Hags - Part the First - [Eritheze Hags]

Of all the monsters presented in our dear little monster manuals, there are few I think have as much  tang and zest as Hags. Its in their whole vibe, being the kind-of weird but charming old lady out on the edge of town, a little too close to the deep, dark woods for comfort but hey, she seems to manage. Then you go and visit for tea and cupcakes, and there's just something a little... off. She seems nice and little and quaint like you expect an old granny to be, and there's just... a bit too many hair-totems for you not to notice. And then one night you're stolen from your bed, tied down onto the table as rat-fat candles burn down to stumps on your flesh as the Hag carves sigils and signs on your soft belly in berries and sheep guts, chanting softly, but slowly growing louder.

Then your bones get carved into little ivory-puppets for the Hag to send to spy on the local village.

I think the thing about Hags is that buried deep into their monster-DNA is how easy it is for them to not be combat encounters. Most other monsters, you fight them, kill them, done. Not necessarily so with Hags. Some might live in cold dark caves in the hills where no-one goes, sure; but some lurk in villages, even in positions of respect. They fit in with their illusions and remedy's that seem to be magic, but that she assures you are merely 'erbs and remedies that her grandmother taught her. There's this capacity for Hags to be both characters in their own right and also social encounters and challenges that many other monsters lack. They have their own quirks and foibles, preferred methods and magics, their own nefarious plots. She might have the village charmed. She might have persuaded the children of the village that her candy is really great and they should stop people who try to hurt her. They can bring out the worst in people, greed, ambition, envy. They can create problems for heroes that swords and steel can't fix. 

But of course, you can also fight them, and a proper fight with a proper Hag would be like something out of myth or fairy tale. This little old granny not transformed into this viscious monster, that knows her lair inside and out, and has all the tricks she needs to escape you and confound you, before leaping from the shadows, tearing and gouging with nails-like-claws and cracked black teeth. And they have magic and illusions and tricks and toys, strange knick-knacks and fetishes and totems to aid her. She'll never fight fair. In the village, she will out-smart you; in her lair, she has the home-advantage. She is strong where players may never expect it, and they all have great names like Aunty Briars or Nanny Rags to boot.

So yeah, I think Hags are pretty great, and I'm going to tell you about mine. I'll probably split it up into a few parts, 'cause I have fifteen of my own, and some revisions I'd use with the 5 that are currently released in 5th edition. They're fine... as it goes. But they can be more interesting. So we'll see how that goes. That one will probably be last. For now, lets dig into the Eritheze Witch, who I wrote a bit more than I intend for most of these because that's just what I was doing at the time.

Eritheze Witch
Erithize-Witches aren’t really all that bad as long as you don’t aggravate them, which is unfortunately all too easy.

When they move into an area, they arrive at night, when no-one will see them. In the morning, their junk-made pod-homes hang from trees like bloated and sickened fruit, or cling like mutant limpets to rocky crags. On the inside, the homes are just as filthy and loathsome as one might expect. Fetishes and totems adorn the area about her lair, all run through with brown needle-spines. The Witch will assure you that those curses are for others though, no-one as polite as you would ever end up like that. Never. Do not press her for details, or show any sign of discomfort at the decor. This will upset her.

Most towns and villages that have heard of Erithize-Witches will do nothing about it, not mention it, and avoid their hovels as best they can. They know what can be gained from them. They know the price is little. They know too, it is not worth the bother. Towns and villages that have not heard of Erithize-Witches, quickly learn the same. But not before blood-drained bodies adorn a street or two. 

They appear as one might expect for Witches whose homes dangle from distraught trees sagging from the weight of their noisome loads. Hunched over, the spinous process’ jutting from her back like fingers beneath cloth. Her face is contorted with age like wood warped in rivers, like her knuckles and finger joints. Hair like brambles, teeth like slate, eyes like wells. Do not point out any of these things to her though, this will upset her.   

If you wish to purchase the time and expertise of an Erithize-Witch, it will cost you very little in all probability. Only a lock of hair from someone you don’t really like, or a lost tooth of your least-liked sister’s brat, or a nail clipping of the local tax man. If asked about this, she will merely smile at you as best she can, and say that, of course, it’s nothing important, just a trifle. Nothing of any consequence. Do not question her further. This will upset her.

Erithize-Witches are healers and surgeons without compare. Any hurt less than mortal, any disease known or unknown, all are healed beneath the implements of the Witch. An Erithize-Witch has never failed to save a patient brought to them that wasn’t already dead at the door. No hurt or condition is beyond the abilities of an Erithize-Witch. Unfortunately for the patients, the methods she uses are less than comfortable, and never painless. Do not show any sign of this whilst in her care, however. This will upset her.

Most of the Witch’s remedies are thick and cloying soups and saps, that must be diffused through the blood for the maximum effect. Wounds are stitched together with uncanny skill, invisible threads and fine fine punctures. The Witch achieves this using her spines.

They sprout from the backs of her hands, and from the back of her head. When her services are purchased, she will pluck one out, and heat it by the fire before she uses it. Their tips are thin and ghost-like, sharper than any manufactured needle, and hollow as well. Hypodermic needles are fashioned with ease merely by slicing off the tip. Furthermore, despite the conditions of the hovels they dwell in, the wounds caused by a Witch’s needles never succumb to sepsis. Needless to say, the spines of a Erithize-Witch are exceptionally valuable, and the scalp of a Witch with needles intact will provide earnings to sustain a reasonably comfortable lifestyle for at least a couple of years. Do not let greed fill you up if you should see her spines though. This will upset her.

In the end, it is nearly impossible to be treated by the Witch without upsetting her. Occasionally someone manages to remain calm and polite enough throughout the whole ordeal that they emerge from the hovel whole and healthy, though it takes a very rare type of person to be able to bottle in the disgust and pain for as long as they remain in the Witch’s abode. If you should upset her, offering your service to her immediately for a night and a day will often calm her down. Unfortunately however, the Witch is almost never satisfied with the work once it is done. This, of course, upsets her.

When she is angered, the witch’s face will lengthen and stretch, long stabbing nose above a hooked chin crested by a leering maw of needle-teeth. Her back will snap and crack, and spines will stretch out from her back, a mantle of barbed death. Arms and legs will lengthen and thin, powerful and lithe. At this point, any pretense of humanity is fully abandoned. 

Those caught by an Erithize-Witch so angered will be tossed carelessly over her shoulder to land amidst the spines that sprout from her. The lucky ones are speared through completely and die in seconds or minutes. The unlucky must wait for every last drop of blood to be drained from them. The unluckiest are the last to be caught. They must endure the Witch’s personal ministrations, and she won’t let them die until she is quite finished with them.

Either way, after someone receives treatment, or angers her, further charms and totems will adorn the area about her home come the next morning.

Others in the Series

Part 2 - Willow, Angler, and Brume Hags (with a little more Eritheze)
Part 3 - Luner, Murine, Briar Hags
Part 4 - Marrow, Byenic, Red Hags
Part 5 - Skitter, Matron, Scypho Hags
Part 6 - Crose, and Whisper Hags, and Retuning 5e's Hags

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