Dando's Devil Dogs
An alliterative column on using folklore in tabletop RPGs
If there’s one thing English folklore adores, it’s a spooky black dog. From the Barghest and Black Shuck to the Shug Monkey and Gytrash, these spectral hounds love showing off their red eyes, hanging with the Devil, and acting as omens of death. Mythoi could run for years on ghostly canines alone.
Most black dogs too, as you might guess, are actively malevolent. So how about we start with some spectral dogs that can function as both friend and foe?
I. Dando’s Dogs
The core message of Dando’s Dogs is that of hubris, a tale of a wicked priest who went hunting on Sundays and was carried off by the Devil. It’s also the story of a dog’s loyalty and how that leads to them being tragically punished for their owner’s bad behaviour.
The legend begins with Dando, a sinful priest, relaxing after a Sunday hunt1. He drinks all the alcohol his companions brought and demands more still. This is when a strange huntsman appears and offers the priest his own drink. The already drunk Dando, clearly not realising he’s in a folktale, accepts.
Here the tale diverges.
In one telling, the huntsman bow seizes Dando’s game from the earlier hunt. Dando, trying to stop the theft, unwisely screams, "I'll go to Hell after them, but I'll get them from thee!"
In the other, Dando enjoys the huntsman’s drink so much he proclaims, also unwisely, "I'll gallop to Hell for more!”
Either way, the huntsman obliges his poor choice of words and pulls him atop his horse, whisking him away to Hell. This leaves Dando’s poor dogs to run after their owner in an endless futile pursuit, shedding their mortal forms in the process.
On stormy nights, or early Sunday mornings, Dando’s dogs can be seen or heard galloping across the moors. Local wisdom is that it’s best to steer clear of them.2
II. Or, the Devil’s Dandy Dogs
An alternative story frames the dogs as hellhounds—the Devil’s ‘Dandy Dogs’. In places like Cornwall, dandy dogs are said to snort fire and hunt the souls of the damned by night. In one tale, a pack of them chase a man until he falls to his knees and prays, scaring them off3. If you’re ever in such a situation, and the power of prayer fails, you can also try escaping across running water instead4.
This story has become conflated and enmeshed with Dando’s. If we take these to be the same dogs, perhaps their master being pulled into Hell transformed them into hellhounds. Is the Devil forcing Dando to hunt for him now, and if so, for what purpose? Alternatively, it’s possible the strange huntsman has become their new master.
Given the nature of dogs and the hunt, Dando’s dogs are also often associated with the Wild Hunt5. Perhaps this strange huntsman isn’t demonic at all then, but rather some troublesome ghost or spirit, or even one of the fey. If so, the dandy dogs might just be the prelude for some far greater hunt—and thus, a far greater danger.
Using Dando’s Dogs in Your Game
So, now you know the story, how can you use it in your game?
I. A Campfire Encounter
Dando and his dogs are a pretty obscure piece of folklore, unless you’re from Cornwall, so there’s nothing to say you can’t reuse the story within your own game! You can have Dando be a campfire encounter, someone the PCs stumble across just before nightfall, or someone who asks to join them at their own fire.
Either way, drinking to excess ensures, and that’s when the strange huntsman appears. Given that your average PC is likely a bit more genre-savvy that ol’ Dando, they’ll be able to have their hand in what happens next. And if the huntsman still pulls the poor cleric onto his horse and goes to flee, hopefully the PCs are feeling charitable enough to rescue him!
II. Breaking the Curse
Our next premise leans into the Wild Hunt aspect of the dandy dogs, a threat that can’t be avoided once it starts hunting. In this case, the Devil’s dogs have started menacing a local community, stalking the townsfolk and presaging a greater danger. Desperate, the town hires the party to find someone to drive off the spectral dogs for good.
Given the dogs are immortal, however, there’s only one way to stop them—finding their original owner and asking him to call them off. Of course, all that’ll require is a descent into some dangerous underground prison—or, if the party is really unlucky, Hell itself…
III. The Dog has a Fetch Quest
Alternatively, let’s show some sympathy for Dando’s dogs. If they really are cursed to wander forever without him, that’s going to start weighing on them! After centuries, they’ll be desperate and perhaps even gained a self-awareness far beyond an ordinary dog’s. Which means, through active pursual or chance, they might just end up requesting the party’s help.
In a fantasy world, this might require locating a lost tomb and putting Dando’s ghost to rest, or plumbing the depths of Hell itself. Or, in an urban fantasy setting, who’s to say the Devil still has Dando’s soul? After hundreds of years, he’s traded it to someone else. Now the party must find the new owner and figure out how to barter with them for Dando’s soul. Or, of course, they could just try and heist it…
If the party succeeds, Dando’s dogs will be forever in their favour. They’ll probably be reading to follow their old master into the hereafter, but they need to give the PCs something as a show of thanks. How about a whistle?
Dando’s Whistle (Magic Item)
A flint arrowhead fashioned into a shepherd’s whistle. Blowing into it releases a sound above human hearing and causes a dandy dog to arrive in 1d6 rounds. Its disposition regarding being summoned is based on a reaction check modified by past interactions.
If the dandy dog is killed, its soul moves on, and the whistle will only blow a low, mournful note in the future.
Dandy Dog Statistics
Depending on the nature of your dandy dogs, you can use the stat block for a Blink Dog, a Hellhound, or a regular Wolf with immunity to attacks not made with silver weapons or magic.
And that’s it for Dando’s devil dogs!
Mythoi passed its one-year anniversary last month, so a special thank you for being on this folklore journey with me! We’ll be back again soon with another piece of myth and legend.
Penny for your thoughts: Have you ever met, or used, a spectral black dog in one of your games?
~ A.C. Luke
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Original Banner Picture by Liza Phoenix
Hunt, Robert. Popular Romances of the West of England. Chatto & Windus, 1908.
“Beyond Faery III- Black dogs and other faery animals”. British Fairies. Accessed 12 July 2023.
Westwood, Jennifer. Albion. A Guide to Legendary Britain. London, 1985.