- Apr 25, 2017
- Reaction score
LUPERCAL!!!As to werewolves; I don’t know how LotFP handles them in general, but it might be interesting to fit them better into the 16th-century European environment. That will mean jettisoning a good deal of the typical Hollywood werewolf image. I don’t know of any real Italian materials about werewolves in this era, but the stuff I’ve read from French and German sources does not treat werewolves as cursed individuals who must transform at the full moon. Instead, they are people who choose to change into wolves, attack, and eat people. They are often described as doing this by use of some magical item—say a belt, or a wolf-skin, or perhaps just a magical salve. They may have gained the item and the rituals needed to make it work through traffic with demons; they may be devil-worshipping witches themselves.
Actually, a lot of Early Modern discussion of werewolves revolves around whether or not they are physically transformed into wolves. A minority of authors, including some heavy-hitters like Jean Bodin, accept the possibility of this, while the majority deny it on philosophical and theological grounds. According to them, the werewolf’s apparent transformation is a demonic illusion, created either by demons’ ability to manipulate the material world (roughly like a practical effect in a movie) or by their skill in deluding the senses directly. The latter we might compare to a digital effect in a movie—the viewer sees it, but in fact there was nothing there at all. Personally, I prefer the idea that people are really undergoing a bodily transformation.
Early Modern texts don’t suggest that the bite of werewolves passes the condition on to others. Here I’d be tempted to play with things a bit and say that the bite causes a rabies-like disease in victims. This leads to dementia, in which the victim lashes out like a wild beast and tries to bite others, and shortly thereafter in death. That actually connects with another Early Modern idea about lycanthropy—that it is a form of madness in which people imagine they are wolves and act accordingly. It also helps explain why werewolves are so feared—the disease makes their bite fatal, even if the blood loss and trauma does not.
There’s also little hint in the Early Modern materials I know of that werewolves are immune to normal attacks and can be harmed only by silver or blessed weaponry. In fact, many werewolf tales from this era feature the monstrous wolf being injured (shot with an arrow, cut, appendage struck off, etc.) and then identified in its human form because it has an identical injury—or even has an identifiable arrow sticking out of it. So, to make werewolves tough opponents, I’d assume that they have a lot of hit points and move very fast. The latter might mean a better armor class (or equivalent), a high dodge rating (in games that have that sort of thing), and maybe multiple attacks per round.
As I said above, there doesn’t seem to be much Italian material from this era concerned with werewolves, but here is a suggestion of how to fit them into Rome c. 1560. It connects them with Rome’s Carnival celebrations, which deserve extended treatment on their own. As usual, I’ve spoilered the suggestions for length.
The PCs could get involved with these werewolves in all sorts of ways. They might be targets of the Outer brotherhood, or if they are criminals, of the Inner. They could happen upon the competition between the two sides, or the ceremony in which the leader is designated for the coming year. They might stumble on an attack by some of the Outer brotherhood during Carnival and be very surprised when other werewolves leap to the defense of the victim. Or perhaps one or more of them could be recruited to join one brotherhood or the other.The historical background here is the Roman religious festival of Lupercalia, celebrated on February 15 by a religious association—it is misleading to call them priests—the Luperci. The rite began with a sacrifice of dogs and goats at the Lupercal, a cave on the Palatine Hill in which Romulus and Remus had been suckled by the famous she-wolf. After the sacrifice, two young men had their foreheads smeared with the blood of the animals; this was then wiped away with wool soaked in milk. The two were supposed to let out a shout of laughter at this point. The Luperci feasted on the sacrificed animals and cut their skins up, making whips of them. Then came the main public part of the festival. Naked, or dressed only in the remains of the goatskins, the Luperci ran a set route through the city, whipping the crowd that watched them. Being hit brought good fortune, especially for women—it was supposed to help them conceive or, if already pregnant, to have an easy childbirth. The Luperci belonged to two different brotherhoods, the Quinctiliani and the Fabiani; in 45 B.C. Julius Caesar’s party added a new third group, the Julii, which did not survive his downfall. It was at the conclusion of the Lupercal race in 44 B.C. that Marc Antony three times offered Caesar a crown—really a diadem.
We are not really sure what the religious meaning of the Lupercalia was; it’s likely that by the time the Romans themselves were writing descriptions of it they had also forgotten, including which god it originally honored. It seems to combine elements of a fertility ritual with one of purification, and it was tied to the wolf and Rome’s legendary beginnings. The two original brotherhoods of Luperci were mythologically linked to Romulus (the Quinctiliani) and Remus (the Fabiani). The festival outlived the suppression of most pagan religious ceremonies in Rome at the end of the 300s, since Pope Gelasius complained about its continued existence in the 490s.
So, our Roman werewolves will in fact be Luperci, members of these two brotherhoods. There’s actually some earlier precedent for connecting them to “this transformation of men into wolves” as Augustine puts in in The City of God; he claims the 1st-century B.C. author Varro had made the association. We’ll substitute wolves for dogs in the Lupercalia and say that the Luperci create from their skins the magic belts or pelts that allow them to change shape. How often they can make the transformation is up for grabs: any night (or even day), or only at the full or new moon. The lunar link doesn’t appear in Early Modern werewolf lore, but we could justify it with references to Diana (as goddess of the hunt) or Hecate (by the Early Modern period often seen as a goddess of the moon as well as witchcraft).
To make things more interesting, let’s say the two brotherhoods of Luperci always functioned as protectors of Rome, but with different roles. The ones linked to Romulus (once the Quinctiliani, now just the Inner) protected the city itself from criminals and other internal threats; those linked to Remus (Fabiani, now Outer) defended it from external foes. But, after the fall of the Western Empire, the Outer Luperci lost their way. They came to see any foreigner—anyone not of ancient Roman blood—dwelling in the city as an enemy. In their wolf forms, they savagely attack and consume these outsiders, particularly women and children, since these threaten to supplant the old Roman stock. This fits with 16th-century werewolf lore, which often has them preying on women and the young. And since 16th-century Rome was filled with foreigners, they have a lot of potential prey. The Inner Luperci, on the other hand, keep to their ancient task of disposing of malefactors or other threats that the law cannot deal with. They also struggle against the Outer Luperci, trying to limit their depredations.
Now, let’s further posit that one brotherhood of Luperci or other is always in the ascendant. If it’s the Outer, they are free to attack foreigners in Rome as they like, without the Inner brotherhood’s intervention. If it’s the Inner, then the Outer Luperci are muzzled, so to speak, and may only make such attacks as the Inner brotherhood endorses—basically, they can then only attack evil-doers. The Lupercalia itself has become a contest in which the two brotherhoods compete to see which group will dominate. I’m not sure what form the competition should take—a battle (though not to the death) between the two groups, or their champions? Something to do with the race—whichever side can strike the most people with their thongs? Or perhaps a sacrificial victim is chosen and whichever side hunts it down first wins (the Inner would use an animal for this; the Outer might choose a human being). Anyway, one side or the other triumphs, leading to a ceremony in which the leader of that brotherhood is three times offered a crown, in memory of Caesar. The Inner leader will refuse it, the Outer accept it—but regardless of the gesture, the winning side presides throughout the coming year.
When does this happen? I’d suggest moving the Lupercalia from a set date to make it part of Rome’s annual Carnival celebrations, which vary in date depending on when Easter falls. The main reason for this is that those celebrations actually included some nude racing in the 1500s. The first day of Carnival, Rome’s Jews were made to field racing contestants who ran naked, pursued by coaches, and the second day neighboring communities in Rome’s contado likewise had to supply runners. And there were other races, both of people and animals, throughout Carnival. It would be easy enough to slip the Lupercalia race in here. More importantly, Carnival was a time when people often went in disguise, or masked, and when law-and-order became weak or were set aside. A description of it by a hostile English witness c. 1580 makes it sound like The Purge:
Rome’s Carnival as an adventure setting deserves its own longish post. Suffice it to say here that it could serve as cloak for all kinds of shenanigans. Luperci killing people during the festival might be dismissed, if they were seen, as simply men in wolf costumes, and it would be easier to get away with murder at that time. In fact, I’d suggest that even in years when the Inner Luperci are in ascendant, the Outer are free to kill as they like during Carnival—then all bets are off.