Roses of Britain
Ability Scores: +2 Strength, +2 Wisdom
Speed: 6 squares
Languages: English, choice of one other
Skill Bonuses: +2 Athletics, +2 Endurance
Longtooth Shifting: See Player’s Handbook 2 pg. 16.
Legend links the origin of the werewolves with the malevolent King Lycaon of Arcadia, whom the god Zeus cursed with a wolf’s form as punishment for his crimes of murder, cannibalism, and blasphemy. Some stories attest that Lycaeon’s descendants were similarly afflicted, and as early as 1,500 B.C. shepherds often sighted werewolves stalking the wilderness of the Peloponnese, where they were referred to as the Sons of Lycaon. Over the course of the next millennium, werewolves swiftly spread across the breadth of Europe, finding refuge in the vast forests and lonely mountains where humans often feared to venture.
Wherever the cruel and bloody werewolf menace left its mark in Europe, the shifters eventually appeared. The race first emerged in roughly the eighty century B.C., but accounts vary as to precisely how the taint of lycanthropy entered otherwise normal human lineages. The Northmen insist that the shifters originated with an elite secret society of fearsome barbarians. Its members used the skins they had personally flayed from werewolf foes to weave a ritual of primal and shadow magic, a ritual that bestowed the strength of a wolf. Many scholars suggest a more prosaic beginning for the shifters: werewolves in some regions began breeding with humans too frequently, and their lycanthropic bloodline began to falter. The resulting progeny lacked true shapeshifting abilities, but retained the might and swiftness of the wolf, as well as a feral appearance. Regardless of the shifters’ true origin, most werewolves regarded the race with disgust and contempt, considering them to be malformed mockeries of their own beastly perfection.
Shifters first arrived in Albion around the sixth century, B.C., finding refuge in the island’s last bastions of ancient woodland, and on her lonely downs and moors. They established a guarded alliance with the elves, but the native humans generally reacted to the race’s bestial features and savage nature with fear. Bloody tales told around human campfires wove together wolves, werewolves, and shifters, so that the three often became indistinguishable in the minds of Albion’s humans. Shifters were astute enough to keep their distance from the more powerful and fearful human settlements, preferring a wandering, pack existence deep in the wilderness.
Shifters prospered during the Roman rule of Britain, when their talents for scouting and tracking were often employed in an official capacity by the Empire. However, the five centuries between the fall of Roman administration and the unification of England marked the most prosperous era for the shifters in Britain. In those dark times, when endless conflicts raged between the Saxon kingdoms, the shifters thrived as bandits and mercenaries. Many members of the race successfully ingratiated themselves to the nobility due to their physical might and survival instincts, and some corners of Britain fell wholly under the control of powerful, savage shifter tribes for a time.
However, the rise of the Kingdom of England gradually saw the fortunes of the shifters ebb, as political power centralized and Christianity solidified its dominance of the island. Increasingly, credulous human regarded the shifters as little more than ill-disguised werewolves, or the victims of some implacable Satanic curse. Over the centuries, the shifter population of England slowly declined, and those that remained began retreat to the island’s most far-flung stretches of wilderness. Meanwhile, ordinary wolves met a similar fate, as English humans trapped and slew the creatures with abandon. Increasingly, the shifters felt obliged to defend the creatures that they viewed as kin by blood and spirit, but the race was no match for humankind in terms of numbers or tenacity. King Edward I called for the utter extermination of wolves in the thirteenth century, and the past two hundred years have seen the wolf all but vanish from England. In a few remote locales, however, shifter clans tend to the last remaining packs of the creatures, standing resolutely against a civilized world that has no place for either shifter or wolf.
Place in the World
Shifters value their animalistic nature as the source of their strength and wisdom. Other races regard them as a wild, coarse, and often violent people, likely to steal anything that catches their eye and cut the throat of anyone that slights them. Needless to say, this perception is flawed at best. Shifters have little patience for the niceties of civilization, but they are not amoral, mindless beasts. They simply favor action to discussion, and reaction to contemplation. The shifters share some characteristics with the elves, but they do not have that race’s refined affinity for art, dance, and music. Shifters are drawn to simple, elemental pleasures, such as the sound of a roaring cascade or the smell of freshly slain prey roasting over a fire.
Like the wolves and werewolves whose blood they share, English shifters are pack creatures by nature, preferring the company of small groups over solitude or the anonymity of teeming crowds. Shifters gravitate toward a savage, nomadic life in the dark woodlands, barren hills, and forlorn moors of the Kingdom, usually in family groups with their own kind. However, some shifters join with groups of elves, half-orcs, wilden, or even humans, often for unsavory pursuits such as poaching and banditry. Shifters are fond of the adventuring life, and their natural inclinations for loyalty and cooperation makes them valuable allies.
The overall shifter population of England has declined steadily for centuries, particularly over the most recent generations, as humankind has pushed the race out to the Kingdom’s wilderness fringes. Shifters are still seen in the villages and towns of rural England, but the race is increasingly viewed as a savage relic of Britain’s post-Roman chaos, with no place in the contemporary world. This suits most shifters just fine, as the race finds little comfort in a settled way of life, preferring the freedom and vibrancy of an existence in the wilds. Civilized peoples rarely welcome the presence of a shifter in their midst, but members of the race do not face the bloody persecution that was commonplace just a few generations ago. The near-extinction of wolves in England has rendered panic about lycanthropy a rare phenomenon, and shifters have benefited as the werewolf threat has faded from human minds.
The greatest shifters heroes are usually fighters, seekers, or wardens. Shifters also make excellent clerics, runepriests, and paladins, but such divine heroes are quite rare among members of the race. Other shifters choose the path of the barbarian, druid, ranger, shaman, or warlord. In general, shifters exhibit little inclination to worship other beings. When an English shifter offers prayers it is usually to the primal spirits, and almost always out of respect rather than adulation. A few shifters take up the worship of pagan deities renowned for their physical might, such as Bran or Tiw. Christian shifters are exceedingly rare in England.