It’s no secret that werewolves have been a staple of the fantasy and horror genre since the beginning of storytelling. Almost every culture on every continent has some version of a human-turning-into-animal myth, and Dungeons and Dragons is no exception. These monsters are so popular in pop culture today that whole fandoms have gone to war over the superiority of werewolves over other dark creatures of the night (Thanks, Underworld).
Of course, it’s understandable. Since werewolves are usually the victims of a curse, they make perfect brooding, tragic antiheroes. Forced to live in exile lest they harm the ones they love most, werewolves in D&D are super-tough meta-humanoids who can either create powerful enemies or interesting story arcs for your players to explore.
As a bonus, they’re fluffy, too. If you can look past the teeth…and claws…and ravenous insatiable appetite for blood…
So if you’ve got a player asking to be a lycanthrope or want to include a Big Bad Evil Pupper in your campaign, but you’re not sure where to start, this article is for you. We’re going to explore several ways that you can incorporate werewolves into your campaign.
As a note, this article is going to emphasize using werewolves in the story of your games. If you’re looking for more specific information on how to use werewolves mechanically, check out my Complete Guide to Lycanthropy in D&D 5e!
Defining Werewolves in D&D 5e
Werewolves are just one manifestation of the curse of lycanthropy found in Dungeons and Dragons. Although there have always been multiple types of lycanthropes in D&D, the werewolf is the most iconic and most popular. It could even be considered the first lycanthrope, as the word “lycanthropy” literally means “wolf-person.”
Each and every lycanthrope found in the Monster Manual has its own unique culture and quirk, and the werewolf is no different. These individuals tend to exile themselves from their home society, either out of fear of what they will do to others or fear of what others will do to them. They often form packs with other werewolves or wild, natural wolves.
The werewolf in its shifted form (either hybrid or animal) is chaotic evil in alignment. Even if the humanoid character is normally good or neutral, the curse of lycanthropy changes their nature into that of a ravenous wolf. Even the most steel-minded resistor of the curse will be forced to change on the night of the full moon.
Werewolves who choose to embrace the curse learn to control their shifting ability, but at a price. Their alignment will be altered in their humanoid form as person and beast begin to meld together. They become short-tempered, savage hunters, known for violence. The longer they live with the curse, the more wolf-like their appearance becomes.
Werewolves are incredibly powerful creatures, resistant to all forms of non-magical or non-silvered weapon damage. They have keen senses, which translates into advantage on perception checks that rely on hearing and smell.
There is so much that goes into the curse of werewolves that they can show up for your Halloween special or they can create deep and involved side-quests or campaign arcs.
Origins of Werewolves
Werewolves have been a part of the D&D Monster canon since the very beginning and have seen multiple changes to their lore and abilities over the years. Yet throughout all the editions of D&D, the origins and source of the curse of lycanthropy have never really been explained. The most we get from the current edition of the Monster Manual on page 206 is that lycanthropy is “the most ancient and feared of all curses.”
This is a pretty ambiguous statement, but as far as I am concerned, that’s how I prefer it. Instead of D&D telling me exactly what lycanthropy is and where it came from, we dungeon masters are free to speculate and even draw inspiration from real-world mythologies to create the perfect story for our unique settings.
Let’s take a look at some possible origin ideas.
Cursed by the Gods
The origins of werewolf tales in our own world today date as far back as ancient Greek mythology. In one such tale, an Arcadian king finds himself entertaining none other than Zeus himself, and as all Greek tales go, this king decided to try and pull one over on the god. The king, named Lycaon, actually killed and served his own son for dinner, because apparently, that’s the best way to test a god.
Zeus was not fooled and depending on which version of the myth you read there are various levels of murderous destruction as a result. One detail the tale doesn’t waver on is that Lycaon is cursed by the deity and turned into a wolf, as wolves were known to attack and eat humans at that time. Essentially, Zeus brought the beast within Lycaon out for the world to see.
This story, which even gives us the origin of the word Lycanthrope, can easily be translated into D&D. There is no shortage of deities and pantheons that could mete out this type of punishment.
Selûne, goddess of the Moon
Since the curse is given as a punishment, I imagine it would be given by a deity that is typically considered good. One such deity might be Selûne, who is aligned as ‘chaotic good’ and described as being aggressive, fierce, and unforgiving to her enemies.
As the goddess of the moon, it would make sense that she could be the original giver of the lycanthropic curse. In D&D, werewolf shifts are tied strongly to the full moon. Even those who strive to fight back the curse of lycanthropy still lose their battle every time the moon waxes to her zenith.
Of course, it should be noted that many good and neutral lycanthropes follow Selûne as their deity, which you can attribute to Selûne’s fluctuating mood and personality. The gods in D&D are not infallible beings; a curse given in one phase of anger could be welcomed and forgiven in another phase of peace.
However you decide to write it, a curse from a deity is a tried and true method of introducing werewolves into the lore of history.
“Gifted” by a Devil (or evil deity)
One of the most famous werewolf stories of our world is that of the German serial killer Peter Stumpp. In 1589, the wealthy and well-respected farmer was accused of murder and cannibalism, including the murder of his own son.
When caught, Stumpp confessed to twenty-five years of insatiable bloodlust. He claimed to have been practicing black magic since he was a child and sold his soul to the devil for a magic belt that would turn him into a wolf.
Although no such belt was ever found, the claims were enough. Stumpp was brutally executed and his tale of lycanthropic horror spread throughout Europe. Werewolves and witches went hand-in-hand, and both were seen as proof of consorting with black magic and the Devil.
Malar, the Beastlord
This story isn’t hard to work into our D&D campaigns, even if fear of magic isn’t usually the same in D&D as it was in 16th century Europe. Like receiving a curse from a god, lycanthropy could be something that was “gifted” by an evil deity to a mortal who devoted themselves to their wicked tenants.
The god Malar, also known as the Beastlord, would be a perfect candidate for such gift-giving. He is traditionally the deity of all evil were-creatures and one of his core missions is to spread the curse of lycanthropy throughout the realm and the destruction of civilization.
If you’re looking for an easy way to explain the origin of werewolves in your campaign, a “gift” from Malar to a devoted serial killer could be your answer.
For every tale of deity-cursing-mortal into a werewolf, there are also tales of mortals catching lycanthropy by their own rituals and practices. The Roman Poet Virgil writes about a man named Moeris who can turn himself into a wolf by using herbs and poisons.
But this sort of natural magic isn’t only reserved for Roman mythology. Native American folklore tells of people called Skin-walkers, or yee naaldlooshii, which translates to “by means of it, it goes on all fours”.
According to legend, Skin-walkers are medicine folk or healers who have been corrupted by evil magic. Rather than learn their arts for good and healing, they use their gifts for perverse and wicked ends, shape-changing into beasts being one of them.
Natural magic gone wrong is an excellent origin for werewolves in your campaign. Perhaps a druid has become so disgusted with progressive civilization they turn towards evil magic to protect what they deem good. Or perhaps a too-curious young apprentice taps into powers they were not ready for, resulting in devastation.
Another common origin story for werewolves is that of the cursed item. Like the belt that was supposedly given to Peter Stumpp, items that transform people into wolves are commonly found in folklore and legend.
One such story comes from Norse mythology, which tells about a man and his son by the names of Sigmund and Sinfjötl. By all accounts, these men were wicked men, who enjoyed hunting others in the forest and stealing their goods. On one such hunt, they came across two men who had with them two wolf pelts. After killing the men, Sigmund and Sinfjötl took the pelts and put them on.
These pelts transformed Sigmund and Sinfjötl into wolves, and could only be removed after ten days. Having already been bloodthirsty killers, the father and son duo decided to split up and hunt alone, howling for help only if they came across a party of men larger than seven. While Sigmund kept up his end of the bargain, Sinfjötl did not, killing eleven men on his own. This enraged his father who mortally wounded him.
Sinfjötle did not die, however, but was magically healed by the intervention of Odin. When the father and son were able to remove the pelts, they burned them. It seems the curse of lycanthropy was too much even for men who were already killers.
Cursed items are such an easy way to introduce werewolves into your campaign, especially if you have a player who wants to become a werewolf. Items can be found anywhere; a magic shop, a dungeon, a grave. They can even be the result of science experiments gone wrong if you’re playing more of a sci-fi-themed game.
A cursed item also creates another way to cure a werewolf besides the trite remove curse mechanic that is currently in play. Instead of simply removing the curse from the afflicted creature, you might have to hunt down the item that cursed it and destroy it first. This is similar (and perhaps less deadly) then removing the curse that has been transferred from the Loup Garou.
Which brings us to our last origin.
Committing “Unforgivable Sins”
The Loup Garou is a French legend that has roots in Cajun and Canadian cultures as well. While there are several different beliefs on how a Loup Garou comes into being, a common thread among them is that this curse is a result of committing an unforgivable act.
The “unforgivable sins” range anywhere from failing to keep certain religious practices to cannibalism, but all of them have the same result. The sinner becomes a Loup Garou.
What’s interesting about this version of the curse is that the punishment isn’t always meted out by a deity, but rather by the human’s own genetics. It’s like there is a code in the body that reacts to certain events which trigger the wolf to come out of us, as if there is some inherent understanding of right and wrong built into our DNA.
This version of the werewolf story works great for players who are paladins or clerics. Perhaps there is more of a risk to breaking their oath or contradicting their faith than just losing their abilities. The results of turning your back on your morality could be that your internal carnal nature becomes your external carnal curse.
If you choose to use this method as an origin of werewolves, you’ll need to consider if it was only a one-time thing, where the first werewolf came from an unforgivable sin, or if this is still a real threat for wicked people. You’ll also want to decide what constitutes an unforgivable sin in your world.
Regardless, tales of men becoming monsters due to their heinous acts will certainly create intrigue and wonder at your table.
Becoming a Werewolf
In D&D 5e, one becomes a werewolf by failing their constitution saving throw after receiving a bite from a werewolf. That’s really all there is to catching the most “feared and ancient of curses,” which honestly kind of feels like a letdown in some ways. So if you want to challenge your players with lycanthropy, here are some ideas for how to spice it up.
Make it hurt
Although lycanthropy is described as a curse, it acts more like a disease or a virus. Feel free to make the receiving of this curse hurt.
Our bodies don’t tend to react well to foreign viruses that attack our DNA. In one campaign I ran I described the first few days of the bite as extremely painful for the player who had been bitten.
He became ill, very ill. You do have to be careful how you do this because too many negative effects can ruin the fun for a player, especially if you have a player who is more prone to be motivated by power. (Check out my video to help you understand what kind of players you have.) For my game, it started with just one level of exhaustion, which I planned to increase every two days until cured.
When the player got the cure, however, I gave him one last gruesome trial to overcome. In my case, I did this entirely through narration, but you could add some saving throws if you wanted to increase the drama. Just be sure to never ask for a roll that you aren’t prepared for your player to fail.
Anyway, when the player drank the remove curse potion that was given to them by the super sketchy BBEG, I described how the liquid burned through their blood. I narrated them falling to their knees, their bones cracking, their body almost changing, before the fur receded and they arose, human and healthy again.
By using these mechanics and descriptions, I was still able to explore the weight of becoming a werewolf on a micro level, without having to force my player on a long extended journey they weren’t interested in. Even if your player does want to experience the drama of becoming a werewolf, you can still make them bear the burden of being cursed by adding some negative temporary side effects to the bite.
Make it emotional
Along with some physical drama with becoming a werewolf, there is plenty of room for emotional turmoil as well. (Think zombie apocalypse when the little girl’s been bit and you have to decide if you want to shoot her or cut off her arm.)
While yes, remove curse is normally all it takes to cure a werewolf, this isn’t always true, and the spell isn’t always accessible, especially to low-level players.
If you have a player who’s become a werewolf, talk to them about the emotional toll of the curse. This aspect will be especially fun for your players who love to role-play and explore different corners of their character’s persona. Let them know that if they want to remain good, they’re going to have to wage war on the curse.
You could even develop a system of wisdom saving throws for each day to see how well they are combatting the bloodlust each day leading up to the first full moon. This will create inner-party turmoil and (hopefully) drive them to be motivated to save their teammate.
All in all, always remember that lycanthropy is a curse. It is not meant to be a benefit or a cool superpower. When a player or a beloved NPC becomes cursed with lycanthropy, there should be some sort of terrible pain (emotional or physical) involved. Let the player feel like they a cursed, even if they did want to become a werewolf.
Curing a Werewolf
Despite lycanthropy having a reputation of being one of the most feared and evil of curses, it’s remarkably easy to cure. Too easy, in my opinion.
All you need is the third level spell, remove curse.
It doesn’t even require a saving throw which means, theoretically, a fifth-level cleric can literally zap all the fight out of the werewolf your party is fighting. That’s hardly exciting.
But just as you can add flavor and pizzaz to the receiving of the curse, so you can make the cure a little more dramatic, as well. Here are a few ideas for how to do it.
Use a Loup Garou:
The Loup Garou was added to D&D lore in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. This monster is basically a werewolf on steroids, and his bite is extremely potent.
Those who are changed by a loup garou become normal werewolves, but the curse refuses to let go. The only way to be cured of lycanthropy is to kill the loup garou which changed you. And with a challenge rating of 13 and regeneration abilities, that’s no easy task.
Even if you do succeed in killing the loup garou, the curse can still only be broken on the night of the full moon. Which, incidentally, is the same night you turn into a raving murder-pupper. Your party will have to prepare accordingly.
But that’s not all. Once you get leashed and call your cleric, you still have to succeed on a DC17 constitution saving throw, or the curse does not break and you have to wait until the next full moon to be cured.
If you do succeed on your saving throw, congratulations! You’re cured–and you suffer three levels of exhaustion. But hey, you’re no longer craving the flesh of your enemies (and friends) for dinner, so that’s probably worth it.
The loup garou is D&D’s answer to the complaints about how weak these iconic monsters were originally introduced. These built-in mechanics can easily be adapted to your own campaign of any level. If you have a low-level party, use the original werewolf, but make the curse work like the loup garou’s curse. If you have a high-level party, you now have a fearsome foe worthy of their abilities.
The joy of D&D is that it is a flexible game. You’re free to use what you want, discard what you don’t like, and recreate lore to your heart’s content. Maybe you don’t want to deal with hunting down the werewolf that turned you in order to be cured. You can just require a saving throw. Or, maybe just killing the foe will automatically cure you. The combinations are endless.
Send Them on an Adventure
Maybe your party is out in the wilderness and has no opportunity to find someone to cast remove curse on them. What’s an adventurer going to do?
Probably what they do best. Adventure.
This adventure has a couple of different possibilities. Perhaps your player has been bit, but there is a nearby set of ruins that is rumored to have fantastic healing powers. Or maybe, take a leaf out of the AD&D days and give your druid knowledge that an herb called Belladonna might just heal you. Or, you know, kill you. Either way, it’s going to be a fun time searching the forest for it!
Another adventure to save a werewolf could be doled out to the party from an NPC. Perhaps a village has been ravaged by a rabid wolf and the party is tasked to find them–only to discover that the blacksmith’s small child is the werewolf responsible.
Suddenly it’s not so easy to just kill the beast anymore (hopefully!) Now it’s a matter of restoring the child’s life to normal. If the village is too small, the party might have to go far and wide to find the resources they need to remove the curse.
Removing the curse doesn’t only have to be about stopping the transition. Maybe you have a player who wants to be able to turn into a wolf but doesn’t want to multiclass into a druid. Adventures can take players on a journey to conquer the beast and remain human while maintaining their cool new shape-shifting ability.
Whether it be a blessing from a benevolent god, a magic item, or just a journey of willpower and spiritual awakening, there’s more than one way to tame a wolf.
If you’re afraid that letting a player become a permanent werewolf will break your game, just make your challenges more challenging. D&D is a game that should be fun for everyone, DM included. Don’t just say no to a protagonist-pupper, work with the player to decide what that looks like so everyone can benefit from the joy of the story. I promise you, in the end, it will be a more rewarding experience.