Wednesday, August 28, 2013


In terms of "classic" horror movie monsters, werewolves are one of my favorites. Ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper and watched the Howling, I've been in love with werewolves and lycanthropes in general. In high school, I had a brief period where I thought vampires were super neat, but that's because I wore a lot of black and was sad and mopey. I was also into Anne Rice for a bit, and while I find the mythos of her vampires fascinating and I do believe that drinking blood is a valid replacement for sex for her vampires, I do not buy into the portrayal of almost every male vampire in her mythos being into dudes.

Louis and Lestat, still a better love story than Twilight.

To continue. There's something about werewolves that makes me go yeah, that's pretty neat. I think it's that whole primal aspect of them. There's something undeniably powerful and striking about quite literally letting the primordial beast out to hunt and slay. Plus, I am a fan of Vikings and Norse related things. If I recall my lessons from when I got my Wikipedia keyboard researcher degree, berserk means something like bear sark, which is something like bear shirt. Assuming I remember correctly, the whole berserk thing stems from folklore about warriors who strode into battle wearing only a bear or wolf pelt and would become a bear or wolf in battle as the bloodlust fell upon them.

I've never been super pleased with movie representations of werewolves. It always either looks too rubber suity to me, or too CGIy to me. I will say that I do kind of like the CGI werewolves of the US version of the show Being Human. They look very wolf-like, and they're obviously CGI, but they're clearly not wolves. I dunno, it works for me. I don't much care for the Underworld werewolf transformation where the werewolves are all "I'm a werewolf! My ribcage gets big! Rawr!" Plus, the werewolves look reeeeaaaalll rubber suity in the third film. I am a fan of An American Werewolf in London's transformation process. The main character's entire body just breaks and tears and stretches. With Underworld, it just looks like they get bigger and grow a muzzle. There's no pain in the process, just bellows of fury. With An American Werewolf in London, it hurts. You can tell it hurts because everything human about David is broken, and looks like it, and is remade into a beast.

One thing I want to mention. You remember me saying Monday that I've been reading the fiction of this guy Larry Correia? There are werewolves in his books. Unsurprising, considering the series is titled Monster Hunter International. Heh. So typically in film and literature we find that werewolves regenerate. You can shoot them and hack at them and so on and so forth and the only thing that seems to not heal immediately is damage from fire or silver. In Mr. Correia's books, he has a character muse that of course werewolves heal incredibly rapidly. Three nights a month they break and remake almost every aspect of their human biology into that of a werewolf. When you can recreate and change whole organ systems and biology, healing a laceration or bullet hole seems like nothing. I've never thought of it that way before and it makes a shocking amount of sense considering we're discussing the biological mechanics of a supernatural creature. This is one of the reasons I very much enjoy this author. I have a lot of respect for any author that takes the time to go beyond because magic when talking about the supernatural.

So yeah, reading Mr. Correia's books kind of reminded me how much I love werewolves and I was recently dicking around with Pathfinder's version of werewolves. I have to say, I'm not impressed. They're dumb. Or they are dumb to me and don't really fit with my vision of werewolves. So that's what I'm going to post about, my thoughts on making Pathfinder's werewolves into something that fits my vision of werewolves.

First off, there is this whole afflicted vs. natural lycanthrope in the Pathfinder rules. This is dumb to me. Lycanthropy is a magical curse disease thing. Just because you're mom had AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis whatever, doesn't mean you'll be better at having it when you're born with it. I realize I'm bringing modern medicine into a discussion about a supernatural curse/disease. I can't help it. Sorry. My point is, regardless of whether or not you are born with lycanthropy, it still takes time to master the various difficulties associated with it. I'd remove this distinction from the template in my version, along with the handful of different abilities that are determined by whether or not you are a natural or afflicted lycanthrope.

Transforming into a wolf. That bugs me for some reason. Werewolves aren't wolves. I mean, I know folklore sometimes depicts them just as men who transform into wolves. I just prefer the hybrid form, so I'd yank out the animal form and just leave the hybrid and humanoid forms. I'd also remove the lycanthropic empathy ability, which lets lycanthropes use Diplomacy to change the attitude of an animal related to their animal form. I don't like this ability because typically in film and literature, werewolves scare the shit out of natural animals.

Damage reduction. Ugh. This pisses me off. In Pathfinder, werewolves gain DR 10/silver in hybrid form. This means a werewolf ignores the first 10 points of non-silver damage it takes from an attack. This is supposed to represent the difficulty in harming werewolves with non-silver items. However, it's stupid. Regeneration exists in Pathfinder, and usually in film and literature werewolves are seen as regenerating quickly from damage, rather than just not being hurt at all. To be fair, damage reduction is kind of vaguely explained in the rules. Sometimes it represents immunity to a certain level of damage, or that wounds heal immediately, and sometimes it represents the ability to ignore injury. Regeneration always means regenerating from injury. Seems more appropriate to me. I'd probably do something like regeneration 2 or 3 for werewolves. Trolls come in at regeneration 5 and that's kind of their thing, so I don't want to come into their territory. Obviously, the regeneration of werewolves would be stopped by fire or silver, acid might be appropriate too. You could also make a case for fast healing rather than regeneration. Fast healing seems to be just highly accelerated healing, without being able to regrow limbs and such, and it only functions while you are alive. Regeneration functions regardless of your hit point total, meaning you cannot die unless someone shuts it off with whatever your vulnerability is. Not sure which way I'd ultimately go. Point is, I'd remove the damage reduction and replace it with fast healing or regeneration because werewolves don't appear to be harder to harm to me, they just heal super quick. 

Claws. Werewolves in Pathfinder only gain an additional bite attack in hybrid form, despite the picture of the hybrid form in the book showing the werewolf with long ass claws on his hands and no melee weapon in evidence. The lack of claw attacks is kind of a biological thing. Look at cats and dogs. Cats can get really sharp claws, because they retract. This is why I never had the heart to declaw my cats (despite my plethora of new scars), because you're basically amputating the cat's "fingers" at the outermost knuckle. Dogs are always walking around on their paws with the claws out so their claws tend to be ground up and rounded from being walked on. Yeah, they can still abrade skin, but its not like a knife blade. Look, I could play the faux-sciency guy here and come up with something like hybrid forms are typically bipedal so the claws on the hands of a werewolf would not be ground down like a quadruped canine's or something. That's dumb. Here's why I want them to have claw attacks, if I see a werewolf in film, I don't want to see him barking and nipping at his enemy with his muzzle while his hands hang useless at his sides. I want to see him biting at their throat and slashing away with big ass talons the length of a short sword. I'd give werewolves a claw attack in addition to their bite attack, but still allow them the manual dexterity to use a weapon if they so choose. I'd make the damage output appropriate for the size of the werewolf. I think medium creatures do like 1d4 for claw attacks. Which is underwhelming, as we all identify that as dagger damage. But from a logical standpoint, 1d4 plus a decent strength bonus is more than enough to eviscerate back woods faux-medieval commoner folk. Fine, 1d4 is nothing to a Barbarian, but that's why Barbarians are adventurers and Commoners are townsfolk.

Changing shape via Constitution check. In Pathfinder, you can make Constitution checks to change form between humanoid and hybrid forms. It's easier to transform to hybrid form during a full moon, but harder to go back to humanoid form. What bothers me is that this is a Constitution check. The most common nature of the curse of lycanthropy is depicted as an affliction that fills the person with bloodlust and completely subverts their normal mentality to that of a savage beast. You don't control this by flexing your muscles or taking vitamins. You control it by disciplining yourself and mastering the beast within with a will of iron. To me, it makes more sense to make changing form at will tied to a Wisdom check, rather than Constitution. I can see the transformation process requiring a Constitution check or Fortitude save to remain conscious due to the assumed excruciating pain of having your body broken down and reconstituted as a canine/primate hybrid though.

Ultimately, the werewolf gains a +2 to Strength, Constitution, and Wisdom and a -2 to Charisma due to their lycanthropy. I take no issue with the Wisdom bump (to indicate heightened senses I assume) and the Charisma penalty (to indicate general surliness and quickness to anger due to being full of animalistic urges and such I assume). So you have Bob Averagetown, a Commoner of no particular skill or talent (i.e. all 10s for his ability scores), and he becomes a werewolf. A mundane wolf (and likely the town blacksmith) is still stronger and tougher than he is (ignoring the regeneration/fast healing). Wolves in the Bestiary are written as having a higher Constitution and Dexterity than their Strength. This doesn't exactly mesh with the popular culture vision of werewolves as monstrously tough and strong creatures though. What I would do is bump the Strength to +4 and add in a +2 to Dexterity, as werewolves are often depicted as being unnaturally quick. Which makes sense, as wolves are much quicker than humans. Plus, you know, I like the image of werewolves being monstrously strong and quick and whatnot. In Pathfinder the werewolf's hybrid and humanoid forms gain the Wisdom and Charisma adjustment and the hybrid form gains the physical score adjustment. In my version I'd probably give a +2 to Strength, Dexterity, and Wisdom and a -2 to Charisma while in humanoid form and add in the other +2 to Strength and the Constitution bonus to hybrid form. I could easily talk myself into giving something crazy like +6 to Strength and Constitution and a +4 to Dexterity though. Because I like werewolves.

That's kind of what I would do to the lycanthrope template itself. But there are other things I would change as well. I'm a big fan of dark heroes and anti-heroes. Werewolves can definitely fall into this category. It's definitely heroic and dramatic for a PC to overcome something like the curse of lycanthropy. Or to take the curse and through strength of will turn it into a blessing of sorts. I am definitely not a GM that would follow the suggestion of previous editions and retire the PC once lycanthropy is contracted. I'm much more interested to see how the PC/player copes with the difficulties presented by a curse like this. Lots of possibilities for RP and complications to things. 

Alright, so wolves aren't really bloodthirsty howling unholy predators lurking in the dark as far as I know. Lycanthropy is a curse though, and possibly based upon the fact that humans from the past few centuries were terrified of everything that they didn't understand so they needed demonize it and kill it with fire. Lycanthropy is meant to be a bad thing forced upon you, rather than a means of becoming more powerful. My vision of it is that it is a curse of sorts, but one that can be mastered and become a boon instead of a trial. Part of why I like Mr. Correia's vision of werewolves is because it puts some interesting spins on the homicidal/bloodthirsty nature of werewolves that I really like.

So, a lycanthrope isn't cursed with the mentality of a wolf. He's cursed with the form of a man-wolf and the bloodthirsty and savage nature of a, I dunno, rabid or crazy wolf I guess. Wolves don't normally storm around killing everything in sight, and a lot of werewolves don't in modern film and literature. Anyway. In my vision, the curse is always there lurking beneath the skin. The wolf sits inside you, waiting to tear its way out and latch its fangs onto a throat. I'd obviously keep the whole forced transformation during the full moon thing. But I'd also add an element of uncontrollable rage and bloodlust to it modeled off of a Barbarian archetype.

So, when you become a werewolf you have little control over the animal inside you. You have all these new savage impulses. They're part of you. The curse is already within you. It's not a matter of letting the beast take control. This is you now. The way your brain and body work have been rewritten. So it's not the wolf crashing against the bars of a cage in your skull, it's you thrashing around in your own head wanting to tear out throats and such. However, you know this isn't how you used to be, so you've got enough self awareness and such to remember that you are a people and not an it and you probably shouldn't go gnawing on throats all the time if you don't want your friends to gun you down and skin you. So what I would do is add Will or Wisdom saves to control the bestial urges. Any time you're injured or pissed off or angry, Will save to keep yourself from letting the beast out and just going bugnuts crazy on the nearest living creature. Progressively, as you accustom yourself to these changes and learn to manage them, the Will saves would decrease in difficulty. They would also be affected by the phases of the moon. The closer you are to a full moon, the higher the DC. You'd still always change during the full moon, but it would become easier to not be a bloodthirsty monster during those mandatory changes, or any accidental changes that occurred.

I dunno. It's all kind of half-formed in my brain, and I'll likely leave it there. As far as I know, no one wants to be a werewolf in my current game. I mean, of course Jason does, but Karrak is already immortal, so he's used up his allotted supernatural transformation nonsense for the campaign. 

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