Monster Monday #28: Myling
Updated: Mar 4
Monster Monday already? Each week feels as if it goes by so quickly! Still, I've had this particular creature floating in the back of my mind for a while now and I cannot wait to write all about it! The Myling is a fascinating phantasmal creature from Scandinavian mythology, and certainly one that many horror films, books, and media has drawn from. It is the terrifying 'creepy child' trope embodied - the trapped soul of a child out for some kind of revenge or with evil intent in mind.
So let's dig a little deeper into the story of the Myling shall we? In Scandinavian folklore, the Myling or Mylingar are always the souls of children. Most notably, they are abandoned or discarded children whose souls wander the earth until they are buried properly, usually within hallowed ground. Also known as Liekkiö or Utburd (a word that means 'that which is taken outside' and refers to the practice of abandoning unwanted children), these spirits are often killed or neglected by their mothers who usually did so because they were born out of wedlock. This meant that the children were unnamed, unbaptised, and would haunt the area surrounding their burial site or the homes of their killers. Often, they would sing of their parent's crimes and beg those passing by to help them rest by taking them to be buried properly. In many tales, they are exceptionally dangerous and aggressive - they will jump on the backs of unwary travellers with these demands, becoming heavier and heavier until the person carrying them sinks into the soil or is killed because they fail to deliver the Myling to its rest. Their desire for revenge accompanied by their helpless look makes them exceptionally dangerous.
Tales of unwanted, vengeful demons or spirits that resemble children are found around the world. A similar tale from Slavic mythology comes in the form of the Poroniec, a malicious and powerful demon that comes into being from stillborn foetuses or the improperly buried remains of children. Burying it under the threshold of the house is said to then turn it into a Kłobuk, a protective spirit for the house. Also from Slavic mythology, the Drekavac (meaning 'screamer' or 'screecher') has a variety of very different depictions, including canines, birds, or undead children. The Konak-jiji of Japanese folklore is also said to be very similar to the Myling. Supposedly it can take the appearance of an old man or baby, and cries until it is picked up. It then becomes as heavy as a stone and crushes its victims. This resembles some of the tales of Yuki-onna - a spirit that I have written on before, and is sometimes said to travel with a ghostly child as cold as ice that will become far too heavy when picked up. More recently, there have been a number of urban legends in the USA regarding 'black-eyed children' that are hitchhiking, begging, or even turn up on the doorsteps of residential homes. These stories have very little evidence to back them up however.
Creepy children are an exceptionally popular trope in modern media, and appear in all sorts of forms - creepy twins as in The Shining, or the young boy in The Grudge for example. Often they are malicious and wish to cause harm, though sometimes their intent is a bit less nefarious than first thought. In the film Coraline, the titular character encounters a group of ghost children whose bones have been stolen and so are unable to move on. In The Witcher 3 video game, a quest exists that involves summoning a Botchling, a creature clearly based on a Poroniec. It has the ability to be transformed into a Lubberkin (much like a Kłobuk) or a Myling in Witcher lore. Mylings are also a type of ghost encountered in the game Phasmaphobia.
So then what kind of stat blocks exist for these creatures? Let's have a little look.
As always, I'll start with Wizards Of The Coast. I actually found something that would need a little re-working, but could be a fun re-imagining of a Myling. Meet the Topi (The Tortle Package, page 23).
Originally, this was not my first choice. But something about this Small Undead CR 1/2 stat block kept drawing me back - because the more I look at it, the more I think they really resemble sinister toddlers. The creature type, size and CR mean they'll make an excellent mob encounter for lower tier play, and if you wanted to work in a forest full of Mylings, these could be the best way of doing it! Their Undead Fortitude and Turn Resistance are some powerful abilities. The one thing I would probably change is their Venomous Claws - their aesthetic is perfectly suited to a creature that jumps and grabs onto a player, grappling or restraining them, and this suits the Myling folklore a lot better.
My next choice, also from Wizards Of The Coast, may be a little more recognisable - Rose Durst and Thorn Durst (Curse Of Strahd, page 217).
I've popped these two together because as far as I can tell, there is no difference between these Small Undead CR 3 ghostly children. But they definitely have the aesthetic down, and some very spirit-like abilities that fit well for a potential Myling. With Etherealness, Ethereal Sight and Incorporeal Movement, these are definitely spectres to watch out for as they can travel between the Material and Ethereal Planes with relative ease. Their Withering Touch is a great, ghost-like attack. What's more, Possession is an EXCELLENT action to have and will really mess with your party! I think they are a really nice fit too, because ultimately the very sad story of Rose and Thorn Durst lines up very well with the folklore surrounding the Myling.
So - onto Kobold Press! I did actually find a stat block for a Myling (Tome Of Beasts, page 301) that does an excellent job with fitting the lore of this creature!
Another excellent Small Undead stat block, this time CR 2! This kind of CR seems about right for these creatures actually as though they could be powerful, I don't imagine them being a huge threat for a higher tier adventurer. The lore surrounding this stat block is really similar to a lot of Myling tales - singing, vengeful attacks, and tragic lives. They have Multiattack and the ability to Grapple, which works really well with the fact that Mylings will often piggyback a kind samaritan to their doom. They also make use of that Grapple for their Buried Alive action, which mirrors the stories surrounding a Myling sinking their victims into the ground.
I've also found another great Kobold Press contender - the terrifying Orphan Of The Black (Tome Of Beasts II, page 286).
Aesthetically - this is my favourite, hands down. It is a Small CR 2 Fey creature, which makes it a little different from my other picks as it's not technically Undead and a lot of its written lore surrounds its connection to Shadowfell. That being said, there is definitely something to be found within it as these creatures started off as children from the Material Plane who have been neglected or abandoned by their guardians and now reject all authority figures. Forbiddance and Transmit Pain are great abilities that feed into some of the story elements about how a creature like this may work. They also have the ability to Incite Anger, a form of temporary control over their enemies. I really like that a stat block like this gives some scope to play around with the folklore of the Myling a little.
Are there any other great examples of this creature beyond those found in Kobold Press books? Why, yes! The Book Of Beautiful Horrors by Nathan Hasle details a lot of creatures found in the Witcher universe, and the Myling (page 6) is one of them! It is a Small Undead CR 2 creature, with abilities such as Ephemeral, Incorporeal Movement, and Invisibility (though humanoid children can see it, which is TERRIFYING). I also liked that it has both the Influence and Possession actions - it's a well thought out stat block! I would also recommend checking out the Botchling (page 5) for a version that makes use of its crying, or the Lubberkin (page 5) if you wanted a friendlier, more helpful stat block. I've also really enjoyed reading the CR 5 Small Lingering Waif stat block in Nord Games's Dreaded Accursed (page 14). Beyond some obvious Undead attributes, this creature also has a very cool Aura Of Abandonment ability, and a Desperate Scream for a reaction!
So there are a million and one ways in which an interesting, spooky spirit like this can be introduced into your game! I'll give a few plot hook ideas to start you off!
The party are travelling through a forest and become aware of the sound of a child singing nearby. As they get closer the words become clearer and are exceptionally disturbing. They eventually find a ghostly child drawing in the dirt, seemingly oblivious to their presence.
The party come across a child crying by the roadside, lost and confused. They tell them that their parents were planning to visit a graveyard nearby and have not returned yet. They beg the party to take them there.
While staying in a very rural village, the party quickly realise that there are no children where they are staying. They are told that the settlement is cursed, and that any children born here last no longer than a few days. Overnight, the restless spirits of these children haunt the people of the village. If the party help break the curse, the spirits of the children are set free.
The party are told about a young child that has been spotted in the area. Many believe them to be a spirit of an abandoned child from long ago, and that if their bones are laid to rest properly they will be able to rest.
While travelling through a forest that is known to be inhabited by Mylings, the party experience a number of strange occurrences - the sounds of children screeching or crying, singing nearby, mischievous pranks played on the party by an unseen force, and maybe a number of clues that indicate why so many restless, dead children inhabit this area. They never see anything however.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post about creepy children as much as I enjoyed writing it! They are definitely an interesting spirit within mythology, and would be an excellent addition to any game! Will you incorporate them in the future? Let me know!