Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wilderness Encounter: The Wendigo

Deep in the forest of Kynmerly, the huntsman has wandered for many days... lost amidst the blizzard and without any more rations to sustain him, he is slowly starving to death. Finding shelter underneath a small rock ledge within the woods. Being too weak to carry on, the huntsman eats some snow and waits for death to come upon him. HAs he begins to doze off, he smells something strange, like rotting flesh. Opening his bleary eyes, he sees a shadowy shape with yellowed eyes rising over him. In fear, he tries to scream, but the sounds do not come. Then, there is darkness...

Upon regaining consciousness, the huntsman arises. The snow has finally stopped and he finds that he is miraculously still alive, but severely famished. Looking around he sees one of the rescue party that his community sent out to find him. The fellow villager waves to the huntsman and approaches. "You're lucky to be alive!", the man says as he draws near. "Here, let me halkp you." But those are the last words of kindness the villager ever says, for the huntman lunges and stabs the would-be rescuer in the heart with his knife. The huntsman eases the body down and removes the knife, licking some of the blood off of it. Now the huntsman is beginning to feel better and now he knows that he will survive.


The Wendigo is a creature embodies the Native myth of what will happen to a solo hunter should they ever transgress the taboo of eating humanoid flesh. If a person is afflicted longterm starvation or is even alone in the wilderness for extended periods of time, etc. they may be visited by the "spirit" of the wendigo. In game terms, this can be a mental disorder and/or a spirit possession. Failing either of two saving throws vs disease, they will turn into the legendary cannibal night monster, the windigo.

A typical description of the wendigo:
The Weendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tautly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Weendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody ... Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Weendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.”

Over the years, the Wendigo has been given numerous and varied attributes, including the ability to change shape, a body and/or heart of stone or ice, and formidable strength and speed. In some accounts, the creature was said to be in excess of ten to fifteen feet tall, with sallow, yellowish skin, glowing eyes, long yellowing fangs and an abnormally long tongue. Still other accounts suggested a creature so thin that it couldn’t even be seen from the side.

These possibilities may or may not be the actual appearance of a being suffering from wendigo madness - it is up to the GM. However, to others that encounter such a cannibalistic, anti-social creature that has been isolated (except for feeding killings) they may seem to fit such a description!

If this is just a psychological disorder, then Wendigo psychosis is a condition in which sufferers developed an insatiable desire to eat humanoid flesh, usually of their own kind, even when other food sources are readily available

 It is said that the spirit of the wendigo will attempt to possess any person, especially during a fever, prolonged starvation or an attack of madness. Often it invades the heart as a lump of ice. Once possessed by the spirit of the Wendigo, the person is forever altered, unless they are cured of the psychosis by a shaman or similar healer. Healing a Wendigo possession takes a ritual that simultaneously cures the disease/casts out the possession and sets the mindet back to rights - this is so they may join the community again as a "normal" member.

A Wendigo on the loose in a dark forest may be glimpsed vomiting ice. The victim’s face may turn black with frostbite. He may be able to fly through winter nights in search of new prey, his own species. Any man who goes on a solo hunt and never returns may have fallen victim to a wendigo. Eating human flesh, even in an emergency, may be a sign that a starving hunter as “turned wendigo.” Such a wretch will be shunned by all members of his group, and probably driven from the camp. For once the wendigo has tasted human flesh, he will yearn to feed again.

Northern lore suggests that one can become a Wendigo:

  • being bitten by one
  • tasting humanoid flesh
  • extreme hunger
  • being bewitched by a shaman
  • or even by simply dreaming of a Wendigo

I discovered in researching this, that D&D 4e has a sort of Wendigo "Sub-race" of whatever the character's real race is. The D&D Wiki's tag-line for the wendigo is: Savage, bestial versions of their former selves, Wendigos escaped a cold, lonely death. Now they are marked by the desperate measures they resorted to.

Reading about the Wendigo from the Wiki and various mythological sources, I would suggest for game play, that anyone suffering as a wendigo have these effects:

*their Strength raised by +2/10%
*get two checks for survival on any hardship/toughness saving roll
* -2/-10% to their Charisma/Willpower
*feel the hunger for humanoid flesh... if they do not feed on it within the week, they must save vs Charm/Willpower or attempt to murder and consume the next possible victim they cross.
*Alignment (if any) become more Chaotic/Evil

Rangers, Wood Elves, Hunters and similar classes all are at increased risk of being touched by the Wendigo. There are rumors of talismans, rituals of appeasement, rare herbs and other means of keeping the spirit of the wendigo at bay. These may be superstions or actually be effective at the GM's call. It is rare for a Druid to become a Wendigo, but if that were to happen, it would be a dreadful thing!

Remember, Wendigo's tend to be loners and are generally savage and tend towards paranoia. Only by being cured can they ever hope to be anything like a regular member of communal society... barring a cure, they will forever be touched by the madness of the spirit of the Wendigo.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great monster. I'm often surprised that it doesn't appear more frequently in Monster Manuals, Bestiaries, etc. than it does.