Author Topic: The Afelyn  (Read 1863 times)


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The Afelyn
« on: November 25, 2017, 05:34:11 PM »
The Afelyn (or Herald of Autumn)

The Afelyn’s name, thought to be an anglicised corruption of the Greek term Aphullon (Αφυλλον), is one rarely heard with pleasure by the inhabitants of forests across the world. Afelyn are the heralds of autumn, seen mostly in October and November as distant spectres in the woods, as they shamble slowly through the dying, falling leaves of the old year.

The Afelyn are not at all malevolent, but they are widely feared – they are creatures of the turning of time, slow yet inexorable, and there are old tales of those around them ageing years in just a day or having their strength sapped to nothing. They will at times do their best to protect or aid travellers lost in blizzards or elves and forest spirits caught unable to return to their winter homes, but both the forest folk and the humans who pass through those realms will avoid such aid unless there is no other option. The strange power of the Afelyn is especially turned, though, against creatures or magics that seek to evade time’s passage – none understand better than Autumn’s Heralds that death is necessary for life to continue in its cycle.

Physically, the tales tell that they appear as a great mass of straggling fur, branches, and dead leaves. They walk hunched, with long, gangling arms clutching a staff or simply trailing at their side, and a part-furred, inhuman head peering ungainly from their body and its ever-dying mass of autumn decay. They do not speak any language humans can understand, though they seem to have a keen intelligence and can be communicated with, with some difficulty. Exactly what magic or powers they can wield beyond that, of course, varies from tale to tale and telling to telling…

One such tale of the Afelyn is preserved here:
On the edge of the deep woods there lived a hunter and his wife. The hunter was a big and boastful man, and he knew not the cold hand of dread or the soft, creeping touch of fear upon his shoulders. He would hunt through the trees from peak to stream with his big black bow, and he laughed at the antlers of the stag, or the tusks of the boar, for his bow and his wit and the strength of his arm could best them all.

The deep woods were his kingdom. For all that the elves of summer or the frosts of winter would claim it, each for a time, he – so he thought – could stand as master of all. The fey folk in all their sorts stayed far from human hunters, for those days were not so long ago as the times when they would talk willingly to folk of our kind. Their voices could at times be heard in the distance, as they called forth the spring each year, and in sadness as they fled and found refuge in the winter, when the Afelyn, the Heralds of Autumn, tread through wood and freeze water to turn the seasons round.

It came to pass that there was a long winter, and the hunter had not stocked so much food as he might have done. He sighted a deer near the little house in which he lived – a hind, with a pale coat and strong legs – and he set out to claim it for his own.

He trod out into the snow and followed the deer. The leaves had fallen from the trees long since, and his boots left deep footprints as he walked. At first he stalked it on a clear day, but it evaded him; then he stalked it on a grey and windy day, yet still his arrow failed to find its path through the winter’s air. On the third day, the clouds were angry and dark, but still the hunter stalked his mark; and he followed it until it had taken him far into the depths of the woods, and he gritted his teeth and marched on as the first snow started to fall, and he took a shot at it when he could barely see for the snowfall. He never found out whether he had hit his mark or not.

The blizzard set in, driving downwards, snow and hail hurtling down to the ground. All his knowledge of the forests and their paths and trackways was hardly useful when nothing could be seen. He clutched his bow, and tried to start back the way he had come, but the hail fell fast and drove him back. He howled in anger at the snow, and stamped his way through the drifts, but the snow was falling faster than he could have believed, and even the strength of his legs and arms was not enough. At last, he fell back against a tree, desperately trying to huddle out of the way of the snowfall, and yet watching in dismay as it gathered around him in the fading light and his fingers began to feel the death-bite of the frost.

It was then that he saw it, emerging from the snows, shuffling towards him. Worse than the cold outside him, a coldness gripped the air in his chest. A mass of ragged fur and barren sticks and dead leaves shambled along the path, and two long gangling arms reached out from it, one swinging loose and one clutching a long old oak-branch. A strange face, snouted, inhuman, hair a tattered mane behind it, peered down at him. To know that the Afelyn tread the woods, to know that the summer folk fear them, these are one thing; but to look into those strange eyes of gathering winter is beyond the imagining of those who have not done so themselves.

His vision clouded with fog and ice and darkness, and the air was ice within him, and he faded from conscious thought.

He awoke – a surprise in itself – to that same, strange face. Soundless, voiceless, it peered at him. His eyes focussed to realise that he was not in the same place as he had been before: some strange half-dug hollow with a rough branch roof stood where he had been lying. A half-warmth was within him, and he realised that his heart did indeed still beat firm in his chest. He tried to stutter a word, or a word and a half, to the Afelyn, but it just blinked at him with those strange eyes of gathering winter: eyes that he now saw were terribly ancient, and bore a terrible sadness, and yet somehow beyond that (or perhaps because of it) seemed… kind. He still could not love the creature and its strangeness, nonetheless.

As if half-dreaming, he planted a foot on the dead leaves of earth and found that he could stand. He said nothing more to the Herald of Autumn; he found his bow beside him, and stretched his arms. The morning was still cold, but clear. The Afelyn blinked at him, seeing that he still shrank from it; the herald reached with its old oak staff, and the hunter understood that it was pointing him in the direction of home. It was not long before he had found a path he knew, and he began to walk down the slope and valley towards the little house where he lived.

As he stumbled home, though, he realised that his legs felt a little weaker, his arms a little heavier, than they had once done… and he looked in a pool, and staggered back in bewilderment and dismay. For his hair, once black as the wood of his bow, was white as the frosts of winter, and his face was lined and furrowed where it had once been smooth. His life had been spared from the frost, but the touch of autumn turns the years, and though it had been just a night, he had been aged seven thousand nights by the Afelyn’s kindness.

He was a chastened man when he finally returned to that little house on the edge of the deep woods. No more did he run through the trees or believe himself master of the forest; his big black bow hung more often by the fireside than from his shoulder, and he learned to love the walls and hearths of men, that we build - because in truth, we know that the seasons bear a strength of which we never can and never shall prove the master.

The Afelyn’s feared by fairy folk,
Because they love the spring.
When blossom blooms and ice will thaw
And birds and elves may sing,
But Autumn is not heedless, cruel,
Its heralds simply know,
That for new life in spring to bloom,
There first must come the snow
And so the friendless Afelyn
Through autumn’s woods must go!



Hiring: Requires a mandrake root and 40gc to hire, with 25gc upkeep: increases warband rating by 25 points. May be hired by any warband not aligned to Chaos or Undeath (so no Possessed, Skaven, Undead, etc).

An Afelyn causes fear, and cannot run (though it can charge). Its staff counts as a halberd in close combat.

Withering: Any model, friend or foe, with 3” of an Afelyn at the start of the combat phase must take a toughness test or lose 1 toughness. Undead must reroll this test if they pass.

Friendless: The Afelyn is immune to all alone tests: furthermore, it is ignored as a warband member for all psychology purposes (rout tests, preventing allied models suffering all alone tests, using the captain’s leadership, etc).

Skills: The Afelyn may learn spells from the lesser magic list (it does not start with any spells).

Gaming Notes

I don't actually think that Mordheim is the best system to use the Afelyn in, I just don't have rulebooks for any proper RPG systems with me in Vienna and I know Mordheim's rules well enough to conjure up a representation of it that feels vaguely balanced more easily than for most games. It's quite a fairytale-type monster, and it's basically good-aligned, though its powers aren't really controllable and can damage friends and allies as much as foes. I think it ought to be possible to make it scary if need be - this is basically a cold, creaking mass of sticks and fur and dead leaves shambling towards you, and if you know the tales you have reason to worry that it may have random and unspecified magical powers of some sort that it can use if it wants to.

Some plot hook ideas for RPG use:
  • An Afelyn has taken up residence near an elven settlement, and the magic that keeps the place young and green is creaking at the edges. The players must head into the woodlands and remove or fight the Afelyn to help the elves.
  • An evil wizard has teleported an Afelyn into a large city; confused and panicked, its powers are weakening buildings and people alike. The players must find ways to protect themselves from the Afelyn's magic and then usher it back into the forests.
  • An elf lord has taken it upon himself to hunt and kill Afelyn to try and keep the forests green forever: the players must protect the Afelyn so winter can come - without risking themselves too badly in support of it.
  • An exceptionally powerful Afelyn is finding itself unable to control its power, and is causing a localised autumn/winter despite it being late spring.
  • An Afelyn needs the players' help to stop a necromancer "preserving" part of the area it watches by turning it into a land of undeath. As part of this, the players must work out some way of communicating with the Afelyn.

Designer's Notes

The basis for the Afelyn, which I created after various attempts at finding good monster fuel for James Holloway's Monster Man Contest, was a rather unusual "toy" though one that was in many ways more similar to the stuff I actually played with most as a child - the body is formed by the acorn cup of a Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris), which . After various thoughts on what to do with it (including "tentacle blob monster" type ideas), I decided I wanted to keep its natural & autumnal connotations, and have a sort of walking bush creature. From this emerged the idea of having a creature that specifically embodied autumn, as a juxtaposition to the tendency for "woodland creatures" to be very summery/flowery/alive like pixies, dryads, elves, etc. My creature, the Aphollon (roughly a + phollon, "leafless", in the Greek) or as I anglicised it Afelyn, thus turned into the herald of autumn, feared by living things yet a vital (and in some ways benevolent) part of the cycle of life.

Most of this planning happened during sculpting - I got the connection point for the head and the basic stems of the arms done, then wrote the basic background above. After that I added the detail (arm fur, head, hands/staff, and mane) and then finally I wrote the story above. I hope people like my creation!
« Last Edit: November 25, 2017, 10:04:13 PM by Jubal »
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