Due to the magical effects of the Wild Hunt, descriptions of Cerunnos by those who survived encounters with him tended to vary. Some described him as having jet black skin, others as having a body covered in fur with a short, full beard and the legs of a stag, and still others said he had had skin that was dyed in blue patterns with woad. But he was always described as having blazing green eyes with a head crowned with stag antlers. His face was always partially hidden, whether by a hunting helmet or by shadows when holding court.
Those who saw him various described Cerunnos wearing black leather armor, a hunting helmet that was black in color and made of metal and leather,[note 2] an ebony skull mask, or little but a hide kilt and a wolfskin cloak. He also typically wore a torc, symbolizing his former place among the fey nobility.
An a personification of nature, as well as an embodiment the vigor and violence associated with hunting, Cerunnos was of dual natures. A giver and taker of life, gentle one moment while violent and unrelenting the next. At times radiating a comforting sense of what is “natural” and “right," while at other times giving off a palpable predatory aura.
Whenever he engaged in the Wild Hunt Cerunnos became reduced to a single-minded, enraged state not unlike that of berserkers. Refusing to speak until the hunt was done, often seeking out the most dangerous prey, and fighting evil creatures to the death. If ever slain by his prey, he would often continue to return until they were either slain themselves or driven from the land of Celtic worshipers.
Cerunnos was immune to charm and sleep effects. He could see in areas of total darkness. And he was capable of calling upon any animal within a 5 miles (8,000 meters) radius to his aid, even magical beasts. He particularly had control over a breed of dogs known as Wild Hunt hounds, who accompanied him on every Wild Hunt.
He typically carried a hunting horn, known as the Horn of the Undying, whose sound could reach across any distance when used by Cerunnos. He would typically sound this horn behind his pack of hounds at every 1 mile (1,600 meters) increment of a chase. Legends claimed that those who knew the proper rituals could use the horn to summon and even control the Wild hunt. If this ever occurred, Cerunnos would begrudgingly obey the wielder, but left clues for others on how to break the summoning and thus set the Wild Hunt free.
In terms of weaponry Cerunnos possessed a bow, an enchanted +3 spear, which inflicted foes with electricity and could teleport them, and a heavy oaken quarterstaff. The latter two being because he preferred fighting close quarters. Additionally, some claimed that he rode around on a chariot, pulled by two horses.
The details of Cerunnos's birth were a mystery. The story of his life truly began when the Witch of Fates brought him, a baby firbolg, to the Green Court and presented him to its lord Oran. She foretold the child of being destined to become Oran's greatest hunter, but that his true fate would be known to him upon gazing in the Lake of Dreams, after which only darkness would follow for him.
Oran bestowed upon the child the name Cerunnos and he grew to be the great hunter the witch foretold of. Though his childhood would be marked by shame being heaped upon him by his the true daughters of Oran, who derided his status as an adopted child.
During this period of his life Cerunnos never took more than what was needed, showing great reverence for wildlife, and enjoyed wandering deep into the wilds. Only avoiding the Lake of Dreams, as Oran had forbidden him to go near it.
Path to Thrice-Cursedom
His diligent avoidance of the Lake of Dreams all changed one year when Oran held his annual hunt for the Silver Hind — a mystical deer said to be impossible to slay — during which Cerunnos became the first ever to ever strike it with an arrow. He tracked the wounded hind, determined to bring it back as a trophy for Oran, driving it to a cliff overlooking the lake. He grappled the Silver Hind, prepared to plunge a knife into it, but hesitated as he looked into its eyes. In that moment it leapt up, throwing Cerunnos off the cliff and plunging into the Lake of Dreams.
What Cerunnos saw within its depths was unknown to others — possibilities included his true parentage, the dark fate that awaited him, and a cosmic truth of the hunt itself — but whatever he saw had evidently changed him. When he returned to his father, Oran was filled with an explicable rage and exiled him, cursing Cerunnos to be a homeless wanderer.
Following his exile, Cerunnos became obsessed with tracking down the Silver Hind, convinced it could redeem him. Believing it may be a creature born of winter, Cerunnos traveled to the domain of the Prince of Frost. He offered to reveal the secret of the Silver Hind and give him a place in the Winter Court, but only if he could capture the daughters of Oran and deliver them to the Fortress of Frozen Tears in the Vale of the Long Night.
He agreed to the condition and with an entourage of the Winter Court's fey he tracked down his adopted kin. Seeing in their faces the same look that he’d seen in the eyes of the Silver Hind, he hesitated once more and turned upon the Winter Fey, realizing their fate with the Pale Prince would be worse than death. He slew many of the Winter Fey, driving off those that remained. Enraged at his betrayal, the Prince of Frost barred his from the Winter Court and cursed him to always be just beyond the reach of what he hunts.
Cerunnos then traveled to Senaliesse, the domain of the Summer Queen Tiandra. She agreed to reveal the Silver Hind to him, but only if he could decide whether she or the hind was fairer and until then he had to stay his hand against the beast. As days past in their wait for the hind's arrival, Tiandra grew enamored with Cerunnos. She decided to make him a knight of her court and a consort when the Silver Hind finally arrived. Cerunnos himself grew content within her silver grove.
When the Silver Hind finally arrived it revealed itself to be the archfey known as the Maiden of the Moon, discarding her bestial guise for that of a fierce noble eladrin maiden with a silver sword at the hip and a bow of white wood on the back. Left breathless by her intense presence, Cerunnos quickly declared her to be the fairest fey maiden in the Summer Court. Enraged by this, Tiandra banished her and cursed Cerunnos to work in darkness as a bloodthirsty slayer. Antlers then emerged on his head, making him as Tiandra put it, "a stag for his hind."
Finding no welcome in most of the fey courts, Cerunnos retreated into the Gloaming Court with those loyal to him. As he searched over the years for a way to break his curses he slid further into savagery, the Gloaming Court becoming like a prison. Eventually some time after this, he became a member of the Celtic pantheon, a pantheon that was known to be willing to welcome most any deity (or in this case an archfey, beings who were nearly god-like) into their ranks.
A long time before Corellon's battle with Gruumsh, an incarnation or aspect of Cerunnos known as Herne[note 3] came to the world of Toril and was slain by the native deity Malar. Years later, when a young Araushnee went looking to recruit Malar she found and gazed upon the shadowy remains of Herne.
Around the time of the rise of Netheril, a wave of planar immigrants came from another world and settled on Toril. One of these groups of people came from a rugged land with a culture tied to nature, the sea, and the warrior history of its dozen-king greater god. They brought along with them their own style of society and faiths, the worship of Celtic deities. This included a newly reincarnated, though corrupted, Herne.[note 4]
In approximately 1357 DR,[note 5] the goddess Hecate sent her jester out to the World Serpent Inn to acquire some suitable adventurers to obtain for her a Wild Hunt hound, wanting to crossbreed it with her hell hounds. He ended up choosing a group of adventurers from Faerûn, who brought them through a portal to a cold and foggy moor where they were quickly set upon by the Master of the Hunt and a pack of twenty of his hounds. He chased them for hours, until the adventurers came across the true objective of the hunters — a graveyard full of ghouls lead by a ghast, deterring bodies from the ground. The hounds dispatched all of the ghouls, then were cared for by Cerunnos.
When the players approached the Master of the Hunt and explained their desire for one of his hounds he initially gave a silent refusal, twisting his face, snarling, and brandishing a sword. He then threw the sword and a tin hunting horn to the ground, revealing that sometime prior he lost his spear and true hunting horn. He then had one of his hounds bring him a raven, which was feasting upon one of the dead bodies, and impaled it with the sword. Pantomiming to them that the deity known as Raven had taken them and he would gift them one of his hounds if they returned the items to him.
Raven in turn would ask of them to acquire a piece of art from the recently reclusive Enki. From him they would learn of how Hecate had imprisoned the Faerûnian goddess Lliira. They then went on to free the goddess of revelry and offered the Wild Hunt hound to Hecate in return for her removing a curse she laid upon Lliira.
A year later, during the Time of Troubles of 1358 DR, Herne was challenged and defeated once more in battle by Malar, who then proceeded to assume his portfolio in Faerûn. But as Cerunnos could never be truly killed, he eventually returned to life and stuck with the name of Cerunnos.[note 6]
No set home or divine realm belonged to Cerunnos, who instead was a constant wanderer.
Cerunnos was deeply in love with the Maiden of the Moon and went to great lengths to please her, but the bloodthirsty and unprincipled methods he utilized because of the curses placed upon him were distasteful to her. On the night of a crimson moon she would call upon his Wild Hunt to descend upon evildoers, particularly her sworn enemies the lycanthropes.
Kannoth, the eladrin vampire lord of Cendriane, held a bond of loyalty with Cerunnos after participating in one of his Wild Hunts. Because of this, his undead minions occasionally rode in the Wild Hunt.
Most worshipers of Cerunnos were of a neutral alignment, though some leaned towards evil. His clergy was largely made up of druids, though clerics accounted for his most zealous of followers. Those who chose the path of a cleric were taught to track and hunt prey with a bow and spear. They then had to learn the methods of flight their expected prey were likely to use. The final test for a cleric was being given an hour before dusk to flee into the woods, carrying nothing but clothes, and having to elude his fellow hunters until dawn. If caught, the prospective cleric would almost certainly die.
Some warlocks were known to make pacts with him, either because they too suffered from an elusive quarry or they hoped to free someone that had been abducted by the Wild Hunt. In the latter case, a warlock often wound up riding as a member of the Wild Hunt for the rest of their life.
Practice of Faith
Sects of Cerunnos worship typically had a particular enemy they loathed, often times being a creature that was intruding upon their territory.
On nights leading into the equinoxes and solstices, worshipers of Cerunnos would organize large hunts that lasted from dawn to dusk. Participants garbed themselves in clothing meant to emulate their description of the Master of the Hunt, such as dark leather armor and a crown of antlers. Sects would use these hunts as an opportunity to track down and destroy the enemy they most loathed.
Firbolgs were also known to hold their own "Wild Hunts", emulating the ones of their idol. They often sought to slay a catoblepas during these, viewing them as a difficult quarry. The most frightful of their hunts consisted of all sorts of fey and a "Master of the Hunt" that presided over two Wild Hunt hounds.
Temples to Cerrunos typically took the form of grand hunting lodges deep within forests, decorated with antlers and the trophy heads of beasts slain by his worshipers. These were frequently visited by druids, rangers, and other folk who inhabited forests.
- The Master of the Hunt was not listed as a deity in Deities & Demigods and Legends & Lore, only in Dragon #65, "Tuatha De Danann — A revised Celtic mythos". In that source he was given the alternative name of Cerunnos.
- The 2nd edition sourcebooks Legends & Lore and On Hallowed Ground described his helmet as being "antlered," but other sources depict & describe the antlers as being physically part of Cerrunos.
- It is clear by the lore that Cerunnos and Herne are deeply entwined, but it is unclear how exactly the two are related.
- Faiths & Avatars does not state that Herne is a newer incarnation/aspect of a previous Herne, but due to him being shown in Evermeet: Island of Elves as having died thousands of years prior to the time of Netheril, this is the only logical explanation.
- Because Tales of the Outer Planes (1988) was published after the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987), but evidently before the Time of Troubles in 1358 DR, when Lliira was free, this could have been set early the following year. It's not entirely clear how long Lliira was imprisoned.
- The fate of Cerunnos/Master of the Hunt following 2nd edition was never addressed, as the Celtic pantheon did not make the jump to 3rd edition. His write-up in Dragon #342, "The Wild Hunt" also does not address this, as it is a setting neutral source. But it stands to reason with his prior established inability to truly die, that the 4th edition rendition of Cerunnos would imply that he eventually came back to life once more.
- Ed Greenwood (06-11-2021). Celtic pantheon (Tweet). theedverse. Twitter. Archived from the original on 6-12-2021. Retrieved on 6-12-2021.
- Tim Eagon (October 2013). “Court of Stars: The Wild Hunt”. In Aaron Infante-Levy ed. Dragon #428 (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 13–16.
- Robin Emrys Atkinson (September 1982). “Tuatha De Danann — A revised Celtic mythos”. In Kim Mohan ed. Dragon #65 (TSR, Inc.), p. 52.
- James Ward, Robert J. Kuntz (August 1980). Deities & Demigods. Edited by Lawrence Schick. (TSR, Inc.), p. 31. ISBN 0-935696-22-9.
- William L. Christensen (April 2006). “The Wild Hunt”. In Erik Mona ed. Dragon #342 (Paizo Publishing, LLC), p. 88.
- James M. Ward and Troy Denning (August 1990). Legends & Lore (2nd edition). (TSR, Inc), p. 62. ISBN 978-0880388443.
- Tim Eagon (October 2013). “Court of Stars: The Wild Hunt”. In Aaron Infante-Levy ed. Dragon #428 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 14.
- Tim Eagon (October 2013). “Court of Stars: The Wild Hunt”. In Aaron Infante-Levy ed. Dragon #428 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 15.
- Tim Eagon (October 2013). “Court of Stars: The Wild Hunt”. In Aaron Infante-Levy ed. Dragon #428 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 16.
- Colin McComb (1996). On Hallowed Ground. Edited by Ray Vallese. (TSR, Inc), p. 68. ISBN 0-7869-0430-5.
- Tim Eagon (October 2013). “Court of Stars: The Wild Hunt”. In Aaron Infante-Levy ed. Dragon #428 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 13.
- Richard Baker, John Rogers, Robert J. Schwalb, James Wyatt (December 2008). Manual of the Planes 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 36. ISBN 978-0-7869-5002-7.
- Colin McComb (1996). On Hallowed Ground. Edited by Ray Vallese. (TSR, Inc), p. 66. ISBN 0-7869-0430-5.
- Elaine Cunningham (1999). Evermeet: Island of Elves. (Wizards of the Coast), chap. 2. ISBN 0-7869-1354-1.
- Julia Martin, Eric L. Boyd (March 1996). Faiths & Avatars. (TSR, Inc), p. 105. ISBN 978-0786903849.
- Eric L. Boyd (1997). Powers and Pantheons. (TSR, Inc), pp. 2, 94. ISBN 0-7869-0657-X.
- Jennell Jaquays (1988). The Savage Frontier. (TSR, Inc), p. 27. ISBN 0-88038-593-6.
- slade, et al. (April 1996). “The Wilderness”. In James Butler ed. The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier (TSR, Inc.), p. 14. ISBN 0-7869-0391-0.
- Gary L. Thomas ed. (May 1988). Tales of the Outer Planes. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 4, 11. ISBN 978-0880385442.
- Gary L. Thomas ed. (May 1988). Tales of the Outer Planes. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0880385442.
- Gary L. Thomas ed. (May 1988). Tales of the Outer Planes. (TSR, Inc.), p. 8. ISBN 978-0880385442.
- William L. Christensen (April 2006). “The Wild Hunt”. In Erik Mona ed. Dragon #342 (Paizo Publishing, LLC), p. 89.
- Rob Heinsoo, Stephen Schubert (May 19, 2009). Monster Manual 2 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 111. ISBN 0786995101.
- Mike Mearls, Greg Bilsland and Robert J. Schwalb (June 15, 2010). Monster Manual 3 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 26. ISBN 0786954902.