Anyone who’s watched a werewolf movie has probably heard of silver bullets. According to werewolf lore, werewolves can only be killed with a silver bullet.
D & D, and many other fantasy games, novels and worlds, expand on that concept. It is commonly held that werewolves can be harmed by silver weapons as well as, perhaps, magical and supernatural effects – spells, other special creatures, etc… Of course, the first step D & D takes is the expansion of the concept of a were-creature.
Let’s look into it.
Lycanthrope is the technical name for what is more crudely called “Werewolfism.” It is the disease/curse that causes an individual to become a werewolf. In actual modern psychology, there is an actual mental disease called lycanthrope. According to the psychologists, a person suffering from lycanthrope believes he/she is a wolf or other animal. In fantasy settings like D & D, a person suffering from lycanthrope actually becomes a wolf or other animal with the rising of the full moon.
The Different Types of Lycanthropes
In the book, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien introduced a character called Beorn who was, for all intents and purposes, a lycanthrope. Specifically, I think he was a werebear – a man who could turn into a bear as needed. As a result, the notion of lycanthropes can be expanded to include not only werewolves but werebears as well.
From at least 1st edition, Dungeons and Dragons has had a fairly extensive list of lycanthropes. These include not only werewolves and werebears, but wererats, wereboars, and weretigers, if I recall correctly. In the years since then, I’ve seen other additions like wereravens and more. I’ve even seen some reversals like “wolfweres” which are very much like werewolves but sworn enemies of such for some reason.
Lycanthropes and Their Weakness to Silver
One of the universal features of lycanthropes in D & D is their weakness with respect to silver. In 5th edition, non-magical silvered weapons can harm any lycanthrope they hit. But, I have misgivings about that particular weakness.
I prefer the idea where lycanthropes can only be harmed by silver weapons not silvered weapons. I think the weapons should be made of pure silver rather than permitting them to be diluted with other metals and still be effective. I think this leads to interesting intricacies in adventures that involve lycanthropes.
For example, I once ran a 2nd edition D & D adventure in Ravenloft in a domain run by wererats where that particular detail was true. In light of that, I threw in, what I thought was a neat, intriguing little twist: The Electrum Guild.
The Electrum Guild
Electrum is a metal made from combining silver with gold. Basically, since wererats were lycanthropes they could be harmed by weapons fashioned from pure silver, but NOT silvered weapons or electrum weapons or any weapon made from silver mixed with any other material. And the wererats knew that.
How Intellignent Lycanthropes Can Eliminate Silver
So, they set up and ran an electrum guild that, conveniently, served to inflate the value of electrum. Because of the Electrum Guild, electrum in that particular Ravenloft Domain was significantly more valuable than gold. Think about it. If you have 10 sps and 10 gps, and you can mix them together and make 20 eps and the eps are worth , say, 2 gp each instead of the usual ½ gp, what will you likely do? 10 sps and 10 gps left as is is worth 11 gps. But 20 eps is worth 40 gp.
So, the wererats, at the cost of a little gold, had set up a system that provided an extreme monetary incentive for the surrounding population to change their silver into electrum thereby taking the silver out of circulation. That makes pure silver weapons all the more rare. Much to the wererats’ delight.
Limiting the Usefulness of Silver Weapons
Of course, silver is a softer metal so the weapons made from it probably aren’t as durable as normal weapons, but I kind of think that silver weapons are only likely to be used against lycanthropes and, maybe, certain undead. After all, in the original Dracula, Count Dracula was susceptible to silver weapons just like a lycanthrope.
Anyway, I like the twist using pure silver weapons instead of merely silvered weapons against lycanthropes. I thought the Electrum Guild was a cool idea. Unfortunately, the group I was DMing for figured out the Electrum Guild a little too quickly. But I still think it was cool.
Silver weapons are a great tool for Dungeon Masters. It gives a little flavor and spice to campaigns or adventures that revolve around lycanthropes or, alternatively, undead. It also serves as a great example on how to incorporate special weaknesses to certain creatures for those DMs who like to create their own creatures.