The skull of a mare, her mane replaced with ribbons, her eyes with glass baubles, floats in the air, a knightly caparison trailing behind like a funeral shroud as her jaws clack open and she recites, “The old grey mare is here, my dear! Please let us in and give us cheer!” Before her, covered with snow, lies an ancient grave. “I’m old and cold, so do not tarry,” a ghostly voice replies, “come in, grey mare, and let’s make merry!” The grave fades away, replaced by a staircase leading down into the earth…
The Old Grey Mare
The Mari Lwyd, the Grey Mare, appears to be nothing more than a grisly mummer’s puppet, an equine skull on a pole, the bony jaws rigged up so they can be snapped with a string, like a hodening horse’s wooden ones, her eyes replaced with glass, her ears with leather or felt, her missing mane beribboned, and the mare’s body fashioned from anything from a winding sheet to an old knightly caparison. But looks can be deceiving. If the skull comes from an intelligent magical equine — a unicorn, pegasus, talking horse, or even a wise donkey — then a talented necromancer can prepare it with the proper rites and rituals to become the haunted construct known as the Mari Lwyd, able to talk in rhymes, riddles, and insults with no puppeteer inside.
If a Mari Lwyd’s companions knock on any door, they may have the Mari Lwyd engage in a pwnco contest, attempting to persuade those inside to open the door by means of witty rhymes, riddles, or crude humorous insults, which those inside must answer with their own rhymes or insults. The Mari Lwyd’s companions may whisper suggestions in her ears which she will repeat, as well or as badly as the companion’s rhyme, riddle, or insult. Once the Mari Lwyd bests those inside three times, they will be compelled to open the door. If those inside succeed in besting the Mari Lwyd three times, she and her companions must go away and not return till another night. A stunning failure or success may reduce this contest to a single pwnco exchange. Those inside may also relent at any time, inviting the Mari Lwyd and her companions in, regardless of the result of the pwnco.
The Law of Hospitality
Those inside the dwelling, once the Mari Lwyd has come inside with her companions, will be charmed by both, offering all reasonable hospitality so long as the guests do not attack or otherwise violate the rules of hospitality. Traditionally, a great deal of drinking takes place.
If no one is behind a door to answer, the Mari Lwyd can engage in pwnco with the door itself, which will answer, and if the Mari Lwyd bests it, open.
The Doomed, the Damned, the Righteous, the Mad, and the Drunk
The powers of the Mari Lwyd are not limited to doorways of the mortal world. At significant magical times of transition, such as New Year’s Eve, it is possible to knock upon portals to the Realm of the Dead, the Fey Realms, Heaven, and Hell. The Doomed gain easy passage to the Realm of the Dead, the Damned to Hell, the Righteous to Heaven, and the Mad to the Fey Realms. But the Drunk have passage everywhere, at least while in the company of the Mari Lwyd.
The Mari Lwyd’s companions take on various roles and masks as part of the ritual, appearing not as themselves but masked as the Ostler, the Corporal, the Sergeant, Punch & Judy as the dancers, and the Merryman who plays music. Though not perfect, these disguises grant some degree of anonymity.
Not all merrymakers are at home at the times of transition. Indeed, dark spirits and troublesome fey are often abroad at such times. If visitors from other realms are encountered in the mortal world by the Mari Lwyd and her entourage, she can engage them in a pwnco contest, and if she and her companions win, convince the visitors from other realms to not only go home but to invite the Mari Lwyd and company in for drinks and hospitality. The laws of hospitality will be enforced by geas, regardless of the usual rules of the other realm.
While drinking with the Mari Lwyd, alcohol still causes inebriation, but it also bolsters one’s health.
5e D&D Stat Block:
Large construct, neutral good
Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points 85 (10d10 + 30)
Speed 40 ft., fly 60 ft (hover)
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
18(+4) 15(+2) 16(+3) 10(+0) 13(+1) 17(+3)
Skills Performance +5
Damage Immunities Poison
Condition Immunities Charmed, Exhaustion, Frightened, Paralyzed, Petrified, Poisoned
Senses Passive Perception 11
Challenge 3 (700 XP) Proficiency Bonus +2
Innate Spellcasting. The Mari Lwyd’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 13). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
At will: charm person, goodberry (but produces a cup of wine with ten sips)
3/day each: knock, banishment (fey, fiends, and undead creatures only)
1/day each: plane shift, seeming
Riddling Spells. When the Mari Lwyd casts a spell that requires a saving throw, it can choose to engage in an art of wordplay known as pwnco, involving rhyme, riddles, and insults. The Mari Lwyd makes a Charisma (Performance) check against their target’s passive Insight score. If the Mari Lwyd succeeds, the target of its spell has Disadvantage on its saving throw.
Multiattack. The Mari Lwyd makes two attacks: one with its bite and one with its bell-like hooves.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) piercing damage.
Hooves. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage.
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!