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Basic Information

The hag is a human hunting monster of European folklore that may or may not be the distaff counterpart to the ogre. Taking the form of a large, ugly old woman the hag haunts moors, swamps, forests and similar desolate places, ambushing and eating travellers. In some legends the hag will also lurk around the outskirts of rural communities, snatching up straying children and unattended babies for her meals, as well as those foolish enough to be around after dark. Mythopoetically they probably personalise the dangers of nearby wilderness, acting as a warning to children and other unwise individuals against straying into such places.

Hags are often conflated with witches and/or some of the unseelie fae that happen to resemble old women, but the huge size and the iron claws and teeth (as, for example in the case of Black Annis, a hag said to hunt in the North of England) usually give them away as something other.

Which Baba Yaga is - witch, hag, fae or, indeed, deity, is never entirely clear.

Some legends suggest that a hag may be able to take control of a sleeping man - possibly by fitting him with a bridle of human hair or made from a gallows rope - and "ride" him through the night. This may involve transforming him into a horse, or literally using him as a flying mount … or may just be a euphemism for a succubus style rape. Other traditions give this power to witches, but as noted, legend often struggles to determine if a given monster is a hag, a witch or what (see also the pressure spirits of German legend).

Being a single gender species the reproduction of hags is debatable - some traditions have them as more or less manifest spirits for which concepts of reproduction don't apply, some have them (as noted above) as female ogres whilst in others they reproduce with the help of humanity. If they do borrow humans, there are still multiple suggestions as to how this works - some say they seduce human men using magic (whether "love" potions or by glammering themselves to appear as beautiful women) or rape them (as noted above) and so conceive children. Alternatively they may steal girl babies (with or without a changeling substitute) to raise as hags subject to an appropriate transformation. Possibly a hag may also conceive with the assistance of an incubus and it might also be appropriate for a hag to switch her own child for a girl baby, both to be rid of the bother of raising her and to obtain a snack. Another possibility may be that hags are a class of cambion and don't reproduce as such but are born from time to time in the general course of things.

In most legends a hag is an unmitigated menace - if she is occasionally helpful, she is more likely to be a witch or similar human worker - but in some cases can be tricked or bribed into being useful. Legend also occasionally casts a hag as a form of distaff frog prince who can be transformed into a beautiful - if sometimes still supernatural - woman by the hero1.

The Blair Witch (she of the Project) may be one of these, or an actual witch, or something else.

Other ambiguous creatures can be found in and around bodies of water - some are hag like, others superficially attractive (at least until they attack) - named examples include Peg Powler (specific to the River Tees), Nelly Longarms and Jenny Greenteeth. These, in a folkloric context, would seem to be minatory creatures designed to avoid drownings. As actual creatures they may turn out to be a form of water nymph … or not. As noted above, hags are ambiguous things. There are also those who can be seen washing shrouds or bloody clothing - they are rarely aggressive but their appearance tends to be an ill omen for whoever's clothes they are washing. If it doubt, the clothing will often turn out to be that of the person who encounters them. Once more, like the banshee, their status as undead, fae or other can be hard to determine.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • PCs can get themselves into a whole lot of trouble with target identification over this - if they go tooled up to fight a witch and instead find an iron clawed combat monster or a malevolent fae, hilarity may ensue.
  • In a modern campaign, one of these may be a nasty surprise for PCs looking for missing children.
  • Conversely, in a fantasy campaign, hag hunting may turn out to be a wild goose chase when children go missing from a community - the real culprits may be far more mundane.
  • If there are fae about, a hag's iron claws and teeth might be helpful. Ironic that the two get confused.
    • Of course, a hag is likely to ask a pretty steep price for help in a fight. Are the PCs willing to pay it?
  • Of course, like the Red Cap, using iron doesn't necessarily mean not being a fae … but actually having it built into your body should make them pretty abhorrent to most other fae if they are.
    • Again, like the Red Cap, the diet of human (infant) flesh may be the price of overcoming the iron bane - without it, the hag may find herself destroyed by the iron as her mouth and hands rot or burn away.
  • The missing children thing may be even worse if the hag has stolen an apprentice - or a boy to raise as a mate …
    • Especially given what a girl-apprentice may mean about the origins of the hag herself.
    • Even if the girl is rescued, perhaps the transformation has already been set going and may not be reversible. This may or may not be obvious.
  • If a hag does foist her offspring on a human family, especially if the child looks normal, this could lead to hilarity at some point in the future. Will nature or nurture win out? If the mother hag is killed, can the child be raised reasonably sociable?
  • Hilarity if, when stalked by a hag, having it kill and eat you is a good outcome. Especially for male PCs.
  • Again, between these, succubi and every other randy female monster a combination of chastity and connubial fidelity has never looked so attractive for male PCs.
  • Like many baby-eating monsters with the ability to disguise themselves, Hags have the possibility of fitting into a wainscot fantasy setting as an abortionist.
  • To conflate things a little, a non-human hag may serve as an ally, mentor or leader to a coven of human witches. If hags are a form of cambion in your setting, a coven may be headed by its patron's daughter.
  • Hag-riding may, instead of physical flight, consist of forcing the victim to pay the energy cost of astral projection if the hag needs to do a spot of dimension hopping (conversely, if the hag is a spiritual entity or other outsider, it may use the victim's energy to manifest or otherwise intrude on the living world).
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