Monster Monday #27: Kabandha
Updated: Mar 4
It is time for another Monster Monday post, and it took me a little bit of time to figure out what I wanted to write abut this week! In the end though, I stumbled upon a phenomenon that is quite...unusual - Headless Men. More specifically, I'll be focusing on Kabandha, the carnivorous demon of Hindu mythology that serves as just one example of this bizarre creature. As expected, Kabandha means 'Headless Torso' and he is indeed depicted without a head. He is instead cursed to have his facial features within this torso, his entire chest and stomach being made up of his eyes, nose, and mouth. Sometimes he is described as hairy or with one eye, much like a Cyclops.
Kabandha was born as a gandharva, or a celestial musician, called Vishvavasu. He was cursed by the god Indra to become a rakshasa, or demon, after he became arrogant. In some depictions, Indra used his divine weapon Vajra to drive Vishvavasu's head into his torso. Always hungry, he terrorised the Krauncha forest, and it was here that he encountered Rama and Lakshmana, who were on the hunt for Rama's kidnapped consort Sita. He fought the brothers well, but ultimately they defeated him by severing his arms and cremating his remains. Doing so broke his curse and he became Vishvavasu once more, giving the brothers advice on how they might retrieve Rama's stolen bride.
This terrifying demon of Hindu myth is not the only creature with this odd, headless look. Known as Blemmyes, Akephaloi (meaning 'headless ones'), or Epiphagi, these mythical humanoids were first described as inhabitants of ancient Libya, or along the Nile. Later, they were attributed to India, or the Brisone river as well as other areas of Africa. These Headless Men or Blemyae were said to have their eyes on their shoulders or chests, dependant on the tale, and were also often said to be hairy. Later, these depictions were said to be exaggerated reports of apes. In Chinese mythology, the god Xingtian is also described as having no head - his nipples are replaced with eyes, and his bellybutton serves as his mouth. He symbolises the indomitable spirit, that never gives up no matter what obstacles are faced. The Dōnotsura is a Japanese yōkai also depicted as a headless man with a face on his torso.
In modern media and pop culture, Headless Men are rarer to find but do exist. Their art exists on various medieval maps, art, and wooden misericords. They also appear in a lot of literature - Shakespeare makes references to them in both Othello and The Tempest; Umberto Eco's Baudolino has these and many other creatures from medieval bestiaries; and Rick Riordan includes these creatures in The Dark Prophecy. Lewis Carroll's character Humpty Dumpty is also said to be based on a Headless Man! Also, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask includes four giants that certainly draw inspiration from them; the Pokémon Hitmonlee is very similar; and Scooby Doo has a villain named the Headless Horror that brings Kabandha to mind.
So now it is time for some stat blocks! I have found some EXCELLENT depictions of these odd looking creatures.
I'll start with Wizards Of The Coast, and in terms of aesthetic I could really only find one that gave me the vibes that I was after. Check out the Dolgrim (Eberron: Rising From The Last War, page 291).
A lot of DMs tend to avoid some campaign setting books to draw stat blocks from because the lore tends to be quite specific, but sometimes they'll surprise you! When thinking of Kabandha, this CR 1/2 Small Aberration might need some tweaking (I imagine something much bigger and much more challenging), but this could definitely be a great way of giving the tale of the cursed musician a twist! How about cursing a tribe of goblins instead? Of course, CR can be easily adjusted, alongside size category. They can make three attacks with Multiattack also, which makes them quite effective in combat, and their unique lore in Dual Personality gives them advantage on saving throws against a lot of conditions, which is a fun trait! But if you're after a very basic Wizards Of The Coast stat block to use then I would probably suggest the Tanarukk (Monsters Of The Multiverse, page 240) - it is a CR 5 Medium Fiend (Demon), which is immediately much more along the lines of what I'd expect from Kabandha. It also has a nasty Bite attack, its Greatsword could be flavoured into its arms and given 10 ft. Reach, and both Aggressive and Unbridled Fury work well with the original tale!
So now let us look at Kobold Press. As usual, they have come through with something far more specific and directly relating to some of the lore previously discussed! Meet the Blemmyes (Tome Of Beasts, page 37).
The lore surrounding this creature is very much based around a mix of the Blemmyes and Kabandha. It is a CR 8 Large Monstrosity which feels about right though would need to become a Fiend (Demon) in order to match the lore. Multiattack of course makes a lot of sense for this creature - it can use Slam, throw a Rock, or Bite and Swallow creatures! I also enjoy the Carnivorous Compulsion effect - it will certainly pressure a party to heal their fallen comrades as quickly as possible!
Another great shout from Kobold Press comes in the form of Xing Tian (Tome Of Beasts, page 376).
Again, there is an obvious draw from the lore of Xingtian with this creature, which is a completely different tale and so the abilities that it has reflect that. This CR 11 Huge Giant could certainly be a great contender if you want your depiction of Kabandha to be a little more intelligent and armoured up! I like that it has Indomitable and Sure-Footed as abilities, and it's Dance Of The Unyielding (based on Xingtian's Chinese lore) is a difficult ability to overcome, as it gives this creature regenerative properties! This version definitely relies on weapon attacks over claws and teeth, but these could be changed and re-flavoured!
So now that we have found some great stat blocks for both lower and higher tiers of play, let's figure out some plot hooks!
While travelling, the party encounter a demon with no head, its belly a toothy maw. It is exceptionally hungry and attempts to carry a member of the party off to eat.
The party hear a tale of a demon that is said to roam the surrounding forests. It was once human but was cursed by a deity, and must be killed in a very specific way in order for the curse to be broken. The human form of the demon knows some specific information that will aid the party in their quest.
If a member of the party begins to get a little arrogant, perhaps they will upset a deity who will then punish them with the Kabandha curse. Over a number of days they will begin to turn into one, unless they find some way to reverse its effects.
An entire village or tribe has been cursed. Some are further along in their transformation than others, some more aggressive than others. Perhaps the party can help them?
A town are terrified of a demon living in the surrounding area, but when the party arrive to sort out the problem for them they find a very scared creature that is lonely and just wants a friend. If the party treat fit with kindness and help it reintegrate with the town, it will become something of a protector for them and will reward the party with the knowledge of a powerful treasure.
I hope you enjoyed this crazy demon as much as I did, its looks are so ridiculous that it's difficult to know whether to be terrified or cry with laughter! Have you ever seen these creatures before, or read about them? Let me know!