Planeswalker's Guide to Innistrad: Kessig and Werewolves
The province of Kessig consists of rolling farmlands surrounded by grasping fingers of dense, dark woods. The woods hide werewolves, ghosts, and other supernatural menaces, while the farmlands support a hardscrabble rural livelihood for Kessig's humans.
Ulvenwald, the Misty Wood
Howl-haunted woods of aspen, birch, and maple border the edges of Kessig province. The woods are almost supernaturally dense, filled with dark, sinuous trunks and a constant, hanging mist. The trees have broad leaves in muted reds, golds, and greens, and the forest floor is papered in damp leaves. The Ulvenwald tends to isolate Kessig from the other provinces, as travelers through the woods are subject to attacks by werewolves, hauntings by all manner of primordial spirits, and mysterious disappearances in the mist. At night, the autumnal colors of Ulvenwald turn stark and steely under the silver glow of the moon. The only spots of color that appear are the luminous eyes of animals and the geistfires of shimmering apparitions.
Concept art by Adam Paquette
Kessiger Culture: Commoners and Rural Laborers
For the Kessiger, life is work. Kessigers are farmers, millers, weavers, stonemasons: they are close to the land and must work hard for every meal. This makes them self reliant, pragmatic, and plainspoken. A Kessiger doesn't purchase tools from the general store; he forges them himself. She doesn't learn arithmetic or memorize the names of royal families; she learns harvest dates and the shapes of edible weeds. He doesn't quote great works of literature; he calls it like he sees it, in his own simple words.
Kessigers and Avacyn
Kessigers are hardheaded and unpretentious people, and the face-to-face realism of the Avacyn religion fits right into their worldview. Kessigers believe in "the worked earth below us, the hand-hewn stone walls around us, and the angel above us." However, they don't trust the shiny boots of big-city cathars, the pristine fingernails of Gavony ghost-hunters, or the out-of-touch decrees handed down from the aristocrats of the High City of Thraben.
Mulch | Art by Christopher Moeller
The Curfew of Silver
Ever since Avacyn went missing last year, the church at Thraben has kept the truth of her disappearance from Innistrad's denizens. Kessigers, for their part, know that Avacyn hasn't been making appearances as often these days, and there are doubters and gossips who believe something has happened to her. In the meantime, werewolf attacks have gotten worse and spirit hauntings more frequent. There is a rising sense of panic throughout the countryside.
Recently, a new decree came down through the local priests and cathars. As a measure meant to protect citizens against werewolves and other hunters of the night, the law states that commoners of Kessig out after dark must wear an amulet of blessed silver. The amulets were crafted and blessed in the High City of Thraben, and have a potent effect against lycanthropes. But they are in limited supply, and some priests have quietly begun giving them out preferentially, in exchange for favors or promises of protection. Since the Curfew of Silver, relations between Kessig and Gavony have worsened. Some Kessigers have begun to refuse shipments of goods from Gavony and deny service to travelers from that province.
Concept art by Jung Park
Etiquette in a World of Supernaturals
Superstition and fear of supernatural creatures has woven its way into etiquette in Kessig. When you meet someone for the first time, it's polite to show that you are wearing an item made from silver (even though silver can easily be counterfeited, and only blessed silver has real protective power). Wreaths of living wood are commonly given as gifts, and are often placed on the door of a home where a child has just been born, a gesture meant to protect the child's life from vampires (even though the wood and its effectiveness die after a few days). It's customary to eat sour root soup before traveling, or to fast for up to a day before a long trip, habits that are thought to make one less appealing to werewolves and other hungry beasts.
The Sleep Revel
It's traditional in Kessig to celebrate a person's life on the anniversary of his or her death, a joyous ceremony called the Sleep Revel—as long as the deceased has successfully stayed in the ground that long (instead of reemerging as a ghoul, geist, or other supernatural fiend). The continued undisturbed sleep of one's ancestors is seen as almost a greater blessing than the continuing birthdays of one's living relatives.
Supernatural Creatures of Kessig
Kessig is home to werewolves, geists, and other supernaturals.
Werewolves in Kessig
Several howlpacks hunt in Kessig, as do many lone werewolves. The Mondronen howlpack is dominant here during most seasons, but during the New Moon season, the Leeraug howlpack terrorizes Kessiger villages. Smaller, nameless howlpacks also claim dominion of some fingers of the Ulvenwald, waning and waxing with the moon.
Woodland Sleuth | Art by Tomasz Jedruszek
The elder of Gatstaf once famously declared, "In Kessig, the werewolves outnumber the priests." Many lone werewolves live in secret among the Kessigers, too afraid of retribution to reveal themselves but too attached to their families and Kessig roots to leave. Suspicion and speculation run rampant among Kessig's commoners, fueled by frightened exaggeration and misremembered anecdotes. Kessigers hold conflicting views about how to detect, hunt, or cure werewolves, how many exist, what keeps them at bay, and what it all means for humanity.
Prey Upon | Art by Dave Kendall
Geists in Kessig
Ghostly apparitions are second only to werewolves in terms of danger to the Kessigers, and geists may cause even greater psychological damage. The geists in Kessig are wild spirits of nature, prone to taunt or terrorize civilized life. They can be cold-burning geistflames made of surreal fire, mischievous poltergeists that shove at the physical world through the power of their outrage, or blood mists that envelop and devour the living. They can be beautiful nature spirits tressed in vine and thorn, beast-possessing geists that shimmer through the mouths and eyes of feral animals, or vindictive crop-spoilers that vex farmers and druids alike.
Other Supernaturals in Kessig
Kessig is so ravaged by werewolves that many other supernaturals have been squeezed out, although rare individuals occasionally appear. Kessig has experienced few devils or demons, but a smoking fissure called Devils' Breach lies in the tall stone hills at the edge of the province, and threatens to boil over with demonic activity soon. Alchemically created zombies (skaabs) have become a kind of symbol of the evils of the big city; Kessigers often equate necromantic alchemy with black market trade, prostitution, religious heresy, and murderous conspiracy.
The average Kessiger has a double-edged opinion of vampires. In public the vampire families are spoken of as the height of urbane evil, but in private, Kessigers' salacious whispers betray fascination with vampires' refinement and celebrity. Few actual encounters with vampires have occurred in Kessig to date, so word spreads quickly whenever someone comes along the Hairpin Road in an elegant, shaded coach.
Locations in Kessig
Concept art by Daarken
The Breakneck Ride
There are a few main paths that lead into Kessig from the other provinces. Each crossway is fraught with peril, leading travelers through the Ulvenwald and over treacherous slopes, so those who make the journey do so at as brisk a pace as possible. Kessigers sometimes collectively refer to these paths as the "Breakneck Ride."
Concept art by Vincent Proce
Lambholt, the Threatened Pasture
Lambholt is a farming village at the center of miles of sheep, goat, and cattle pasture. The pastures near the town were once mingled with woods—dense arms of forest that once joined the Ulvenwald—but the Kessigers here chopped down all but a few trees to clear room for their farms. It's thought that wild essences resent the destruction of their forests, for werewolves continually terrorize the livestock and humans of Lambholt.
The villagers of Lambholt celebrate a harvest festival at the rise of the red moon, working late into the night by the light of bonfires, and cooking great feasts of fresh meat and vegetables. Lately, as the power of Lambholt's protective shrines has waned and werewolf attacks have become more frequent, the tenor of the harvest festival has changed. Now the highlight of the festival is a great hunter's contest, in which warriors and priestly champions go on hunts through the surrounding Ulvenwald, trying to slay the most powerful supernatural creature. Many never return.
Plains | Art by Eytan Zana
Hollowhenge, the Lost Capital
A ruin of wood and brick now stands where Kessig's county seat stood. Only a year ago it was a thriving small town of manor houses called Avabruck, and you can still find wooden signs among the splintered wood and broken gates that say "Avabruck" in cheery paint. But a new name has caught on—a vulgar name, a commoners' name: Hollowhenge. One year ago, after the protective power of Avacynian magic began to wane, the wards around Avabruck's central cathedral, the Temple of Saint Raban, failed. It took only two nights for the werewolves to discover this breach in protection. The howlpack known as Mondronen ripped through the town, slaughtering any in their path, charging straight for the Temple. There they took up siege, tearing down the cathedral and feasting on those who attempted to attack them. City magistrates gave the order to evacuate, but communications became chaotic, and many residents opted to ensconce themselves in their homes.
Howlpack Alpha | Art by Svetlin Velinov
Seven days into the Mondronen occupation, the werewolf savages enacted some unknown type of blood ritual. A mystical, concussive force leveled the city from the center out, flattening most of the structures in town and killing hundreds. Only the outermost ring of Avabruck's buildings remained, forming a circular "henge" around the devastation within. Rescue attempts met with further werewolf attacks.
As time went on, the city was abandoned, even by the howlpack. Now only wild, terrified ghosts and the occasional werewolf scavenger scuffle among the ruins. It's said that all who were killed in the cathedral-shattering blast still linger inside the walls of Hollowhenge, trying in vain to reconstruct their homes or recover their lost loved ones. Some spirits are deeply angry and ferocious wights, dangerous to all who seek within. Despite the danger, travelers often pass near to Hollowhenge, as the former county seat lies at the crossroads of two major Kessig thoroughfares.
Far from the towns, off the wagon-beaten paths, through vaults of primeval forest, a fissure known as Devils' Breach has opened in the earth. Smoke and heat waft from the chasm, obscuring its depths, and eerie voices mutter and cackle. Trappers claim to have seen literal devils near there, but so far, the influence of demonic forces has not been strongly felt in Kessig.
Concept art by Steven Belledin
The werewolf is a creature of duality, forever dragged between two worlds: it is both monster and man, nature and civilization, rational thought and raw savagery.
Curse of the Nightly Hunt | Art by Daarken
Killer or Victim: Perspectives on the Lycanthrope
Some werewolves see themselves as victims cursed with the souls of untamable killers. Others see themselves as glorious scions of nature trapped inside a cage of civilized lies. Though most of Innistrad society focuses on the mass-murdering horrors of the werewolf's beast form, the lycanthrope can be seen as a tragic figure with an identity chained to the treacherous moon or an avatar of nature's inherent wildness.
Concept art by Steve Prescott
Human Form: A Tenuous Hold on Civility
A person afflicted with lycanthropy is forever in doubt of his or her own urges and instincts. In human form, a werewolf feels the pull of the wolf's essence within even while trying to integrate into polite society. A lycanthrope can feel the war of emotions in his or her heart, and as the moon grows full, the influences of conscience, religion, and personal restraint do less and less. The full moon makes the change inevitable, but in fact, any strong emotion or traumatic experience can trigger a lycanthropic crisis and allow the transformation to occur.
Gatstaf Shepherd | Art by Mark Evans
Beast Form: The Natural Killing Machine
Werewolves in canid form are beings of unparalleled savagery and strength. Their bodies are perfectly engineered for slaughter, with jaws capable of snapping bone and claws sharp enough to rip the entrails from a beast many times their size. Their minds are explosions of instinct and adrenaline, fed supernatural awareness from their heightened senses yet cognitively blind to almost everything but the kill. They can walk upright for manual dexterity or can lope on four limbs for speed. Their howl is said to release the wolf's spirit within, a harrowing sound that fogs the air and chills the night. Werewolves in beast form cannot speak human languages, but seem to be able to communicate with each other on matters of hunting, dominance, and social hierarchy, as canines do in the wild.
Gatstaf Howler | Art by Mark Evans
The transformation process is harrowing for the lycanthrope and incredibly disturbing to any witnesses. The eyes change first, the whites darkening and the iris filling with color. The claws go next; the hands elongate, knifelike claws extend from the fingertips, and the thumb forms a claw back near the wrist. The muzzle thrusts forward out of the human's skull, and the teeth jut through the gums in sharp points. Bones crack as they rearrange. Marrow spills into the bloodstream as ribs and skull fracture and telescope. Thick, wiry fur pushes through the skin, often pushing out normal human hair. The tailbone elongates and becomes a shaggy wolf's tail. Metabolism speeds up, increasing blood flow, oxygen flow, and glandular production, creating cravings for protein and fat. Any clothing that was worn at the time of the change is generally torn to shreds and falls away. If a werewolf dies in beast form, it changes back to human form, a process called death reversion.
Concept art by Steve Prescott
A werewolf that has just changed back to human form is usually naked, disoriented, and covered in the debris, wounds, and bloodstains of the previous night's hunt. He or she has flashes of memories left over from canid form, often experienced with involuntary heart spasms and jolts of adrenaline, not unlike the experience of panic attacks. The days following a transformation are often filled with shame, guilt, and depression—and repression, as the lycanthrope struggles to feign normality, construct alibis, and hide evidence of his or her savage crimes.
Repentants vs. Wantons: Living with the Curse
After reverting to humanoid form, most werewolves have partial memories of their time in canid form, and they clearly see the aftereffects of the destruction they've caused. This can send lycanthropes into the throes of depression, shame, or even hostility against others. A minority of lycanthropes actually embrace their werewolf nature, however, and actively seek to return to their canid state. Werewolves that revile their lycanthropy are called repentants; the few who embrace the wild are called wantons. While in canid form, however, all werewolves are savage beasts, all traces of their humanity gone.
Ulvenwald Primordials | Art by Dan Scott
Religion: Warding Against the Change
Humans destroy known werewolves when they can; all lycanthropes are seen as abominations and mass murderers. But werewolves are dangerous creatures to face head-on, so wide-scale magical prevention is often employed to curb lycanthropy passively.
Regular and repeated application of Avacynian magic can help prevent the change to canid form. Roadside shrines, prayer, angelic rites, the blessing of accomplished clerics, and the presence of holy symbols all help reinforce the werewolf's humanity, helping her hold on to her human form. Repentant werewolves often stay within the city limits, around their fellow man and the influence of religion, whereas wantons often venture into the wilderness, far from the wards and priests that keep their wolf essence in check. The full moon, however can overcome even powerful religious precautions. In addition, the power of angelic magic has waned in recent times, and werewolf transformations have become more common and harder to predict.
Ancient Grudge | Art by Ryan Yee
Lycanthropes and the Moon
There's no doubt that the moon holds sway over werewolves. As the moon's phases change, so changes the power of lycanthropy over the werewolf. As the full moon approaches, the effectiveness of divine magic becomes dampened, and werewolves change more readily.
Werewolves in canid form are supernaturally strong and tough, and since the weakening of Avacynian magic, few protection spells have been able to harm them or keep them at bay. But werewolves have a weakness: pure silver that has been ritually blessed by a powerful cleric of Avacyn can cause them great agony. According to alchemists, silver's purity of material readily absorbs the divine magic. Arrowheads, spearpoints, and other weapons made from blessed silver can be powerful instruments for fighting werewolves.
Full Moon's Rise | Art by Terese Nielsen
Silver and the Moon
Mages have presumed a relationship between the moon and the metal silver for centuries, but the nature of that relationship remains a mystery. The respected astronomancer Jenrik once posited that Innistrad's moon is actually a vast desert composed of tiny grains of silver. He believed that any silver found on Innistrad actually originated from the moon's silver desert, and that terrestrial silver maintains a relationship with the moon's power. Why the moon seems to empower werewolves while silver harms them is not well understood.
The Cause and Nature of Lycanthropy
There are many theories of how lycanthropy is caused or spread. Most sects of the Church of Avacyn hold that lycanthropy is a kind of demonic possession, but ritual exorcisms have not successfully purged the affliction. Most afflicted humans appear to become werewolves at some point in their lives rather than being born so, although there are sporadic (and chilling) tales of child werewolves in remote areas. Many alchemists and wolfhunters believe that werewolves are sterile, and only reproduce by cursing humans with lycanthropy; however, many commoners fear that they might be able to interbreed with humans or give birth to their own kind.
Furor of the Bitten | Art by Randy Gallegos
The True Cause
Lycanthropy is a supernatural curse that causes the victim's spiritual essence to become mingled with the wild essence of nature, symbolized by the wolf. The lycanthrope in effect has two souls, or one split soul. These two essences constantly battle for control within the victim. When the wild wolf-essence triumphs, the werewolf change occurs. This may explain why werewolves hunt humans so often; the wolf-essence desires to destroy the human side and triumph over humanity, and does so symbolically by brutally slaying humans.
Concept art by Steve Prescott
Transmitting the Curse: The Call and the First Hunt
The curse of lycanthropy overtakes a person over a period of one night. One or more werewolves howl in the night, calling out to the victim. Soon after, the victim finds himself in the wilderness, under the silvery moon, surrounded by eyes glowing in the night. The victim's will is compromised already, the wild essence entering him and doing battle with his human conscience. The victim and the werewolves crash through the woods together, and over the course of the night, they hunt and kill their prey—usually woodland game, but other humans or even another lycanthrope is not unheard of.
The called victim begins to express wolf characteristics throughout the night, and as he sinks his teeth into bloody flesh, the curse perceptibly takes hold, and he transforms fully into canid form for the first time. There is a bone-chilling chorus of howls, and the First Hunt is complete. Later, the new lycanthrope usually staggers back into civilization, half-naked, barely recognizable through the blood and offal and wilderness debris, and nearly mad from fear and shameful memories. Thereafter, the werewolf must remain vigilant with prayer and caution, lest the wolf essence manifest again.
Werewolves in either form seem to be able to tell a human-form lycanthrope by smell. Indeed, humans who are mysteriously spared during werewolf rampages are often suspected of being werewolves themselves.
No Known Cure
No known remedy, blessing, or ritual has effectively purged the curse of lycanthropy. The closest anyone ever came was alchemist Theodora Glick, who was brought in to inspect Guthril, a werewolf captured by the local constabulary. Through a complex ceremony involving mystic circles inlaid with the wolfsbane plant, a blanket woven with blessed silver thread, and a lightning storm, Glick managed to force Guthril to revert to human form and stay that way through three lunar cycles. Unfortunately, the ritual was only temporary, and Guthril re-emerged stronger than ever. He utterly destroyed Glick's laboratory in Gavony and fled into the night.
Werewolves are often lone hunters, stalking and killing humans as singular monsters in urban settings. But some werewolves form loose, evolving social groups out in the wild called howlpacks. The populations of howlpacks wax and wane like the moon, gaining and losing members as individual lycanthropes enter or leave their canid state. Some werewolves seem to be continually drawn back to their howlpack, returning to it time after time as soon as they drop their human guise and reenter the wild. Howlpacks can be tiny hunting parties of just a few werewolves, or can be massive hordes of over a hundred. A howlpack is often led by a single alpha (male or female) that dominates the pack. Alphas must often defend their power by defeating challengers in combat.
Three of the larger, more stable howlpacks are the Krallenhorde, the Mondronen, and the Leeraug.
The Krallenhorde: Innistrad's Largest Howlpack
When an average Innistrad human thinks of a werewolf pack, he or she thinks of the Krallenhorde. The Krallenhorde has existed in some form for decades, composed of anywhere from fifty to over two hundred werewolves depending on the availability of prey and the phase of the moon. The most heterogeneous of howlpacks, Krallenhorde includes a mix of repentant and wanton werewolves, and has drawn members from all provinces of Innistrad. The alpha of Krallenhorde is currently the werewolf Ulrich, a cunning and perceptive wanton who remains in the wild and runs with the howlpack even when he reverts to human form.
Wildblood Pack | Art by Greg Staples
Mondronen: Carnal Ritualists
The Mondronen howlpack is composed of around sixty werewolves who are said to control a dark, bloody magic of nature. Their alpha Tovolar is a mute, silver-furred werewolf who leads his pack on revels of carnage and howling songs, and who never seems to revert to human form. The Mondronen wolves historically stayed far from centers of civilization, only preying on farmlands, rural communities, and remote monasteries. But as Avacyn's protective wards have diminished in strength, it's said that the Mondronen territory has grown closer to cities, and that their dark magics may soon spill over into genteel life.
Merciless Predator | Art by Michael C. Hayes
Leeraug: Killers of the Absent Moon
Few know of the Leeraug, a relatively small and tight-knit pack of Innistrad's most vicious werewolf predators, but almost all have heard tales of their destruction. The Leeraug are unique in that they hunt under the black night of the new moon, rather than transforming when the moon is full. They favor the flesh and entrails of children, and often steal into homes and orphanages through chimneys or windows left ajar. The Leeraug alpha is Skaharra, a black-furred she-wolf noted for her tendency to kill along bloodlines, murdering entire families in a single night while sparing unrelated farmhands and servants.