Monster Monday #36: Werewolf
Updated: Mar 4
Hello to those of you who have been enjoying my Monster Monday posts, it has been a while! My head is still absolutely brimming with ideas for monsters to cover, I've just had an exceptionally busy few weeks. We are a fair bit of the way through Halloween month however, and I wanted to get some scares in before the month was up, so this week I'm covering a very well known creature - the Werewolf. I have referenced them in my world building post on the Moon because of their association with it, but I felt I should probably give them their very own post! A Werewolf, otherwise known as a Lycanthrope, is a human that possesses or is cursed with the ability to shape-shift into a wolf. In most stories, they have little to no control over this transformation, which is usually tied to the various phases of the moon. In some cases it is believed to be a disease or affliction of some kind, called Lycanthropy. This was spread usually by being bitten or scratched by another Werewolf. Dependant on the tale, a Werewolf may switch between a human form and wolf form, or may end up taking on a form that is a hybrid of the two. Sometimes, it is all three!
The term Lycanthrope came from the ancient Greek lukánthrōpos, meaning 'wolf-man' and referring to a patient that believed themselves to be a wolf. There are also examples of classical stories that refer to humans transforming into wolves - Herodotus wrote in his Histories about the Neuri tribe, that once per year transformed into wolves for several days; Lycaon was, according to Ovid, transformed into a wolf by Zeus in punishment for testing his claims to be the great deity; and Pliny the Elder also recounts a couple of tales surrounding the slightly gruesome Lycaeus cult. Werewolves are however, for the most part, widely associated with Medieval European folklore. During this time, a dual-form of Werewolf folklore arose within the continent - the 'western' Germanic stories that became associated with witchcraft panic and sorcery, and the 'eastern' Slavic Vlkolak (meaning 'wolf skin') that became embroiled in a lot of Vampire or Revenant folklore. Considering that wolves are one of the more fearsome predators of Europe, it is not surprising that these animals are found in European folklore surrounding evil shapeshifters. When looking at the stories of other areas of the world, stories of Werecats in (tigers in India, jaguars in Mesoamerican mythology), or Werehyenas in Africa, are more prevalent.
Other names for these creatures included the French Loup-Garou, and this term carried over to the French-speaking communities of the Americas and Canada. Louisiana has many tales of the Rougarou, a name that derived from the Loup-Garou. Much of Cajun folklore speaks about the infamous wolf-like beasts that roam the swamps, woodlands, and sugar-cane fields of the area. In Haiti superstition, werewolf spirits known as Jé-Rouge can possess bodies and transform them into cannibalistic lupine creatures. They often wake mothers from their sleep and try to trick them into handing over their children while disoriented. The Navajo people tell stories of the Mai-cob, a witch that can wear a wolf's skin at will. In Asia - Turkic folklore holds a more reverential tone for stories about Werewolves which they call Kurtadam and hold in high regard, while women in Armenia who have committed sins are said to be punished by being transformed into wolf form for seven years and devouring their families and closest friends. Mesoamerican folk religion also talks about the Nagual, a human being that has the ability to shapeshift into their tonal animal counterpart and these are often depicted as tricksters. The Kitsune of Japanese folklore is another trickster of sorts that transforms in and out of fox form at will, and is reminiscent of Werewolf mythology.
So what about Werewolves in modern media? Well reader, they are EVERYWHERE. Often, they are somewhat seen as the enemies of Vampires, shown in examples such as the Twilight franchise, the Underworld films, Skyrim's 'Dawnguard' expansion, and the film Van Helsing in which only a Werewolf can kill Dracula. This is mostly because Werewolves are often portrayed as primitive, chaotic, bestial creatures while vampires are their more sophisticated, alluring, and civilised counterpart. There are plenty of other examples of Werewolves in film, literature, TV, and video games. The plot of live-action film Red Riding Hood centres around a Werewolf (which makes a lot of sense, as the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood involves a young girl who talks with and is stalked by a human-like wolf); the Harry Potter universe has at least a couple of Werewolf characters - Professor Lupin and Fenrir Greyback; the horror film Howl involves a group stranded on a train that is being attacked by the beasts; and many TV shows such as Doctor Who, Charmed, Teen Wolf, and Supernatural include them. I also absolutely LOVE Resident Evil: Village because it contains so many classic horror tropes, including Werewolves!
So let's have some fun with some stat blocks shall we? There are some really obvious choices of course from Wizards Of The Coast and I'll start with those!
To begin with, Wizards Of The Coast has its very own take on the Werewolf (Basic Rules, page 158).
At a CR 3, this Medium Humanoid (Shapechanger) stat block is probably at its scariest when it comes in the form of a pack of them. Especially if you follow the guidance on their stat page and combine with some Wolf (Basic Rules, page 159) and Dire Wolf (Basic Rules, page 123) stat blocks. The thing I love most about Lycanthropy in the base game is that it comes with the ability to shapechange into Humanoid, Beast and Hybrid form, each with distinct abilities. There are no moon based restrictions on the stat block itself, but you are welcome to add some to make things more interesting! I do wish that the Beast form was that of a Dire Wolf rather than a wolf, as I think having the larger form makes more sense. If changing the predator in question up sounds at all appealing to you, perhaps consider the Werebear (Basic Rules, page 326), Weretiger (Basic Rules, page 328), and Jackalwere (Monster Manual, page 193). There are plenty of other lycanthropic stat blocks within Wizards Of The Coast's core material but these seem the most ferocious!
Next up, a later addition to the Wizards Of The Coast universe that would be ideal for higher tier play - the Loup Garou (Van Richten's Guide To Ravenloft, page 237).
This Large CR 13 Monstrosity (Shapechanger) stat block is TERRIFYING in comparison to its CR 3 counterpart, and the Loup Garou is supposed to be a much stronger lycanthrope. The curse that it inflicts is much stronger, it has Legendary actions such as Mauling Pounce and Swipe, some Regeneration, and Blood Frenzy. One of these by itself will prove an exceptionally strong adversary. I do think it is missing a few things that feel like obvious hits for a Werewolf based creature - Keen Senses being one of them, and a resistance to non-magical weapons unless they are lined with silver (silver is often cited as the weakness of Werewolves) being another. Ultimately though, if you are looking for a Werewolf 'pack leader' type figure, this is your stat block. If instead of wanting more powerful you wanted something weaker so that you could overrun your players with Werewolf style minions, then do also check out the CR 1/2 Shifter stat block (Eberron: Rising From The Last War, page 319). It is certainly a very dialled back interpretation of a Werewolf but a huge group of them could still be terrifying for a low level party, and they are actually a playable race too!
Turning, as I always do, to Kobold Press, I stumbled upon the rather unusual Nightgarm (Tome Of Beasts, page 304).
I have to say, the lore around this one is ever so slightly disturbing to me, mostly because it involves odd rituals, and pregnancy, but this can very easily be changed up to suit your world. The Large CR 6 Monstrosity stat block has some really cool features that make me think of some of the legends equating Lycanthropy with witchcraft and sorcery. Abilities such as Superstitious and its Innate Spellcasting makes it a formidable enemy in a very different way to what you might expect from a Werewolf. This feels very much in line with the type of Werewolf folklore associated with witchcraft. It has a Distending Maw and a Swallow ability too, which is a horrifying image in itself. The Falseman stat block that it can control are a cool concept, and I would probably change up a little bit of how the ability works in order to make it sit more comfortably lore wise for me. They would make excellent spies however, and could be utilised in a really cool way! I would seriously consider using something like this for a folk horror setting!
So how about some other third party resources? I have plenty to choose from!
So lets start with Dragonix because there is an absolute bounty to be found in their various works! First up, in the Monster Manual Expanded there are two stat blocks that take Wizard Of The Coast's Werewolf and raise the bar a little. The Dire Werewolf (page 182) is CR 5, and has the ability to transform into a Dire Wolf instead of a Wolf which is what I would personally LOVE. Also the Werewolf Pack Lord (page 183) is CR 9 and offers some great buffs to those within its pack via Savage Howl and Packmaster. In the Monster Manual Expanded II, you'll find an even stronger Werewolf Favoured By Malar (page 189), that draws upon Forgotten Realms lore surrounding Malar the Beastlord and has some legendary Actions alongside other terrifying abilities. Finally, in Monster Manual Expanded III, perhaps you're looking for a good-aligned Werewolf. In this case, consider the Lupinal (page 156), a CR 6 Celestial that is stuck in a wolf-human form but has some great supernatural and wolf-themed abilities.
Next up is Nathan Haslé's Book Of Beautiful Horrors. I knew that this set of stat blocks themed around The Witcher series would not let me down! First up is the Ulfhedinn (page 107), a Large CR 16 Monstrosity that has some TERRIFYING abilities - legendary Resistances, legendary Actions such as The Beast Within that can easily turn a nearby creature into a charmed Werewolf, Eye Of Winter which is themed around the cold, and Frightful Presence. The Voref (page 109) is less powerful at a CR 10 and leans very heavily into real-world folklore surrounding the moon, pack mentality, and even allergies to the Wolfsbane plant.
Nord Games created an amazing collection of stat blocks in Ultimate Bestiary: The Dreaded Accursed themed around Lycanthropy. In fact, there's an entire section that covers origins, combat tactics, encounters, and environments. The Werewolf Mauler (page 68) has the Flying Pounce and Standing Leap abilities which makes its chances of knocking enemies prone and preventing their escape much higher. They have also created a CR 7 Dire Werewolf stat block (page 69) and a CR 13 Alpha Werewolf (page 70).
So we have our Werewolf, now we need to insert them into the game. Here are some plot ideas!
The party are, on separate occasions, approached by both a Vampire and Werewolf of some kind. Each claim to be the 'right' side of a centuries old blood war, and they need the party's help to win a major victory. Who will the party choose?
The party, while travelling, stumble upon a group of nomadic travellers who offer them shelter. It becomes clear if the party spend time with them that they are actually a Werewolf pack, though a peaceful one.
When staying in an isolated village, the party become aware of some very unusual traditions within the community. The village are sacrificing a portion of their livestock in order to appease the nearby Werewolves, so that they are not the next prey.
While travelling, the party hear a mournful howl in the woods with them. A Werewolf is in fact prowling and will attempt, in human form, to lure a party member on watch away from their camp as their next meal.
Local stories speak of a witch that lives in the woods, and how dangerous she is. She is in fact a Werewolf who allows these rumours to run rife so that she is left alone.
I hope you enjoyed this Monster Monday! Do you enjoy Werewolf tales? Have you had them in your adventures? Let me know!