Baba Yaga is a powerful, dangerous and morally ambiguous creature of Russian myth.
Taking the form of an old woman (hence the "Baba"1) she haunts the wild places and deep forests of Greater Russia, very much a Power of The Land and generally best avoided. Whether she is witch, hag, fairy or pagan goddess is up for debate … at times she has aspects of all four.
In many, perhaps most, folk tales she is a villain - an evil creature who abducts (and probably eats) small children and flies through the skies in a giant mortar2 spreading random curses and other assorted trouble. In others, however, she acts the part of an oracle or a somewhat malevolent donor … and on occasion even serves as a tutor to young girls who are apprenticed to her for one reason or another. In the apprenticeship tales she is usually a harsh mistress who makes demands of her pupils that they would find it impossible to meet if it weren't for some unusual benefit derived from their own good nature.
Whatever role she ends up playing, those who stumble on her chicken-footed hut3 behind its fence of bones in a forest clearing usually end up having a tough time of it one way or another.
She is often served by various talking animals and animate domestic objects (which are frequently humans transformed to serve her as the result of a bad bargain or some insult), a variety of invisible servants and three horsemen who are respectively entirely white, black or red (including the horse). The three riders are day, night and the sun (or noon, midnight and dawn) and are either her slaves or her sons (or possibly both).
Anthropologically she may be the relic of an ancient paleo-Slavic death goddess and/or a Lilith like personification of infant mortality welded onto the traditional outcast wise woman.
Game and Story Use
- If in Russia (or a fantasy counterpart culture) expect Baba Yaga. As per the stories, she could do pretty much anything.
- She could also appear outside Russia as a result of a "cultural IP violation" … or as part of a gathering of witches from around the world.
- She might well serve a campaign as a tutor for an order of evil female magicians - or even just a mythical founder.
- If you happen to be in the woods somewhere and come across a little hut with a fence made of human bones … at least try to run. You may find yourself always returning to the clearing, but it's worth a shot.
- Of course, you may get Blair Witched anyway.
- In one Sandman story, Koschei got his heart given to Baba Yaga. What could a witch/hag/fae/goddess do with the original lich as a servant?