Monday, March 2, 2020

Monster: Psoglav

Summary: A monster entry inspired by a creature from Serbian mythology. This post includes background information and stats for the dreaded Psoglav tailored for my Quassus setting, as well as some ideas on how to use it as a random encounter, thoughts on how to create hex tiles around it and a small rumor table.

"Man with a dog head" from the "Nuremberg Chronicle" by Hartmann Schedel

A vicious stench of organic decay and molded, rotten wood. The creeping dread evoked by gaping holes in the cold earth which was better left undisturbed. Wet gnawing sounds deep in the shadows, scratching, ripping, clicking. A growl, a snarl and a sniff in the chilling night air. By this point it is already too late for the unfortunate witness.

These are the elements foreshadowing the presence of the Psoglav, a creature so vile that few are those who dare to whisper tales of it, fearing that it may accidentally summon it, and even fewer are those who get a chance for an encounter and live to speak about it.

The Psoglav is an unholy amalgam of features, a demonic chimera whose body is that of a humanoid, bearing a one-eyed head of a dog on its shoulders and sprouting vicious iron teeth in its maw. Some witnessed Psoglav even have the legs which resemble those of a horse, making it a truly bizarre sight.

It craves the flesh of man and it even developed the carrion-like craving for cadaver meat, going so far as to exhume graves in order to devour the cold, already rotting bodies to satisfy its necrophagic urges.

The cyclopean monstrosity hates the Sun, for its rays sting and blind it, throwing the beast in rabid panic of self-preservation. Thus it spends its days dwelling in dark places, caves, sinkholes, abandoned huts, forgotten tombs and even the empty graves it desecrated previously, only to crawl out at night and devour the dead once more. It grew a particular fascination for gems and other shiny treasures one might find in a tomb of a noble man.

The Psoglav also hates water, apparently because of its cold purity. Thus it never bathes and its horrible stench is one of the first signs of its presence. Some also claim that this hatred of water is elevated to sensations of fear when running water is in question.

Historical accounts of the Psoglav are rare, stories so few and far between that it is almost impossible to tell whether this abomination is simply a thing of legends and village gossip or is there actual historical merit to it.

Old witches worshiping forbidden gods dare say that back in the times of Ancient Rome, long before the Cross came to these lands, the claws of Psoglav tribes were responsible for many deaths of Roman soldiers. Some cackle when talking about the dogs further to the west, towards the Mediterranean Sea, where a dog-headed named Attila was responsible for wrecking havoc upon the entire Istrian peninsula. The laughing turns to a whisper when the old hags mention a hill in Serbia where one Psoglav is venerated as a god.

The Church boasts about a more naive tale, that once there was a priest who managed to calm, and eventually even convert to Christianity, a particularly famous and bloodthirsty Psoglav in the  realm of Knez Constantinus. With nothing but a prayer and a small wooden cross, the holy man sent the beast to its knees, weeping with newly found love for the one God. Its devotion to Orthodox Christianity became so vast and enduring that it became a monk and was later canonized as a saint under the name “Christ-bearer”.

Another Christian account speaks of a solitary monk, travelling the less civilized corners of the peninsula, eventually attributed with many thousands of converted pagans. The monk was robed and never showed his face, but it is believed that he was one of the dog-headed.

The dark land of the Balkans knows the Psoglav, for it is a beast born of the cursed soil we walk upon. Yet many choose to forget it, either by not uttering the legends, or ignoring the signs that show the beast still roaming the countryside. But the soil remembers and in certain places it reminds. It evokes primal fear around particularly ancient places, like those near a river trickling down from the Black Mountain or the gaping holes in the earth of the Old Mountain of the Balkan range.

Night falls and the growling grows louder. It is coming.

Ideas and examples for using the Psoglav in your games

Dog-headed from the tympanum of the Abbey of Saint Mary Magdalene of Vézelay, France
AC: as studded leather
HD: 6
Attack: bite 2d6* (special, see below) or claws 1d4/1d4 or bite 2d6 (no special) and claws 1d4/1d4 
  • Darkvision
  • Unholy Stench - Getting near the Psoglav requires a save vs. Poison or suffer effects of a Stinking Cloud spell
  • Rigor Mortis - Staring into the eye of the Psoglav, save vs. Paralyze or suffer a negative 1d4 modifier to physical rolls as your muscles become stiff
  • Bale Hound* - when bitten, save vs. Poison or roll 1d5:
    • 1 - Lose 1d3 actions due to vomiting
    • 2 - Suffer additional 1d6 damage due to acid bile burning the wound (also a chance to cause armor to rust)
    • 3 - Suffer effects as that of a Confusion spell
    • 4 - Suffer effects as that of a Sleep spell
    • 5 - No visible effect, but the victim develops hydrophobia

Use as a random encounter, roll d12: (sample Psoglav only table)
1-7 - a solitary Psoglav (hungry, rabid)
8-9* - a solitary Psoglav (wounded, aggressive)
10-11* - a pack of dog-headed (1d3+1)
12 - a dog-headed monk (peaceful)
*30% chance of carrying something of value from a freshly exhumed grave

Use as a hex element:
Made with

#1 A long, narrow mountain pass, once a serene spot of nature’s beauty, but now defiled by blood spilled in a great battle. Two armies clashed here, but neither side claimed victory. Now, packs of Psoglav feast on the dead, fighting among each other over the slowly rotting prey. They are nested in cave systems carved deep into the mountains.

#2 An old graveyard with most of the graves exhumed. A Psoglav den should be nearby, presumably full of riches stolen from the hands of the dead. (Is it nesting in the derelict mausoleum? Or is there a hole under the statue of the Virgin Mary leading into a cave?)

#3 A pagan village nests in a dry patch of a vast marshland. The Matron Baba of the village hosts a Psoglav in her hall. The creature is unchained, sitting in a dark corner of the den. It wears a rag across its one eye, the cloth bearing a crude drawing of some ancient glyph. Rumor goes that it possesses incredible divination skills, despite being blind and mute.

#4 A man lies next to the forest trail, badly wounded, his horse butchered dead and the cart with goods turned over. He was attacked by a dog-headed beast, which he somehow managed to injure and repel. The man is probably poisoned and dying. If you help him reach the city, he will reward you vastly.

  1. Beyond the waves of forested hills, lies a small moss covered church which contains a cherished, forgotten relic. A small tarnished cross believed to have the power to command beasts.
  2. The townsfolk down the river say they are finding a newly exhumed grave each night, the corpse nowhere to be seen. They are afraid to stand guard, since at night there is a pack of wild dogs howling from the nearby forest.
  3. There is a mysterious priest armed with nothing but the holy book. He’s been seen roaming the old forests and sacred glades, visiting witches and pagans, converting them to the One God.
  4. Hunters have been saying they hear howling and yelping from the abandoned monastery up in the mountains. 
  5. At the confluence of the two great rivers, when the waters rise up high, a dog-headed man can be seen, helping travelers cross the bloated waters.
  6. Forgotten lore stirred to the surface, revealing that there is a vast underground labyrinth under the Land Twice Cursed. At the center of the structure lies a single artifact. The fabled sword that beheaded Saint Christopher, the dog-headed martyr.
  7. A local nobleman’s family tomb has been raided some nights ago, the culprits stealing riches and even the bodies. He is looking for mercenaries willing to help retrieve the stolen riches… and the deceased.
  8. Peasants from the village on the other side of the valley speak of a Psoglav roaming the land performing miracles.
  9. There’s an old village at the far end of the Black Mountain with a timeworn well at its center. Although Christian, the villagers never bury their dead into the soil, but instead throw them in the well. It is customary for the family of the deceased to imitate howling during the “burial”.

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