Booyah and Salutations!
My name is BDC and, for most of my life, I have been a researcher; a student of history and lore. I love nothing more than deep diving into old books and ancient mythologies. Anything, especially before the birth of Christ, has always had my utmost attention.
So, when turning to one of my favorite nerdoms, D&D, it came natural to become a student of its vast histories and a connoisseur of the many nooks and crannies hidden in the depths of its many editions.
Shapeshifters have had a mysterious and menacing place in the whole of Dungeons and Dragons. From the subversively dangerous Doppelgangers and changelings, to the insatiable, primal Weres of all types, those who can shift their bodies into different images have always been the stuff of villainy.
Today, we look a different ilk of the shapeshifter type: The Lythari (in some Faerunian tomes listed as Ly-tel-quessir). Called in most sources, ‘a true lychanthrope’, the Lythari are actually a sub-race of Elves going back to before the early days of Faerun. When that world was young, they appeared on Faerun alongside their brothers, the ‘Green Elves’ (Sy-tel-quessir) and the Avariel or winged elves (Aril-tel-quessir). However, as time went on, they became more secretive and illusive, mostly due to their confusion with rabid and anarchal Weres.
You see, the Lythari’s shapeshifting abilities are not a curse. They do not transmit it by bite like the dangerous werewolves. It is truly a racial trait. They pass it down to their children by blood. One distinctive trait of the Lythari is the absence of a hybrid form. They only possess their elven form and their wolf form. Appearing as great white wolves, they are welcomed by packs of natural canines who sense their innate goodness and treat them as their own although they never give leadership to them.
As welcome as they are by the packs, they are equally reviled by all types of Weres who sense them as a threat to their blood-lust and dangerous ways. The stigma that comes with shapeshifters causes them to be confused as Werewolves and hated and hunted. Many human settlements through hatred, ignorance and fear, turn on these glorious elves without question. This usually causes the Lythari to hide among them, serving as scouts, guides and rangers, all the time, keeping their true selves a secret from them.
This makes this race truly unique among the parties of PCs out there. Barring the fact that 5E hasn’t really fleshed them out ‘officially’ yet, they make a great base to build an amazing character with an in-depth backstory. The solitary figure, like a misunderstood vigilante hero, walks among those who would hate him/her, all the while, never getting too close and keeping even those they trust at arms length. As a player character, this brings a ‘Batman’ vigilante theme with a touch of the X-men ‘protecting those who hate them’ motif.
It leaves plenty of drama to be had as the character may even hide their true nature from the rest of the party. Or, even more dramatic, the party knows and has to carefully hide his shapeshifting nature from the populace. If the character choses to live in plain sight, it may be a great quest to change the populace’s views on, not only, Lythari, but many cursed weres that choose not to give in to their lust for blood and instead protect humans. This opens up a chance for the Lythari PC to be a revolutionary; saving those caught between the curse forced upon them and societal norms.
As you can see, there are so many roads to be taken.
But I saved the best for last…
One of the most beautiful parts of Lythari lore is a special rite that bonds two loves to each other deeper than any marriage service can. I mentioned before that the Lythari pass this on as a racial ability. But there is another way to become one of them. If a Lythari loves a member of one of the other elven races (or any race really), there is a ritual that can be performed in which they do not just exchange vows, but they bind themselves to each other in a rather transformative and personal way. A non-Lythari who agrees to bind themselves to Lythari may go into a ritual in which they are physically transformed into one of them. Therefore, they become Lythari and can, as a couple, further pass on the shapeshifting traits to their children.
This opens up an amazing myriad of choices. Not only, can you play as a member of the long blood-line of the Ly-tel-quessir, but you can portray a character who gave up their very race to be with the one they love! Giving up, not only, their very form, but their safety to live life as the hunted for love.
So much story to be told; which is what D&D is all about, right? So, although 5e hasn’t really opened this race as playable yet, I’d say give it a shot. Below, you will find some gaming info and some references for your own personal reading and research. I’ve been playing since the original and can’t wait till the next game. But I also cannot wait for the next opportunity to share from the deep and detailed history of the game and shed light on things that, although are not readily available in 5E yet, can bring amazing elements to your personal game a character.
Lythari make natural Rangers, but also have inroads to Druid and Cleric. If on Faerun, Selune is an easy fit as a patron god (or a patron ala Warlock), but any moon god/goddess will do. Of course any other class can be used (you know how much I love a good antetype). They come off like a pale elf; very close to winter Eladrin. You are free to explore, of course, any avenue of character, but they are hard pressed to be separated from the wild and join parties of non-Lythari begrudgingly.
They retain all of the Elf Traits found in the Players Manuel p. 23
Most sources add the following for the Lythari Subrace:
Ability Score Increase: Wisdom increases by 1
As an action, you can polymorph into a large white wolf or back into elf form. Much like the werewolf, its statistics, other than its AC, are the same in both forms. Most sources give a +1 to AC in wolf form. Equipment does not transform and Lythari returns to elf form at death.
In wolf form, it gains a Bite and Claw attack usually treated like a Melee attack with a base of 1d8 damage for bite and 2d4 damage for claw. Some sources add that when biting a creature, that creature must succeed a strength save (DC8+ proficiency bonus + strength modifier)
Also, once your proficiency bonus reaches +4, your attacks count as magical.
Bludgeoning, Piercing and Slashing damage from nonmagical weapons that aren’t silvered.
Here are some more places you can look for even more information:
Races of Faerun p27 especially
Elves of Evermeet p.125
Monster Compendium: Monsters of Faerun p 9
As always, anything I’ve missed or comments or suggestions comment below. We welcome your input here at the Magic Tavern.