Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Barguest, the Dog of War

The Devil Dog

I recently discovered that Woodhouse Moor in Leeds where I used to live was the haunt of a Barguest called the Padfoot. According to William Henderson's Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders (Folk Lore Society, London 1879), the Padfoot hunted the waste ground north of Leeds between Wreghorn (now called Wrangthorn) and Headingley Hill. Barguests are great ghostly dogs, and the Padfoot was supposed to be a big one – the size of a small donkey with black shaggy hair and glowing white eyes. Eyewitness Sally Dransfield saw it often, 'rolling along the ground before her, like a woolpack... sometimes vanishing suddenly through a hedge.'

The Barguest is the Dog of War, a supernatural black hound with great firey red or whit
e glowing eyes which can sometimes walk on its hind legs and carry a double handed sword. In East Anglia the dog is called Black Shuck, in Devon they are the Wishthounds or the Yell Hounds, in Wales they are the Gwyllgi, and during the English Civil War they have been spotted everywhere. There is even a black dog haunting Newgate Prison, the ghost of a witch who was killed and eaten in 1596 by his starving fellow prisoners before he even came to trial. Blasphemers must beware of being turned into Barguests for their impiety.

They manifest in a number of different ways, usually at night. At the death of a notable person a Barguest may appear followed by a procession of local dogs to stand and howl over the corpse – the Padfoot of Leeds did this on occasion, and if anyone tried to stop if it would attack with its claw and inflict a wound that would never heal. The reason why a Barguest might choose to mourn a person is unknown – some reckon its is because they were a secret witch, others that the beast is sent by God to hunt down an evil soul that might otherwise escape Hell. 

The creature can predict death too. If you go to your door at night and find a Barguest laying across your threshold then someone resident in the house will die.

And then there are others which just lurk on the moors or even near towns. There's an infamous one that kills people in the snickets in the city of York, though they are more usually found in places like Troll's Gorge near Appletreewick in the Yorkshire Dales, or the hills beyond Skipton-in-Craven on the way to Saddleworth Moor.

Barguest (LotFP)
HD 4, AC 16, Att +6, Bite 1d8 and Claws 1d6, Morale 11, Move 360' running.
Saves: Paralyze 10, Poison Immune, Breath 14, Device 11, Magic 12

First attack may knock a target over (roll 1d6 plus Dex and Str bonuses vs 1d6 +6 for the Barguest, if you beat it you stay on your feet) and it will get +4 to attack a downed target with its bite next round. It will hold onto any target it bites and shake it in subsequent rounds for an automatic 1d6 damage (Save vs Paralyze to escape the dog's grip).

Special Features and abilities
Each Barguest is unique and will have 1d4 of the features described below; roll a d12 and do not re-roll duplicates:

  1. Uses a two handed sword at Att+10 and doing 1d10+4 damage. How it manages to stand upright and wield a sword with the paws of a dog is anyone's guess, but it does it.
  2. Incorporeal. Can walk through solid objects if it so wishes and is immune to ordinary weapons, though it tends to enter buildings through the corners rather than the walls. Enchanted, blessed and silver weapons do normal damage.
  3. Blood curdling howl. All who hear must make an immediate morale check or save vs Paralyze or be shaken with fear, getting -1 on all skill rolls, -4 to hit and having a one in six chance of failing any attempt at spell casting due to gibbering in fear and the distraction of immanent painful death.
  4. Can appear by day as a large but gaunt and unkempt wolfhound and those who have been friendly to the hound when it is in such form may be spared being mangled later. 
  5. Has an alternate form of a tall headless man whose burning red eyes float in the space beneath his hat or helm and his collar. Will use an ordinary sword at Attack +10, 1d8+4, and will wear pikeman's armour for AC 16. If defeated he will disappear in a gout of black flame, reconstitute as a dog some distance off and flee into the night.
  6. Has an alternate form of a small white cat. This creature will appear to be harmless until someone gets close enough to be jumped on and bitten.
  7. Has a specific target. This hound is looking for the soul of a certain person who may or may not be in the party. Until the target is dead the Barguest will be Incorperal as above, afterwards it will be as vulnerable as it ever is.
  8. Can command dogs. It may howl and summon 1d6 hounds of large size and 2d6 lesser dogs to come to its aid. In a moorland environment these may be wolves or foxes, in a town the dogs of local residents which will throw themselves at doors and brake chains to join the Barguest.
  9. It is delivering a message. If not interfered with it will go to the house of someone recently killed in the wars or about to die violently and howl to inform the family of the death and then depart. It will not be hostile unless action is taken against it.
  10. The hound is gigantic, roll 1d6, on a 1-5 it is the size of a donkey and has 6HD and does +1 damage, on a 6 it is the size of a horse, and has 8HD and does +2 damage. These larger forms run at 480' a round.
  11. The claws of the beast cause wounds that will never heal. Anyone hit by the claws in course of a fight must save vs Paralysis or lose 1HP and 1 point of CON permanently. The injury can be cured with the 6th level Cleric Spell Heal.
  12. Lives in a transdimensional space that it can access at will by running into a solid object like a hedge or a tree. The space cannot be seen, but exists at a fixed point in mundane space and the Barguest can Dimension Door into and out of it as long as it is within 360 feet of it three times a day. Magic Users who can locate the spot may be able to open it if they know the spell Dimension Door and an additional ritual refinement of that spell, carving magic symbols onto a log and planting it in the ground and then getting a team or strong men to wrench it round like a capstan.


Secrets of the Barguests

Various scholars have tried to work out what these enigmatic monsters actually are and where they come from and why. Any, all or none of the following explanations may be true.
  • They do not really exist at all. Battlefields attract a lot of stray dogs; soldiers dogs from the camp whose masters have died and wandering dogs attracted by the smell of carrion. During a war terrified people notice more and more savage dogs wandering the roads and build tall tales around them.
  • There is a miasma caused by violence, an emotional stench that dogs pick up on and follow to hollows in the ground where it collects. A dog who smells too much of this miasma will become intoxicated and grow large and savage and dangerous. Men who inhale it become likewise; the wars have begot Barguests as soon as they have begun, they will soon spawn the kind of subhuman freebooters seen haunting the battlefields of the Holy Roman Empire these last twenty years.
  • They are the devil's dogs, the offspring of Cerebus and the Crocotta of the east which speaks like a man, described by Strabo and Pliny. When man sins by slaying other men a Barguest slips loose from the chains forged for them by St Michael from the footfalls of cats, and they slink out of holes in the ground to prey upon the unwary and to serve those who serve the demons of war.
  • They are Hyaenadonts and Arctotheres, long extinct creatures that lived in these lands long ago when it was joined to the mainland of Europe. They hunted our ancestors who huddled in hide tents and in caves to survive the never ending winter, they hunt us now thanks to foolish magicians who wantonly poke holes in reality and pull impossible things out of other times and other worlds.
  • They are always with us, shadows that wait in the darkness between the worlds and are kept at bay by the light of reason. Now that light has been snuffed out and the dark madness of war is upon us they slink closer to the Sphere of Malkuth, to clothe their dark essence in brute corporeality.
  • Blasphemers must beware lest they turn into black dogs either painfully while alive or as foul spirits excluded forever from heaven after death!
  • They are the last lost hounds of the Wild Hunt that the Old Gods let loose in the world to track down sources of evil. We no longer pay respect to the Old Gods, therefore in their eyes we are become evil, as bad as the Romans who slew their last priests and enslaved their last worshippers. The dogs have returned, and seek the scent of the worst of the sinners. The Huntsmen will follow... listen for the Horns at twilight...