I know that Lord Mayor Drakeson has invited you to Carinford-Halldon, ostensibly to congratulate you on rooting out and killing the werewolf Edmond Timothy. Have you had occasion to meet Mayor Drakeson's wife? Gwendolyn Drakeson is a perfect hostess, of course, and the two of them are quite in love. It would seem that her grandfather Nathan Timothy found a smart match for her indeed…
The werewolf (here and throughout I use the term werewolf, but each of these points could refer to most all lycanthropes, and some non-lycanthrope shapeshifters as well) is one of the oldest archetypes in horror literature. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King boils all monsters down to three basic molds, one of which is the werewolf: the monster that walks among us. Throughout history, mythology, and fiction, there are several common threads that run through the best werewolf stories. Hopefully, looking at some of these a little more closely may give you some insight (or inspiration) for using werewolves in your own games.
1) The Beast
Truly, from his origins as a pauper in the western core, Frankie Drakeson has overcome a great deal of personal tragedy, from being orphaned before he could walk, to the brutal violence he and his sister suffered at the hands of a Dementlieuse smuggler. Such setbacks would have destroyed a lesser man, but Mayor Drakeson shows no signs of being weighed down by his past.
The werewolf isn’t just a person who turns into a wolf. Not everyone who gets bitten becomes infected. In werewolf stories, the hidden monstrosity of the werewolf represents the savagery that can lurk within anyone. This can vary from a rage-fueled impulse to mindless destruction, all the way up to a predatory need to hunt and kill one’s own kind. In Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, the werewolf curse isn’t just a supernatural disease; it represents the very real, deep issues these characters struggle with, including spousal abuse, post traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and a host of other problems. In the best werewolf stories, the monster isn’t just the random victim of circumstance: the curse echoes some darkness that already exists within them, and the wolf is just an excuse to let it out.
2) The Unnatural
A word of advice if you plan to accept his invitation: Carinford-Halldon is extremely unusual for Mordentish villages in that it has no dogs. The residents seem unsure about the cause, and while some blame the wild boars and others vaguely recall a mysterious canine illness, bringing a hound remains a risky proposition.
The ‘wolf’ in werewolf has very little to do with wolves beyond a passing resemblance. The best werewolves have virtually nothing to do with natural wolves. Most werewolves are shunned by natural beasts. It’s fitting that many werewolf groups operate along the alpha-beta-omega pack structure, since this hierarchy is a fiction of humankind. It appears only in wolves in captivity, so it's apropos that it is used by beings that are of both wolf and man, but wholly neither. In the few cases where monstrous werewolves exert control over real wolves, they control the animals not through a connection of kinship but through supernatural domination, much like a vampire. The werewolf who has a deep connection to nature is a figure of primal spirituality, not a monster, and loses some of its impact in a horror setting.
3) The Hidden
I envy you: Mayor Drakeson is a delightful dinner companion! The servants and commonfolk in his village will no doubt seek to regale you with numerous tales of the monsters he's vanquished and the lengths he's gone to in order to protect his friends and family. There's probably no one in the entire town that doesn't feel like they personally owe their lives to him.
The greatest danger of the werewolf isn’t their teeth or even their curse; it’s that they could be anyone. If the players can readily identify the werewolf suspect, then you might not be getting the most mileage out of the werewolf archetype. The werewolf is at its best when people don’t even realize that’s what they’re dealing with. In a D&D game of course, this is nearly impossible. Fortunately, once someone has been exposed to the werewolf archetype it leaves an indelible fear in the back of their mind; fear of the evil their friends and allies might be concealing. (It is this exact fear that games like Are You a Werewolf? exploit to create humor.) As the adventure continues and tension begins to mount, player suspicion will grow to become paranoia, and the damage that a party can do when it is gripped by fear can be greater than the mayhem caused by the werewolf itself. The most malevolent werewolves, the ones who know (or suspect) their true nature, are adept at exploiting this, diverting attention from themselves so adroitly that their friends and allies will even take up arms against renowned heroes rather than believe their loved one could be hiding such a dark secret.
4) The Puppet
I do hope you come at the right time of year, however. During autumn, when the last desperate traders of the season are hurrying across the lands, both predator and brigand make travel to the town dangerous. Why, the mayor and his family are so busy keeping the roads safe they can scarcely be found at all!
Although transforming beneath the full moon is the most common trigger, almost all werewolves are afflicted by their curse in some kind of scheduled timeframe, both in fiction and mythology. Ancient werewolf stories tell of men who transform every evening when the sun goes down, those who were cursed to walk as a wolf seven days out of the year, those who transformed beneath the new moon, and an assortment of other schedules. In all these cases, the underlying root is the same: the werewolf is affected by unseen forces that do not have such a pull over the rest of us. These forces compel the werewolf to do their evil deeds, in the same way that Dexter’s Dark Passenger compels him to his own butchery. History is rife with serial killers compelled to follow a schedule to their murders, and it is this example that informs the werewolf legend’s need for a timeframe. Altering the schedule for a werewolf antagonist can be a good way to throw the PCs for a loop while still maintaining this core aspect of the werewolf archetype.
Shortly after arranging to marry Nathan Timothy's granddaughter Gwen, Frankie began a family of his own. His six children have grown into fine young men and women, and from captain of the guard to magistrate, they all serve the town as loyally as their parents do.
Human storytellers have known for centuries that abuse and trauma can form a vicious feedback loop. The werewolf legend reflects that in multiple ways. On the one hand, there are the werewolves who were delivered into this curse: regular people, possibly even good people (albeit ones with repressed horrors or well controlled dark urges) who were affected by traumas larger than they could cope with. There are also the hereditary werewolves, whose curse was handed down from parent to child. These werewolves reflect the unfortunate tendency for the unwary (or uncaring) to inflict their own trauma on their children. Such families work hard to maintain a semblance of normalcy, keeping their family as hidden from their community as possible. Some werewolves who become aware of their nature can delight in spreading their disease to others (Voldemort’s flunky Fenrir Greyback is a good example of this) in the same way that some human predators take a perverse glee in bringing others around to their warped point of view.
6) The Corruption
Mayor Drakeson has done a wonderful job getting rid of the boars around Carinford-Halldon: those swine cause so many problems! Why, shortly after he settled there, the native boars caused so much damage with their rooting that they wiped out entire copses of trees. To this day you can't find a cedar tree within miles of the town.
Whether they entered their state willingly, as punishment for their crimes, were infected by another werewolf, or had their curse passed on by their parents, all werewolves share a foulness within them. This inner bestiality is why the werewolf is vulnerable to silver, as silver is a symbol of purity. Other possibilities exist, of course. Ravenloft werewolves are famous for their varied chemical and material ‘allergies.' However, all of these items share something in common: they’re all either symbols of purity or agents of purification. (The film Ginger Snaps explores this idea.) This is an important link for the archetype. Werewolves’ banes aren’t just random weaknesses, they’re a tangible reminder that the afflicted is a monster, and its pain stems from the fact that its wickedness is so strong as to cause a physical reaction when exposed to such purity.
7) The Victim
Since Frankie quit hunting monsters and settled down with his family, he's done his best to stay busy. Notably, he's done a marvelous job sponsoring and training monster hunters. He's shown a particular interest in training those adventurers who would travel through Kartakas or Verbrek, as though he has a specific grudge against the abominations of those lands.
Most werewolves were a person, once. Like Larry Talbot, they might have even been a good person. The most impactful werewolf stories are the ones where the protagonists discover that the werewolf is someone they care about. Almost as meaningful, and a little less expected, is when the werewolf turns out to be someone they don't know terribly well, but they just like. In lighter stories, the quest to find a cure can be the focus of an adventure. However, in horror adventuring, especially the Victorian horror of Ravenloft, the werewolf curse is an echo of the mental darkness it is serves as an allegory for: it cannot be cured. It can be suppressed, for a time, but there is no force that can contain it forever. Eventually, the monster within will break loose and hurt someone. The person the werewolf once was might be horrified by what they've become, but they find themselves unable to end their own existence; the monster is part of their own will to survive, and it is stronger than they are. Such unfortunate souls cannot understand why they continue to allow themselves to commit the atrocities they perform while transformed, and with every passing cycle they become increasingly unsure of whether they began as a good person with a horrific curse, or if the monster was their true self all along and their human life just a convenient disguise.
My, how I ramble on! The truth is, you've done quite a bit of good in the world, and I'm certain Mayor Drakeson's patronage is no small part of that. You deserve his recognition, to be sure. Carinford-Halldon is a lovely place: a tight knit community with an intense amount of loyalty to one another, both commoner and noble alike. Spend a day with the Mayor and his family, and you'll find their hospitality beyond compare. Spend any more time than that with them, and you're bound to have a howling good time...
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
Image reference: https://www.blackgate.com/2011/10/21/game-review-innistrad-from-magic-the-gathering/
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