Monday, June 12, 2023

The Human Werewolf.

art by Lucas Cranach the Elder

In a fantastic world where people can turn into animals for real, is there room for this version? Maybe.

Fear them, pity them, hate them, utterly misjudge them - this is the werewolf of human suffering. Their transformation is a property of their own minds and/or the accusations against them (not mutually exclusive).

This werewolf could be a beggar, a shepherd, a grand prince, a king, an unconventional therapist, a dressmaker, a wealthy farmer, a pedlar, a tailor, a mad duke, you, a lonely old woman, a grandiose peasant, a babe in the woods, a mooncalf, an eminent psychiatrist, a dishonourably discharged soldier, a noble baron, a creepy little kid.

As well as people who believe themselves to be monsters, it also includes monsters who claim to be human, and unfortunates being mistaken for monsters.

Human werewolves behave like humans, and wolves, and how they think wolves and werewolves behave, and how other people think wolves and werewolves behave. And sometimes they do this to a timetable, or for an audience, or when triggered. Can be gradual (even over weeks) or abrupt.

For example, the mad duke might go out howling at night, digging up graves and telling people he's a wolf, but spend the day doing his ducal duties and political scheming. He might act as if he is (or genuinely be) unaware of his nocturnal personality.

Remember also, some people only realise they're a werewolf when told they are by the bloke with the red-hot pincers and thumbscrews. You can roll d12 on this table to determine how someone thinks the transformation is accomplished.

Genres: crapsack, historical, (folk) horror, low-level, modern, mystery.

Basic profile: a Normal Human, a Berserker, any NPC, a PC.

I'm writing in ye olde D&D-adjacent, but it's all system agnostic really.

Nebuchadnezzar, eating grass not babies, being retrospectively diagnosed with porphyria

Combat: improvised weapons, in the mechanical and the narrative sense. They'll beat, bite, grapple, scratch and strangle as needed, even reach for a handy rock, broken bottle or piece of cutlery (if they're not too deep in the wolf delusion).

There's nothing but their own beliefs, delusions and preferences to stop them using any armour or weapon, even firearms.

In less casually violent settings, it might just be their willingness to do damage without worrying about the consequences that makes them dangerous.

Optional: Infected Wounds, whether their teeth and nails are tainted with grave-earth and rotten viscera, or just because the human mouth is apparently a filthy place. Treat as in your setting/system, but with an increased chance (+1% per point of damage, for instance).

Double 1s on 2d6 and victim thinks they're turning into a werewolf too.

Optional: Ferocity. Attack as a Giant Shrew - you can have the Initiative bonus, double attacks, the whole stat block if you like.

Optional: Battle Rage. If you aren't already using the Berserker stat block, you get the +2 attack bonus, +1 hp and 12 Morale - plus the deranged behaviour.

Special Qualities: Pick, or roll d12; not compulsory.
  1. +d2 AC for thick hair, toughened skin, pain tolerance etc.
  2. -1 to all rolls in normal daylight; -2 in bright sunlight.
  3. take 2 hp damage per time unit (pick or randomise) in direct sunlight; this does not heal naturally, unless recovery time spent in darkness. Bits will eventually drop off.
  4. Animals (mammals) - initial Reaction is Unfriendly.
  5. Cats and Dogs - initial Reaction is Hostile.
  6. Ghouls - initial Reaction is Neutral.
  7. Wolves and Werewolves - initial Reaction is Neutral.
  8. Wolves and Werewolves - initial Reaction is Hostile.
  9. Wolves - initial Reaction is Friendly.
  10. Appearance, behaviour, reputation and/or unsettling presence reduce Charisma by 3 (or a Reaction Roll penalty).
  11. Appearance, behaviour, reputation and/or unsettling presence reduce Charisma to 3.
  12. Can eat raw meat, spoiled food, cadavers and assorted carrion without (debilitating/significant) ill effects; +4 save vs. ingested poisons & diseases, and a save of 16+ if one is not normally allowed.

As well as having a higher than normal chance of spontaneously rising from the grave as a vampire, human werewolves are likely more susceptible to a vampire's charm/mesmeric ability (even becoming Pawns to their Liege).

Their circumstances and/or habits make them ideal candidates for ghouldom or ghasthood, as well as making them attractive to bad spirits and demons.

And their fellow humans might shove them in a cage and tour them, charging a silver piece to see the captive werewolf, and giving them only meagre, stinking provender to eat and a worn, filthy blanket against the chill.


Historical werewolves have been medically ascribed:

  • Hypertrichosis. Petrus Gonsalvus (1537-1618) was educated and toured the courts of Europe within the same time frame as the Gandillon family, Gilles Garnier and Peter Stubbe were being executed for werewolfism. Even though Petrus wasn't seen as completely human (he was also a slave), he wasn't subjected to torture and put to death for it.
    They didn't think he was a werewolf, or his hairy children, either.

  • Porphyria. This article from 1964 seems to be the source for this gaining popularity. But porphyria was recognised as far back as Hippocrates, and the disfigurement it causes is not unlike that of other diseases, such as leprosy. Sensitivity to garlic and sunlight as symptoms apply more to vampires; more to our modern ideas, in any case. And porphyria gives you superpowers in much the same way as an origin-story dose of radiation doesn't.
  • Rabies. Well known to the ancients (4000 year old laws about dealing with rabid animals) and contagion by bite is characteristic of the 20th Century werewolf.
  • And, crucially, Lycanthropy as a disease of the mind (a form of melancholy) was recognised as early as the 7th Century. See also the case of wee Jean Grenier, who was tried as a werewolf but judged to be suffering from lycanthropy - at a time (c.1604) when similar cases resulted in sensational confessions and brutal executions.

No comments:

Post a Comment