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I Howl For You

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about dealing with lycanthrope PCs.

If you’re a GM who has ever thrown a lycanthrope at a party of PCs, this has probably happened to you. The were[whatever] bites your PC and they fail miserably on their saving throw, maybe even a natural 1 so its difficult to just hand-wave the condition away. At that very instant, you’re thinking to yourself, “Aw, crap. I’ve got a lycanthrope in the party.”

And depending upon your PCs, their eyes either swell with fear or they gleam with excitement. Because now, they’ve just got a kickass template and its all thanks to you. Today we’re going to be talking about lycanthropic PCs: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What is Lycanthropy?

I probably don’t need to explain this, but lycanthropy is that disease that transforms you into a werewolf. Or a werebear. Or a wererat. And so on. In Pathfinder, the term “lycanthropy” incorrectly refers to any disease that turns you into a slobbering, evil half-man half-beast monstrosity. (The correct term would be therianthropy, but I’m not going to discuss Latin nomenclature here).

So yeah, we’re talking about a supernatural disease that transforms you into a supernatural monster by light of the moon in this article.

The Polarity of Lycanthropy

As I mentioned before, lycanthropy is bizarre because depending upon the player, they’re either going to be horrified or starstruck about becoming a werewolf. On one hand, lycanthropy means a loss of control of your character, during which you will often do horrible, unspeakable things to innocents. If you’re a good character, this is a nightmare. If you’re someone who optimizes, then you just got a +1 on Will saves and Wisdom-based checks at the cost of an ability score that you probably don’t care much about (Charisma). Oh, and something about roleplaying, but you don’t care about that, BONUSES!

Yes, the reaction to lycanthropy boils down to optimizer vs. roleplayer most of the time. You know, until your party starts to kill each other.

Introducing the Self-Slaying Party!

Without question, the people that your now-lycanthropic PC are going to be around the most are his allies, so therefore the people who are most likely to be attacked (as well as the most likely people to discover what has happened) are the other PCs. And depending on the party, there is a very real chance that your players will start to try and kill each other, and that’s no fun for anyone involved save the cruelest, most sadistic of GMs. (That’s not a good thing to be, folks). Unlike, say, the “kitsune discovery,” where the party realizes you’re not entirely human but you’re not all that different anyway, the “lycanthropic discovery” usually involves bodies. Lots and lots of bodies. And your PCs trying to contain the mess via combat. Because let’s face it, a party’s reputation is going to suffer if word gets out that they brought a werewolf into the local village.

In short, the lycanthropic disease usually boils down to a time-wasting PvP combat that can ruin the party’s image. And the worst part is that nine out of ten PCs see the whole darn thing coming!

Oppa Werewolf Style

I caught a lot of flak for my whole, “Let the PCs use their metagame knowledge” a few weeks back, but let’s be honest folks: what PC who is playing a game like Pathfinder is not going to recognize a lycanthrope when they see one? The werewolf is such an ingrained part of our culture’s monster mythology that it is impossible. EVERYONE knows what happens when you get bit by a werewolf. NO one is surprised. And nine out of ten players are going to recognize a lycanthrope the minute that transformation happens. Then the minute they get bit and you tell them to make a saving throw, they’ll know EXACTLY what that saving throw is for. And when combat is over, they will do EVERYTHING, and I mean EVERYTHING to try and justify seeking medical / magical attention, even if their character knows nothing about lycanthropy.

Lycanthropy has that effect on people.

How to Handle the Howling

By far, the best way to handle lycanthropy with PCs is to simply never make them save against it. Let’s face it, you’re not making the combat any easier or harder by ignoring it and half of the lycanthropes you fight (infected lycanthropes) can’t inflict the disease anyway. Even though the story potential is cool, the fact remains that lycanthropy is too disruptive to inflict on PCs. Every single time I’ve done it or have seen it done, it was either unceremoniously cured or played around to the point where it wasn’t really a story factor. And that, more than anything, is frustrating.

For now, that’s all I have to say about lycanthropy and PCs. What do you think? Have you ever inflicted lycanthropy (or a similar effect) on your PCs? How did it work out for you? I’m really hoping to hear some great lycanthropy stories for this one, because I’ve never experienced a case where PC lycanthropy enhanced the game experience in any meaningful way. Maybe you guys can change my mind. Leave your comments and stories below, and I’ll see you next Monday for another installment in Guidance’s GM Guide!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune shapeshifter, and the mere concept of kitsune werefoxes is enough to make him need an aspirin.

Alex Augunas

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve only had to deal with lycanthropy a couple of times, and I completely agree with your comments here. My solution, however, is a little different. I always keep a record of my parties saves/stats/etc., so in response to PC getting bitten, I do not ask them to make a save. I know that a common answer is to get the DM to secretly roll for them, but players dislike this lack of control. So, at sometime later in the same session, I’ll ask everyone to roll a d20 for me. I’ll then ask to see one or two players character sheets, nod and tut, and then hand them back, without explaining anything.

    Assuming that the roll was failed, the group will start to notice strange things very soon. If they are in a natural setting, they will find the mutilated and partly eaten corpses of wildlife, and tracks leading nowhere (it’s even funnier if the PC is a druid, due to the complete lack of tracks). In a more urban setting, I’ll introduce them to a more traditional RPG module with a werecreature hunt in it, but with a twist – the player is the ultimate threat, without them ever knowing about it. I won’t lie, keeping the players guessing is difficult, but ultimately very rewarding, especially for those players who enjoy a darker story.

  2. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    Ugh, I’ve tried this, but every time I’ve used Lycanthropes they fail horribly. As in, there was one point where a Ranger was up against 3 lycanthropes but he also had the Blur spell on him at the time. That 20% miss chance operated much more like 90% miss chance, I kid you not. The Ranger tried diplomacy for a few rounds while fending them off (and rolled badly) then started fighting once he realized they couldn’t be reasoned with. Out of 6 rounds of combat, he got hit twice…

    Or another time some werewolves ambushed a party in the woods and the werewolves got hit by a black tentacles and rolled horribly. So the Wizard then tossed on two grease spells and qued up the Benny Hill theme on his phone while the rest of the party used ranged weapons.

    My GM has tried it on my character a few times, but it’s never really worked either. For example, my Wizard identified the lycanthrope who was stalking us, but none of the rest of the party was ‘brave’ enough to confront it. Well… I happened to be playing a Wizard who’s personality was that ‘he does things that needs to be done, good or evil’. So he marched into the woods to confront the beast himself (and force the party to come with) and got bit, but the party dealt with the disease immediately and that was that.

    The only way, I think, for Lycanthrope to actually work is if the party doesn’t know they were infected or not. Like, instead of assuming hybrid form, the lycanthrope is hidden in a pack of it’s animal kind. Keep track of who was bitten and how many times, then through-out the session, have them randomly roll d20s and keep track and see if they fail.

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