Q&A: What if somebody with disability gets turned in to a werewolf?

This question came from Ceri, and was in response to the game New Pathways in Lycanthropy which I ran in April.

It’s a very interesting question and we can use it to look at how we consider disability in game worlds in general.

In NPIL it was possible for people to be turned in to lycanthropes in game. Lycanthropes had specific skills and a specific brief which included the ability to make special damage calls the ability to heal from wounds quicker and a more aggressive and confrontational nature. There were distinctly more “vital” than your average human. So the question of how this interacts with disabled characters and disabled players is an interesting one. I made a mistake in not actually writing this in to the brief and instead going in to the game with only a vague idea and the ability to implement on the fly if needed. This is not good practice.

However being able to answer the question involves a good understanding of the mechanics behind the monster: how lycanthropy is caused, what it does to the human body and so on, so that we can consider how that interacts with disability. In NPIL lycanthropy wasn’t a cure all. It affected the pituitary glad and endocrine system and most of the physical effects were hormone based. There was only limited permanent change to the individual outside of Change times when the endocrine system went in to overdrive and you became a wolf like beast. This means that they are able to heal to knew injuries somewhat faster than usual but that there isn’t a mechanism for healing existing injuries or damage or for combating genetic diseases or the effects of an existing disease. Consequently, a disabled person is likely to stay disabled, even when changed, though they will still experience the increases in strength and anger. This is going to vary a lot depending on the exact reasons for disability, especially if the disability is hormone based as your hormone levels are going to change a lot. There is also a lot of implication for contraindications with medication.

In play what does all this mean. It would mean that if you are able bodied and playing a disability you should continue to play the disability as well as any lycanthrope affects. Additionally if you are OOC disabled or limited due to chronic illness, you would simply play the lycanthrope effects over the top of your OOC limitations. You can heal new wounds but not existing problems. Your blindness is not miraculously cured. You will still experience the desire to hunt and attack but may be confined by your range of movement. If you have fatigue or weakness type problems, you will still experience an increase in strength but it will be relative to your starting point and so may not be apparent to others. My instructions would be to play as well as you can, within your own limits. The ky is to focus on the RP effects, emotions and drives of the werewolf. IT may be appropriate to RP mounting frustration and anger as your lycanthrope struggles to carry through on the desire to hunt. It is also worth noting that this is one of the benefits of using damage calls. An increased damage call can mimic the effect of increased strength even when the individual is not able to physically demonstrate that.

The other side to this is on how other players respond to you. It is far easier to trap and capture a mobility limited werewolf after all, but there is still a risk of sharp claws and biting. The impulse for players is also to attack a lycanthrope however, many disabled or chronically ill players use non-combat rules and may not be considered “combat safe”. In this case other players should be reminded to respect the non-com rules even in cases of changed lycanthrope. They should focus on roleplaying means of capture or submission rather than attack and should allow the player time to safely disengage from any unsafe scene. Non-com rules often include an element of the non-com player taking damage or other combat effects once they are safely disengaged from combat, and that would be appropriate here.

Example: Ollie, who has cerebral palsy and walks with crutches, becomes infected with lycanthropy. They are now a lycanthrope with cerebral palsy. When changed they may become more aggressive and stronger (as demonstrated by damage calls). Because Ollie is non-com other players do not directly attack them and instead stop short and RP or express their intent to attack or subdue Ollie. It may be necessary for a player to make a statement such as “OOC, I am going to attempt to hit you with this table leg and knock you out”.

Ollie invokes the non-com rules and takes the standard damage, however due to their lycanthropy they are able to heal at a faster than normal rate.

As you can see it is complicated which is why it is worth figuring these things out before the game and codifying them in your rules instead of relying on making them coherent and cohesive on the fly. I am still not certain that my proposed methods were as best they could have been and should have taken more care.

This is were other games can take note and apply the methods to their own games and settings. It can be tempting to think about how your monsters/afflictions/odd creatures work as “under the layer of abstraction”. This generally means it doesn’t matter how it works we just accept that it does. However, it is important to t least have a vague understanding of how something works if it is going to be having an impact on how a character is played so that you know how it will effect players with disabilities. Is it a magical cure all that overrides any existing conditions? If that’s the case then how does a player with limitations play it? Why do their limitations still exist?

Take time to properly understand your world setting and the abstraction layer even if this isn’t public knowledge so that you have the ability to consider how they can be played by all your players. Keep in mind that your player’s abilities have to be considered as much as the character’s abilities and that you have to have a way of suitably representing or roleplaying any special effects in up time.

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