Lycanthropy in Dungeons and Dragons 5E grants players immunity to piercing, slashing, and bludgeoning damage from non-magical or non-silvered weapons, increased ability stats, allows players to shapeshift, and grants new features according to the sect of lycanthropy (bear, rat, boar, wolf, or tiger).
Lycanthropy is more than just a curse, it is a set of lore and mechanics you can use to challenge your players or even grant them a powerful new set of abilities.
What is Lycanthropy?
In D&D 5e, Lycanthropy is a curse that can afflict individuals granting them shapeshifting as well as new traits and abilities.
On a daily basis, those afflicted will have to confront the curse and the desires it brings. Most cursed humanoids will give in and allow themselves to be permanently changed by the curse allowing it to turn them into predators always looking for a weak target.
Some will try to suppress it and ignore it, but will always be tormented by nightmares of the times they lost control. A small few will grapple with and master their curse, able to fluidly move through their human, animal, hybrid forms as they see appropriate and live mostly normal lives.
Those that master their curse are the rare exception.
All Lycanthropes face a test every month when the moon is full and the beast inside is at its strongest. This is when those who fail to control it are stripped of their humanity and do whatever their nature guides.
There are even Lycanthropes who are unaware of their condition that go out to prowl on the night of a full moon who experience fugue-like symptoms when they become human again. They may even try to invent stories to justify the gaps in their memory.
The Curse of Lycanthropy spreads two ways: bite and tusk attacks as natural weapons inherent to a Lycanthrope’s transformation or being born into the curse as the child of a Lycanthrope.
The risk of being infected with Lycanthropy is decided by a saving throw against the creature’s infection DC. This is calculated by 8 + proficiency bonus + the Lycanthrope’s Constitution modifier. Lycanthropes can spread their curse quickly, but each subsection of the curse has its own set of feelings about that, which we’ll discuss further.
We need to talk about one of the most important considerations when it comes to Lycanthropy: All forms of Lycanthropy are immune to non-magical/non-silvered bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.
The only thing that scares a lycanthrope is a spell caster and adventurers wielding magical OR silvered weapons. Either option can end their seemingly invincible reign making such PCs direct targets.
This immunity to damage applies to both Player Character and non-player characters. If you have a silvered weapon, you can hurt them. If you have a +1 weapon, you can hurt them. If you have a magical and silvered weapon, you can hurt them. Otherwise, they are immune to the damage, making them very difficult to kill.
Understanding Lycanthropy for PCs
When a person becomes infected with Lycanthropy, they retain their game statistics, except as their curse specifies. These exceptions include speeds in non-humanoid form, immunities, traits, and actions that don’t involve equipment. Every Lycanthrope also increases one statistic if they are under the minimum cap. The DM has the final say as to how the alignment is applied.
Here’s a visualization of all the modified attributes for a Wereboar that are added to a character. Similar game stats are found for all forms of Lycanthropy in the Monster Manual on pages 208-211.
What are the Types of Lycanthropy?
The unifying factors of all Lycanthropes are their immunities, their ability to spread the curse, and the inherent personality that come with the curse. Beyond that, Lycanthropes show a small variety of abilities specific to their curse. Many increase Strength and one increases Dexterity abilities. If a player’s original stat is higher than their cursed stat, the ability score remains the same.
|Str. Boost||Dex Boost||Natural Weapons||New Traits||Adds 1 to AC shifted|
|Werebear||Up to 19||N/A||Bite (2D10+Str) Claw (2D8+Str)||Keen Smell||Yes|
|Wereboar||Up to 17||N/A||Tusks (2D6+Str)||Charge, Relentless||Yes|
|Wererat||N/A||Up to 15||Bite (1D4 + Str or Dex)||Keen Smell||No|
|Weretiger||Up to 17||N/A||Bite (1D10+Str)Claw(1D8+Str)||Keen Hearing and Smell, Pounce||No|
|Werewolf||Up to 15||N/A||Bite (1D8+Str)Claw (2D4+Str)||Keen Hearing and Smell||Yes|
Lycanthropy Features explained:
Charge: If the Wereboar moves at least 15 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with its tusks on the same turn, the target takes an extra 2d6 slashing damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a Strength saving throw (DC determined by the 8 + proficiency + Wereboar’s strength) or be knocked prone.
Keen Smell: Advantage on perception checks based on smell
Keen Hearing and Smell: Advantage on perception checks based on hearing or smell
Pounce: If the weretiger moves at least 15 feet straight toward a target and then hits a creature with its claws on the same turn, it must succeed on a Strength saving throw (DC determined by the 8 + proficiency + Weretiger’s strength) or be knocked prone. The Weretiger can then make a bite attack as a bonus action.
Relentless: If the Wereboar takes 14 damage or less that would reduce it to 0 Hit Points, it is reduced to 1 hit point instead. Recharges on after a short rest.
Alignment: Lawful Good
General Personality: solitary, kind, cautious
Traits in Humanoid Form: broad-chested, built, and hairy in the same color as their fur
Favored Territory: remote locations
Social Preference: prefers isolation
Likelihood to infect others: Low. The only time they are willing is on those they believe can control it
Werebears are the good ones. Given their preference about how they spread their curse, it’s unlikely anyone would find an Evil person struggling against their new Good nature (but it would be an excellent subversion). If an established NPC that the players know already becomes cursed by a Wearbear, that NPC may need to take a mysterious vacation to their private cabin in the woods every full moon. Given the Lawful Good standing, they might start feeling guilty about old habits, like skimping on taxes. They might even find themselves drawn to do good work within their community as a manifestation of their Werebear nature to protect their territory.
Alignment: Neutral Evil
General Personality: violent, antagonistic, durable; love charging into combat headfirst
Traits in Humanoid Form: stocky and swole with short bristle-like hair all over their bodies
Favored Territory: remote locations
Social Preference: Gangs or family members of Wereboars, occasionally ally with Orcs
Likelihood to infect others: High. They like watching people suffer under the curse.
The bestial nature of Lycanthropy curses is fully realized in a Wereboar. Their traits, as well as the Werewolf’s, are easy to handwave as simply the desire to destroy and nothing more. However, their behavior suggests a set of priorities. They like to travel in groups of their peers which suggests that they can see eye to eye with members of their own kind. They can be violent to outsiders, but still, have a soft spot for their family. Orcs love strength almost as much as they love their gods, so maybe Wereboars have a similar disposition and respect displays of physical power.
A character’s Intelligence and Wisdom scores are NOT lowered when they become a Wereboar, so when they charge headfirst into combat it isn’t because they suddenly got dumber or have worse judgment. My suspicion would be that they feel the most natural when they are in the thick of a fight and are actively looking for a reason to do so. This could be roleplayed such that all other worldly pleasures are sort of muted like being high on painkillers; but when they fight they feel alive.
Alignment: Lawful Evil
General Personality: clever, shifty, and calculated; prefers to ambush
Traits in Humanoid Form: twitchy and paranoid with thin hair and quick eyes
Favored Territory: sewers, cellars, catacombs; close enough to feed off civilization without getting involved
Social Preference: solitary or in organized crime circles; oftentimes keep Giant Rats
Likelihood to infect others: Low. They only give it out to members of their gang and kill anyone accidentally infected or rogue members.
Wererats are tricky to roleplay. Next to Werebears, they are the most likely to have gotten their Lycanthropy from someone they know. Someone who becomes a Wererat 9/10 knows what they are getting into so they likely had a similar profile before they transformed. A Wererat curse to someone expecting it would likely amplify those traits to the extreme.
Maybe they were careful before, but it manifests now as general anxiety about the world. They are paranoid and see enemies in every shadow. They are lawful so they seek to impose order on their lives. Wererats might even have a sort of collective code they all obey, similar to real-life organized criminals.
If a character was claustrophobic before becoming a Wererat, they might be in a strange place now where they are actively afraid of going to closed-in spaces, but feel safe when they get there.
General Personality: proud, ferocious, and detail-oriented hunters
Traits in Humanoid Form: tall and meticulously groomed
Favored Territory: jungles and fringes of society, but close enough they can travel in to trade and party
Social Preference: alone or in small family groups
Likelihood to infect others: Low. Another Weretiger is just competition.
“Pride is not the opposite of shame, but it’s source.” -Uncle Iroh, Avatar the Last Airbender.
While a person could go in a lot of different directions with Weretigers, the one we’ll explore here is a little more abstract: insecurity.
The portrait we get of a Weretiger is a highly competitive, proud hunter who cares a lot about his appearance. That is a person with something to prove. They want to be known as a composed accurate individual that strikes at just the right time. A Player or DM might apply this as a hyper-awareness of their character’s curse as a Lycanthrope and is out to prove all the ideas about them being slobbering monsters wrong. Fearing being branded as a savage, they strive to embody a lot of high society ideals while still feeling like they don’t belong around normal people.
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
General Personality: savage almost to the point of being rabid
Traits in Humanoid Form: volatile, prefers raw meat, carefully attuned senses,
Favored Territory: wildlands with lots of hunting ground
Social Preference: forms packs with Wolves and Dire Wolves
Likelihood to infect others: High. Werewolves are Chaotic Evil and will fight anything tooth and nail.
Werewolves just love fighting, tearing, being the boss, and being alone. These traits on their own can be really toxic, but they can enrich a character if done right. The key is the why.
One of the things that sets D&D apart from other storytelling mediums is the amount of exposure you get to a character or an idea. As part of that, sometimes you roll the dice and you lose. As already stated, Werewolves love fighting, but one might suspect they hate losing. Maybe after a loss, a Werewolf knows how bad their temper can be and seeks isolation to lick their wounds and process it before they make another mistake. Losing could sharpen their minds to a fine edge, overriding their need to fight everything, and focusing only on besting the one creature that defeated them.
Maybe after being defeated, they submit to the winning party and trust them to lead them to more victories. If a character tries to deny their love of violence, maybe they seek to burn off frustration in organized fights, but avoid conflict in any place that could actually kill someone.
Not every application of Lycanthropy has to be an in-depth character overhaul though. Maybe a Werewolf manifests his qualities as a love for animals and wide-open pastures. They might know the best springs in the wilderness from their constant hunting. A character in this game is made for the enjoyment of everyone, so adjust as necessary to fit your game.
How to Use Lycanthropy with NPCs
Once you have updated the NPC’s mechanics with the above chart and immunities, Lycanthrope NPCs need two considerations: what is the relationship to their curse and how do they interact with their new instincts and abilities?
How Were They Cursed?
Let’s explore how they got their curse first. Did they get it when they married into a family? Did a Wereboar infect him just for giggles? Were they willing participants? Were they born to it? Once that question is answered, decide their personality and the new feelings they have which might influence their decisions.
There are hundreds of directions you can go with a curse like this.
How do they cope with their new compulsions?
While Werewolves are the mad dog type, a Lycanthrope of the Weretiger variety might manifest his cleanliness in every part of his life. He might become angry if he was having a night on the town in a perfectly pressed robe and someone has the audacity to spill a drink on it. A Wererat might manifest general anxiety that leads them to seek more and more power to make themselves feel safe.
If you have a Wizard NPC that charges into combat like a madman, it might be because he’s secretly a Wereboar.
If an NPC loves the thrill of combat, are they bored by their resistance to damage or does the power intoxicate them? If they were timid before, are they afraid of hurting other people and seek solitude? Do they know magic well enough to know that the curse can be reversed?
Each Lycanthrope comes with its own general profile and you, the DM, decide how much of that you want to incorporate. There will always be exceptions to these behavior patterns and you should feel free to break them for the sake of the story. But, generally, these rules apply to the behavior of were-NPCs.
How to use Lycanthropy with Player Characters
This is going to be one of those moments where you need to talk to the entire table before you allow something. Establish what Lycanthropy means in your game. Decide beforehand if it is well known and what stereotypes there are about Lycanthropes. Talk to your players about what struggling against the curse or embracing it means. They need to understand the responsibility of their power and their ability to spread the curse even on accident.
It is a curse and it should be role-played that way. It’s more than just free powers. It helps define a character.
Lycanthrope Player Characters and non-Player Characters gain the same powers. This includes gaining immunity to non-magical and non-silvered bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage. However, even some individuals that work for the Wizards of the Coast don’t house rule it this way.
Many DMs might be frustrated by the proposition of full out immunity to the most basic of attacks. We would like to compare this to the Aaracockra race. Both of them require advance planning by the DM to actually challenge that player.
A lot of the basic monsters follow a brute approach in that they have a lot of health and hit hard with a melee weapon. For example, most of the NPC stat blocks have a crossbow option in the back of the Monster Manual, but since the priority is on strength, their chance to hit and damage are poor. With an Aaracockra, just flying out of range can mean they miss a lot of the crossfire and chaos. What Aaracockra and Lycanthropes have in common is that they can both be countered by an enemy casting Firebolt.
I’m not saying that every enemy your party faces needs to cast spells. That would get predictable fast. However, poison dart traps could still hurt a Lycanthrope. Fire damage from being beaten with torches can hurt them. Undead, like Specters and Wights, can hurt them. At high-level play, it’s a 50/50 chance that a boss creature has magical weapons anyway. Lycanthropes can die from fall damage as it turns out as well, allowing the creative DM ways around this seemingly broken mechanic.
The encounters the DM sets before a party decides what is powerful. If the Lycanthrope in your party is outshining the other players, it isn’t right for your table.
House Rules for Lycanthropy
If you are interested in allowing a player to roleplay a PC with lycanthropy, or you are thinking of adding it to your game as a potential risk to your players, I would suggest implementing the following house rules to ensure it doesn’t get out of hand.
|Level 1||New Actions and New Traits, Added AC on transformation|
|Level 3||Stat Increase, Natural Weapons|
|Level 5||Resistance to non-magical, non-silvered, Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing|
|Level 10||Immunity to non-magical, non-silvered, Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing|
At Level 1, it should almost be treated as an augmentation of their race. The abilities are similar to the Unearthed Arcana of the shifters. They do not yet have resistance or immunity to damage and you can roleplay this as the curse just beginning to take hold of the player.
At Level 3, the Stat Increases and Natural Weapons can arrive at the same time as most Martial subclasses. Because they are largely physical buffs, Lycanthropes can gain their abilities at roughly the same rate as Martial Classes. Monks wielding the Natural weapons of a Werebear could affect game balance, so use it at your discretion. They may only gain one of the two damage dice that Werebears get on their attack at Level 3 then gain the second at Level 7 or so.
At Level 5, they gain Resistance but not Immunity to Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing. Level 5 is a milestone where the players can start fighting creatures much bigger and more dangerous than themselves. If you have a Barbarian in your party who is not a Lycanthrope and a party member who is a Lycanthrope, I would take this opportunity to show the difference between a Barbarian’s Rage and this Lycanthrope feature in a quick combat encounter. Magical and silver weapons cut through a Lycanthrope’s resistance, but not a Barbarian’s.
By Level 10, they have reached the tier of play where they are national heroes and a force to be reckoned with. There’s a much wider variety of creatures that wield magic weapons at this level so it closes the power and planning gap on the DMs part.
As a reminder, Lycanthropy does not negate other abilities. That means, your Wizard can shift into a Werebear and keep on casting Fireball. (That’s enough to send a Bandit Chief running for the hills!)
DM Tips to Remember when using Lycanthropy
This is a curse, not a disease.
That means a Paladin’s Divine Health does not protect it from Lycanthropy. Lesser Restoration can not fix this. For those infected, a Bestow Curse spell can cure it. If they are born to it, it is essentially part of their race. Only the Wish spell or a greater being can take Lycanthropy away.
Each Lycanthrope has its own personality influences on transformation.
Not every Lycanthrope is a bloodthirsty maniac. Not every Lycanthrope is as kind as Smokey the Bear. There’s variety within Lycanthropy. Of Lycanthropes, three kinds are evil, one is Neutral, and one is Good. Those instincts should have bearing on how a Lycanthrope is played, either for or against those instincts. Struggling or embracing the nature of the beast is critical.
Half-Orc Wereboars are difficult to kill.
Because Orc and Wereboars often work together, it would make sense for there to be some half-orc wereboars. Such a creature would be extremely difficult to kill because of its combined traits “Relentless” and “Relentless Endurance.” When a half-orc is reduced to zero hit points the “Relentless” trait brings them back to one hit point. Similarly, when a Wereboar is reduced to zero hit points by damage of 14 points or less, the “Relentless Endurance” trait brings it back to one hit point. This means a half-orc wereboar will have two chances at life before being brought down. It could be a problem for DMs and Players alike!
Lycanthropy is used as a catchall for were-animals in D&D but is denotatively wrong.
Lycanthropy comes from the Greek word “Lykos” meaning wolf and “Anthropos” meaning man. If you have an English major at your table who’s a stickler about words, we would recommend either Amalgamorph (from John Carpenter’s “The Thing”) or the Halfling Original word Polythrope.
They are still humanoids.
Lycanthropes are considered shapechangers but still qualify as humanoids. This is especially important for spells. Hold Person, a spell that freezes a humanoid in place would still work on a Lycanthrope. However, normal spells that ward against evils like Fiends and Undead such as Protection from Evil and Good will not protect you from a Lycanthrope’s wrath.
Lycanthropy can change the dynamics of your game dramatically. It’s one of those tropes that when done right, it’s so fascinating to watch play out. Watching players struggle with the moral choices and implications of their NPC friends and enemies is pinnacle high drama. Not only that but playing an engine of destruction made of fur and fury is just as fun too.
Until next time, my friends,
May your game have advantage!