habitat: Ocean, Islands

origin: Celtic, Irish, Scottish

Demon from the seas of Scotland Nuckelavee appears on land as fiery-eyed demon riding a fleshless horse. The rider is a horror to look upon and merges into the horse's body, as if sticking out like a mutant appendage.

TRAITS (Un)bridled evil / Bound to the sea / Bound in the summer months / Breath that blights the land
CHALLENGE Create an encounter that pits the players on their mounts against the Nuckelavee. Use it as an opportunity to practice mounted combat and create a sense of high-speeds.
  • Using freshwater to stop the nuckelavee will make an encounter more dramatic. Have the demon appear at the right distance so that your players have the opportunity to escape in freshwater - but barely.
  • Nuckelavee is strictly evil. Its only goal is to cause havoc on the islands in dwells beside. Turn up the darkness on this one.
  • You can practice the rules for mounted combat when fighting a nuckelavee.
  • A strange blight is spreading across the farmlands on an island province. Some farmers have claimed to see a dark rider with blazing red eyes.
  • A young woman comes staggering into the room, her clothes completely drenched. She is so terrified she is barely coherent. All she will say is 'River. The river. It could not get me. River.'
  • You are approached by an otherworldly fae creature. It is adorned with elements of the sea and claims to be a messenger. It warns you that its Mother must rest now, and that the dark rider will soon come forth from the sea. She wants you to help protect the fishing village that pays tribute to the great Mother of the Sea.

Nuckelavee Lore

The fisherman had grown up on the island, and as the sun fell behind the horizon on his fiftieth year, he couldn’t help but feel content. His was a hard life, but a rewarding one. It had been full of back-breaking work, but also love, children, happiness. He was returning home, walking the miles back to the home he shared with his wife, back to the sea, when he heard the pounding of hooves approaching. He turned, raising a hand in greeting thinking it to be another islander. Instead, it was a demon, a monster, a horse from hell called Nuckelavee. Its eyes blazing red as it charged towards him. A silent prayer ran through the man’s head before survival instincts took over.

He turned and fled. He could hear the creature snorting, its hooves tearing into the soil as it gained ground behind him. Ahead lied salvation: a stream, freshwater, running down from the mountains to empty into the sea. Everyone knew the nuckelavee could not cross freshwater. It was a terror born of the sea. Lungs burning, the man willed himself forward, his knees creaking, hot sweat burning his eyes. He could hear teeth gnashing right behind him, and then he was safe, splashing down into the cool mountain water, not daring to stop until he was on the other bank. He turned and looked and there was the demon horse, red eyes directly upon his own.

On the Surface

The nuckelavee is said to be a creature that comes from the ocean with the intent of killing and feasting on men. On land, it takes the form of a demonic horse, though the details change depending on who tells the tale. The lucky survivor from the story above described the beast as a black horse with glowing red eyes. But others have had more to say about the appearance of this particular monster. While all agree that, out of the water, the nuckelavee takes on the form of a horse, another survivor claims that the horse had two heads. Yet another man born and raised on an island (the nuckelavee’s favoured stomping grounds, it seems) swears that there was a human torso growing out of the creature's back, resembling something of a twisted rider – a vision from your darkest nightmares. More than one person who has seen this beast swears that the legs have fin-like growths. A common claim is that this demon horse is skinless, it’s bloody, exposed muscle the first thing you see when the beast approaches. Even though the fisherman in the introductory story claims the horse was black, it may be that, in the fading light of day, a skinless beast slick with dark red blood may appear to wear a black coat.

Under the Waves

The nuckelavee comes from the ocean, and the creature is thought to be a shapeshifter, much like other beasts I’ve chronicled, but there is one strange aspect: no one has ever seen a nuckelavee in the sea. At least, no one has seen one and survived such an encounter. So while it is accepted that the creature does not always resemble a skinless horse, that is the only form we’ve been able to get first-hand accounts about.

Bad Breath, Evil Heart

During my investigations into this monster, I came across a rather unique aspect that I don’t believe it shares with any other creature. It’s said that you can see the nuckelavee’s breath with your bare eye, forming around its mouth and nostrils as a thick yellow cloud of noxious gas. Furthermore, it is said that this breath can ruin and kill crops. When farmers in the Scottish Isles find their crops are not growing the way they would like them to be, they lay blame on the nuckelavee.

Many of the spirits and demons in this area have stories that suggest a more benign nature, but the nuckelavee has none. This creature is evil and seemingly proud of it, existing only to create as much havoc, destruction, and death as it can. Much like the crops, however, the nuckelavee may be blamed by the locals for more than its fair share. One man even claimed the lack of rainfall one year was directly attributable to the demon horse from the sea – a preposterous claim.

The Quiet Season

If there can be one good thing said about the nuckelavee, it is this: it is unheard of to come across the beast in the summer months. It is said by the locals that the ancient spirit they call ‘The Mither o’ the Sea” confines the demon to the depths of the ocean near the Scottish Isles for the whole of summer, though none of those that I interviewed could say why The Mither o’ the Sea would do such a thing.

Do not engage

The nuckelavee is unique in many ways. It appears not to have a common and agreed-upon way to kill it. While fire is said to destroy a kelpie, no such tales come from those who have survived a run-in with the nuckelavee. Fighting the creature would mean certain death. Instead, it seems one must run, and with luck, come across a freshwater stream or source. While freshwater does not appear to kill the nuckelavee, it stops the demon in its tracks.

Written by Giles Ravensong.

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