Monster of the Week: The Banshee

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Also Known As: Bean-Nighe, Bean Si, Bean Sidhe, Cyoeraeth, Gwrach-y-Rhibyn, Hag of the Mist, Washer at the Banks, Washer at the Ford, Washer of the Shrouds

Description: Banshees look like human women, often with delicate features reminiscent of the traditional description of fairies. Most banshees appear as either beautiful young women or decrepit old crones, but appearances between these two extremes are also possible. A banshee can alter her apparent age, but no matter what age the banshee appears to be, she still looks like the same person, just at a different stage of life. Banshees traditionally have long hair and wear simple, usually white, gowns but this is by no means universal.

BMA Classification: Banshees are classified as monsters by the Bureau of Monster Affairs.

Powers: Although they look solid to the naked eye, banshees are ectoplasmic in nature. They can interact with the physical world normally, but are very difficult to harm with standard weapons. In addition, the banshee’s wail is so terrifying that it can paralyze a person with fear. Rumors that banshees can shapeshift (typically into mist or a crow) are unconfirmed, but have not been disproven.

Vulnerabilities: Banshees are vulnerable to iron weapons and holy water. In addition, destroying a banshee’s silver comb will banish it.

Biology and Habitat: Because they exhibit traits similar to fairies, ghosts, and extradimensional spirits, it is difficult to definitively classify banshees. Paranormal researcher Andrew J. O’Casey has theorized that Banshees are actually a combination of all three types of being, and are ghosts of fairies who have been subverted by an evil spirit. Award-winning comic book author and self-proclaimed “fairy expert” Chloe Jenkins (who claims to have visited the fairy realm on numerous occasions) disputes this claim. According to Jenkins, fairies are virtually immortal in their own dimension, making the likelihood of enough fairy ghosts attaching to evil spirits to account for all banshee sightings mathematically improbable.

Regardless of exactly what they are, banshees normally make their presence known in one of two ways. The first is by wailing when someone (often an important person) is about to die. Banshees performing such a death wail are rarely actually seen, but when they are spotted they’re usually in their hag form. According to legend, those who know the person that the wail is intended for can hear the person’s name in the wail if they listen closely.

Banshees are also encountered  (usually in their younger form) near rivers and streams either combing their hair or washing the bloody clothes of the dead. Folklore is full of stories about ways that a banshee in this form can be tricked into granting wishes or revealing the future, but all of these claims are highly unlikely and agents are advised against attempting them.

All banshees possess a silver comb that somehow grounds them to our reality. Some banshees carry the comb on their person or wear it in their hair, but others hide their combs, usually near or in the body of water that they haunt. Destroying the comb will banish them from our world, at least temporarily.

Most reported banshee encounters come from the folklore of the British Isles, particularly Ireland. According to legend, a banshee appears and wails a warning whenever a patriarch or other important member of the  Kavenagh, O’Brien, O’Connor, O’Grady, and O’Neill families is about to die. Another tales claims that a banshee predicted the death King James I of Scotland. In America, banshees are often reported in areas with large populations of Irish descendants, but it’s unclear whether these reports are simply the result of surviving folklore or actual monsters who have followed particular families to America. There are only three American banshee reports that are well-documented enough to seem somewhat credible:

  • While there was no reliable investigation into the matter, there are a number of contemporary reports of a banshee wailing for President Ulysses S. Grant in the final days of his life. Rumors circulating on the internet claim that Grant’s banshee is addressed in the unreleased portions of Mark Twain’s autobiography. While there are conflicting reports as to weather Twain supports or debunks the legend, many monster experts feel that the tone of Twain’s commentary on the phenomenon (if such commentary exists) will provide insight into the veracity of the Grant banshee stories.
  • In one of the taped interviews recorded by Quinn Library staff during the 1980s, Mike Mulligan discusses a banshee case from his days with the Herrick Private Detective Agency. While he was investigating the murder of a wealthy shipping magnate in Boston, Mulligan and his team heard a terrible wailing that seemed to be crying out the name of the murder victim’s son. Once they realized what they were dealing with and did some research, the detectives managed to destroy the creature. Upon returning to the original investigation, Mulligan discovered a plot by the murderer (a business rival) to kill the son as well. With the banshee banished and the murderer in jail, the young man ended up living another 56 until he died of natural causes.
  • In 1984, a group of M-Forcers investigated a banshee targeting a pharmacist in Tacoma, Washington. The M-Forcers managed to track down and destroy the banshee, but the pharmacist was killed in a home invasion shortly before M-Force engaged with the creature.

Additional Information: On numerous occasions during his lifetime, Dr. Henry Field debunked rumors that banshees were heard shortly before the slug attack that killed Abernathy Quinn and Sadie Widderstadt. Stories of banshees wailing for Dr. Fields shortly before his death are also fabricated.

Body: 12
Brain: 12
Nerve: 15
Job: Harbinger of Death (13)
Gimmick: Wail (15) –The banshee may use the the wail to either cause fear or to cause bad luck. When the banshee uses the fear wail, everyone who can hear must make a Nerve check against her Gimmick roll. Anyone who loses is paralyzed with fear for a number of rounds equal to the difference of the rolls. The roll to cause bad luck affects a single target, who must also make a Nerve roll against the banshee’s Gimmick roll. If the target loses the resisted roll, he suffers a -2 penalty to all rolls and can’t spend Yum Yums for a number of days equal to ⅓ of the difference between the rolls. Each wail can be used once per day.
Weakness: Focus Item (15) — The banshee must remain within 7 miles of her silver comb at all times and is banished from our reality for 7 years if the comb is destroyed. A banshee can teleport to the location of her comb at will (no roll required) and can sense when anyone touches it. The comb has 30 H.P. Attacks against the comb are treated as attacks against the banshee using an armor rating of 5 instead of 15, with damage applied to the comb rather than the banshee. If the PCs have somehow separated the banshee from the comb (for example, by magically trapping her), the comb has an Armor Rating of 5, but any roll other than a natural 20 will hit it. In order to banish the banshee, the comb must be actually broken apart (so crushing it in a trash compactor, for example, will only make the banshee angry).
Skills: Know How You’re Gonna Die +3; Mind Reading +2
Armor Rating: 15 (this reflects the fact that most weapons pass right through the banshee, not the fact that she has natural armor). Iron weapons and holy water ignore the banshee’s armor rating.
Damage Bonus: +1
HP: 20 (A banshee reduced to zero H.P. is banished from our dimension for 7 days)
Yum Yums: 2
Additional Game Information: Banshees can only wail the names of those who are fated to die (not those the banshee simply wants dead). On the first night of a banshee’s death wail, make a Gimmick roll. The person will die in a number of days equal to 20 minus the roll (treat failed rolls as zero) unless the banshee is banished by having her comb destroyed before time is up. Characters may decipher the name being wailed by making a brain roll with a modifier based on how well they know the person (-15 for a total stranger to +5 for a close friend or relative).

Whether or not a banshee can shapeshift is entirely up to the GM. It can be one of their abilities, or the rumor might have originated to explain the banshee’s sudden disappearance when she teleports to her comb.

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