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Monday Monster: The Headless Horseman

Monday Monster: The Headless Horseman

Tarry Town, NY (WKQ News): Local farmers report a series of odd events, as a man on horseback gallops through their fields each night. Local police believe the rider to be a single prankster. “Whoever this is,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Andrews, “he should know that we do not find his actions funny. He’s causing serious harm to the farmers’ pumpkin crops, and we will arrest him, charge him, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law when we catch him.” Farmers who have seen the rider report he yells, “Ichabod! I’m coming for you!” as he rides through the field, sometimes stealing a pumpkin.

In “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a superstitious Connecticut schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane competed with Abraham van Brunt for the hand of Katrina van Tassel. Katrina was the 18-year-old daughter and only child of Baltus van Tassel, a wealthy farmer.

After attending a party at the van Tassel residence one autumn evening, Crane is pursued by the Headless Horseman — the ghost of a Hessian soldier who was beheaded by a cannon ball during the American Revolutionary War. The Headless Horseman rides every night on a quest to find his own head. Ichabod disappears after the encounter, driven by fear to leave Tarry Town; this course of events leaves van Brunt as the only suitor for the lovely Katrina. The two wed and Ichabod is never heard from again. That’s only half the story, of course. [More…]

Washington Irving’s tale is a work of fiction, but a seed of truth rests at its heart. Irving based the character of the Headless Horseman on a creature known as a Hessian remnant. During the American Revolution, Hessian soldiers served as mercenaries for the British army. Many died in battle.

The Hessians had an odd spiritual connection with the earth. Somewhat protected, these soldiers were given a second chance at life — but at a cost. Twenty-four hours after dying, the soldier rose from the dead; gone was his humanity, and in its place burned a seething hatred for mankind. This hatred twisted the soldier’s form and altered his body, until – after three days of immense pain and anguish – the fallen soldier was reborn as a Hessian remnant.

A reborn Hessian remnant retains a spiritual connection with the earth. This allows the creature the power to turn any gourd into a ranged weapon. Many Hessian remnants prefer to use pumpkins, simply because the connection with various tales makes that gourd more frightening. In addition, a Hessian remnant does not die of natural causes; it can be slain like any other creature, but otherwise will live forever.

In Your Modern Game
Local pranksters have been known to pull off elaborate hoaxes in the past, and this is certainly an event worthy of such treatment. With sufficient make-up and costumes, a rider could certainly look ghost-like. Add a pumpkin to the ensemble and you have the makings for one creepy prank. Characters in such a scenario would try to capture the prankster and expose the hoax.

In Your Fantasy Game
In a fantasy setting, Hessian remnants make for devious foes. There may be a full race of these creatures, or only a handful who have survived through the ages to ride at night and terrorize victims. Depending on your campaign, you might consider plots ranging from halting a single Hessian remnant from terrorizing a small community to infiltrating and destroying an entire community of the creatures.

Hessian Remnant (aka The Headless Horseman) CR 5

NE Medium monstrous humanoid

Init +0; Senses Darkvision 60 ft.; Listen –1, Spot –1

Defense 16, touch 10, flat-footed 16 (+0 Dex, +5 natural, +1 armor)
hp 45 (7d8+14)
Massive Damage 15
Fort +7, Ref +6, Will +5

Spd 30 ft.
Melee longsword +10/+5 (1d8+3/19-20)
Ranged exploding gourd +7 (1d4+3 plus 1d6 fire)
Space 5 ft. by 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks Explosive gourd (DC 16)

Before Combat A Hessian remnant will summon his mount before combat; otherwise, he prepares to charge on foot.
During Combat Hessian remnants prefer to fight on horseback, making use of their Ride-By attack feat. After an initial charge, the Hessian remnant will alternate mounted attacks with ranged attacks using its exploding gourd ability as long as it can.
Morale Each Hessian remnant is unique, but most are quite arrogant due to their immortality. Just as many are insecure for the same reason, and run away rather than risk death.

Str 17, Dex 11, Con 15, Int 12, Wis 8, Cha 8
Base Atk +7; Grp +10
AP 1; Rep +1
Feats Great Fortitude, Mounted Combat, Ride-By Attack
Skills Gather Information +1, Intimidate +9, Knowledge (local) +11, Listen –1, Ride +10, Spot –1
SQ Earth’s grace, summon mount

Earth’s Grace (Su): A Hessian remnant’s connection to the earth offers it a semblance of protection. It may add its Charisma bonus (if any) on all saving throws.
Explosive gourd (Su): A Hessian remnant can turn gourds into fiery bombs. While any gourd may be used, most Hessian remnants favor pumpkins, choosing to revel in the stereotype. As a standard action that provokes attacks of opportunity, a Hessian remnant may hurl a gourd up to 30 feet at a single target.
The gourd does 1d4 plus Strength damage, as well as an additional 1d6 fire damage. Any creature struck has a 50% chance of being set on fire, inflicted an additional 1d6 fire damage every round until the flames are extinguished. In addition, the sheer force of the impact stuns the target for one round unless the target succeeds on a DC 16 Fortitude save. The save DC is Strength-based.
Summon mount (Su): A Hessian remnant can summon a horrific mount. The creature always has dark hair, typically black, with hooves wreathed in fire – though this fire gives off no heat and does not set combustibles aflame. The beast has a fly speed of 20 feet and clumsy maneuverability. Otherwise, the creature is identical to a 5th level paladin’s heavy warhorse mount.

Environment Rural
Organization Solitary, pair, family (2–5), clan (4–16 plus 1d8 noncombatants)
Treasure Longsword, thick leather cloak (treat as leather jacket)
Allegiances Evil
Advancement 8–15 HD (Medium) or by character class
Level Adjustment +4

Hessian Remnants as Characters

Hessian Remnants as characters possess the following racial traits:
— +6 Strength, +4 Constitution, +2 Intelligence, –2 Wisdom, –2 Charisma
— Medium size
— A Hessian remnant’s base land speed is 30 feet.
— Darkvision out to 60 ft.
Racial Hit Dice: A Hessian remnant begins with seven levels of monstrous humanoid, which provide 7d8 Hit Dice, a base attack bonus of +7, and base saving throws of Fort +2, Ref +5, and Will +5
Racial Skills: A Hessian remnant’s monstrous humanoid levels give it skill points equal to 10 x (2 + Int modifier). Its class skills are Intimidate, Knowledge (local), and Ride.
Racial Feats: A Hessian remnant’s monstrous humanoid levels give it three feats.
— +5 natural armor
Special Attacks (see above): Exploding gourd
Special Qualities (see above): Summon mount
Automatic Languages: German. Bonus Languages: Dutch, English, French, Latin, Polish, Spanish, Ukrainian
Favored Class: Strong
Level Adjustment +4

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