Time and time again, men are condemned to wander the earth after they die, unable to come to rest due to some injustice or simply the circumstances of their death itself.
Thus spring up the myriads of ghosts, apparitions and wraiths which plague the living.
Sometimes, though, it’s not a man at all, who is kept from their eternal rest, but an animal.
The dead fox is one such spectral beast.
Killed for crimes he didn’t commit, the dead fox is a victim of injustice born from ignorance and masquerading as righteousness.
Wherever the chickens might have vanished to, it wasn’t the gullet of the fox. He didn’t steal the eggs or went after the goose, he didn’t break the milk bowl set down on the porch and never did he bite the children. He did not even sneak around the house at night. But for the farmer, there can be no doubt concerning his guilt, and when the fox refuses to fall for the traps he laid out – ’cause he’s clever as the devil, says the farmer, in reality, though, because he never came near them in the first place – the farmer takes his farmhand and the dogs with him into the woods – with fatal consequence.
The alleged thief is dead, and while his pups clamor and howl in the warren, his judge and executioner sits in his own warm den and smugly smokes his pipe – that one, he thinks, won’t touch my chickens no more.
Later, though, – perhaps the very same night, perhaps on the fatal hunt’s first anniversary and from then on year after year – he will wake up in cold sweat, as his dogs whine and hide behind the oven. Something unseen stalks and sniffs and scratches outside. Stepping into the wood, the farmer cannot shake the feeling of some malevolent presence following his every move.
Beyond that, it might be the milk going sour or the eggs cracking. Perhaps the chickens lie dead in the morning, died of fright in the middle of the night.
If it comes especially bad, the farmer might find his favourite dog, his throat bitten clean through, with a lonely fox trail, coming out of nowhere and leading nowhere nearby – if there should be any sign of the killer at all.
The dead fox is back.
This idea sprang from the question of what to do with a dead fox (or rather the dead fox) in an adventure (let’s not go into where that question came from in the first place). As such it wasn’t bound to any specific setting or system, and as the dead fox isn’t meant to be a challenge of the combat variety, we skip over the issue of providing a stat block.
Indeed, the key to using the fox (in an adventure) is to take a cue from classic ghost stories, and letting the players first figure out the connection between the hunt and the haunting, and then have them put the fox to rest by somehow righting the wrong done to him.
What exactly might be necessary to finally give the fox ghost its peace might vary.
It could be anything from an honest apology by the farmer followed by a solemn oath to never hunt a fox again, over the identification of the true culprit of the crimes heaped on the fox, to the most bloody and brutal revenge, killing the hunter and his children the same way the fox and his pups had to suffer.
Personally, I am especially partial to the second of the three ideas sketched out above, mainly because of the idea of a ghost and fairy tale-like game that has begun to haunt my thoughts while refining of the idea.