IFAQ: Wounding Werewolves and Changeling Hair

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.

That’s all for now! Lest it go without saying, my latest projects are Eberron Confidential on the DM’s Guild and the Threshold campaign I’m running for my Patreon supporters!

24 thoughts on “IFAQ: Wounding Werewolves and Changeling Hair

  1. What about detecting a magically disguised fiend or dragon?

    Would that need to be a separate iFAQ? (I remember that the question came up in the same discussion that led to this iFAQ)

    • Largely a separate IFAQ, because at that point we’re talking about a wide range of magical effects that would be involved — things like the Cloak of Khyber and other tools used by deep-cover Chamber and LoD agents. Notably, the 5E rakshasa just has disguise self, which doesn’t hold up under serious scrutiny and couldn’t explain the degree of deep cover infiltration the Lords of Dust are supposed to have — which means that those deep cover agents are using different, more powerful methods. Keep in mind that with the Lords of Dust and the Chamber you’re dealing with cultures whose arcane science is far more powerful than that of Khorvaire; it’s thus logical for them to have access to eldritch machines and other effects that are beyond the spells a PC can simply cast. In the Prince of Ashes secret in Eberron Confidential, it’s called out that the ritual being used by the imposter perfectly fools all divination as long as the true prince is alive — so again, this is a PLOT DEVICE designed to fit the needs of the story, because that level of magic is certainly something either of those factions would be capable of.

      With that said, I’d be inclined to apply the general principles here to any creature that can physically transform at will and that reverts to its natural form upon death.

  2. The distinction between detecting a true lycanthrope and mistaking a shifter for one is also connected somewhat to WHO was killing shifters in the Lycanthropic Inquisition. The mobs and masses of uneducated Aundairan and Brelish commonfolk. The Templar of the Church of the Silver Flame would (this being a military and holy mission for them) take the time to methodically and precisely identify the enemy, the scared masses venting their fear and distrust wouldn’t care

    “He can change shape” or “she’s got animal powers” would be enough

    • This is an important point. The “Witch Hunt” phase of the Silver Crusade largely occurred AFTER the true threat was eliminated and the templars had moved on, and was conducted by the commonfolk who would eventually become the Pure Flame, and who were driven by fear and anger more than by reason.

    • And now we clearly have the answer to the riddle of who shaves the changeling barber who only shaves those who do not shave themselves: the other changeling in the village! Wait, OTHER changeling??

  3. Hmmm, two interesting points! Would you take this same approach with other changeling body parts? Ex: If a changeling was in a battle and their hand was cut off, would the hand revert, not revert, revert over time?

    • I think things like hair, teeth, and nails are among the slowest to revert. A limb with blood would likely revert reasonably quickly, so sure, chopping an arm off would give you results in a minute or so. The main thing is that I’d say it’s not entirely reliable. So people DON’T tend to chop fingers off because SOMETIMES it takes an hour for a finger to shift.

      • Supporting your idea here is that real-world hair, nails and the outer parts of teeth are not living cells. Presumably, the changeling can re-absorb hair or nails that they have created and reusde the biomass just as they can with ingested food, but there’s still a distinction. Since the epidermis also has a layer of dead cells, that suggests a creepy visual in which a transformed changeling who is killed would display an effect like a snake shedding its skin, as the expiring changeling pulls away from the transfromed outer skin. The “snakeskin” , like the hair and nails would revert more slowly, say over the 24 hours you suggest.’
        (Aside: The visual of a lycanthrope pretending to be hurt by a mundane weapon called to mind a fisual of a lycanthrope who had been a hambone actor in their former life going into a melodramatic death scene: “I am cut to the quick! Dying, oh dying! My liife’s blood ebbs!”, staggerrin about the room and collspsing…before leaping back to their feet and tearing their attacker sot shreds.

  4. Would you say that it is impossible for a lycanthrope to lose a limb to a conventional blade as well, even though you’d say the blade still cuts them? What would that look like? Perhaps stuff like bone or tendons can’t be significantly “harmed” in this fashion?

    • This runs into the line between story and rules. The practical fact is that under the rules, they can’t be damaged by mundane weapons, and losing a limb is certainly a serious point of damage. Following the horror move flavor, my inclination is to say that they can suffer grievous injuries and just IGNORE them is they’re caused by mundane weapons; you might shatter his arm with a mace, but HE’S STILL USING IT. With severing, I just say that it’s exceptionally difficult to do (tendons just refuse to part, and it’s hanging on by a thread) but if there’s a story scenario where it’s impossible to see how it could be avoided — a restrained werewolf, a strong person with a headsman’s axe — I’d say that a limb can be severed, but that the lycanthrope doesn’t bleed out or go into shock as a normal mortal would.

  5. Changelings are unable mimic missing body parts. Magical prosthetics are easily/quickly removed and reattached by the owner. Seems like, in Eberron, losing a body part and having it replaced by a prosthetic would actually be a point in one’s favor when being interviewed for a higher security clearance since it makes one comparatively hard to impersonate.

        • I’m seeing higher ranking Boromar halflings who voluntarily cut off a finger and replace it with a prosthetic as a show of dedication and a proof against impersonation. The prosthetics could have magical and mundane marks like signet rings. All the guild leaders wear gloves so you don’t know which finger is missing.

          • Was just talking about this over dinner with a friend of mine. She suggested the same thing and I countered, “ah but see changelings can’t assume halfling form or any small sized form, there’d be knowledgable enough members of the clan who’d know that doppelgangers and other shapechangers are the only threat there”

            But honestly the answer is again what makes a better story . . . and your idea (and my friend’s I suppose) is the better story I’d say

  6. Just because the cut doesn’t slow them down doesn’t mean it won’t hurt.

    Also, perhaps a new lycanthrope doesn’t heal if he isn’t turned (or until he turns), so he would act like he does normally. And an experience lycanthrope might be able to control the rate of “healing” of non-damage. And might be able to regenerate a limb severed by ordinary metal during the lycanthrope transformation.

    • No. The changeling’s transformation is physical, and it adopts the scent of the creature it is duplicating. Note that this isn’t under the conscious control of the changeling. It can’t say “I want to become Mary, but smell like Bob” or for that matter, alter its own scent without altering its appearance as well; it’s part of the instinctual process of impersonating another creature.

      With that said, this seems like a good opportunity to have a changeling make a Deception check: does the faithful dog notice something’s off?

      • Troglodytes are valid targets for a Changeling’s transformation ability in both 3E and 5E. Is there an explanation for them not getting the Stench ability beyond “it’s beyond their abilities”?

        • They don’t get abilities like darkvision either, so not stinking isn’t a stretch for their limitations.

          • Correct. Changelings don’t get any natural abilities. Depending how you rule on the tail, a changeling could become lizardfolk, but they wouldn’t get natural armor, a bite attack, or the ability to hold their breath. Their skin looks, smells, and feels like lizardfolk skin until you stab it and discover it’s not as thick as it should be.

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