The subject of souls in D&D is something that’s piqued our interest recently, particularly with the story of Astarion and other vampires in Baldur’s Gate 3. The Forgotten Realms have decades of lore stacked atop each other, and the answer to this question isn’t a simple one – there isn’t a simple line saying what happens to the soul of the vampire, for example.
In this article, we’re going to go through some of the current lore and see if we can come to a conclusion on this often debated question. If you’re a DM running your own vampire-themed adventure or campaign, you’ve probably found this article in your research, and we hope this helps! If you’re a player, the answer to this question depends on your DM. Everything we say here is null and void if for whatever reason your DM doesn’t agree! This isn’t a simple yes or no question, so before we get into it, we need to cover some basic facts about the soul and undeath.
How do souls work in D&D?
This is a huge topic, but basically, in the Forgotten Realms, a creature has essentially three components to their being:
- The physical body is the meatsuit we walk around the world in, and is pretty easily explained.
- The spirit is, interestingly, an unthinking interface between the soul and the physical body. It can’t think for itself, it only has limited awareness, but it has access to the physical body. It is inherently tied to the physical body, and can’t exist separately.
- The soul is the personality, the very being of the character, the consciousness, the thing that makes the person who they are. When a person dies, their soul leaves their body, where all manner of terrible things can happen.
This division of soul and spirit is an interesting one that is often confusing. This mindlessness of spirit is essentially what allows mindless undead like skeletons and zombies to exist – a skeleton is a pile of bones animated by dark magic, and piloted by a spirit:
The spirit is effectively what moves the skeleton or zombie, and functions the same way it would if it was living (which can be a twisted mockery of what they did regularly in life, effectively muscle memory). Living creatures have spirits too, but spirits are commonly manipulated by magic, and used to create things like golems as well as the undead:
After constructing the body from clay, flesh, iron, or stone, the golem’s creator infuses it with a spirit from the Elemental Plane of Earth. This tiny spark of life has no memory, personality, or history. It is simply the impetus to move and obey. This process binds the spirit to the artificial body and subjects it to the will of the golem’s creator.
– Monster Manual, p. 167
When you cast Speak With Dead, you’re communicating with the spirit of the creature:
This tells us a lot about the function of the soul, and confirms that the soul and spirit are different things. The soul is our wants, our dreams, our thoughts, and is our true being. A character that dies and is Reincarnated into a new body is still that same character, as everything that makes them who they are is tied to the soul. This is important, because this brings us back to our main topic of vampires, which we’ll dive into momentarily.
To put it simply:
- A body with a soul and spirit is probably a living person, and everything is fine.
- A body with its own spirit but no soul cannot learn, has no real personality, and doesn’t have its own will. An example of this would be a mummy serving as an undead archive, or a creature being spoken to via Speak With Dead.
- A body with a spirit but no soul is an animated creature, such as a golem or zombie.
- A spirit with no body or soul is an elemental force or manifestation, such as an elemental or the Mist Horrors, the embodiments of fear that roam the mists of Ravenloft.
- A soul with no body is just a soul, or it’s a ghost if it’s manifesting on the material plane.
- A body with no spirit or soul is just a corpse.
Do vampires have souls?
With this understanding out of the way, it seems vampires may indeed have some form of soul – they have wants and desires, twisted to obsession:
Whether or not a vampire retains any memories from its former life, its emotional attachments wither as once-pure feelings become twisted by undeath. Love turns into hungry obsession, while friendship becomes bitter jealousy. In place of emotion, vampires pursue physical symbols of what they crave, so that a vampire seeking love might fixate on a young beauty. A child might become an object of fascination for a vampire obsessed with youth and potential. Others surround themselves with art, books, or sinister items such as torture devices or trophies from creatures they have killed.
As we’ve learned, wanting something and having your own mind is the telltale sign of a soul, but in this case it’s twisted, corrupted. It’s possible that this is the spirit mimicking the soul, as skeletons have been known to act out twisted scenes from their lives. But this seems unlikely given what else we’ve seen of spirits.
Vampires are definitely dead, or rather undead, as the process of creating a vampire typically requires the victim to be drained to death. This means normally the soul would leave the body and head off to be sorted to whatever afterlife fits them in the fugue plane. This means for vampires, there’s effectively two possibilities with different arguments against both:
- The soul leaves, and the vampire is a body with a spirit, driven by dark hunger
- Vampires lack the emotions they had in life, and can lack memories, which could suggest that the soul is in fact not present.
- This means technically you could resurrect a vampire independently of its undead self
- The soul remains, corrupted and twisted to evil
Vampire Spawn are the same way, vampires in all other ways, but bound to their masters’ will. They are compelled to serve and obey their masters’ commands even if they themselves do not wish to obey – could this be an indication of control over the spirit but not the soul? Either way, vampire spawn will lose their emotions with time and find them twisted to pure obsession, so sorry, but Astarion will never truly love you.
We can speculate on this all day, there’s one more major source of information we can learn from to wrap this up.
Does Strahd von Zarovich have a soul?
Strahd von Zarovich is the most iconic vampire in D&D, and he’s officially credited as being the first vampire ever created, not just in Ravenloft, but in the entire multiverse:
This is important as with the 5th edition version of Curse of Strahd, Ravenloft is connected to Faerun via the Ethereal Plane. Meaning that with this statement, Wizards have basically said that Strahd was the first vampire anywhere in their main D&D setting, as a result of his bargain with the Dark Powers, the godlike forces in control of Ravenloft.
Strahd himself believes he has a soul:
Strahd believes his soul is lost to evil. He feels neither pity nor remorse, neither love nor hate. He doesn’t suffer anguish or wallow in indignation. He believes, and has always believed, that he is the master of his own fate.
Whether Strahd is correct in his belief is of course questionable, but you’d think he’s probably the leading expert at this point. On top of this, Strahd is the Darklord of Barovia. Darklords in Ravenloft are bound to their domains, dragged back and returned to life (or undeath, in this case) in their domains whenever they are slain.
Let’s assume for a second that Strahd is in fact soulless. The implications of this would be that the being that is brought back every death would in fact be a twisted mockery of the living Strahd. It seems unlikely that the Dark Powers would bother with this, as their whole deal is creating domains that make a dark, twisted mockery of the Darklord’s life. A soulless body just… wouldn’t care.
Instead, Strahd is tortured, broken down, and corrupted beyond redemption. In order to be truly corrupted the soul has to exist.
So does Strahd von Zarovich have a soul? I would argue almost certainly yes. And if the first vampire, the original, the Notorious SvZ himself has a soul, then it seems implausible that other vampires would not.
But as with many things about D&D, there is no conclusive answer. The nature of the soul, of the afterlife, of spirituality and magic itself are intended to be vague and leave room for DMs to come up with their own stories, allowing them to rewrite the laws of the universe as they see fit. So do vampires have souls? That’s up to you (or your DM) to decide!