Updated: Jan 8
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 have 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 are travelling into the Snowy Mountains, searching for another group of adventurers called the Red Drakes – recently joined by Greynen’s sister Olaria, but now overdue. Although it is summer, the weather has suddenly turned unseasonably cold…
The cold snap continued as they climbed higher into the mountains, the temperatures dropping further. The slopes were gentle enough at first, but Nim Graygos had warned them that one reason the Frostfall Pass was so little used, with nearly everyone preferring to wait out the cold snaps and go by river, was its impassibility to horses. Mules might just about get through, but even they were likely to fall at difficult bits, and riding horses hadn’t a chance – so they had left the horses with him, at the jetty on the river. Without the Bag of Holding, they would not have been able to carry enough wood for even one night and would have been dependent on finding it along the way – so they were grateful for Torvain’s gift, which allowed them to head into the mountains confident that they had enough rations and wood for at least three nights’ camping to search for the Red Drakes.
The party had taken an hour or so to cut the wood, but they delayed no longer – Greynen was anxious to get searching for the Red Drakes and his sister, and his impatience gave a restless energy to the rest of the party. He had told them all about his dream of two nights ago – his patron giving a particular warning for the next few days. She had not done before they faced the creature in the Valkyr Mausoleum, the possessed priest in the crypts beneath the church in Tenbrim, or even the Mindshard that had possessed three of them before its defeat, so this warning put them all a little on edge.
The trail very quickly became steep, with some rocky scrambles and narrow ledges along steep cliffs or the gorges of rushing streams to negotiate. Gradually, they climbed higher, the icy river dwindling to a narrow streak of reflected sunlight behind them, and the forest also falling away (Ragnar excitedly pointing out where he thought he could see the haze over the Mindshard’s crater), until the trail took them deeper into the mountains and all they could see behind them were rocky slopes with occasional glimpses of distant forested hills. As they got even higher, they reached the snowline – there were still pine trees around, and thorny bushes, but there were first patches and then a carpet of snow underfoot. Some of the party had never travelled under such conditions before, but Ragnar strode along happily making the pace when they marched and harassing Greynen into resting instead of pacing up and down whenever they took a quick breather after a more punishing stretch of the trail.
Edging carefully in the lead along a two-foot wide stretch of path, Sir Gerigold was the first to catch sight of the Upper Frostfall – a great cataract fed by glaciers much higher in the mountains, which might be dry in the winter when everything was frozen but gushed clear, cold water each summer. The unseasonable chill had settled quickly, giving rise to the phenomenon the Frostfalls were named after – the water was gushing out from under a shelf of ice, carrying chunks of ice plunging over the cliff to bob along the river.
“That is actually beautiful,” he murmured, taking it in, before Ragnar and Hazard behind him started complaining and telling him to keep moving, dammit!
Once the narrow ledge widened and joined a wider shelf of rock bending round to the cliff, they all stopped and took in the valley. The trail to the pass went through this valley, a bowl-shaped area surrounded by steep cliffs but with a few shallower slopes – the one they had entered on, and another across the valley where the trail continued. The sides of the bowl dipped to the right, curving down to where the river burst over the edge of the valley and fell in the next step of the Frostfall cataracts. It looked as if the whole area might at one time have been a lake, until the water spilled over and then wore away more and more of an exit for itself, so that now the valley made a step between the two waterfalls, with one much smaller fall as an intermediate step about a third of the way from the upper cataract. There were trees and bushes scattered around closer to the river itself, where there was presumably soil rather than rock under the snow.
It was very, very beautiful – but the party were unable to spend much time appreciating this. On the far side of the river, a group of figures were clinging to the cliffs or squatting on small ledges – white-furred figures, each larger than the average man and bulkier, although not taller, even than Hazard or Sir Gerigold. They appeared to be some form of ape – and although they had not encountered them before, the party did not like the way the creatures appeared to be watching them.
Morgaen’s eyes turned up in her head momentarily as she felt in her pouch for the candle she used in seances, and used it as a focus to open her senses to the spirit world.
“They’re mountain apes,” she said, after a moment. “They are natural here… they are great climbers and know the land well. They’re normal animals, nothing… sinister about them, or anything like that –”
“Good – let’s keep going,” Greynen said, and took a step towards the river.
Morgaen caught his arm.
“- but they do eat meat,” she continued, “and by ‘eat meat’ I mean that several of the local ghosts have, er, significant first-hand experience with them.”
The party eyed the creatures warily again.
The mountain apes eyed them back, with clear interest.
“We should try to think of some way to scare them off peacefully,” Sir Gerigold said, ill at ease. “I should not like to visit violence on creatures that are just following their instincts, if possible.”
“Might also be an idea not to cross the river one at a time,” Greynen added, consideringly.
The river was a known obstacle – at some times of year the water level was low enough just to walk across, but at others you had to wade. The party had planned for Hazard or Sir Gerigold to wade across first, and tie a rope to help the others wade across more safely, then to make camp in the first convenient place to dry off and rest. But wading across the river one at a time and then trying to find a campsite while wet, cold and with half a dozen of these creatures trying to work out if one of them was dinner was distinctly less appealing, especially when the first one of them across might become an isolated target.
After a quick discussion, they located a couple of trees on either side of the river. Greynen climbed one of them, and again used his mage hand to carry the grappling hook, and the end of the silk rope attached to it, over the river, hooking it securely on the other tree and then tying the rope tightly to the tree he was in. Now the rope was running at about head-height across the river. Ragnar and Morgaen could both use a spell to summon the fey’s silvery mists for a moment and transport themselves across the river, so Morgaen would hang back to untie the rope and cross after the rest of them. Ragnar held himself ready to step through the mists over the river and support the first of his friends to cross, should the apes attack faster than expected. The other three, rather than wading, were going to try jumping from one floating block of ice to another, hanging on to belts that they could loop around the rope to help their balance on the precarious ice.
Morgaen cast her usual spell to bolster her allies’ strength before a fight, and also called on the local spirits to aid Sir Gerigold – the first to attempt the crossing. Sir Gerigold additionally called on the Morninglord to support himself, Hazard and Greynen in this endeavour and in any fight to come, took the ends of his belt in both hands, and made a running jump out to an ice floe bobbing past at that moment. Quickly he pushed off to the next, and the next, with his weight becoming increasingly unstable. As he landed on the third floe, one more leap from the bank, his foot slipped just a little – just too much. Throwing his weight the other way to compensate, he stabilised himself momentarily – then fell the other way, sprawling into the freezing water with an almighty splash. He reappeared after only a moment, spluttering in the waist-high water, and looked around for the bank.
The apes had seen the attempt to cross – they had, as one, leapt down from the cliffs and were moving in, fast, aiming for the riverbank.
Greynen had a moment’s inspiration. The Lady of Dreams had gifted him with an illusion spell some time ago – he had not found an occasion for it outside of practice yet. Now, from the other side of the river, he cast the spell – and a bush in the apes’ path appeared to burst into flames. The two in the lead checked, recoiling slightly. Greynen silently thanked Cyone for her foresight and hoped that the apes did not notice that the fire had neither sound nor scent…
The paladin was still in the river, turning pale with the cold, having had to spin and block another ice floe from smashing into his back. This also held it nicely still for a few seconds, so Hazard chose exactly that moment to cross, leaping easily from one floe to another and finally pushing off the one Sir Gerigold was holding, landing cleanly on the far bank and scornfully calling “Come on, keep up, fool!” to the bedraggled knight.
Then he froze.
From the bushes, only about twenty feet away from where he stood, came an owlbear.
They could all see it – and for a moment, only the apes were making any noise, gibbering at the sight of the illusionary flames. The owlbear did not seem to have seen them – it was wandering, tilting its head, sniffing the air. It seemed to be trying to make sense of what was going on.
Sir Gerigold had reached the bank. He climbed out of the water as quietly as possible, trying to stop his teeth from chattering, drew his maul, and stood ready in case the creature saw them and came at them. But it had not yet done anything to them, so he made no move to initiate the attack.
With the owlbear as well as the fire, five of the apes turned and, chattering and hooting to each other, made for the cliffs again at speed. Greynen punched the air in delight. But one of the creatures appeared to have figured out the ruse – it had peered closely at the flames, chattered angrily at its retreating comrades, then gave the party a look which was more intelligent, and resentful, than they would have expected from an animal. Shifting position, it threw a stone – which landed with a thump between the owlbear and the party. The huge creature spun towards the noise, with a hoot of challenge – then its head came up and its focus seemed to change. It started lumbering towards Hazard and Sir Gerigold, heavy going in the deep snow, but starting to quickly pick up speed. They took a few steps from the riverbank and braced themselves for its onslaught.
Silver mists glimmered just in front of them, and Ragnar appeared, leaping from the mists and charging straight for the owlbear with a yell of challenge.
Thor’s cleric whacked the warhammer squarely between the beast’s eyes.
Or where its eyes should have been – this close, he could see that all the creature had were two gaping holes.
Thinking quickly, realising that the creature’s clumsiness was because it could not see but only hear and scent its prey, he leapt back out of range, avoiding the random swing of the angrily screeching owlbear’s claws and shouting his discovery to the others.
The creature was in spell-range for Greynen and he cast the green-glow spell again, lighting the creature up to make it a more obvious target in the lengthening shadows of the evening, before seizing the rope and running agilely over the ice floes that were temporarily lined up in the river. Hazard and Sir Gerigold were already charging through the snow to attack the blinded and highlighted owlbear, Hazard swelling to giant-size and outpacing the paladin. Hazard’s first stroke missed, as the creature blindly reacted to threat and whirled in an unexpected direction – but he made a mighty backswing and wounded it grievously. Once Greynen was safely across, Morgaen rapidly untied the end of the rope, gathered the silver mists around her to step to a good vantage point, and joined the fight, putting a crossbow bolt into the owlbear. Sir Gerigold then charged in, managing to place his first strike right where Ragnar had done, between the creature’s empty eyesockets.
It shuddered all over – and collapsed in the snow. The final mountain ape, seeing this, fled after the others.
The party looked at the dead owlbear.
“Well,” Sir Gerigold said, sounding almost disappointed. “I always heard these things were severely dangerous. We only hit it once each.”
“This one is blind,” Hazard pointed out, “and we had a useful spell to help us.” He nodded to Greynen.
“What even is it?” Ragnar asked, inspecting the creature with great interest.
“You mean Midgard doesn’t have owlbears?”
Leaving this discussion in progress, Morgaen examined the dead owlbear. Worryingly, its eyes appeared to have been entirely gouged out – rather neatly, too. That suggested that there was something up here which was able to subdue an owlbear without killing it, and whatever that was, might be bad news. She and Greynen scouted around and found that besides the tracks of the mountain apes everywhere, and a few owlbear tracks, there was another set of tracks – something neither of them had seen before. They were very strange and did not appear to have the usual pads of an animal, but whatever it was, it was a large quadruped.
Ragnar, meanwhile, had been dissuaded by Sir Gerigold from either trying to drag the owlbear’s body with them – leaving a blood trail for any local carnivores to follow – or trying to fit it in the Bag of Holding – since gaunt as it was for an owlbear, it was still probably over the bag’s five-hundred-pound weight limit. Ragnar pleaded that he really needed this owlbear as a trophy. He was persuaded to settle for the head – which he promptly hacked off and, before either Sir Gerigold or Hazard could stop him, popped it into the Bag of Holding.
The head had still been oozing blood, which could now be presumed to be all over everything in the Bag of Holding. Morgaen, when she and Greynen got back, was not amused – her best performance outfit was in the Bag of Holding. Ragnar apologised and promised to sort it all out, setting off towards the riverbank. It turned out his idea of sorting it all out was to open the Bag of Holding and hold it underwater for a bit, which he thought would clean everything nicely. This resulted in absolutely everything in the Bag of Holding being both bloodstained and soaked through – including the firewood they had gathered that morning.
Nobody was pleased with Ragnar.
Once the excess water had been drained from the Bag of Holding, Ragnar suggested that perhaps they could find the owlbear’s cave. Once they had finished telling him what they thought of him for his continued obsession with the owlbear, the others realised that this was not a bad idea, since the owlbear’s cave might be large enough for all of them, and some protection against the cold. They tracked it back along the trail – leaving its headless body behind them – and eventually found a cleft in the rock.
The cave had many bones strewn around it, and it stank. Ragnar was volunteered by the others to clean it out while they chopped some of the wet firewood outside, to reveal the drier inside that might still burn. Sir Gerigold, still suffering from the effects of his involuntary dip in the icy river, stripped off and wrapped himself up in his bedroll as soon as there was a moderately clean area of floor, then sat huddled there with only his head showing, telling everyone else how to make the camp.
Morgaen spent some time carefully investigating the back and sides of the cave, telling them about a party she had heard of – mostly dwarves, one halfling and a wizard who might or might not have been human – who had found a convenient shallow cave while travelling through a mountain pass, and in the night a secret door had opened and a band of goblins had got the drop on them. However, after a thorough investigation she concluded that either there were no goblins in the Snowy Mountains, or those there were had more sense than to have a secret door coming out in an owlbear lair.
It was a bitterly cold night, even once they had got the fire going. They did manage to sleep, huddled up against each other in their bedrolls, but whoever was on watch had a hard time of it. In the distance, they could occasionally hear a cacophony of loud screeches. It sounded as though the mountain apes were arguing over who got which bits of meat from the owlbear’s corpse. Fortunately, with such a large, fresh supply of meat close at hand, they did not come anywhere near the party again.
The following day was bright, and crisp – and cold – but with ominous-looking clouds gathering, several miles away. The party set off, hoping to leave the weather behind them, but the wind veered round and a couple of hours after they had started out, the weather began to catch up with them – on an exposed ridge. They had just spotted the narrow rocky ledge which would lead them off the ridge when the wind picked up, and the first flurries of snow began to hit them. Pausing only to tie themselves together with Hazard’s rope, they headed along the ridge as fast as they could – then, more slowly but still as fast as could be managed without falling, they struck out along the narrow ledge. In only a few minutes, the wind was howling and driving the snow at them thickly enough that those at the back of the line could no longer see Sir Gerigold at the front.
Off the ledge, the ground widened out in what should have been a narrow valley before the final ascent to Frostfall Pass. But the party could not see the sides of the valley – the wind was driving the snow directly into it, and the whole area was obscured.
Ahead of him, Sir Gerigold caught sight of something – possibly a tree – hopefully part of a clump of trees they could shelter in? He struck out for it, calling back to the others.
As the wind dropped for a moment, they caught sight of their goal.
Something was hanging from the tree, something dark and man-sized, swaying in the air as it hung from a rope.
The snow came back again, obscuring their vision. They pressed forwards, until Sir Gerigold stopped. The others gathered round to look – Ragnar gasping and casting a spell of healing as soon as he saw what it was clearly.
But the figure wrapped in a red cloak, blood dripping to the ground and being immediately lost in the snow gathering beneath it, s