Jackalwere’s are an excellent choice as an encounter for a lower level party. The creature occurs in low (1-4) numbers but has powerful special abilities. The creatures can shape shift at will into three different forms: a jackal, a human or as a half-human/half jackal. They also possess a sleep gaze and can only be hit my magical or iron* weapons.
Unlike lyncanthropes, the jackalwere doesn’t transmit a disease. They are very intelligent and will use the sleep gaze if possible on unsuspecting victims. Their hatred for humanoids should be tempered by intelligent tactics. Given a choice, the jackalwere will only attack if they believe they can prevail. If possible, they will utilize the sleep gaze to incapacitate prey rather than engaging in outright combat. The jackalwere is a master of deceit and will only reveal itself if forced.
Initially, I was going to use Jackalweres as a encounter on a roadway. Instead, the party chose to stay in town and undertake a mission from the local thieves guild. The ‘weres were stalking unsuspecting merchants after closing. They would approach the residence of the shopkeeper acting as if they needed items urgently. If the unsuspecting merchant fell to the sleep gaze, they would drag the disabled merchant back into the residence and slaughter/feast upon the corpse.
The party was already alerted to the deaths early and staked out the area where the killings had taken place. The jackalweres were in human form but were not aware of the party staking out the street. After targeting a merchant, the party engaged forcing the jackalweres into a fight.
Tweaks to Better the Encounter
I was flying by the seat of my pants so I didn’t play it as well as I could have. I ignored the intelligence and morale of the monsters once the combat was in full swing. The jackalweres should have likely tried to flee and fight another day once they were significantly injured. One did escape but would not have chosen to re-engage a party member later unless it was at an advantage.
I underplayed the menace of the jackalweres. The creatures are prone to feasting upon their prey. The horror could have been upped if the original deaths were reported as partially eaten corpses. Toss in full families rather than individual merchants and I may have gotten a more energetic response from my group. Still, it was a brutal encounter, which fit the setting requested.
Should you choose to be evil, have a single ‘were in human form, act injured on the roadside. If the party aids the injured, the ‘were will wait until night and attempt to disable those on watch and then slaughter the rest of the party in its sleep. The tactic is brutal but aligns with the mentality of the creature. If discovered, it will attempt to flee rather than fighting a pitched battled.
Pack of Jackals / Wilderness Encounter
The jackalweres will mix with a pack of normal jackals in jackal form Within the pack, they will engage the party briefly overnight to test the strength of the party. As the alpha members of the pack, the jackalwere’s will not sacrifice any member of the pack in combat. Its a feint. If the party appears weak enough to be killed, one jackalwere, bruised and bleeding, will approach the camp at dawn in attempt to use its sleep gaze. If ineffective, the jackalwere will later try to slink off. If successful, the rest of the pack will engage.
I don’t understand the magical and iron(*) only weapon restriction. Magical only? Sure. Iron? I’ve never distinguished materials for weapons in my game. I’d play it as +1 or better magical weapons and ignore the “iron” weapon option unless you classify metal types of weapons in your game. The iron weapon component must have a following since its survived several fantasy editions and been included in retro-clone games.
Jackalweres are tough creatures. The fantastic abilities of shape shifing and sleep gaze make for a far more interesting encounter than wandering band of humanoids. Played correctly, they could become an early nemesis of the party.