We do not know of Ludwig prior to his role as the first hunter of the Healing Church. It may be that he was a scholar at Byrgenwerth, or perhaps a hunter under Gehrman. Gehrman certainly knows of Ludwig, mentioning him by name in his dialogue. Ludwig's appearance in the history of Yharnam and the Church marks a departure in the way the Church dealt with the Scourge of the Beast. The first hunter's under Gehrman focused on engaging beasts with speed, based upon the fighting style of their instructor. This focus on speed and dexterity meant that weapons like the Burial Blade, Blades of Mercy and Rakuyo were favoured by those who engaged in the hunt. Each of these weapons requires great skill from the wielder and would have required extensive training in order to utilize them effectively against the beastly threat. But while these methods were effective, it would only take one beast, with one lucky hit, to end the life of these hunters who had poured so much of their time into honing their skill. Not only was this a very real threat, but as the scourge of the beast got worse and the beasts became larger, the Healing Church had to change their strategy to match the conditions. To enable them to work and forge weapons capable of countering the larger beasts, the Healing Church created a unique workshop; a massive circular tower adjunct to the old workshop, Oedon Chapel and the Upper Cathedral Ward. In the time of Ludwig the Church supported the role of the hunter, forging their weaponry and attire, perhaps providing training and a safe haven in which to rest.
"The Healing Church, and the Blood Ministers who belong to it…were once guardians of the hunters, in the times of the hunter…Ludwig. They worked, and forged weapons, in their unique workshop."
- Gehrman, the First Hunter
The Healing Church workshop departed from old Gehrman's techniques to provide hunters with the means to hunt more terrifying beasts, and perhaps things still worse. Ludwig's Rifle for example; exhibits several departures from the workshop's design, which suggest that the Church anticipated much larger inhuman beasts. The larger inhuman beasts mentioned were the cleric beasts and others like them. Monsters created out of those clerics who had imbibed the blood of half a town:
Many of these hunters were clerics. As it was, clerics transformed into the most hideous beasts.
When clerics began transforming into unspeakable beasts, the Church needed something to retaliate with.
These departures from Gehrman's design primarily involve weapons that pack more of a punch. The Kirkhammer and Ludwig's Holy Blade are both weapons that transform into massive and weighty killing tools. The lack of dexterity required to wield them meant that those who needed to could do so without the training Gehrman's original students had received.
The Hunter Garb tells us that hunters stalked beasts unannounced, by cover of night, however this may have been in the time of Gehrman when the public awareness of the scourge was more limited and hunter's had to hide their tracks. By the time of Ludwig, the power of the hunter's arsenal attests to the fact that the beasts were no longer small enough to be dealt with discreetly. Not only this, but Ludwig once recruited Yharnamites to serve as hunters. Hunter's attire was made, likely by the Healing Church, for new recruits, and had excellent straightforward defense, but not nearly enough to allow an ordinary man to stand any real chance against the beasts. These hunters, while well equipped, were essentially untrained and ordinary citizens; given massive and weighty weapons that can cause harm with little skill.
Each night with the Church's symbolic Holy Shawl fluttering proudly on their backs, these Healing Church hunters would follow their captain out into the streets of Yharnam and engage in the hunt.
The Church engaged in the hunt in a medical capacity. When a cancer is discovered, one must pinpoint its location, reach in, and wrench it from the host's bosom.
The cancer in this case is the Scourge, along with any and all who may have been 'infected'. The hunters clad in black were intent on early prevention of the scourge, disposing of victims and potential victims before signs of sickness manifest, while the hunters clad in white partook in the hunt as a means of researching the effects of blood.
The captain carried with them a cloth emblem. The main gate that leads to the round plaza of the Great Cathedral is shut tight on nights of the hunt, and could only be opened from the other side with the emblem. In other words, the captain's return with the emblem, determined the end of the hunt. Ludwig's role in recruiting the Yharnamites and his participation in the hunt suggests that he was likely a captain of the first hunts, leading the Church Hunters into the fray.
At some point in Ludwig's life, he discovered a blade along with a Caryll rune which became branded upon his mind. This blade was known as the Holy Moonlight Sword and the rune is known as the 'Guidance' rune. The tomb prospector hood tells us that tomb prospectors explore the old labyrinth (the chalice dungeons) on behalf of the Healing Church. The chalice dungeons are said to contain much more than mere hunter trinkets, indeed they hide the very secrets of the old Great Ones sought after by those with the insight to imagine greatness. The Healing Church made a practice of sending its hunters into the old labyrinth below Yharnam and the Augur of Ebrietas and Isz Chalices tell us that the Healing Church made an inquiry into the cosmos from within the old labyrinth and that the land of Isz lies in contact with the cosmos. The Loch Shield tells us that the Healing Church explored the labyrinth of Isz and performed sacred ceremonies there. The use of the word arcane in Bloodborne appears to have two meanings:
1. It's literal meaning as "understood by few; mysterious or secret."
2. The power of the cosmic Great Ones and their kin.
We can repeatedly see that the power of arcane is associated with cosmic Great Ones and their kin. Ebrietas' attacks like 'A Call Beyond' and her aura do arcane damage. The Empty Phantasm Shell imbues weapons with arcane power and bosses like Rom and the Celestial Emissary are both capable of inflicting arcane damage. All this evidence suggests that Ludwig may have discovered his Holy Moonlight Sword while exploring the old labyrinth as a prospector on behalf of the Church, and that his discovery took place in the land of Isz. The sword's description as being arcane and its ability to channel the abyssal cosmos certainly creates these associations. The Holy Moonlight Sword was no ordinary blade. It was imbued with special arcane powers, and Ludwig had a special relationship with it. To Ludwig, the sword offered guidance, but it would appear that this guidance was exclusive to Ludwig. The fact that the sword was synonymous with Ludwig and that few have ever set eyes on the great blade implies that Ludwig kept it very close, and was very possessive with it, not allowing others to touch or even see it unnecessarily. Along with his discovery of the Holy Moonlight Sword Ludwig also discovered a Caryll rune. The Caryll runes transcribed the inhuman utterings of the Great Ones and are etched upon the mind seemingly tangibly. Ludwig's rune is called Guidance but unlike other runes, it does not say it was the literal transcription of the word 'Guidance' (in contrast to how Moon and Eye are literally transcriptions of those words heard from the Great Ones). Instead, Guidance had the effect of allowing Ludwig to empty his fears in the midst of a hunt. When we look at Ludwig's beastly form, we can see there are two heads. One is shaped like a horse, and is the one he speaks out of, the other is a gaping hole completely full of eyes. Clearly Ludwig was able to acquire some insight (or 'eyes on the inside') in his lifetime. Insight allows those who possess it to see things others cannot. In Ludwig's case it would appear that he was able to make contact with or witness the Great Ones of the cosmos, at least on some level when he shut his eyes. The Holy Moonlight Sword is said to channel the abyssal cosmos, and we know for a fact that when Ludwig closed his eyes, he saw darkness, or perhaps nothingness, and that is where he discovered the tiny beings of light. The 'A Call Beyond' description tells us that:
Long ago, the Healing Church used phantasms to reach a lofty plane of darkness.
and the Blacksky Eye description states:
Soft eye blessed by a phantasm.
They were discovered through Byrgenwerth's contact with
the arcane, but in the end revealed nothing..
Deep within the eye lies a vast stretch of dark sky that
rumbles with an endless meteor storm.
Both of these descriptions mention the darkness or perhaps nothingness that can be witnessed when reaching a cosmic plane. Could it be that the tiny beings of light Ludwig witnessed were the stars witnessed as if from a distance? We know that celestial bodies such as the moon are associated with the Great Ones, and in fact, may very well be Great Ones, does this include the stars?
Master Willem looked to beings from higher planes for guidance.
Like Master Willem, Ludwig saw guidance in his contact with the Great Ones of the cosmos in whatever limited way it may have come. Perhaps to him, the thread of light from the playful dancing sprites he saw when he closed his eyes reminded him of some higher calling; that he had a purpose amidst all the sanguine blacks and reds of the early hunts, steeped as he was in the stench of blood and beasts. The rune's effect is to boost rallying potential, an effect perhaps tied to the encouragement Ludwig received while it remained branded on his mind.
Alternatively, the player can witness tiny 'dancing' sprites when they take damage, which serve to indicate that there is a chance for the player to regain health. It may be that Ludwig was seeing these sprites, and that their existence indicated to him that he was still able to regain health, the life essence of a Hunter, and this encouraged him on the night of the Hunt. This would certainly tie the description into the effects of the Rune, however it should be noted that Ludwig is specifically said to see these sprites when he closed his eyes, and that the regain particle effect certainly appears to be only visible outside of the body. Whatever the case, Ludwig never really wanted to know what the lights meant, what it was that he saw when he closed his eyes, he convinced himself that the rune and its sprites were simply offering him guidance, a way in which to fulfill his purpose in ridding Yharnam of the beastly scourge.
"Aah, you were at my side, all along.
My true mentor…
My guiding moonlight…"
He used the sword and the rune to help his cause, but he did not delve deeper into their mysteries.
Ludwig's sword seems to be based upon the idea of a cursed blade. There are a number of myths and stories in Japanese culture about cursed blades. One of which concerns a Muramasa blade that has to draw blood before it can be returned to its scabbard, even to the point of forcing its wielder to wound himself or commit suicide. Another concerns the Kusanagi blade, a blade found inside a monster, able to control and hurl the power of the wind, sending it in whatever direction the wielder saw fit.
As mentioned earlier, Ludwig appears to have been someone who cared deeply about chivalry and honorable behavior. The Radiant Sword Hunter badge crafted by the Healing Church notes that those who would be heirs to the will of Ludwig are known as Holy Blades, a mentality that dates back to an ancient line of heroes from a very early age of honor and chivalry.
Are my Church Hunters the honorable spartans I hoped they would be?"
With his 'Holy Blades' at his side Ludwig would charge into battle. His eventual beastly transformation into a horse-like creature implies that either he rode a horse during the hunts and somehow the two became melded together or that he is horse-like because of the strong connotations with knighthood, honor and chivalry that, that entails. During the hunts it is implied that Ludwig acted without fear and that he acted with such savagery, those around him perhaps worried for their own safety:
Just as I feared.
Then a beast-possessed degenerate was I, as my detractors made eminently clear
Does the nightmare never end?!"
Ludwig appears to have received much criticism during his lifetime, but despite his doubts and the perceived denigration suffered; he was undoubtedly inexhaustible in his quest to rid the world of beasts. Despite his ideals Ludwig would eventually become one of the beasts he hunted:
Many of the hunters were clerics. As it was, clerics transformed into the most hideous beasts.
And Ludwig's fate was no different.
One day, the hunters disappeared, and Yharnamites began
to whisper of the hunter's sin.
Drunk with blood, chasing after beasts, they would pass on
to the Nightmare, every last one of them.
The eye of a blood-drunk hunter. Its pupil is collapsed and
turned to mush, indicating the onset of the scourge of beasts.
A hunter who goes drunk with blood is said to be taken by
the Nightmare, destined to wander forever, engaged in an
endless hunt. It is a fate that no hunter can escape.
Ludwig's eventual fate, like all those branded hunters, was to be pulled into the Hunter's Nightmare. Within the nightmare Ludwig engaged in an endless hunt. By the time the player finds him, he acts without thought, relying purely on the instinct to kill.
"Ahh, ahh, please… help us… Ah…
An unsightly beast…
A great terror looms!
Ahh… Ludwig the Accursed is coming.
Have mercy… Have mercy upon us…"
- Talking corpse in Ludwig's boss room
Even in his beast-like state, when he sees the Holy Moonlight Sword channeling the abyssal cosmos in battle, Ludwig is able to achieve lucidity. This gives us a picture of what he must have been like each night of the hunt, before being pulled into the Hunter's Nightmare and it is no wonder his peers criticized him.
To Ludwig the nightmare would never end, at least not until the player manages to put an end to his life.
"Ah, good…that is a relief.
To know I did not suffer such denigration for nothing.
Thank you kindly. Now I may sleep in peace.
Even in this darkest of nights, I see…the moonlight…"
Even after being defeated and finally finding some form of rest, Ludwig was still guided by the moonlight. His ideals untarnished, he died a true hero. His guiding Light would be passed on to another, that blinding thread that lead, and mislead the consummate hero.