Monday, August 2, 2010

Baba Yaga's Hut






In 1979, TSR released the Dungeon Master's Guide, a hardcover tome packed with referee info, including a nice selection of magical artifacts. One of these is the infamous "Baba Yaga's Hut".

Obviously, this "artifact" is a bit different than your run-of-the-mill magic sword. What does one do, exactly, with the giant, chicken-legged, mobile hut of a notorious witch? And who is Baba Yaga, anyway?

"In Russian tales, Baba Yaga is portrayed as a hag who flies through the air in a mortar, using the pestle as a rudder and sweeping away the tracks behind her with a broom made out of silver birch. She lives in a log cabin that moves around on a pair of dancing chicken legs. The keyhole to her front door is a mouth filled with sharp teeth; the fence outside is made with human bones with skulls on top — often with one pole lacking its skull, so there is space for the hero's. In another legend, the house does not reveal the door until it is told a magical phrase: Turn your back to the forest, your front to me."

Baba Yaga seems to have not been necessarily good or evil, but rather acted upon her own whims or mysterious motives. This, in my opinion, makes her the perfect sort of NPC to involve in a campaign. Nothing is taken for granted, and any aid given by this entity may perhaps be balanced out by cooking the party thief for a nice luncheon.

Mobile huts, of course, were not unknown to the nomadic folk of the Russian steppes, though they were moved about by more mundane means. But the concept of this powerful, enigmatic force for Chaos is an intriguing one to me, made all the more accessible to just about any campaign setting or world by the fact that the PCs don't necessarily have to stumble upon her - she can come to them!

10 comments:

  1. Baba Yaga Rocks...my Finnish grandmother used to terrify me with stories of her when I was a child. She is the perfect foil for an adventure that runs a bit toward the darker style.

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  2. I've always been intrigued by her after encountering that entry in the DM's guide. For years I tried to track down the Dragon issue that had the module set in her hut. I also had a choose-your-own-ending book featuring her and her hut by TSR.

    A fine example of the strong influence folklore had shaping early D&D.

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  3. Baba Yaga is the biggest ass-kicker in Russian folklore. Trifle with her hut at your own peril!
    : )

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  4. Oh, these pics are so classic!
    I love them.

    Ironically, I just found the Baba Yaga module from Dragon Magazine # 222 as a part of my researching tesseracts in D&D. It is a great starter for anyone wanting to work up there own for an adventure.

    Ciao!
    GW

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  5. That's some cool Baba Yaga artwork.

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  6. I love Baba Yaga, but I feel that her presence in Polish culture is too iconic and strong to incorporate her into my D&D campaign. That's why I asked for a witch's hut. Once again, thanks a lot!

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  7. Glad you like it, Squidman! :)

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  8. Baba Yaga would make a fantastic, unreliable patron for a party in the way that Nigaugble and Sheelba do for Leiber's duo.

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  9. In our long ago late 70s/ early 80s AD&D campaign, our party travelled in Baba Yaga's Hut. I know, reduce beloved folklore to a giant, chicken-legged Winebago for a gozo crew of dungeon looters. Blasphemy!

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  10. In addition to Roger E. Moore's treatment of Baba Yaga and her hut (in Dragon #83), Dave Nalle's "The Bogatyrs of Old Kiev" in Dragon #53 provided stats for her. Dave's article is an oft-overlooked gem, well-worth digging up.

    The entry in the DMG and some pieces about Baba Yaga in Time-Life's "Enchanted World" series of books on myth and folklore directly inspired my interest in Russian fairy tales, which formed a large component in my minor in Mythology and Folklore at Penn State.

    Allan.

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