Monster Monday #1: Black Dog
Updated: Mar 4
There are so many amazing mythological and folkloric creatures around the world, and I had a hard time picking my very first one to write about. In the end though, I decided to turn to something that is very prevalent in the stories of England, where I grew up! The Black Dog phenomenon is known by many names here, depending on where in the country you are from, which sighting you are referring to, and what the creature itself portends.
Black Shuck is famous in East Anglian lore as a spectral, demonic dog that terrifies, attacks, and kills people, and is a symbol of death. A Churchyard Grim is a shaggy black dog that is said to haunt graveyards. Dando's Dogs or The Devil's Dandy Dogs are found in Cornish myth and refer to a pack of supernatural hounds that accompany their fiendish, sinful master on the hunt. Fans of the Harry Potter franchise will surely have heard of Padfoot, but perhaps didn't know that the name originated from the sightings of a large black dog around Leeds, whose paws make no sound and whose presence is an ill omen. Even the North of England have their own variant - the Barghest or Barguest is famous for its monstrous teeth and claws. Whichever one you read about they are all in a similar vain - oversized, shaggy black dogs that are most likely hostile, whose ghostly howls can be heard on the moors late at night and each with supernatural and somewhat terrific powers such as being able to vanish and appear at will, and breathe fire.
This particular type of creature is most likely a British variant of the worldwide mythical being known as the Hellhound, a servant of hell, the devil, or the underworld. These creatures are mostly found in European folklore (examples including Cerberus of Greek myth, the Garmr or Warg of Norse myth, the Dip of Catalan folklore, and the Fairy Hounds of Celtic folklore), but there are traces of them to be found within Latin America (the Cadejo immediately springs to mind - a dog-like spirit that is said to be good if white in colour, or bad if black) or Asia (the Okuri-Inu of Japan for example, or the Mahākanha of Buddhist mythology). They are referenced often in pop culture - one of the most famous examples being in one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books, 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. Certainly it is the example that first piqued my interest in these fascinating creatures while also sending shivers down my spine.
So how do we get these fantastic creatures into your D&D game? I've looked at various stat block sources and narrowed down some potential candidates for interesting encounters that will evoke the imagery of hellhounds or black dogs.
To start - the Hell Hound (Basic Rules, page 139).
These are an all encompassing beast that evokes the imagery of the worldwide folklore surrounding Hell Hounds, as they are Fiends. They are a Medium CR 3, their Bite attacks do additional Fire damage, AND they have a Fiery Breath Weapon - which does match up with a few of the folk tales surrounding Black Dogs! I often imagine these as minions or guard dogs for a devilish master. They certainly look terrifying and would be formidable in a pack thanks to Pack Tactics! For a less 'magical' variant, you could also look at the Dire Wolf (Basic Rules, page 123) - a Large CR 1 Beast which is little more than an oversized wolf but with the right artwork could certainly evoke the right image and size of this legendary creature.
The Shadow Mastiff (Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters Of The Multiverse, page 215).
When I think of a monstrous, terrifying being that says 'demon dog' and has the ability to blend into the shadows and mists with ease, these are the creatures that spring to mind. Another example great for pack encounters, they are a Medium CR 2 and have an Alpha variant that is known for its Terrifying Howl ability. D&D lore has these native to the shadow plane, but they could easily just have an affinity with darkness (they are weak in the sunlight and are able to become Invisible in Dim Light or Darkness) and their ability to see into the Ethereal Plane makes them feel very spectral. Certainly a terrifying encounter for the misty moors at the dead of night!
Lastly from Wizards Of The Coast, I'm going for a slightly different take - the Yeth Hound (Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters Of The Multiverse, page 271).
While both of the last options are Medium, these are Large and so immediately evoke a more terrifying sense of scale. What's more, legends surrounding real-world Gabriel Hounds, Fairy Hounds and Wisht/Yeth Hounds are very closely related to those of the Black Dog but with the added twist of human faces. These are also fey creatures, and at a CR 4 are a fulfilling encounter solo, in small groups, or large packs dependant on the size and level of your party. They are known for a Baleful Baying which uses the Frightened condition to give them an edge in combat, and Sunlight Banishment which forces them to the Ethereal Plane when the sun is shining upon them. For another Fey variant with some Ethereal plane themed abilities, check out the Blink Dog (Basic Rules, page 119).
So now I want to look at a third party publisher that I always find makes excellent content - Kobold Press. I will probably often reference them in these posts, and for this specific creature I want to look at the Hound Of The Night (Tome Of Beasts, page 251).
This Large CR 5 Monstrosity is certainly a formidable opponent with some interesting abilities. First up, emerging from the mists is no problem for these creatures as they can cast dimension door at will, and track scents through magical teleportation using Blood Scent. Their Frost Breath suits a colder setting, or you could change the damage type to Fire if you wanted something closer to the original folklore. If that is the case, I would probably switch their Immunity to Cold and Vulnerability to Fire around too. I like the lore around them being used as hunting hounds, as it very much evokes the image of Dando's Dogs. I also found another couple of fun stat blocks from Kobold Press - the Spellhound (Tome Of Beasts II, page 336) whose abilities revolve around the nullification of magical effects, and lore centres on the hunting of mages and creatures of magic; and the Swarm, Wolf Spirits (Tome Of Beasts, page 377) that has some terrifying fog and cold related abilities.
I would also like to shout out, as I always will in these posts, the hard work of talented Homebrewers and other third party sources. Here is an abundance of options:
First, I love Dragonix's expended versions of the Monster Manual, and I did find a higher tier version of the Hell Hound, called the Nessian War Hound (page 153) which is CR 5 in Monster Manual Expanded. The Monster Manual Expanded II also has a CR 6 Yeth Hound Stalker (page 246).
I also really like Metal Weave Games's Blink Wolf/Silence Wolf found in the Atlas Animalia and its accompanying stat-book (page 33 & page 13). This Medium CR 3 Fey is a reworked Blink Dog with Teleport, the ability to set a territory of sorts that alerts it to the presence of intruders using Instill Howl, Multiattack, and the all-important Pack Tactics if you want an encounter with more than one Black Dog.
Another great option came in the form of Legendary Games's Latin American Monsters for their Medium CR 5 Black Cadejo (page 20) stat block, with its Aura Of Bad Luck ability and Terrifying Gaze action.
Within Dave Coulson's Monsters Of The Infinite Planes comes another fantastic choice - the Garmr (page 83) which are a Large CR 4 Fiend, and fit within a lot of the folklore quite nicely. What particularly stood out to me was their Fog Jump ability!
Pirate Gonzalez's The Book Of The Fey: A Fey Bestiary holds a Medium CR 6 Fey stat block for a Wild Hunt, Hound (page 160) which are said to be surrounded by fog that have locate object, locate animals or plants, and locate creature at will. They also have a Summoned Pack ability!
I'm a big fan of Nord Games's Ultimate Bestiary: The Dreaded Accursed so I was so happy to find the Medium CR 2 Phantom Hound Undead stat block (page 11) within! Once again, themes of the Ethereal Plane are prevalent and I did also enjoy its Frightening Howl and Blood-Chilling Bite.
Please do also check out depressed_corgi_1's wonderful Reddit post complete with TWO homebrew stat blocks for the Church Grimm and Black Dog. They've given them a bit of a ghostly spin by choosing Undead for their creature type. They've even given the Church Grimm some Familiar variant options, and I'm very interested to see one as Lawful Good and the other as Lawful Evil (though as a DM I tend to put my own spin on alignment nine times out of ten).
Though most of the legends paint Black Dogs in an evil light, there are a number of different ways a party could encounter these creatures in your DnD campaign. Here are some Plot Hook ideas to get you started:
Your party encounter an injured Black Dog while travelling through the misty moors. It snarls, and growls at them, but does not attack. Do they give it aid? Or finish the notoriously evil thing off?
While exploring a cemetery, a number of Black Dogs are roaming the area. Do they attempt to sneak by the malevolent beasts? Or attack on sight and risk being overwhelmed?
A strangely dressed man with a Black Dog at his side approaches a member of the party. He wants to make a deal. Are those...horns growing from his head?
The wilds of the Feyrealm are a dangerous place, and as your party set up camp, they hear a baleful howling in the distance. And then again, closer.
A group of villagers entreat your party for aid - people are going missing if they wander out too late at night. Recently, strange howls and hunting horns have been heard in the nearby vicinity.
I hope you enjoyed this first edition of Monster Monday! Have you ever heard of a Black Dog? Have you ever included anything like it in your DnD campaign or one shot? Let me know in the comments below if you'd consider using one in the future!