The Ballad of King Pumpkin Head


J. Edward Tremlett


Dig up your grave, the old lady said
The thing we need lies here dormant, sleeping with the dead
You understand what you ask of me
Not even death can set your soul free

"Pumpkin Head" - The Misfits


Almost everyone who's been in the Haunters long enough has heard a Pumpkin Head story. The Guild still talks about the aptly-named Bedlameer, and when they do it is with a mixed sense of reverence and respect... not to mention fear.

No one is entirely certain of who Pumpkin Head was when he was still alive. There are a number of stories, but they all contradict one another. Was he a man who sold his soul to the Devil for eternal life, only to be tricked and turned into a pumpkin-headed scarecrow? Was he a farmer who tried to make a witch raise his dead son, only to be turned into a ghastly parody of a man in the bargain? Or was he a crazed killer who tried to flee retribution by hiding in a pumpkin patch, only to be burned to death by the angry mob?

One of the more well-travelled - and possibly self-serving - stories says that Pumpkin Head was the result of a demented wager between a member of each Alliance. An overly-confident Dante pointed out a man whom he thought was the strongest and most faithful in a town, and boasted that no one could ever shake him. The others accepted his bet, and, one by one, they each tried to drive him insane.

All the others tried their worst, but failed: the man was just too strong, too devout and too wily to be undone by the likes of them. However, in the end one Haunter finally broke him - a member of the Alliance the storyteller belongs to, of course - and before too long that man stalked the land, wearing a carved pumpkin for a mask as he did things that none like to dwell upon. In time he was caught and punished by mortal authorities, but quickly reaped by the wraith who had turned him, and brought into the fold.

Oddly enough, even if that were the truth. no one has ever truly named the Haunter who pushed Pumpkin Head over the edge. And no one has tried to take credit for having been that one, either. It seems that even the Bedlameers are not so bold, nor as crazed, to risk it.

And given what happened to Pumpkin Head, that's very understandable...

While his origin might be in dispute, there is no question that Pumpkin Head was the most powerful Haunter in existance. He was the epitome of the Bedlameers Alliance: a master of the Shroud-rending Arts. They say he was even more powerful than Midian, if you can believe that.

He was definately more notorious, at any rate: a consumate madman whose every action was a bloody and demented hymn sung to the Wyld. Some even say that he was the Wyld, given that he supposedly caused the fabric of reality to warp underfoot...

The Haunters speak of how he once decimated an entire city in the Skinlands, driving the inhabitants to mass murder and suicide over a period of days. They whisper of how he taunted the strongest of minds to mayhem, and seduced the most devout and pious into doing anything he might care to name.

It's also said that Pumpkin Head was the inspiration for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as well as numerous other sightings of pumpkin-headed tatterdemalions throughout history. There are even movies about someone named Pumpkin Head, these days: a definate coup for the Guild, even if the films are largely unworthy of him (according to the Caligarians, anyway...)

Pumpkin Head's fame was rightly spread far and wide for his great masterpieces of horror and wonder. For a time it was considered a badge of honor to have been brought into the Haunters by Pumpkin Head, or even by someone who he himself had brought in. He had numerous followers, scattered throughout the Guild, who doted on his every word and catered to his every whim.

But then, one day, drunk on his own power, he went too far. Pumpkin Head declared himself the leader of the Haunters - King Pumpkin Head. He demanded that all Alliances disband, that all treaties and deals with the aliens be foresworn, and that Wyld-spawned chaos be let loose upon every corner of the Shadowlands and Skinlands.

Now, he might yet have survived all this: how many other Haunters had made even more crazed demands over the ages? The Sphinx, of Las Vegas, still calls himself the Master of Time, and requires coin or relic watches from anyone who operates on "his" turf. And then there was "Emperor" Shivery Jelly Jenny, and her strange demands to have Stygia renamed the Dark Kingdom of Ice Cream.

But Pumpkin Head's proclamation of leadership reached the ears of Sweet Sorrow - "leader" of the Bedlameers - and she was not amused in the slightest by his presumption. She called him into her presence, one day not long after his proclamation. And from that day forward, King Pumpkin Head was never seen again.

Or so they say...

Still others say that even Sweet Sorrow herself was incapable of completely destroying Pumpkin Head, given how powerful he was. They claim that all she could do was bind his whirling mind and immense, chaotic power into a physical object for her to control. But she soon discovered that, even in this lesser state, Pumpkin Head was no one's mere tool to be used, and ordered the maddening thing locked away.

And there are those say that the object - a Relic Jack O'Lantern - escaped, somehow. They say that one of the other, rival Alliances got their hands on it. And if you know the right person to talk to, and are willing to pay a Deathlord's ransom in favors, coin and other considerations, they say that Pumpkin Head might be yours to play with... for a while.

Unfortunately for all involved, they're right.

Pumpkin Head: Level 5 Relic(?); Unique Weapon

Should any Haunter be able to gain the hard-won trust - and meet the price - of those few, remaining followers of Pumpkin Head who survived Sweet Sorrow's wrath, he may be allowed to use the last, remaining remnant of King Pumpkin Head for a day and a night. The stories say that the Relic offers great power, and the Haunters who guard it readily confirm this. But what they don't say is that there's a good chance the wraith may end up being used by Pumpkin Head in the bargain...

The Relic comes in a pitch-black hatbox adorned with fuzzy bats and tiny, ivory skulls. Inside is what appears to be a Relic Jack O'Lantern, maybe about the size of a man's head, and carved with a deceptively joyful, innocent face. Perceptive wraiths get the idea that the "Relic" is actually someone's corpus, shrunk down and altered via Moliate, but nothing they do either confirms or disproves this notion.

In order to be used, five Pathos and two Willpower must be placed into Pumpkin Head, and the wraith must replace his head with the Relic; His head must be physically removed. This operation - which will most likely require the cooperation of another wraith - does two levels of Aggravated Damage which cannot be soaked, and lasts until the wraith is reunited with his real head. The head is insensate during this time, but springs back to life once the wearer removes the Relic from his neck.

Wearing Pumpkin Head gives a number of amazing advantages:

* The user gets five extra dice for Pandemonium rolls, and three extra dice on rolls for other Shroud-rending Arcanoi (Embody, Flux, etc.)

* Consider the wraith to have access to all known Pandemonium Arts. (He will not remember how to use them once Pumpkin Head is removed)

* The Shroud is lowered by two levels wherever Pumpkin Head's wearer goes.

* All mortals affected by the user react as though their Willpower were one less for the purposes of The Fog.

* Once per Scene, the user can roll his Manipulation + Pumpkin Head's Pandemonium of 5 to warp the immediate area in the Shadowlands, courtesy of the Wyld. Consider the area to have fallen under the spell of * Weirdness, as well as *** Stretching Reality (GB:H). This costs the user nothing, but grants a point of Temporary Angst.

But it's not all fun and games: there are a number of serious disadvantages for wearing the Pumpkin Head.

For starters, experiencing the world through the eyes of Pumpkin Head is a little difficult: all Perception-based rolls are at a +2 difficulty. Also, Pumpkin Head suffered from the Wyld Quirk Hallucinations, and the wearer now has to deal with it, too. However, these flashbacks, daydreams and illusions are generated by Pumpkin Head, and are therefore guaranteed to be sick and disturbing.

Another, more serious problem is that Pumpkin Head is very much "alive," and wants to be let loose to wreak havoc once more. If the wraith who wears the Relic spends all his Pathos, then the Storyteller should roll Pumpkin Head's Current Willpower of 2 against the wearer's Current Willpower in a resisted roll. If the wearer wins, nothing happens, but should Pumpkin Head win, he usurps control of the body for an entire day.

Once freed, King Pumpkin Head uses this time to summon his still-consiferable followers, and together they commit vast, stupefying attrocities in the Skinlands. He also tries to find any Bedlameers he can get his hands on and force them to reveal the location of Sweet Sorrow, whom he very much wishes to send down into The Void.

By the time the hapless wraith regains control of his body, Pumpkin Head might have destroyed his entire standing in the Guild. He might also have created enough carnage to disgust and revolt even the most hardened Nihilist. (A cause for some more Angst? Oh yes. Definately)

And there is yet another drawback: the wraith needs to hide his real head somewhere safe, as any damage done to it is transfered to the wraith, wherever he may be. If the wraith should be dropped to zero Corpus in this manner, then he goes into a Target Harrowing as normal. But if he should fail the Harrowing he loses two Permanent Corpus, and ever thereafter his head aquires a slightly orange tinge and lumpy texture that only Moliation can hide.

Note that hiding the head with the wraiths who sold it to him is not a good idea. Should he be so much as one minute late in returning Pumpkin Head, they take turns using Outrage ***** Obliviate on the wraith's real head until the would-be thief falls into a Harrowing.

Pumpkin Head then falls down to the ground, licks his orange lips and goes dormant once more. Someone eventually finds him before the Bedlameers can reclaim him, and spirits the Relic away to safety. And the game begins all over again.