Since ancient times, legends of wicked crones and old forest witches have sent shivers down spines and captured imaginations. In the world of Dungeons & Dragons, these frightening tales are brought to life in the form of the nefarious hag.
Hags are perhaps some of the most complex and iconic villains in D&D lore. These ancient beings blend elements of fairy tales and horror stories, serving as master manipulators, nightmare bringers, and dealers of dark bargains. This guide aims to provide the most definitive, extensive look at hags yet – their twisted origins, the bizarre nature of their existence, and how to confront these dangerous foes in your 5th edition campaigns.
Let us peer behind the veil of mystery surrounding these repulsive, yet fascinating creatures. Adventure awaits, but be wary – the swamp knows your name, and so do the hags that dwell within!
I. The Wicked History of Hags
Hags trace their origins back to the mists of the eldritch realm known as the Feywild. They once counted themselves among the fey nobility that ruled this parallel world filled with both wondrous beauty and dark horror. However, even the chaotic fey eventually turned against the foul practices of the hags, resulting in their banishment long ago.
Cast out from the Feywild, these crooked crones spilled forth onto the Material Plane, bringing their cruelty and corrupted arts with them. Tales of their wickedness seeped into humanoid folklore, whether told around campfires or whispered nervously by those who dared not speak their names aloud. From sly mountain witches to cackling swamp hags, these legends left their mark across cultures.
The infamous nature of hags makes tracing their true history difficult. According to some sages, the first hags might have been agents of the nefarious Queen of Air and Darkness, sent to sow discord in preparation for a future invasion of the Feywild. If this is the case, the hags have long forgotten their original purpose. What remains consistent throughout the ages is their sadistic delight in the suffering of mortals.
Hags maintain contact through unknown means, allowing news and gossip to spread between them. While oft-solitary creatures, on rare occasions they will gather in covens of three to accomplish sinister goals requiring their combined power. Though mutual hatred simmers below the surface, these covens uphold ancient codes of courtesy towards fellow hags – likely for fear of retribution.
In their long lifespans, hags have amassed troves of forbidden knowledge and magical artifacts. Their mystical arts lean toward the grotesque, collecting strange ritual components such as eyes of newts and powdered bones. If you hope to bargain with a hag, rare tomes and magic items make useful currency. Remember that no matter how enticing the deal, the crooked crone always comes out ahead in the end.
II. The Bizarre Biology of a Hag
At first glance, a hag might pass for an elderly humanoid woman, though an unusually ugly specimen with warts and prominent mole. However, magic flickers beneath the surface of this ruse, ready to peel back at a moment's notice to reveal the hag's true horrific visage.
In their natural form, hags appear as emaciated crones with warty skin, long knotted hair, and gnarled claws caked with grime and filth. Their bent frames still tower over most humanoids, perhaps once statuesque long ago before being warped by dark powers over countless centuries of malice and spite.
Hags can live for over a millennia if left undisturbed, though the exact upper limits of their lifespan remain uncertain. According to Annis hag legend, the most ancient member of their kind is an individual named “Grandmother Tichwillow” who refers to elves as “sweet, tasty younglings” – which should provide some perspective on just how old a hag can get!
The hunger of these witches is ravenous, craving flesh and entrails above all else. They gladly cannibalize humanoid captives, but consider the meat of infants and children a particular delicacy. When feeding, a hag shovels guts and gore into her mouth with abandon, never minding the mess.
If you feel queasy already, we've only just scratched the surface of the hag's bizarre and disturbing reproductive cycle. When the urge strikes them, hags hunt down pregnant women and steal away their unborn daughters. After devouring the helpless infants, the hags somehow transform this vile act into spawning new hags within their own wombs. These hag daughters later take the place of the stolen babies, reverting to their true monstrous form upon reaching adolescence.
Truly, the bizarre and grotesque biology of hags seems crafted to inspire terror. Some scholars propose that their shapeshifting reproductive system is designed to spread hagkind like a vile plague across the Material Plane. If true, it certainly fuels their numbers, despite how much other races may hunt them.
III. The Many Faces of Hags
There exist a wide variety of hags to plague adventurers, each belonging to their own distinct breeds. The type of hag encountered tends to depend on their lair's environment, though more powerful individuals occasionally stray from their usual haunts. Let's survey some of the most infamous hag breeds that stalk the lands:
The Annis hag upholds the hulking ogre legends of old, looming over 8 feet tall with incredible physical strength. These mountain-dwelling blue skins blend brute force with a cunning wit. Annis are infamous for their affinity with illusion magic that allows them to take on grandmotherly disguises and trick children into coming closer before devouring them whole. These massive hags are the closest thing their kind has to warriors.
In the icy peaks of arctic wastelands dwell the pale blue Bheur hags. These wicked ice queens are masters of manipulating the frozen climate around them, bringing bitter winds and deadly blizzards upon their enemies. Much of their magic revolves around cold, ice, and snow. According to legend, defeating a Bheur hag may be the only way to end an unnaturally fierce winter inflicted upon the land.
The most iconic and fairytale-esque of the hags is undoubtedly the Green hag. These squat, green-skinned swamp witches lure victims into their muddy cottages and thorps through deception and disguise. Once inside, the green hag ensnares victims with sleep-inducing poisons, paralysis spells, and illusory traps. Green hags adore witnessing the despair of hope fading in their victim's eyes.
Perhaps the most sinister of all are the Night hags, who originate from the lower planes. Their wings and horns betray their closeness to demons, though their love of corrupting mortals through manipulation over raw force is unique. Night hags invade dreams, sowing doubt in order to nudge victims towards performing evil acts. Corrupted souls are drained into a cursed gem known as the Heartstone, which the night hag uses to barter with abyssal lords.
These wretched hags make their coastal lairs in disgusting, briny underwater caves lined with kelp, grime, and filth. Their stringy hair resembles seaweed and their gaze alone can paralyze victims with fear. Sea hags despise beauty and seek to destroy or defile it wherever they encounter it. Some legends say sea hags command armies of sahuagin and other aquatic monsters, surfacing to ravage coastal villages without warning.
IV. The Deadly Abilities of a Hag
Beyond their appearances and environments, the various breeds of hags have access to different arrays of magical powers. Understanding these abilities is key to confronting them with any hope of victory. Let's survey some of the most common tricks these wicked witches have up their sleeves:
All hags possess some degree of innate spellcasting, the nature of which depends on the type of hag. For example, green hags can innately cast minor illusion, dancing lights, and vicious mockery. Meanwhile night hags have access to magic missile, plane shift, and sleep without requiring spell slots or preparation. Hags also gain additional spell slots as spellcasters based on their total hit dice.
Hags wield transmutation magic allowing them to disguise their wretched forms. Their most common tactic is to take the appearance of normal humanoid travelers, usually elderly women, to get the drop on their victims. Only a true seeing effect can pierce their disguise and see the hag's real form.
Night hags gain access to a rare ability that allows them to shift into the ethereal plane at will. This grants them a ghostly mobility to appear and disappear as they please, slipping through walls and reappearing anywhere nearby. It essentially renders the night hag immune to physical attacks.
When gathered in covens, hags become exponentially more deadly. All coven members within 30 feet of each other can access a shared pool of spell slots to cast from a common list of potent spells. These include lightning bolt, bestow curse, polymorph, and more. In addition, the coven shares a type of communal consciousness – if one hag knows something, they all do. This coordination makes battling a coven incredibly perilous.
Crafting Hag Items
Hags have crafted a number of unique magic items over the ages that they use to give themselves an edge. The Hag Eye grants remote scrying senses across any plane of existence. Night hags collect souls in an enchanted ruby called the Heartstone. Other items like cursed rings, spell-imbued fetishes, and strange brews round out a hag's arsenal.
The spells and abilities of hags lean heavily into what is known as “weird magic” – effects that warp and twist the boundaries of standard spells. For example, a green hag's Ray of Sickness might take the form of a swarm of stinging wasps, while a night hag could concentrate on two instances of Phantasmal Killer at once. The only limits of weird magic are the hag's demented imagination.
V. The Schemes and Plots of Hags
Beyond their individual abilities, hags collectively have a penchant for elaborate schemes and mind games. Deception, manipulation, and exploitation of greed are their weapons of choice for spreading misery. Let's examine some of the sinister ways these witches execute their plans.
Deals & Bargains
Rather than outright attacking, hags love to bargain with mortals who unknowingly wander into their domains. They offer magical favors or solutions to problems in exchange for innocuous-seeming payments or tasks. In reality, every deal benefits the hag and brings the mortal closer to their doom. Hags are astonishing Tricksters and loophole-finders, exceling at linguistically trapping victims in an ironclad verbal contract.
Each type of hag has their own signature ways of inflicting despair upon surrounding beings. Green hags manipulate emotions and sew the seeds of tragedy. Night hags haunt dreams and compel evil acts. Bheur hags drive humanoids to commit untold sins merely to survive deadly cold. Every action is precisely calculated to maximally ruin lives.
When not actively hunting, hags retreat to concealed lairs deep in forests, swamps, or frigid mountain valleys. Their lairs always contain extensive protections against discovery or attack. Some may even reside in pocket demiplanes accessible only by rituals or fey crossings. Approaching a hag in their home turf stacks the odds significantly against interlopers.
Minions & Ally Creatures
Hags rarely act alone. They surround themselves with cultists, fellow monsters, and enslaved creatures. Among their favorites are flock of Stirges, Will-o'-wisps, animated cadavers, and other fey such as Boggles and Quicklings. Intelligent minions act as servants, while beasts become guardians and first lines of defense. A hag leverages these allies expertly in ambushes and attacks.
VI. Surviving an Encounter with Hags
From their deadly spells to their cunning schemes, hags are some of the trickiest foes to overcome in D&D. However, heroes brave enough to confront these wicked crones can triumph by keeping the following guidance in mind:
If a hag offers a deal, refuse outright or negotiate ruthlessly before accepting. Ensure every term is air-tight and scrutinize for double meanings. Better yet, avoid bargaining entirely. Hags cannot offer anything that won't backfire. They rely on greed and exploitation of desperation.
Target Covens Strategically
When facing a coven, quickly incapacitating a member breaks their synergy. Bring down the most dangerous spellcasters first. Keep coven members separated so they cannot share powers. Destroying a Hag Eye also disorients the coven via psychic backlash.
Control the Battlefield
Choose battlegrounds carefully when hunting hags, never fight them in their lairs if possible. Change the field with spells like Wall of Stone to block abilities. Anticipate their ambushes and turn the trap against them. Use armor and saves to mitigate their magic.
Expose Their True Form
Destroying a hag's magical disguises spells doom for the witch. True seeing and dispel magic reveal their actual wretched appearance. Once exposed, most humanoids are repulsed and no longer heed the hag's lies. Exploit a hag's vanity by damaging beauty she magically projects.
Press All Advantages
Hags flee from serious injuries, abandoning allies if need be. Capitalize upon any weakness or mistake ruthlessly. Disrupt key spells like Etherealness before pressing attacks. Hold nothing back when a hag is on the defensive. Show no mercy, for you shall receive none.
United alongside loyal companions and armed with insider knowledge of a hag's dark practices, even low-level adventurers can aspire to triumph over these fairy tale villains made real. While dangerous, cutting off a hag's head and burning the corpse ensures they will never again threaten the innocent. The defeat of a legendary centuries-old witch makes for epic tales.
VII. The Fate of the Wicked Hags
In conclusion, hags are some of Dungeons & Dragons most compelling antagonists, blending dark fairy tale horror with the high fantasy elements that make D&D so timeless. Their bizarre, grotesque ways of existing unveil a realm of supernatural evil existing just beneath the surface of what we consider normal.
Yet could there exist hags who break the wicked mold? Though rare, perhaps some hags seek redemption among the Seelie fey or choose lives of nonviolent seclusion. Even a monster deserves mercy, if true repentance becomes possible. The multiverse often defies the simplicity of good and evil.
Ultimately, wicked hags will continue haunting the shadows of D&D campaigns, because challenging the players with complex villainy breeds unforgettable adventures. Heed well the lessons in this guide when crossing paths with these ancient evils and perhaps evil's Days will be numbered!