Shapeshifters and Cursed Lycanthropes

   Lycanthropy is a terrible curse, that turns men into ravening beasts, is virtually incurable save by death, and is rightfully feared by all.

   Except, of course, that it isn’t.

   Classically, of course, there were natural and magical shapeshifters – with inner natures as varied as any other group of creatures – people cursed to remain as animals for a period of time, simple madmen who acted either intermittently or continuously like feral animals, and people who were essentially possessed – whether by black magic or simply due to their personal evil. Sometimes they were even considered a type of undead, or it was believed that an improperly slain werething would return as a vampire.

   More modern influences have added hidden shapeshifting races and the cinematic werewolf – which may be simply a monster but is often little more than a metaphor for puberty (lets see… the victim, almost invariably a young man, gets larger, stronger, grows hair all over, develops a deep and growling voice, and starts chasing pretty young women, who get dragged out of sight. If they turn up again, it’s usually with their clothes half torn away and often with traces of blood about them. Is it any wonder there are whole series of romance novels about werewolves?).

   In d20, of course, there are a few limitations on becoming a lycanthrope. The first time that you change, you’ll (presumably) be overcome by the shock and run wild. You’ll also run wild each time you change until you become aware of your condition. Finally, your alignment will soon change to match that of your new weretype*.

   So: you need to be bright enough to recognize that the huge animal that bit you (the one that was unnaturally-intelligent and almost impervious to normal weapons) just might be supernatural and you’ll need to get you friends to restrain you for one night. You’ll need to either accept your new alignment or get yourself a feat, item, or spell that will keep the natural tendencies of the animal form from overwhelming you. Not too hard in d20, there are psychic powers that will do, spells that will do, and there are feats and items for pretty much any purpose.

   In Eclipse you don’t even have to hunt for such things. Simply take Immunity/mental changes caused by lycanthropy (Uncommon, Severe, Major, 6 CP).

   Now, you will have to put up with an ECL penalty, but “Beware accursed one! You’ll need a lot more XP than you thought to make your next level!” somehow just isn’t the same; a front-line fighter might well find lycanthropy well worthwhile.

   True cursed lycanthropes are something a little different from the shapeshifters, black magicians, and strange races. (In Eclipse those are all easy to create and play anyway). Cursed Lycanthropes are something much more terrible than a character with a few modifiers.

   They’re characters who are possessed by a powerful, bestial, spirit – usually a horror from the lower planes.

  • For the spirit, possessing a mortal allows it to anchor itself on the material plane, and remain indefinitely – occupying a world full of prey and delectable innocents. During it’s times of dominance, it possesses it’s full powers save for those dependent on wings or similar major physical changes (there are limits as to how much it can twist it’s hosts body). On the other hand, it gets anything inherent to it’s hosts species and the use of one-half of it’s hosts hit points. During it’s periods of dominance, it gets to do as it pleases, subject to the limitations of Detente’ (below).
  • The mortal is treated as a native outsider, and receives the spirits defensive special qualities other than those requiring major physical changes (such as incorporeality) and one half of the spirits hit points. During the hosts times of dominance he or she may do as he or she pleases, subject to the limitations of Detente’ (below).
  • Either can voluntarily call up the other during it’s times of dominance, sharing control. This is a purely mental change when the spirit is dominant, a shapeshift when the host is.
  • Mental effects affect the spirit and the host independently; it’s perfectly possible to catch the spirit with Hold Monster and have the host – who usually wants to live as well – run away for both of them.

   Detente’ is fairly simple. Both the spirit and the character get to impose one restriction on each other’s behavior at all times. Whichever one has the higher (base will score plus attribute bonus plus sacred bonuses for the mortal and unholy bonuses for the spirit) gets to impose one additional restriction per extra point.

   Thus, if a Succubus (Will +7) is possessing a local Merchant (Will +2), the Merchant gets to impose one restriction. Being human, he’s opted for “leave my family alone!”. The Succubus gets to impose six restrictions – perhaps”no killing yourself”, “do not reveal my presence to anyone”, “remain in town”, “act as if nothing is wrong”, “kill anyone who witnesses our transformation” (yes, a clash is paralyzing until one relents), and “make plausible excuses to stay away from holy places”. Note that, if one picks up an item which grants an appropriate bonus and thus allows one or more extra restrictions, the first extra one is usually “remain in possession of that item at all times” unless there’s a good reason not to pick that one.

   At other times, the host and the spirit can argue over courses of action with opposed will checks. Whoever is currently dominant gets a +5 bonus. Sadly for those on the outside, such arguments and opposed checks are free actions.

   Dominance is equally simple: the Spirit will have times – classically a few nights per month, although not necessarily anything to do with the full moon – when it’s dominant and the host body will be shapeshifted into a bestial form. The Mortal gets the rest of the time by default. If the dominant party voluntarily shapeshifts, they’re on equal terms for the duration.

   Both minds remain present, and can communicate, at all times. After a time, they often come to a sort of an agreement; both will usually want to survive, personal pleasures appeal to both, both can find ways to make each other miserable – and the spirit will often be willing to use some of it’s powers on the hosts behalf in exchange for being allowed out during the periods of mortal dominance. Of course, this often results in a gradual corruption of the host – both by being forced to participate in horrific-yet-enjoyable (if only by proxy) acts during the times when the spirit is dominant and by the gradual moral erosion that comes with consenting to evil acts.

   If the host is slain while transformed, the spirit is banished, and any damage the lycanthrope had currently is applied against the hosts hit points alone – which is rarely survivable. Banishing the spirit (not an easy task thanks to it’s bond with the hosts body and spirit) will have the same result.

   If the host is slain, in mortal form, the corpse will transform and rise during the spirits usual times of dominance – although it will no longer benefit from half the hosts hit points. On the other hand, it will no longer be restrained by Detente’, even if the hosts spirit remains trapped in the corpse – a not-uncommon result. Such a spirit will continue to rise until dealt with while it is active. Of course, as it’s first action, it will usually do anything it had been barred from doing before – such doing something horrific to that merchants family.

   Spirits which can summon other, similar-but-weaker spirits can “pass on their curse” – although, to do so, the victim must be either willing or currently incapable of resisting, such as by being unconscious. A serious injury must be inflicted, some portion of the body of the cursed lycanthrope – blood, a significant amount of saliva, or a chunk of tissue – must be inserted into that injury, and a short ritual must be conducted. As usual, summoned creatures cannot themselves summon creatures. Worse, each one present counts against the summoners daily limit. Our Succubus-invested Merchant could thus recruit a single lesser lycanthrope, investing the host with a Vrock – but that would be the limit. A Balor, however, could eventually command a pack of forty-eight lesser cursed lycanthropes – even if most of them would be fairly useless Dretchs.

   Most cursed lycanthropes are pitiable wretches, but there are always some – who enjoy acts of beastial evil – who get along just fine with their possessing spirits. In either case, they are usually doomed to gradual corruption – and to eventually be hauled back to the spirits plane or origin.

   Cursed lycanthropes usually originate through just that – some terrible curse or act of ritual magic. Occasionally, you simply get someone who was at the point of death when an evil spirit happened to be about (a distinct rarity), refused to accept death, and intuitively arrived at a pact – but this is vanishingly rare, and may be nothing more than a myth.

   *Wolves, of course, have gotten a bum rap out of the entire thing. Last time I looked, wolves were highly social, intensely loyal to their friends, functioned in well-organized groups, cared for their offspring as a fiercely-protective pack, certainly seem to miss absent friends, and otherwise seem to be pretty much “Lawful Good” by most standards. Yes, they hunt and eat other animals. So do people – and I haven’t yet seen a Paladin on a crusade to save the cows.

   As for rats and bears… well, somehow the rats I’ve encountered don’t seem to be any worse than squirrels, mice, hamsters, or any other rodent. Werebears, on the other hand, get credited with being lawful good. In reality, bears are often nasty solitary creatures with rotten tempers. Oh well, Tolkien put in one good-guy werebear, so they get special credit.


One Response

  1. […] Shapeshifters and Cursed Lycanthropes. Making Lycanthropy something to fear. […]

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