Witches, Hags, Crones. Whatever you call them, they’ve been a part of human culture for as long as it has been recorded, appearing in folk lore, tall tales and stories for centuries. Vile creatures that delight in the destruction of people’s lives. Beings that deceive, manipulate, obfuscate and corrupt mortals with bargains that are always a part of a scheme too far reaching and complex for them to comprehend. They often do this through the guise of a deal or help, yet dealings with them embody the idea of the monkeys paw; to be careful what you wish for. A deal with a Hag may bring back a loved one from the dead, but their time in the beautiful afterlife destroyed any joy they could derive from living. Having seen the beauty of what lies beyond, they then share this gift with their family and loved ones, killing them all so they can see it. This is just one of near infinite possibilities abound with Hags, and the freeform style of storytelling that Dungeons and Dragons facilitates can lead to truly memorable moments with them tossed into the mix.
That being said, there is a lot of nuance involved with Hags in order to use them properly. They’re atypical of many other types of monsters you will use, being less straight-forward to fit into a campaign than your typical monster of the week. Above all else, they rely on a level of intrigue and deception that your players must buy into to a small degree. They may take the façade of a noblewoman that the party interacts numerous times without much thought, but if the party doesn’t show interest in your NPCs you will have a hard time truly weaving a web of wickedness that Hags are infamous for. As is typical of my Fabulous Foes entries, I will be making references to Dungeons and Dragons and more specifically 5th edition, but the core of my advice here can apply to archetypical Hags of any game or genre. There are 5 distinct types and if you’d like to amalgamate the traits of these into one core species of Hag, that can be an equally fun and an interesting option.
Before we discuss the individual Hags, we need to discuss the traits they share universally. They are all hideous in their true forms, revoltingly so, which mirrors their grotesque personalities. Ugly inside and out as they say. They all have an inverted worldview and sense of values, adoring their own personal hideousness in body and soul, viewing virtue and beauty with revulsion and seething hatred. As a DM, have them react to purity, heroism and love as we would to someone throwing up on us or someone’s head exploding in front of you. Much like how we actively clean up bile and filth to make our environment cleaner, they disfigure, twist and morph beautiful things to make their home more wretched. They all possess potent supernatural powers and superhuman physiques, capable of crushing stone with their bare hands and weaving unpredictable magics on their enemies. They also shared a fundamental weakness at their core: Arrogance. Believing themselves the craftiest and most cunning of all beings, they view others as inferior. This often leads to them oversharing or overextending when dealing with lesser beings where a properly cautious entity wouldn’t and often become a Hag’s ultimate undoing. Their arrogance is so great that they believe themselves magic rivals to that of the gods, which they blaspheme and befoul at any opportunity.
Lastly I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the infamous Hag covens. At their nature Hags despise everything that isn’t them and as such are reluctant to work with other Hags for a period of time. However times of crisis or grand desires can lead to them coming together to form a coven which vastly increases their power and influence. Hags in covens become capable of manipulating the weather and the environment around them as they pool their esoteric knowledge and powerful magic together. Even the closest of covens houses constantly bicker amongst its members and they’re just as likely to collapse due to internal struggling as they are to fall to the hands of heroes. Three members in the coven is the most successful; any more and their scheming and bickering will spiral out of control as they inevitably kill one another in a bid for superiority. Two Hags forced together will never agree on anything. A third Hag is required to mediate the quarreling of their sisters whenever conflicts arise. A coven of three Hags working together is as dangerous as 10 Hags individually and can elevate the relatively low CR they have into becoming a threat to entire continents or even the whole material plane.
First up we have Green Hags (CR 3). Much like how most people envision Red Dragons when they hear the word, most depictions of evil witches are of Green Hags. Warty faces, long noses, green skin and a decrepit elderly appearance are a staple in depictions of Hags across the world. The most common and numerous of the Hags, they are consequently the most likely type your party will encounter. Their true appearance is to be meek and fragile, which they use to their advantage to lure victims into a false sense of security. More so than any other Hag, they revel in tragedy, seeking to utterly shatter a happy life with their influence before they strike. Intrigue and roleplay is mandatory to get the full value out of Green Hags, as they frequently disguise themselves with magic to appear as stunningly gorgeous women and imbed themselves into communities.
A classic scheme of theirs is to use their wiles and beauty to charm happily married men into desiring them. She will then manipulate and convince the man into doing increasingly heinous actions in order for them to be together, addicting them to her presence and consuming his every thought. This will play out for months or even years before eventually culminating in the final push. “As much as I love our time together, as long as you have your family we can’t be together. I don’t think we should see each other anymore.” Threatened with losing her, they will kill their family in desperation and return to her. This is when she finally reveals her true self, drops her disguise and shows him that the person he pined after never even existed. Worse still that the person he did all these acts for despises him and that he destroyed a perfectly happy life by his own doing. The utter anguish and despair as all of these realizations come crashing down are what the Green Hag has lusts for and once the man is entirely broken she begins her feast, though on some occasions a particularly cruel Hag will leave the man alive to wallow in his misery for the rest of his days.
As much joy as they get from such small-scale schemes, they are just as likely to use their skills to worm their way into positions of political power; like the lovers of lords or celebrities of simple communities. They’ll then use their influence to slowly corrupt the community and drain their morals in the hopes of creating humanoids at her beck and call. She’ll make deals with many that invariably end in her favor and use leverage gained to keep any dissenters on her side. Rather than snuff out all hope, she’ll dangle the promise of freedom of debts in order to keep the community properly motivated to do what she wants and attack those that may threaten her, especially a group of adventurers. Whilst no slouch in combat, they are much more likely to flee at the first sign of danger, and will have a minimum of 3 escape plans thought up in advance.
On the opposite side of the scale we have Sea Hags (CR 2). Whilst other Hags scheme and manipulate, Sea Hags are borderline animalistic and savage. All Hags despise beauty, but those of the sea abhor it to an extreme and unhealthy degree. The mere sight of a beautiful person is enough to send them into a fury, yet they still share the scheming nature of their sisters. Rather than destroy it on sight, they revel in corrupting and reversing the intended purpose of said beauty. An example of this is the defiling of a statue of a beautiful goddess, originally meant to inspire hope and peace, disfiguring it so that the now grotesque statue horrifies travelers.
Sea Hags themselves are reclusive in nature, preferring to watch others that pass by as their rage gradually bubbles and boils over. As their name suggests they tend to create lairs in caves near shores or in grottos under the waters, preferably nearby large settlements. They also prefer warm bodies of water full of vegetation and are content sharing their ecosystem with aquatic monsters like sea serpents and giant crabs. Signs of a Sea Hag’s lair include: thick slime coating rocky surfaces near it, decaying fish corpses surrounding the area both in and out of the water (which they can use to see and speak through), increased hostility in fauna within a few miles of it and particularly treacherous tides in the surrounding waters.
Without question Sea Hags are the ugliest of their kin, so much so that even when they use magics to hide their appearance their illusory form still ends up hideous. This is both a strength and weakness for them. While it severely hampers the amount of subterfuge they can do, the horrific hideousness of their true forms can terrify onlookers. Not only are they terrifying to look at, but their gaze was even more frightening and could even kill weaker beings. Targets afraid of them that lock eyes can suffer from paralysis, heart attack and even death. Lacking the cowardice of Green Hags, Sea Hags revel in combat. Setting up ambushes and then striking when the greatest number of victims are nearby, they use their terrifying appearance to cripple their victims and their horrifying stare to incapacitate the especially frail. As soon as a foe falls unconscious or dies they immediately begin to feast on them in a horrific and brutal fashion, possibly scaring or disturbing the braver people in the process. When they fail to terrify their victims, they possess enough strength to crush the bones of humans and sharp claws to rip them to shreds, but they aren’t particularly proficient or skilled and rely on brute strength to win the day. These traits can often clash with the ideas and plans of other types of Hags, and thus they are much more likely to create a coven of only Sea Hags.
And… that’s a wrap! I’m not sure if it’s obvious, but I absolutely love Hags in Dungeons and Dragons and end up using them in almost all campaigns I run to some extent. They can fill the shoes of any size threat and do so in a refreshing and unique way, so I often can’t help myself. Next time we’ll discuss the last three types of Hags and further discuss how to utilize a coven. Also make sure to stay tuned next week for our next site event, I’d greatly appreciate you checking it out! Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and until next time, stay hexy!