of his choice until the total Hit Dice of his existing enslaved spawn would allow the addition of the desired new one. Once freed, a vampire or vampire spawn cannot be enslaved again, except through magic such as control undead, rebuking attempts by evil clerics, and so on. An enslaved vampire may create and enslave spawn of its own, so a master vampire can control a large number of lesser vampires in this fashion.

At 8th level, the vampire may have enslaved spawn whose Hit Dice total no more than twice his own Hit Dice.

Turn Resistance (Ex): At 8th level, a vampire gains turn resistance +4. He is treated as an undead 4 Hit Dice higher than his normal total for the purpose of turn, rebuke, command, or bolster attempts.

Game Resources: To get the best use of the material in this article, have the following resources on hand:

About the Author

Sean K Reynolds spends a remarkable amount of time on trains, where he defeats bandits, solves complex mathematical equations, and shushes noisy children. Then he wakes up. Check out his website.


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