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Changing Shape
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

T his week, I want to talk about shapechangers—specifically, lycanthropes and doppelgangers.

We had some really interesting insights about lycanthropes as we worked on them. Most importantly, we realized that transmitting lycanthropy is iconic for werewolves, in lore and in D&D history, but not so much for other lycanthropes. So one of the things we talked about for each kind was how they approached the transmission of their curse.

Lycanthrope

Medium (varies in animal form) Monstrosity
Alignment:

Werebear—chaotic good
Wereboar—neutral
Wererat—lawful evil
Wereshark—chaotic evil
Weretiger—neutral
Werewolf—chaotic evil
Level: Medium (wererat is low)
Environment:
Werebear: Forest
Wereboar: Forest
Wererat: Urban
Wereshark: Ocean, waterborne, or coastal
Weretiger: Jungle
Werewolf: Forest

A lycanthrope is a human with the ability to transform into a predatory animal form. For some lycanthropes, this is a terrible curse, while others view it as a blessing that grants them great power. In any case, the ability is passed down through generations, and it can also be transmitted through the bite of the animal form. Different kinds of lycanthropes vary in their preferred means for transmitting the curse.

Some lycanthropes embrace the curse and learn to change form whenever they want to. Others fight the curse and transform involuntarily on the three nights of the full moon each month. Whether in control of the curse or not, a transformed lycanthrope conforms to the behavior of its animal kind.

By default, a lycanthrope has two forms: a normal humanoid form and that of an unusually large, strong animal. One who masters the curse can also transform only partially, adopting a hybrid form that resembles a hunched human body topped by the animal's head and typically covered in fur. In humanoid form, a lycanthrope has heightened senses and personality traits that suggest its animal kind, and some also manifest a tendency to eat rare (or even raw) meat. It uses whatever armor, weapons, and other gear it prefers in this form. In hybrid form, its body has changed enough that it can't wear armor. It can wield weapons, but some lycanthropes still prefer to use their natural weapons. It can't cast spells in hybrid form. In animal form, it attacks like its animal kind and can't use any tools or abilities associated with its humanoid form.

Regardless of form, it is impossible to kill a lycanthrope without the use of a silver weapon. Or it's next to impossible. We haven't worked out the details of that quite yet, but we feel it's important that you absolutely want to have a silver weapon when facing a lycanthrope.

A humanoid infected with lycanthropy through the bite of another lycanthrope risks becoming a lycanthrope of the same kind on the first night of the next full moon. A character can attempt to stave off the affliction by eating a sprig of belladonna within 1 hour of being bitten, but eating the poisonous herb carries its own risks. If that fails, a remove disease or heal spell cast on the victim by a cleric of at least 12th level before his or her first transformation can cure this affliction. Once the afflicted lycanthrope has changed, the curse can be removed only by casting remove curse or break enchantment on the character while he or she is transformed. This spell gives the cursed character a chance to break the curse, but it can be attempted only once per night. Any spell used in an attempt to cure lycanthropy must be cast as a ritual and use belladonna or wolfsbane as an additional component in the ritual.

Werebear. Werebears are among the very few kinds of lycanthropes that are typically of (chaotic) good alignment. In humanoid form they tend to be stout, well-muscled, and hairy, with thick hair that matches the color of the ursine form. They tend to be moody and grumpy.

Werebears are extremely strong and hardy, and they grow to Large size in hybrid and animal form. In humanoid and hybrid form, werebears prefer two-handed weapons such as greataxes and greatswords. In animal form, they attack with their claws only, though they can rend or hug their foes as well. They do not bite in combat because they are judicious in how they pass on their curse. Usually, a werebear transmits the curse only to a companion or apprentice, and the werebear helps the new lycanthrope through the first transformations until he or she accepts the curse and can control the change.

Werebears are normally solitary creatures, preferring remote cabins in the woods where they come into contact only with rangers, druids, and fey, with whom they are generally friendly. They act as wardens over their territory, protecting flora and fauna alike from the intrusions and predations of humanoids.

Wereboar. Wereboars are neutral, boorish, ill-tempered brutes, typically rude and vulgar in any form. In humanoid form, they tend to be stocky and muscular, with short, stiff hair.

Wereboars have exceptional Constitution and high Strength scores. In humanoid and hybrid form, wereboars use battleaxes or maces, and the hybrid form can also use a goring attack. In animal form, they gore fiercely and indiscriminately, literally tossing one opponent aside (tearing the wound) and turning to the next. Because this attack isn't technically a bite, the chance of infection through a wereboar's gore is smaller than it is for other lycanthropes. Wereboars don't care who gets infected, though, and those who don't embrace the curse are almost as savage and fearsome as werewolves.

Wereboars tend to live in small family groups in remote forest areas, building ramshackle huts or dwelling in caves. They are suspicious of strangers, but sometimes ally themselves with orcs.

Wererat. Wererats are cunning, lawful evil lycanthropes with sly, avaricious personalities. In humanoid form, they tend to be thin, wiry, and twitchy, with thin hair and darting eyes.

Wererats have high Dexterity scores and are very stealthy. In humanoid and hybrid form, wererats prefer finesse weapons such as rapiers, and they use ambushes and hide-and-seek tactics rather than open fighting as a pack. They do not usually use their animal form for combat (though it has a nasty bite), favoring it for stealthy infiltration and escape. Wererats are like organized crime families, and they transmit their curse only to those they want to induct or adopt into the family. Wererats who are accidentally cursed and not brought into the family, or who break loose from the family's control, are quickly hunted down and killed.

Wererats live in urban areas, often dwelling in cellars, catacombs, or sewers beneath major cities, which they view as their hunting grounds. They live in large family groups, often spread out among many connected chambers.

Wereshark. The vast majority of lycanthropes have mammalian animal forms, but the wereshark is one notable exception. They are rapacious, chaotic evil beasts, as cold-blooded and savage as their animal kin. In humanoid form, they tend to be stocky brutes with little hair and wide faces.

Weresharks have high Dexterity and Strength scores, and they grow to Large size in animal (but not hybrid) form. In humanoid and hybrid form, they prefer slashing weapons, often with serrated edges to cause bloodier wounds. They like fighting in hybrid form because it terrifies their prey and allows them a bite attack in addition to their weapon attack. In animal form, they bite as normal sharks do, sinking in their teeth and tearing flesh from bone. They are indiscriminate in passing their curse to their prey, though they generally hate leaving prey alive.

Weresharks always live near water, on seacoasts, port towns, or aboard ships. They form rough gangs or pirate crews to spread mayhem and destruction.

Weretiger. Weretigers are ferocious hunters, usually neutral, with haughty and fastidious personalities. They have an affinity for felines of all sorts. In humanoid form, they tend to be lithe and sleekly muscular, taller than average and very well groomed. Females outnumber males significantly.

Weretigers have high Dexerity and Strength scores, and they grow to Large size in animal (but not hybrid) form. They do not like to fight in humanoid form, though they are adept at unarmed combat and can use weapons (preferring finesse weapons) if pressed. In hybrid or animal form, they attack with their claws, and they typically bite only while in animal form and only when they are fairly confident their prey will not survive to become cursed. They do not like to pass on their curse, because every new weretiger means competition for territory and prey.

Weretigers live in jungles at the very outskirts of human civilization, where they can travel to towns or villages to trade or revel. They live and hunt alone or in small family groups.

Werewolf. Werewolves are savage, chaotic evil lycanthropes with destructive, bloodthirsty tendencies. In humanoid form, they tend to be strong and hirsute, with noticeably sharp teeth and fiery tempers.

Werewolves have high Strength and Dexterity scores. In humanoid form, werewolves use swords and axes, slashing their enemies with brutal fury. In hybrid form, they can wield weapons but generally prefer to use their claws and bite. In wolf form, they bite their foes. They rarely leave prey alive, but those who do survive are at risk of contracting lycanthropy themselves.

Werewolves live in forests near human civilization, moving on frequently when the human population becomes a threat.

Doppelganger

Medium Monstrosity
Alignment: Neutral
Level: Low
Environment: Urban, stronghold, or dungeons

Doppelgangers are parasitic shapechangers that live off the efforts of others. They enjoy adopting the disguise of an important person and using that position to acquire wealth and luxuries without any hard work of their own. Although they hate labor, they can be hired as spies and assassins, for short-term jobs at least.

They're a race of hedonistic grifters, working in small groups to plot their cons. Within a group, roles shift from con to con—one time it might be one doppelganger's turn to take on the role of a wealthy shopkeeper so the group can live off his riches (perhaps posing as his family or assistants), then the next time a different doppelganger plays the lead role.

A doppelganger's shapechanging allows it to perfectly mimic the appearance of a humanoid creature it has seen. Doppelgangers who are not impersonating a specific person typically have a stable of identities they adopt as circumstances warrant, combining a specific appearance with a particular personality. A doppelganger can mimic the clothing and equipment of a person as well, but the disguise is more convincing if it uses actual gear.

In addition to their shapechanging, doppelgangers have the ability to read thoughts. In the short term, a doppelganger can read thoughts to aid it when tricking people around it. When impersonating a specific victim, a doppelganger likes to spend an hour or so every day plundering its victim's mind for memories it can use to make its disguise more convincing. Thus, a doppelganger that is serious about maintaining a specific false identity usually keeps its victims alive and close at hand so it can behave and speak authentically. (This characteristic facilitates an adventure where player characters can rescue someone who has been replaced by a doppelganger.)

Doppelgangers are immune to sleep and charm effects, and they have high Charisma scores. They're neutral—selfish and hedonistic, but not malicious—but they're often hired to do evil things. They have low Constitution scores, and their greed and cowardice can work against them.

What Do You Think?

How do you like our shapechangers?

  How well do the lycanthropes described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creatures?  
1—Not at all.
2—Eh, I like a few things.
3—They’re vaguely beastlike.
4—Yeah, I recognize them as D&D lycanthropes.
5—I think I’ve been infected!

  How well does the doppelganger described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—Its disguise doesn’t fool me.
2—I can see through it pretty easily.
3—I think it might be a doppelganger.
4—I’m pretty sure that’s a doppelganger.
5—Help! It’s a doppelganger!

As always, please leave specific thoughts in the comments.

Previous Poll Results

How well does the basilisk described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—That's not a basilisk 13 1.1%
2—It has some serious flaws. 79 6.9%
3—I can see basilisk from here, but I'm not worried about its gaze. 136 11.9%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a basilisk. 602 52.5%
5—I have seen the basilisk and been turned to stone. 317 27.6%
Total 1147 100.0%

How well does the cockatrice described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—That's not a cockatrice. 14 1.2%
2—It has some serious flaws. 69 6.1%
3—I can see cockatrice from here. 314 27.8%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a cockatrice. 393 34.8%
5—It has touched me and turned me to stone. 340 30.1%
Total 1130 100.0%

How well does the gorgon described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—That's not a gorgon. 66 5.9%
2—It has some serious flaws. 48 4.3%
3—I can see gorgon from here, but it can't see me. 172 15.5%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a gorgon. 545 49.1%
5—I have breathed deep of the gorgon and been turned to stone. 279 25.1%
Total 1110 100.0%

How well does the medusa described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—That's not a medusa. 20 1.7%
2—It has some serious flaws. 71 6.2%
3—I can see medusa from here, but I'm not worried about its gaze. 192 16.8%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a medusa. 525 45.9%
5—I have seen the medusa and been turned to stone. 336 29.4%
Total 1144 100.0%

And finally, do you think I’m crazy with the whole “only one medusa” thing?
No, you're not crazy. I think you're dead on. 491 38.2%
Not crazy, but I'd rather see medusas as a race. 135 10.5%
Maybe a little crazy. You can't anticipate how DMs will want to use medusas in their games. 443 34.5%
Totally crazy. My game needs a race of medusas, and the iconic D&D creature needs a better story than that. 108 8.4%
Yes, you're crazy, and I want to see the maedar too! 107 8.3%
Total 1284 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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