Since watching the Creaturepasta episode on the Wendigo, I’ve become increasingly interested in other creepy creatures from Native American folklore. Much of my attention has been focused on a creature known as the Skin-walker.
Skin Walkers, known also as “Yee Naldlooshi,” are derived from Navajo myth. Information on Skin-walkers is somewhat lacking, as speaking of them is considered a taboo in Navajo culture, and they especially guard this information from being shared with outsiders. It is said that merely speaking the name “Skin-walker” will mark you and cause them to seek you out.
The Skin-walker is a shape changer, similar to a werewolf. Skin-walkers can assume multiple animal forms, though they tend to favor the coyote. Foxes, wolves, and owls are also popular choices. In some myths, they can also take on a hybrid form of human and animal, which I personally find to be absolutely terrifying.
In their animal form, a Skin-walker has some defining features that might alert people that they are dealing with something other than an ordinary animal. In some cases, they perfect examples of the animal they take the form of, save for the fact that they always appear as white or albino versions. In other versions of the myth, they are indistinguishable except for having strange and unnaturally stiff movements.
Fundamentally though, Skin-walkers are human. According to Navajo legend, Skin-walkers are a form of witch. The process of becoming a Skin-walker involves performing an unspeakably evil act, such as cannibalism or murdering a family member. A skin-walker in human form can be distinguished by being exceptionally hairy, having an animalistic glow to the eyes, and/or wearing the pelt of the animal they transform into (in some forms of the myth, this is necessary for the transformation.) Unfortunately, Skin-walkers can steal the face and shape of humans as well, so finding their true human form may be difficult.
Since Skin-walkers are witches, they have access to various spells and magical abilities. Some of the most popular powers that they are attributed include telepathy, mind control, and the ability create a poisonous dust from powdered corpses (often from twin infants.) There is also apparently a ritual or spell that the Skin-walker can and does perform to recruit more Skin-walkers. They also have the ability to travel impossibly fast, with some reports indicating distances upwards of 200 miles in a single night. When considering that the name Yee Naldlooshi means “He who goes on all fours” and that their gait is stiff and impossibly fast, this creature’s movements must be singularly disturbing.
Thankfully, despite all of their powers, they are not without some form of weaknesses. Skin-walkers lack the ability to enter a home uninvited, much like vampires. The most common way to kill a Skin-walker is to speak its true human name. This will make the Skin-walker grow sick and die within a few days. If a more immediate solution is needed, some sources say that it can be killed by a shot to the neck from a bullet dipped in white ash.
Using the Skin-Walker in Your Game:
Skin-walkers can easily feature in traditional sword and sorcery games, as well as more modern roleplaying settings, though you might have some difficulty using them in a science-fiction setting. One notable difficulty for using Skin-walkers in a non-earth setting is that they are closely tied to Navajo culture. If you plan to use the Skin-walker in a pure fantasy setting, you will probably need to create some sort of appropriate analog.
In a standard fantasy game like Dungeons & Dragons, the stats and abilities of a Skin-walker are relatively easy to duplicate. The ability to use “Wild Shape” along with spells such as “Disguise self” and “Cloudkill” easily duplicate many of the powers ascribed to the Skin-walker. Those interested in a more traditional combat encounter can present the Skin-walker as an evil Druid or spellcaster, since they are fundamentally witches.
However, I think the real strength of an adventure incorporating Skin-walkers would be to set up something with an investigative bent. Since information about Skin-walkers is a closely guarded secret, it is likely that the players would have to work hard to win over the suspicious natives. All the while, they have to sort through the misinformation and survive the evils that the Skin-walker is inflicting on the people. Once they figure out what the creature is and how to kill it, they’ll still have to figure out the true name of that particular Skin-walker, which means further investigation. As an added bonus, simply abandoning the people to their fate will not save the party. Once they have spoken the term “Skin-walker,” they are marked. The Skin-walker will be drawn to them thereafter and can become a recurring enemy until it has been properly dealt with. And given that Skin-walkers can travel upwards of 200 miles in a single night, it is unlikely that the party will be able to flee from this threat.
However you decide to integrate them into your game, Skin-walkers certainly have a fair bit of a creep factor, and are a rather interesting flavor of shapeshifter. Instead of using something more common, such as a werewolf, you will have better luck creating a unique experience for your players by using a lesser known creature like the Skin-walker.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.