Monday, February 7, 2011

Mythic Monday: the Winter Hag

Like Groundhog Day, but without the fat woodchuck.

Mythic Monday is a column about adapting elements of folklore, myth and legendry into your game.

Another  "Groundhog Day" was observed here in Pennsylvania - big news out at Punxsutawney.  In case you missed it, we'll be having an early spring - there was no shadow for the fat woodchuck - but keep in mind the groundhog is wrong most of the time anyway.  I love the snow and ice, and am counting on a few more excellent storms, personally.

There are ancient roots for weather prognostication around the time of February 2nd, with interesting possibilities for gaming.  Let's take a look at one of them, the Cailleach (pronounced: kyle-yuk) from Celtic folklore.

February 2nd is halfway to the spring equinox, and is laden with significance - in Christianity, it marks Candlemas; in the US, it is a day for scrutinizing the actions of a fat woodchuck; and in pre-Christian Ireland, it was Imbolc - the Feast of Brigid, but also the day of Cailleach.  Cailleach is the hag of winter, a Celtic goddess and personification of winter.

If the hag wanted winter to extend another 6 weeks, she would ease the weather on February 2nd so that she could gather sufficient firewood to keep the hearth burning.  (Don't question why the hag of winter would need a hearth fire - let's just go with it).  The ancients certainly hoped for a cloudy day or foul weather, as it portended an earlier spring - much like how the fat woodchuck works.

Gaming with the Hag of Winter
I like the idea of personifications that can be meddled with by the players, even if it's only temporary.  Death to Santa Claus, er, Hogsfather, and all that kind of stuff.  What if it was important for your characters that winter ended quickly, or if they needed winter to be extended, perhaps to break a siege?  Could you envision a story where a group of characters (players or NPC's), seeks the Hag of Winter in a mythical northern forest, and prevents her from gathering firewood, thus ending winter?  I like it.

It could be an interesting quest using Contact Other Plane or similar divination to find the Hag, and travel to either slay, hinder, barter or parley with said creature.

The Hag of Winter, Cailleach (Labyrinth Lord)
No. 1(1)
AL C
MV 150(50)
AC 4
HD 12
ATK  2 claws or spell
D 2d4/2d4
Save C12
Morale 12
Hoard XX
XP 3800

The Winter Hag appears as a withered crone with blue skin.  It has the spell abilities of a cleric of the same level, in addition to the ability to control the weather.  The creature is not the goddess Cailleach herself, but a personification or avatar in the mortal realm.  If slain, the Hag will reappear elsewhere in the mortal world the following year on Samhain.

The Hag is immune to cold and is unimpeded by deep snow.  The Hag can summon 3d6 wolves or 2d4 dire wolves (to arrive in 2d6 rounds), and often rides a large black dire wolf.  Her wand functions as a cone of cold (60' range, 30' cone for 6d6 damage).

The Hag of Winter lives in a hovel deep in the northern forest and traditionally only roams on the feast of Imbolc.  During the light half of the year, the hag is transformed into an ordinary, wet boulder.  As such, if Flesh-to-Stone is cast on the Hag, winter will immediately end.