So here’s a few things I learned about werewolves and related topics from Baring-Gould’s book on werewolves. I’d heard of a few of these before (the belts and connections between werewolves and witches in the Medieval mind) but a lot of it was quite new to me, and I hope they give you some inspiration for using lycanthropes in your campaigns and in a way that goes beyond the standard cursed-by-gypsies-individual and wolf-pack-family-unit you see so much of in genre literature and RPG modules. It’s worth noting that nowhere in Baring-Gould’s book is there any mention of werewolves being controlled by the moon’s phases, nor are they said to be vulnerable to silver (apart from one story that mentions a silver bullet being shot over the heads of two weres who were then forced to revert to human form), nor are werewolves immune to regular weapons (except for Norse Berserkers who are immune to fire and weapons and sometimes seem to literally change into beasts) — those are all later legends, I guess.
There are enough of these that I arranged them by topic and will post them separately. Enjoy. The first follows.
Weres en masse
1 .The Celtic tribe called the Neruii or Neruians (I think that’s what the Romans called them?) were thought, by the ancient Greeks, to turn into wolves for a period every year. Baring-Gould doesn’t say for how long, but whether it lasts for a single night or an entire season, that’s awesome.
2. There are many folkloric stories of “congresses” of weres. Usually at Christmas time (and often midsummer too), werewolves would gather in large numbers at night and turn into wolves (or witches might likewise gather & turn into giant cats). As animals, they would descend on livestock and eat entire flocks of sheep or herds of cattle. The more ferocious bands would descend on villages and eat all of the people, and drink all the alcohol. (Coming across such a devastated and empty village, you could tell it was werewolves rather wolves by the fact that the booze was drunk up!) One story has thousands of werewolves being driven by a leader who carries an iron whip, with which he can part rivers so the army can ford them. This army only preyed on livestock, though. (A werewolf with an iron whip…sounds a bit like a flind actually.)
3. According to Fincelius (a very obscure writer), in 1542 there were some werewolf troubles on a large scale. Finally the emperor of the Byzantines led a military expedition which slew 150 werewolves! Such an expedition might make an interesting start to an RPG campaign. What if the PCs are the sole survivors of a massacred regiment that was sent to curb the werewolves – either the stuff about silver weapons actually is true, or they thought they were hunting down some mere bandits and were overwhelms by giant wolves?
Baring-Gould notes that many in European languages, the words for “wolves” and “outlaws” are very similar or even the same; the obvious inference is that bands of outlaws are transformed into werewolves in the popular imagination, but how cool would it be to have lycanthropy be not just a problem of isolated groups but instead whole armies?