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  • Writer's pictureKatrina Waldman

Monster Monday #10: Yuki-onna

Updated: Mar 4, 2023


It's time for another wintery Monster Monday, and this time I've gone with Yuki-onna, or the Snow Maiden. A key figure in Japanese mythology, this yōkai (another name for a Japanese entity or spirit) could have an entire book written about her, there are so many variations on her story. In some prefectures she may be known as Yuki-hoe (snow daughter) or Yuki-onago (snow girl) which implies a youthful quality to the spirit; or in others the Yuki-onba (snow granny), Yukinba (snow hag) or the Yukifuri-baba (snowfall hag) which all imply an older visage. The legends surrounding her and behaviours that she displays change drastically around Japan also - but most agree upon a tall, beautiful woman with long black hair and blue lips. Often, she is depicted as very pale and wearing a white kimono so that she may blend into the snow around her, and she drifts or walks without leaving footprints across the snow. Many stories give her the ability to transform into mist or snow flurries also.


As I said, there is a lot of variety with stories surrounding the Yuki-onna and it really depends on the local area in which you take the tale from. Many of them talk about children - a famous one being that she travels and implores strangers to help her keep the child that she is travelling with warm by carrying it, only for the child to become heavier and heavier until the helpful stranger is crushed. This along with tales of the Yuki-onna seeking to kidnap or devour children, not killing their victims for the sake of children, or even marrying and having children with the 'hero' of the tale draws some similarities with La Llorona of Mexican legend, who I have previously written an article on here. Other tales don't mention children and depict a 'snow vampire' of sorts, claiming that the Yuki-onna drains the life force or heat of her victims. There are many that claim she will beg for some assistance, warmth, water or other such thing and it is unclear whether providing it or ignoring her is the thing that will get you killed (this is a common trope in Japanese folklore surrounding spirits). Some tales have her as a monstrous entity that seeks to freeze as many victims to death as possible, particularly men, while others claim that she is sad and seeks warmth or love and desperately mourns her inability to touch people without killing them.


The Yuki-onna is a classic example of White Lady or Woman In White spirit that by it's very definition is a vengeful spirit often associated with local tragedy. These kinds of spirits are found all over the world and in various forms. She is often confused with Tsurura-onna (Icicle Woman) who is technically a different yōkai but shares many similarities in the tales told about her. She is also tied with Yama-uba, a 'fairy' crone known for living in the mountains with cannibalistic tendencies and when you see translated names like 'snow granny' or 'snow hag' as well, it is hard not to picture the infamous Baba Yaga of Slavic folklore whom I have also talked about here. The link with children also brings to mind the famous Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen, which tells the story of a legendary figure who controls the winters and snows stealing away a young child who becomes cold to emotion and love - sometimes because she is cruel, others because she desires affection and love herself and can’t get it when she is so cold. There are many iterations of the Yuki-onna’s tale that see the spirit melt at the end too (normally as a result of being too close to heat after marrying or falling in love with a mortal man) and that brings to mind the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka or The Snow Maiden which tells the tale of a childless couple who create a child of snow, which then comes to life.


The tale is popular even nowadays and the inspiration for many characters in video games, films, books, and tv shows. For example, Shiva in the Final Fantasy series is a summon that takes the form of an ice-based snow woman; Froslass in the Pokémon series is based on the Yuki-Onna; and the game Nioh contains one too. Being a Japanese spirit, she is found in a lot of manga and anime - the Snow card in Cardcaptor Sakura, the spirit of Rukia Kuchiki's sword in Bleach! and Mizore in Rosario + Vampire. If you were thinking more broadly, you could say that any character with snow or ice themed abilities could have been inspired by this legendary figure and western counterparts (such as Elsa from Disney's Frozen) and even characters such as Rogue from the X-Men series may have been inspired by the Yuki-onna's tragic inability to touch something without draining it's essence.

 

There is so much to this terrifying folklore figure that it's hard not want to put her in your game! Well, I've picked out some stat blocks that will allow you to hopefully do so!


So as usual let's start with Wizards Of The Coast and see what they have to offer! As it turns out, the very aptly named Snow Maiden (Curse Of Strahd, page 159) might just suit our needs!


With no official artwork, I've borrowed some from Pathfinder (so good news if you enjoy that system, there should definitely be a pre-built stat block for this creature) that I really liked! It's a very low-level Undead encounter at a CR 1 and may not pose much of a threat if you wanted a lone Yuki-onna for the party to fight, but it's Life Drain ability is pretty nasty and matches up well with the original lore of this creature. This stat block is really just the Specter (Basic Rules, page 346) with Cold immunity, and if you wanted to raise the difficulty you could use a CR 5 Banshee (Basic Rules, page 118) with its Corrupting Touch giving some Yuki-onna vibes and a couple of other cool abilities like Horrifying Visage and Wail. None of these really give me the satisfying, unique feel I'm looking for though!


So I'm turning to Kobold Press for my next pick - Ice Maiden (Tome Of Beast, page 254).


Now this stat block has a LOT more of what I'm looking for! Firstly, its a CR 6 which feels about right for a being that comes across as pretty powerful, especially in its home territory. The lore that surrounds these creatures being lonely and desperately seeking love is very reminiscent of the lore of the Yuki-Onna too. What's more, these creatures have some GREAT abilities - appropriately themed Innate Spellcasting, Chilling Presence, Snow Invisibility, a Flurry Form, and Kiss Of The Frozen Heart are just SOME examples. The only thing I'd probably change is the Fey type to Undead but otherwise, this stat block is near perfect!


Finally, I do have a couple of other suggestions from Dragonix's Monster Manual Expanded. First - a Frostmaiden Of Auril (page 319) is really designed as a sort of caster dedicated to the goddess Auril and so is Humanoid instead of Undead. However - this CR 5 has some great Innate Spellcasting choices, and a cool ability called Auril's Kiss which is really designed for weapon attacks but could be repurposed in some way. The second is a little more appropriate - the Banshee, Greater (page 23) is a great choice for higher level play at CR 13. It takes the base Banshee abilities and raises the stakes significantly, adding Innate Spellcasting, Life Drain, Kiss Of Death, and the ability to use Legendary Actions! Definitely another favourite. While I don't own a copy, I also read that Legendary Games's Asian Monsters does contain a stat block for the Yuki-Onna which may be worth checking out!

 

So we have the potential stat blocks, now as usual its time to think about some story elements!

  1. The party, while travelling through heavy snow spot a figure in the distance that may look like they are in some kind of distress. Interestingly, as they serenely walk towards the party, the more perceptive members may notice they are leaving no footprints in the fresh snow.

  2. The party meet the spirit of a woman who is searching for her lost love, and desperately mourns the fact that she can no longer feel or touch anything without freezing it. Can the party help her?

  3. The local village warn the party of a strange spirit that haunts the tundra, telling them to be wary of the women who can turn to snow in the blink of an eye.

  4. The party are caught in a blizzard and a woman rescues them and takes them to a nearby shelter. When they get there, they find a number of silent, staring children. The woman encourages the party to hold them for warmth...

  5. An elderly couple approach the party in great distress. They tell the party that their daughter has gone missing, and describe the miraculous events that led to her coming - she is a child of the snow. Is she lost? Or has she returned to the wilds and can be persuaded to return?

 

Have you ever heard of Yuki-onna or any other interesting tales of snow women, children, or witches? Let me know!

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