A Light in Darkness
I will make you richer and more fortunate than you have ever been, but you must promise that you will give me whatever has just been born in your house." … When he was nearly there, the maid opened the front door and called out that there was good news: his wife had just given birth to a little boy.
— Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, “The Nixie in the Pond”
Of the monsters that van Richten has documented in his treaties, hags are the one with which he had the least personal experience. That comes as no surprise, as these foul blights against nature are fortunately rare in the Land of Mists. Unfortunately, van Richten’s relative ignorance of hags meant that he had to turn to another for information, and that source, a hag itself, can hardly be considered a trusted confidante. A would-be hunter of hags should be cautious and not surprised if the foes she faces differ greatly from what she expects.
The true nature of hags remains something of a mystery. Van Richten’s research led him to conclude that hags were a unique species, perhaps related to the fey races, but a species dependent on human males for procreation. They use they magical abilities to disguise themselves as human females and conceive children with human males while in these guises. The hag abandons the child, placing it with surrogate parents; this is usually done by switching the hag child with a normal human newborn. The child appears to be a normal human female until it reaches advanced middle age, at which point it begins to physically change into a hag. There is anecdotal evidence, however, that perfectly normal human females can also transform into hags, particularly those too involved in the magical arts. There are also tales of powerful curses transforming women into hags.
As hags grow older, their command over their unique form of magic increases and they gain new powers. Hag magic is poorly understood, but is seems to somehow tap into natural cycles. The hags draw upon natural cycles, corrupt them and channel the power through their bodies in the form of spell-like abilities. The powers possessed by individual hags can vary widely, as they prefer drawing from different natural cycles to gather power.
Hags, like fiends, are insidious creatures, corrupting the land they claim as their own. Most hags seem to do evil for their own mysterious purposes, though some may serve more powerful masters. Battling hags takes a concerted effort, because these creatures are not only powerful and dangerous, but they enjoy working in groups to augment their power.
Discovering the Hag
Many of the damaging effects of hags are also indicators of other monsters. Hunters coming across signs of devastated and ruined lands, cowed and frightened people and strange variations in nature, should first rule out the presence of other creatures such as fiends, vampires or other intelligent monsters. Close observation of the nature of the blight may reveal a cyclical nature or may provide evidence indicating the presence of a hag or a covey of hags.
Variations in nature might include an odd warping of the landscape, strange fogs that come and go and seem to assume solid form, oversized-animals, an abundance of monsters uncommon to the territory, plagues of insects and other indications that a hag’s powers over the natural world are on display.
Time spent in conversation with the local population may unearth tales and rumors of “witch-women” or “seductresses” appearing to be lone travelers and luring them to some dire fate. Hunters should pay particular attention to rumors of several of these women appearing at one time, a possible indication of a covey of hags.
Pursuers should also take care that they do not mistake innocent women for these foul creatures and should thoroughly investigate any rumors or tales they hear before coming to the conclusion that the monsters they face are, indeed, hags.
Gathering Resources and Information
Hags are powerful monsters and should not be approached haphazardly, if possible. Magic weapons and items are recommended for anyone going on a hag hunt.
Protections against a hags abilities are also warranted. The hags natural attacks, spell-like abilities and power to summon creatures to fight for her result in a high potential for dealing damage to hunters. Although most hags do not have general allergens, individuals may be vulnerable to some specific substance for some reason connected to their past associations.
Because of their tendency to disrupt the natural cycles and warp the land to their own satisfaction, hags may arouse the wrath of druids and rangers. These adventuring classes are particularly useful in combating hags and are usually more than willing to join a party of hunters who have located a hag and wish to destroy it. Druids, in particular, can attempt to counter the hag’s affects on the land and its creatures, while rangers, with their fighting skills and animal affinities, can battle a hag more efficiently than most fighters.
Knowledge is power, so research into the background of the particular hag targeted by a group of hunters is important. Folk tales, collections of local history and lore, bestiaries and travel accounts of other adventurers may provide helpful information about a hag’s territory, habits and peculiarities. Locating the hag’s lair allows hunters to decide whether to meet the hag in her lair or lure her outside it and prevent her from retreating to safety. These methods may also reveal what allies the hag has acquired, whether she is part of a covey and the location of any natural or magic traps in the vicinity.
Engaging a hag or covey in battle requires a concerted effort from both spellcasters and fighters. By augmenting the natural strength of the fighter, thus enabling to do more damage, and magically protecting those who plan to engage the hag in direct combat a group of hunters can maximize their chances. If a hag is a member of a covey, defeating or destroying one harms the other two and prevents them from using their powers gained from the covey.