Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Grognard's Grimoire: Wereshark

Reading closely through Holmes lately has reminded me of an off-handed reference in the monster section, mentioning "were-sharks in Polynesia." As a younger person, I always found the idea of weresharks a bit odd, but compelling at the same time. I'll admit to being mildly unnerved by sharks, especially their soulless, empty eyes. They don't frighten me in quite the same way as spiders do, but they do frighten me, so the idea of men who can change themselves into sharks -- or, worse yet, human-shark hybrids -- creeps me out.

Anyway, Dr. Holmes seems to have been fond of weresharks, as they appear a lot in things he's written, including a little piece that appeared in Alarums & Excursions, illustrated by Chris Holmes who, I believe, is his son. What follows is my interpretation of the wereshark for Labyrinth Lord, based on Holmes's descriptions of them and their abilities.

The text in the quote box below is hereby designated Open Game Content via the Open Game License.

Lycanthrope, Wereshark

No Enc.: 1d6 (2d6)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20') or Swim: 180' (60')
Armor Class: 2 (9)
Hit Dice: 6
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 2d6
Save: F4
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: XX
XP: 820

Like many of the creatures called lycannthropes, weresharks are humans cursed with a disease that allows them to take the form of an animal, in this case a shark. Unlike some types of lycanthropes, weresharks may choose to take the form of either a 10-foot long shark or a horrific shark-like being of similar size, but with powerful arms and legs that enable it to walk on land. In either form, weresharks possess rows of razor sharp teeth and glowing red eyes, the latter of which is a sure way to distinguish a wereshark from an ordinary shark.

Weresharks share all the other abilities and weaknesses of lycanthropes and can spread lycanthropy to other humans. They can likewise summon 1-2 mako sharks to aid them if a sea is nearby. Weresharks prefer to dwell near and prey upon coastal communities, but there are reports of weresharks who've traveled further inland, some taking up residence in subterranean locales with large bodies of saltwater.


  1. Sharks have sometimes been found far upriver in freshwater, too, so perhaps weresharks could threat places far from coastal estuaries, just as the party thinks it's safe...

  2. According to Sahlins, Hawaiian chiefs were considered "sharks who walk on land," with whom it was only safe to deal at certain times of year: I wouldn't be surprised to learn of a similar landshark tradition in Polynesia.

  3. This would explain the thinking behind the Wereshark miniature from Reaper Miniatures that I found on the racks at my FLGS - caused much derision at the time but does make sense in that cultural context.

  4. There was a really good trilogy, the Island Warrior, by Carol Severance [Demon Drums, Storm Caller, Sorcerous Sea] which was novel for a number of reasons. Firstly it was set in the Polynesian mythos, where the difficulty in being a warrior is actually coping with the fact you killed someone, because the spirits of those you slay would haunt you. The other interesting thing was it was set after the end of the big war, and dealt with the fallout of the famous warrior who had abandoned the fight. She was fearsome because her totem was the shark god, so she had nothing to fear about killing others.

    It's an interesting take on the idea of were. A spiritual, rather than a physical change. But being no less powerful or useful for all that.

    [@Anthony: Bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) are notorious for being able to enter fresh water (and yes, there are documented cases of them feeding on people there).]

  5. Actually I don't find their eyes soulless at all. They are in fact rather beautiful creatures and some of them are surprisingly intelligent and curious. Although the usual method of indulging their curiosity (at least in the case of the Great White) is to "gum" the strange object (it's not a bite, because they don't extend the jaw to engage the teeth; it's just the part of the shark where they have the greatest touch sensitivity), which may be slightly off-putting to the person being gummed...

    And probably my favourite monster from The Arduin Grimoire is the Air Shark, although I much preferred to give them magical flight rather than having them filled with hydrogen. Although Phraint do come next. And Hell Kittens. And...

  6. I'm glad you gave them the "shark/human hybrid" option. One of the things that kept me from fearing the were-shark was the fact that I spend most of my time of dry land. So if offended a were-shark in his human form, I imagined he would transform into this big shark which would lie on the ground, gasping and flopping, until it died while I watched in surprise and puzzlement from a safe distance.

  7. Oh, come on. It's only a dolphin...

  8. Limpey,

    The Hybrid form is there because of Holmes's original descriptions. It's a bit goofy on some level, but it's also a bit frightening too. The idea of an ambulatory shark-man strikes a chord deep in my psyche, I guess.

  9. The hybrid shark man form is so the wereshark can knock on your door and claim to be a Candygram.

  10. I always thought the wereshark was odd until I read Holmes' Maze Of Peril. I'll be throwing some in my game.

  11. By complete coincidence, there is a (non-lycanthropic) shark-man in the upcoming B/X Companion.

  12. I used to think weresharks were goofy (weregoofy?) until I read the the Hawaiian legend of Nanaue:

    Kind of disturbing, especially the hidden deformity.

    Another version here:

  13. One of the first projects I worked on when I moved to Maui was doing some research on the cultural traditions of the island of Molokai (which is part of Maui County , although a separate island). I found a lot of were-shark references. Were-sharks are pretty damn scary if your culture revolves around sailing in little wooden canoes.

    I also found a lot of references to what might well be called "sorcery", including a nifty story about a god (that is, a wooden icon) made from a poison tree. The priest of the poison tree god could kill anyone he wanted by magically poisoning his enemies. I'm so using that at some point in a game.