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A Treatise on the History of Lycanthropy

by John Calvin

Foreword by the Author

One of the biggest advantages of a fantasy setting is its great diversity. If used properly, this can greatly add to the flavor of any campaign. Unfortunately, great diversity in a setting can also be a hindrance if little or no thought is given as to why the setting is so diverse. Mystara has an abundance of diversity, sometimes well thought out, and sometimes not.

I have never felt comfortable with the curse of lycanthropy being blamed upon Alphatian mages. This course just seemed too simple. It is a cop out, in my opinion, to say that since lycanthropy is a magical disease, and since the Alphatians are magical people, that the Alphatians must have created lycanthropy. After reading some of James Mishler's work on the Taymoran empire, I was inspired to add my own take to the events of those times, one of which was the creation of lycanthropy. Thanks go to James, and to all of the others who keep improving upon the land of Mystara. [To those that read on...beware, some spoilers may follow.]

A Treatise on the History of Lycanthropy in the Known World

Lycanthropy is a bane upon our world. Like a disease, it spreads through families, villages, cities, and nations. The lucky ones are the ones who do not survive, for lycanthropy is a dreadful curse. It twists the body, and the mind, into fearful bestial forms. Often those who are infected will not remember the atrocities that they commit on friends and loved ones. Brought upon by the tides of the moon, the transformation is unavoidable.

As with most things that people do not understand, most things magical, the curse of lycanthropy is blamed upon Alphatians and their infernal sorcery. Six centuries ago, a virtual plague swept across the Known World from that nation leaving death and despair in its wake. Some say that the Alphatians made a terrible mistake. Others believe that those wizards created lycanthropy with a purpose in mind, to subjugate the world.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Lycanthropy was not developed by Alphatian wizards 600 years ago. It has been on Mystara for far longer than that. Neither has it always been as tame as it is now. Long ago it was by far a worse curse than it is now.

BC 2500 - Mythic Lycanthropy

Fleeing the destruction of Blackmoor, a group of people made their way to the southern shores of Brun. These were the Taymorans. Still possessing some of their former magical might, the Taymorans quickly established a mighty empire in this sparsely populated land. Taymora, however, was not untouched by trials; many of its people suffered from destructive forces unleashed by Blackmoor, which caused them to slowly rot and die. To combat this disease, many of the most powerful and influential mages turned toward the powers of Undeath.

Taymora soon became a land ruled by Necromancer Kings and undead creatures. Of these, the Vampire Kings were among the most feared. They sought out the living, to use as fodder in their wars, as slaves for their industries, and as food for their appetites. Many in the populace hated and feared their rulers, and actively sought ways to overthrow them.

Thus Mythic Lycanthropy was born. The Vampire Kings, desperate to keep their minions subjugated, devised a magical disease which would impart more bestial aspects onto its victims. The vampires believed, and rightly so, that if they could impart the traits of those animals which they already had an uncanny ability to call upon and command onto their human subjects, that those subjects would be more able, and willing, to serve them. Mixing their own undead blood with that of wolves, rats, and bats, the Vampire Kings created a curse that would plague Mystarans for millennia to come.

Mythic Lycanthropy transforms its victim into a creature with traits of both beast and man. Roughly humanoid in shape, the cursed being acquires the claws, fangs, and appetite of its were type. Although it retains its former intelligence, the creature is strongly driven by animal instincts. The transformation is brought upon by the coming of nightfall. Some hardy individuals can prevent their transformation, but not forever. Each night painful surges wrack the victim's body. Those that give into the pain assume their were-form.

Once transformed into a beast man, the afflicted individual loses all of the memories and personality of his former self. The beast form is a completely new entity, most often cruel and violent. After months of succumbing to the disease, 50% of those infected die. Of those that remain, a full three quarters are stuck in their beast man form forever. After a year's time, 90% of those remaining will die. While in beast man form a person infected with Mythic Lycanthropy is susceptible to the call and compulsion of vampires. The Vampire Kings created strains of the disease with their own blood resulting in clans of were-creatures who were attuned to a specific vampire.

As the disease developed, and several strains intermingled, it became difficult for any one vampire to retain control over an individual creature. Summoning and compelling the lycanthropes was not a problem, yet keeping another vampire from doing the same thing was.

Using lycanthropes as shock troops in battles was a favorite tactic of the Vampire Kings during the height of Taymoran civilization. Their control over the creatures gave them a distinct advantage over Necromancer and Lich Kings.

It was during the Taymoran civil war, when various factions of vampires were fighting amongst themselves, that a small cult of anti-vampire sentiment grew within the ranks of the lycanthropes. Those few who survived their terrible first year were becoming more populace, and began to dislike how their kings used them. Gathering numbers in the heart of the vampire's territory, they planned to attack their masters. It was then that Taymora sunk beneath the waves.

BC 2000 - Ancient Lycanthropy

The Taymorans once again fled the destruction of their civilization. Moving further inland on the continent of Brun, they encountered the blossoming Nithian civilization. Still in its infancy, Nithia promised to be a powerful nation one day, both in physical arms and magical skill. Several Taymoran vampires and their lycanthropic minions began to conquer the Nithian people. Mythic Lycanthropy spread throughout the native population like wildfire, but the Nithians were not defenseless against the curse. Armed with knowledge from a group of Taymoran sympathizers, and already strong in the use of magic, they began to alter the disease, trying to lessen and remove its worst effects. Over several decades they were successful in this endeavor.

The first attempt that the Nithians made was designed to remove the curse entirely. They only partially succeeded. Those infected no longer transformed into a hideous beast man; instead, they took on the entire animal shape of their were-type. This made those suffering under the curse slightly less dangerous and more manageable. However, the curse continued to spread, and thousands still died each year. After their first attempt to eradicate lycanthropy failed, the Nithians attacked the problem from another angle. Instead of trying to lift the curse, they sought ways to make it easier to live with. Through arcane rituals and ancient secrets, the Nithians bound the curse with the forces emanating from the moon. This reduced the nightly transformations down to monthly transformations. Inflicted individuals would assume their were-form four times a month, once for each phase of the moon (new, half full, full, half dark). This ended many of the deaths that resulted from the strain of constant transformations, but the curse was still not cured.

None of the Nithians' magic could remedy the loss of memory and personality from victims of the curse. For decades they toiled over the problem to no avail. Many wizards forsook their arcane arts and turned toward the Immortals for guidance. After years of devout service, and a sincere concern for the fate of their charges, the immortals granted those new Nithian clerics the solution to their troubles. With guidance from their Immortal patrons, those clerics, who would go on to become the first Nithian pharaohs, crafted holy relics designed to prevent the curse from stealing the memories of a transformed lycanthrope. By distributing those relics to the infected population, the spread of the disease was effectively contained.

Once lycanthropes were able to retain their memories, the controlling influences of the Vampire Kings were broken forever. This gave those who were infected by Ancient Lycanthropy a distinct advantage over those who were infected by the Mythic version. The Nithians acted quickly to remove the Taymoran threat from their lands once and for all, and by BC 1100 all traces of Mythic Lycanthropy were erased from their nation. The Nithians weren't satisfied with that result. Individuals were able to retain their own memories and personalities, as well as gain abilities that no other human had. With concentration and practice some lycanthropes were able to assume were-form at will. With the protection of their Immortals, lycanthropy seemed more like a blessing than a curse. Combining their clerical and magical powers, the Nithians created new strains of the disease. Were-foxes, and jackals were created along with were-hawks and several forms of were-cats. The Nithians controlled the lycanthropic population with strict regulations. Only those who were deemed worthy enough were infected with the disease. Several martial and religious orders formed around the different clans of were-creatures, and members made it their honor and duty to uphold the laws and traditions of Nithia.

BC 500 - Modern Lycanthropy

In BC 1000, the Nithians invited the Alphatian people to make a new home on Mystara. The two nations had long histories of talent in the magical arts, and so their peoples had much in common. The Alphatians immediately adopted the Nithian custom of lycanthropic orders - for them, it was the latest magical "fad." Not being shy about performing magical experiments, the Alphatians soon added their own distinct mark to lycanthropy.

By strengthening the curse's bond with the tidal forces of the moon, the Alphatians were able to accomplish several things. First, they reduced the number of involuntary transformations from four per month to once per month. The involuntary transformation only took place on the night of the full moon. A side effect of this was that concentrating the moon's interaction with the disease allowed lycanthropes to assume their were-shape at will. Those lycanthropes who could assume a beast man form found that now it was easier to do so. Many who could not do so before could after the moon's bond was strengthened.

The Nithians entered a new age of enlightenment with the help of their Alphatian allies. Such things however, never last. Dark Immortals grew furious that a thing of Entropy could be turned into such a boon for society. Something that once tore communities apart was now one of the very things that held it together. Those Immortals conspired to bring about the downfall of Nithia and once again unleash a lycanthropic curse upon the world.

What the Taymoran kings could not do through force of conquest, the Taymoran gods did through treachery and deceit. Poisoning the Nithian pharaohs, the dark Immortals were able to cause brother to make war against brother. Soon all of Nithia was locked in a devastating civil war. The destruction was on a level near to that of the destruction of Blackmoor. The other Immortals had to intervene. Blackmoor's demise was still too fresh in their memories, and they did not want to risk having another Great Rain of Fire. Banding together the immortals wiped Nithia from the face of Mystara.

That was not enough however. There were whispers in the immortal ranks that spoke of a disaster yet to come. The Alphatians were Nithia's allies. They too are great in the use of magic. Could they not one day rival Nithian glory? With their intimate knowledge of Nithian magic, could they not also cause a Great Rain of Fire? After all, they fled to Mystara after destroying their own home world.

Many Immortals were hesitant about removing a nation which had, as yet, done no harm. Others did not want to take the chance that these Alphatians could use Nithian magic to destroy this world. A compromise was proposed. All memory of the Nithians must be removed from Mystara for all time. This way the Alphatians could not use Nithian magic to wreak havoc. The Immortals were in agreement, and so together they cast the Spell of Oblivion, which erased memory of Nithia forever.

Unfortunately, the knowledge for turning lycanthropy from a curse to a blessing was so intertwined with Nithia, that it too was erased from the memories of mortals. The dark Immortals congratulated themselves. Not only had they succeeded in destroying Nithia, but they had also manipulated the other Immortals into once again unleashing the curse of lycanthropy upon the world.

Without memories of Nithia, or of how to control lycanthropy, Alphatia was beset with a horrible crisis. A terrible disease was infecting some of their most respected and influential citizens. The Alphatians tried their best to keep the disease contained, but it spread quickly throughout their lands and spilled over into the lands of other nations.

Of course the Alphatians had no way of knowing that the Nithians had already spread lycanthropy throughout most of Mystara. The rest of the world had no way of knowing this either, so when a rash of lycanthropy exploded in AD 400, everybody blamed the magic-wielding Alphatians for the disease.

Other Strains

There are several other strains of lycanthropy in the world. It is beyond the scope of this treatise to cover them in full detail, but we will go over then in brief.

BC 2000 - Herathean Lycanthropy

After the fall of Taymora, several refugees - including some victims of Mythic Lycanthropy - fled to the west and ended up in what is now Herath. The Aranea who lived there at the time were beginning to suffer persecutions by the other races around them. Sensing their own imminent demise, they mutated the Mythic strain for their own purposes. By purposefully infecting themselves with the disease, the Heratheans had devised the perfect cover. They showed only their were-form to the outside world, in their case a humanoid form. Unfortunately, they could not escape all of the side effects of Mythic Lycanthropy, and many of them suffered from either temporary, or permanent loss of memory and personality.

BC 2000 - Undersea Lycanthropy

The sinking of Taymora caused as much havoc below the waves as it did above. Several tritons and merrow exploring the ruins became infected with a nasty strain of Mythic Lycanthropy. It is unclear exactly how this happened. Some believe that it was merely inevitable that the disease would spread in such an environment, while others suspect that some vampire lord survived the sinking and was trying to rebuild his empire from below the depths.

BC 1700 - Radiant Lycanthropy

This violent strain of lycanthropy was created from mixtures of both Mythic and Ancient strains when an elven clan on Brun discovered an ancient Blackmoorian device and triggered an explosion. Radiant Lycanthropy affects only elves and half elves, and will kill most humans and other humans who contract it. Involuntary transformation is brought upon by exposure to the radiance in one form or another. The transformation actually consumes all traces of the Radiance in the victim's body. Once enough Radiance builds up again, the victim will undergo another involuntary transformation. Radiant Lycanthropes who avoid contact with the radiance slowly die of a strange rotting disease. Shadow Elven "soul crystals" do produce enough Radiance for populations of these lycanthropes to survive.

BC 1496 - Viper's Lycanthropy

Taymora, along with populations of Mythic Lycanthropes, was sent to the Hollow World just after it sunk beneath the wave. In 1496, Atzanteotl guided a small number of those lycanthropes through the forest to the city of Chitlacan. Once there, the lycanthropes spread their disease to nearly three quarters of the population. Two thirds of the population died as a result. The others fled into the forest and became what are presently referred to as were-jaguars. These poor souls must assume their form to eat. If their hunger is not satisfied in this way, they may transform involuntarily.

BC 1000 - Draconic Lycanthropy

Unfortunately, this strain of lycanthropy proved to be fatal to 99 percent of the population it infected. Fortunately for humans, the disease infected only lizardmen and a few other reptilian species. When the Nithians unknowingly brought this disease with them to their colony lands, most of the resident population of lizardmen was killed. Unlike most strains of lycanthropy the draconic version is not passed directly from one host to another, but instead spreads through an intermediary. Small parasitic ticks serve this function. Those lizardmen that survived the infection did so only in the most figurative respect. They were transformed into a quasi-undead, desiccated, mummy like state.

BC 500 - Red Lycanthropy

The creation of the Red Curse also effected lycanthropes in the general area, changing their affliction into something new. Most lycanthropes on the Savage Coast were Nithian, and so were infected with Ancient Lycanthropy. Their transformation occurs four times per month, just as it does for other Ancient Lycanthropes. However, Red Lycanthropes will also undergo an involuntary change at other times, if Cinnabryl is not worn. It takes two days for a Cinnabryl-dependent transformation to take place. This process can be reversed at any time by wearing the red metal. A transformation on one of the four nights corresponding to the phases of the moon will deplete any Cinnabryl currently being worn. A red lycanthrope always resumes its natural form after one of these four involuntary transformations, however if Cinnabryl is not worn, it once again begins its two day change back into were-form. Red Lycanthropes cannot acquire Legacies, and if the possessed them before infection, those Legacies are lost.

AC 730 - Dwarvish Lycanthropy

Elves settling Glantri (some of whom were descendants of those elves who discovered a Blackmoorian artifact in BC 1700) unknowingly brought Radiant Lycanthropy into close proximity of the Nucleus of the Spheres; just as the absence of Radiance will cause Radiant Lycanthropes to rot and die, so too will an overabundance or it. The strain mutates violently during this brief period of time and jumps into an unknown secondary carrier population. This strain, like its predecessor, is still fatal to humans, and many die as a result of a parasitic carrier (possible a tick-like creature as was the case for Draconic Lycanthropy). Fortunately for the dwarves, their strong magical immunities prevent them from being infected by the disease, unfortunately for them they are blamed as the cause of infection.

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Copyright 1999, John Calvin. All rights reserved. Used by permission.