The Curse of Lycanthropy

The mystery of lycanthropy and the fear that surrounds most were-creatures stems in part from misunderstandings and misinformation regarding the affliction that prompts this bestial change. Few folktales concerning lycanthropes omit mention of the terrible curse that causes them to change into beasts, or the strange disease they bear that allows them to spread their bestial transformations to their victims. Yet the mystery truly begins with the question of what exactly lycanthropy is—disease, curse, or something else.

At its most basic level, lycanthropy is an ancient magical affliction that can transform even the most peaceful and passive into ravenous animals and half-beast monsters. While those suffering the affliction of lycanthropy can potentially transform into a beast or half-beast hybrid at any time (requiring a DC 15 Constitution check), during the nights of the full moon, all those who bear this affliction involuntarily must attempt to change (making a DC 15 Constitution check with a +5 morale bonus). While in this form, most who possess the curse of lycanthropy lose control of their bodies and go on violent, vicious rampages of which they rarely have any memory (see The Mind of the Lycanthrope sidebar). While natural lycanthropes might attempt to change back to their natural humanoid forms, this often proves difficult (requiring a DC 20 Constitution check to make the change), and the difficulty is compounded by the presence of a full moon (which imposes a –5 penalty on this check). Afflicted lycanthropes, who lack control over their bodies, never attempt to return to their natural humanoid forms, and thus only return to normal with the rising of the sun or after 8 hours of rest. Typically someone afflicted by lycanthropy has no memory of the acts she committed during her rampage, and might undergo transformations for months or years, never even realizing—or refusing to accept—that she is actually a lycanthrope. Most, however, awaken with some evidence of their rampages, be it a ruined domicile or the blood of one who spent the night nearby.

The greatest question baffling healers and those plagued by lycanthropy is how to treat the affliction. In most stories of creatures that kill under the full moon, lycanthropes are monsters and shapeshifters who infiltrate villages to sow chaos and murder—menaces ended by fire and steel. While there is some truth to this (see below), such is not always the case. Many lycanthropes are merely normal people faced with a terrible affliction. Thus, many among the afflicted or who seek to aid those so cursed hunt for ways to return lycanthropes to their natural states. But lycanthropy is both a disease and a curse, owing its notorious resilience not to a lack of cures, but to the tenacity with which it grips its victims. Healers can treat the affliction and fend off its hold by treating those exposed fast enough. A remove disease or heal spell cast by a cleric of 12th level or higher can cure lycanthropy, but only if cast within 3 days of the disease being contracted. If the victim is not treated within this timespan, the disease takes a hold on her very being, resisting all future attempts to remove it with disease-affecting magic. At that point, only magic such as remove curse can end the affliction, and not without inherent danger. The curse of lycanthropy is actually only in effect when the victim is fully transformed into a were-creature. Thus, such magic requires the healer to come face to face
with the monster trapped within his patient, potentially risking his own infection. Only if the spell is successfully cast can the affliction be ended once and for all.

Folktales also tell of other potentially dangerous cures for lycanthropy. These include such mystical remedies as the kiss of a dryad or the blood of a unicorn; some are patently false or blatantly lethal, such as cutting out the second beast heart alleged to grow with the afflicted’s chest or being bitten by a were-creature a second time. Blurring the line between the miraculous and the lethal is the herb wolfsbane. Many claim that this dangerous toxin can cure both the disease and curse of lycanthropy afflicting a creature. Such a treatment is risky, and is by no means an assured cure, as the victim must consume the poison and thus be exposed to its effects. Should she survive the poison, she is allowed a second saving throw to resist lycanthropy at the same DC as when she first contracted the affliction. If she succeeds, the taint is expunged from her body. If she fails, the wolfsbane has no affect; though this cure might be attempted again, the health-sapping nature of wolfsbane has led many to die of self-afflicted poisoning in the search for their affliction’s cure.

Factored into many theories and folktales of cures for lycanthropy is the well-documented effect of silver on lycanthropes. At the most basic level, the touch of silver discomfits a lycanthrope, even one who is unaware of her condition. This effect is the root of certain peasant myths such as “trusting strangers with silver,” the act of giving a silver coin to a stranger, as lycanthropes are thought likely to recoil from the coin. The legitimacy of this technique is disputed, though, as many claim silver acts more like an allergen to lycanthropes, affecting them swiftly and severely if introduced into their bodies via a weapon, but having little or no visible effect if contact is restricted to a momentary touch. Occasional attempts to develop a silver potion that drives the affliction from the body also regularly meet with failure, leaving silver’s primary use against lycanthropes as a weapon capable of overcoming
their impressive heartiness and bestial resilience.

Yet for many lycanthropes, there is no hope for a cure of any type. These are natural lycanthropes, lycanthropes born from parents who were either natural lycanthropes themselves or who bore the affliction of lycanthropy. For these creatures, lycanthropy is not an affliction, but rather a fundamental part of their being from which they will never know respite. At the same time, though, their control over their curse is as natural as their mastery of their limbs, and they may shift between their humanoid, hybrid, and beast shapes with ease rather than being slaves to the moon and its phases. These lycanthropes are as much their own race as are other shapechangers. Some blend in among the societies of other creatures, exploiting them as they will. But many natural lycanthropes are born to tribes of their kin, who often form brutal societies that mimic those of the creatures they can transform into. In either case, natural lycanthropes typically hold a racial grudge against other humanoids, whom they usually view as weak, hateful, and greedy for calling them monsters and relegating their people to the wilds, all for the crime of their birth.

The Curse of Lycanthropy

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