The Headless Horseman in Burton's Sleepy Hollow

Headless Horseman

(Tim Burton version)

“The Horseman was a Hessian mercenary, sent to our shores by German princes to help keep Americans under the yoke of England. But unlike his compatriots who came for money, the Horseman came for love of carnage.”


There have been multiple adaptations of the 1820 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, By Washington Irving. This one is a 1999 horror movie by Tim Burton, with Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci. It was successful and well-reviewed.

As with many Tim Burton movies, the eerie visuals and atmosphere are a particular standout.

This profile has some S P O I L E R S.


Background (Horseman)

  • Marital Status: N/A.
  • Known Relatives: N/A.
  • Group Affiliation: N/A.
  • Base Of Operations: Hell.
  • Height: 5’3” Weight: 160 lbs.
  • Eyes: NoneHair: None

Background (Hessian)

  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: None.
  • Group Affiliation: None.
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile.
  • Height: 6’1” Weight: 170 lbs.
  • Eyes: Ice Blue Hair: Black, silvering.

Powers and Abilities

The Horseman has the remarkable fighting prowess of the Hessian in combination with supernatural strength and durability. The Horseman can be knocked down and even stunned by physical impact. But he cannot be injured or killed, except possibly by mystic means.


As a shade from Hell, neither the Horseman nor his equipment can intrude upon holy ground. Attempting to do so will cause them to disintegrate upon entry, though the Horseman could presumably simply be summoned again.

It should be noted that the Horseman and his property are only physical manifestations of his spirit. His actual body and equipment lie in his grave, with his sword embedded in the trunk of the Tree of the Dead which stands upon his resting ground.

The Horseman’s appearances are heralded by thunder and lightning. He has shown a limited control of that same weather, using his abilities to snuff out torches ahead of him for a more fearsome approach and smashing a guard tower with a bolt of lightning.


The movie trailer in 1080p, with a fair bit of Horseman footage.


The Horseman is the manifested spirit of a mercenary known only as “The Hessian.” The Hessian was one of many mercenaries sent to the United States during the American Revolutionary War by German princes who sympathized with England. Howbeit, he was motivated more by bloodlust than money.

The Hessian became renowned for charging into battle upon his steed Daredevil and decapitating whomever he encountered.

In 1779 as the American forces were retaking their cities, the Hessian was hunted down and killed by a group of American revolutionaries. As a final irony, they beheaded him with his own sword. The body was buried at that spot along with the severed head.

From Hell

Unbeknownst to the revolutionaries, the Hessian’s death was witnessed by a witch. Years later, she retrieved the Hessian’s skull, placing his soul under her command. The witch summoned the Hessian from Hell as the Headless Horseman and used him to carry out murders for her. His portal was the Tree of the Dead, a gnarled and blighted tree that had grown upon his grave.

The Horseman would decapitate his targets and attempt to bring their heads back to Hell with him as replacements for his own. But this never worked, the heads becoming trapped in the Tree of the Dead.

The Headless Horseman was stopped when New York City Inspector Ichabod Crane took the skull from the witch and returned it to the Horseman. Restored, the Hessian claimed the witch and took her back to Hell with him.


The Hessian was a tall, athletically built Caucasian male. He had a wild-eyed look accented by his wild tangle of graying hair and his teeth, which had been filed down to points.

The Hessian’s battle garb was a full set of black leather clothing: pants, a tunic, gloves, thigh-high riding boots, and a large cape lined with red silk. Metal scale is woven into the front of the tunic in the pattern of an ornate family crest with two dragons’ heads. His favorite weapons consisted of a pair of plain axes and an ornate sword with a dragon’s-head pommel.

As the Horseman, he was a head shorter. His clothing was more ragged and darker, having been seared by the fires of Hell.


When he was alive, the Hessian was motivated by the thrill of combat. As the Horseman, his sole purpose is to follow the orders of whoever has summoned him and he is very single-minded in pursuit of his goals.

He still enjoys the chaos of battle, though, and will take the opportunity to engage any persistent challengers in the course of his work.

DC Universe History

The Horseman would make an excellent minion for most any ill-intentioned sorcerer. Time traveling PCs (or long-lived ones) can encounter the Hessian in the past and run afoul of the Horseman in later years.

A modernized version of the horseman would use a motorcycle [BODY 07, SPI 10, STR 04, Running: 07, Invulnerability: 12, Hardened Defenses] and probably be armed with a shotgun or large pistol [use standard stats with Mystic-Linked EV and no Ammo Drawback].

Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG

Tell me more about the game stats

Headless horseman

Dex: 07 Str: 06 Bod: 06 Motivation: Obey master
Int: 04 Wil: 04 Min: 06 Occupation: Servitor
Inf: 04 Aur: 04 Spi: 08 Resources {or Wealth}: N/A
Init: 019 HP: 040

Detect (Those he is ordered to kill): 08, Invulnerability (ML): 12, Jumping: 01, Weather Control: 08

Bonuses and Limitations:
Weather Control cannot be used to attack the Horseman’s opponents directly (-2).

Acrobatics: 04, Animal Handling (Riding): 05, Charisma (Intimidation): 07, Martial Artist (EV): 08, Weaponry (Melee, Missile)*: 07

Iron Nerves, Lightning Reflexes, Stabilization, Shtick (Paired Melee Weapons).

CIA (Follow his summoner’s orders), MIA (Collecting the heads of his victims), Miscellaneous (Neither the Horseman nor his equipment can enter holy ground, -10 points), Strange Appearance (Headless).


  • LEATHER ARMOR [BODY 04, Skin Armor: 01].
  • Axe (x2) [BODY 10, SPI 10, EV 03 (07 w/ STR, 09 w/ MA)].
  • Sword [BODY 10, SPI 12, EV 04 (07 w/ STR, 09 w/ MA)].

The Horseman’s weapons are heated by “the fires of hell.” This does not do any additional damage, but does serve to cauterize any wounds inflicted by the sword, meaning injured parties will not bleed. Since the Horseman usually inflicts instantly fatal wounds, this is usually nothing more than a signature of his attacks.

The Horseman’s sword is an ethereal replica of his original sword; the actual sword can still be found near the Hessian’s grave. It is possible that the original sword might be an effective talisman of sorts against the Horseman, perhaps even inflicting mystic wounds that could not be negated by the Horseman’s Invulnerability.

Design Notes

I gave the Horseman Weather Control to explain incidents such as the fog that snuffed the flames and the destruction of the watchman’s post when the Horseman killed Master Masbeth. His weapons have a SPIRIT score since they are mystic duplicates of his original weaponry and could thus presumably be damaged by Mystic Attacks.

Daredevil , the Horseman’s steed

Dex: 03 Str: 05 Bod: 06
Int: 01 Wil: 01 Min: 02
Inf: 01 Aur: 01 Spi: 06
Init: 005 HP: N/A

Running: 06, Invulnerability (ML): 12

The Horseman’s Alter Ego: The Hessian

Dex: 07 Str: 04 Bod: 05 Motivation: Mercenary
Int: 04 Wil: 04 Min: 06 Occupation: Mercenary
Inf: 04 Aur: 04 Spi: 06 Resources {or Wealth}: 005
Init: 019 HP: 030

Acrobatics: 04, Animal Handling: 05, Charisma (Intimidation): 07, Martial Artist (EV)*: 07, Weaponry (Melee, Missile)*: 07

Iron Nerves, Lightning Reflexes.

CIA (Battle), Distinct Appearance (Wild-eyed look, pointed teeth), Shtick (Paired Melee Weapons).


  • Axe (x2) [BODY 06, EV 03 (05 w/ STR, 08 w/ MA)].
  • Sword [BODY 08, EV 04 (05 w/ STR, 08 w/ MA)].
  • LEATHER ARMOR [BODY 04, Skin Armor: 01].
  • Daredevil (as above, with SPI: 2 and no Invulnerability).

Summon Horseman Ritual

Effect: Dimension Travel (Only to summon the Horseman from Hell): 10, Hypnotism (Only to compel the Horseman’s obedience): 10
Time: 4 Phases.
Components: Hessian’s skull and a personal item of one of the intended victims.
Special: While the Horseman is bound to the summoner’s will he can claim the summoner’s soul if he gets his skull back; the Horseman must use the Tree of the Dead as his portal to and from Hell.
Cost: 48

This ritual summons the Horseman’s spirit from Hell. The Horseman must obey the caster’s orders, which can be stated at the time of the ritual and also modified at any time by verbal command from the caster. The Horseman always arrives on Earth at the Tree of the Dead, which serves as his portal to the netherworld.

The drawback to this spell is that if the Horseman reacquires his skull, he is not only freed from the caster’s dominion, but he can take the caster back to Hell with him. The Horseman cannot simply attack his summoner — the above happened as a result of Ichabod Crane taking the skull from its owner and giving it to the Horseman.

Tactical notes

In combat the Horseman tends to Press the Attack while attempting Critical Blows, for a total +1CS/-3CS to his opponent’s OV/RV and a -1CS to his own OV. If the Horseman inflicts RAPs equal to twice the target’s BODY after LDD (and any other applicable defensive measures), the target is assumed to have been killed by decapitation.

If engaged by multiple opponents, the Horseman will simply Multi-Attack in addition to the above, trusting that he can slay all of his foes before they can overwhelm him. His confidence in this regard is well deserved. Even when assaulted en masse by several soldiers sent to slay him, he decapitated most of them before they were able to kill him.

When fighting a worthy opponent (i.e., one whose skill level is close to his), the Horseman will draw out fights by Laying Back and allowing his adversary to waste his HPs trying to harm the Horseman. Once his enemy has used all of his HPs, the Horseman will strike his infamous killing blow.

By Roy Cowan.

Source of Character: Sleepy Hollow (movie and script).