Abridged History of the 10th Age
“Ólvr Olfhárr’s meeting with the northern hero Bjarki is an excellent opportunity for us to see a good man-beast in action. There is much we can learn from the Olfharrsaga, if only we take the time to study it.”
-Commentary on the Olfharrsaga, Hannr Gundrison, Earthcaller of Eiri, X76
Skin-changers (or were-beasts as they are also known) have a long history dating back to the Third Age. During the time when the ancient Trollish kingdom of Ushtuk was challenged by the might of Miles there were bands of men living in the far north. They were nominally vassals of the giants at Cloudhame, though they were highly disorganized and far from unified. According to what sources we have of that period, the power to don the skin of another animal was varied by tribe and family bloodline; thus a bearchanger could not give birth to a wolfchanger.
This was grounds for many inter-tribal conflicts, as the Olfharrsaga gives us an insight into a local war between bear-men and wolf-men. It is unclear where this power came from, as most of these tribes no longer exist (though the strains of blood do continue on here and there, leading to small claves of skinchangers, they rarely know their history more than a few generations back). However, it is hypothesized that, just as the Uncreated Races each developed magic, this strain of northman also developed that Art, but unwittingly channeling it towards this end rather than codifying it into a cohesive system of magical arts (like the Wyrms, Giants, Trolls, or Zeshimites.
Other legends speak of an ur-beast, a potent spirit of evil temper that sometimes took the form of a stag, sometimes of a bear, and other times of a fox that, when destroyed, granted its destroyers that power—that in fact, each of the legendary band of men who slew it ate from a different part of its flesh and received a different sympathetic shape. This story is the one told amongst northern tribesmen, skinchangers and simple wildmen alike.
Whatever the truth may be, skinchangers are no longer a phenomenon confined to the far north. No indeed, they can be found all throughout the Golden Belt and in other regions north of the Narrow Crossing. It is common belief that a bite by a skinchanger will infect one with uncontrollable transformations into that animal and it has been magically proven to be so.