I just recently talked about my obsession with Autumn and holidays and, in particular, Halloween. I really do love Halloween. The chilly air, the spooky, sometimes quite scary, decorations, the kids running around “trick-or-treating”, and, of course, the Halloween specials on the television. It has always amazed me at how there can be so many different takes, so many different points of view, on skeletons, zombies, mummies, and all of the other characters associated with Halloween, scary nights, and dark magic.
Several of the most iconic scary monsters: The Mummy, Dracula, The Werewolf, skeletons, zombies, and witches. There are numerous others, but they are their own creations and, typically, do not immediately come to mind when someone says Halloween and scary, full-moon night. There is one other that almost always comes to my mind, and it may come to the minds of others; I’m not certain of this, but I would chance a guess that it is true. This is because of a cartoon that I watched growing up, and many folks my age would have watched it, as well, most likely. That character? The Headless Horseman.
There have been a handful of stories, cartoons, and movies that include a headless horseman. The character originated with Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleep Hollow”, found in his collection of short stories, A Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. Along with another story from that collection, “Rip Van Winkle”, “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is usually looked upon as a classic and stereotypical example of early American literature and is read in almost any American Literature class, both in high schools and in college. There have been, as I said above, several cartoons and movies that either focused upon or integrated the Headless Horseman character into their story line. The character has, also, become a perfect representation of Halloween – or All Hallows Eve – even if the character has died out somewhat in recognition and use of today’s society. It really is a perfect representation, though: A Colonial American character, killed due to beheading, curse, come back to life as an undead, riding a black horse, seeking out his head (which, we can only imagine, was utterly smashed and destroyed beyond recognition, since he lost it from cannon-fire).
I have, for the last few years, wanted to include a Headless Horseman character in my gaming materials. There were a couple of things holding me back. First, and foremost, I just never really got around to working on it in depth. Second, I had to come up with good statistics for the character, and nothing ever really came to mind that could work well with the games I was playing at the time. Third, I wanted to give the character a great back story, something a bit different from the actual Headless Horseman created by Irving.
Why the desire for a Headless Horseman character? Aside from the iconic-ness of the character for a Halloween-themed game, the character offers a lot of opportunities. First, the question of who the character is, how he died, and the question about whether his curse can be ended or not. These are all questions that can be explored through the course of a handful of game sessions and could provide for some wonderful side-adventures for the character during the Halloween/Autumn season.
Second, the creepiness and mysteriousness of the character. Seriously…come on. A headless character who rides a black horse (which, in our case, is also dead), who is seeking out his own head or a new head from somewhere/someone else. The character is supposedly quite a well-trained fighter – in Irving’s original story, he was a Hessian Soldier, individuals from Germany who were hired as mercenaries, well known for their brutal nature, well-known for their high-quality equipment and high level of training, well-known for the fact that they were used in wars by governments to which they owed no allegiance, and so their loyalty was based on who could pay them. A character, or group of characters, such as this offers a range of possibilities for role playing games, both for that Players and their characters (they could join such a group of mercenaries) and for the Game Masters (How many such groups are there? How many Headless Horsemen might there be? Are all such characters beheaded and cursed in a similar manner, simply because of who and what they are?)
Third, this sort of character offered an endless stream of back-stories. How did he become beheaded and cursed? In our version, we decided that he was beheaded by an opposing priest and the curse simply came as the result of him rising as an angry ghost. There could be many different stories for the creation of such a character, though. Any Game Master could simply take the statistics we’ve created for the Headless Horseman, give the character a new name and give it a new back story that fits better into their game.
Our dreams have finally come to fruition, though. In this year’s (2017) Halloween Supplement, we finally have been able to include a Headless Horseman character – Markus Braam. He even has a great back story that can be included in almost any role playing game (not just a Questing Heroes game) and, even by himself, offers a ton of ideas and possible side-adventures that could easily keep characters entertained for several game sessions.