Friday, January 22, 2010

Ghosts of Albion: The Cailleach Bheur

The Cailleach Bheur

It was her eyes that still haunt me.

She was abnormally tall, at least 8 ft., though that is normal if you consider her species. She was ghastly thin, weighing maybe 12 or 13 stone at the most. Her skin was a dark blue, like that of a bruise. It left the impression of having been dyed in woad for countless nights. She appeared as many of her kind; hideous countenance, with her face and body a little too sharp and too many angles. Her hair was a chaotic nest of wiry and frozen strands. Her clothing, what little remained, was a tattered rag reminiscent of a peasant’s garb of a bygone age. She stood her ground holding her staff. If she were affected by the cold then we could certainly not see it. She spoke with a voice of ice cracking tree limbs.

“Begone Protectors. These are my lands to vanguard.”
She glared at us with those bright blue, all too human, eyes.
- From the Journal of Tamara Swift

Known as the Crow of Winter, The Cailleach Bheur is deadly hag. She appears only after Samhain/All Hallow’s Eve and stays till Beltane eve. While as evil as other hags, Cailleach Bheur is more interested in eating sheep and deer than children. In Ireland and Scotland she is the personification of Winter. During the summer months Cailleach Bheur turns to stone and is indistinguishable from the other standing stones of the area.

The Cailleach Bheur was cursed into her existence back in a time before writing came to Scotland. One tale, disturbing as it sounds, describes the Cailleach as the ancient Protector of Alba, maybe even a faerie queen or goddess.

The Cailleach Bheur as a human witch
In her previous life Cailleach Bheur was a lone protector of animals and a follower of the Great Goddess. One night he fell asleep by a well. The well overflowed with the thaw and she nearly drown. She invoked powerful magics to move the water away, but in the process created Loch Awe (in Scotland) and drowning several villagers and cattle. As repentance she is to walk the snowy earth till she can feel the mid-summer sun on her face, something that can’t ever happen since she is cursed to be stone from Beltane to Samhain.

The Cailleach Bheur still protects her lands as she did before, ignoring humans unless they tread on her domain, then she kills them with glee by freezing them solid. She blames humans for her current state.

The Cailleach Bheur is believed to be at least 4000 years old.

Staff of Winter: Possibly a remnant of her former life the Cailleach Bheur carries a magical staff. The Staff of Winter is made up of holly and gorse branches intertwined to form a 7’ long staff of solid wood. It acts as a magical focus tool providing the Cailleach Bheur +2 magic to all magic related rolls and checks.

Anyone in possession of this staff can command Cailleach Bheur to leave the area by holding the staff and saying “Bì falbh buitseach!” (begone (get out) witch!). Both Cailleach Bheur and her staff will disappear after the command is uttered. This would require research into Cailleach Bheur specifically (occultism with 5 SLs) or local lore (occultism with 7 SLs).

Unisystem / Ghosts of Albion
Name: The Cailleach Bheur
Motivation: To keep winter alive, protect the local animals
Creature Type: Faerie
Attributes: Str 6, Dex 6, Con 5, Int 4, Per 3, Will 6
Ability Scores: Muscle 18, Combat 19, Brains 14
Life Points: 75
Drama Points: 2-4
Special Abilities: Attractiveness –4, Increased Life Points, Faerie, Magic 5 (+2 from staff)

Name Score Damage Notes
Bite 21 27 Must grapple first; no defence action
Claw 19 19 Two attacks per Turn
Grapple 21 — Resisted by dodge

Spellcasting 19 Varies By spell
Deflect 19 — Magic defence action; deflects spells 45º
Hold 18 — Magic defence action; delays spell
Lesser Sensing18 — Notice magical effects, nature, or possession
Volley 13 — Magic defence action; returns spell to caster
Dispel 16 — Magic defence action; dispels spell

The Cailleach Bheur as a human witch

The Cailleach Bheur by Andrew Paciorek

The Cailleach Bheur
Rank: 14 (Focused)
Physical Competence: +10
Mental Competence: +4
Health: 10 dice (20 pips)
Signature Skills: Fisticuffs +6; Survival +20; Thaumaturgy +5 (+2 from staff)
Talents: Ageless; Fear; Huge; Immunity (Cold); Incapacitating Attack (Freeze victims)
Combat: Claws and bite (16 dice)
Damage: Claw (5 dice) Bite (3 dice)

Savage Worlds / Rippers / Gaslight
The Cailleach Bheur
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d10, Spirit d10 Strength d12 Vigor d8
Skills: Fighting d8, Intimidation d8, Knowledge (Nature) d10, Notice d6, Persuasion d12, Taunt d8
Charisma: –4; Pace: 5; Parry: 5; Toughness: 6
Special Abilities:
* Arcane Background (Magic): barrier (wall of ice), blast (cold wind), deflection (winds), fly (ride the winds), obscure (create snow storm) (50 Power Points)
* Claws: Str+2
* Curse: Like a hag, the Cilleach can curse one enemy within sight each round. The target must make a Spirit roll or be Shaken.
* Fear: Anyone seeing the Cailleach must make a Guts roll at -1.

In honor of post #114 of my blog I put up the cover from Dragon Magazine #114 by David Martin, called "Spirit of the Night".  This issue featured the witch NPC class and the first time I ever saw the class.  From October 1986. Caused quite a stir back then I recall.

The other picture is the Cailleach Bheur by Andrew Paciorek at

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