Welcome to Covens of Chaos, the ninth in our line of monster books called Mythic Menagerie! Each volume in this line presents a small set of monsters tied to a single theme, but spread over a range of CRs. For Covens of Chaos that theme is variants of hags, the classic crone—witch of fables and ancient mythology. As an added bonus, author Sam Hing has put together an awesome set of hag-related magic items, spells, and feats to round out your wicked wise women.
Hags are prevalent in many old fables, and are often portrayed as hideous witches who may or may not be human. From the witch who wanted to eat Hansel and Gretel or the tales of Baba Yaga in her flying mortar to the Greek and Norse depictions of the three Moirai (or Fates or Norns), powerful, ugly women of power are common antagonists in many of the stories from which modern fantasy roleplayng games draw inspiration. The very term "hag" evolved from the Old English word hægtesse, a word for "witch" that is also the root of the Germanic hexe, the origin of the hex powers of the witch character class. Much like witches, hags have a broad range of powers and a bad reputation, though unlike many witches, the hags' reputation is almost entirely deserved.
While numerous types of hags already exist in the pages of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary, this product expands their options (and CR range) to ensure there's always a hag appropriate for any adventure. Within these pages you will find everything from hags that just wish to fill their bellies to those dedicated to destroying the powerful servants of the outer plains. From the disgusting and cowardly whaitiri (CR 3) to the terrifyingly destructive kalaratri (CR 15), the Covens of Chaos are ready and able to plot against player characters of any evel.
So put some more wood around the cauldron, take a big bite of that shiny apple, and tell the children to be home before nightfall. The gwrachods are looking for new trophies, the night filches have their hair woven into nets, and the truies are hungry. The Covens of Chaos are plotting, and you're not going to like what they have planned!
This installment of the Mythic Menagerie-series is 23 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page foreword, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving 20 pages for new hags to add to covens and conjure up the darkest powers, so how do they hold up?
The pdf begins with a short discussion on coven magic, arguably one of the defining characteristics of hags before delving into the latest addition to the roster of evil crones, the disgusting Bangungot (CR 6): Terribly obese, these grotesque creatures have lost their teeth and can vomit up the bones of the poor unfortunates they have consumed to obey their every whim as undead servitors or support them, when their spear-like nails don't do the job alone. Very cool!
The fanged Gwrachod (CR 13), with flesh like teak and disgusting tusks come with their own poison, a horrible, bleeding bite and are attuned to the elements of their lands. The may enchant bodyparts of the fallen to create truly disgusting magic items.
The Hu'Pochtli (CR 9) are jungle witches inspired by Aztec-style cultures and make for fearsome combatants - not only due to their rage-inducing auras and the ability to turn snakes into spears (and back again!), but also because they heal every time they cause injury. Her Serpent Spear (Sp)-ability is not in italics, though.
The most powerful of the Witches herein is the Kalaratri (CR 15), a large, 4-armed witch inspired by Indian mythology, which is mechanics-wise the most interesting creature in the book: Using her Skirt of severed humanoid arms (!!!), these harbingers of apocalypse, consummate foes of outsiders and schemers can cast via the skulls of her three first victims by having her skirt of arms configure the skulls. This, of course, leaves her hands free...all 4 of them. Fearsome, deadly, iconic - what's not to love?
The Night Filcher (CR 6) is less powerful, but disturbing nonetheless: Consummate kidnappers, their very touch causes a searing pain and their gaze can send you into spastic seizures. To add insult to injury, when not rescued fast enough from their clutches, you'll probably have to face the blades and spells of your erstwhile comrades - the filcher can change people into their slaves. Slaves that do everything to keep their new mommy happy...
The Rokurokubi (CR 7) is a special, rather eastern witch that shares some similarities with Hebi-no-onnas, namely that her arms end in snake-heads. She does not stop there, but adds disguises, illusions and snake legs and a disturbing head to the portfolio. Nevertheless, I felt a bit like "been there, done that" here.
The CR 7 Truie is something completely different: Boar-headed, violent and eternally hungry, these gluttonous creatures make for powerful enforcers and serve as a nice variation from the cliché of the scheming hags by putting some raw, brute strength in the mix. Neat!
The final new hag we get is the CR 3Whaitiri - bowed women constantly weeping blood, in whose distended bellies the remains of their former victims can be seen. Have I mentioned their magical guffaw? Creepy imagery, well-presented and cool to spring upon low-level PCs. Two thumbs up!
Hags are known for creating disturbing items and thus, we get a neat little array of deadly tools utilized by the covens of chaos:
Ever wanted to use large mosquitoes as darts to drain foes of blood and subsequently heal yourself? Use nets of hag's hair? Put death-bearing skulls on poles, Egil Skallagrímr-style? Use severed human ears to survey conversations? Do you love these items as much as I do?
The 7 new feats centering on hags and coven magic are ok, but pale in comparison to the AWESOMENESS of the magic items, while the 4 new spells (including a rain of leeches!) capture the grimy, dread flair of hags perfectly again.
Editing and formatting, while not perfect, are very good and offer apart from very minor glitches no major reasons for concern. Layout adheres to the 2-column, full-color standard and the b/w-artworks are neat. The pdf comes with bookmarks, which is always nice to have. I generally liked the witches, ähem hags, herein - With the exception of the lame snake-hag, they all bring some interesting aspect that hasn't been done to death to the table. The new items rock and ooze style and while I'm not into the new feats, I figure the "every book needs feats, whether it makes sense or not"-disease has not yet abated. The new spells are cute, although I would have preferred some coven-exclusive rituals for the poor hags...perhaps in a future installment? *winkwink, nudgenudge* Seeing that I have only minor gripes and that the amount of content that rocks surpasses any suboptimal aspects, I'll settle for a final verdict of 4 stars - a good installment of the series that could have been the best.
This PDF weighs in at 23 pages, with:
Cover – 1 page
Foreword – 1 page, written by Owen K.C. Stephens
On Hags and Covens – 1 page, detailing the effects gained by Hags when operating within a coven, as well as giving insight in how a coven might be used a campaign, as well as scaling concepts so that a coven's capacity to threaten a playgroup would grow with the group.
The Lovely Ladies Themselves – 14 ¼ pages I'll get into them in more detail below
New Hag Options – 1 ¾ pages, detailing several new items
Coven Feats – 1 page
Hag Magic – 1 ¼ pages with a half page piece of art.
PI/OGL – 1 page
The formatting is a dual column, with no obvious spelling errors. Art is presented in both full page and embedded format with one color piece used both upon the cover and within. The rest of the artwork is B&W, and all art ranges from good to decent. Every Hag subtype is represented with it's own artwork, as well as one Hag item. The final piece of artwork has a completely different feel to it (it depicts an attractive female spellcaster), and leaves one wondering if it was included to avoid having a mostly blank page as it would have been if not for this art. Whereas it is a small thing, I did find that amusing.
The 8 Hag subtypes are as follows:
Bangungot – a CR6, the Bangunot has probably one of the grossest special abilities I've come across in awhile, she can vomit up a collection of skeletons to fight for her...HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!
Gwrachod – a CR13 and “pronounced kai-leech, are the spawn of an ancient coven of witches, cursed by the gods for their cruelty and deviousness.” With a bleeding bite, and Poison attack, these Hags are not to be taken lightly. Add to that the fact they can craft any bodypart into any magical item, and you might end up a pair of boots if you fall to one to one of these.
Hu'Pochtli – a CR9, this one's art had a very Incan, or possibly Aztecan feel to it. The Hu'Pochtli relish combat, and are known for their bloody rituals, actually bathing within it to heal.
Kalaratri – a CR15, this bad bi@tch will visually answer the question,”What would happen if the Goddess Kali mated with an Orc?”...Multi-armed (that's funny for reasons you'll have to see for yourself), and uglier than sin this Hag has not only an impressive spell list, but several special abilities that put this Hag out of the reach of all but the most stalwart.
Night Filcher – a CR6 the Filcher's mere touch brings pain, while she tries to decide if she wishes to eat you, or transform you. Yeah, this Hag can turn you into a minion, making you part of the “family” as it were. And the best part? She hunts with a net woven of her own hair, pretty cool visual.
Rokurokubi – CR7, Here we find the Hag gracing our cover, a serpentine shape-shifter.
Truie – a CR7, these boar-headed monstrosities are the victims of their own hunger, and are motivated by their never sated starvation. Add to their hunger a rage that is on a very short fuse, and these creatures would be a primal force in combat.
Whaitiri – a CR3, An emaciated old women crying tears of blood with a distended stomach, stretched tight over what appear to be bones, don't you want to help her? It should be noted, the only formatting error I have noticed was in this Hag's statblock, and was nothing more than a Special Ability not being italicized
From there we go to the 7 New Items
Hag's Hair Net – Exactly what you are thinking, a net, woven from hair. It does have some bonuses against good creatures that make it worth it though.
Hag's Jaws – Think animated jaws of predators, used as either a trap, or a weapon....ouch.
Mortar of Flying – Oh please, would any collection on Hags be complete without Baba's favorite means of travel?
Mosquito Dart – Giant Mosquitoes turned into rather dangerous Lawn Jarts...yeah, I'm smiling.
Skull of Judgement – Skull on a pole enchanted to cast offensive spells
Skull of Gazes – a Hag bedazzled skull that “stores” gaze attacks from creatures, allowing it's wielder to cast them.
Whisper Catcher – think two cans and a string, with amputated ears, and no string.
The next section details 7 new feats, with 5 focusing on covens
Coven Magic – Your coven has access to more spells than most
Coven Power – Your coven raises your magic to new heights
Hex Kiss – You can pass the power of a hex you know to another member of your coven
Improved Coven Magic – Your coven has access to more spells than most
Pack Mentality (Teamwork) – Your coven has trained together in battle
Shocking Appearance – Your visage is so foul, onlookers are frozen in horror
Witchy Will – You have learned to call upon the power of witchcraft through your hag blood
Hag Magic is our last section of the book, giving us 4 new spells
Living Dead – Target believes they have died, and risen as a ghoul, even though they are alive
Rain of Leeches – cause torrents of leeches to rain from the sky
Spellsink – creates a spell consuming vortex that rains down motes of pure magical energy, causing damage based upon what spells the vortex claimed.
Unnatural Theft – Literally steal a supernatural ability from a target, using it as your own for the duration of the spell.
So, wrapping up, this Mythic Menagerie does serious justice to the Hag as a creature, and gives many new options through the introduced subtypes, explaining within each one how they would interact with a coven. But it also gives fair treatment to the concept of the Coven, which in itself should be considered it's own threat, for individually Hags are dangerous, together they are a force to be wary of indeed. All in all, the book had only one formatting error, and it was tiny. The art conveyed was more than adequate, and the ideas introduced were all solid, useful concepts. I'm giving this book a 5 star rating.