by Wanderer Werewolf
©2008 Wanderer Werewolf

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   It’s a common ‘furry’ trope to have anthropomorphic animals and humans co-existing, as in comics such as Tales of the Morphing Period, or medieval story universes such as Metamor Keep. This series of articles will take a look at the status of ‘animal-people’ according to the law in various circumstances. We begin with the medieval era.
   To begin with, a reference to ‘citizenship’ in the medieval age is almost nonsensical. Because people were divided into ‘free and servile’, as Libres de jostice et plets puts it (in 1390), freemen were able to move to any town they were physically and financially capable of reaching. (Serfs, being a lord’s property, had no such right, although they could apply for permission.) Even the courts were known to prosecute animals, as in the 14th century, when the Norman town of Falaise tried and executed a sow for maiming and killing a small child.
   So: What distinguished man from beast? And what does this mean for anthropomorphic animal characters?
   The first test was, perhaps, the simplest: You had to be able to talk. As long as you were able to intelligently communicate through speech (since writing was rather uncommon in the medieval era), you stood a decent chance of being listened to. This was such a hallmark of Humanity that it originated the term ‘dumb animal’; literally, ‘an animal that cannot talk’. (In the medieval era, this cut slightly in both directions; mute individuals were often treated in a manner that would horrify later generations, simply because they could barely communicate.)
   The second was somewhat harder: You had to be able to reason. While villages had their idiots, even they had to be able to take care of themselves generally; the true mental deficients of the medieval era tended to suffer an early death. Isidore of Seville (6th Century) was hardly alone in declaring that those without language or numbers were ‘lower than the brute animals’.
   Third, of course, was a rather harder one: You had to have a society. Humans, after all, lived in groups, used tools, and had houses. Therefore, ran the logic, if you live in groups, use tools and have houses… why, you must be people. It’s for this reason that such animal-beings as the Cynocephali of Marco Polo’s adventures were seen as people with animal heads and not beasts with hands: They lived like humans, so they must be human.
   Seen this way, most anthropomorphic animal characters are plainly ‘human’ under the medieval law. They walk, talk, use tools and live like humans do, at least in most imaginings of them.
   And then we hit the Church.
   Even in fantasy settings, after all, we do tend to have religions of one stripe or another. And religions, such being their nature, give rise to doctrine and thereafter to dogma. (No, your karma did not run over it.) Real-life Christianity felt it a Divinely-granted duty to bring Salvation to other races… whether they wanted it or not. Fantasy role-playing campaigns contain gods devoted to specific races; such religions could easily feel the same way… and that’s before you get into the ever-popular (at least when you want a long-running campaign) holy wars.
   Still, assuming your race isn’t at war with the deciding authority, what does being ‘officially human’ get you?
   Well, for one, your character can do business, hold a job, own their own home… they can live and work as part of society without needing an ‘owner’ in any sense of the word. Without that freedom, an anthro character’s choices boil down to ‘pet’ and ‘wild’. And since medieval law holds that even animals are accountable… well, there’s really no advantage in being either form of animal.
   A side note on transformations: Under medieval law, a wizard who changed someone into an animal (according to existing works such as the Malleus Maleficarum) was guilty of assault. (Witchcraft, as a crime unto itself, didn’t exist until almost the Renaissance, while Heresy waited until the Witch Trials of the Fifteenth Century. Before then, crimes involving witchcraft, like crimes involving weapons, were prosecuted based on the crime; not the method.) Properly, this would be the same charge laid against a wizard or sorcerer who transformed somebody into an anthropomorphic animal, as well. Of course, first you have to prove who you are… er, were… sort of… before the local authorities will run out and arrest the malefactor. “I don’t recall seeing any large, talking rats come through town lately…”  “That’s because I was an elf yesterday!”
   With no central databases or ID cards… well, you begin to realize why the options in most old stories amounted to:

  1. Find a way to break the curse.
  2. Find a hero to break the wizard.
  3. Pray. Hard.

   (If you were enspelled while sleeping by a traveling wizard with a cruel streak, #3 may be the only option.)
   What happens to the wizard or witch if they’re found guilty? By medieval standards, a light sentence: The malefactor changes you back, gets a whipping (literally), spends some time in the stocks, and pays a fine based on your social status. And if they can’t change you back? Well, then, it’s the death penalty. (They’ve technically ‘killed’ you, after all, and casting the spell makes it definitely premeditated.)
   How can this impact your adventures? I’m preaching to the choir if there are any fans of Palladium RPG in the crowd, but:

   Next time, it’s into the modern era… and if you thought the lack of ID cards created problems, wait until you see what having them can do!

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