The Wild Hunt was a haunting phenomenon, what some described as being a physical manifestation of good life force, of wild frenzied hunting in which a being known as Cerunnos or the Master of the Hunt swept through the land with his hounds and numerous other creatures.
The Wild Hunt was a phenomenon that occurred on many different planes of existence. It particularly occurred in the Celtic pantheon's divine realm of Tir na Og, in the divine realm of Annwn, in the Feywild, in the Shadowfell, and on the Prime Material plane. On that plane of existence it had been sighted on Nerath,[note 1] Toril, and worlds where the Celtic pantheon was worshiped. On the latter worlds, druids would build standing stones, believing that the Wild Hunt could use them as beacons.
Some believed that the Wild Hunt only occurred at certain times of the year, such as during the autumn and winter. Some would say that the hunt of a quarry could go on for days or weeks, while others would say a Wild Hunt only occurred during the night. Those who believed the latter would sometimes claim that only a single Wild Hunt could occur on the Prime Material on any given night.
Whenever the Wild Hunt manifested in the world it seemed as if to come from thin air, with its initial members descending from the sky. It then generally pursued its quarry by traveling across the ground, though would return to flying in order to overcome obstacles, such as especially difficult terrain. On some occasions the weather was seen to worsen as the Wild Hunt approached, with howling winds and booming thunder.
As the Wild Hunt travelled, Cerunnos would sound his hunting horn behind his pack at every 1 mile (1,600 meters) interval, purposely causing a ruckus in order to attract attention and warn its quarry of the Hunt's approach. This hunting horn, known as the Horn of the Undying, produced a sound that could reach across any distance when used by Cerunnos.
Any mortal that witnessed the passing of the Wild Hunt and failed to resist against its magical aura would be compelled to join it. Especially those who actively pursued the sound of the hunting horn, or were worshipers of the Celtic pantheon. This was a curse-like phenomenon known by peasantry as Faerie Raed. Though at times mortals were physically abducted by participating fey hunters and then experienced the Faerie Raed.
Those under this effect followed the Wild Hunt wherever it went, considering the Master of the Hunt to be their master. This meant even acting against their own alignment at his behest, fighting those they would otherwise ignore or never fight. The magic also made it so that those affected were able to keep up with the fast pace set by the Hunt's hounds.
Those abducted by the Wild Hunt stopped aging until they left it. But once freed they had gaps in their memories, finding themselves in unexpected areas when they came to and rarely recalling more than a few details of Cerunnos's appearance. They were also liable to be haunted with nightmares of the Hunt, could suffer from madness, and were more likely to be entranced if they ever witnessed the Wild Hunt again.
Source of the Manifestation
- Those unable to see the greater purpose of the Wild Hunt viewed Cerunnos as behaving in a mindless manner, motivated by nothing but hunting itself and an enjoyment of the act. According to this interpretation, the Master of the Hunt was indiscriminate in choosing his victims.
- Celtic Worlds
- On worlds where the Celtic pantheon was worshiped, the Wild Hunt would manifest in areas whenever there was a great force of evil. This could be a singular grossly evil act, an evil temple, an evil army, an evil priest or wizard, or an evil adventurer or demigod that had manifested evil among the Celts. The Wild Hunt would always manifest 10 miles (16,000 meters) from the source of evil, which it then would seek out and attempt to destroy. If the Master of the Hunt and his hounds were slain, they would return each following night until the source of evil that had summoned them was vanquished.
- Hunting Horn
- Legends claimed that those who knew the proper rituals could use the Master of the Hunt's hunting horn to summon and even control the Wild hunt. Allowing the wielder to set the Wild Hunt against its enemies, with Cerunnos forced to begrudgingly obey. Though he would leave clues for others on how to break the summoning, thereby setting the Wild Hunt free.
- Maiden of the Moon
- Some believed that occurrences of the Wild Hunt were motivated solely by the Master of the Hunt's desire to please an archfey known as the Maiden of the Moon. According to this interpretation, the Wild Hunt most often occurred on the night of a crimson moon, when the archfey called upon the Wild Hunt to descend upon evildoers. In particular the Maiden of the Moon's sworn enemies, lycanthropes.
- Tir na Og
- In the Celtic pantheon's divine realm of Tir na Og, the Wild Hunt would manifest itself to put an end to anyone mucking about with the freedom of the realm.
- It was not impossible for those chosen to be the hunted to escape from the Wild Hunt, though it was a rare occurrence. The only known ways were to elude it until morning, move out of the 10 miles (16,000 meters) radius of the source of evil that had summoned it, or to slay Cerunnos and his pack of hounds.
- Intermediary Prey
- When manifesting in the land of Celtic worshipers to slay a source of evil, the Wild Hunt would typically stop to hunt a suitable prey they came across on the way to that source of evil. If they found no such prey before reaching the source, the Wild Hunt would travel on for another 10 miles (16,000 meters) and unleash a magical aura that, if not resisted, would cause a creature that witnessed the Wild Hunt to be designated its prey. If no being became the Wild Hunt's prey after those additional 10 miles (16,000 meters), then the pack would simply turn on the nearest big game creature.
- Reaching the Prey
- Once the hunted had been run down, the Wild Hunt would move in for close quarters combat, a frontal assault. Participants would fight on to the death to the best of their abilities, holding nothing back.
The hounds of Cerunnos were a special breed that originated from the Feywild and that he had power over, known as Wild Hunt hounds. Like their master, these hounds fought to the death against evil creatures, though they generally avoided attacking a hunted creature until all those who had been drawn into the Wild Hunt had a chance to do so themselves. There also existed a breed of dire wolves unique to the phenomenon, known as Wild Hunt wolves.
Whatever force was behind the Wild Hunt kept it eternal, making it so that if death ever came to Cerunnos, his Wild Hunt hounds, or his warlocks, then their bodies would disappear and reconstitute themselves.[note 2]
Other magical beasts occasionally encountered in the Wild Hunt included the Nessian breed of hell hound, nightmares, and the Cauchemar breed of nightmare.[note 3] Those wolves and other beasts used as mounts in the Wild Hunt were noted as having great stamina and strength.
Sometimes various undead could be seen traveling as part of the Wild Hunt. Some of them were bound to it through either a curse or Cerunnos's own power. Others were loyal subjects of Kannoth, the vampire lord of Cendriane, who held a bond of loyalty with Cerunnos after once participating in the Hunt. On the dark night of a new moon, the presence of undead in the Hunt would be at its peak.
More intelligent beings that were known to participate in the Wild Hunt were typically hunters, such as centaurs, firbolgs, and various types of fey. Though winter nymphs could sometimes be seen running at the head of Hunts. And when hunting on behalf of the Maiden of the Moon, her followers in the Gloaming Court could be seen amongst the Hunt's riders.
Around the mid-14th century DR of Toril, the Wild Hunt was known to appear in the area around the city of Phlan in the Moonsea lands of north Faerûn. It was only a rare occurrence and the cause of the phenomenon was unknown to the locals, yet around that time folks were warned to stay indoors in order to avoid being caught up in it.
Many myths portrayed the Wild Hunt as an omen of death, plague, and war. Despite this, some firbolgs revered Cerunnos and sought to emulate him, performing "Wild Hunts" of their own. The most frightful of these consisted of all sorts of fey and a "Master of the Hunt" that presided over two Wild Hunt hounds.
Though they did not revere Cerunnos, eladrin nobles were also known to conduct their own "Wild Hunts", accompanied by Wild Hunt hounds. During such occasions they would often dress in a mithral breastplate and a helmet bearing the antlers of a stag.
Rumors & Legends
Some claimed that when the Wild Hunt was not active it rested within Annwn, the divine realm of the Celtic god of death, Arawn.
- The planet Nerath is not explicitly named in Dragon #428, "Court of Stars: The Wild Hunt", but because the Nentir Vale was the default setting of 4th edition its presence on that world is assumed.
- Though not mentioned as doing so, it's possible that Wild Hunt wolves also reconstitute themselves since they are creatures uniquely tied to the Wild Hunt. Likewise, Warlocks who made Cerunnos their Archfey patron were not explicitly stated as doing so, but "Court of Stars: The Wild Hunt" implies it by stating that warlocks often, "...end their lives riding with the Wild Hunt for eternity."
- These creature suggestions are from Dragon #342's "The Wild Hunt" article, which imagined Cerunnos leaning a bit towards evil. It stands to reason that, in cases when the Wild Hunt manifests to slay a source of evil, that such evil-aligned creatures are unlikely to be present. The choice of hellhounds in particular were likely inspired by the aforementioned Wild Hunt hounds.
- Lunar ravagers, a race of fey based on the Wild Hunt.
- James Ward, Robert J. Kuntz (August 1980). Deities & Demigods. Edited by Lawrence Schick. (TSR, Inc.), p. 30. ISBN 0-935696-22-9.
- James M. Ward and Troy Denning (August 1990). Legends & Lore (2nd edition). (TSR, Inc), p. 62. ISBN 978-0880388443.
- William L. Christensen (April 2006). “The Wild Hunt”. In Erik Mona ed. Dragon #342 (Paizo Publishing, LLC), p. 88.
- Cryptic Studios (August 2013). Neverwinter: Fury of the Feywild. Perfect World Entertainment.
- Tim Eagon (October 2013). “Court of Stars: The Wild Hunt”. In Aaron Infante-Levy ed. Dragon #428 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 15.
- Mike Breault, David "Zeb" Cook, Jim Ward, Steve Winter (August 1988). Ruins of Adventure. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 2, 91. ISBN 978-0880385886.
- Colin McComb (1996). On Hallowed Ground. Edited by Ray Vallese. (TSR, Inc), p. 68. ISBN 0-7869-0430-5.
- Colin McComb (December 1995). “Liber Malevolentiae”. In Michele Carter ed. Planes of Conflict (TSR, Inc.), p. 56. ISBN 0-7869-0309-0.
- Tim Eagon (October 2013). “Court of Stars: The Wild Hunt”. In Aaron Infante-Levy ed. Dragon #428 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 16.
- Tim Eagon (October 2013). “Court of Stars: The Wild Hunt”. In Aaron Infante-Levy ed. Dragon #428 (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 14, 16.
- Tim Eagon (October 2013). “Court of Stars: The Wild Hunt”. In Aaron Infante-Levy ed. Dragon #428 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 14.
- Robin Emrys Atkinson (September 1982). “Tuatha De Danann — A revised Celtic mythos”. In Kim Mohan ed. Dragon #65 (TSR, Inc.), p. 52.
- Mike Mearls, Stephen Schubert, James Wyatt (June 2008). Monster Manual 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 161. ISBN 978-0-7869-4852-9.
- James Ward, Robert J. Kuntz (August 1980). Deities & Demigods. Edited by Lawrence Schick. (TSR, Inc.), p. 31. ISBN 0-935696-22-9.
- Mike Mearls, Greg Bilsland and Robert J. Schwalb (June 15, 2010). Monster Manual 3 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 153. ISBN 0786954902.
- Rob Heinsoo, Stephen Schubert (May 19, 2009). Monster Manual 2 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 111. ISBN 0786995101.
- (July 2007). Monster Manual V. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 202–203. ISBN 0-7869-4115-4.