Worldbuilding for Deepwoods

Deepwoods - Martha Bechtel - Twitter

So, a goodly few days ago there was a #vss365 Twitter prompt that accidentally spawned a new ‘verse and a short story idea almost instantly. Not that I needed yet another ‘verse with werewolves… but whatchagonnado. 🤷‍♀️

Story Sum-up: A hiker has a violent encounter with a secretive pack of werewolves in the deep woods, who then kidnap him to wait for the next full moon to see if he’s been accidentally infected.

Unlike my other werewolf ‘verses, these wolves are the more traditional ‘go crazy at the full moon’ kind. Hence the existence of a pack that hides out in the deep wilderness to keep folks safe.

But that sort of werewolf comes with all sorts of worldbuilding issues… so let’s have at it!

What is a werewolf?

They are a human who turns into an aggressive normal wolf during the full moon, retaining none of their humanity. Not quite at the level of ‘would attack a Moose/car’, but definitely at the ‘hungry and looking for a fight within reason.’

Outside of the full moon, they are normal humans without any enhanced senses or wolfish mental behaviors.

These werewolves heal faster than normal, unless injured by silver, and won’t die of old age, disease, or most poisonings. They can be killed with ‘normal’ amounts of trauma damage. The healing is nothing that would be overly alarming if glanced at by medical personnel– but they’d notice something unusually lucky about them if they were doing long-term observation.

The transformation between human and wolf is instantaneous and whatever clothing is worn at the time is tucked away by the magic (which includes hats and backpacks with nothing living in them). Anything held, however, is just dropped to the ground.

How do you become a werewolf?

It’s a magical bite-only pathogen, which is only effective when the werewolf is in wolf form. The guess is that the original werewolf was cursed by someone, but no one knows for sure. (Much of the werewolf mythology is ‘best guesses’ in this world as none of the original wolves are still around and they are too fragmented to have good history-keeping.)

Some werewolves will get ‘stuck’ in their human or wolf form during full blood moons and won’t reset until the next full moon. This is the trigger for the story as the hiker had been out to get some moon photos and interacts with a stuck wolf several days after the full moon. (So they don’t know if the bite is ‘real’ or not.)

Bitten humans won’t turn into werewolves until the first full moon after they’re bitten, thus the kidnapping.

How does no one know they exist?

This… is the hard part.

Since I want to keep this ‘verse in the modern-day, the werewolves and the issues they’d cause have to be ignorable– since they can’t be explained.

One way would be to have the hiding pack be the only werewolves in the world, but that doesn’t sit right for me. There could be a sort of faux-Highlander draw that pulls them towards the hidden pack since one of the oldest wolves lives there, but then how did the new wolves get bitten?

Plot, meet hole.

So werewolves exist outside the pack, but have to fall into an SEP field.

How do you know someone is a werewolf?

You see them turn into a wolf (or human) or having a secured area and ended up with the opposite of what you started with.

Additionally, if you have a wolf and it bites someone and the bitten person turns into a werewolf… that’s a good hint. 😂

(The healing factor would just show there was something odd about them.)

You could have it so when you kill a wolf it turns back into a human or that the human and wolf DNA’s are wrong somehow, but that’s– messy and something I want to avoid with this ‘verse.

So you shoot a wolf, it stays a wolf and your neighbors just think you’re crazy. Shoot a human… and you have a few more things to worry about.

How do you prove someone is a werewolf?

If you just tell someone, they’ll say you’re crazy. If you get it on video, they’ll say it’s CGI. So really, the only way is to either show them in person (or have them capture it on video themselves).

So that leaves us with ‘lock them up somewhere and wait for them to change’ and that’s something you can do at just about any tech level.

So. Right.

I need a good in-universe reason for why if you are watching/waiting for a werewolf to transform, it won’t happen. And it has to be in a way that the werewolves can’t impose on themselves (like just being around other people), otherwise there’s no reason to hide in the woods.

Rassum frassum.

What was/is the curse?

So, let’s backtrack and figure out why lycanthropy is even a thing.

In this ‘verse lycanthrope started with a magical punishment of unknown origin that cascaded out from the original target(s). 

The magic turns the person into a predatory animal that is driven to attack (within reason) things around it. Wolves aren’t great at property destruction (unlike bears) so it must have been meant to harm people or livestock.

The wolves aren’t driven to hunt down their family, or they wouldn’t be able to hide in the woods (unless they have no family left?), so the curse would have been go hurt whoever you run into.

So why would you curse someone like that? How/why does it equal good revenge?

Let’s say you have a nice peaceful life and then humans start moving in and causing havoc. You chase them off, but there’s one really annoying one that you can’t get rid of.

So you turn them into a wolf with the desire to form a pack and harass the other humans instead.

The person you cursed was very wily and very annoying when they were human… and they stay the same as a werewolf. They’re just annoying someone else. Victory!

Not-so-amazingly all of the humans living anywhere near you decide that leaving is a Really Good Idea and scadoodle. The werewolves follow them since they are still led by the original wolf who is driven by the need to harass them.

Why would the magic help hide them and how?

If you want an effective werewolf human-deterrent, you need one that’s hard to catch, so part of the transformation magic should include a ‘is it safe to change’.

But what keeps the werewolves from being able to game the system? In theory, they could just spend the full moon out in public where bad things would happen if they changed.

So let’s put some limits on the ‘safe to change’ bit!

An unsafe location would be confinement, being near or watched by a person with malicious intent (trying to prove they are a werewolf), or near a person who would react violently and is capable of killing them.

Thus a lockup at a jail would count because they couldn’t escape and if they changed they’d be met with lethal force, but a lockup at a pound wouldn’t (since you could escape and most likely no one is watching).

Being at a party would not count, unless there was someone at the party willing and able to respond violently to prevent their escape.

It would be possible to suppress the shifts if you made sure to always be in the right sort of company (heavily armed and easily startled), but it wouldn’t be possible for most people.

…Which could lead to the amusing setup of two werewolves accidentally depending on each other to keep them in check because they assumed the other one was just a human.

Anywho.

But what about…

What if someone is bitten, but on the first full moon they are in an unsafe situation so they don’t change– are they still a werewolf?

Survey says: yes.

So, in theory, it would be possible for someone to become a werewolf and not know it for a bit. Possibly years if they end up in jail or have a very dangerous lifestyle. Hmm…

If it’s hard to prove someone’s a werewolf, why aren’t there a billion of them running around?

Because there are plenty of situations where ‘just kill it’ will outweigh ‘make sure we know who/what we’re killing’. Especially in wolf form.

But if there aren’t that many werewolves how is anyone ever bitten?

There’s a roughly 28-day window between bite and symptoms, which in the modern day is plenty of time to travel home after being bit by some strange dog while vacationing. Mwahahaha!

Right, Time for a Story Then?

Yup! *wanders off to go storybuild*



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