What is a zooanthrope/What is zooanthropy?
In Epitome, there are a lot of potential ways to change your shape into that of an animal. Obviously, not all of these are zooanthropes, at least not to the definition used in this guide. Zooanthropes, more commonly known as wereanimals, are Humans afflicted with an inherited or acquired STD which subtly alters them on a metagenetic level, granting them semi-bestial features. These features correspond to a common animal, such as wolves, rats, some species of birds, and even some reptiles have been recorded. Additionally, the afflicted is able to change into an advanced 'hybrid' form, gaining traits from their parent species as well as supernatural physical qualities, defenses, and regenerative rate.
There are downsides as well. The afflicted, regardless of whether it is inherited or acquired, is not in full control of their changes. Heightened aggression, fear, or even arousal can incite a change. Additionally, the sight of the full moon seems to awaken the change as well. With practice, this can be resisted, but those who acquire the virus later in life tend to lack the mental conditioning necessary to maintain a Human form.
The virus that causes zooanthropy is transmitted through sharing of blood, zooanthrope saliva entering a Human's bloodstream, or sexual intercourse. Casual contact, even somewhat intimate acts such as kissing(unless the Human has sores in their mouth), will not threaten infection. There has been no recorded instances of zooanthropy being passed to animals, and the virus' effects on metahumans, demihumans, and other non-human humanoids has not been recorded, but such individuals seeking contact which poses a possible risk are advised to be extremely cautious. Humans given the disease will always have the same parent species that the one that gave them has.
Zooanthropes have immeasurable defensive capability, making them nearly impervious to most forms of harm, and what is strong enough to harm them is often healed away quickly by their amazing regenerative capabilities. But both of these supernatural capabilities can be thwarted. Fire seems to burn away whatever protections the zooanthropes toughened skin provides, and they are highly allergic to silver, which also seems to disrupt all forms of healing, natural and otherwise, for as long as silver is in the zooanthrope's bloodstream. A common assassination technique against some zooanthropic noblemen in ancient China was to put a small sliver of silver in with their meal of rice, followed by a knife in the kidneys later on. The zooanthrope would slowly bleed to death, unable to be aided by their natural regeneration.
Okay, so what does all this actually mean?
Basically, Weres are people with a disease that passes through a bite or a screw. They live a dual-natured existence. On one hand, they're human. But even the most civilized Were has an aspect that they call the Beast. Their animal side. It lends them power, but makes them something decidedly other than Human.
A Were has two forms. Their normal, Human form is the one most commonly seen. The other form is an amalgam of human and the animal that they're attuned to. They change forms by giving into the Beast. Sometimes, they lose control of the Beast, like when emotions get too high. The Beast is also very strong if it sees a full moon, and can try to wrest control during these times. Born Weres are trained from an early age in techniques to repress the Beast, while turned Weres, also called Thralls, tend not to be.
So, there's a lot of Weres in Epitome.
Not just Epitome. The zooanthropic community is a global one, spanning every continent and most countries. Werebears in the Canadian north, werewolves on London's streets, weretigers wandering the deep jungles of Africa, wereravens nestled on Mt. Fuji. They're everywhere, in many species.
Wait… Why haven't I heard of them before, then?
Well, just because they're everywhere doesn't mean they like their presence known. The global Were community collectively holds the Secret. Every one of them stays in hiding, keeping their true nature from the outside world. Those that would threaten the sanctity of the Secret are killed, and the Secret buried by any means necessary.
In the 1600s, 4,000 werewolves and at least 20,000 humans throughout Europe were hunted down and killed by zealous religious humans in an attempt to eradicate the lycanthropic population entirely. Priests wielding bibles alongside guns loaded with silver shot or bullets, farmers razing entire villages to kill a single family of otherwise peaceful werewolves, and other atrocities were common. This culminated in a riot in central London in 1666 that led to what would be known as the Great Fire of London. Eventually, the attacks and violence ceased, and soon the world forgot the monsters that walked amoung them.
Okay. So, where does Epitome fit in?
Amoung zooanthropic communities, Epitome City is regarded as a haven of civilization. While the Secret is still kept there, zooanthropes find it easier to communicate with one another about 'Were stuff' in a city where such things are mundane by comparison. In addition, it's a lot easier to hide a Thrall's presence there, and a lot easier to cover up the odd 'slip'. This is not to say grievous and obvious violations of the Secret aren't still dealt with the utmost in cold efficiency, however.
Many of the powers, abilities, skills, feats and drawbacks apply well to zooanthropic characters. Consider these options as you build your Were…
- Higher WIS, lower INT: Most zooanthropes find themselves more in touch with nature. They rely more on their instincts than hard facts or logic. While zooanthropes are by no means stupid, they possess a more hands-on knowledge, preferring to do away with the abstract and remain in the practical.
- Higher CON: Zooanthropes are by default a tough species. the Change is a painful experience, and the body prepares itself to endure hardships as appropriate.
- Climb, Handle Animal, Knowledge: Earth Sciences, Notice, Survival, Swim: This group of skills reflect a natural Were's early childhood training, usually somewhere far from civilization, where they learn to get in touch with themselves, nature, and the Beast. Obviously, for some Weres, different skills in this group are more or less useful than others.
- Concentration: Another important skill for Weres, this one is taught to Weres as early as their first Change. As important to one's nature as embracing the Beast is, there are also times when it could be detrimental, or dangerous. Concentration is the key skill for suppressing the Change.
- Animal Empathy: Many Weres feel shunned by society and tend to feel a deeper connection to the animal kindgom. Natural Weres from a large family are often brought up in the wilderness with many of their own kind, to foster the dual nature of the Were. Either way, the result is the same; a deep understanding of the Earth's fauna.
- Attack Focus: Melee: Most Weres who embrace the Beast tend not to use ranged weapons as often in combat, preferring to use their own natural strength and speed to defend or hunt.
- Attractive: In their Human forms, many Weres possess a kind of exotic beauty, a graceful stride, a regal bearing, or just an air of strength. Sometimes, it's even more subtle than that, and it's just pheremones.
- Blind-Fight: Nocturnal Weres, before they develop low-light or darkvision, tend to rely on non-visual sensory input. Natural Weres with a nocturnal parent species often develop a knack for knowing just when to duck, and just where to attack, even when they can't see.
- Diehard: Natural instinct contains a strong sense of self-preservation. Weres don't go down without a fight, and everyone knows the most dangerous creature is the wounded and cornered one. Diehard reflects a pure need to survive, at all costs.
- Endurance: Spend enough time out in the wild, and you'll find yourself pushing your limits. Push your limits enough, and they'll give, and grow. Weres with the benefit of training in the wild often gain an almost supernatural resistance to fatigue.
- Environmental Adaptation: Extreme environments apparently weren't an issue when parent species were chosen for zooanthropes. Weres that have arctic, aquatic, or otherwise potentially inhibiting environments that are the home of their parent species feel just a little more at home there.
- Favored Environment: Weres tend to feel at home in the natural habitat of their parent species on an unconscious level. Wereravens seek high places, werewolves and werebears head to temperate or taiga forests, wererats feel safer underground.
- Improved Grab/Grapple/Pin: Weres with a large parent species tend to be bulky in both forms, and learn how to use that size to their advantage.
- Fearless/Lionheart: Fear is a powerful tool of the Beast. Natural Weres are put through intense mental conditioning at an early age, so much so that mundane horrors don't scare them nearly as much as fear itself, and what it brings.
- Fearsome Presence: Weres in their shifted forms are naturally a frightening thing for most people to behold, a hideous abomination of nature. Even the stoutest hearts in the presence of a ticked-off werewolf will get nervous.
- Quick Change: An essential tool for a natural Were or a long-time Thrall. They just don't make clothes that can handle the Change, so either you shred your clothes and get to walk around nude when you change back, or you learn to strip. Fast.
- Track: A common feat for Werewolves to perform is to follow a person for days by scent alone. Generally, Weres are naturalists, and predators have to stalk their prey. Not much difference between a deer and a Human when it comes to tracking them down.
- Uncanny Dodge: While this feat may seem an unusual choice for one to attribute to Weres, their natural instincts and enhanced senses give them a sort of danger sense. Sometimes, they can just feel an attack or unwelcome presence with their guts. A Were that trusts their instincts beyond their senses becomes a lot harder to hit.
- Additional Limbs: Many parent species have a tail. Few have much else that would be considered an extra limb, though.
- Alternate form: A must. Most of your powers should be contained within an Alternate Form. The Beast grants you some nifty little features out of your animal form, but if you want the full might, you gotta give in.
- Burrowing: If your parent species burrows, you might want to take this power while shifted.
- Comprehend: Comprehend(Animals) is a very common power for natural Weres, as their communion with the Beast allows them to speak with the Beast's tongue. It's not uncommon for Thralls to learn this power either. This one is usually accessible in either form. An option might be to Limit the power to animals of the same type as your parent species, or at least the same family, but it's not necessary.
- Concealment: Not a common power, all things considered, but if you're a werechameleon or the like, it's possible. If your shifted form's peliage has a pattern designed to hide you in certain specific circumstances, you could take Limited to reflect that.
- Enhanced Trait: Tons of fun to be had with this power in your shifted form. Play with it as you feel appropriate, and consider taking negative ranks in it for things such as INT, to reflect a further regression into an animal mindset.
- Flight: Got a bird for a parent species? How about a bat? This would probably be a good idea if you said yes to either.
- Growth: A very common power for Weres, particularly those with large parent species. You change, you get bigger. Suggested to set the duration to 'permanent' in this case-You're big when shifted, or you're not.
- Immovable: Werebears, wererhinos, and other very large Weres would do well to grab this power, as well as the Unstoppable extra.
- Immunity: The virus that causes zooanthropy is… territorial. If you're playing a Were, that'll be the only disease you'll ever get. Consider this a strong suggestion to put a point in for diseases. Another would be poisons, for a similar reason. The virus boosts your immune system to phenomenal levels, allowing you to withstand any poison, drug, or disease that comes your way. Most shifted Weres also have an immunity to fatigue. They can go for days, if need be.
- Leaping: A possibility. Lots of parent species have strong back legs for springing.
- Mind Shield: In shifted form, the mind becomes such a tangled, jumbled mess of man and Beast that mentalists become confused by the alien amalgam. This tends to thwart them and frustrate them to no end. For the rest, there's the Beast's simple indomitable instinct-driven will. A good possible addition.
- Protection: Certainly a good addition to your shifted form, and to some degree Impervious Protection should be on every shifted Were's list. Just be sure to add in the Power Loss clause for silver and fire(It's common in combination).
- Regeneration: Another must-have for Were characters, with a lesser form in Human form and a stronger version when shifted. Be sure to add a power loss for silver and fire(Another common frequency).
- Shrinking: Not many Weres actually get smaller when they shift, but anything is possible. As with Growth, it's advised to make the power permanent-You're small, or you're not.
- Speed: Most land-based shifted Weres will get this power at some level or another, though very rarely over rank 3.
- Strike: Claw- or tooth-based attacks are good ideas for Strike powers, if you want to go that way.
- Super-movement: Slithering, wall-crawling, slow fall, sure-footed, swinging and trackless are all possible forms of super-movement for shifted Weres, depending on parent species.
- Super-senses: Most super-senses can apply in some way or another to a Were. Some of the lesser ones like scent and low-light vision work in Human form, while tremorsense or blindsight could work for shifted form. Precognition and Danger Sense, reflecting animal instinct, apply well for either form and most species.
- Super-strength: Great for bigger Weres.
- Swimming: Water-based Weres could make good use of this power.
- Involuntary Transformation: Every Were should have this. The Full Moon and heightened emotions are considered Common in combination. Experienced Weres can reduce the intensity with time and practice, but never completely erase it(though taking a lot of ranks in Concentration can offset this).
- One-Way Transformation: It takes time, patience, and intense mental conditioning to quell the Beast and leash it again once you've let it loose. Most Weres younger than 20, and nearly all Thralls, just don't have what it takes. Thralls have the benefit of being able to pop a bite of Wolfsbane and force a change back, though.
- Power Loss: As discussed earlier, a Were's defenses are of no use against fire or silver. The combination is Common.
- Vulverable: Fire hurts. A lot. Consider this.
Playing a Were
As mentioned before, The Secret is an all-important aspect of the Were community. Weres are expected to abide by it, they're expected to teach it to their Thralls and children, and they're expected to enforce it if it's endangered, regardless of who needs to be silenced. If they fail in this endeavour, and word gets out, it could mean bringing the wrath of others in the community. As mentioned before, Epitome is a half-exception to the rule; minor slips, near-misses, and the like are tolerated to an extent. If it's persistent or severe, however, the full rules apply. The Secret is something of an unwritten code, people have different interpretations of it, but the spirit is the same: Only Weres and select priviledged and trustworthy individuals are to know of the existence of Weres. Plain and simple.
Wolfsbane, also known as monkshood, is the only known substance to suppress the virus that causes zooanthropy. When taken in a small dosage after being bitten or engaging in sexual intercourse with a zooanthrope, a human can resist the disease, allowing regular contact with zooanthropes with no risk of infection. Additionally, if a Thrall ingests Wolfsbane, they can suppress or reverse the Change for up to three hours.
Unfortunately, Wolfsbane is also highly toxic to humans, and not very pleasant for Thralls either. With the appropriate dosage, the subject will experience a series of side effects the Were community calls the 'Bane Shakes'. These side effects include, based on amount taken, body weight, and general resistance to toxins: Shaking, vomiting, diarrhea, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, fever, and in the case of a human overdosing, death. If an appropriate amount is taken, the side effects will last no longer than an hour.
Thralls and Natural Weres
In the Were community, there are two very distinct version of zooanthrope: Inherited, also known as 'Natural', and Acquired, also known as 'Thralls'. Most of the physiological differences between the two groups are subtle or superficial, but the real difference is in mentality and experience.
Natural Weres are born with the disease. They were never a 'pure' human. Nearly all Naturals are raised within the family in a semi-private manner, at least long enough to give the young the instruction and mental conditioning necessary to enforce the Secret. A Natural that doesn't receive this training and instruction is at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to his peers, and even Thralls. Physiologically, Naturals differ from Thralls in that their bodies cannot process Wolfsbane, suppressing the Change. In other words, an untrained Natural is a great risk to the Secret, and many Were communities will go to great lengths to train a Natural any way they can.
Thralls, on the other hand, gained the disease through a bite, blood transfusion, or intercourse. They were once human, and lose no memories of those times. Lacking the early mental conditioning of their Natural peers, Thralls find it much harder to control the Beast and resist Changing. Many Thralls go their entire lives being unable to resist the Beast without Wolfsbane. Thralls, by some physiological quirk, are blessed with the ability to process Wolfsbane, allowing them to suppress the Change, albeit temporarily. They are subject to the Bane Shakes, however, for at least part of this time. Long-time users of Wolfsbane can often develop nerve damage, causing them to constantly shake. This takes at least a couple of decades to develop, however, so a Thrall with proper mentoring can learn to hold the Beast back and avoid the fate of becoming a 'Shaker'.