Head Hunting
rating: 0+x

"The Head of a defeated enemy is always considered an appropriate gift"

No etiquette manual ever.

Basic Information

Head Hunting (at least of the non-euphemistic kind) is a colourful and charming cultural practice consisting of collecting human heads as trophies. Head hunting is normally distinct from other forms of decapitation based activity - including the display of the severed heads of executed criminals - in that the severed heads are a personal trophy in most cases. Optionally, some or all of the collection may serve the owner as a necklace of ears, but this is not compulsory.

The head hunting meme seems to be quite widespread, popping up all over the place from the Pacific Rim and the Americas to Celtic Europe. Each culture will tend to have its own preferred method of preserving trophy heads for posterity - whether lime coating, drying and stuffing or shrinking and curing. Some may only collect skulls.

In general, the heads collected will be those of significant or prestigious enemies - indeed being "headhunted" may be something of a compliment (although not one most people are apt to appreciate) and in the right culture, viewing a collection of heads may be a popular social activity, possibly accompanied by recounting of the history, exploits and demise of the heads former owner.

One possibly surprising incarnation of this tradition occurred in feudal Japan where samurai were expected to collect the heads of high status enemies from the battlefield and present them to their lord in the aftermath as a sort of performance report. As might be expected to feudal Japan, a head viewing ceremony could, in theory at least, become quite an elaborate performance. What happened to the heads afterwards is less clear, but given the culture in question has pretty big taboos against handling the dead, cremation is a distinct possibility.

More mystical functions may also be attached to the severed head - it may serve as a fetish or soul jar binding the soul of the deceased, or may otherwise posses some magical function. There is also the potential of making a weapon of them - such as the tathlum of Irish myth1 or some undead creation of a similar kind.

Some tribes of headhunters shrink the heads they gather for convenience

See Also


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Traditionally a villain attribute in most RPGs and fiction - subvert this by assigning it to the proud warrior race or some other group that the PCs treat as allies. Being invited to view the chief's collection of heads after dinner might be an interesting social challenge…
    • An enemy might consider being headhunted a compliment, and ask the PCs to do so as a last request.
  • An undead, severed head might serve as a useful "pocket sage" or oracle.
    • A collection of heads might act as a board of advisors to someone, or keep the owner up late at nights conversing with one another.
    • The undead head might just be a zombie head, or might be more of a low-tech version of a brain in a jar.
  • The soul jar idea might also work.
  • Potentially the heads could be used in a ghost fence.
  • Finding the severed head of a former ally (or deceased PCs) might provide interesting motivation for PCs…
  • In some contexts, the head of a defeated enemy is actually considered an appropriate gift. More usually it's something the pet-monster brings you though… or, at celebrations, the uninvited-guest may turn up with one.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License