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I'm running Curse of Strahd for a group of friends, and last session they had an encounter with werewolves. I made all the wolves (and werewolves) attack a single character, since that's how I thought they would probably hunt. Since the paladin was the only one who had a silvered weapon, they decided to take him down first.

It was impressive. He dodged almost all attacks from normal wolves and was bitten by every single werewolf attack. He passed his Con saves to avoid lycanthropy so many times I lost count. I didn't tell him what the rolls were for, or whether he succeeded or not, but he pretty much knew what was going on.

Finally, the last hit took him down. The wolves were done with him and onto a new target. Only one last save to make... and he rolled a natural 1. Yeah, he's turning into a werewolf.

He instantly reminded me that as a paladin he is immune to sickness and disease, and I reassured him that I was aware. We're a new group, and since he didn't know what was going on, it was a gentle reminder. That was it. I didn't tell him that his character is cursed, and he didn't push it. He asked if he felt any different when he woke up, and I told him he only felt the pain from the fight.

Now enough with context. Here is the question:

Is the player aware that his character is cursed? Or does he only find that out when he transforms at the next full moon?

I know that the MM says that when a character is infected with lycanthropy his alignment changes, but how fast does it change? How long does it take for a character to start feeling the feral urges inside of him? Is it a sudden change? Does it stay dormant until the full moon? If the change starts to take effect immediately, I believe I should tell my player so he could start roleplaying it asap.

Here are how I see my options about approaching the player:

  • Don't tell him, let him be unaware, and have him transform during the next full moon. Then, once his transformation "triggers", I tell him about his change in alignment, how he has to fight his urges for blood and violence. I might throw some hints before the full moon, but the point is: even if the player suspects it, neither him nor the character know.
  • Tell him right away. The character feels the change, although I explain to the player that his character does not know what it is. He can start to roleplay it as soon as he wants to, and I don't have to interfere with his character by saying that he suddenly feels angry or violent.

But in the end, it all comes down to how fast the curse affects the character.

I haven't found much information about it in either the DMG or the MM. I am wondering if there's more about the subject that I don't know. Personally, I would love to find more official lore about lycanthropes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like this could be one of two questions; a good subjective question about "how has this worked out for your game(s)"? or "how much does a PC know about them being cursed or not, specifically by a Werewolf, by-the-book?" \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Nov 5 '19 at 2:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, I think you are right. Once I tried to be more objective I realized that what I wanted to know was much more about lore, about how does the lycanthropy affect the person. Knowing how people dealt with it on their games is always helpful, but not the core of my doubt. Again, thanks \$\endgroup\$ – Ícaro Mota Nov 5 '19 at 3:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Incidentally, I really like the question now in it's current form. I am also currently running CoS and the party will be facing were-creatures soon-ish, so I would also like to know how to handle this situation should one of the party end up cursed (although I have no paladin in my case, but as this answer to a different question points out, that doesn't matter for lycanthropy curses anyway). \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 5 '19 at 10:33
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The curse affects the character immediately, but they might not necessarily be aware of it at first (or even for quite some time)

From the Lycanthropes section of the Monster Manual, p. 206 (non-italic bold emphasis mine):

Curse of Lycanthropy. A humanoid creature can be afflicted with the curse of lycanthropy after being wounded by a lycanthrope [...]

A lycanthrope can either resist its curse or embrace it. By resisting the curse, a lycanthrope retains its normal alignment and personality while in humanoid form. It lives its life as it always has, burying deep the bestial urges raging inside it. However, when the full moon rises, the curse becomes too strong to resist, transforming the individual into its beast form—or into a horrible hybrid form that combines animal and humanoid traits. When the moon wanes, the beast within can be controlled once again. Especially if the cursed creature is unaware of its condition, it might not remember the events of its transformation, though these memories often haunt a lycanthrope as bloody dreams.

From the parts I've emphasised above, it seems that, although a character afflicted by lycanthropy might feel that something is off, feeling "bestial urges raging inside it", it is still entirely possible for the character to be "unaware of its condition", even after transforming during a full moon.

(I'm assuming that a character who is unaware has no choice but to resist the curse; there's some stuff about embracing the curse, but surely you have to know about it first? I'm making an assumption that embracing the curse is only an option to a character that has become aware of it in the first place. See this Q&A for more info.)

Furthermore, the sidebar on p. 207 implies that the changes to the creature's stats happen immediately since no time frame is given between failing the saving throw and being considering cursed (which matches up with the lack of a time frame given in the wording of "afflicted with the curse of lycanthropy after being wounded by a lycanthrope", from the above quote), so although the character wouldn't necessarily be aware, the player almost certainly will be.

How to rule this in your specific example

Depending on how you think such things would go down at your table (you know your players better than us), you could either just flat out tell your player, but remind them that their character doesn't necessarily know (or maybe you decide that the character does "just know"? Up to you and your player...), or you could try to hide it from the player and let them figure it out over time.

(Given that the werewolf ability score increase is for Strength, and I'm assuming your paladin player already has a decent Strength score, you can ignore that bit, making this more plausible to do than if, say, a wizard PC got cursed by a werewolf; the player would probably want to update their Strength score straight away if that were the case, which would prevent you from hiding it from them).

For example, when they roll perception checks, give them advantage (because of a werewolf's Keen Hearing and Smell trait) but don't tell them why. Remember that they have immunity to non-silvered, nonmagical weapons when rolling for damage when you hit them, and telling them that they take no damage, but without an explanation. And perhaps tell them that they occasionally feel whatever you interpret "bestial urges raging inside" them to mean (although they can choose to do nothing with that, just tell them that they feel it).

At the point where the player figures out what's going on, you can then talk to the player about roleplaying their character not knowing about it, or figuring it out, or whatever else would be the most fun for the player/table. Of course, given that your player pretty much knows exactly what that failed saving throw meant, you're probably better off just telling the player upfront and deciding with them whether it would be more fun to have the character know, or to have the character not know and have to slowly figure it out.

An aside about changing alignment

I also want to remind you that the character's alignment will only change if the character embraces the curse, as outlined in the sidebar on p. 207:

If the character embraces the curse, his or her alignment becomes the one defined for the lycanthrope.

However, on p. 206, it states:

By resisting the curse, a lycanthrope retains its normal alignment and personality while in humanoid form.

So I'm guessing that someone resisting the curse cannot voluntarily shapeshift (see this Q&A for more info), and that they are not themselves (and therefore, not their normal alignment) when they are forcibly shapeshifted during a full moon (which fits the flavour, at least). Just something to bear in mind (and possibly something you might need to make a ruling on...)

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    \$\begingroup\$ The bit on alignment at the end is because of this line in the OP's question: "I know that the MM says that when a character is infected with lycanthropy his alignment changes, but how fast does it change?" - this question is somewhat different if you consider that the alignment might not be changed at all, ever (outside of involuntary shifting during a full moon), hence I just wanted to clear that up... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 6 '19 at 14:01

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