When a mortal has the misfortune of being under the mercy of a powerful vampire, we typically assume they either end up as an easy meal, or be sired and become a bloodthirsty creature of the night.
Although this article is mainly focused within Elder Scrolls lore, people who are interested in vampire roleplay may find this useful!
The purpose of this guide is to discuss what it means to RP a mortal in thrall to a vampire. Since the only real example of thrall lore we have comes from Skyrim, and then only in a very limited capacity, most of this guide is the interpretation used by myself and my guild rather than hard and fast canon.
The most important thing to take away from it is since every vampire is an individual it is logical each would handle thralling differently, so there is wiggle room in RP. But playing a thrall can present a fresh, lesser seen take on vampire roleplay that enables you to enjoy the benefits of mortal RP while having a tie to something much darker.
What is a thrall?
A thrall is any mortal who has been mentally bound to a vampire. This generally means the thrall will be in active service to their vampire master, working in the mortal realm to benefit the vampire’s needs and interests. Thralls are always servants but not necessarily slaves.
How does the thralling process work?
There are typically two ways for a vampire to create a thrall.
The first is mental domination, which is the primary lore example of thralldom. A vampire has considerable innate powers of persuasion or seduction over mortals, thanks to their charm magic, and some may elect to use these powers to force a mortal into their service.
This has several drawbacks, the most notable being thralls with dominated minds tend to behave in a dazed or even feral way in public. This may be adequate for some uses a vampire may have for a thrall, yet won’t do much to give the vampire a means to influence mortal society through a mortal servant who can go out in the daytime and interact without suspicion.
The second method is through forging a blood bond. When a vampire allows a mortal to feed from his or her blood, the mortal will typically become bound to the vampire by the third feeding. This is a more passive method of creating a thrall because the mortal’s free will is typically unaffected. However, the thrall will develop a certain level of obsession with the vampire whose blood they drank, which has the effect of swaying them mentally to want to serve. One could argue this is a form of mental domination, but I believe it’s more accurate to simply view it as an addiction. The mortal craves their “fix” and will do anything to get it.
There is an emotional component to both types of thralling. While mentally dominated thralls tend to speak of their respective vampires with reverence and obsession, even willingly blood bound thralls will develop a strong emotional connection with the vampire. Naturally, the exact nature of the ensuing relationship is dependent upon the individual thrall and vampire involved. However, it’s logical to assume many mortals experience positive emotions in regards to “their” vampire, everything from idolizing the vampire like a god to outright falling in love.
Regardless if the vampire shows the thrall kindness and allows the bond to take even deeper root, or if the vampire is cruel to the thrall, the infatuation of thralldom would not easily be broken. This would mean a thrall is exceptionally vulnerable to emotional abuse by an unscrupulous vampire, since the thrall would be unlikely to simply leave if they were treated unkindly—they’d keep hopelessly serving and searching for any scrap of kindness to their own detriment.
Can a mortal be “cured” from thralldom?
We have at least one lore example of a mortal’s mind being freed from thralldom once the binding vampire was killed. However, I don’t think such a severance would be an easy thing for a thrall to endure. While the death of their binding vampire will logically result in them no longer being thralled, it isn’t a stretch to imagine the loss would be mentally traumatic, even if part of them hated the vampire for what it did to them.
Once thralled, the vampire essentially becomes the most important thing in the thrall’s life, regardless of how much free will they have. To lose the vampire would be like losing part of themselves. They could recover from it, but it wouldn’t be an easy thing.
Along the same vein, thralldom needs to be maintained by the vampire to stay effective. If a vampire creates a thrall, and then simply abandons the thrall with no further mental domination or blood binding, the thrall will eventually return to its natural state. In the case of blood thralls, they need to be fed the vampire’s blood periodically, and the more often they ingest the vampire’s blood, the stronger their bond is. For mentally dominated thralls, it stands to reason the vampire would need to “refresh” the mental charm on the mortal whenever he or she started to show signs of resistance--but the longer a mortal’s mind is enslaved, the further it corrodes into madness.
Just how much free will do thralls have?
A thrall has as much free will as the vampire allows them to have. Think of it this way—if a vampire lives in a cave someplace, totally apart from the mortal world, it’s unlikely they will need a thrall with free will. But if a vampire is from one of the more civilized strains and plans to “hide in plain sight” by pretending to be a mortal, they are going to need mortal servants to help uphold the deception.
In the case of a mentally dominated thrall, they have virtually no free will and are subject to the vampire’s commands. They simply cannot refuse, or do not realize they can. The most extreme cases of these enslaved thralls reach a nearly feral state, mute and existing solely to serve the vampire at the expense of their own needs.
Yet blood bound thralls are much different. There would be no automatic change in free will from binding a thrall to a vampire. A blood bound thrall is capable of saying no, of getting angry at their binding vampire, or even outright betrayal, especially if they are improperly tended.
There is a fine line, because while the thrall would be infatuated with the vampire and less likely to betray them, they would still be capable of it if they were thralled unwillingly or sufficiently motivated. The thrall’s mental state very much plays a role in just how well the binding process works, which is why a wise vampire will carefully cultivate a suitable mortal and make the mortal dependent and loyal before ever building a blood bond.
From this perspective one could argue the longer the blood bond continues and the more frequently the thrall is fed, the less free will they have to refuse the vampire. Yet it can be viewed more as the blood cravings and addiction warping the mortal’s thoughts to make them want to serve, rather than being locked in unwilling mental slavery, unable to say no.
What roles can a thrall fill?
Being a thrall is typically a secondary duty. While it is often paramount in the thrall’s mind, virtually all will have a role or job in addition to simply being a thrall. This may range from being the vampire’s personal guard to being their lover and everything in between. So, in other words, any type of character can be a thrall.
Are all mortals who give blood to vampires considered thralls?
The simple answer is no. One important distinction is between a thrall and a mortal that allows a vampire to feed from their blood. Mortals who willingly give blood to vampires are called many things in various traditions—blood dolls, pomme de sang (blood apples), etc, and serve a vital role for any civilized vampire who wishes to have a source of blood without needing to kill. The main distinction between a blood doll and a thrall is the fact thralls are bound to the vampire while blood dolls are not.
So, just because a thrall might be fed on by a vampire doesn’t mean that is their primary purpose, and just because a mortal is fed on by a vampire doesn’t mean they are a thrall. There also may be circumstances where the thrall is not fed on at all by the vampire. Simply giving a vampire blood will not bind a mortal to a vampire the way ingesting a vampire’s blood will.
What is the difference between a thrall and a slave?
While some parallels can be drawn between thralls and slaves, there are also important distinctions. Mentally dominated thralls are often unaware of the fact they are thralls, so I’ll simply discuss blood bound thralls here.
Much like a slave is aware of their status, a thrall will be aware of the fact they are a thrall. However, most blood bound thralls have not been forced into this role unwillingly. Serving the vampire is the most important thing to most thralls rather than an unwanted oppression.
Depending on the thrall’s prominence in the vampire’s retinue, thralls also have the possibility to negotiate their position. Just because many want to serve doesn’t mean they will blindly follow orders. Thralls have the right and ability to question or object to the vampire’s commands, and do not have a lesser status in society the way a slave does. In fact, thralls are typically valued by vampires much higher than normal mortals, which is their primary difference from slaves. Instead of being viewed as a lesser creature, like slaves are, thralls enjoy a certain amount of standing in vampire society.
In the end, just how much of a “slave mindset” a thrall has will vary by individual. An innately submissive personally will take to being a thrall better than a forceful, aggressive one will. While the submissive thrall will place serving as their primary priority in life, even the meekest thrall still has a higher status than a slave.
Why play a thrall?
Playing a thrall puts you in a very unique position among vampire RP. While RPing a vampire is great fun, it can also be severely limiting if you do it well. Since a vampire should never be publicly known as a vampire, most strains will not be able to go out in the daytime. They must always have elaborate cover stories to justify their nocturnal lifestyle and other oddities unique to their condition. It also doesn’t make sense for them to go everywhere and do everything if there would be a risk of discovery.
On the other hand, playing a thrall gives you the ability to enjoy the inner workings of vampire RP without committing to playing such a limited character type. Your thrall is first and foremost a mortal, which means they can do anything a mortal can without fear of being discovered as a thrall. There is nothing about a thrall that would give them away in public. So, playing a thrall lets you RP “normally” while still having a tie to vampire RP, and filling a rarely seen and much needed niche in the popular monster genre.
Hopefully this guide has given you some food for thought about what it means to RP a thrall. This is my interpretation of thralldom, but the lore is vague enough for there to be many different views. There is no one right answer, but I feel this guide is in keeping with Elder Scrolls vampire lore. Feel free to discuss and share your own views!
Beltane runs the "Conclave of the Night", a monster roleplaying community hub in 'The Elder Scrolls: Online' North American megaserver. You can check them out at http://conclave-of-night.enjin.com/! In addition to this, she is an officer of the Imperial vampire guild House Ravnore - http://houseravnore.enjin.com/."
She is also open to doing MMO character art commissions. If you're interested, come visit her thread for more info here!