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Book of Beasts: Jólakötturinn

Book of Beasts: Jólakötturinn

A black cat, as big as the house he’s peering in the window of, curses softly, “Meow! New socks!  New mittens! Why must these brats be so well dressed?” He stalks off across the snow, hoping for better luck at the next house.

Jólakötturinn, the Yule Cat, is the personal pet of the legendary ogress hag Grýla, mother of the Yule lads.

Jólakötturinn, the Yule Cat, is the personal pet of the legendary ogress hag Grýla, mother of the Yule lads, a group of wildly deformed and strangely named trolls, and her third husband, the ogre Leppalúöl.  (She ate the first two.) When the Yule lads leave for Yule, they let the cat out, and Jólakötturinn must fend for himself.

Finicky Eater

Jólakötturinn is very particular in what he eats.  He only likes children, but not if they’re wearing new clothes. Even a new hat or scarf will put him off his feed and make him look for a less over-garnished child. But even if he finds a child with no new clothes, all hope is not lost. 

Jólakötturin likes toying with his prey and will eat all of the child’s food and holiday treats first and may be satisfied if he finds a single saffron bun, a lussikatter, his favorite cat treat.

Nine Lives

Jólakötturinn is still on his first life. If he is ever killed, he will immediately return to full life and health. He may use this power eight times total before he is finally dead.

Urðarköttur and naköttur

Jólakötturinn, the Yule cat, is a legendary example of the more ordinary (but not much less terrible), urðarköttur, the ghoul cat, sibling of the naköttur, the corpse cat, which are the same except that the ghoul cat is jet black whereas the corpse cat is snow white. (The famous Norse goddess Hel, whose face is half black and half white, and rules over the realm of the dead, possibly has a pair of them. They may also be related to the giant cats who pull the chariot of the goddess Freya.)

Three-Year Feast

Urðarköttur and naköttur kittens are born with their eyes open and their wits about them, allowing them to find their way to the nearest graveyard to dig themselves a burrow. After feasting for three years, they emerge, fully grown, some no larger than large cats, others as large as dogs or even cows, depending on the number of fresh corpses in the graveyard. They grow larger the more human flesh they eat, explaining why Jólakötturinn, the cat of Grýla, the child eater, is so large.

Eyes of Death

After feasting on the dead, an urðarköttur or naköttur gains a death gaze, killing any creature who meets its eyes—including itself. If it survives long enough, it eventually learns how to control this power, only using it when it wills.

Clever Kittens

Urðarköttur and naköttur are as clever as humans and mature far more quickly. If there have been enough conversations in the graveyard to eavesdrop on, they may emerge with a working knowledge of the local language, or they may pick it up by pretending to be an ordinary cat and insinuating themselves into the lives of someone who wants a new pet.

Silver or Spells

Ordinary weapons will not harm a urðarköttur or naköttur. Only silver or enchanted weaponry have any chance.

Mother of Skoffíns

Urðarköttur and naköttur queens who mate with Arctic foxes, particularly ones that are familiars, will give birth to skoffíns, monstrous fox-cat hybrids. Skoffíns share the death gaze power of their mothers and immunity to all but silver and magic, but vary in appearance, some mangy with bald patches, others with nice coat that may vary with the season like a fox’s.

Father of Skuggabaldur

Urðarköttur and naköttur toms who mate with Arctic foxes, particularly ones that are familiars, will sire skuggabaldur, the shadow baldur, who are similar in appearance to the skoffín but more catlike, and have the same death gaze and immunity to all but silver and magic.

Cousin to Modyrmi

The modyrmi, or hay wormling, is like the urðarköttur or naköttur except that it’s a dog instead of a cat. It otherwise behaves the same, with being born sighted at birth, digging into a graveyard for three years, and emerging any size along with a death gaze, human intelligence, the power of speech, and immunity to all but silver and magic.

5e D&D Stat Block:

Jólakötturinn, The Yule Cat

Huge monstrosity, lawful evil

Armor Class 14 (natural armor)

Hit Points 66 (7d12 + 21)

Speed 60 ft.

STR      DEX     CON     INT     WIS     CHA

22(+6)  15(+2)  16(+3)   10(+0)   14(+2)   8(-1)

Skills Perception +5, Stealth +5

Damage Immunities Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks that aren’t Silvered

Senses Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 15

Languages Common

Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)                            Proficiency Bonus +3

Keen Hearing and Smell. The yule cat has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing or smell.

Nine Lives. If the yule cat dies, it returns to life at dusk the next day and regains all its hit points. It may use this feature eight times. Once it has reached its ninth life, it can no longer use this feature. That limitation aside, only a wish spell can prevent this trait from functioning.


Multiattack. The yule cat makes two attacks: one with its bite and one with its claws.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (1d10 + 6) piercing damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 16 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 15 (2d8 + 8) slashing damage.

Death Gaze. Whenever a creature that can see the yule cat’s eyes begins its turn within 30 feet of the yule cat, the yule cat can force it to make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw if the yule cat isn’t incapacitated and can see the creature. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the creature is reduced to 0 hit points, unless it is immune to the frightened condition. Otherwise, the creature takes 16 (3d10) psychic damage on a failed save.

Unless surprised, a creature can avert its eyes to avoid the saving throw at the start of its turn. If the creature does so, it has disadvantage on attack rolls against the yule cat until the start of its next turn.

Pounce. If the Yule Cat moves at least 20 feet straight toward a creature and then hits it with a claw attack on the same turn, that target must succeed on a DC 16 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. If the target is prone, the Yule Cat can make one bite attack against it as a bonus action.

Legendary Actions

The yule cat can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature’s turn. The yule cat regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.

Claw. The Yule Cat makes one claw attack.

Detect. The Yule Cat makes a Wisdom (Perception) check.

Move. The Yule Cat moves up to its speed without provoking opportunity attacks.

Scream for Help (Costs 2 actions). Once a day, Jólakötturinn can scream for help from an ally. If the date is between December 12 and December 24, the yule cat can scream for one of the 13 Yule Lads to help him, ranging from Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote Clod) on December 12 to Kertasníkir (Candle Beggar) on December 24. Once a day, the yule cat can call for Leppalúöl, Grýla’s current husband. He will only do this if the Yule Lad he has called has failed to rescue him. 

Once a day, the Yule Cat can call for Grýla, but will only do so if Leppalúöl has failed to rescue him. [Full listings for all the Yule Lads, Leppalúöl, and Grýla will be in the complete Book of Beasts.]


Creative Director: Kevin Andrew Murphy

Lore: Kevin Andrew Murphy


Statblock: Eugene Marshall


Ink: Bien Flores


Sensitivity Editor: Pamela Punzalan


Art Director: Aaron Acevedo


This creature is from the upcoming Book of Beasts. Keep an eye out every Thursday for a new monster as part of our Monster of the Week series!

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Kevin Andrew Murphy writes short stories, plays, poems, novels, and roleplaying games. A long-standing contributor to Wild Cards (www.wildcardsworld.com), George R.R. Martin’s super-hero series, Kevin’s story for Mississippi Roll, “Find the Lady,” won the 2019 Darrell Award for Best Novella. On the gaming end, Kevin’s currently editor in chief for Savage Sign, the Savage Worlds roleplaying game magazine. Kevin’s next short story is “Anastasia’s Egg” coming out in October in Weird World War III edited by Sean Patrick Hazlett for Baen. A lifelong resident of California’s Bay Area, Kevin has recently relocated to Reno, Nevada.

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