Monster Monday #2: La Llorona
Updated: Mar 4
'Tis the season of spooky shenanigans, and the Twitter poll voters have spoken! This week's Monster Monday is going to focus on a very particular spirit from Latin American folklore - La Llorona. Known famously as a ghost in a white, wet dress and veil that roams the waterfront. She has a particular...fondness for children and makes her presence known with a loud wailing sound. The legend of how she came to be varies wildly, though all end in a ghost that is doomed to wander the shores in mourning, sadness, and oftentimes overwhelming anger.
The most famous telling of the tale is that in life she married a rich husband and bore two beautiful children, until one day she saw her husband with another woman. In a fit of blind rage, she drowned the children in the river but then immediately regretted it and drowned herself in sorrow. Those of you that have heard of the Greek myth of Medea might spot some similarities. Others give her tale a much sadder start - her two children being born illegitimately or of rape, and the idea of losing them makes her drown both them and herself. The story is particularly prevalent in Mexico and is tied up in colonialism and the complex historical relationship between Spanish conquistadores and the indigenous women of the area.
The legend of La Llorona, otherwise known as The Wailer or The Weeping Woman bares many striking similarities to other mythology or folklore from around the world. The child eating monster known as Lamia in Greek myth is cursed to eat her own offspring by Zeus's very jealous wife, Hera, and consequently eats all children in rage as hers are gone. The White Lady is a type of spirit found in tragic folklore all over the world and La Llorona certainly falls into that category well. Others may draw connections to the Banshee of Irish folklore for her wailing and crying, the Tulevieja from Costa Rican and Panamanian legend that was also said to drown their child in the river, or Rusalka from Slavic folklore who are female entities bound to the water and drowning those that come too close. In Korea, the Mul Gwishin, which translates to 'water ghost' represents a similar concept - a ghost born from the tragedy of drowning.
Certainly stories around the heartbreak and tragedy of infanticide, the loss of children, and motherhood are popular even now. The Woman In Black, originally a ghost story by the talented Susan Hill features a child-killing spectre as it's main antagonist, driven to such actions by the heartbreaking death of her son, who drowned in the marshes nearby. Guillermo Del Toro's Mama also features a vengeful ghost, though in this instance it takes on more of a protector role around the children. And more recently, the story bares a striking resemblance to elements of the story in Netflix’s recent horror series, The Haunting Of Bly Manor. There are many horror films inspired by La Llorona specifically too, and the Spanish song of the same name has risen in popularity thanks to the recent cover in the Disney film Coco.
All things considered - this spirit is a perfect fit for a DnD game! It's time to look at some stat blocks that might fit the bill!
Let's start with perhaps an obvious choice - the Banshee (Basic Rules, page 118).
At a CR 4 you could use a standard Ghost (Basic Rules, page 128) stat block of course, however I find the features that the Banshee has and its general lore to be a better fit. I think in order to really capture the essence of La Llorona you have to choose an Undead stat block, which this has. The biggest draw here however is the feature 'Wail' which they can use once per day. It's a nasty surprise for the unsuspecting party and can quickly give this monster an edge even if it's going up against numerous hardened adventurers. The lore around this ghost's love for treasures could easily be changed up (perhaps children's toys instead of jewellery) and that ability to Detect Life within 5 miles could prove deadly for those with children in the area.
For my next choice I had to think a little outside the box AND the core rulebooks, and looked to Kobold Press - Drowned Maiden (Tome Of Beasts, page 159).
I'm a big fan of Kobold Press's books as a source of inspiration and here I really hit the jackpot. A CR 5 Undead that seems to specifically focus on a watery female ghost with some interesting powers! Here, her hair is very long and weaponised but this could certainly be flavoured as La Llorona's infamous veil or perhaps a control of the water itself! With some Innate Spellcasting (perhaps this could be added to with some water themed spells) and the ability to grapple and reel enemies into the water, I think this would be a really interesting way of taking the concept of La Llorona and adding to it with an interesting twist.
On a similar note, you should definitely check out the Rusalka too (Tome Of Beasts, page 331).
She shares a lot of similarities with the Drowned Maiden, namely the use of her hair in order to further harm her victims. But while she may not have quite the right aesthetic, she is a Medium CR 6 Undead and does have some of the things I felt were missing with the Drowned Maiden - namely Innate Spellcasting which gives her access to control water, water walk, and dominate person. I liked the suggested idea of casting water walk on a victim, luring them to the water with her, and then ending the spell at will to drown her victims. She also has Watery Camouflage, Breathless Kiss, and a really interesting Withered Tresses ability that ties her to the water in a way that may benefit the players if they are dealing with her.
In terms of some home-brewed stat blocks, I have sourced some great articles and books that contain stat blocks:
Legendary Games created a stat block particularly for this creature in Latin American Monsters. Llorona is one of the included stat blocks (page 60) and is a great example of this legendary being! She has Ghost Touch and Wail, which are pretty cool powers for La Llorona and is CR 11 so will certainly prove a challenge. In Asian Monsters, they also have the CR 2 Gwishin, Mul (page 39) that has some appropriately cold-themed spells and abilities, a Dimming Aura, and the Drown action.
Once again, Dragonix does not fail to disappoint with a stat block that holds up for higher tier play - the CR 13 Banshee, Greater found in the Monster Manual Expanded. This encounter is not for the faint hearted, with Spellcasting (that can certainly be flavoured), legendary actions, and a Kiss Of Death action!
I'm also going to advocate for Nathan Haslé's Book Of Beautiful Horrors, which contains a ton of great stat blocks. Most notably, I was drawn to the CR 1/2 Drowner (page 13) that has the Drag Under ability, and the CR 3 Drowned Dead (page 13) that has a very thematic Drowning Aura.
DMDave has created a stat block for Llorona too, this one being a great example of making some adaptations to the Banshee! I’d love to see something with a little more connection to the water - perhaps replacing the Decaying Touch’s Necrotic damage with Cold damage?
Using La Llorona in a game is an interesting prospect simply because there is so much lore surrounding her story. I’ve come up with a few hooks that may result in your players stumbling across her.
The party are camping close to a river or a lake. While on watch, one member begins to hear a mournful wail from further upstream? Do they investigate?
Children have been going missing in the village the party have just arrived at. No one knew where they had gone until the body of one washed ashore at the nearby lake. The residents are currently trawling through to find more of them.
A man recently died, despite having locked himself in his room with not a drop of water in sight, he appears to have drowned. Watery footprints lead towards the window and disappear.
Parents are concerned about their young daughter, she keeps running off to a nearby pond to play with her new imaginary best friend. The party are enlisted to find out what she is doing.
A ghostly woman appears before the party and begs for them to help her find the bodies of her children so that she can move onto the afterlife.
Have you ever heard of the curse of La Llorona before today? Would you want your party to encounter her? I hope you enjoyed this second Monster Monday! I have a terrifying witch lined up for next week. Can you guess who?