Friday 20 July 2018

Wendigo Sickness

Or: does eating human flesh turn you into a ghoul?

So, I saw a bit of discussion about whether eating people should do something nasty to you, and a lot of cultures have a myth about how eating human flesh turns you into a monster. Wendigos, ghuls and gaki spring to mind, but there are others. Cannibalism is a very common theme in mythology, after all.
Here's some mechanics for that. Each time a PC eats a person, they go one step down the Wendigo Sickness tracker. You get the effects of your current level of Wendigo Sickness, and everything from previous levels. Eating the same person more than once doesn't count multiple times. If you were tricked/would have starved if you didn't eat/were compelled, you get to make a Save vs Magic (if you want) and if you pass, you can chose not to go down the Wendigo sickness tracker.

The first meal: No mechanical effects, but the eater knows they will risk becoming a Wendigo if they eat again.
The second meal: No mechanical effects, but roll for Signs of the Wendigo.
The third meal: A mouthful of human flesh is enough to sustain you for a day.
The fourth: You get a bite attack that deals d4 damage, that you can make instead of attacking with a weapon.
The fifth: Each time you eat a person, you heal 1 hp. Only once per person.
The sixth: Roll another Sign of the Wendigo.
The seventh: You get no sustenance from food that isn't meat, & the damage of your bite increases to a d6.
The eighth: You may make your bite attack in addition to attacking with a weapon.
The ninth: Roll another Sign of the Wendigo.
The tenth: When given the opportunity to eat a person (such as somebody you could kill and eat without being found out) but don't want to do so, you must Save vs Magic; if you fail you must attempt to eat them and roll up a new Sign of the Wendigo. No need to save if you're going to eat them anyway.
The eleventh: You heal as much damage as your character level when you eat a person, instead of 1 hp.
The twelfth: Roll another Sign of the Wendigo
The thirteenth:  You get no benefit from food that isn't people meat, & the damage of your bite increases to a d8.
Each time thereafter: Every time you roll a Save vs Magic to avoid eating somebody and fail, roll your class's hit-dice; if it comes up as a 1, you transform fully into a Wendigo and become an NPC driven only by their hunger. Roll up a new character.

The Signs of the Wendigo:
Roll d30, take the next down if a duplicate is rolled. Physical mutations emerge over the course of a few days.
  1. Your feet lengthen, toes warping into hooves.
  2. Your jaw lengthens into a muzzle.
  3. You begin sprouting little antlers from your brow. 
  4. Fur grows over your shoulders, upper arms and back.
  5. The skin peels from your fingers, leaving claws of sharp bone.
  6. Skin peels from your limbs, revealing muscle and sinew beneath.
  7. Your eyes become yellow and reflect light like a wolf or cat.
  8. Your teeth lengthen into fangs.
  9. Your neck elongates and hunches forwards.
  10. You grow emaciated and deathly pale.
  11. You become cold to the touch.
  12. All your teeth save your canines and incisors drop out.
  13. You smell of rotting meat.
  14. Your voice becomes raspy and hoarse.
  15. Your eyelids and lips recede, exposing your teeth and preventing you from blinking.
  16. You become immune to the cold.
  17. Your feet don't touch the ground when you walk.
  18. All natural animals instinctively fear you, failing all morale checks against you.
  19. Damage from your bite increases to a d8.
  20. You are never slowed or hindered by natural terrain such as steep slopes, thick woodland, marshes etc.
  21. So long as you stand perfectly still, there is a 5-in-6 chance that mundane humans will be unable to perceive you. Animals, wizards, the insane and so on still notice you.
  22. You no longer need to sleep.
  23. You become immune to ingested poisons.
  24. Those damaged by your bite must Save vs Paralysis or be frozen in horror for 2d6 rounds.
  25. Those who survive your bite are immediately pushed d6 steps down the Wendigo tracker.
  26. You can see in moonlight or starlight as well as if it was broad daylight.
  27. You can walk up walls and over ceilings like a spider.
  28. You can smell people out to a range of thirty feet, and track people by scent like a wolf.
  29. You never leave tracks, scent or other traces of your passing.
  30. Your movement speed doubles.


  1. If the person is eating human flesh without knowing what they are eating, will it still count as being tricked for the purpose of the saving thrown or the person has to be aware of the situation after the fact to have a saving thrown?

    1. If you don't know you're eating human meat, you get a save.

  2. I don't think I've ever had a situation in one of my games where this would be relevant*, but it's definitely a cool concept.

    I'm assuming that when it says "eat a person" here, it means "eat a significant amount of a person", so that accidentally eating a hair the cook dropped in your food (or even some blood, if they cut themself while working on it or something) wouldn't trigger a Save, but you also couldn't avoid the effects by leaving, say, one finger of someone uneaten.

    And so many ways it could be expanded or varied: Where would you put the distinction on "person" in games that have multiple species (e.g. elves, dwarves, gnomes, etc.)? Is it eating any sentient creature? Only one of the same species? Anything that's roughly similar, so eating another humanoid would trigger it, but eating something like an intelligent deer wouldn't? Can it affect non-sentient creatures, like if, for example, a pack of wolves are starving, and after one of them collapses, the others eat it? Could there be some cultures (possibly only of specific species) who practice funerary cannibalism or something else, and are either inherently immune to Wendigo transformation, or have worked protections against it into the rituals surrounding their cannibalism? Kind of thinking of the Hyenas from Ursula Vernon's Digger on that last one.

    Thanks for getting me thinking about these things!

    *The only time I can recall someone eating a person, they were already a werewolf, which I assume would take precedence, since that's a natural act for a werewolf.

  3. Now I find myself looking for things to put into play that would feed into this theme...

    The terrible hag who offers a tasty stew to her guests...

    Ghouls as a significant feature/hidden culture of the setting, rather than just a lower level undead nuisance...

    What happens when zombie-apocalypse victims consume a proto-wendigo...?

    The mind reels...

  4. That seems like something made for esoteric enterprises...

  5. Cannibalism might be a cool thing to incorporate into a Neoclassical Geek Revival game as well. You could track points of cannibalism alongside the other points you accrue such as stress or suspicion.

  6. This and wounded daughter are wonderful. Sideways progressions are a neat concept.