I’m a busy guy and it’s almost midnight, so I’ll let the vetala’s creator, Wes Schneider, introduce the vetala for me:
A vampire from India, I’m trying to spin the vetala as our psychic vampires. […] Entertainingly (to me at least), as much as these creatures are drawn from Hindu myth, I was also watching through all of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine about the time I was writing this and found Meg Foster’s leanan-sídhe-like, bodiless cerebral vampire from the episode “Muse” surprisingly unnerving (in a “creepy uncle” kind of way you don’t usually get from women). So that was awesome and I wanted to make sure shades of that were in here […]
Sucking life energy instead of blood is a great concept. I’m also fascinated that vetalas come from the spirits of evil children inhabiting corpses…meaning that the person you lay to rest truly is a different person if they rise as a vetala. I also love the vetala’s role as a puppet master over both the living and the dead. And its vulnerability to the prayers and sacred spaces of good-aligned gods seems both right in terms of gameplay and a good role-playing hook.
So how to use them? Well, geography is easy—vetalas could go in your world’s India analogue, simple as that. We also talked about Jim Butcher’s various vampire courts the other day—you could easily replicate the Red, Black, and White Courts with vampires, nosferatu, and vetalas and call it a day. If your campaign often focuses on undead—say your adventurers are church knights, templars, or archaeologists—maybe vetalas are a new, subtler adversary for your band of paladins and inquisitors to fight. When corpses go missing one suspects necromancers or ghouls; one doesn’t suspect the traveling troupe of shadowdancers or the charismatic geisha.
Or maybe vetala vampires simply are the default vampires in your world. That really satisfies me, too. Especially if your players are experienced, why not change things up? It’s one more way of stamping your world as uniquely your world—they can reach for the garlic and stakes all they want, but in your world where vetala vampires are the norm, they’d be better off with a little prayer…
The young mendicant Bikram Ashborn begged in the marketplace with a skull bowl and tended the charnel grounds on the outside of town. But when he fell to disease, he rose as a vetala. The new vampire has begun to gleefully experiment with his host body…and as the locals still bring him corpses to tend, he has plenty more bodies with which to make mischief.
A vetala has a taste for the strong personalities of sorcerers. When a lammasu begins losing pupils, he recruits adventurers to search for the culprit and protect his remaining students.
Kites and bells are symbols of joy and sacrality in the mountain town of Songhope. But the new military governor orders the chapel bells melted down for gun barrels, and a fire destroys the silks that were to be used in the spring festival. When citizens try to fly their homemade kites strung with bells, they are attacked by zombies. All of this has actually been orchestrated in secret by the new military governor herself—a vetala—and her equally irreligious redcap and quickling henchmen.
—Inner Sea Bestiary 54–55
Wow, I actually saw that episode of DS9. I have staggeringly little exposure to Star Trek, with DS9 being the only series I’ve ever watched much of; I grew up in a Star Wars house.
Also, I imagine Songhope being sort of like the town in Sound of the Sky.
Here’s another thought: I’ve given the 3.5 book Magic of Incarnum some flak in the past, but I still dig the notion of soul magic. If you were to adapt incarnum rules for Pathfinder, I can easily see equating incarnum with prana—meaning vetala might be very adept at using soul magic, and/or might hunt practitioners of soul magic in particular. Psionic-using and –feeding vetalas are another natural option…