When Eberron was created, hags were monstrous humanoids. In fifth edition, they’re fey. What does this change mean for the hags of Eberron? Are they now tied to Thelanis?
No. Not all fey creatures share a common origin. The denizens of Thelanis are the fey we hear the most about, as they’re often encountered on Eberron in manifest zones. But there are fey that are native to Eberron, such as the Valenar beasts of Rising From The Last War. In my campaign, fiends are physical incarnations of evil, while celestials are embodiments of good. Fey are creatures of magic, neither innately good or evil. This is reflected by the current druid Wild Companion ability, which allows them to summon a fey companion in the form of a beast. This looks like an animal, but it wouldn’t exist without the druid; it is a magical embodiment of the druid’s love of nature. Likewise, the Valenar beasts presented in Rising From The Last War are fey creatures, but they aren’t from Thelanis; they are “animals are awakened to advanced intelligence and power by the touch of an ancestral spirit“—mundane creatures that BECOME fey due to an infusion of supernatural energy, the same basic concept we see in the Hexblood lineage.
Divine magic is shaped by faith. Arcane magic is shaped by science. Fey magic is often—though not always—shaped by story. Valenar beasts are part of the story of the Tairnadal ancestors. The dryad is a story we tell ourselves about an interesting tree. Even the Wild Companion is a sort of story… and then a helpful beast came to assist me and to be my friend. This ties to fact that fey often come into existence with a clear purpose the skills they need to accomplish that purpose—essentially, they appear ready to play their role in the story. When you meet a tinker sprite in a manifest zone tied to the Thelanian Assembly, that sprite never chose to be a tinker. They came into existence with a love of tinkering and the knowledge of how to do it, never considering there was any other path they could take. The Wild Companion comes into existence to help your druid, never asking Why am I here? What do I want? Its purpose in the story is to help you. Most fey creatures have a similar purity of purpose, whether they’re kind or cruel. Evil fey are storybook villains. They don’t need the same depth of motivation that mortals do; villainy is their purpose, in and of itself.
Thelanis is the primary source of fey. Within Eberron, fey are most frequently encountered around Thelanian manifest zones. Sometimes the fey in these regions are directly tied to Thelanis; the dryads of Silvermoon Grove consider themselves to be handmaidens of the Forest Queen, even though they dwell in Eberron. Other times, it’s simply that the proximity of Thelanis leaks fey energies into the world, which respond to the stories of the people in the region; such few are often tied to their manifest zones, but they know nothing about Thelanis and feel no kinship to other fey. But fey can be found anywhere in the world… and can even begin as mortals. The Valenar beast is our key example of this—a mundane creature that is touched by the story of a Tairnadal ancestor and becomes a fey embodiment of that story. The key to these creatures is to understand the story that shapes them. Is it tied to a place? Or a person? Does it require them to behave in a particular way? The more mortal a fey creature is, the less they’re bound by their story. Notably, the Eldeen Reaches has a population of centaurs who are technically fey, but who lead mortal lives—growing old and dying, giving birth and raising children. Their ancestors were shaped by the energies of Thelanis, and that power clings to them to such a degree that spells react to them as fey; but they are mostly mortal, for better or for worse.
With that in mind, let’s look to the main subjects of this discussion…
The Daughters of Sora Kell are the most infamous hags of Eberron. But the Daughters are so remarkable that they have little in common with the standard hags of the monster manual. What, then, is the role of a typical green hag or sea hag? Where do they come from and what do they want? There’s a few answers to the question. Note that night hags are an entirely different sort of creature, and have been covered in a previous article.
Mother Graytooth dwells in the Saddleback Bog, and she always has, just as long as long has been. She’s matched wits with dirge singers and with templars of the Silver Flame, and many’s the time she’s been killed, but she’s too evil to stay dead for long.
Saddleback Bog is a minor Thelanian manifest zone and Mother Graytooth is a green hag rooted in Thelanis. There’s no historical basis for her story, she’s just always been there. People who live in the area eventually start telling her story, even if they can’t remember where they heard it; it’s seeped into the collective unconscious of the region itself, and if you ask someone how they know it, they’ll just say “Maybe it was my old gran who first told me the tale? I couldn’t say. But everyone knows about Mother Graytooth, mister.” She gets killed occasionally and may stay dead for decades, but people remember her story even when she’s gone, and eventually she’ll come back.
Old Man Cord was the nicest man you could meet, if you met him in the day. Always had a story or a toy for the children, always a smile and a crown. But at night, now, that was a different story. A tanner, he was, and a worker of leather, and he’d make himself a cord from the guts of his victims… then out into the night he’d go, waiting for someone to stray from the light. When they finally caught him, they found the remains of all his victims, hanging by their innards in his basement. They hung him, and that was their mistake; ropes are his friends, and no noose would kill Old Man Cord. He’s been out there ever since, lurking in the darkness and waiting for someone to stray from the light. So mark my words, children, and mark them well—never be out in the night without a lantern, as you value your breath.
Old Man Cord is an annis hag haunting the town of Lowpoint. His Crushing Hug takes the form of choking a victim with a leather strap, but otherwise he has all the abilities of an annis—shapeshifting, hiding in fog, inhuman strength. Unlike Mother Graytooth, his story has a concrete beginning; there was an Old Man Cord who killed dozens of people. He spread terror through the town while he lived, the revelations of his crimes shocked them even further, and when a child went missing a year later, everyone knew it was Old Man Cord. In essence, the town willed him into existence the same way a druid wills a Wild Companion into existence, and they keep him alive through their fear. Another difference is that his story can have an end. He can be killed; the key is that he’ll only stay dead if the people of Lowpoint believe he’s dead and, most critically, STOP TELLING HIS STORY.
A critical point is that the annis hag isn’t actually Old Man Cord. This is what differentiates this form of hag from a ghost or undead. The hag embodies the story of Old Man Cord. It’s both larger than life and also more shallow than the original. It doesn’t matter why Cord actually murdered people; what matters is why people THINK he murdered people. In some ways, you can think of this as a nightmare made manifest; he’s going to be more exaggeratedly EEEVIL than the mortal man ever was, because he’s embodying the story. One might ask if the hag could be changed by changing the story; if the people all came to believe that Old Man Cord was cuddly and friendly, would he become cuddly and friendly? Usually, no. This sort of hag is typically generated by fear. Cutting off the source will keep the hag from returning, but it won’t actually change it or kill it; the Cord hag will still be out there and will try to get its story back on track by killing people in terrifying ways. However, if his story becomes a joke, Cord won’t be able to return if he’s slain.
Often, historical hags are formed near Thelanian manifest zones; even if the zone doesn’t manifest traditional fey, the energy can form creatures like hags. However, in rare cases, such hags can form spontaneously if a response to a story is both widespread and visceral. Historical hags are typically bound to a region, but can move with their story. If a family travels from Lowpoint to Sharn and manages to spread the story of Old Man Cord throughout Callestan, he could potentially follow them.
Historical hags generally only manifest after a villain has died, typically after their story has been greatly exaggerated; again, they’re usually more of a caricature of the original, not an actual ghost. However, it could theoretically be possible for an infamous villain to be thought dead and for their story to generate a hag while they are secretly still alive. Perhaps the real Old Man Cord never killed anyone and is still in hiding; finding him could help put the story to rest.
You will find no warm welcome in the Winter Court. In particular, you had best keep an eye out for the frost maidens—Linger, Livid, and Lost. Linger is as strong as a dying oak tree, and Livid as cunning as black ice. Their hearts are as cold as their hands, and they delight in smothering joy and stealing hope.
Thelanian hags are the closest to the traditional fifth edition lore: “Ancient beings with origins in the Feywild, hags represent all that is evil and cruel; there is nothing mortal about these monstrous creatures, whose forms reflect only the wickedness in their hearts.” They can play minor roles in the stories of baronies or feyspires, or be found scheming in the Moonlit Court. They are typically immortal, though like many immortals, if they die they might return in a slightly different form; the overall story remains, but the exact telling of it can change. While they are immortal embodiments of evil, part of what makes them fey instead of fiends is that drive to embody their story. Most are content to while away immortality in Thelanis, but every now and then a hag or a coven takes up residence in a manifest zone, or decides that intrigues in Eberron could somehow help their position in the Moonlit Court; a powerful Thelanian hag or coven could easily serve as the patron for an archfey warlock. Again, what makes a hag a HAG is being “evil and cruel”; while the Daughters of Sora Kell are more nuanced in their desires, Thelanian hags tend to play up their villainous roles. However, evil doesn’t mean violent; a Thelanian hag could be a merchant who sells interesting items that will ultimately cause misery (consider the classic monkey’s paw) or a cruel step-parent who keeps their child imprisoned in a tower made from thorns.
While “hags” are traditionally villainous, the stat block of a hag can be used for good or neutral fey. The green hag in particular makes an excellent fey courtier, clever and gifted with illusion. For such a fey, their claw attack could be replaced with a Humiliating Slap that deals psychic damage (a good pairing with vicious mockery), a Withering Touch that deals necrotic damage (tied to the strange passage of time in Thelanis), or something else that fits the story of the courtier; they might not look like a traditional hag, but the stat block works!
Pact Hags AND HEXBLOODS
Story hags were never real, and historical hags typically rise after the death of their source. But there are fully mortal beings with the powers of hags. They begin by making a pact with another powerful hag. In some cases, the nature of this bargain is clear from the start; in others, the connection may be forged my a seemingly innocent arrangement—a favor granted, a gift given. The beneficiary becomes a hexblood, as described in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft—and eventually, they may be transformed into a full hag. In part, this is a matter of time. But it’s also based on the actions of the individual. Hags represent all that is evil and cruel; the more the hexblood succumbs to cruelty, the more delight they find in the misfortunes of others, the more trouble they cause, the closer they get to becoming a hag. Few hexbloods every actually reach the point where transformation is actually possible; to become a hag, they must literally be larger than life, essentially becoming a living story.
Pact hags are the most human of the hags discussed here. They began as humanoid creatures, and the essence of that humanity remains. They are mortal and won’t return after death. But they are also fey, and aging has little effect on them. Unlike story and historical hags, pact hags aren’t limited to any particular area or community and can travel freely. As a result, pact hags can be found working with Daask cells or acting as ambassadors for the Daughters of Sora Kell.
Wait—Old *MAN* Cord?
Yes, Old Man Cord. There’s no reason hags have to take female forms. Even by fifth edition lore, their forms reflect the wickedness in their heart; wickedness isn’t limited by gender. While “hag” remains the common term for this class of fey, they can appear in male, female, or nonbinary forms.
What about Sea Hags?
Sea hags will fall into one of the categories presented above, and their role in the world will reflect this. Sargasso Jane is a story hag who dwells in a kelp mass and torments the crew of ships that get stuck in it. Captain Alarack is an infamous pirate who was lost in the Lhazaar Sea, but people say he will murder any captain who takes a prize in his waters without throwing tribute over. The Mother of Maelstroms is a Thelanian sea hag who occasionally makes pacts with Fathomless warlocks. And if Droaam starts a navy, perhaps Sora Katra will produce a pact hag to run it.
The Daughters of Sora Kell
So having discussed four types of hags, what are the Daughters of Sora Kell? They’re typically described as being a green hag (Sora Katra), an annis hag (Sora Maenya), and a dusk hag (Sora Teraza). But Sora Maenya is described as crushing giants with her bare hands and scattering armies—hardly the actions of a CR 6 Annis. The answer is that the Daughters are hags in the same way that Bahamut is a dragon; they have the forms of hags, but they are something far grander and more powerful than any normal hag. The simplest way to look at it is that they are native archfey. Their mother wasn’t a fey hag at all; Sora Kell is a primordial night hag and a legend in her own right, and in birthing her daughters she was bring nightmares into the world. The Daughters are both far more powerful than most hags, but also more subtle and complex. Katra and Maenya may delight in casual cruelty, but they fall into the category of alignment telling you how they’ll pursue their goals, but not whether their goals are good or bad. In Droaam they have created something new and given a voice to people once voiceless. They enjoy the terror they instill in their enemies, but they are far more complex that Mother Graytooth or Old Man Cord.
So just how powerful are the Daughters of Sora Kell? Their canon statistics have varied wildly over editions, and to some degree I think that’s appropriate. They’re native archfey, and to some degree, they’re as powerful as the story currently calls for them to be. Sora Maenya’s never had to fight an army of dragons, and by default she definitely doesn’t have that degree of power; but the Chamber can’t be certain that she wouldn’t GAIN that power if she was attacked by an army of dragons, because what a story that would be. So in my opinion, a major part of fighting the Daughters of Sora Kell is to lock down their story. If a party of adventurers just charges into a room and attacks Sora Maenya with no plan, they’ll lose, because she’s Sora Maenya; her story is driven by her being the strongest there is. But if the adventurers learn of her weakness (a weakness that might not even manifest unless her enemies know about it), if they spread stories of her growing old and infirm, if they destroy her treasured collection of soulbound skulls, THEN when they face her she will be locked down to a CR that is reasonable for them to face… because they have created a story in which she can be beaten. This ties to the question of whether or not the Daughters are immortal, like story hags or Thelanian hags. Personally, I’ve always believed that they are NOT immortal—they were born and one day they will die. But in my campaign, if you collapse a building on them or bomb the Great Crag, they will somehow survive… their death won’t stick unless it’s a good story.
Ultimately the real question with the Daughters is how powerful do you want them to be? In my campaign, I LIKE them being the most terrifying beings you could just make an appointment to meet. I’d probably put the Daughters in the same league as the archfey in Exploring Eberron, with CRs somewhere in the low 20s. But that’s the story *I* want. I want Maenya to be able to crush giants and fight armies. You may want to tell a very different story, in which the Daughters truly have to be afraid of their warlords, where Maenya could be taken down in an ambush by Rhesh Turakbar… and that might be a better story. Which again is why I’m inclined to say that their power level can literally shift to meet the needs of the story. Place them in a situation where they need to be impressive and they will become impressive. But if their enemies can control the story, perhaps Sora Maenya can be reduced to a mere annis hag.
That’s all for now! I won’t be answering questions on this article, but feel free to discuss the topic and how you’ve used hags in the comments! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for raising the questions that spawned this topic and for making these articles possible.