Posted by: allhailthoon | April 28, 2010

Creature Feature: Lycanthropes

If a DM is going to run a game that involves lycanthropes, they really need to think about how they want to portray them. Under what conditions are the transformations going to take place? Will it be a night time thing, a full moon thing, a frenzy thing, or a purely optional whenever thing? Will the player temporarily lose control of the transformed character? Will the character retain any of their human personality?

They should also put thought into the place of lycanthropes in the world. If other shape shifters exist, how are they going to draw a clear line between them? Are they going to treat lycanthropy as a disease with a contagion vector or as a unique curse? How common are lycanthropes going to be? Will they occur frequently enough that there will be bands of specialized adventurers with silvered weapons and nightshade that exist to hunt them down? Or will there only be one or two creatures haunting lonely moors and desolate mountain villages? Should the PCs know immediately what they are facing and what weapons they will need to use, or will they need to seek out scraps of dark lore and the wisdom of old wives in order to solve the puzzle?

Werewolf: When it comes to legendary shape-changing monsters, werewolves are really the gold standard.  They work well as either unique monsters like the Wolfman or as a sort of pseudo-race with small cults, raiding parties, or packs. But a DM should probably choose one or the other.

If a DM wants to use them both ways, they should probably intertwine them in some way and definitely start with the individual one in order to maintain the mystique.

Start out with the creepy howling beast on the moors, then after the PCs take him out, they can find out that he was a victim of the werewolf cult that dwells in the black peaked mountain. (If you want to be a real jerk, have the PCs find out about how he was really a great guy, just driven mad by the torture and dark rituals he was put through.)

Wererat: For an urban adventure, wererats are where it’s at. Personally, I like the idea of them as Oliver Twist style gangs of teenage thugs that turn into serious killers under the full moon.

What I really don’t get though is why they’re supposed to be lawful evil, especially if werewolves are chaotic evil. What about rats is lawful? They’re cannibalistic, sewer-dwelling vermin. That sounds like chaos to me. Especially when you compare them to wolves, an animal that lives in a pack with a fairly defined hierarchy and relatively organized system of behavior.

Werebear: I know I’m beating a dead horse with this alignment thing, but lawful good? Seriously? What does a lawful good lycanthrope even do?

I can see it now: The peasants in the previously mentioned desolate mountain village are huddled in their homes in fear. Suddenly they begin to hear strange sounds just outside the door. They cower together in the darkness, hoping to live until dawn. The noises eventually pass and when they wake up in the morning, their front porch has been mended.

Wereboar: There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a boar shapeshifter, but I don’t feel like they work as lycanthropes. The trouble is that boars, while dangerous, aren’t really predators. While the same can be said for rats, rats occupy the same spaces as humans, spread disease, foul their food, and generally serve to make life unpleasant. It’s easy to imagine a rat actively wanting to hurt you.

Boars are foragers and they generally don’t cause a problem unless you go into their space. Sure, they are dangerous, but only if you trespass on their territory, attack them, or try to harm their young. Humans hunt boars, boars don’t hunt us.

Weretiger: I picture the weretiger as an exalted creature. It’s easy to imagine one ruling as a god or emperor from some exotic eastern palace or temple draped in bright silks. He’ll laze about on a grand divan dispensing laws and words of wisdom, then during his transformation, his followers bring him maidens anointed with frankincense and white bulls with flowers wreathed through their horns.

Seawolf: Why would anyone not want to be able to turn into a wolf-seal?



  1. In regards to the rat as lawful aspect, in the Lab, they teach us that you should always have at least 2 mice (and I think rats as well) per cage as they are social creatures and get stressed if alone. I could see that as a lawful aspect. the scary rat image is never the lone rat, but the swarm of rats.

    Also, rats are a bit predatory with the hunting down of insects and smaller creatures. IF rats could eat us, they would.

    And yeah, why wouldn’t a wearbear run into a village of orcs and bite everyone, thus creating a tribe of lawful good orcs from the original chaotic evil dudes.

    • As far as rats go, those are the kinds of things you notice under lab scrutiny. If you really pay attention and think about them, frogs are tremendously strong and extremely capable predators, but they’re not scary in a brute force against humans way either.

      Rats are capable of striking fear, but not in the same way as wolves.

      Visually also, if you look at a pack of wolves, it’s easy to assume that they’re thinking and calculating their actions. Maybe it’s a matter of individual size and sheer numbers, but a swarm of rats seems like a rolling mass of chaos. When you see them, they’re usually running around, scattering, and shrieking.

      Remember, this is D&D, not animal behavior. The visual and emotional reactions are the important part, not necessarily the science.

  2. Maybe orcs taste really bad? Or they’re lawful good and don’t want to force an alignment on another thinking being? Or alignments in D&D are stupid and we should really stop worrying about them? I’m going with #1, personally.

    For normal lycanthropes, the were-mule (ass-were? I think those were a 2E monster) is depressingly powerful. Just saying.

    I’ve actually been working on a lycanthrope character for an online game. For those interested, a were-snow spider (which means using the vermin version of lycanthrope!) is a freaking monster – you get tremorsense 60ft, spring attack and weapon finesse as a bonus feat, and 30ft climb speed – all for 1HD and 2 LA. Add +1 LA for Mineral Warrior, giving 15ft burrow speed and fast healing 3, DR 8/adamentine, and crazy stat boosts.

    In other words, your Water Orc Barbarian 2/Animal HD 1/LA 3 can, at ECL 6, burrow through the earth, sight and attack somebody by popping out of the ground, use improved trip, hit and get another attack at the prone target, and then burrow back into the ground again, lurking beneath the earth for the person to pick himself up and try to escape – but he probably can’t. Not with your insane burrow speed. It’s like Tremors, only with 8-eyed orcs. Orcs that also have a swim speed and a climb speed. You can’t escape.

    New house rule for my Birthright game: Ian’s lands are infested with were-spiders of the snowy variety. You’ve all been warned.

    • At least we only have to fight them on his turn.

      • Uh, about that…

  3. Holy shit! HOLY SHIT! I wanna play a water orc wear-snow spider, mineral warrior, half dragon! at ECL 9, I have 3 HD, 2 of which are dragon HD, and a butt ton of Str… WITH A BURROW SPEED, SWIM SPEED, and if I was large, A FLY SPEED!…hrrmm 1/2 ogre?

    • oh, wait, 1 dragon HD and if I was a 1/2 ogre, I’d lose the swim speed and the awesome orciness.

      • So…you’re from a rare water clan of orcs, your father was a dragon, you were bitten by a were-snow spider, and a mad wizard turned you into a mineral warrior? Scarily enough, I think the character ends up being rules-legal. He would be a Dragon [Water, Orc, Shapeshifter].

  4. I LOVE D&D!

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