Updated: Nov 7
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. That is not the party's experience, as strange happenings surround them and monsters stir.
The party consists of:
Sir Gerigold - A Male Half-Elven Paladin of The Morninglord (played by Paul)
Hazard Darkstar - A Male Human Fighter (played by Alexander)
Greynen Falstaer - A Male Half-Elven Warlock (played by Mark)
Morgaen Nightbreeze - A Female Half-Elven Bard (played by Imogen)
Ragnar son of Bjorn - A Male Human Cleric of Odinson (played by Alex)
At the time when this chapter starts, the party have been investigating Moldavia Manor, where a party has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Standing back in the porch, keeping her guitar well out of the way of the storm now lashing down outside, Morgaen blinked and looked again at the body of the knight Sir Gerigold was crouching over – then she felt a burning pain in her wrist, and heard sharp intakes of breath or exclamations from Greynen, Hazard and Ragnar. She raised her arm, letting her cuff fall back, conscious of the others pulling back their sleeves around her. There was a new tattoo on her wrist – an animated tattoo, a nearly-empty hourglass with sands constantly draining away into the bottom half but without it appearing to fill up more.
They checked each other’s wrists – they all had the same tattoo.
Outside, Sir Gerigold had stood and looked around for a long moment – now he was coming back through the wind and rain. He shut the door behind him and told them that the knight – who had the emblem of a rose on his surcoat – had told him to ‘Stop the Dark Lord’, before dying and turning to sand. He showed them his wrist – the same tattoo as the rest of the party had appeared, he said, at the moment the strange knight had died. They showed him their tattoos, and everyone racked their memories for any knowledge of a fief or order with such a rose emblem, but nobody had heard of it before.
After a short discussion, they went to see if they could get any more information out of Count Libran Moldavia, but the man was still sat at his desk, saying nothing much except, “I see you, Father…” while staring madly at a spot on his wall. Questioning him on either the visions they had had from the brass disk in his library, or the strange events outside, had no impact.
Ragnar and Morgaen rifled the Count’s desk for paper, pens and ink, then returned to the library, to start looking through the books there and see if they could find anything out about this strange place they had all ended up in. However, most of the books in the library turned out to be family histories, talking of the – supposedly – great deeds of the Moldavia ancestors to the exclusion of any more general knowledge. There was no reference to either Ragnar’s homeland of Midgard, or to Faerun, the continent where Morgaen and the others came from widely scattered origins. Morgaen did some calculations – the family seemed to go back about five hundred years in the land of New Solamnia, but individual members were surprisingly long-lived for humans. There did not seem to be anything of great use there, and to the bard’s disappointment there were not even many books of stories or poems other than ‘Tamalain and Other Poems’. She carefully stowed that one away with the brass disk, intending to read it for any references that might be useful (and, of course, for all the stories she did not know), then went back out into the main room. Lady Eleanor’s body was there, carefully wrapped in sheets, and the others had moved to the entrance, where they appeared to be discussing the condition of the two rather battered sets of half-armour and whether it was worth taking them.
Morgaen went into the Count’s room to try to speak to him again. He was still mumbling about his father watching him, so she decided to try to use his obsession, put her head slightly to the side and said, “Yes – I see him too.”
The Count stared at her.
“You see him?”
“I see him, but I can’t quite hear him. He’s trying to say something to me – I can’t make it out. Something about the Dark Lord –”
She wasn’t entirely sure if Libran Moldavia heard this last part. He got up, walked to the hole in the floor, and jumped down.
She ran back out, finding the others coming back into the main room.
“The Count just jumped down into the cellar,” she reported, and made for the secret door in the library, the others following. By the time they got down there, the Count was dragging stones out of one of the cellar walls, in a near frenzy, and starting to dig into the earth there. The party tensed, but kept watching – and in a few moments, a gruesome sight met their eyes, as the Count dragged a part-decayed corpse out of the wall, and threw it to the ground. He grabbed its shoulders and slammed it back again.
“Father! Father! What have you been telling this witch?” he demanded, hysterically, over and over, pointing at Morgaen.
“Morgaen,” Sir Gerigold said, giving the bard a pointed, suspicious look, “why is he calling you a witch?”
Morgaen looked awkward.
“Well, I thought if I pretended his father was trying to say something to me, we might get something more out of him…”
“Yes, it was a trick! I didn’t actually talk to a ghost!”
The others decided to believe her.
“Well, now we do know for sure that he murdered his father and hid the body,” Sir Gerigold commented.
They went back upstairs, leaving the disturbing scene behind them. The storm was still lashing down outside – setting out to camp in the woods, with strange knights turning to sand in an unnatural storm, was unthinkable, but nobody felt like spending the night in Moldavia Manor with corpses rising as undead and a disturbed murderer in the cellar. They went out together to investigate the outhouses.
Those closest to the house turned out to be guest rooms, neat rows of comfortable bedrooms. Checking under the beds, Morgaen discovered another survivor – a terrified small girl, about six years old. Working with all the persuasion and experience of small children she had, Morgaen managed to calm her down enough to talk to them. Her name was Jenny, and she lived here with her mummy, who worked in the kitchen and had red hair.
There was an uncomfortable pause as the party thought back to the kitchen – and especially to the sprawled, dead, red-haired corpse they had encountered there.
“Do you know what’s happened to my mummy?” Jenny asked, plaintively.
“Well, it got very scary around here,” Morgaen said, carefully, “so your mummy had to get away… She asked us to find you and take you somewhere safe.”
Jenny calmed down, a little. Morgaen stayed with her, watching from the window of the outhouse with her crossbow ready, as the others investigated the rest of the outbuildings. There was another block of guest rooms, and a stable where fifteen horses had been left. Now, there were only ten. Five of the horses were lying dead, without a mark on them. The party checked carefully, but there were definitely no worm bites on the horses, and no apparent reason for their deaths.
Sir Gerigold decided to go back to Montressa Wend, the drunkard they had found in the entrance hall, and see if there was any sense to be got out of him now. He could not wake the man until he laid his hands on him and released a little healing power into him – then Montressa came round. But although no longer unconscious, and not as drunk as he was, the man seemed strangely unconcerned with events around him. He declared that he had been having an excellent party, and the fact that he could no longer remember all of it just proved how excellent it had been. Annoyed with this attitude in the presence of dead bodies, Sir Gerigold marched the man downstairs to the cellar to see the remains of the rest of his fellow party-goers part-eaten by worms, and his host still hunched over and accusing the corpse of his dead father.
Montressa Wend seemed interested, but unconcerned. He uncorked and started drinking a fresh bottle of fine Manontillado wine. Increasingly exasperated, Sir Gerigold decided the man was clearly incapable, possibly in shock, and asked him where he lived, so that the party could return him home rather than leaving him wandering around here.
Montressa stopped, looked puzzled, and said that he didn’t know – then a trickle of blood started coming from one of his nostrils. Sir Gerigold laid his hands on him and released healing power again, but this time, it had no effect. Montressa collapsed, unconscious. Sir Gerigold carried the man out of the cellar and told the others what had happened. They checked his neck for any sign of bite marks – there was none, but feeling still distrustful, Ragnar and Hazard tied him up before they left him locked in one of the guest rooms. Then the party turned in for the night themselves, after settling a watch order, with Morgaen taking charge of Jenny. She sat up, reading ‘Tamalain and Other Poems’ until some time after the child had fallen asleep, but she found no useful references to help explain anything about their situation.
The next day, the party separated to check around the manor. Morgaen and Ragnar took Jenny to help them look after the horses, and after feeding them Morgaen focused her magic by tuning her guitar until she could speak to the horses and question them about what had happened. The horses were relieved to have people feeding them again – things had been very strange and irregular for a couple of days – but had seen nothing outside the stable. They had, however, been very scared by a bad smell just outside. The five dead horses had been so scared that they had collapsed at once.
Morgaen remembered a strange, dank smell that had hung around outside the manor on the evening of their arrival – but it had cleared, now.
Ragnar then went and looked around the outhouses for any sign of tracks. He found the signs of several people going in different directions, but after the storm the night before, none of the tracks led anywhere far.
Greynen and Hazard remembered the strangely dark pond or small lake which had lain off to the right as they arrived at the manor, and went to check it out. The dark, muddy water looked extremely unappetizing, and they were not at all tempted to drink from it, but there was no apparent danger there – even when Greynen experimentally threw a stone in.
Sir Gerigold checked on Montressa Wend, who was still unconscious. He did not appear to be suffering from any normal illness or injury, and he should have sobered up by now, but nothing the paladin did could wake him. Sir Gerigold went to find Hazard and Greynen, and the three of them went into the manor house and down to the cellar to find out if the Count was still where they had left him.
But he was not – and despite searching the manor, the disturbed Count was nowhere to be found.
The party had a quick discussion about what to do about the bodies. Especially the body of Jenny’s mother, Shelly. Most of the buildings were stone, but the stable was more wooden, and they decided the best thing to do was to take the body of Baron Rennet’s wife Eleanor back to her husband, and to burn the other bodies in the stable. Releasing the most tired-looking horses into the fields, they took five others along with the horses they had borrowed, both to carry the dead baroness and the unconscious Montressa Wend and so that they would still have horses after returning the Rennet Manor horses. Then Morgaen kept Jenny busy getting the horses ready for the journey, while the others carried out the grim and gloomy task of moving the dead to the stable. They set it alight and rode off for Rennet Manor.
Arriving at the Manor, the Baron came out to meet them, asking anxiously for his wife. Sir Gerigold sadly broke the news to him, showing him her body.
The Baron cried out, falling to his knees, and clutching his wife’s body. Morgaen and one of the servants shepherded Jenny away, while the Baron’s steward Percival decided to leave his master for a while. The rest of the party went to stable the horses and keep out of the way of the Baron’s grief, while Percival helped Sir Gerigold bring the still-unconscious Montressa Wend into the house, then went back to his master.
The party spent the night – their third in New Solamnia – at the manor without seeing the Baron again. The servants were civil, but busy, and seemed to know nothing of anything connected to the strange events surrounding the party. Percival had heard of Montressa Wend, the Third Esquire – known as a keen party-goer with a penchant for chasing women but, it was said, being rather less likely to be appreciated by those women – but he had not heard where the man’s home was. He agreed to keep him at Rennet Manor to see the doctor – and the servants were also happy to take Jenny in.
The next day, Percival reported that the baron was a little better but the sickness he had already been fighting off seemed to have worsened – he was keeping to his room until the doctor arrived in a day or so for an already-arranged visit. But he sent a civil message to the party, rewarding them for finding out what had happened to his wife and bringing back her body before it could be eaten with one hundred gold pieces each. He praised them as good people and said that he would be glad to call on them again if he needed to.
Percival explained, knowing that the party were strangers, that the Baron and other notables in New Solamnia kept trained ravens which were able to find any person they had seen once. With the party’s permission, he brought in one of the baron’s ravens; it eyed them intelligently, then opened its beak and made a strange cry at them. That, Percival said, taking it back out, would allow it to find them again if the Baron wished.
He confirmed that the closest town was Tenbrim, to the east past Moldavia Manor, and the party prepared to set out in that direction, riding the horses they had taken from Moldavia Manor. Sir Gerigold made a last visit to Montressa Wend, who had woken up that morning. He was apparently well – but when asked, again, where he lived, he again looked confused and could not even name any towns near where he lived. His nose began to bleed and his eyes to twitch. Sir Gerigold left the matter there before the man could faint again.
The party made good time, and discussed whether to push on or to camp at the ill-starred Moldavia Manor – on balance, they considered that knowing they had good doors and walls was important in this strange place that seemed so dangerous for them but apparently not for the locals. They spent the night back in the guesthouses outside the manor. Ragnar checked out the manor – there was no sign of the mad Libran Moldavia, but he did bring up some of the fine wine from the cellar. Most of the others, apart from Sir Gerigold, were happy to take a bottle of it.
Setting out again as early as possible the next day, around mid-morning they came to a split in the path, with a signpost. It indicated that the town of Tenbrim was around ten miles to the northeast – and that something called the Painted Valley was six miles to the southeast. The party paused, with interest, and calculated whether they could investigate the Painted Valley, come back and still make it to Tenbrim before dark. They took a short rest for a meal, and Morgaen used the time to tune her guitar until she could speak with any local animals. She managed to get into conversation with and question a bright green bird which Sir Gerigold rather thought was a thing called a parakeet ("Is it... supposed to live in pine woods like these?" Greynen asked dubiously. "Not really, but don't be surprised by that, they get everywhere," the knight assured him). When she asked it what was down the road towards the Painted Valley, pointing, it told her firmly that it did not go there – it was bad, dangerous, it tasted bad. This sounded interesting, but as if it might be the kind of place one could not visit in a short amount of time – and the party decided that it would not be a great idea to risk arriving in Tenbrim, a place strange to them, late on in the evening, as there might be a curfew or some difficulty in finding rooms at short notice.
They continued on – and after about ten miles, the forest opened up, and the town of Tenbrim appeared.
Neat, well-maintained houses clustered around a square and a large stone building. The town was open to the surrounding area with no walls or gates. Riding into the square, the party noticed that everyone around them was human, and the three half-elves prepared themselves for strange looks – but apart from a few interested glances, no notice was taken. The party looked around, noticing a neat, well-maintained inn named the Code of Honour on one side of the square, opposite the large stone building, and a loud clanging noise like a forge coming from somewhere nearby. The stone building looked clearly religious – and there was a symbol visible on its door, a device of a shield with a spark of light coming off it. None of them recognised it.
At that point, a small door opened in the great stone building, and a dwarf appeared. He walked across the square, casting an interested look at the party but not pausing, and vanished into the Code of Honour. The party decided to follow him, thinking of drinks and information. They hitched their horses to a rail outside, and went in, passing under the inn’s sign, a kneeling knight displaying a sword emblem.
Inside, the inn’s large common room was nearly deserted, with the dwarf sitting at one table, an old man asleep over near the fire with a dog next to him thumping its tail at the newly-arrived strangers, and a woman in her twenties standing over by the bar. The party went over, introduced themselves and asked about rooms. The woman – Emmalina Risold, owner of the Code of Honour – agreed that they could have rooms there for the night, and Sir Gerigold asked for a round of drinks for everyone. He went over and asked the dwarf what he would like to drink. The dwarf – Tibalt Throtstone, head acolyte at the church of Saint Terragnis across the square – accepted another flagon of the local beer from them, and Sir Gerigold went back to pay – but became distracted by Emmalina’s charms and seemed inclined to stay at the bar. The others picked up their drinks and went over to join Tibalt.
Morgaen introduced herself as a bard and a collector of folklore, new to the area, and asked with great interest about Tenbrim, the church of Saint Terragnis, and the whole region of New Solamnia. Tibalt told them that Saint Terragnis was a warding power who watched over the local area, with him being the senior acolyte in charge of eight other acolytes who all served under the local priest. While Tenbrim was a very quiet place, and mostly human, there were a few members of other races to be found, and it was not unusual for adventuring parties to come through. Sometimes this meant very mixed parties, since about a week ago a party with a tiefling, a dragonborn and a half-orc had arrived, met up with a halfling sailor who had come upriver from the coast, and set off towards the mountains – a long and difficult journey along a treacherous river. There hadn’t been any musicians in the area for some time, however, and he hoped that Morgaen would give them a performance in the inn that evening – to which Morgaen agreed with some reserve. There was an adventurer’s supplies store in town, run by a halfling – Tannoc Puddleduck – and the blacksmith, Donnegan, was used to making arms and armour.
There was no such thing as a library in town, to Morgaen’s disappointment, but for books she should ask Tannoc Puddleduck. She should also speak to Tibalt’s priest, Father Reginald Baird, when he was next available – which wasn’t right now, as he was busy in the crypts beneath the church. The dwarf was clearly uneasy talking about this, and moved on quickly. The town’s doctor, another educated man they might speak to, was also out on business – the party realised that this was the doctor who had been expected to visit Rennet Manor when they left.
The name of the region, New Solamnia, had struck Morgaen as it implied the existence of an older Solamnia – Tibalt told them how it was said that the gods had destroyed old Solamnia in anger, and New Solamnia had developed since that great cataclysm.
Sir Gerigold finally joined the group, and told the acolyte how they had appeared in the area, asking if he had ever heard of anything like it. Tibalt had not, but he did remember that about five years ago a female elf had wandered into town disoriented, having apparently got separated from a group of friends she was travelling with. She had not stayed long, however, before wandering off again. Sir Gerigold shared the story of their adventures so far with the dwarf, who was disturbed at the story of the goings-on at Moldavia Manor. But he had also never heard of such things before – or of any Dark Lord. They asked if he knew of any wizards in the area – the dwarf denied knowing of any, and added that he especially hoped there were no necromancers. He became ill at ease, and declared that he needed to get back to his duties in the church, since he was currently supervising everything until the priest was back.
The party watched him go, then asked for directions to Tannoc Puddleduck’s adventuring supplies store. A couple of them split off to take a valuable necklace from Moldavia Manor to be sold at the jeweller’s, Ruby’s Rubies, and the rest went to resupply. A small halfling in a surprisingly large hat made them welcome, and they browsed the supplies, feeling it prudent to load up on everything they would have chosen to bring with them, if they hadn’t appeared in a forest just with what they had had with them when they went to sleep four nights ago.
Morgaen sidled up to the counter and asked, carefully, if the proprietor might have such a thing as thieves’ tools. Tannoc Puddleduck sucked his breath in, spoiling his apparent concern with a big grin, and admitted to having locksmith’s tools, which he produced from under the counter and slid across to Morgaen rapidly.
Sir Gerigold questioned Tannoc Puddleduck about the area, but the halfling also had no clear idea about the matters which had so disturbed the party. He knew a little more about the other adventurer’s who had gone through ahead of them – the female half-orc with the party had had a very fine axe, which she had seemed to be talking to. Tannoc hadn’t felt able to ask anything about this.
Waiting until her companions had finished making their purchases – including buying a couple of very dusty healing potions in a box at the back of a shelf – Morgaen asked Tannoc if he had, or knew of, any books.
Tannoc sucked his breath in again, apprehensively this time.
“I have one book – it was given to me years ago, by a wizard, a shifty-looking fellow… I’ll show you, if you like. The pages were blank when I looked… but he said it will tell a story when it needs to tell a story. You and your friends have been such good customers, I’ll give it to you for free, if you're interested.”
He produced the book – an ominous-looking tome wrapped in black leather. Morgaen immediately unwrapped and opened it.
At once, the party were pulled back into the same vision they had had when she touched the brass disk at Moldavia Manor – of the knight with the crown-like helmet returning to Knighthund after an absence, but then being woken next day and told that he must leave to attend the Council.
The party blinked at each other – Tannoc had not shared the vision, but could see that something had happened. When they asked him, however, he too had never heard of Knighthund, of any Dark Lord, or of any knight with a rose emblem. He did suggest that they try Donnegan, the blacksmith, who had a reputation for generally knowing things.
The party headed to the blacksmith, again deciding to do their shopping and part with some money before trying to get information. Hazard and Sir Gerigold had brought the battered half-armours from Moldavia Manor, and Donnegan agreed to take these in part exchange for two sets of splint armour, which he said would be ready in six days, or seven if they wanted devices engraved. The paladin and the fighter decided to have symbols important to their respective gods, the Morninglord and Sune - Hazard, reticent so far, admitted grudgingly to a past in religious service when the others asked about this - etched into the armour. Morgaen and Greynen exchanged their leather armour for studded leather, which Donnegan had in stock. Then they asked him what he knew about the surrounding area, and if he had heard of any of the places they wanted to know about. Donnegan, too, had never heard of Knighthund, and seemed offended that people thought he should generally know things – however, when Sir Gerigold asked about the Painted Valley, Donnegan did know something about that. It was named for the strange mushrooms and other plants which grew there, and for having the mausoleum of the Valkyr family.
As they prepared to leave the blacksmith’s, there came the cry of a raven – they looked up, and a black shape circled down to land nearby. It was a familiar-looking bird, with a small piece of paper tied to one leg. When they removed this, it proved to be a message from Baron Rennet, asking them to return, as he was unwell and needed their help to take his wife’s ashes to her family mausoleum in the Painted Valley.
The party remembered the parakeet’s warning of a ‘bad taste’ and ‘danger.’ Ragnar wrote that they were happy to assist and would set out tomorrow, returning to Rennet Manor after visiting the Painted Valley to be sure that it was ready to receive the Baron’s wife. He tied the note to the bird’s leg, and stepped back uncertainly.
“Um… Take this back to Baron Rennet?” Sir Gerigold said, experimentally.
The raven jumped up, wheeling into the air, and beat off westwards, in the direction of Rennet Manor.
“I want one of those,” Ragnar said wistfully, watching it go. Nobody in town had suggested anywhere to buy message-ravens.
The party returned to the inn, and prepared to spend a relaxed night before heading back out into the forest tomorrow. It was much busier than before, and there was an interested buzz of talk when people saw Morgaen’s guitar. She took over a space in the centre of the common room, and tuned, a little nervously, admitting to the others that she was not the best performer her college had ever turned out.
“A bard who isn’t a performer?” Hazard asked, surprised.
“I’m an investigator and a scholar, not an entertainer,” she countered.
“Well, since I asked you for this, let me help ensure a good evening for us all,” Thibault said, and revealed himself as a magic-user, putting a blessing on the guitar with a wave of his hand and a glimmer of silver light. Morgaen struck up – and the room went quiet.
She sang about the Yawning Portal, the inn in the great city of Waterdeep with a cavernous gateway down to the dungeon of a mad mage, and about a party of brave adventurers who had gone into that darkness and faced terrible and nameless threats. She gave one of her best performances to date – and enjoyed it so much, and the audience seemed to appreciate it so much, that after the brave and stirring tale she decided to take advantage of having inadvertently ended up in a different world and followed it up with a satirical ballad about the great Lord Neverember which would have got her into massive trouble if performed in any of the wrong inns on the Sword Coast back home. Then, at Sir Gerigold’s urging, she struck up with a dance tune, and the paladin persuaded the attractive Emmalina out onto the dance floor with him. He felt their relationship was coming along well – although it was slightly embarrassing at one point, when during the dance she put her face close to his, and said, huskily,
“Tell your friend he must pay for that drink.”
As they whirled around in the dance, Sir Gerigold caught sight of Ragnar attempting unsuccessfully to hide behind the bar.
“I see everything that goes on in this inn!” she declared.
It was, in many ways, a very successful evening. As Morgaen kept the music coming, someone had put a mug in front of her for coins, and when she counted up at the end of the evening she was quite pleased with the result. The party turned in after the inn closed for the night – except for Sir Gerigold, who did not end up using the room he had paid for.
Next morning, he left Emmalina’s room early, and went outside, finding some dew-touched flowers to bring in for her. The rest of the party came down, Morgaen a little frustrated that her study of ‘Tamalain and Other Poems’ had still not shown her any references to Knighthund or to a Dark Lord and that nobody they had asked at Rennet Manor or in Tenbrim so far seemed to know anything.
They set off for the Painted Valley.
This was Part 2 of 'Dirty Secrets & Nightmares', featuring Sam as Dungeon Master with a cast of Mark, Alex, Paul, Alexander and Imogen.
Written by Imogen Solly.
Photographs sourced from Pexels unless otherwise stated. Many thanks to the artists for making these available. From the top, by: Yuvraj Salam, Mikhail Nilov, Mikhail Nilov, Gandhar Thakur, TheOther Kev, Monica Turlui, Inti Tupac Liberman Ares, Anton Atanasov (from StockSnap), Wendy Wei, Cottonbro, Matt Hatchett, Luis Quintero, JMTPhotography, Martin Lopez, Quốc Bảo, Maria Orlova.