Wednesday, 27 April 2011

AtoZ April - W is for Wafting & Werefolk

Day 23, and Bryon and Trey won't stop touching my imagination in dirty, bad ways.

Werefolk and Wafting? Sounds like some terrible animu-infused D&D/WoD mash-up about a bunch of shapeshifters who run a perfumery. (note to Joss Whedon: my idea!)


Among the odder things found in the wunderkammer of absurdity, strangeness and illogic that are the Vaults are the Potted Wafters. Decorative plants with a marked similarity to the cheese plants of the surface world, albeit with leaf edges tinged in lurid hues of mauve and violet, potted wafters sway slowly back-and-forth in breezes unfelt by mortal men, gently re-circulating and refreshing the air. No-one's quite sure where these curious plants originate, or exactly why they waft as they do; they just seem to like it.

Many inhabitants of the Vaults value Potted Wafters for their ability to clear the periodically miasmas which afflict the underworld (gust of wind/clear air effect, 1/day), and for the relaxing sway of their fronds (as calm emotions, see SRD). Others consider them annoyingly twee and will smash them wherever they find them.

GM: "It waves its fronds at you slowly and gently."
Players: "AGH! Kill it with fire and salt the ground!"

(note: latin name for the cheese plant is monstera delicosa. How could I not use that?!)

The Festival of the Grand Wafting is held annually in Netesh, although the exact calculation of the correct date is a matter of violent argument amongst the populace. The festival is held in memory of those who have travelled far from their city and cannot find their way home. For three days and nights the doors of the city’s houses are thrown open to all visitors. Everyone from visiting adventurers, through vermin and down to the restless dead, are clad in fine raiment, anointed with balms (whether they want to be or not) and offered kingly hospitality in the hope that this will be reciprocated to wandering Neteshans.

On the final eve of the festival the people of Netesha release thousands upon thousands of small balloons and papercrafted flying machines into the air. These are wafted off the tops of buildings and float away filled with smoking incense and messages of well-wishing to absent kinfolk. Entire sections of the city, and broad swathes of the lands over which it roams, have repeatedly been burnt to a crisp by the flaming wreckage of all these thoughtful gestures.

The perfumers and incense-mixers of Netesh spend all year concocting their unique mixtures for the Grand Wafting. Some few among them are supposedly able to mix aromatics whose delicate scent can be used to convey messages to the far-travelled.



I don't like were{*}s in D&D: they're a cheap "gotcha!" puzzle monster that's so old and well-known it isn't even a puzzle any more.

"Oh noes, teh werewolf culd be enywonz!!!1!"

*yawn* Old. And when furboy finally makes an appearance everyone and their kid sister knows the rote:

Were[w/e] appears > Adventurer uses Silver > It's Super Effective.

So, yeah. Overexposure. That's one strike against werefolk of all stripes.

I think another part of the problem is that I never really 'got' the whole lycanthrope thing, either in D&D or in pop culture. In cinematic stakes I didn't see The Wolfman or American Werewolf in London at a formative age. I do like Dog Soldiers, but that's because it's Aliens remade with British squaddies; not because it has werewolves in it. In fantasy fiction terms I didn't read Fritz Leiber's Swords against Ratty early enough for it to stick in my head in the way it perhaps should. I'd already played WFRP by the time I read it, and WFRP has the Skaven.

"Yes-yes, memorable are we foolish manthings"

I don't care if Fritz Leiber wrote you, or if DAT did your 8x10 back in 1977; a bunch of bonkers ratboys with radioactive green space cheese that falls from the moon, giant rat-ogres, wacky Teslaverse/WW1 weaponry and all the sly British humour you can eat are still a tough act to follow.

And then there's the 800lb gorilla of lycanthropy in nerd culture: White Wolf and their Werewolf: the Ecoterrorising. Argh! That game could have been so much more than it was, but between the heavy-handed 'crying Indian in a fursuit' thing and the unfortunate implications of the 'miscegenate or die' subtext, that whole thing was a wallbanger for me. The White Wolf-isation of horror also gave us the Ultraviolet films. Just think on that for a second...

I know, I know. The werewolf should, by rights, be rich gaming fodder. It's symbolic of man's essentially bestial nature and part of a cultural continuity with The Big Bad Wolf of the Brothers Grimm. And then there's the whole lunar/menstrual cycle thing. Yes, I know there are rich veins of cultural, social and sexual subtext waiting to be explored. But then I don’t really ‘do’ subtext. We beat allegory in the head and rifle its pockets 'round here.

Unfortunately, because the beastman archetype is so deeply embedded in the pop culture zeitgeist there's very little conceptual wiggle room left with lycanthropes as D&D antagonists.

So, werecreatures in the Vaults game:

As far as I'm concerned lycanthropes (not 'lycans' <= that there word: instant numpty signifier) in the Vaults game are just unwelcome intruders from another world. They should be shanked and dumped in a ditch with extreme prejudice. Heck, I hereby decree that the moon god gave man the secret of silver weapons just to dispose of these furry wastes of time coz he was so damn sick of their constant howling and yowling disturbing his book time.*

* Vorynn (knocked off from the Birthright setting): god of the moon, knowledge, imprisonment, lighthouse-keepers, and of people who burn the midnight oil before a deadline. Symbol is an owl, of course.

More specifically (i.e. by flavour of affliction):
  • Wereboar?
    Sorry baconface, but Orcs, Atavisms and their sick-ass Demon Boar warlords already occupy the transformative body horror pigmen conceptual space. If I'm going to exploit wereboars (4+1HD) at all, it'll probably be in the 4HD Orc chieftain niche.

  • Wererat?
    Skaven stole your thunder (and, knowing them, weaponised it). Besides, people find it difficult to get worked up about conniving ratmen subverting the world when a substantial proportion of the 'halflings' in the Vaults setting are actually Ratty, Moley and Mr Toad, and they stand their round at the bar just like everyone else. Yeah, Reepicheep (and his evil Driverian twin) is a playable option in the Vaults game.

  • Werewolves?
    Intelligent, malign wolves (either goblin-toting Wargs, or icy-cold breath stealing Winter Wolves) trump some guy with snaggly teeth, excess body hair and an attitude problem IMO. Even the whole Viking wolfwarrior thing is a bit *meh*...

  • Werebear?
    Erm, Bjorn was cool in The Hobbit. Ditto berserkers. Problem is you can only have one. Before Bjorn: baresarks were the very epitome of Chaos as face-gnawing RAEG!!! After Bjorn: Gentle Ben.

  • Weretiger?
    I actually had to look this guy up; that's how little impression it's made on me in 20+ years of gaming! Conniving cat people conceptual space is already squeezed between Rakshasas and Malcolm McDowell in that sucky psycho-sexual cat people movie. Bast is disappoint!

  • Wereraven, -bat, -croc, -sharks, -godknowswhat...
    Butter spread too thin. We get it already!

  • Jackalweres?
    An notable exception to my normal loathing for shapeshifting animal people. These guys get no respect and have very little traction as a monster in gamer culture. Which is a shame, given that RETs in the DMG & FF say that 10% of any encounters with jackals are with these nasty shape-changing versions. Let me reiterate that: 10% of jackals will turn into half-men, stare you to sleep and then cheerfully murderize you!

Probably the only way for me to make use of Were-creatures without feeling dirty about it is to reskin them as something other than were-creatures. Which misses the point more than a little. Having a werejaguar (or whatever) manifest at night as the vengeful, free-roving spirit form of a Howardian evil shaman, and hoping the player's don't twig to the statline you're using, might just about do it. But, in that case, you might just as well pick a statline at random...

Werefolk. In the immortal words of Spoon: "I hope I give you the shits, you f***ing WIMP!"


  1. Dog Soldiers also has the best Matrix joke of the lot. And the mighty Sean Pertwee.

    With you on the Skaven too. If they do nothing else of worth, at least GW gave us the Skaven.

    "Ultraviolet films"? Plural? Say it ain't so.

  2. Loved Dog Soldiers, but always had a hard time with werewolves, vampires and so on in D&D. Even Tolkien's versions never really recommended the concept to me. Shapeshifters I can get on board with, but I guess Hammer Horror has had a strong influence on how I mentally divide by genre.

  3. Dog Soldiers is good.

    I also dig REH's "The Hyena" and Lieber's Rat Folk--and my own wolfman on a motorcycle--mainly because he's wearing those Edwardian goggles.

    I think I like therianthrope more than lycanthrope. It has that extra-pedantic Gygaxian quality I appreciate.


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