Wednesday, July 26, 2023

OSR: Animal Brides, Skin-Changers and Skinwalkers


by wraithdt

Skin-changing is a form of folk-magic widely misunderstood by urban folk and more "civilized" peoples.  They consider it to be kissing cousins with being a Werewolf or being possessed, which often means those accused of it will be hauled before magistrates and blamed for grave-robbings, murderers or fornication with animals.  These stories have little or anything to do with the truth of Skin-changing, however.  

In reality, Skin-changing is an ancient form of magic that once protected countless people as Shamans bound the spirits of great beasts to protect their people.  Clad in the skins of predators and wild things, they lent aid to warriors and hunters, calling on the strength of the Animal Kingdoms to preserve the nascent territory of the Tool-Users.  

Today, Skin-changing is only practiced by tribal peoples and those without a deep basis of inherited knowledge.  It is not the most powerful of abilities and in many ways, the civilized people have found more useful, or at least more powerful, sources of magic.  But the knowledge remains true and the art vital, even after many centuries of neglect.  And should it be called upon again, the people of so-called civilization will find that the superstitions of their ancestors hold far more weight than even they who venerate the long dead would have given them credit for.  


An ancient Art of folk-magic, much ridiculed by Wizards, which allows the user to take upon the form and powers of a Beast.  Those who take the form of beasts like this are often called  Animal Brides for the common folk stories describing Skin-changers as disguised as common animals until they take off their fur cloaks to reveal themselves to be beautiful, naked women.  There is a plentiful amount of art depicting these scenes, for obvious reasons.    

Become Animal Bride or Create Hide Cloak

Base DC: 5+X [X is the HD of the creature being slain]

Materials Needed: Something to draw a circle with, a skinning knife, a regular knife, a cup, wine or milk or honey (depends on the animal)

First, find the type of animal you want to be able to transform into.  Then find a creature that fits your criteria.  

Kill that creature.  Draw a circle around.  

Offer a prayer to the creature's spirit, thanking it for it's life and meat.  

Skin the creature and be careful to damage the hide as little as possible.  Set the hide aside.  Carve out the creature's heart and eat it raw.  

Follow this by anointing yourself with the creature's blood.  

Then channel the creature's remaining mana out of it's body and use it to create a sympathetic bond between yourself and the hide.  

Then make the hide into a cloak.  If you have done it correctly, this will become a Hide Cloak for whatever animal you skinned.  

Failed Ritualism Check:


1- You are possessed by the spirit of the animal you slew.  Until exorcised, you act as if you were that kind of animal trapped in the body of whatever you are.

2- You fail to establish the sympathetic link.  You now have a perfectly fine but non-magical cloak.

3- You fail to properly channel the animal's remaining mana.  Everyone within X*10' takes Xd6 damage, save for half.  X equals the animal's HD.

4- You fail to properly channel the animal's remaining mana.  The animal's corpse rises as an Unbound Undead.  

5- You suffer a mutation that makes you look more like the animal whose hide you are attempting to link to.  Ex: Yellow eyes for a Wolf-skin, small tusks for a wild boar, etc.  

6- You feel the pain the animal suffered in it's last moments.  This does anywhere from 1d6 to 3d6 psychic damage, depending on how cleanly it was killed. 

by GuzBoroda
Shamans and others who practice this Art tend to only have knowledge of how to do this for certain types of animals, usually the animals a tribe feels closest to.  For example, if a powerful Wolf spirit protects a Tribe, then their Shamans probably know how to become Wolf Animal Brides.

Note that this only works on members of the Animal Kingdoms.  It does not work on those who stand outside the Laws of Predation (ie Monsters).  Attempting to make a Hide Cloak out of a Magical Beast or a Monster is a fool's errand that cannot go well.

Note that saying prayers over the dead animal is not necessary to the ritual, but most shamans practice it to prevent themselves from being haunted or possessed by the ghost of the animal they slew.  This is also why many Shamans use every part of any animal they kill for this purpose, for reasons beyond the merely practical.   

Rules for Transformation: 

An Animal Bride must be wearing his Hide Cloak to transform.  

He cannot be wearing or carrying any form of metal.  

He must either be naked or wearing skin-tight clothing.  Nothing that protrudes from the body in any way is acceptable, including such things as shoes, coats, armor, etc.   
All Animal Brides can:

- Communicate with animals of the same kind.  Ex: Wolves can talk to Wolves, Dogs, Coyotes, Jackals, etc.  

- Have a second pool of HP.  When they put on their Hide Cloak, they gain access to that Second Pool of HP, which is tracked separately.  This also includes other forms of damage including Horrible Wounds, but not conditions such as being Diseased, Petrified, Frightened, Charmed, etc.    

- If they are reduced to 0 HP when in Animal form, they revert to their normal form and their Hide Cloak is destroyed.  

- Each one also gets a special power based on what animal they slew.   

- Wolf: You can communicate with Ghost Wolves as well as regular wolves.  You can also enter the Spirit World in-spirit whenever you dream, as long as you are touching your Hide Cloak.    
- Deer: As long as you're wearing your Hide Cloak, you have advantage on checks based on hearing.   
- Lion: Depends on whether your Hide Cloak came from a Lion or a Lioness.  A Hide Cloak from a Lion grants a roar that 1/Day forces creatures who hear it and see the source to save or be Frightened.  A Hide Cloak from a Lioness grants the ability to   
- Shark: As long as you are touching your Hide Cloak, you can breathe underwater.  
- Crocodile: As long as you are touching your Hide Cloak, you can hold so still people will think you are a part of the scenery, as long as there's nothing to indicate otherwise, such as being dressed in lurid colors in the middle of a forest.   
- Buffalo: You gain a Charge Attack that you can use in both human and animal forms, though it is much more effective in animal form.  
- Bear: You can gorge yourself and gain a blubbery layer of fat which is consumed when you do not have enough food to eat.  You can store enough calories to equal up to 1/2 your CON score.
- Seal: Your Hide Cloak is ludicrously bouyant and can function as a flotation device.  
- Hyena: When in Animal form, you are immune to disease and instead act as a carrier.  When in Human form, as long as you are touching your Hide Cloak, you have advantage on saves vs disease.
- Badger: When in Animal form, you have a burrowing speed equal to your walking/running speed.

Example Statblock:

Tribal Shaman
HD 2  AR 0  Atk Atlatl (1d6+2/1d6+2) or Spear (1d6)
Mor 10  Saves 9 or less

Animal Bride: The Shaman possesses the Hide Cloak of a Coyote.  If he dons this Cloak, as an action, he can transform into a Coyote.  This changes his stats below.  

- Transform for tracking, stealth or escape
- Use hit and run tactics
- Protect your fellow tribesmen

Animal Bride- Coyote
HD 3  AR 2  Atk Bite (1d6+1+grapple)
Mor 10  Saves 9 or less

Animal Bride: The Animal Bride is actually a transformed Shaman.  He can transform into his human form back as a free action.

Dogspeech: The Animal Bride can communicate with any form of Canine, including Dogs, Wolves, Coyotes, Jackals, etc.

Tracker: When in Coyote form, the Animal Bride has advantage on any checks made to track or follow a creature based on scent or sound.

Trade: By ingesting a creature's a blood, the Animal Bride can create a link between himself and the other creature.  Whenever one of the creatures take damage, that damage is evenly divided between all linked creatures.  This link lasts for 1 day, or until it is broken via mutual consent.

- see above

by Gavin Valentine

Number Appearing: 1
Alignment: Any Evil
Languages: The Lingua Franca plus Tribal Tongue and the secret language of the Shamans
Treasure: Stained Cloak, trophies from murder victims, stolen goods (varies depending on Skinwalker's crimes)

One common mistake that many adventurers make is that if they take a Hide Cloak off someone, they will be able to use it themselves.  To their surprise, they will find themselves in the possession of a magical but otherwise inert item.  This is because a Hide Cloak is not really a magical item, in that it possesses no power of it's own.  Instead it is the mark of a ritual and thus no matter who wears it, it will only perform it's function for the one who performed the ritual in the first place.  

That's not to say there is no way to steal one, however.  Doing so, however, is both difficult and vile.  It requires a wicked deed and the perversion of the original ritual.  It is, as the Shamans and Tribal Elders might refer to it, "An Empty Path".

A Skinwalker is one who walks such a path.  Despite their fearsome reputations, Skinwalkers are not Demons nor Folk nor some kind of horrific unnatural beast.  They are something far worse- men who have twisted tools meant to aid the tribe and help the community into instruments of revenge and desolation.  They are those mortals who when given the option to gain more power at the expense of others gladly took the deal.  

Skinwalkers are almost always Shamans or those trained by them, from a culture that practices Skin-changing.  They are those who perverted the original ritual that is used to permit Skin-changing or performed some other sin which amplified their own powers, granting them the ability to take other forms and perform other terrible feats.  When clad in their Stained Cloaks, they are terrors and destroyers, capable of rending flesh and striking fear into all who face them.  

But when they doff them, they can easily pass for any normal person.  They are farmers, merchants, barkeeps and anything else.  The drifter who started working as a farmhand or the traveling peddler or the community leader, widely respected by all, any of them could be the horror of ever-shifting bone and gristle haunting the nearby wilderness, seeking those they may devour.      

Skinwalker- Mortal form
HD Varies, see below
AR Varies, see below
Atk Varies, see below
Mor 5+HD
Saves (7+HD) or less

Shapeshifter: Skinwalkers have access to magical garments called Stained Cloaks.  When they don these cloaks, they can transform into a variety of forms.  Skinwalkers gain new forms by killing the creature whose form they want to take and eating that creature's heart.  They can take the form of any creature that has HD less than or equal to theirs.  They can transform as a free action.  When transformed, they use a different pool of HP (see below).    

Regeneration: Skinwalkers recover X HD per round, depending on their overall strength.  

Specific Death Condition: Skinwalkers, regardless of form, can only be killed in specific ways.  Otherwise they return to life.  

Memory Thief: If a Skinwalker eats the brain of a creature, he gains the memories of that creature.  These memories fade over time so unless the Skinwalker takes steps to record or otherwise remember them, the Skinwalker will gradually forget what it learned. 

Black Feast: Skinwalkers gain power from those they slay.  If a Skinwalker kills and consumes a creature, which takes at least 10 minutes for a Medium creature, half that for a Small one, it gains +1 HD and is restored to full HP.   

- Pretend to be a normal person
- Use your animal forms to ambush creatures
- Attack lone creatures, kill and eat them  

Skinwalker- Beast Form
HD Varies
AR Varies
Atk Varies, see below
Mor 5+HD
Saves (7+HD) or less

Collective Pool: A Skinwalker's Secondary Pool of HP, the one it accesses in it's Beast form, is double what it has in it's Mortal form.  This pool of HD is shared among all the various forms a Skinwalker has.  The Skinwalker can transform as a free action between forms or back to it's mortal form.

Magic Resistance: Mana-based attacks and abilities are hard to use against a Skinwalker in Beast form.  When someone uses one of these against them, there is a X-in-20 chance that the mana-based ability (magic, psychic powers, bio-energy blasts) or attack does not affect them.  This causes the attack or ability to slip around them and strike the nearest target.  If there is no obvious choice, roll randomly.  For Skinwalkers, this chance is equal to their HD in Beast form.  

- See above

artist unknown
To customize a Skinwalker, roll on the tables below:

How did he become a Skinwalker?

1- He stole a Hide Cloak from a Shaman and killed the original wearer, then rebound the Cloak to himself.  This Skinwalker's Specific Death Condition is that it can only be killed by a weapon marked with white ash from a fire, all other weapons will fail to strike a mortal blow.  
2- He kidnapped a stranger then skinned him/her alive and turned the flayed skin into a Stained Cloak.  This Skinwalker's Specific Death Condition is that it can only be killed by someone who does not know who he is- all others will fail to strike a mortal blow.  
3- He killed a member of his tribe and drank their blood, then used their skin as lining for a Stained Cloak.  This Skinwalker's Specific Death Condition is that it can only be killed by an Leader/Elder of the tribe he belongs to.  This can be a religious, spiritual, political or military leader, as long as they hold a position of authority in the tribe.  All others will fail to kill the Skinwalker.       
4- He killed his brother (or another family member) and ate his heart.  This Skinwalker's Specific Death Condition is that it can only be killed by a member of his own family (or bloodline) or by an Agent of divine vengeance.  All others will fail to kill the Skinwalker.          

How old/powerful is this Skinwalker?

1- Newborn.  This Skinwalker has 3 HD in mortal form and 6 HD in Beast form.  It has 3 AR.  It has 1d4+1 forms.  It makes 2 Attacks that do 1d8+2 damage.  It has a 1-in-6 chance of having 1 Blasphemous Gift.  It also has Magic Resistance equal to 6-in-20 in Beast form.    

2- Young.  This Skinwalker has 4 HD in mortal form and 8 HD in Beast form.  It has 2 AR.  It has 1d6+2 forms.  It can make 2 Attacks that do 1d8+3 damage.  It has a 2-in-6 chance of having 1d3 Blasphemous Gifts.  It also has Magic Resistance equal to 8-in-20 in Beast form.  

3- Old.  This Skinwalker has 5 HD in mortal form and 10 HD in Beast form.  It has AR 2.  It has 1d10+2 forms.  It can make 2 Attacks that do 1d10 damage.  It has a 3-in-6 chance of having 1d4+1 Blasphemous Gifts.  It also has Magic Resistance equal to 10-in-20 (3-in-6 - 50%) in Beast form.   

4- Ancient.  This Skinwalker has 6 HD in mortal form and 12 in Beast form.  It has AR 1.  It has 1d20+2 forms.  It can make 2 Attacks that do 1d10+1 damage.  It has a 4-in-6 chance of having 1d4+2 Blasphemous Gifts.  It also has Magic Resistance equal to 12-in-20 (6-in-10 - 60%) in Beast form.       

A Skinwalker's Blasphemous Gifts:

1- The Skinwalker can take the forms of creatures much smaller than itself, such as birds, rats, etc.
2- The Skinwalker can utter a terrifying roar that forces all creatures within 1 mile to save or be Frightened.  Frightened creatures won't approach it, have disadvantage on Attacks against it and take 1d6 COG damage each round they can see/sense it.  Frightened creatures must also pass a Morale check to rest in the area they think the source of their fear is in.    
3- The Skinwalker can move through trees and foliage as if they aren't there.  This also makes it more difficult to track, as it doesn't damage branches, shubbery or the like.  Checks made to track it via non-magical means are done with disadvantage.    
4- The Skinwalker only leaves footprints on wood and stone.
5- The Skinwalker can speak the tongues of 1d4 [1= Birds (and creatures) of the Air; 2= Creeping things; 3= Beasts of the Field; 4= Trees and Growing Things] even in mortal form.  If rolled twice, it learns multiple languages.    
6- The Skinwalker can mimic sounds it has heard before, regardless of what form it has taken.  Creatures must pass a COG check with a DC equal to [5+Skinwalker's Beast form HD] to tell if the sound did not come from the proper type of creature.    
7- The Skinwalker can turn invisible.  It can turn invisible for up to 1 hour, but it turns back as soon as it changes form or makes an attack.    
8- The Skinwalker can summon 1d4 lesser spirits.  These take the form of 1d4 [1= Crows; 2= Rats; 3= Black Cats; 4= Feral Dogs.]  These spirits help the Skinwalker by 1d4 [1= Spying on it's enemies; 2= Spreading false rumors about it, such as claiming it's a different type of creature; 3= Stealing things the Skinwalker might find useful; 4= Performing petty sabotage against the Skinwalker's enemies.] 
9- The Skinwalker can enter the Spirit World in-spirit as long as it has access to it's Stained Cloak.  It can use this to enter the dreams of sleeping people.  If this result is rolled twice, it has the power to draw people from their dreams into the Spirit World.
10- The Skinwalker made a pact with a spirit.  This gives it the ability to 1d4 [1= Make itself invulnerable to a type of weapon 1/Day.  For example, it can't be hurt by swords or spears or arrows; 2= It can bind the spirits of the dead if it performs a ritual over their fresh corpse.  This causes some of their spirit to linger as Ghosts.  These ghosts obey the Skinwalker and can spy on or monitor intruders in an area around the corpse.  The ghosts can also possess corpses and rise as Undead; 3= Gives it a venomous bite that does 1d6 bonus damage a round, until it does 3d6 damage or a creature passes a CON save; 4= Causes the Skinwalker to be the carrier for a horrible disease.  Whenever someone comes in contact with one of the Skinwalker's bodily fluids, that creature must save or contract the disease.  The Skinwalker can also choose not to infect people if it wishes.]

by Eemeling

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