the trouble with lycanthropes
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  1. #1
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    the trouble with lycanthropes

    As Wulf mentioned in the Monster Book thread, we have been wracking our brains on lycanthropes.

    I rewrote the entire section a while back but neither of us was that happy with it. Wulf has been taking a crack at it lately but neither of us has come up the silver bullet so to speak (bad pun intended).

    So we are hoping to crowdsource to get our creative juices flowing.

    Overall, our philosophy with Trailblazer is not rules light - more like rule "efficiency". The current lycanthrope template is anything but.

    The lycanthrope template is like the trifecta of d20 stat block inefficiency: it combines ability score modifiers, size changes, and additional Hit Dice, and does it across THREE stat blocks.

    Our goal is to simplify that.

    First off, we definitely want to reduce the template into two or even one stat block if possible. We can get close to this now by combining the animal and hybrid forms but there are some differences that would require some stat block style and formatting tweaking.

    Another huge problem is the added Hit Dice. Adding Hit Dice is unique to the lycanthrope template - no other template (at least not in the SRD) adds Hit Dice. This is actually my biggest problem with lycanthropes. By adding Hit Dice, it means the base creature stat block can't be used as-is.

    I've actually proposed removing the added Hit Dice altogether, which would bring lycanthropes in line with other templates. You just add the stat modifiers (and a few other things) to the base creature. This also essentially makes it work just like our Druid's wild shape ability.

    These issues also brought about a "fluff" discussion between Wulf and I about what actually makes "sense" for a lycanthrope.

    So without going into a lot more detail, what are your gut feelings on lycanthropes in general?
    How have you used them in your own games?
    How have you statted them in the past?
    What do you like about the lycanthrope template?
    What don't you like?
    What would you like to see?

  2. #2
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    Those stat blocks, they made my brain lock up.

    I like efficiency, I tend to approve of less when more doesn't offer any extra utility though.

    I originally wrote a lot of exposition that in many paragraphs came back to liking the idea of bring it in line with polymorph and wild shape. But there is always seems to be a danger that something could get lost from the flavor when it is broken out too plainly like it is just a numbers game . . . delicate balance.

    I also could see combining hybrid and animal form in two. I wonder how much inspiration from the aranea you could pull. It, too, is a creature with three forms. Humanoid-, demi-, and spider-form, and all done in a single stat block. But maybe a blended hybrid- and animal-form lycanthrope could be done aranea-like?

    I've only ever seemed to use wererats, nearly all the rest I ignore. Hmm, never looked back at it. Great low-level threat. By the time PCs are higher level the other lycanthropes are boring by comparison with other CR-equal offerings to me. I just pulled the stat blocks straight from the book, I'm lazy that way. Applying templates were always more hassle than they seemed worth unless it was a single boss creature at the end of an adventure, like a lich or maybe ghost or vampire.

    I would like it to be easier to slap on quickly and not need lots of recalculation. A little is fine, like when applying rage, but things that end up cascading through vast parts of the stats is a cost that drives me from using it.

    Aaaaand this is pretty much rooted in mud, I good argument on every aspect can easily sway me in any direction.

  3. #3
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    The point of adding the Hit Dice is to make werewolves and such look like normal commoners, but make them tough enough to take a few hits, and make them more resistant to certain spell effects (sleep, color spray, etc.)
    The immediate solution is two fold. 1) A flat number of bonus hp. Something like +5 for rats, +10 for wolves, +15 for boars, +20 for tigers, +25 for bears. 2) A flat bonus to HD for resolving spell effects - kind of like the old Turn Resistance. +1 for rats, +2 for wolves, +3 for boars, and +6 for tigers and bears.
    I've got no advice on how to resolve the rest of the template, but you claim to have a handle on that part.


    The secondary goal was to make the afflicted a poor choice for PCs - mechanically inferior to more class levels. I'm on the fence as far as that goal is concerned - one of my favorite characters that only saw one session of play was a werebear ranger (engaged to the paladin). He was a medium-poor ranger, but a fantastic character.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by ValhallaGH View Post
    The point of adding the Hit Dice is to make werewolves and such look like normal commoners, but make them tough enough to take a few hits, and make them more resistant to certain spell effects (sleep, color spray, etc.)
    Is that the point? I'm not disputing you, but it seems odd to me that the templates add the exact number of Hit Dice equal to the animal form. Seems more of a fluff thing than specific mechanics.

    I also find it off that the humanoid form doesn't get DR/silver. That would very easy to add to toughen them up in that form.

    Adding Hit Dice is the biggest pain when advancing a creature. It would be much easier to simply create the base NPC you want and then add the template. There is little statistical difference between X number of animal Hit Dice and an equal number of class levels.

    Wulf and I have had long discussions on what "Hit Dice" actually represent. Is it a creature's "beef" or mass? Is it fighting ability/experience? A combination?

    Another I idea I had was to remove the added Hit Dice but put Hit Dice/level requirements (or at least recommendations) on the templates themselves. For example, in order to add the weretiger template, the base creature must be at least 6 HD (or 7). That would keep it similar mechanically and put it in line with the current CRs.

  5. #5
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    I guess I just don't buy that the alternate form should get the extra HD, not all of the forms. Not even that it would require extra stat blocks, but that the humanoid form (without the bonus HD) is the same CR value as the hybrid and animal form that has the bonus HD (and all it grants).

    I know you guys have run the math on the spine and it generally shows that small increases in hit dice doesn't affect CR greatly. But the werebear and weretiger both grant +6 hit dice . . . that's not an insubstantial difference.

    I guess I'd argue that all forms should have the same hit dice. That ought to simplify statblocks efficiency, right? If they don't have the same hit dice, shouldn't that mean different CR's?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Anondson
    I guess I just don't buy that the alternate form should get the extra HD, not all of the forms.
    That's actually the case - lycanthropes have the same HP in all forms. The quirk is that their ability scores, attack forms, DR, speed, and various special abilities change a lot between the various forms.
    Which actually makes some sense to me. The fluff goal was to give them a mechanical reason to change into their beast or monster forms - better mobility, natural weapons, increased resilience, and more power are all good ways to encourage the transformation. But those differences make the creature a pain in the neck to DM.

    Quote Originally Posted by GlassJaw
    Is that the point? I'm not disputing you, but it seems odd to me that the templates add the exact number of Hit Dice equal to the animal form. Seems more of a fluff thing than specific mechanics.
    I don't deny that fluff was involved - I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was the primary contributor to the mechanics. Heck, I may even be wrong about the point - but since D&D designers almost never tell you what the goal of a mechanic is, I have to base deduction of the goal upon the design choices.

    I would guess that the actual goal was to make the lycanthropes (terrible name for anything other than a werewolf) a bit tougher in all their forms. Human or animal, the werewolf is tougher than you'd expect - and hybrid is a giveaway about the horror you're facing.
    The chosen method succeeds at that, though it is annoyingly complicated. A template that gives +X to various ability scores (including attacks), +Y natural armor in all forms, alternate forms (that supply Z weapons), DR in those alternate forms, +A hit points, and +B to saves would have been much easier, faster, and more fun. And is probably where you guys should go, depending just how much you're concerned with compatibility of were-creatures.

  7. #7
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    I always figured the extra HD were there to make lycanthropes a threat, even if it was level 1 commoners being infected. Which is pretty much who you would expect to get infected, story-wise, I suppose.

    Personally I don't see the need for different stat blocks for the hybrid and animal forms, except perhaps to note that the hybrid can wield weapons and the animal moves faster. I also don't necessarily see the need for having different ability scores in different forms, which just serves to make it really complicated.

    My ideal lycanthrope template would add HD or HP to the base creature, DR/silver, and the ability to change shape. In their hybrid or animal form, they would get natural attacks and a static + to hit & damage. Hybrid form doesn't change speed, animal form does.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by ValhallaGH View Post
    That's actually the case - lycanthropes have the same HP in all forms. The quirk is that their ability scores . . .
    This here, their ability scores include Con. Change form, Con increases, increasing hit points.

    I guess I'm saying that I lean towards all forms having the same ability scores (excluding size-modifiers from shapechanging). To me, I see the flavor as mostly giving attack forms, speed/movement, special abilities. I can go either way on whether all forms get DR or only hybrid/animal forms get DR.

  9. #9
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    Lycanthrope :: d20srd.org
    The HP are set - "Same as the base creature plus those of the base animal. To calculate total hit points, apply Constitution modifiers according to the score the lycanthrope has in each form." Basically, a lycanthrope has the base creature's hp (1d4+1 for a healthy commoner) plus the animal hp (2d8+6; Con in hybrid / wolf form) = total hit points (1d4+2d8+7 = 18 hp).

    Werecreature hp does not change between forms. Which is part of what makes them a pain to run - they are very poorly understood and not really consistent with the rest of the game.

  10. #10
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    Thanks for the all the replies so far everyone.

    Wulf and I had a chat the other night and I think we are close to a solution. If nothing else, we at least have a direction on how we will proceed next.

    In a nutshell, we are leaning towards dropping the added Hit Dice when the lycanthrope is in its base humanoid form. What this means it that no changes will be required to the base creature stat block.

    We are then going to combine the animal and hyrbid forms into one stat block. They are already essentially the same with a few minor differences. Most likely, we will consolidate those differences further. For example, the hybrid form currently does not gain the special attacks of the animal (Improved Grab, Rake, Trip, etc). We will give those abilities to the hybrid form.

    The one complication to all this is if a 1st-level commoner lycanthrope (which would most likely only have a few hit points) takes damage, what happens if it immediately gets reduced to negative hit points? Wulf proposed that lycanthropes get a "reset" if this happens. The lycanthrope changes form (into hybrid most likely) and "heals" back its hit points and is now ready to fight.

    The problem with this is how will this mechanic work for the 10th-level fighter werewolf, for example. If it gets reduced to negative hit points in humanoid form, having it completely heal and then change into hybrid form feels wonky.

    My solution to that is to give the lycanthrope the same amount of hit points in all forms (including its modified Con). There are already rules in place for contracted lycanthropes who can't control their changes (see the Control
    Shape skill in the SRD). This method would also give the commoner lycanthrope some added "toughness" without having to change its stat block in any way.

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