When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one that came up this month. As always, my answers are based on what I do in my personal campaign and may contradict canon sources: notably, this article is based on the premise that the Wild Heart was the cause of the Lycanthropic Purge, which is just one of the options presented in canon.
I’d like to run a campaign set during the Lycanthropic Purge. On the Manifest Zone podcast you mentioned running a one-shot with a mixed party during this time, and I was wondering if you have any suggestions. Should I have my players make characters on both sides and alternate between them, or would that be too confusing?
In my Eberron, the Purge began when the archfiend known as the Wild Heart awoke in the Towering Wood and spread its power across the region. Countless innocents died, but none suffered so much as the shifters of the Towering Wood. Entire villages were brutally slaughtered, while elsewhere hunters tortured innocents as they sought to root out hidden wererats.
… And then the templars arrived.
When people think of the Lycanthropic Purge, they often think of the final stage—the slow decades in which the zealots of the Pure Flame sought to eliminate every last lycanthrope, heedless of how many innocents they harmed in the process. Everyone knows that shifters died in the conflict and that it created a deep rift between the shifters of the west and the Church of the Silver Flame. What is often overlooked is that countless innocent shifters died before the templars ever came to the Towering Wood. The Silver Crusade wasn’t a struggle between templars and shifters. It was a war between the servants of the Wild Heart and everyone else; shifters just suffered the worst of it.
First, let’s establish some basic facts. This Dragonmark article provides basic information about the Silver Crusade, now often known as the Lycanthropic Purge. This IFAQ article discusses different strains of lycanthropy—in particular, the Curse of the Wild Heart, the primary strain involved in the Silver Crusade. This is important because the lycanthropes being fought weren’t blessed by Olarune or champions of the natural world; they were cursed by an overlord and essentially demonically possessed.
The Templars of the Silver Flame came in response to lycanthropes raiding western Aundair. After securing the region they realized the threat was based deep in the Towering Wood—and that they would have to push into the woods to fight it. But who were those lycanthropes who triggered the crusade? Where did the forces that raided Aundair come from? The curse began in the Towering Wood, and it was the people of the Towering Wood who were the first victims of the Wild Heart—and the majority of them were shifters. Why did the templars fear shifters? Why was it so easy for them to believe shifters could be lycanthropes? Because the majority of the lycanthropes they fought were cursed shifters, taken by the Wild Heart before the templars came into the region. And templars didn’t jump to this conclusion alone; wererats hidden among shifters and templar forces delighted in sowing chaos and turning people who should be allies into enemies. Wererats worked to convince templars that innocent shifters were scheming lycanthropes, and to convince shifters that the templars were butchers and that their only chance for survival was to strike first. So there were all too many incidents where innocents died. But the templars never believed that all shifters were lycanthropes or that all shifters were the enemy. Shifters were the civilians of the Towering Wood. But shifters also formed the bulk of the forces of the Wild Heart, and lycanthropes were hidden in almost every shifter village.
So in looking at the actual battles of the Purge, there were essentially two movies playing out at the same time. In the open forest you had a movie that was a blend of Aliens and Predator. Werewolves, wereboars, and other lycanthropes were feral and bloodthirsty. Some—especially wereboars—would rely on brute force, charging directly into enemy forces. Weretigers and similar types preferred to toy with templars, stalking them, laying traps and ambushes. Werewolves could go either way, sometimes overrunning their enemies and other times hounding them, striking swiftly and then disappearing. One to one, only the greatest templar champions were a match for an individual lycanthrope. This was complicated by the fact that the templars couldn’t afford to silver every weapon. Specialists had silvered halberds, greatswords, and arrows; but most templars had to rely on silvered daggers to bring down their foes. This was a horror movie. The templars relied on superior numbers to overcome the enemy, but one to one they were grievously outmatched. The lycanthropes were at home in the woods, while the templars were from the villages of Thrane. Then you had the inhabitants of the wood—primarily shifters, but also the followers of the druidic traditions we know think of as the Eldeen sects. Shifters, humans, elves, and others, these people knew the woods and knew the enemy far better than the templars, but they had been savaged by the Wild Heart before the templars ever arrived, and had always been isolated from the outside world.
This brings us to the second story playing out in the Towering Wood… a blend of The Thing and the game Are You A Werewolf? Wereboars relied on brute force, but wererats specialized in psychological warfare. Wererats infiltrated every village and outpost they could find, working to worm their way into templar forces as well as the communities of the Towering Wood. And keep in mind that the templars relied on those villages as bases of operations and sources of supplies in the vast untamed woods; they needed the help of shifter villagers. The wererats used these positions to gather intelligence on their enemies, but also to amplify paranoia and to turn innocents against one another. Set aside templars and shifters—when two squads of templars meet in the wood, can they trust one another? What about when a squad of templars finds a single templar, the lone survivor of a squad butchered in a werewolf attack. She swears she was never bitten, that she’s still human… but can they trust her, or will their fear overwhelm them? One might say lycanthropes are immune to non-silvered weapons… couldn’t they just prick her finger with an iron blade? Good question, but in my campaign it’s not quite so simple. This article discusses the topic in more length, but the short form is that werewolves bleed when you stab them with iron knives, they just won’t DIE; so to make a conclusive determination by wounding them with a weapon, you’d have to inflict enough damage that they might actually die if they’re innocent, which is how many innocents ended up dying in the later years of the Purge.
So this war was both physical and psychological, and whichever front you were fighting on, it was a horror story. The enemy could be anywhere, and all it would take was a single untreated bite to turn you into a monster who would turn on your friends. The adventure I described on Manifest Zone involved the remnants of a templar patrol needing to join forces with a shifter Moonspeaker druid and her warden, who were tracking a champion of the Wild Heart. The shifters knew more about this threat than the templars, but they couldn’t defeat the enemy on their own. And yet, could either group trust that the other? Could they get past the innocent blood that had been spilt and work together?
Creating A Party
So: in running a campaign set in during the “Surge” era, it’s not about shifters versus templars. It’s about shifters, templars, Greensingers, Wardens of the Wood, Ashbound and more—all of the inhabitants of the Towering Wood and the army that came from beyond it—against the deadly power of the Wild Heart. I wouldn’t have players create characters on both sides of this conflict, because the servants of the Wild Heart weren’t acting with free will; this comes to the point that player characters that become evil lycanthropes are often placed under DM control. The forces of the Wild Heart weren’t choosing to fight; they were extensions of an overlord. What I’d do is to have players create two character concepts at the beginning of the campaign: a templar character and a native of the Towering Wood, who could be a shifter or a member of one of the druidic sects. The players would begin as a squad of templars assigned to a deep forward patrol, seeking the source of the Wild Heart’s power. Whenever a player character dies, the group would have the opportunity to acquire a local ally—that player’s backup character. Because again, part of the point is that this is a horror movie in which the templars were largely outmatched, so unlike many campaigns I’d want to be clear from the onset that player characters can die. We’d be prepared for that and players would know that death wouldn’t be the end of the story—but they’d know that it’s a very real threat, and they’d have a backup character prepared. And with this in mind, if a player loses their initial character and assumes the role of their secondary, I’d have them make a new secondary—who could be a native or could be a templar, the last survivor of another patrol thrilled to find friends. And I’d at least throw out that possibility you never know, one of the secondary characters you acquire could be a wererat… Even if this never happened, part of the point would be to establish how powerful this fear could be.
Wait, The Eldeen Druids Were Involved?
We’ve never mentioned the role of the Wardens of the Wood or the Ashbound in the Lycanthropic Purge, but of course they were involved. The Towering Wood was the front line of the war, and the Towering Wood is the home of the Eldeen sects. Cut Oalian and count the rings; he’s been around for far longer than two centuries. The point is that the bulk of the population of the Towering Wood—the majority of its villages and communities—were shifters, so they received most of the attention… and meanwhile, the templar forces far outnumbered the Wardens of the Wood. But yes, the Eldeen Sects were absolutely involved in the conflict, fighting both to survive and to protect other innocents where they could. They suffered tremendous losses during the conflict—some at the hands of templars convinced they were lycanthropes—but the Wardens in particular did manage to protect many innocents. We’ve mentioned before that the Pure Flame emerged from the Lycanthropic Purge as the Aundairians who’d suffered through the Purge embraced the Silver Flame. But just as the Flame received a surge of new followers in the aftermath of the conflict, so did the Wardens of the Wood! Especially in the region around Niern—the closest to the Greenheart—many people owed their survival to the efforts of the Wardens and either immigrated into the woods in the aftermath of the Purge or simply maintained contact with their Warden allies. This was one more factor in the willingness of the people of western Aundair to embrace the Wardens and form the Eldeen Reaches during the Last War; because the region already had history with the Wardens, still told the stories of Warden rangers bravely fighting wereboars. But again, the key point is that the Wardens didn’t have the numbers or the military discipline of the templars. They played a key role in a few specific areas, and they certainly were involved in the final push that broke the power of the Wild Heart, along with templars and Moonspeakers—but to the world at large, this was the templars’ story.
How Did Any Shifters Survive?
The templars didn’t learn of the threat until the lycanthropes spread beyond the Towering Wood and into Aundair. We’ve said that shifter villages were important staging areas for templar forces during the conflict, and that there were villages with just a handful of wererats hidden among an otherwise innocent population. But how is it that there were any shifter villages by the time the templars arrived? How is it that they weren’t completely overwhelmed before the forces of the Wild Heart began invading Aundair?
The key to this is that we’ve never discussed what the Wild Heart actually wanted to accomplish or how it was finally defeated. We know that the Wild Heart had broken most of its bonds, that it was able to exert its influence over a vast region, and that at some point it was likely able to manifest a physical avatar at the seat of its power (a manifestation similar in power to the overlords presented in Rising From The Last War). We know that in general it drew strength from the spread of lycanthropy, and that eliminating lycanthropes weakened it. But as discussed in this article, the bonds of the overlords are enigmatic and tied to the Prophecy. It is entirely possible that the Wild Heart needed the templars to break free from its prison. I’ll take it a step further and say that it may well have needed templars to kill innocent shifters—that part of why cunning wererats were engineering paranoia and driving massacres is because this was a crucial component of the lock on the Wild Heart’s prison. One could say if that’s the case and someone figured it out, couldn’t they just leave? and sure, if someone figured it out, they could—but that wouldn’t undo the damage already done. Even if it wasn’t fully free, the Wild Heart would still command an army of lycanthropes and could still destroy Aundair; things had gone way too far for ignoring it to be an answer. The templars may have been a key element in releasing the Wild Heart—but they also had a vital role to play in fully rebinding it, which is what eventually occurred.
The upshot of all of this is to remember that the true goals of the Wild Heart were more subtle than simply kill and expand… and that the ultimate defeat of the Wild Heart required more than just physical force. It’s up to the DM to decide exactly what these two options—release and rebind—involved.
In telling a story or creating a campaign around the Silver Crusade, I’d keep the following points in mind…
- Shifters of the Towering Wood were the primary inhabitants of the Wood before the Crusade. Most villages in the wood were shifter communities.
- These shifters suffered grievous losses and were fighting for their survival before the templars even arrived. Shifter villages that hadn’t been openly attacked were often infiltrated by wererats.
- Templars weren’t the enemy of the shifters, and they did work together in villages. But the Wild Heart forever worked to make them enemies and to trick them into bloodshed.
- The known druid sects—Wardens of the Wood, Ashbound, Greensingers, Children of Winter—were all involved in the conflict, but because of their small numbers were typically confined to specific regions. They were fighting for their survival. Prior to the Aundairian attacks, non-shifter lycanthropes in the Towering Wood would be drawn from the druid sects.
- The goal of the Wild Heart was to shatter the final bonds imprisoning it. While bloodshed and the spread of lycanthropy helped this, its true goals were more complex; this is why the conflict lasted as long as it did and why it didn’t raze every village.
- In my campaign, good people slaughtering innocents would be a critical element of the Wild Heart’s goals. So there were two clear front lines—physical conflict with powerful lycanthropes and psychological conflict with wererats seeking to compel innocents to kill one another.
All of this deals with the first phase of the Purge. Once the power of the Wild Heart was broken, afflicted lycanthropes could no longer infect others and champions of Olarune and other good lycanthropes were freed from its control. But the conflict wasn’t over, and there were decades of strife and pain as the Pure Flame continued its efforts to root out every last lycanthrope. As a story, this would be more like The Crucible, and it’s not a campaign I’d particularly like to run.
Even if you never run a campaign set in this period, it can still play a role in the story of many player characters in the modern day. If you’re from the region—whether human or shifter—what happened to your family during the Purge? Were your ancestors slaughtered by lycanthropes, templars, or both? Did they adopt the faith of the Flame or join one of the druid sects because of their actions in the Silver Crusade… or have they never forgiven one of those groups for the actions it took during the Purge? If you’re playing an elf or a similarly long-lived character, did you actually experience part of the Purge yourself, and if so, what role did you play?
That’s all for now! My time is very limited right now, so I may not be able to answer questions on this topic. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making these articles possible; follow the link if you’d like to help support the site and determine the topics of future articles!