What happens when you cut a changeling’s hair?
Good question. When a changeling is killed, their body reverts to their natural form. With that in mind, it seems like if you sever some element of a changeling’s body—like its hair—it should revert, right? And if you say no—that the changeling’s hair retains its appearance after being separated—then does mean than changelings can use their power to grow their hair, and then cut it off and sell it to wigmakers?
As with many things, the key question here is what’s the story you want to tell? I don’t want a simple, foolproof method for revealing a changeling with one snip of the scissors. I also don’t want a changeling to be able to create infinite wigs. We need a rope ladder: Kel, can you grow fifty feet of hair? With this in mind, I personally say two things.
- When a changeling’s hair is cut, it WILL revert—becoming colorless and crumbling away. But it doesn’t happen instantly. It takes about 24 hours for changeling hair to revert. Which means that wigmakers will wait a day before they’ll pay you for your hair—but also that it’s not a useful tool for a guard to decide whether they’re letting you into a room.
- Changeling hair is an extrusion of the character’s biomass. I will place limits on just how much they can create—six feet of hair, sure! Fifty feet, no. If a mass of hair is cut off, it won’t KILL the changeling, but I may give them one or more levels of exhaustion; they are pushing their body to its limits.
But how does this tie to the idea of a character instantly reverting on death? The key question is what that process of reversion actually looks like. From a mechanical, story perspective, what’s important is that observers immediately know the character was an imposter, and have enough information to identify them if they know them. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be an instant FULL reversion. It could be that the dead changeling’s FACE reverts within moments and that the rest of the change spreads out from there over the course of the next 24 hours. The revelation that they’re an imposter is instant; but there’s no reason the full reversion can’t take a little longer.
In 5E D&D, Lycanthropes are immune to slashing, bludgeoning, and piercing damage from non-magical, non-silver weapons. How did people mistake shifters for lycanthropes during the Silver Crusade, when all you’d have to do to test it is to poke them with a dagger?
Like the changeling haircut, this seems reasonable. A werewolf is immune to mundane weapons. Therefore, I can’t hurt the werewolf with my iron dagger. If I’m concerned that you might be a werewolf, all you have to do is to let me prick your finger. But again, is that the story we want to tell? The traditional story of the werewolf is one of suspense and horror, murderer hidden among the innocents. The Silver Crusade resulted in the deaths of countless innocents who were believed to be lycanthropes—how could that happen if it’s so easy to identify them?
If you want that suspense, the answer is simple: It’s NOT that easy to identify them. As with many of my discussions of class features, it’s important to separate the mechanical effect defined in the rules from the cosmetic manifestation of that effect, which is up to the DM. The rules state that werewolves can’t be hurt by mundane weapons. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be CUT by mundane weapons, or that they don’t bleed when injured in this way; it just means it doesn’t actually cause a loss of hit points.
Look to the movies. Typically, when a werewolf is shot with a normal gun, it’s not that the bullets bounce off of them. The mundane bullets punch holes in the werewolf, but don’t hurt it; it just keeps coming until you finally use a silver bullet. Having impenetrable skin is the domain of superheroes. Having the werewolf who’s been shot and stabbed, who may have bone exposed by ghastly injuries, and who just does not die is what makes a werewolf horrifying and unnatural.
So in my campaign, it’s not that a lycanthrope can’t be physically injured by a mundane weapon, it’s that they don’t suffer an actual DAMAGE from it. They will heal from the injury with unnatural speed, but not so fast that you can watch it happen. Which means that just cutting someone’s palm with a steel dagger won’t tell you if they’re a werewolf; the dagger will cut them and they will bleed, regardless of whether they’re a werewolf or not. Now, cutting their throat or stabbing them in the heart with that dagger will tell you something, because if they’re human they will die — while if they’re a werewolf, they’ll pull the dagger out of their heart and laugh at you. Essentially, you need to inflict ENOUGH damage that a normal person would be debilitated by it to realize that the lycanthrope isn’t being adversely affected—which in turn led to innocents dying during the Silver Crusade, victims of tests that proved they weren’t werewolves but only by inflicting so much damage that these innocents subsequently died.
This is the path to take if you want it to be difficult to identify a werewolf, and you want it to be a source of suspense and horror. If you want a middle road, one option is to force a lycanthrope to make a Charisma (Deception) check to simulate suffering pain from an injury, perhaps with advantage or disadvantage based on the degree of the injury. It’s easy to wince when someone cuts your palm. It’s harder to convince people you’re suffering the agony of a knife through your gut when you actually aren’t.
This is a general principle to keep in mind. The rules tell us the MECHANICAL EFFECT. But three creatures with immunity to a particular damage type could manifest that immunity in very different ways.