D&D 5E Balancing A Playable Lycanthrope Character

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
One of the characters in my D&D campaign got himself bitten by a werewolf. He then failed his save throw, and so he's now on his way to becoming a werewolf. (The player is actually very excited about this...he has always wanted to play a werewolf character but was never given the opportunity, so he asked me if he could decline to make the save throw.)

So I now have the honor of coming up with a playable character for him, one that doesn't completely wreck the game balance.

A bit of background info: the character is a human fighter, 6th level, with the Gunslinger subclass (high-dex, low-strength build). Other members of the party are a Firbolg Druid, an Elf Artificer, a Human Rogue, and a Goliath Monk, all 6th level.

Now, let us review the Rules As Written for a playable Werewolf.
A character who becomes a lycanthrope retains his or her statistics except as specified by lycanthrope type. The character gains:
  • the werewolf’s speeds in nonhumanoid form (40ft in wolf form)
  • the werewolf's damage immunities (bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks not made from silvered weapons)
  • the werewolf's traits (shapechanger, keen hearing and smell)
  • the werewolf's actions that don’t involve equipment (multiattack, bite and claw only)
  • proficiency with the werewolf’s natural attacks and damage (bite 1d8 piercing, claws 2d4 slashing, Strength-based)
  • unable to speak while in animal form.
  • The DM is free to decide that a change in alignment places the character under DM control until the curse of lycanthropy is removed (I appreciate having the freedom to do so, but I'm going to let the player decide.)
  • Strength of 15 if his or her score isn’t already higher
  • a +1 bonus to AC while in wolf or hybrid form (from natural armor)
For reference:
Shapechanger: The werewolf can use its action to polymorph into a wolf-humanoid hybrid or into a wolf, or back into its true form, which is humanoid. Its statistics, other than its AC, are the same in each form. Any equipment it is wearing or carrying isn't transformed. It reverts to its true form if it dies.​
Keen Hearing and Smell: The werewolf has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing or smell.​
Multiattack (Humanoid or Hybrid Form Only): The werewolf makes two attacks: one with its bite and one with its claws (hybrid form).​
Bite (Wolf or Hybrid Form Only): Melee Weapon Attack, 1d8 piercing damage, Strength-based. If the target is a humanoid, it must succeed on a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or be cursed with werewolf lycanthropy.​
Claws (Hybrid Form Only): Melee Weapon Attack, 2d4 slashing, Strength-based.​
And they call it a curse.

Obviously, the trouble with this option is that it is extremely overpowered, especially for a 6th level character. If I implement this as-written, every character in the party will ask to be bitten by their new werewolf buddy. I mean who doesn't want to be bulletproof, change shape, buff their strength, sharpen their senses, and get extra attacks every round, with no apparent drawbacks?

If I go with rules-as-written, I would need to build in some pretty serious checks and balances to account for this huge list of boons. This is supposed to be a curse, not an early Christmas present.

Has anyone ever done this before? Players, did you enjoy being a werewolf? DMs, did you enjoy having a werewolf in the game? Were there any balance issues or pitfalls I should look out for?
 

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Yaarel

He Mage
It is easy to make a playable Werewolf character.

The amount of design space necessary is equivalent to one full feat.

The essence is, swap between the form of a Humanoid, the form of a natural wolf − no problem − and a third form as a Werewolf somewhere in between − also no problem.

The Speed and other boosts are only for the natural wolf form, which also cant use weapons or spells. It balances out.

Meanwhile the anthropomorphic Werewolf form is just a Humanoid with claws. Damagewise it is like Two Weapon Fighting. There is no major boost. It balances out.

It is also possible to swap out species traits to gain Werewolf traits instead, treating the Werewolf mechanically as a mixed-species character.
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
It is easy to make a playable Werewolf character.

The amount of design space necessary is equivalent to one full feat..
I'm not convinced. Getting all of this at once seems a bit generous for just a feat:
  • Multiattack
  • Shapechange at will
  • Damage immunity to anything non-magical or not silver
  • Advantage on Perception
  • Strength cannot be less than 15
Especially that damage immunity...oof. Not resistance, immunity. That's a very rare ability indeed, and the holy grail of every martial class in the game. But I'm not opposed to the idea of replacing ASIs and/or racial features to earn these goodies. I'll see what the player is willing to give up in exchange for all these boons. "You get all these awesome abilities, Joe, but they came at a price. Your health was ravaged by the magical illness...your Constitution score cannot ever be higher than 14." Or whatever, I'll clear it with the player first.

Requiring the character to be in hybrid or wolf form in order to get these benefits might be a good place to start, though. As-written, they apply no matter which form the character is in. If the player is cool with that, I could soften the Con score thing a bit.

There's nothing in there about equipment merging with the new form, though...so that might be an avenue for balancing. This ain't Wild Shape, so the character's clothing, armor, backpack, etc., might get damaged or left behind after the transformation. That feels a little bit more like a curse, I think...especially if the character has to make save throws to avoid shifting at inconvenient times.

An uncontrollable transformation might be a good way to balance this as well. On nights with a full moon, for example, the character is going to have to "go on an hunting trip" or something to avoid wolfing out in public and ending up on the Public Enemy list. But what about other times? What if this bloodthirst was an urge that required save throws or concentration checks or something whenever the character is wounded?

Bloodthirst: the first time you take damage after rolling Initiative, you must make a Concentration check (DC = 10 or 1/2 damage dealt, whichever is greater) or shapeshift into Hybrid or Wolf form at the beginning of your next turn.

Lots to think about.

Ugh, why did I agree to this?
 
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MarkB

Legend
When it occurred with werepolarbearism during a Rime of the Frostmaiden campaign, I made it a slow progression.

Lycanthropy (WerePolarBear-specific)
The curse of lycanthropy causes a progressive change to the bearer, growing stronger through each full moon.

Initial Exposure
The curse builds gradually in the bearer, manifesting mostly as strange urges and expanded senses. They may develop an appetite for raw meat, while finding cooked food less appealing. You gain the Keen Smell ability, granting you advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely upon smell.

First Full Moon
The first full moon brings with it an inevitable transformation. Those who resist the curse are transformed involuntarily as soon as they are touched by the light of the full moon, while those who embrace it can hold off on transforming for a couple of hours. This transformation is into the full animal form, and while those who resist the curse become mindless, ravenous beasts, even those who embrace it are not entirely themselves. They retain their intelligence and awareness, but are still driven by a need to hunt. If they do not successfully hunt and feed upon a kill this night, their transformation will remain stunted at the Initial Exposure stage until the next full moon.

At this early stage of the curse, the bearer gains resistance to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage from non-magical weapons that aren’t silvered. They also gain resistance to Cold damage, but vulnerability to Fire damage.

After a successful hunt, the transformation grows more complete, and for those who embrace it, more controllable, though it is physically taxing. As an action, the bearer may transform into a bestial form (either animal or hybrid). Once in that form, they can freely use an action to switch between hybrid and animal forms, but they may only transform from humanoid to bestial form a number of times equal to their Proficiency modifier. This limit refreshes after a long rest.

The bearer gains the above-listed resistances and vulnerabilities only while in animal or hybrid form, but even while in humanoid form they no longer suffer ill effects due to cold weather.

Second Full Moon - Control
As the next full moon approaches, the bearers’ power waxes. Starting the day before the full moon, they are able to transform to bestial form at will, with no daily limits. They also gain resistance to damage from non-magical, non-silvered weapons even when in humanoid form, along with resistance to Cold damage and vulnerability to Fire damage. So long as they transform on the night of the full moon, and eat a meal of raw meat while in animal or hybrid form, their curse will progress to the next stage, and they will thereafter retain their ability to transform at will.

Third Full Moon - Mastery
As the curse’s power magnifies, the bearer becomes more resistant to harm. Retaining their damage resistance in humanoid form, they now become immune to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage from non-magical, non-silvered weapons while in animal or hybrid form.

Fourth Full Moon - Apex
After the fourth full moon, the bearer retains their damage immunity even while in humanoid form.


Summary:

ProgressionForm-shiftingAbilities (Humanoid form)Abilities (Bear or Hybrid form)
InitialNoneKeen Smell (advantage on Wisdom (perception) checks based on smell)N/A
After 1st Full MoonNo. of times equal to Proficiency modifier, resets after long rest
  • Keen Smell
  • Not affected by cold weather (as though wearing cold weather clothing)
  • Keen Smell
  • Not affected by cold weather (as though wearing cold weather clothing)
  • Resistance to bludgeoning, piercing or slashing damage from weapons that aren’t magical or silvered
  • Resistance to Cold damage
  • Vulnerability to Fire damage
After 2nd Full MoonAt Will
  • Keen Smell
  • Not affected by cold weather (as though wearing cold weather clothing)
  • Resistance to bludgeoning, piercing or slashing damage from weapons that aren’t magical or silvered
  • Resistance to Cold damage
  • Vulnerability to Fire damage
  • Keen Smell
  • Not affected by cold weather (as though wearing cold weather clothing)
  • Resistance to bludgeoning, piercing or slashing damage from weapons that aren’t magical or silvered
  • Resistance to Cold damage
  • Vulnerability to Fire damage
After 3rd Full MoonAt Will
  • Keen Smell
  • Not affected by cold weather (as though wearing cold weather clothing)
  • Resistance to bludgeoning, piercing or slashing damage from weapons that aren’t magical or silvered
  • Resistance to Cold damage
  • Vulnerability to Fire damage
  • Keen Smell
  • Not affected by cold weather (as though wearing cold weather clothing)
  • Immune to bludgeoning, piercing or slashing damage from weapons that aren’t magical or silvered
  • Resistance to Cold damage
  • Vulnerability to Fire damage
After 4th Full MoonAt Will
  • Keen Smell
  • Not affected by cold weather (as though wearing cold weather clothing)
  • Immune to bludgeoning, piercing or slashing damage from weapons that aren’t magical or silvered
  • Resistance to Cold damage
  • Vulnerability to Fire damage
  • Keen Smell
  • Not affected by cold weather (as though wearing cold weather clothing)
  • Immune to bludgeoning, piercing or slashing damage from weapons that aren’t magical or silvered
  • Resistance to Cold damage
  • Vulnerability to Fire damage

In my case, this delayed the really powerful stuff until they were high level anyway and mundane damage sources were less common, but in a game with more downtime that may not be as useful.

I'd make them a bargain: If they want their character to be themselves and not a beast driven by hunger and pack instincts, they have to hold some of themselves back. Doing so means they don't get the full damage immunities, and have a daily limit on transformations.
 


TwoSix

Dirty, realism-hating munchkin powergamer
Nothing within the template really synergizes with the presumably high-Dex, low-Str gunslinger, though. And they’re doing sub-sword and board fighter at level 6. With 15 Str, they’re doing a 1d8+2 and 2d4+2 attack at +5. That’s pitiful at level 6.

I mean, sure, they’re immune to a bunch of damage, but we already have characters that are immune to a bunch of attacks in the base rules; they’re called flying races, and they get that immunity at level 1. :)

Without any kind of curse, I’d probably value it as roughly a potent uncommon or weaker rare magic item. Nice, but hardly gamebreaking.
 

Yaarel

He Mage
I'm not convinced. Getting all of this at once seems a bit generous for just a feat:
  • Multiattack
  • Shapechange at will
  • Damage immunity to anything non-magical or not silver
  • Advantage on Perception
  • Strength cannot be less than 15

Multiattack. Redefine as merely: Your Unarmed Strike can deal the Slashing damage type, when using your claws, or the Piercing damage type, when using your fangs. No change in power.


Shapechange at will. The Wolf form is a unique individual and recognizable. So, there is no deception here. The Werewolf form is monstrous, thus obviously unusual.

With regard to shapeshifting, I was torn between using an Action to do it because it is balanced enough, versus using a 1 minute ritual to do it because it suited the flavor better of a prolonged painful process that I often see in Werewolf TV shows or movies.

I decided on the following. The Humanoid form uses an Action to become the intermediate Werewolf form. This initial transition is painful and requires 1 minute of Concentration to maintain. If the Concentration is able to persist for a minute, then the Werewolf form has a Duration "until the end of your Long Rest". Once the Werewolf form stabilizes, the character has the Beast creature type, and loses any other creature types. The character can use an Action to appear in the original Humanoid form (but keeps the Beast creature type), or appear in the natural Wolf form.

The Humanoid form is normal. The Werewolf form is about the same level of power. The Wolf form is like the natural animal, unable to use equipment, speak, or even use hands. Switching back-and-forth between forms remains balanced.


Damage immunity to anything non-magical or not silver. No, damage immunity is only available as a separate feat, and even then only at the highest levels. I would probably treat this as an Epic Boon now at level 20. At earlier levels, three feats grant damage resistance to Slashing, then Bludgeoning, then Piercing separately, which Silver can bypass.


Advantage on Perception. Roughly equivalent to Expertise with Perception, worthy as part of a separate feat. Expertise is slightly better. The concept of heightened senses is an important part of the flavor. I made it part of the same feat that grants Werewolf traits. The Advantage only applies when using the ability (Perception) check for sounds and smells, and detail how this works.


Strength cannot be less than 15. I decided I conceptually dont care about Strength. If a player wants a Strength 10 Werewolf, that is fine. Even a Strength 8, I dont care. If a player wants a brute Werewolf, then take levels in Barbarian, or other Strength class.

I toyed with the idea of swapping mental abilities for physical abilities, such as a character with Intelligence 16 and Strength 8 can swap these for Werewolf and Wolf forms that have Strength 16 and Intelligence 8. For flavor, I even required a saving throw using the lower mental ability, and if unsuccessful, it means the character lost their Humanoid identity and is currently an insane Beast until the duration of shapeshift ends.

But in the end, I decided against the complication. Extra Strength doesnt feel important enough to the flavor. For concepts, where Strength is important, the Humanoid should be strong too.


As you can see. The essence of "Werewolf" is simple, and doesnt really require a boost in gaming mechanical power. It just needs to be able to shapeshift forms.
 

As it happens, I played a Duergar Champion Fighter that contracted Werebear Lycanthropy during Out of the Abyss. I had Str 20 at the time it happened, and essentially all of our enemies were Drow or Demons... and between all the demon magic and drowcraft weapons the damage immunity essentially never came up. Especially because there was nowhere to get Hybrid-Werebear-sized Full Plate on the time scale of the campaign.

In the penultimate battle, however, my character got Polymorphed into a rabbit. Except... no he didn't! He was a Shapechanger and on his next turn he reverted to his normal form.

  • Damage immunity to anything non-magical or not silver

This is really the only rough part. Personally, I would just say that the character only gets this protection during the full moon or when the curse takes control of their PC. The rest of the time, the character gains, say, damage resistance to nonmagical weapons that aren't silvered. Have it work for 1 minute, and once it's been used they need to complete a long rest to use it again.

And I'd say to the player: This is all on a trial basis. You're not sure if this will work or not.
 

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