Premium Content Cryptozoology: Headless Horseman (EGS)

Artwork by Bradley K. McDevitt

Artwork by Bradley K. McDevitt

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Headless Horseman

Alien, Fairy, Humanoid

The headless horseman is a creature of folklore and legend. In Celtic folklore, the headless horseman (called the dullahan) is said to be an unseelie fairy (malicious and inclined toward evil). In American folklore, the headless horseman is a storybook character depicting a beheaded Hessian (18th-century German auxiliaries contracted for military service by the British government) killed by an American cannonball during the American Revolution. While seemingly similar, the two variations of the headless horseman have significant differences according to the cultures that believe in them.

Dullahan

The dullahan, a headless creature from a fay mortal realm that carries its head tucked under one arm, reached Earth across the Celtic cosmic bridge of Lugh. This horseman rides atop a black horse with sparks and flames shooting from its nostrils. The head of the dullahan is a hideous monstrosity with a grin that reaches both sides and massive eyes that dart about like flies. The flesh of the head is said to be the color and texture of stale dough or moldy cheese and considerably smooth. The head also glows with a phosphorescence of decaying matter that can be used as a lantern to guide the dullahan’s way.

The dullahan possesses supernatural sight so that when holding its head high, it can see for miles around in the darkest conditions. Whatever guides its sight while holding its head under its arm has never been revealed, but it is as if the dullahan is guided by a sixth sense to detect its next victim.

Dullahans are said to be the harbingers of death. The dullahan seeks its victim, throws blood in his face, speaks his name, and he dies instantly. Should the dullahan wish to toy with the victim or fight against one trying to stop it, it wields a skeletal whip made from human spines.

But all is not hopeless against the dullahan. It can speak only once per journey. The creature seeks its next victim and can only speak that victim’s name before returning to its unknown den or vanishing from existence. It must then perform another journey should it wish to herald the death of another victim.

Catching the dullahan is a matter of concern. Either traveling by its hellish horse or in a black coach made of candles, skulls, and bones – pulled by six hellish horses – it travels at supernatural speeds. This is often so fast that trails of fire are left behind from the friction produced by the coach or burning debris left by the flames shooting from the snout of the black horse. However, the dullahan only journeys out around midnight, under the cover of extreme darkness, when seeking out its victim. Thus, if one were to know where the creature will strike, catching and destroying it potentially becomes that much easier. Of course, one would still have to overcome the creature’s strength.

It is said the dullahan is impervious to attack, but seemingly hesitant to the sight of gold. No one has actually been able to kill the creature, but many speculate the use of gold is required, otherwise the dullahan will ride away to kill again the next day.

The dullahan is typically found during late August and early September, around the time of the Celtic feast days. During this time, the creature appears to be demanding human sacrifices to appease it, as if it were a heathen god forcing its worshipers to provide it with a fresh soul. No one truly understands who the dullahan is or where it came from, but they all understand that when it rides, a human will die.

Dullahan

The dullahan is a creature of horror that heralds the death of a human.

CHA 0        DEX d8        INT d6          PER d10
PSY d8       SPT 0         STR d10         VIT d12
DEF 8        HLTH 24       INIT 24         SPD 60

Skills: Acrobatics d6, Athletics d8, Awareness d8, Deception d10, Husbandry d10, Intimidation d10, Melee d10
Traits: Fear 4, Fearless, Fleet-Footed, Hardy, Immunity (All), Weakness (Gold)

Armor: None
Weapons: Bone whip (DMG 4, Reach 10)

Special Traits: [Dullahan Curse] Once per day, the Dullahan can speak the name of a victim; that victim immediately drops to 0 Health and becomes subject to Dying.
[Supernatural Vision] The dullahan ignores all penalties for lighting.

Galloping Hessian

American folklore speaks of the Hessian soldier from the American Revolution, a horseman killed in a battle for Chatterton Hill who became a dullahan, much like a lycanthropic curse. This headless horseman is slightly less horrific than its Celtic counterpart, but much more malicious. Instead of simply traveling out to herald the death of a single human, reaping the soul afterward, the headless Hessian is a malevolent ghost-like creature that attempts to sever the head of whoever gets near.

While the depiction may change from one story to another, the Hessian headless horseman carries a head depicted as a pumpkin. This is no ordinary pumpkin for it is a flaming, exploding jack-o-lantern that continually reappears in the hands of the Hessian shortly after impact.

The Hessian horseman is often seen chasing a target throughout the forest, or near a forest, attempting to make its victim suffer the same pain it has – the loss of its head. No one knows for sure if the Hessian horseman is attempting to recover its head, find a new one, or simply make those who come near suffer the same demise.

The Hessian horseman rides a similar black horse to the dullahan, although no claims have been made of supernatural speed or the appearance of flames. It has also been depicted as a ghost that can actually cause physical harm to an individual either through its flaming head or the use of a sword or axe.

Speculations abound as to what the Hessian horseman is, how it came to be, and what it attacks with. As such, the stories become a mash-up of legends, fictional depictions, and standard folklore depicting what is a serious threat to travelers near the area where the Hessian was killed. What little truth is known surrounds the fact that the Hessian always appears near the forests adjacent to where his untimely death occurred and that he is unable to cross any bridges over a river. The only true chance for survival is escape unless a band of brave warriors can stand their ground and fight against this headless horseman.

The Hessian horseman is found between dusk and dawn in or near the forest adjacent to the hill where his human life found its departure during the Battle of White Plains (White Plains, New York). These woods are but miles nearby towns and villages, some safely protected by a river that separates it from the haunted woods. A lone wooden bridge would then offer passage into the town or village and the horseman has tried many times to capture its next victim before making it across that bridge.

As the Hessian horseman is an ethereal being, he cannot harm the bridge and thus is thwarted by his inability to cross it for eternity. However, this is not the case when it comes to human flesh, as this ghost can cause physical harm in a magical sort of way.

Hessian Headless Horseman

The Hessian headless horseman is the ghost of a Hessian soldier decapitated during the Revolutionary War, seeking victims to suffer a similar fate.

CHA 0        DEX d8          INT d6           PER d8
PSY d8       SPT 0           STR d8           VIT d10
DEF 8        HLTH 18         INIT 16          SPD 30

Skills: Athletics d10, Awareness d6, Deception d8, Husbandry d10, Intimidation d10, Melee d8
Traits: Fear 2, Fearless

Armor: None
Weapons: Exploding jack-o-lantern (30ft, DMG 6, ROF 1, Shots Infinite, Blast 15), long sword (DMG 5) or battle axe (DMG 4)

Special Traits: [Supernatural] The Hessian headless horseman is a supernatural being. Its attacks are considered magical and it only takes half-damage from non-magical attacks.
[Supernatural Vision] The Hessian headless horseman ignores all penalties for lighting.

Alternatives

As an alternate to the storyline of either headless horseman type, the creature could become more powerful on Halloween as the holiday seemingly increases the being’s power. This can be done by increasing the creature’s Psyche, Strength, and Vitality by one die type when encountered on Halloween (and adjusting Health accordingly).

Adventure Seeds

The dullahan is a being in Shadowed Earth and can be placed within Beyond the Firelight, Faith & Demons: The Rising, or Judgment Day (during the Crusades or Victorian era).

Hiding Out: A small village has come under the hateful eye of the dullahan in the past several days. The villagers have become extremely frightened of the creature’s presence and fear they will all be sentenced to death before the creature disappears again in September. To prevent this from happening, those who are able have fled the village and are hiding in either the nearby woods or caves. Their hope is that without being able to find them, the dullahan can never call-out its victim’s name as it will not know where they are.

The villagers have implored the region’s mightiest warriors to protect them from the dullahan. Every night, the dullahan is seen riding across the land, sometimes through town, sometimes through the forest. It stops only momentarily to speak the name of its next victim, bringing death immediately. However, the dullahan seems to only speak the name of a victim it can see or is able to find. The past two nights, it has scoured the land to find a new victim, sadly always able to succeed. The hired warriors must defend the village from the dullahan in a single night or become victims of its wrath the following nights.

Each night the warriors are unable to defeat the dullahan, one of them perishes the following night as the creature chooses a new victim’s soul to feast upon. If they are clever, the warriors could ambush the being on the first night, ridding the village of this terror permanently. However, if threatened, the dullahan always fights to the death.

Trick or Treat: It is Halloween and a band of teenagers have dared each other to enter the lands in which the headless horseman is known to ride and attempt to escape across the bridge to the village. While seemingly stupid in every possible way, the teenagers have decided to demonstrate their bravery and show they are not afraid of the horseman. Unfortunately for them, none of them are brave or fast enough and five teenagers meet their death upon the hands of the Hessian beast that night.

Not knowing where their children are, the parents of the teenagers request the village to investigate the disappearance, fearful that the children have become the horseman’s latest victims. The newly appointed investigators must locate the bodies (as they are surely dead) of the teenagers and dispose of this unnatural threat forever.

Modern Times

To bring either headless horseman to modern times is rather simple. Remove the horse and replace the vehicle with a motorcycle, preferably one with a hellish look. The headless horseman doesn’t need to be confined to the folklore of centuries past for they could easily have survived, “reincarnated” into a supernatural being of today, or the curse that inflicts the Hessian soldier is resurfaced.

Other options to bring the creature to modern times could be to replace the supposed rags or clothing of the past with leather jackets or trench coats of today. This may provide a bit of armor (1 is enough) or could just be used to represent the styles of today. Options for weapons may include turning the exploding jack-o-lantern into a shotgun-type weapon shooting some type of grenade-like projectile.