Thiess Of Kaltenbrun
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Basic Information

In 1681, and again in 1691, an old cunning man in Swedish Livonia named Thiess of Kaltenbrun was called to testify as a witness in two trials. In both cases, while presenting his eye-witness testimony, he dropped a bizarre bombshell revelation on the court. Thiess freely admitted, without anyone accusing him of such, that he was a werewolf.

His self-implicating testimony revealed a very atypical version of werewolf tradition. Here's some highlights:

Thiess claimed that he was a "Hound of God" who traveled to Hell three times a year to battle covens of evil witches. The three dates were specific holy days: St. Lucia's Day, Pentecost and Saint John's Day.1 Thiess only took the form of a wolf while in the nearby swamp that was his gateway to hell. (Hell, he said, was "the place beyond the sea".) Thiess said he was one of several werewolves who engaged in this behavior. Defeating witches in the underworld was their common cause because all werewolves have a fierce hatred of the Devil. After the battles, they would remain in wolf form for a while and attack livestock for food — but contrary to what you may be expecting from a savage werewolf, they would roast or salt the meat before they ate it. He also claimed the witches had stolen livestock and grains from local farms, and he and his fellow werewolves had rescued them and brought them back.

Thiess claimed that his lycanthropy was bestowed upon him when he was "toasted by a rascal". He said that if a werewolf blew into a cup or jug, and you later drank from that vessel, you too could become a werewolf. He said he used to have a wolfskin cloak that helped him to transform, but that he'd outgrown the need for it and had given it to another werewolf years before. At one point he claimed to have given up werewolfery 10 years prior to the trial, but in later testimony he admitted that was a lie and that he was still actively transforming three nights a year.

The courts weren't quite sure what to do with Thiess. He was the prosecution's main witness at both trials, and he claimed to be doing God's work. The first trial was in fact all about Thiess's accusation that his neighbor had attacked him and broken his nose (by hitting him with a broomstick decorated with horse tails, of all things). The second trial was more important, being about a robbery at a church, to which Thiess was the star witness. …but that whole werewolf thing was weird and officially not good. The first time, they seem to have just concluded that he was a harmless crazy man and let him be. When he made the same assertions in at the robbery trial ten years later, they questioned him in-depth, and pointed out some inconsistencies in his story.

Then, in 1692, the courts convicted him of heresy for his strange claims, ordered a flogging and exiled Thiess from the community. (Note that 1692 is also the year of the Salem witch trials, where 19 people were executed for being accused of witchcraft, so that implies some significant contrast in the mindset of authorities in the two regions. Not like flogging and exile isn't a horrible thing, but it's not on the same level as being hanged until dead, and it took them 10 years and two confessions of ongoing lycanthropy before deciding to do something about it.)


2. Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff - episode 352 of the podcast has an amusing segment on Thiess

Game and Story Use

  • Thiess could be a harmless nutjob, and could be a model for an eccentric and colorful background NPC.
    • If you've got a campaign with a witch trial or other tense legal/political situation, throwing in a Thiess-like character could be a good comedic break or help show the preposterousness of the kangaroo court. It seems like a natural fit for a Warhammer Fantasy campaign, for example.
  • The Livonian Werewolf tradition could be true, and the inconsistencies of Thiess' testimony might be an artifact of his failing octogenarian memory or minor lies to cover-up and protect his fellow werewolves from church/court interference.
  • You could use this sub-type of werewolf as a model or inspiration for customizing classic monsters for your own campaign or story. Take some commonly known monster type, but then put on some crazy local spins that make them almost unrecognizable. Hollywood got it wrong.
  • The grain-based local currency is being stolen, leading to famine and poverty. The PCs are hired to investigate, but there's not much evidence of the theft at the scene of the crime. Their first big break in the case is when an 80-year old homeless man comes forward to reveal the work of demons or witches. He says he used to protect the local grainery, but has gotten too old to carry on the fight himself. He can act as scout and guide to The Gates of Hell, or he can gift lycanthropy to one or more PC heroes so they can take on his responsibilities.
  • Thiess ended up in court for pretty mundane reasons (see footnotes below). As a werewolf, he probably could have avenged his own broken nose without going to court… but that would be ungodly. Likewise, your game could feature a powerful supernatural trying hard to resist the temptation to unleash their mighty power in an extra-judicial fashion over some slight or minor crime or insult.
  • Thiess's nose was struck by a "broomstick decorated by horse tails". It seems like an oddly specific thing to have hanging around.
  • The PCs are hunting a horrible monster. They track it to its lair, and are about to battle, when the monster claims he's God's Scourge, an evil that exists to defeat other evils. He accuses his victims of worse crimes than his own, and claims to have targeted them for that reason. They're no longer alive to argue against him. Is it a lie, a self-serving half-truth, or the real explanation of what's been going on behind the scenes? Do the PCs accept his story, or kill him anyway?
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