Monday, August 31, 2020

Moonless werewolves

 


By Christopher Robin Negelein         Photo: Jean Beaufort (publicdomainpictures.net

In Solar Sails there’s no moon, or a million little moons depending on how you see it. Either way, it is a tough question for world building when it comes to werewolves and a lack of proper moonage. 
What am I to do? Fortunately, I’ve been down this road before. 
As a quick overview there’s probably about five common ways to handle werewolves in a rare full moon/moonless setting.

  • They are only a myth and don’t exist.
  • You have a full moon-lite substitute. 
  • It has never been the full moon, but the lunar calendar instead that sets off the transformation. Thus the full moon is merely a time stamp.
  • There is a cursed artifact that does the trick when a trigger is activated.
  • The moon works by line of sight and when a full moon can be seen, it works. (A lot of Saturday morning cartoons seem to work this way.)

Mythic. For starters, it is your home game/setting simply do not include them. Few fantasy games feature a were critter more than once or twice. (And many times it is just a way to justify evil rat people in your sewers while avoiding cease and desist letters from a formerly litigious workshop of games.)
But for those who want to go 5e or cast as wide a net a possible, trying to include werewolves avoids at least one social media post that starts with, “Yeah, but your setting don’t include lycanthropes and thus fails at my benchmark of being a great setting. Also I am a werewolf fan” Because, as you know, there’s one in every crowd.
Moony substitutes. For a time, some friends and I were planning a big West Marches sandbox campaign and put in a hollow earth setting and we had already established there was to be an artificial sun. But what about a nighttime cycle? You not only need people to lie down and get some sleep but also give the undead sometime to stand up and be counted (and repelled.) 
The solution I came up with was a mysterious body that hung on the other side of the “sun’s” reflector. Covered in clouds, it created a gothic moody night on the moors every night. Leaving it undefined gave us the elbow room to do whatever we needed a weird moon to do. 
But we could have just as well made it a hole in the sun’s reflector or even a glowing command station for the sun (In our game, we settled on placing those controls within deep caverns the players could eventually reach. I was so looking forward to seeing what chaos would be created one PC got their fingers on those buttons. 
Lunar calendar. Having the curse working off a time cycle has no real downside and offers a solid twist on the monster’s myth. It does make the mystery a bit harder to deduce without a literal giant sign hanging in the sky. The real concern would be more setting up additional clues for the party to help them make the connection if they need it. 
Cursed artifact. The artifact can be a piece of moon rock or jewelry/weapon that’s lunar or lupine themed, though the real question is what triggers activate it? Some of those triggers should be unique to your setting while others may reflect your genre. Want more pulp action? Then let it be stress and danger. Leaning into horror or gothic?  
Consider blood or dark appetites (which blends the werewolf with the wendigo).
Regardless, the item needs a history or a legend or even just a story for the whys of it. Sometimes just trying to make a backstory opens up new concepts to tinker with.
An example of a lycanthropic artifact for Solar Sails:
The Riverstone of Jaci is often found in an amulet and possesses a very unique shade of every pale gray. 
For 26 days, the polished rock enhances the sense of its attuned owner regardless of distance between the artifact and the person. Only death severs the connection (this would be more of an example for fiction; for gaming there should be potential out if the player doesn’t want to participate with the stone.)
There is a price to pay for three nights in the lunar calendar the victim transforms into a monster that hungers for violence and blood. The stone brightly glows during these nights. They say it was made before the Sundering. Some say the artifact was made to commemorate the historic trip to the moon. Some say that was the beginning of the end. The gods were angry that the heavens were pierced and the multitudes needed to be taught humility again.
Others say it fell from the sky and other claimed the moon was minded until it collapsed in upon itself and then rained death from above. Some say the amulet is not cursed but merely an unfinished project of the alchemist, Clor Min in their attempt to create an army of sleeper soldiers. From there, the theories get ludicrous.
Well, you get the idea that whipping up a backstory can … well, get you more ideas! 
Line of sight “moon.” The full moon rays are the source of the curse and thus a fragment of a proper moonlet or moon-like body. This makes the transformations potentially unpredictable and tougher to figure it -- or maybe just as easy since there is a big clue hanging up above everyone.  What this moon is in your world is up to you. It could be a particular asteroid, comet or some other ominous heavenly body. The real secret, though, is that since the affecting agent is no longer a moon, your werecritter is no longer beholden to being a wolf or even a mammal!  
Sure werewolves and were panthers are scary, but what about werescorpions?!


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