In this guide to lycanthropy and werebeasts in DnD 5e, we’ll explore the role these shapeshifters play in the world’s most popular role playing game.
We’ll learn how to prepare for a DnD session featuring these often terrifying staples of the fantasy genre.
Lycanthropy adds an element of horror to any DnD adventure. Playing a werebeast offers access to hidden abilities and unusual role-playing opportunities.
And for DM’s, lycanthropes add mystery and danger to the story. Having these shapeshifting monsters in the game will keep the players on their toes.
What is Lycanthropy in DnD 5e?
A wolf unleashes a bloodthirsty howl under the light of the full moon. The pack draws near, but it’s led by something more than a wolf, and not quite human.
Whether as allies or villains, the presence of werebeasts will add excitement to your DnD campaign, especially at the lower levels. A common trope of the horror genre, DnD lycanthropes aren’t all cruel and vicious killers. Some werebeasts—werebears for example—are good-natured and make for helpful companions.
Most lycanthropes, however, are pretty terrifying, especially in their hybrid forms, where they often enter murderous, insatiable rampages. What’s more, all lycanthropes gain unnatural powers from their afflictions and have the ability to pass their curse on to others.
What exactly is a werebeast? A werebeast is a person inflicted with the curse of lycanthropy. These characters will transform at the sight of the full moon, changing into monstrous forms. Even when not transformed, lycanthropes will display odd characteristics, giving away their secret, beastly natures.
Most lycanthropes cannot control the transformation process under the light of the full moon. On nights like these, the beast within emerges. Werebeasts also have the ability to spread their curse to others, though many choose to avoid this at all costs.
Every lycanthropic character can use an action to polymorph into a hybrid form, or an animal form. In animal form, these characters resemble powerful versions of normal animals. However, they may show signs of unnatural intelligence.
At the sight of the full moon, lycanthropes lose the ability to control their rage and transform into horrible monstrosities. In this hybrid form, werebeasts combine humanoid and animal traits, gaining superhuman powers.
In beast form, lycanthropes can’t speak, but a keen observer may see traces of intelligent behavior.
How Does One Become a Lycanthrope?
The curse of lycanthropy can be spread in multiple ways. Most people will be familiar with the concept of being bitten. Once bitten by certain werebeasts, characters will begin the transformation process. Only a remove curse spell or its equal can rid a person of lycanthropy after they’ve succumbed to a bite.
A character bitten or tusked by a werebeast must make a saving throw. On a failed save, the character is cursed with lycanthropy. Soon after, they will be haunted by torturous nightmares. This is only the beginning of the transformation into a werebeast.
Lycanthropy is also passed from parent to child. Children of lycanthrope parents are born cursed, unfortunately, and have great difficulty removing the affliction.
A character may become cursed with lycanthropy if they are attacked by werebeasts. If a character is hit by an attack that carries the curse of lycanthropy—for example, the bite of werewolf—then he or she must make a Constitution saving throw equal to DC 8 + the lycanthrope’s proficiency bonus + the lycanthrope’s Constitution modifier.
Characters who embrace the curse must change their alignment to that of the lycanthrope.
The Nightmare Begins
A person who contracts lycanthropy may not even know it, at first. After their first transformation, they may have no recollection of the events of the previous night, though the memories may return in the form of horrible nightmares.
The recently cursed lycanthrope will be forced to choose between fighting or accepting the curse. Most will give in to their beastial urges and lose themselves to the call of the wild.
Can Lycanthropy Be Removed?
Like most curses in DnD 5e, the curse of lycanthropy can be removed using a remove curse spell if a character contracted the affliction from a bite, or a tusk wound.
Characters born with the curse, however, can only be cured by the wish spell.
Some lycanthropes choose to reject the curse of lycanthropy, and make it their life’s quest to rid themselves of it, seeking out powerful healers and mages capable of doing so.
Most lycanthropes, however, have a difficult time resisting their new natures, and succumb to the nightmares, giving up all hope of returning to their old lives.
How to Play a Lycanthrope PC
When it comes to creating a character who is a werebeast, it will be important to consider how they received the curse. Was the character bitten by a werewolf? The lycanthrope’s personality will likely be influenced by such a traumatic event.
Some werebeasts inherited the curse from a parent, or perhaps both parents. These natural lycanthropes can only remove the curse with a wish spell.. This will have an impact on the character’s personality, goals, and fears.
For these reasons, it’s a good idea to carefully craft your lycanthropic character’s backstory. Consider the origin of their curse, and whether or not the character wishes to remain a lycanthrope forever.
The Benefits of Lycanthropy
Each form of lycanthropy increases one character stat. Lycanthropes are all immune to non-magical damage, unless the weapon is silvered, and have proficiency with natural attacks.
On top of these bonuses, some lycanthropes have a natural armor bonus and increased speed in their non-human forms.
Fangs, Claws and Fur
While werebeasts are often found wielding swords or axes, they can also attack with natural weapons. These natural weapons include their fangs, claws, tusks, teeth, etc. Sometimes, these attacks carry the curse of lycanthropy, as with a wereboar’s tusks.
When a lycanthrope transforms, any armor and weapons he or she is carrying transforms as well. Werebeasts may also gain a +1 natural armor bonus from their unusually thick skin, often covered in fur, or scales.
Different Types of Werebeast
While everyone is familiar with werewolves, there are many other types of werebeasts in DnD. Below, we delve into several lycanthrope types in DnD 5e, explaining a little about their various natures, abilities, and stats.
Werewolves are typically nomadic, though you’ll sometimes see them roaming a forest or the countryside with a pack of ravenous wolves.
They often avoid populated areas, either because they fear acting out on their uncontrollable urges among innocents or because they fear the retribution of the population for the foul deeds they have likely committed.
Even werewolves in humanoid form gain heightened senses, making them more aware of their surroundings. Humanoid werewolves also experience other changes that could alert fellow travelers or friends to their situation, such as a craving for rare or bloody meat and a wild temper.
Once they transform, either into a hybrid or wolf form, they become incredibly dangerous to everyone around them.
While werewolves are able to wield weapons in hybrid form, it’s much more common to see them attacking with their terrifying fangs and razor-sharp claws, also known as their natural weapons.
Werewolves receive a Strength of 15 in any form, unless their Strength score is already higher. This is useful since their natural weapons attack and damage rolls are based on Strength. They also receive a +1 bonus to their AC due to natural armor when in hybrid or wolf form.
This incredibly strong lycanthrope differs from a werewolf in its nature. Many werebears have good alignments and have excellent control over themselves and their actions, even while in bear form.
This allows them to keep others around them safer, since they can prevent themselves from biting, which would pass on their condition.
Werebears generally only spread lycanthropy to creatures who choose to become werebears and then take responsibility for training up the new lycanthropes themselves.
With that being said, evil alignments do exist, even among this mostly friendly lycanthrope.
Despite their predominantly amiable demeanor, most werebears prefer isolated lifestyles because they have concerns about exposing others to the dangers of their affliction. Many werebears find solace in nature, acting as wardens over their home area and its ecosystem.
In humanoid form, the werebear’s hair may look similar to its bear fur, and he or she will have a large muscular build.
Werebears receive a Strength of 19, unless the character already holds a higher Strength score. Since their attack and damage rolls are based on Strength, this makes them fierce fighters. Additionally, they receive a +1 bonus to their AC while in hybrid or bear form, thanks to natural armor.
Wereboars tend to prefer forest areas and live in small family groups. They may make their home in caves or build their own shelters, and they generally keep to themselves. However, they may ally with other creatures when necessary, especially orcs.
As a humanoid, wereboars are usually sturdy and thick, with large muscles and bristly hair. They often have a nasty temper and are coarse in their nature.
Wereboards can be cruel and unforgiving enemies. Wereboars have no qualms about passing their curse and actually enjoy turning others into lycanthropes, watching their victims struggle against it.
The bigger a resistance a victim puts up, the more beast-like and fierce they’ll become once the curse takes hold, and that knowledge brings pleasure to the wereboar.
When in hybrid or humanoid form, a wereboar can use heavy weapons, while ill-humored wereboars in hybrid or boar form can pack a punch with a powerful goring attack.
When the goring attack hits, it can spread their lycanthrope curse to their victim. The ability to use either the goring attack or a heavy weapon makes the hybrid form of the wereboar especially versatile.
Characters who become wereboars receive a Strength of 17 if the character’s Strength score isn’t already higher. They also receive natural armor, which gives them a +1 to AC when in boar or hybrid form.
While their attack and damage rolls are based on Strength, the DC for their Charge trait is 8 + the wereboar’s proficiency bonus + Strength modifier. Additionally, wereboars have the Relentless trait, which means that when the wereboar gets hit for 14 damage or less, and that damage would reduce it to 0 hit points, the wereboar is reduced to one hit point instead.
Graceful but strong, weretigers are a force to be reckoned with. Even as humanoids, their haughty, cat-like nature, and sleek but muscular figures, along with a taller than average height, can give them an intimidating air.
When they transform, they become even larger, growing to a monstrous size. However, they try to avoid transforming when possible to avoid spreading lycanthropy.
Their reluctance to share their curse doesn’t come of a thoughtful nature but instead is due to their competitive lifestyle. They don’t want to create more weretigers to vie for their territory.
Like most other lycanthropes, weretigers prefer to live alone or with small groups of close family members. They often make their home in jungles or other isolated areas.
When a player becomes a weretiger, they receive a Strength score of 17, if the player’s score isn’t already higher than 17. The weretiger’s attack and damage for its natural weapons rolls are based on Strength.
In hybrid and tiger form, the weretiger can use its Pounce trait to not only hit its target, but also possibly knock it prone. The DC for Pounce is 8 + the character’s proficiency bonus + the Strength modifier.
As you might expect, many wererats have a wily nature. Wererat groups are called clans, and they function similarly to thieves’ guilds, where they only pass their curse on to those who they wish to bring into the clan. Wererats must be specifically chosen and, once inducted, stay dedicated to the clan. Otherwise, they’ll be killed.
As humanoids, wererats often seem nervous, exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and paranoia, and have thin, wiry frames. When in humanoid or hybrid form, wererats often use light weapons, and they prefer to attack craftily, taking their opponents by surprise.
Wererats like to make their homes beneath urban settings, haunting sewers and underground areas where they can easily stalk and attack unsuspecting prey. They also scavenge and feast on the dead, sometimes even eating their own kind.
If you’re hunting wererats, be aware that their lairs are dangerous places where players may contract Filth Fever, which can be deadly.
When a player becomes a wererat, they receive a 15 in Dexterity if their Dexterity score isn’t already higher. For the wererat’s vicious bite, the attack and damage rolls are based on either Dexterity or Strength, depending on which is higher.
However, when in rat form, wererats try to avoid combat and instead often rely on stealth and speed to get out of any potential scrapes.
Besides the official werebeasts, the DM is free to add characters from the list of homebrew lycanthropes. Any campaign featuring these creatures is sure to grab the party’s attention.
The list is long, and we don’t have room to include every type of lycanthrope. We encourage you to explore the list at your leisure. Who knows, perhaps a wereagle was just the thing missing from your game. There’s a new sheriff in town, and she has a 6-foot wingspan. Buckle up!
Werebats are typically pug-nosed and cautious creatures, with a heightened sense of hearing. They are shy and tend to keep to themselves, living either completely alone or in small family groups.
Werebats commonly create homes in dark, quiet environments where they won’t be bothered, such as in caves, basements, and the Underdark.
Werebats survive on blood and must kill prey and consume blood regularly to stay alive. They must drink at least one pint every night to avoid developing exhaustion. While they can live off of animal blood, they prefer the blood of humanoids, and may pass on their curse while feasting on a humanoid creature.
The werebat has several interesting traits, including Sunlight Sensitivity, Echolocation, and Nimble Escape. Sunlight Sensitivity affects werebats in every form and causes them to have disadvantage on attack rolls and Wisdom (Perception) checks relying on sight.
A werebat can use a Disengage or Hide action (Nimble Escape) as a bonus action on each turn. However, this trait is limited to their humanoid form. While in bat or hybrid form, on the other hand, the werebat receives Echolocation, which gives them blindsight for a range of 60 feet, as long as the werebat isn’t deafened.
Players who become werebats receive a Dexterity score of 17 if their Dexterity score wasn’t already higher. The werebat’s attack and damage rolls will be based on either Dexterity or Strength, whichever is higher.
The werepasserine is a unique lycanthrope. The werepasserine will be a species of songbird, such as a canary, blue bird, or magpie. The type of songbird the werepasserine morphs into will depend on the type of songbird who gave them lycanthropy.
This lycanthrope has a good alignment, and its positive, friendly nature helps it make friends with all sorts of other creatures.
With their outgoing and generally kind personalities, these lycanthropes are seen as outliers and have little in common with werewolves, wererats, and others who share a lycanthrope curse.
They do not wish to harm others but since their curse doesn’t make them violent, they have no qualms about passing it on. In fact, only those of pure heart are even capable of receiving this specific form of lycanthropy.
In humanoid form, werepasserines are often exuberant and affable with red, rosy cheeks.
However, they will defend themselves if attacked. When in hybrid or songbird form, they can fly, and use the trait Flyby to fly out of reach of an enemy without provoking an attack of opportunity.
Since werepasserines have the ability to fly and find joy in it, they prefer open areas with easy access to the sky and typically build their homes in high-altitude regions, like the mountains.
Characters who do not have a good alignment cannot become werepasserines. When a character becomes a werepasserine, they receive a Charisma score of 16 unless their Charisma score was already higher.
Their natural weapon attack and damage rolls are based on Dexterity. Additionally, natural armor while in bird or hybrid provides them with a +1 to their AC.
When in human and hybrid form, a werepasserine can make a Multiattack for a total of three attacks, and one of those attacks can be with the creature’s beak. In hybrid or bird form, can use Improved Melodic Tune as an action to attempt to charm an opponent. The DC save for this action is 8 + the character’s proficiency bonus + their Charisma modifier.
Werecrodiles may seem docile due to their patient nature. However, their patience is a hunting tactic. As a crocodile, the beast waits quietly in its favored habitat, large bodies of water, for its prey to come to it, and when it does, the crocodile attacks.
When outside its preferred environment, the werecrocodile typically prefers its hybrid form, especially for attacks.
Unsurprisingly, many werecrocodiles choose to live in swampy or otherwise watery areas, building simple homes and often avoiding others, even other werecrocodiles. However, it is possible for werecrocodiles to share hunting spots, and even kills, on rare occasions.
When in humanoid form, the werecrocodile has an obviously protruding jaw and thick, coarse skin. It can pass on its lycanthropy curse through biting.
Werecrocodiles have the Hold Breath trait, which allows them to hold their breath for up to 15 minutes.
Characters who become werecrocodiles receive a Strength score of 15, unless their Strength score was already higher. They also receive a +1 to their AC from natural armor while in beast or hybrid form. Their natural weapon attack and damage rolls are based on Strength.
The Drawbacks of Playing a Werebeast
Most werebeasts will succumb to the monstrous nature of their curse. With few exceptions, lycanthropes are easily tempted by their hunger for carnage and destruction.
Eventually, a lycanthrope may learn to control its ravenous desires. Only those who’ve suffered from the curse a long time are able to reach this level of self-discipline, however.
Most lycanthropes are anti-social by necessity. Those living among society will find themselves in a dangerous position, hunted and feared. What’s worse, they will become a danger to their friends and neighbors.
Lycanthropy for the DM
Werebeasts and other shapeshifters are common in DnD campaigns. Because these monsters are immune to non-magical weapons, they can pose a serious threat to players at low levels. Without magical items, players will be forced to rely on magic spells or abilities to hurt a werebeast.
Players have the option of becoming lycanthropes themselves, and this may create challenges for the DM. In order to properly run a campaign that includes werebeasts, it’s important to consider how the curse of lycanthropy may affect the game.
Ultimately, it’s up to the DM to decide if a character can become a lycanthrope. Any lycanthropic character will gain powers beyond that of a normal character, including immunity from non-magical damage.
This has the potential to upset the balance between the party and the monsters they fight.
Keep in mind, however, that lycanthropic characters are far from immortal. Anyone wielding a magic weapon or spell can potentially hurt them. One well placed fireball might be enough to send a werewolf howling back to the den it crawled out of.
How to Play a Lycanthrope NPC
Each type of lycanthrope has its own alignment, but the DM isn’t beholden to these rules. In general, however, lycanthropes will exhibit certain behaviors. Werebears are generally helpful and kind-hearted to strangers. Weretigers are notoriously indifferent. Werewolves are madmen.
When adding lycanthropes to the game, DMs should consider how the lycanthrope will behave in its different forms. NPCs will usually try to hide their curse from outsiders, even if they are on good terms with the party.
DMs are free to change the rules as they see fit, but it’s wise to have a good reason for doing so. If you want a lawful good werewolf in your DnD adventure, you can have one. But you might have some explaining to do.
One of the best parts of DnD is that the DM is free to customize the game. The curse of lycanthropy is far larger than DnD. From books, folk tales, and the silver screen, most everyone is familiar with the myth of the lycanthrope. DM’s are free to borrow—or divert—from these tropes.
Werebeasts as Allies
Many lycanthropes are keen to congregate with those who share their affliction. Other lycanthropes live hermetic lives, far from civilization, less they put lives in danger with their lunar-induced rampages.
Nevertheless, there are times when joining forces with outsiders is convenient, or necessary. Werebeasts have their own motivations and backstories. A werebeast may seek treasure and glory, or possibly revenge for an old injustice.
Lycanthropes can make excellent party guides, leading the group on dangerous quests using their superior senses to shy away from possible dangers. In these cases, it’s likely the character will hide his or her curse from the group.
Most lycanthropes will be unwilling to share their curse, especially not with an arrogant and inexperienced PC.
Werebeasts as Villains
The party is pursued by a terrifying werebeast, and the moon is full. The hunters have become the hunted. Adding a lycanthrope villain will instantly create tension and a sense of horror. Most people aren’t interested in receiving the curse, afterall.
Because lycanthropes are immune to damage from non-magical attacks, low level characters may not be able to hurt them with normal weapons. This makes werebeasts especially ferocious in the early stages of a campaign.
At later levels, most players have magic weapons or spells that can hurt lycanthropes, so the danger isn’t as great. Still, lycanthropy has a lore of it’s own. Adding tropes of fantasy is often enough to generate interest in the game world.
Lycanthrope Nonhuman Variants and Special Options
DnD provides several options for playing werebeast variants. These variants are used to add unique storylines to the adventure. With the DM’s approval, players are free to create characters with these optional traits.
The MM uses humans as the basis for all lycanthrope stats. But, with the DM’s approval, players can create lycanthropes from other races. These lycanthropes would retain the traits of their racial ancestry. For example, an elven werebear would have the Fey Ancestry trait.
When the Sun Rises
With the rising of the sun, the effects of the lycanthropic curse wane, and the beast within the afflicted becomes dormant once again. The nightmare ends, for now, and a new day begins.
Adding the curse of lycanthropy to a DnD game can have dramatic consequences. It’s important to consider how to handle the inclusion of werebeasts.
Players will be forced to wrestle with moral dilemmas if allies reveal themselves to have the curse. And a werebeast villain is sure to send a chill up your players’ spines.
In the end, having these tropes of fantasy and horror can make for an exciting adventure. Lycanthropes make for powerful allies and dangerous enemies, so there’s almost always room for these fanged and furry monsters in a game of DnD.