Skinwalker
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Basic Information

A skin walker is a creature from Amerindian legend that combines aspects of the lycanthrope and the witch.

Traditionally the skin walker studies the darkest aspects of his culture's magic (most, but not all skinwalkers being male) and specialises in transforming into the forms of all kinds of animals. To become a skin-walker the aspirant must also bury his humanity by repeated acts of depravity - including incest, necrophilia and the murder of close relatives (acts which have obvious possibilities for "double dipping"). In some ways the skin walker may be seen as the opposite of a medicine man.

Besides mastery of shape shifting, the skinwalker is also said to have powers of near perfect mimicry and the ability to read minds and to paralyze (or even possess) people by making eye contact with them. When transformed a skin walker is also supernaturally fast and strong, making them deadly in combat. Their portfolio also includes a significant range of curses and magical poisons - presumably as part of their background study. One of their more potent weapons is said to be a substance named corpse powder (in a refreshing lack of mystical euphemism) - an unpleasant substance popular amongst Amerindian black magicians.

Despite their skill in shape shifting, their animals forms are often seen to move in odd and unnatural ways (often a feature of spell casters transformed by magic). Other weaknesses may include dependence on a totemic animal skin of some kind (like the loup-garou werewolf) and their tendency to sicken and die if denounced by their full name whilst in animal form (another similarity to some European werewolf legends).

It's also worth noting that lore concerning skinwalkers is traditionally limited … tradition dictates that they gain power from being feared, and possibly even from notoriety in general and so many of the tribes that consider them a problem are also reluctant to discuss them, making any sources second or third hand at best. This presents obvious conflicts with the desirability of knowing your enemy as a means to defeating him.

There is also legend which suggests that (some) skinwalkers may have been involved in resistance to European colonisation efforts at some point - despite the low hanging mythopoetic fruit of this, it does appear that they existed in the pre-Columbian era, but any role in combatting the invaders might have had some effect in making them less of an anathema to the natives and possibly lead to some expansion in their numbers.

Sources

Bibliography
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Potentially a good villain for any game set in the Americas.
  • Presumably the combination of shamanistic origins and repeated mutilation of the prospect's own soul implies that the skinwalker may be merging their soul with a possessing spirit or demon. Not a pleasant thought for those that understand such things.
  • Even without any supernatural element they could make a good theme for an Amerindian nationalist terrorist group … which, frankly, may be the truth behind the resistance legends of old (much like the Nazi "werewolf" resistance movement hijacking the legend of a monster from their own culture).
  • Not a great thing to accidentally meet up with when trying to acquire your cliched "red indian medicine man spirit guide".
  • For White Wolf gamers, the Black Spiral Dancers would seem an obvious source for these critters - them, of course, or the formori.
  • An enemy that becomes stronger the better-known it is would present obvious difficulties… especially if it runs on the knowledge of the one fighting it.
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