Today's Monster Monday is Herne, king of the Wild Hunt. This ethereal huntsman rides his trusty steed through the woods accompanied by a far-seeing owl and two noble hunting dogs. His motives are a mystery, but tales of this lonesome rider who hunts across the realms of men and fey have spread far and wide.Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chainIn a most hideous and dreadful manner.You have heard of such a spirit, and well you knowThe superstitious idle-headed eldReceiv'd, and did deliver to our age,This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.- William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor
The tale of Herne the Hunter is first attested in William Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor (quoted above) which tells of a ghostly huntsman who haunts a particular oak. The story may originate in the execution of a poacher named Richard Horne during the time of King Henry VIII. The legend of Herne was expanded upon in Harrison Ainsworth's 1843 novel Windsor Castle, whence comes the illustration below.
|Illustration of Herne the Hunter by George Cruikshank, via Wikimedia|
a wild spectral-looking object, possessing some slight resemblance to humanity, and habited, so far as it could be determined, in the skins of deer, strangely disposed about its gaunt and tawny-coloured limbs. On its head was seen a sort of helmet, formed of the skull of a stag, from which branched a large pair of antlers; from its left arm hung a heavy and rusty-looking chain, in the links of which burnt the phosphoric fire before mentioned; while on its right wrist was perched a large horned owl, with feathers erected, and red staring eyes.Some have tried to find the origins of the Herne story in the Celtic god Cernunnos. While both Cernunnos and Herne are antlered huntsman, it seems to me a bit of a stretch to assume that a story first attested in 1597 has its origins in a god not worshipped there for 1000 years. Nevertheless, it makes for a pretty rad monster.
Herne is a whole combat encounter rolled into one monster, mostly because he is never without his two loyal hounds, his noble steed, and his enigmatic owl. These ethereal beasts are treated in essentially the same way as a druid's animal companion; the herne is considered a 15th level druid for the purposes of his hunting companions, with those 15 levels divided up between the horse, dogs, and owl. So when a party fights the herne, they are actually fighting five individual creatures. Check out the dauntingly long stat block below.
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.