Wolf
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Basic Information

A wolf is a large wild canine, similar to a dog (looking most like a German Shepherd). In fact, the Gray Wolf is actually the same species (but different subspecies) as dogs. It is also closely related to the dhole, the coyote, the jackal, the cape hunting dog, the extinct dire wolf, etc. Wolves from more northern climates tend to be larger and more heavily furred than those from more southerly or equatorial regions.

The wolf is a social animal, living in packs lead by a dominant mated pair and their offspring. Wolves are monogamous and mate for life. Packs typically consist of four to a dozen animals, but sometime rare large packs with as many as 30 or 40 animals exist. Wolves communicate amongst themselves via sounds (a wolf howl can carry for miles), facial expressions, and body language. They also mark their territory as a warning to other wolf packs. Wolf pups are born blind and rely on the adults to feed and protect them.

Once grown, Wolves have keen senses, most especially hearing, scent and night vision. Wolves are very observant and can learn from watching, figuring out how to open doors and latches if they see it done often enough.

Gray Wolves have a very large range, being present across the entire northern hemisphere (and south to the equator and into the middle east) throughout history. Other related species such as the Red Wolf, Maned Wolf, and various wild dogs, extend further south, but Gray Wolves tend to dominate over any other canine species in the area. Their only natural predators are humans, and in some regions tigers. Their preferred food sources are moose, deer, elk, caribou and boar. Packs in North America tend to claim larger territory than their European cousins.

Wolves on the hunt will stalk their prey for a long time. Wolves prefer to attack the hind-quarters of their prey, at least for larger prey. They won't usually attack until the victim starts to run away - a large animal that holds its ground may well be safe. If wolves encounter a herd or group of animals, they will attempt to separate one or two targets from the pack and let the others escape. They rarely kill more than they need. The breeding pair at the heart of the pack always gets first access to any kill, and the rest of the pack takes whatever is left.

Wolf attacks on humans are quite rare, but they none-the-less are feared by humans. Wolves do attack livestock fairly often though, which puts them in conflict with farmers and ranchers. Starting in the middle ages this conflict became a systematized and organized attempt by man to drive the wolf to extinction in most of Europe. Wolves currently inhabit perhaps a third of their original range.

Wolves in Mythology and Folklore

Sources

Game and Story Use

  • Wolves may serve as apex predators or the monster of the week in a variety of settings. A lone wolf with rabies might challenge starting characters, and larger packs might prove a challenge for later in the campaign. In the real world they stay away from humans, but in some settings they could be a lot more aggressive.
    • Games set in classical antiquity or the early middle ages may see larger or more numerous packs populating the world. It's likely that humans hunting the wolves selected for the trait of caution or reclusiveness in wolves over the generations. Wolves predating mankind's efforts to eliminate them might well be larger and more aggressive, possibly having no fear of man at all.
    • After the end, when Post-Apocalyptic Decay has set in, wolves will frequently interbreed with dogs, and may accept feral dogs into their packs. Within a few decades after the fall of man, wolf numbers and ranges should recover. They could be a constant danger in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
  • Wolves, being essentially larger wilder dogs, are a natural option for the animal companion / pet / familiar for a character envisioned as a little bad-ass or rough around the edges.
    • They might serve as a proper mount for smaller demihumans, such as elves, halflings, and pixies.
      • For a great example of elvish wolf-riders, see Wendy and Richard Pini's Elfquest series.
  • In a high-fantasy, high-magic setting, the systematic hunting and extinction of wolves might anger a god.
    • This could be an environmentally-friendly tale about the hubris and arrogance of man… or a horror story about the fickle whims of the gods.
    • A scenario might start with a were-wolf attack. If the PCs don't solve the mystery quickly enough and put the monster down, the public fear provokes a large-scale wolf hunt (as seen in Brotherhood of the Wolf). This angers Mars (or whatever other wolf-associated god fits your setting) who sends a plague or some sort of supernatural wolf-like monster to stop the hunters.
      • Perhaps the original lycanthrope becomes much more powerful as a result of some blessing placed on him by the god who has chosen him now to protect his wild half-brothers.
        • Depending on how gullible or predictable that god is, the werewolf could be big bad evil guy plotting this whole chain of events in pursuit of divine favor or personal power.
  • An exceedingly clever wolf that has figured out how to open doors or fence gates might give the players all sorts of red herrings. They might assume a were-creature is in play, when it's actually just a talking animal or a really smart specimen escaped from the zoo.
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