Context

I am designing a town for my play group to eventually travel to after they learn 2 NPC allies of theirs disappear after promising to come back from the town in question and they discover the NPC's wagon off on the side of the road, clearly attacked with all goods and the NPC's taken. The trail goes cold and knowing they aren't far from a town, they go to the town only to discover that it's basically a refugee encampment of people hiding from a Lamia and her Jackalwere. I have devils basically running the town holding people hostage for their own amusement with a clever human merchant having struck a deal of tribute with the Lamia in order for people to survive so long as they sacrifice so many people in a month.

Actual question

So here's my problem, Jackalweres (MM, p. 93) have the Shapechanger ability that allows them to shapeshift into 3 forms: their true jackal form, a specific human's form, or a hybrid form. This shapeshifting is what allowed them to infiltrate and destroy the other local villages in my campaign, however I need some way for my PCs to defend Honava (the last village in the area) from infiltration in some practical and believable way.

How can my players combat the creature's shapeshifting?

Restrictions

My party will only have access to Lvl 3 spell slots. I have a Bard of the college of whispers, a Fighter who is a Monster Hunter, a Warlock who made a pact with a Great Old One, and a warlock who made a pact to become a Hexblade Warlock.

None of my players have access to truesight. Due to how I have the area set up for the level my players will be at (Level 5 or 6), no devil (CR 5 and lower) in the area has truesight, and true seeing is a 6th-level spell that my players aren't at a high enough level to have access to.

My main question is this:
What other methods are there for dealing with shapeshifting/polymorph effects at lower levels?

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  • Is your main question what realistic reason there might be that the town has not yet fallen victim to the Jackalwere? Or is your question how the PCs can help to defend it against this threat? these are two separate questions and if you want the answer to both you will need to separate them into separate question posts. – Rubiksmoose Nov 14 at 14:04
  • 1) The link provided is related, however none of those options other than command and Glyph of warding are available to my players since we have no rogue or druid. 2) I bolded the main question to make it clear what question I was looking to be answered for my post. 3) What realistic reason there might be that the town has not yet fallen victim to the Jackalwere is a side problem but the main concern is how the players will defend themselves and the town from this threat. – Kale Dodge Nov 14 at 14:21
  • I included the smaller questions to help those who might answer this post get an idea of the situation my npcs/players are up against – Kale Dodge Nov 14 at 14:27
  • OK, so I have removed the side quesstion about the town because it is a completely different question from the one about the PCs. You might want to try asking it as a separate question, but it might be seen as too opinion-based for our site. No harm in trying though if you thought it might be worth it. – Rubiksmoose Nov 14 at 14:29
up vote 16 down vote accepted

Use silver and truth

You say that the devils have made some sort of safe zone, but they are secretly dealing with the Lamia on the side. However, they, being devils and well versed in the idea of binding clauses, don't truly trust her, and why should they? Lamias are chaotic evil, they can't be expected to uphold their end of the contract.

So instead of just letting everybody in willy-nilly, you set up your little refuge with a wall, and only a few gates that are permanently manned. If you want to get in, you have to agree to holding a bunch of silverware in your hand while solemnly swearing you're a Jackalwere, before you're let in. Obviously this is a lie and humans might find this lie awkward, but to a Jackalwere, this statement would be physically painful. Alternatively, have people quickfire-answer questions that are objectively true, something a Jackalwere might not even be capable of doing, because it would have to consciously not lie.

While per pure RAW monster statblocks this won't truly harm a Jackalwere, the fluff around were-creatures has always been that being in contact with silver is painful for werecreatures. (It might be for devils as well, depending on your setting fluff, so make sure the border patrol are humans.) While Jackalweres are not true werecreatures in the traditional sense, they do seem to suffer from the same weakness to silver:

Immunities bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical attacks that aren't silvered

In addition, the Monster Manual states that Jackalweres were specifically made to lie, and that speaking the truth is physically painful for them. Thus, a perceptive guard should be able to seperate humans from Jackalweres by making them interact with two sources that cause them physical pain.

Once your players have been to the place once they can pick up on this idea and start using it as well, paying strangers they meet only in silver or handing them silver-coated objects to see their response, while asking them questions that they know the answer to, to force the Jackalwere to either lie or be in pain.

That way, even though they don't have any truesight, they'll still be able to determine with reasonable certainty that a creature is a jackalwere, while still allowing you the flexibility later of having a surprise Jackalwere with an extreme tolerance for pain or the like.

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    I have only 1 problem with this answer: Lycanthropy is a curse that is bestowed upon someone and jackalwere are not the product of a curse of any similarity to lycanthropy, rather jackalwere were specifically created by a demon lord from jackals to serve his servants the Lamia. Fluff wise this would work if the fluff of D&D made it clear that they wouldn't logically have the same problem with silver as lycanthropes do due to they are cursed in a similar manner. This answer is appreciated though and a clever idea – Kale Dodge Nov 14 at 14:12
  • Note that the town-based part of the question has been removed from the question. You may want to edit your answer. – Rubiksmoose Nov 14 at 14:32
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    The monster manual states "Immunities bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical attacks that aren't silvered", so it seems like they've inherited the same silver weakness despite not being true 'weres', however, I'll elaborate the answer. – Theik Nov 14 at 14:36
  • I stand corrected @theik Thank you – Kale Dodge Nov 14 at 14:39
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    "solemnly swearing you're not a Jackalwere, before you're let in." If the idea is that Jackalwere's hate to tell the truth, you don't want to make them say "I'm not a Jackalwere", that would be a lie for them, you want to force them to say things you know are obviously true. Asking them how many finger's you're holding up, what the current day of the week/date is, what this sign over here says. Or even have them say that they ARE a Jackalwere. It'll be a lie for everyone else but a Jackalwere. (that last one might not be great since some regular people might not be comfortable with lying.) – Shufflepants Nov 14 at 15:59

Use the Truth Like a Shibboleth

tl;dr The players ask straight forward questions and watch for a pain response.

Jackalweres Can be Discovered When Speaking the Truth.

The description of the jackalwere notes a non-magical way of discerning the creature's nature.

From the 5e Monster Manual (p. 93):

A jackalwere is born to lie, and perceptive creatures might notice it wincing in pain when it speaks the truth.

Narrative

The players have come across the information, "those whom it pains to speak the truth are not what they seem." This could be introduced on a hastily written yet ominous sign.

Examples

The players ask simple unambiguous questions, such as what is the color of the banner they're holding, how many fingers they're holding up, or on in which hand they're holding their sword.

If they're specifically looking for a painful reaction, give it to them immediately. If not, make it a low perception check (DC 10 or 12) to notice the jackalwere wince when answering.

  • Note that the town-based part of the question has been removed from the question. You may want to edit your answer. – Rubiksmoose Nov 14 at 14:32
  • This does help for my town based questions but it would prove difficult for my players to effectively use when outside the town or when the jackalwere isn't cornered – Kale Dodge Nov 14 at 14:35
  • @KaleDodge If you need the players to defend the town without being there I think you should add that detail to the question – Sdjz Nov 14 at 14:40

Use non-silver weapons

As mentioned in another answer, Jackalweres have the following immunities:

Damage Immunities Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks that aren't Silvered

It does not necessarily follow from this that Jackalweres have a lycanthropy-esque aversion to touching any silver. After all, many creatures have this immunity condition. Can ghosts not touch silver?

Asking a jackalwere to tell the truth is very flavorful, and unlike holding a pile of silver, this is specifically mentioned as a trait. Probably the most fun solution, but also time consuming and with a risk of error, because of the perception check requirement.

For a cheaper, easier, and RAW solution, the players can do the inverse of the silver test. Line folk up and give each of them a small prick on the arm with a steel blade. If they don't bleed, jackalwere beware!

There may be other options too, and it can be fun to let your players surprise you. Allow them to research jackalweres in a library, to learn their basic traits, and then see what creative problem solving they can do on their own. Making sure that there are at least a couple of solutions available to them is very good due diligence on your part, however, as it allows you to drop hints in case they get stuck. In addition to the above ideas, your players may seek out a special magical item, spell scrolls, or a creative combination of spells not mentioned here.

  • @vlaz That's what I thought I was suggesting. Was my wording unclear? – Pink Sweetener Nov 15 at 15:20
  • ...for some reason I read the exact opposite - stab everybody with silver. I'm not entirely sure how but I blame the lack of coffee in my system. – vlaz Nov 15 at 16:15
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    @vlaz <3 no worries, be well! – Pink Sweetener Nov 15 at 19:50

Don't come up with a solution, trust your players to be creative and reward them

I'll propose a solution as well, but trying to develop a 'solution' that your players will then need to discover and use is likely a recipe for failure.

Railroading your players to find your solution can be very problematic if they don't pick up on your 'clues'. I can't tell you the number of times I thought I was explicit in what needed to happen to increase odds of survival and how often they just didn't get it or did something else.

What you need to do is consider possible ways that they could solve this to make sure it's doable. Once you've done that, you need to trust in the creativity of your players. Let them develop a plan. If it's a good plan, let it work. If it's not, then help guide them as much as you can without railroading them into feeling like you solved their problem for them.

A possible solution

Creating a daily 'gate' that every citizen must pass through. As each of the creatures passes through, they can pass some of the tests created by other stackizens as answers to this question.

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    I am not trying to railroad my players at all, I am a sandbox dm, however I do like to at least have a solution to the problems and situations I present my players with so I have something to go off of for when they present me with their solutions. I like to develop multiple ways to deal with a problem hence why I look ahead and put myself in my players shoes – Kale Dodge Nov 14 at 15:36
  • @KaleDodge Fair enough, but I'm just saying from personal experience putting myself in their shoes has never been equal to their decisions. I think you should be just making sure you're not creating an impossible situation and let your players simply get creative and support them in it. – NautArch Nov 14 at 15:38
  • Valid point to make and I do agree, I can think and plan all I like and it never will be equal to what they do. Example in this current play group I had one member actually write up, in game, a sexual harassment pamphlet and force a member of the group to sign it after that player stripped a wight of her armour, left her decapitated body out in the open, and used her head as a belt decoration. Players will do crazy unexpected things and that is what helps to make this game great. I agree that I should never make an impossible situation, hence why I came here to make sure my players haveoptions – Kale Dodge Nov 14 at 15:52
  • @KaleDodge And that's why I asked if you were looking for a specific solution or confirmation on solutions being possible :) It seems like you really need the latter and not the former. – NautArch Nov 14 at 15:54
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    I feel like you guys all agree? – Pink Sweetener Nov 15 at 0:21

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