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.