The Slew

(Tom Clare)

Out of the skies, on the back of a thunderstorm or a howling night wind, the Slew ride out in pursuit of mortal quarry. Some say they are the souls of those men who were too wild or bloodthirsty to accept death like others, but instead swore allegiance to terrible, ancient powers. Others believe them to be the Devil’s own huntsmen, or Fey reavers looking for mortal quarry.

The Slew, or Host of the Air, only ride on the worst nights of the year. With the hooves of their great steeds resounding like rolling thunder, the blasts of hunting horns, and the awful baying of their enormous hounds, the Host will be heard long before they are seen. Those foolish enough to be out upon the roads on such nights may have time to find shelter; the Slew are rarely able to enter a dwelling, whether a great hall or a charcoal burner’s hovel, for they are forbidden to dismount.

If no shelter is within reach, the humble may attempt to lie face down in a ditch, eyes tightly shut, and hope for the host to pass over. Any character prudent – and unknightly – enough to fall to the earth, averting their face from the sight of the Slew, have a 3 in 6 chance of being overlooked.

In order to hunt, the Host requires a quarry to seek. Any mortal the Slew happen upon may become their victim for the night. The referee (if he hasn’t already decided on the quarry) should roll 1d6 for each party member encountered by the Slew; on a six that sinner is nominated as the Host’s prey. If a character has been portrayed as a particularly keen huntsman or merciless warrior, he is pursued on a five or six.

The unfortunate man selected as quarry by the slew is confronted by a fearful spectacle. All clad in tattered shadow, the Host are huge figures, wild and horrible, and mounted on black, forbidding horses or shaggy He-Goats. Immense, wide-eyed hounds lope alongside their masters, tongues lolling. They will pause some distance away to regard him; then, at a signal from the Master of the Hunt, a lone horn-blower will let out a long, mournful call. As one, the Host will charge forward to rend their target. Unless he makes a Fright roll with a dificulty of 18, he must turn and run, and so the desperate chase begins.

The Slew ride hard, caring nothing for petty obstacles such as streams, hedges and walls. They never tire and their mounts never misstep or falter. Anyone who gets in their way is trampled underhoof, or casually struck down with spear or hunting knife. Nothing save the dawn will end the hunt and rescue the mortal prize.

But at the rising of the sun the Slew must abandon their chase. Now subdued, they will turn and ride back into the wilderness. Those abroad early sometimes come upon the Host trotting past just before dawn, the bloody body of a man thrown over one of their mounts like some slain beast of chase.

On occasion a mortal man, if stalwart enough to stand his ground before such a terrible procession, has been invited to ride with the host. This is his choice; if he refuses the Slew will ride on without a backward look. Those who accept the offer will awake next morning, lying in a field, or on a hill, or under a tree, with fleeting memories of the most terrifying night of their lives. They must make a madness roll, but will never again be disobeyed by a horse or hound.

Old records, such as the reverend Ælfward-by-the-River’s Otterbury Chronicle, tell of the Host fighting great battles against each other upon great cloudbanks in the sky, “az mene doe ypon thee Earthe”. Ælfward writes from the reports of witnesses: The Awefule Host advancinge and retreatinge, advancinge and retreatinge, The wone side againste the other. Mortale mene they tooke up with them, and those mene they muste fighte, having noe alternative”. Such spectacles are usually taken as the most serious of portents for the kingdom.

A Wild Company

The Slew always rides as a group of 2d6 horsemen.

Fearsome

The Slew are considered the most fierce and terrifying of all Fey or undead. Each mortal, save the nominated quarry or quarries, beholding the Host must make a Fright roll with a dificulty of 14. As stated above, the quarry must make a Fright roll of 18.

Animals in particular are terrified of the Host, and must also make Fright rolls with a dificulty of 18 (an animal’s mettle is determined by adding rank + 5), or flee. Unless his horse makes the roll, a mounted character will be thrown off, and will take 1d6 damage.

After nights upon which the Host has ridden, it will be recalled that no night birds or insects were heard, and all the livestock sought shelter at dusk, or clustered silently together in a corner of their field.

Sanctuary

If a quarry manages to find a sanctuary, the Slew will be temporarily thwarted. The huntsmen will surround the house, battering on the walls and giving horrible cries. All spending the night inside must make a Fright roll with a dificulty of 10; the quarry himself must make a Fright roll with a dificulty of 14. Those who loose control, and get a routed result will, unless prevented, try to burst out of the house. Outside the Host will fall upon them.

The Chase

I originally used the Slew with another system, one which lent itself to modelling dramatic pursuits. DW doesn't easily do this. Here is my best - and simplist - idea. It is untested! If anyone gives it a go, let me know how it turned out!

Those who attempt to run from the Slew must roll 2d10 and add their running movement rate (probably 20). Characters with the track ability may add their rank to this result; they may be able to use their fieldcraft to gain an edge. This chase roll is made every ten minutes (game time).

The Slew also roll 2d10 and add their walking movement rate: 12m - the slower rate of the he-goats. At first they will only be travelling at a walking pace, in order to get more sport from the hunt, but soon enough they will break into a gallop; from then on they will add their 25 running rate to the roll.

Every time the quarry wins a chase roll, he evades the Slew. He may add +1 to his next chase roll. If he can make ten successful rolls in a row he has lost the Host of the Air for good, and may collapse, exhusted.

But if the Slew win the roll one time they have caught up with their prey. If they rolled an odd number, the yell hounds will attempt to bring the quarry down before savaging him. If their result was even, one of the huntsmen will charge down the character with his heavy spear. If that unfortunate is still alive after this, the yell hounds will catch up with him on the next round.

Average Statistics

ATTACK 22 Short sword (d8+1, 3)
Heavy spear (2d4, 5)
DEFENCE 14 Armour Factor (ringmail: 3)
MAGICAL ATTACK N/A**
MAGICAL DEFENCE 14 Movement:
mounted on a warhorse - 15m(30m)
mounted on a he-goat - 12m (25m)
EVASION 5
Health Points: 2d6+15 Rank Equivalent: 9th



STEALTH - Vision: Dark Sight
PERCEPTION 12

Yell Hounds

The great, black Yell-Hounds of the slew are terrible slavering beasts, red-eyed and staring. They will fall on the quarry as one animal, ignoring any nearby mortals unless they attack the pack. Only if the hounds are defeated will the Slew close in to finish their victim.

The Slew will be accompanied by 3d6 Yell Hounds. Their stats are as Mastiffs* (Book 5, page 149).


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