Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Dead-Faces; or, how legendary Creatures drive adventure

Tall, shadowy figures that peer out of the woods at night, snatch up children, and stamp out fires.  Just a local legend or a real danger of the North?

(Michael Morris, Watcher of the Forest)

Dead-Faces (or yagira-skot) are one of the many rumored creatures of the Northern Lands.  In any given campaign, they might exist or they might not.  Spread rumors, but keep the truth lurking just out of sight.

Semi-legendary creatures like these are good for a number of reasons.
  • journey
  • discovery
  • danger
  • superstition


Signs in the Wilderness is about a great wilderness to explore, a poorly-charted land to travel through.  But to make travel feel meaningful, different lands have to actually feel different.  Local legends like the Loch Ness monster or the Jersey devil are particular to their own regions.  If this country here is said to be safe for travel, yet that country there has eyes in the woods, here and there are two very different places.

The Dead-Faces are only said to exist in the oak forests in the country west of the Flint Hills.  It's a region of winding creeks and plenty of deer, a good place for hunting and traveling.  The humans and goblins of the region believe in Dead-Faces and are careful not to cross them.

Down by the coast, the elves have recorded hundreds of rumors from the people indigenous to the North, but they don't believe most of them.  The elves are sure that these creatures are just a story made up to frighten children and foolish travelers.

(Romi Volentino, Forest Ghost)


Legendary creatures can also lead to the thrill of discovery, if you manage to find them.  The moment the party first finds proof that these creatures exist, they've been granted entry into a sanctum of secret knowledge, becoming more accomplished explorers, more knowledgable of the world they dwell in.  Discovery is one of the many kinds of fun roleplaying games can provide.

They say the Dead-Faces are tall beings that sway in the wind, like robes draped over branches.  They might be twenty feet tall, or they might be fifty (6-15 m).  Their faces are blank and uniform, save for their sparkling eyes.  Everyone agrees that you never see one of the Faces at a time, but that they huddle in groups, peering out of the trees.  Then again, you never seem to find anyone who's actually seen them, but everybody seems to know someone who knows someone who has.

Dead-Faces leave footprints that are perfectly round and quite small, like the end of a staff pressed into the soil.  They never speak to people, but they can sometimes be heard whispering to each other in the night.

(Lautrec Winifred, Enoch)


The threat of danger, of course, is great at driving adventure.  To make these legendary creatures truly matter, they're going to need to affect the party, and threatening their safety is a direct way to do that.

Dead-Faces don't like noise and light, so if you think they're nearby, you should quietly put out your fire and head the other way.  People stay away from places they believe to be inhabited by them, leaving out gifts of pine nuts and acorn flour to appease them.

When people talk about how dangerous the Dead-Faces are, they don't talk of immediate danger.  Fire at the Dead-Faces and they quickly slink away into the night, vanishing somewhere in the shadows.  But their vengeance is certain (or so they say), coming when you're not watching to poison your food and watch quietly from the woods as your village starves to death.  Children and livestock alike disappear into the woods when the Dead-Faces' anger has been aroused.

(Reddit u/Carlen67)


In many fantasy games, the players can look up all the monsters in the book and find out exactly what they're like.  And there's no question as to whether they exist — when you hear about orcs causing trouble in the hills, you don't ask yourself if orcs are even real.

That's a fine way to play, but sometimes I'm looking for a bit more mystery in the world.  Semi-legendary creatures might exist, but they might not.  Rumors and legends certainly abound, just like in our own world, of creatures that probably aren't real.  But if these creatures might actually be real, it's prudent to listen to the warnings and protect yourself the way the locals do.

The result is a bunch of superstitious PCs, tossing salt over their shoulder and closing umbrellas indoors, because even though the players know each rumor has a good chance of being false, it's better to be safe than sorry.

If the people around here tell stories of the Dead-Faces, roll for two rumors on the table below.  The first is the truth.  The second is a grave misunderstanding that's only partly true.

Rumors (d20)
1Their appearance is a sign of hungry days ahead. They're mostly seen after the last harvest in the fall and before the snow melts in the spring.
2They're creatures of shadow, without real bodies like yours and mine. They emerge from shadow at night and dissipate in the morning.
3They're dead, made from the spirits of those who died alone in the woods. They can't be harmed, but they always stay near their old bones, hoping for proper funeral rites.
4Before daylight comes they go down and fold up into holes in the ground. You do not want to wake them.
5They won't cross human boundaries, like walls and fences, but you'd better not cross their boundaries in the woods.
6They eat birds and bats that they pluck out of the air, crunching up their bones, but they never eat creatures from the ground.
7They only come out on dark nights: during the new moon or under cloudy skies.
8Their touch will leave you blind for days.
9They leave food behind as a gift: nuts and broken birds.
10Their eyes are glittering gems that the elves will pay handsomely for.
11-20Dead-Faces aren't real, just misunderstood sightings of something benign.

grave misunderstanding


  1. I spent a good minute focused at that last picture looking for Slenderman.

    This is also some perfect tone-setting.

  2. I really like the idea that the dead faces leave food offerings for us. Those creepy birds impaled on branches you keep finding? A peace offering. We leave out acorn flower and they wonder what this dust we keep dumping places is all about.
    THey keep away from our boundaries (as they understand them) and exact vengeance when we fail to do the same. (It's the redfin moss, you stupid humans, can't you see it's groomed to point in a certain direction?)