A Tale of Nightmares Part 12 - A Slaad and a Story

Dirty Secrets and Nightmares is a Dungeons and Dragons (DnD 5e) game set in a Ravenloft Domain of Dread, New Solamnia. Play takes place every Friday night at Dragons Keep Roleplay Club in Chislehurst, South East London. The Dungeon Master is Sam.

Five people previously unknown to each other have found themselves strangely transported to a land none of them are familiar with, and banded together to investigate what has brought them here - and survive. According to the locals, it is usually a peaceful place. This is not the party's experience, as strange happenings surround them and monsters stir.

The party consists of:

·Sir Gerigold - A Male Half-Elven Oath of Redemption Paladin of the Morninglord (played by Paul)

·Hazard Darkstar - A Male Human Rune Knight Fighter (played by Alexander)

·Greynen Falstaer - A Male Half-Elven Warlock of the Archfey, Pact of the Tome (played by Mark)

·Morgaen Nightbreeze - A Female Half-Elven Bard of the College of Spirits (played by Imogen)

·Ragnar son of Bjorn - A Male Human Tempest Cleric of Thor (played by Alex)

The party area heading northeast through New Solamnia, searching for Greynen’s sister Olaria. She disappeared over a year ago, but Greynen has heard that someone answering her description was in New Solamnia, trying to catch up to a halfling trader and an adventuring party he hired. They were all heading for a town called either Wardwood or Wardenwood, but a strange forgetfulness afflicts the people of this area and few people had a good idea of either the name of the town or the name of the people travelling there…

The party returned to Torvain and Iskoval’s cabin – watching carefully, but the strange aggression which had affected the creatures of the area seemed to have vanished with the Mindshard’s destruction. The mages were happy to see them again, and Torvain presented them with the device he had promised them for finding and rescuing Iskoval. It appeared to be a leather satchel, but Torvain appeared very proud of it – and when he opened it to show them, it was clear why. The space inside appeared to be much larger than outside.

“It is a Bag of Holding – it will hold up to five hundred pounds, but will only ever weigh fifteen,” he said. “I felt that this would be useful for all of you while you are travelling together.”

The party agreed, and thanked him. Ragnar took charge of the bag and placed the Disks of Fate they had collected so far into it, along with everything else that people decided to put there.

Morgaen cast a divination on the shortsword left behind when the Mindshard was destroyed. It was indeed magical – besides that, it would give the holder blindsight within ten feet, and the ability to detect the thoughts of other creatures once a day. It had a name – Mindsplinter. Morgaen explained to Ragnar that it would not do as much damage as his warhammer, and besides, he had recently named the weapon, hadn’t he? Thunderbreaker -- a good name. And reading thoughts was a sneaky thing, much more appropriate for her than for a cleric of such a forthright god as his, wasn’t it? She kept Mindsplinter.

After they had rested, she also asked the two mages for directions to the town they were looking for – called Wardwood or Wardenwood, their information had not been clear…

“Wardenwood? I haven’t been there in years,” Iskoval said. “It’s on the other side of the Snowy Mountains – just under a week’s travel, once you’re actually past the mountains. Esra is the closer town – and it has a tavern, the Black Rose, which usually has some eclectic characters there. Wardenwood is a much simpler place, less interesting to visit.”

When Morgaen asked about the city they had heard was on the other side of the mountains, however, Iskoval thought for a moment – then the slightly confused expression the party were familiar with from Tenbrim crept over his face.

“I can’t recall a city…” the tiefling said, slowly. Unlike the townsfolk of Tenbrim, the mage seemed to be bothered by this. “I don’t travel all that much…”

“And of course you’re focused on your experiments here, both of you – which is a form of travel in the mind, isn’t it?” Morgaen said, quickly, to smooth over the awkward moment.

“Yes – I’m glad someone appreciates that,” Iskoval said, looking more comfortable. “Very likely I wouldn’t recall a city if I didn’t have to travel there for what we needed. Anyway, Esra is about three days east of the Snowy Mountains. The best way to travel there is by one of the riverboats – when the river isn’t frozen. But when the river is frozen, it’s much harder – the river goes through cliffs, thick forest, marshes, the banks are impassable at times. Most people wait until the river thaws to travel, if it’s frozen when they get there.”

“It’s summer,” Hazard pointed out.

“Yes, but you never know when there’s going to be an unexpected cold snap,” Iskoval said, shrugging.

The party exchanged looks. Even Ragnar, who came from a northern part of his world with long, icy winters, was sure that a river suddenly freezing over in summer was not normal unless magic was involved.

“But you could get round along the river, even if it was difficult?” Greynen asked. “We’re trying to catch up with my sister – and we’ve lost another two days with that bloody meteorite.”

Since the meteorite had not, in the end, given them any more information about the Dark Lord or seemed to be the harbinger of a coming cataclysm, he had become restless again.

“I really wouldn’t try it, I’ve travelled by boat myself and seen the banks when the river isn’t frozen and it would be challenging enough then,” Iskoval advised. “I can only imagine the conditions when the river is frozen.” He took in Greynen’s expression. “There is supposed to be a shortcut through the mountains,” he added. “Most of the Snowy Mountain range is too dangerous, those who go in don't come out, but there is supposed to be a pass somewhere in the middle. I’ve never found it myself – but then, I’ve never been in that much of a hurry, so I’ve never looked.”

“And you’d probably catch up to anyone who went by boat that way, I imagine. Right. If the river’s frozen, we’re looking for the pass,” Greynen told the others.

He was inclined to set out that afternoon, but the others pointed out that after the serious injuries some of them had suffered in the fight, they would not be able to travel a decent distance from the Mindshard’s haze before they had to camp for the night – and an extra night’s camping in an area where wolves had recently been possessed and might, therefore, have got behind in their hunting and be rather hungry now, did not seem the most sensible plan.

That night, Greynen thought for a moment that he was waking up - but when he opened his eyes, his surroundings were somehow indistinct and he could not feel his body.

Ah. One of those dreams.

He did not try to get a better idea of his surroundings -- that was not important. He turned round, and his archfey patron Cyone was standing there, in front of him.

"You have done well so far, my child," her voice whispered - although her mouth did not appear to move. "But you must take care now - I cannot say much, but you will need to exercise great caution over the next few days. Things will not be as they seem."

He was about to ask questions anyway - but she either read that in his mind or knew him well enough to expect it. He seemed only to blink - and then he was in his bedroll, staring at the canvas awning they were camping under on the cold ground outside Torvain and Iskoval's cabin, next to a dying fire.

They set out early that day. At intervals, first one path then others joined theirs, developing into a wider beaten track that was more of a road - although the party could not see the names of any places that these tracks went to. The mountains were looming ever closer, and a chill started to enter the air. The idea of a sudden cold snap and a river freezing over in summer no longer seemed so unlikely.

As the evening drew in, the party caught sight of a campfire up ahead.

“It’s about dinner time,” Ragnar said happily. “Shall we go and ask if we can share their fire?”

They came around the corner about one hundred and twenty feet away from the fire. Drawn up near it was a large covered wagon; two big draft horses were picketed nearby. And a large creature, about the size of a troll or ogre but with an odd bulk to it, was walking around, swathed in a cloak and carrying a staff. It appeared to be dragging something away from the campfire – and on closer inspection, what it was dragging was a humanoid corpse, its head caved in as if by a heavy staff – like the one the large creature was carrying. The creature had one large reptilian hand around both of the corpse’s ankles, and pitched it under the trees with two other dead humanoids, then turned and headed back to the fire and the wagon.

Morgaen stared as the creature neared the campfire again and she got a better look at what was visible of it, then dropped back and readied her guitar.

“I think it’s a thing called a slaad,” she said, quietly. “A creature from Limbo. And it’s green – they come in different colours – the green ones are intelligent. They’re spellcasters.”

The creature climbed onto the end of the wagon, and appeared to start rummaging through it, vanishing inside.

Sir Gerigold told the others to wait, not to attack until he had spoken to it, as required by his oath – the creature had done nothing dangerous to them yet, and it was not even certain that it had killed the bodies it was removing. He and Ragnar rode forward. Taking a look at the corpses as they went, they could see that they were indeed human, and were wearing leather armour.

Sir Gerigold hailed the creature from the edge of the light.

“Hello, good – sir! It is a fine evening!”

The wagon shook for a moment, then the creature’s head appeared. It did not appear bothered – although it was hard to tell.

“May I ask if you are responsible for this?” the paladin enquired, waving a hand in the direction of the corpses.

The creature made vague gestures around its mouth and ears, then reached under its cloak.

“Component pouch!” Morgaen hissed to Hazard and Greynen. They tensed.

Ragnar had also seen this.

“One wrong move and I’ll smash your head in with Thunderbreaker!” he threatened.

But the creature produced a small piece of paper instead. It looked around for a moment – a small monkey suddenly jumped from inside the wagon onto its shoulder. The slaad held up the scrap of paper, and the monkey grabbed it, leapt down, then scampered over to Sir Gerigold, climbing a nearby tree and holding the paper out to him.

He looked at it – there was writing in Common.

I cannot speak to you. May I communicate through your mind?

He called out to the others, letting them know the creature’s offer. Morgaen cautiously declined but the others, curious, agreed to let the creature speak through their minds.

Sir Gerigold indicated to the creature which of them were open to this, and it nodded.

-I thank you,- a dry, rasping voice said in their minds, -My mouth cannot make the sounds for your language, so it is really impossible for me to communicate with others in this world except this way. My name is Zurgal, Sir Gerigold.-

“This world? May I take it that you have come here from elsewhere, as we have?” Sir Gerigold asked.

-Yes, I did, but much longer ago than you have – I was travelling across the planes of existence with several others of my kind, from our homeworld of Limbo, but there was some interruption in our travel and I ended up here. I have been searching for my companions, and for some way for us to leave, ever since.-

“And… to return to my previous question, may I ask if you killed these people?”

-Yes, I did – in self-defence. Unlike you, they saw me and attacked straight away.-

Ragnar walked over to the bodies – two had had their heads staved in, and one appeared to have been burned to death. However, what most drew his attention was the red and black check kerchiefs wrapped around the lower part of their faces. He told Sir Gerigold this – it appeared to be some kind of uniform.

“Bandits, I suppose,” Sir Gerigold said, with distaste. He told the others of this discovery, and apologised to Zurgal for being suspicious. The slaad said it was very reasonable under the circumstances and invited the party to share his campfire. The others came closer. The bard, despite not wanting to let a strange spellcaster read her thoughts, definitely wanted to know what was under discussion, and was pestering Hazard to repeat everything as it happened. She pointed out to the others, when he had done so, that the slaad did appear to be reading their minds as well as communicating with them. Sir Gerigold decided to ignore this as probably a consequence of the method of communication rather than a hostile act.

-Your companion appears hostile to this form of communication,- Zurgal commented, as they gathered around the fire. Once this had been repeated, Morgaen explained diplomatically that they had just had an encounter with something that attempted to control their minds, which made her hesitant about this just at the moment. The slaad said that this was quite understandable, and the monkey came to sit next to her, looking up at her every so often. This attention did not help to alleviate Morgaen’s suspicions.

Sir Gerigold told Zurgal, who was very interested, the whole story of the mind-controlling meteorite, then returned the conversation to travel between worlds.

“You said that you came here by accident. Do you know where this place is? We have never been sure how we arrived.”

-Indeed I and my friends, if they are also in this world, came here by accident. I am sorry to tell you, but no-one would willingly come to this place – it is horrific!-

The party looked at each other.

-Have you seen the mists? The mists surround this place, and imprison those who would leave. Whatever you do, never walk into them.-

“We did so, once,” Sir Gerigold said, and the slaad started and gazed at them with surprise. “They were… certainly hostile. There seemed to be strange things in them – but we reappeared where we had first entered this land without encountering any.”

-Then you were lucky. I would not recommend trying it again. There are indeed strange things in those mists – I would never risk that way to leave, myself. This land seems fair, but it is a small part of a dark dimension, and the mists are barriers to that place, where some of its worst creatures roam as guardians – some call it the Shadowfell.-

“I have heard of something like that,” Morgaen told the others, slowly, when Hazard had repeated it to her. “In old stories – a place where evil people were sent, because horrible things happened there…”

“New Solamnia does not seem as bad as all that,” Sir Gerigold pointed out. “More dangerous than its surprisingly forgetful residents think, but many parts of it are quite nice.”

-Each domain is shaped by its ruler,- Zurgal said, -and may depict different parts of their life. No creature starts out fully evil – some places in a domain will reflect what they were, before others start to reflect what they became.-

“There are many of these domains?”

-Yes, at least ten that I had heard of before arriving here, but possibly many more. All of them imprison those who somehow arrive here, and all of them are ruled by their chief prisoner – their Dark Lord.-

“The Dark Lord!” several of the party exclaimed.