Presenting the Father of the Modern Vampire, Doctor John Polidori. Although eclipsed in fame by the great authors and poets with whom he associated, it was nonetheless Doctor Polidori who was responsible for establishing the image of the vampire as a dashing, sexually irresistible aristocrat. Of course, Polidori’s bloodsucking “Lord Ruthven” was meant as a satire of the Doctor’s infamous employer, Lord Byron!
Doctor Polidori (June 16, 1816)
Lord Byron’s personal physician, and future author of “The Vampyre”
Full Name: Doctor John William Polidori
Aliases: John Polidori, Dr. Polidori
Appearance/Most Memorable Characteristic: A handsome young man of Mediterranean mien. He seems to be favoring one leg when he walks.
Charisma: 10 Intelligence: 16 Wisdom: 13
Strength: 9 Dexterity: 9 Constitution: 8
Assets: Handsome, Fast Learner, Natural Artistic Talent (drawing)
Afflictions: Sprained Ankle (temporary), Hot-tempered, Prone to Sickness, Compulsive Gambler
Hit Points: 26
Attacks: 1 pistol, or caustic chemical splash.
Damage Bonus: +1
Special Abilities: Profession (+1): Physician | Avocation (+1): Writer | Affection (+1): Art | Academic Credentials (as the Mad Scientist Special Ability, instead of an Inheritance) | Social Contacts: Lord Byron (poet, employer); Mary Shelley (aspiring writer, recent acquaintance); Percy Shelley (poet, recent acquaintance); Claire Clairmont (Mary Shelley’s stepsister, recent acquaintance); John Murray (Byron’s publisher); Sir Henry Halford (King George III’s Physician-in-Ordinary); Gaetano Polidori (father); Frances Polidori (sister); John Soane (son of no-classical architect Sir John Soane).
Weaknesses: Phobia: Being Overlooked (Athazagoraphobia) | Prejudice: Homely People
Typical Equipment Carried: Stylish clothes, leather physician’s satchel (with vials of various chemicals), notebook, 1000p in local currency (55 Swiss francs).
Residence: The Villa Diodati, Lord’ Byron’s’ rented Villa on the shore of Lake Geneva.
- September 7, 1795: John William Polidori was born in London. His father was the Italian author and translator Gaetano Polidori. His English mother Anna Maria had been a governess.
- 1804: John began school at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire. The school, run by Benedictine Monks, eventually became one of the premiere institutions educating the British Catholic elite.
- 1810: Child prodigy John Polidori entered the University of Edinburgh to study medicine at the age of 15.
- 1814: John graduated from Edinburgh University, writing his thesis on somnambulism (sleep-walking). At 19, John was the youngest person to ever to graduate from the school with a medical degree.
- April, 1816: Lord Byron hired Polidori to be his personal physician and traveling companion, on the recommendation of Sir Henry Halford. Shortly thereafter John is contracted by Lord Byron’s publisher John Murray to keep a diary of his travels with Byron, for £500.
- April 25, 1816: Doctor Polidori and Lord Byron sailed from Dover towards Ostend, accompanied by three servants.
- April 26, 1816: Doctor Polidori and Lord Byron arrived in Ostend, and took lodgings. John immediately witnessed Lord Byron’s sexually predatory behavior, writing “As soon as he reached his room, Lord Byron fell like a thunderbolt upon the chambermaid.” The pair set out with their servants for Switzerland the next morning. Lord Byron’s elegant carriage, brought over from England and overburdened with his possessions, broke down almost constantly along the way.
- May 24, 1816: At Morat, John and Lord Byron stole bones from a ruined ossuary holding the remains of 15th century Burgundian soldiers.
- May 26, 1816: Doctor Polidori and Lord Byron reached the outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland around midnight. They took lodgings in the Hôtel de l’Anglerre, popular with traveling Englishmen.
- May 27, 1816: After boating with Lord Byron on Lake Geneva, Doctor Polidori met Mary Godwin, Claire Clairmont, and Percy Shelley, who by Claire’s connivance had been waiting on the shore. Mary and Percy initially mistook John for Lord Byron. Byron was not pleased to see Claire, but nonetheless invited her, Percy, and Mary to dinner that night.
- June 2, 1816: John began giving Mary Godwin lessons in Italian (the Tuscan dialect), and took her son William to be vaccinated against smallpox.
- June 10, 1816: John moved into the Villa Diodati with Lord Byron. Percy Shelly and Lord Byron became increasingly abusive towards Doctor Polidori, referring to him as “PollyDolly”, mocking his affection for a local girl, disparaging his writings, and otherwise goading him into angry outbursts whenever possible.
- June 15, 1816: John severely sprained his ankle after being cajoled by Lord Byron into leaping from a wall in order to escort Mary Godwin up a slippery, rain-slicked path. That night, he had a conversation with Percy Shelly about the principles of life, and whether human life should be considered as a mechanical or spiritual process – “whether man was to be thought merely an instrument”.
- June 16, 1816: Lord Byron challenges the group, forced inside by the inclement weather, to write ghost stories. Several days later Doctor Polidori will begin work on a ghost story, but not “The Vampyre”.
Personality and Role-Playing Notes:
Doctor Polidori is hung-strung, and quick to take offense. Consequently, he is always being goaded and needled by the sadistic Lord Byron. He loves art, but has strong opinions on aesthetics, and can be extremely judgmental of peoples’ appearances. Doctor Polidori is immensely proud of his academic achievements, and often annoyed by the way others seem to fawn over his employer. Polidori will quick to point out he is a physician, not a surgeon (which is a much lower status position in the early 19th century). He has a great fear of being ignored, and will do foolish things in order to be noticed and thought well of. He has a passionately romantic nature, and is developing an infatuation with Mary Godwin.
Doctor Polidori currently has a sprained ankle, from impetuously leaping to escort Mary Shelley up a wet path. He therefore walks with a limp – which Lord Byron may point out as evidence that the doctor is trying to imitate the poet in all ways! Doctor Polidori wants to be taken seriously as a writer, but Byron makes a point of disparaging anything he writes (and encouraging others to do the same). Nonetheless, Doctor Polidori is currently being paid by Byron’s publisher to keep journal of his experiences with the poet, and so will be keen to insert himself into any social interactions at the Villa Diodati.
Doctor Polidori in Your Game:
Anyone visiting the Villa Diodati in the summer of 1816 is going to encounter Doctor Polidori. If the PCs aren’t there to meet Lord Byron, may be trying to meet the former child prodigy, in order to seek his advice on some bizarre medical problem. Perhaps one of the PCs (or one of their loved ones) is a sleepwalker, experiencing horrible nightmares, or prone to fall into debilitating trances – all of which are Polidori’s specialty. In any event, Doctor Polidori will try to turn any conversation towards those topics – so he can feel like the smartest person in the room!
Another possibility is that the PCs are agents of Lord Byron’s publisher John Murray, sent to make sure Doctor Polidori is actually keeping his diary – and not just indulging in orgies with Byron.
John Polidori committed suicide by drinking poison in 1821 (although the death was officially recorded as being from natural causes). The Presenter could explore the possibility that in 1816 Polidori was already in communication with an actual Vampyre, who later made John one himself.
In 1800 John’s sister Frances married the Italian poet Gabriele Rossetti, and eventually gave birth to four children destined for fame – author and nun Maria Francesca Rossetti (who wrote a biography of Dante), painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), literary critic William Michael Rossetti, and the poet Christina Rossetti (author of the classic “Goblin Market”). The Presenter could explore the possibility that Doctor Polidori’s family was haunted by fairies, and the John never died, but was actually whisked away to the Otherworld – with an illusory “stock” made of wood, leaves and moss left in his place. Perhaps Doctor Polidori was never really an ordinary human being at all, but a Fairy Changeling unaware of his own true nature until 1821 (when he chose to escape the Mundane World altogether).