Welcome, friend, to the world of Midgard. Maybe you’re brand new to this world. Or maybe you’ve been around since the beginning. Either way, stay—all are welcome! Please, sit and listen to the tales. You see, the world has been changing, and oh, the sights to see. It’s a living, evolving realm where things happen after all. So why shouldn’t it have a life all it’s own? Where to start…
[From the Midgard Worldbook]
Grandmother Baba Yaga
Many tales feature the bony-legged fey witch Baba Yaga, and most of them contradict each other. It’s hard to get a sense of Baba Yaga, and many suspect that’s exactly what she wants. Indeed, little happens anywhere that isn’t exactly as she desires. As convoluted and dark a mystery as Baba Yaga is, bits of her story rise to the surface and provide more truth than the rest, like foam on a bubbling stew.
Baba Yaga is a trader of secrets. It’s said there’s nothing she does not know. The brave, the desperate, and the stupid make pilgrimages to seek her wisdom, but she is rarely found when she doesn’t want to be. Those who find her regret it when she attempts to force them into her service—as a beast of burden or common tool—or eats them, having developed a taste for mortal flesh. Rarely, she seeks out those in most need of her assistance, when it serves her purposes as well.
For those who can trick her out of her impossible secrets and escape her whims, all knowledge is within reach. Grandmother makes it her business to know everything: the last thoughts of the dying star Tovaya while in its death throes; the directions to Buyan, the mystical island of the dead; the life and times of the Forgotten Queen and why she was erased from history; the Words of Unfounding that can never be unspoken and that would unseat the gods; the true names of every creature never born; the secret network of byways that cross reality; and the circumstances that bring an end to the world.
For a dangerously high price, Grandmother will part with her knowledge. The price might be a first kiss, a final breath, a forgotten artifact, or an impossible wager that forces the seeker to attempt a task with no real possibility of success. Those rare individuals who make their way past these trials and gain her secrets survive in tales. Those with knowledge she desires have a rare sway over her, since she will offer much to obtain it—though it’s still best not to push her too far, since she’s not one to ever forget a slight. Grandmother does not stoop to haggling.
All the mortal kings, the lords of heaven and hell, and the gods themselves leave Grandmother alone out of fear. Her secrets could unravel the skein of the world—or so she claims, and it is in her interest to make others believe it. She is content with all her knowledge, but she gladly demolishes those foolish enough to test her. Many have been erased from history for their wasted efforts to best her. She is the consummate schemer, a hundred steps ahead of the opposition with contingencies in place for even the most outlandish of possibilities. The wise let her be. The foolish seek out her hut.
Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga
Grandmother and her daughters live in remarkable dwellings that appear as small log huts with stone chimneys—and enormous chicken legs. Grandmother’s hut is the largest of these, said to contain 20 or 40 rooms, an entire mansion of kitchens, cages, and kettles to please the crone’s vile heart. Her hut is incredibly difficult to find for those who don’t know how to look, and it constantly shifts its location. It permits entry only to those who address it politely. Though incapable of actual flight, Grandmother’s hut can make mile-long leaps several times a day; the sight of her hut leaping across the horizon is a good reason to hasten indoors.
Her daughters’ huts are newer and smaller, their legs only the height of a horse. Even they contain a halfdozen rooms and comfortable lodgings for the winter or summer, complete with a cellar and feather beds.
The dancing huts travel when commanded by their owners, down from the Cloudwall Mountain valleys, across the Rothenian Plain, though the deepest glades of the Margreve, or along the banks of the River Tanais. The huts have even been sighted in the North, among the Riphean Mountains near the halls of the frost giants.
The huts are not combatants, though they deliver hard kicks in retaliation to attacks. Most are enchanted with wards and alarms that trigger when the hut is threatened. They move swiftly (50 ft. base speed) across the land, ignoring most terrain-based hindrances, and swimming across churning rivers without effort.
The Inconstant and Timeless Witch
No living being can comprehend Baba Yaga’s motives. Her actions and disposition are inconstant, unpredictable, and extremely dangerous. Even her most devoted mystics cannot predict what Grandmother will do next. The stories about Baba Yaga are one part dire warning, and one part nonsense. Scribes writing about the great witch occasionally find their writing vanished the next day, while others find their words have turned into earthworms writhing in their scroll cases. A painting of the witch commissioned by a duke transformed itself into a window to the Outer Realms. The duke and his family went mad after gazing through it. The painting was set to be destroyed but before the torch was lit, it sprouted two legs and fled into a river.
The witch enjoys company when the bold come calling. Those who quest to find her hut are often rewarded with a meal. Survivors of these audiences say Baba Yaga is so filled with secrets and knowledge, she maintains two distinct topics of conversation in one utterance. It is up to the guests to decipher which thread is which in her overflowing speech. Her hut is filled with the souls of those who failed her. Transformed into common household items or domestic animals, these sad beings retain all their memories and sentience. Take care when choosing your seat at Grandmother’s table— you might find yourself sitting on forgotten kings! Smart heroes in danger from the witch would do well to recruit the aid of these shapeshifted victims; their rage and sadness might be harnessed against the crone.
Grandmother appears to have the power to be in several places at once. Some scholars suggest she has numerous twin sisters, all of whom are named Baba Yaga, and all of whom do her bidding. Many believe the witch is free from the tyranny of time and wanders from moment to moment as she pleases. Her sojourns across the timelines create an endless stream of echoes, each her and yet not her. The truth lies somewhere between; after all, the sheer volume of knowledge acquired by Grandmother Yaga requires multiple minds to store it.
It could be that her sisters ensure her immortality. Like wooden dolls set inside one another, so too are the iterations of the great witch unified and endless…
But this is where we must stop for now, my friend. My mind, it wanders so at times. Do come see me again, though, for more of the wonders and surprises of Midgard. (OGL)