Updated: Nov 7, 2021
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 asked by a local nobleman to come to his manor and take his wife's ashes to her family mausoleum in a place known as the Painted Valley. The party have heard some disturbing things about possible threats in the Painted Valley, so decided to investigate first.
It took a few hours to get back to the signpost outside Tenbrim, then the party turned southeast towards the Painted Valley. It was still before midday when they turned a corner and found themselves confronted with a gently swirling wall of mist.
The mist crossed the entire path and went as far as they could see into the thick undergrowth on either side. More disturbingly, as they slowly approached, the party heard a low, rumbling growl coming from within the mist. They hesitated.
Sir Gerigold approached to the edge of the mists and attuning to his sense of the divine – or that which runs against the divine – he closed his eyes and reached out to try to detect anything hidden within. There was nothing in range. The party checked the surrounding area, but there really did seem to be no way around, only through – and as they waited, they thought they could also hear the sound of children’s laughter – mocking laughter.
Morgaen tuned her senses to detect magic and discovered that whatever had caused the mists seemed to be divine magic. But that did not necessarily mean a benevolent divinity.
The party decided to press ahead – they tied the horses up by the path, and got in order, walking forwards into the mists in a single line, trying to make sure they kept the person in front within sight.
They had not been long in the mists, with the swirling grey tendrils enveloping them and the strange noises still just beyond their reach, when Hazard realised that he could no longer see Sir Gerigold, who had been just ahead of him, chanting a prayer to the Morninglord. He paused, but he could no longer hear the paladin’s prayer, either. He shouted for Sir Gerigold – the others, behind him, joined in, but there was no answer.
They continued walking forwards, on edge now – and after a minute, panic started to set in. First one, then another of them started running, shouting for each other, trying to get to the other side of the mists. They could hear the others, running and shouting too, but however hard they tried, now, they could not rejoin them.
One moment she was running, panicked, through the mists, with the strange noises about her – the next, Morgaen realised she was lying on her side, curled protectively around her guitar, with the side of her face pressing into a carpet of pine needles and a tree root uncomfortably wedged into her hip.
She sat up, carefully cradling the instrument. They were all there – Sir Gerigold with them – all sitting up with various expressions of bewilderment. They were in a sunlit clearing, surrounded by pine trees. A familiar sunlit clearing, with a familiar battered sign, one side rotted away, the other pointing in the direction of Rennet Manor.
There was no sign of the mists, the road to the Painted Valley, or the horses – and while most of them were breathing normally again after their panicked charge through the mists, Sir Gerigold was sweating and his chest heaving as if he had been running in armour for a very long time.
They gathered by the signpost. Sir Gerigold described being lost and unable to hear the rest of them yelling for him, for what seemed to him like ages of walking, leading to his exhaustion. But it could not have been that long after all – the spells they had cast before entering the mists were still around them, so it could not have been longer than ten minutes. They did not even seem to have lost consciousness.
Ragnar glowered at the signpost. He raised the hammer-amulet on his chest in one big fist and intoned a short list of words unfamiliar to the others, sketching symbols with his finger as he did so. The rotted wood of the sign moved, slid over itself, reformed – into a wooden arrow, with no name at all. After a moment, it crumbled again.
“It seems,” Sir Gerigold said, “that whatever brought us here has a purpose. And in trying to go to the Painted Valley without vising the baron again first, we ran counter to that purpose.”
Morgaen’s eyes narrowed.
“It definitely does seem as if we’re supposed to go to Rennet Manor again,” she agreed. “What do you think will happen if we go this way instead?” She pointed down the narrow path to the southwest. “I’m betting mists,” she added.
“And if there are?” Hazard asked.
“Well – we don’t go into them again. Not yet, anyway. But this is where we arrived. And as Sir Gerigold said, something seems to be messing us around. I want to know where we stand – if these mists really are fencing us in somehow.”
It was a shared curiosity. The party headed southwest – after Morgaen carefully gave the brass disk to Ragnar. It did not seem sensible to her, when they might have become separated from each other, for the same person to be carrying both the disk and the black book, the two sources of the strange visions they were receiving.
Following round several bends in the path, as the undergrowth thickened, they finally turned a corner and stopped. There were the mists – but not as they had been. They listened carefully – this time, there were no growling noises or mocking laughter. Sir Gerigold cautiously approached the edges of the mist and cast out his senses for anything unnatural again, but again drew a blank.
The party were still disinclined to try stepping into them again.
Greynen suggested climbing a particularly tall tree by the path to see how far the mists went. He slightly regretted volunteering for this halfway up the tree when he got into a tricky situation, but Sir Gerigold, Hazard and Ragnar were all big men in heavy armour, and Morgaen, the other lightweight, did not look much more athletic than him. He managed to swarm and twist his way up as far as was safe, however. The mists continued going up – further than even a half-elven eye could see. Twisting around, he could see that to the north, the pine forest continued for miles – to the south, for a lesser distance. But in both directions, the mists went on, and on, and he could see no end to them. He looked back towards the Painted Valley. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and he could certainly see far enough for a day or two’s travel. But to the east, where they had been until entering the mists, there was not a shred of mist to be seen.
He clambered carefully down, and reported this. The party racked their memories, but nobody had come across anything like this before – it shouldn’t be possible.
Greynen hesitated, then spoke.
“I think I ought to tell all of you – I think it’s possible my patron is somehow connected to us being here. I’m a warlock – my patron promised to help me find my sister – she went missing years ago…”
There was a short pause as the rest wondered, variously, what type of entity Greynen’s patron was, whether they could be involved with his patron somehow, or whether – possibly – something in their own pasts might have brought them here…
Morgaen broke the pause first by asking Greynen if his sister was an elf, a human or another half-elf, and whether it might have been her who was the lost elf mentioned in Tenbrim (she was another half-elf, so no), then asking Ragnar if his god might be involved in this. Ragnar’s people’s family naming customs came into the discussion somehow. That did it.
“All of my family are dead,” Hazard said, shortly, and strode off back up the path, towards the signpost.
There was another uncomfortable pause.
“Well, I guess we’re going to Rennet Manor now?” Greynen said, and the rest of them followed.
They set as brisk a pace towards Rennet Manor as Sir Gerigold could manage. The paladin was still exhausted from his worse experience in the mists, and while a paladin of the Morninglord would not whinge, exactly, the rest of the party got the impression that he was distinctly unhappy with how under-par he was feeling.
Arriving at the manor, Hazard knocked on the door. Baron Rennet’s steward Percival opened it – he looked pleased but surprised to see them.
“Welcome,” he said, “my goodness, what excellent time you have made. Did you already stable your horses?”
“Ah, yes – the horses,” Hazard said uncomfortably.
“We did not, in fact, come here by riding today,” Sir Gerigold said, coming to the front of the group. “We have travelled here by strange means. Again. How is the Baron?”
Percival looked down.
“Strange means, that is… disturbing, that it should happen to you again… I would ask that you do not speak of that with the Baron. He is… not himself. He was already suffering from an enduring cold when you first came here, but with the shock of his wife’s death, his condition has worsened – the doctor is with him now.”
“The doctor? Yes, we were told in Tenbrim that he would be here.”
“I will show you up – I have orders to bring you to him – but please do not speak to him of strange matters, we do not want his mind troubled more than it is already –” he hesitated, and dropped his voice, “—he is already imagining that he sees his wife in the room with him, so we do not wish him overtaxed.”
He showed the party in, telling them that Jenny was well and settling in, although she still did not know about her mother and was asking frequently when she would be back. He led them upstairs, to the baron’s bedroom. Luckily, the room was about half the size of the common room at the Code of Honour, so there was easily space for the party, despite the robed, hooded man already standing beside the bed, leaning over it. He turned as they came in.
Ragnar pointed, and gasped.
“A raven-man now!”
The others looked at him, surprised for a moment, then remembered. Apparently, Ragnar’s homeland did not share the custom of plague masks.
The doctor did not appear to notice this.
“You are the adventurers I have heard about,” he said, gravely. “Welcome.”
“The Baron has plague?” Sir Gerigold asked, approaching the bed anyway.
“No, no, not that I am aware of. The Baron is suffering from a disease I have not encountered before – I generally wear this, after all I never know what I am going to encounter. But you may wish to stay back – I do not know what this disease is, but it seems to be affecting the Baron’s mind, he keeps saying that he sees his dead wife – ”
The paladin ignored the suggestion to stay back and walked around to the other side of the great four-poster bed, and drew the curtains. The baron was lying there, pale, and taking deep, shuddering breaths.
“Have you treated him with magic?” Sir Gerigold asked.
“What? No, no magic – I have no magic, all of my healing is done with herbs –”
Sir Gerigold did not even wait for the doctor to finish talking. He took a breath, laid his hands on the Baron’s chest and closed his eyes, with a prayer to the Morninglord.
The Baron’s entire body convulsed and heaved for a few moments – then he hacked up a mass of evil-smelling black bile and mucus.
“Ah – ah, there,” he said, still pale but seeming far more in command of himself than a moment ago. “Sir Gerigold – thank you, that is – much better.”
He reached beside the bed, and showed them a silver urn.
“Thank you for coming. I want you to take my wife’s ashes to the Valkyr family’s mausoleum in the Painted Valley, her family’s mausoleum.”
There were several pictures on the wall of the room, of a beautiful valley full of strangely-coloured plants, with a stone tower – and in one of them, a portrait of the Baron and a smiling woman whose vivid image had the same colouring and hair as the lifeless corpse the party had brought back to Rennet Manor three days previously.
“We have been there,” Sir Gerigold said, gravely. “But there were mists in the way – strange mists full of strange noises, and when we tried to make our way through them, we were transported back to where we were when we first appeared in this realm.”
The baron told them that they had been lucky. He knew of the mists – it was said that they were extremely dangerous and should not be entered. In fact, he knew of a few people who were thought to have gone into the mists – none of them had ever returned. The doctor had also never encountered the mists himself, having been lucky enough to always travel on safe roads.
The baron appearing tired, Morgaen suggested that they should leave him – flattering the doctor by saying what a high opinion of his knowledge the rest of the people of Tenbrim had, and how much she wanted to ask for the benefit of his advice, she and Hazard managed to manoeuvre the doctor out of the room without his realising that the other three had stayed there. They settled down to question him about any knowledge he had of the local area, or of the visions they had experienced or tattoos that had been somehow inflicted on them. But other than adding to their knowledge of the route past the Snowy Mountains – either along a hazardous, icy river or going an equally grim and miserable route by land – he turned out to be able to tell them very little. There seemed to be no places of note much known about except Tenbrim itself, neither had the doctor ever heard of Knighthund. Morgaen was, however, able to sketch a rough map of the area from his information and their own experiences.
Meanwhile, back in the Baron’s room, Sir Gerigold quietly asked the Baron about his experience of seeing his wife’s ghost.
“Yes – yes, I do see her,” the Baron said. He nodded towards the painting of him and his wife in the Painted Valley. “She appears over there.”
“Perhaps you could tell me when you next see her?” the knight suggested.
“Alright, I could do that…”
After some time waiting, the Baron pushed himself up.
“She’s there – she’s standing there now,” he said, pointing. “Hello, Eleanor.”
Sir Gerigold looked over towards the painting and sent his senses searching outwards.
“Yes,” he said, “I cannot see her, but my divine sense tells me that there is a ghost here.”
“Oh – oh, thank goodness for that, I was starting to wonder…”
“May I ask how your wife seems, sir? Does she seem upset?”
“No – no, she doesn’t seem upset – she’s just there… And now… she’s gone.”
Sir Gerigold felt his sense of the ghost weakening, as it moved away, and told the others this.
“Is it actually a ghost, or is it the painting?” Ragnar asked.
“I believe it to be a ghost – but perhaps you could check.”
Ragnar held his hammer and intoned an unintelligible string of sounds for some time, but eventually concluded that there was no magic in the paining itself – it did seem to have been a ghost that just tended to stand next to this particular painting.
The Baron held the silver urn out to them again. He asked them to take his wife’s ashes to the Painted Valley – he was worried that he was seeing her because her spirit could not move on until she was laid to rest there.
Sir Gerigold took the urn, carefully, and promised that the party would do this so long as the mists had cleared. They left the Baron to rest.
Outside the room, Sir Gerigold gave the urn to Ragnar to look after, and went to find Montressa Wend to see if he was recovered enough to get some answers out of him yet. But the Third Esquire was still unconscious and unable to answer questions. Sir Gerigold went looking for the doctor and found him alone – but the doctor had no idea how to help Montressa recover, either. He, also, had heard of the man but had no very clear idea of where exactly he came from.
The others came and found him, then, to ask if he felt up to riding – they had arranged to borrow horses from Rennet Manor again, and Morgaen had suggested that they leave at once and try to reach Moldavia Manor again by the end of the day. Some of the others felt able to do so, but they had remembered that Sir Gerigold had had a worse experience in the mists than the rest of them. The paladin did NOT feel that it would be sensible for him to risk running into something when he felt this exhausted. Morgaen, however, was worried about the horses they had left tied to trees and argued hard enough about being responsible for the animals they had just abandone in the middle of a forest that Hazard asked if she was actually a druid.
Morgaen looked taken aback.
“I’m a bard – but I studied with a druid circle…” She trailed off and did not elaborate.
One of the others suggested that the horses would probably have been eaten by now if anything dangerous HAD come out of the mists. But after discussion the party compromised and decided to leave later that day, as soon as Sir Gerigold had recovered from his exhaustion, rather than waiting until the next day.
Leaving Rennet Manor in the afternoon, the party pushed on for as long as they could, but eventually tiredness overcame them and they camped for the night out in the woods – after Morgaen questioned an owl to check that there were no dangerous predators in the area. The next morning they made good time, bypassed Moldavia Manor and arrived back at the Painted Valley around noon.
The road was clear – there were no mists in sight.
The horses were there, and Morgaen and Ragnar went to look them over. Morgaen questioned them, and they said nothing had been close to them, nothing had come out of the mists or otherwise attacked them – but Ragnar discovered that each of them now had a strange black mark on their tongues, which had not been there before. Checking the ground, they found some purplish plant matter, and none of them could remember seeing any plants looking like that in the area when they left the horses there. The horses either had not noticed anything wrong – or were not saying.
Looking further down the path, the trees and the rest of the vegetation was changing, becoming vivid and colourful. A spire could just be seen further on, appearing out of the trees – closer by, a small cottage was visible just down the path. A man walked out in front of the cottage, with a pitchfork over his shoulder. Leaving Morgaen muttering about how she told everyone they should have come back to the horses faster, Sir Gerigold and Greynen walked down the path towards him.
The man – Valdemar, the keeper of the mausoleum – did not seem surprised or taken aback to see them, although he did say that nobody had been to the Valkyr family mausoleum in some time. Sir Gerigold questioned him carefully and patiently about the mists, and anything else strange that might have been going on – Valdemar seemed to know nothing and be distinctly uninterested. However, he did have a habit of every so often stopping and ignoring a question for a moment – then repeating his answer to the last question. With great patience, Sir Gerigold pressed him on the points he seemed to want to avoid, but he got nothing but dismissive answers, as Valdemar chewed a straw and seemed distinctly uninterested in the rare experience of visitors. He pointed the party down the path towards the mausoleum and declared his intention of getting back to work.
Leaving the horses again, the party set off down the path towards the mausoleum. Notwithstanding Valdemar being present as the live-in gardener, the valley around the mausoleum was thickly overgrown with the vivid, strangely-coloured foliage, and little could be seen off the path. Several large, dark purplish fungus-type things were particularly noted by the party, as none of them had come across anything like them before. Birds were singing in the trees – but they resisted Morgaen’s efforts to strike up a conversation.
As they came closer to the mausoleum, Ragnar dropped back and curiously hacked a piece off one of the purplish plants. It came away with a mass of sticky, black, evil-smelling ooze.
“Oh – please tell me you’re not planning on eating that,” Morgaen pleaded.
“No, no,” the cleric said, wrapping it in a piece of paper.
At this moment, it dawned on the party that something had changed.
The forest had gone silent –or nearly silent. There was an ominous rustling in the bushes.
They looked up. The birds were still there – staring down at the party, with their heads bent sideways at an unnatural angle, beaks gaping open. There were long dark streaks along their tongues.
The rustling intensified. Two large, purplish fungus-like creatures, pulling themselves out of the foliage with waving creeper-like tendrils, oozed onto the path. They were behind the party, cutting them off from the way out of the Painted Valley.
“I blame you for this!” Morgaen told Ragnar firmly, readying her crossbow.
“I blame myself for this,” Ragnar agreed, sadly, hefting his warhammer.
Hazard charged in, greatsword swinging, putting himself between the creatures and the weaker members of the party. Sir Gerigold followed, flanking them, with Ragnar joining in and Greynen and Morgaen providing ranged support. The first attacks on the strange creatures cut chunks off them, more black ooze dripping onto the path, but they did not seem much affected by the injuries – the clusters of tendrils rising from them lashed out, several from each creature aiming at the enemies closest to them. The delicate-seeming tendrils ripped viciously into Hazard, Ragnar and Sir Gerigold, causing more damage than seemed possible for such slender appendages. The three felt strangely sickened by the attacks, but rallied, and the creatures went down.
They felt a moment’s relief – but the birds were still staring at them strangely, and the bushes were still rustling. Two more fungus-creatures rolled out of the bushes and onto the path, again blocking the way back out of the valley. The party looked around them – more rustling was continuing, further back into the trees, but coming closer.
“Pull back to the bend in the path,” Hazard suggested tersely. “We can kill some of them at range before they get to us.”
They followed his advice, loosing ranged attacks at the two creatures advancing on them before moving back to the bend in the path. Hazard and Sir Gerigold drew on their reserves to prepare themselves for a longer fight. Beyond the bend, the path widened into a clearing around the mausoleum itself. Ragnar ran on to check out the mausoleum, Morgaen following him, as more creatures appeared from the bushes – closer to the party than the two still advancing along the path, and the rustling from all around them continued. Greynen focused his ire on one of the creatures, increasing the damage of the magical energy he flung at them, with Sir Gerigold spitting the same creature with a javelin. It went down, but that left three still advancing – and then even more appeared from the trees.
As Ragnar and Morgaen approached the mausoleum, a hexagonal building clearly with several floors, they spotted a figure – a pale, ghostly figure with curly hair, floating in the shadows near the entrance to the mausoleum. The ghost of Eleanor Valkyr beckoned to them, then vanished through the door, into the mausoleum itself.
They checked – the door was locked. Ragnar started checking for any other entrances, but there were none. Morgaen hesitated, conscious of the promise of information, but looked over her shoulder – the others were still fighting. She ran back to join them, putting herself behind Hazard and Sir Gerigold and shooting another crossbow bolt at an advancing creature.
“Lady Rennet’s ghost is here and would like to talk to us inside,” she reported.
Sir Gerigold, eyes on the path, nodded. More creatures were still emerging from the bushes.
“Can you,” Hazard asked the bard, eyeing the increasing number of their opponents, “talk to plants?”
“Sorry – that’s a more advanced technique than animals,” Morgaen apologised, reloading.
“It’s time we did get into the mausoleum,” Hazard decided, and left the battle line, running over to the door. He checked it over with a mason’s trained eye – the stonework was clearly old, and like nothing he had ever encountered before. He could find no weaknesses in the door.
The others were still fighting, Sir Gerigold having stopped throwing javelins and taken up his maul again as the creatures got closer. He used the weight of the weapon to good advantage, swinging it mightily and crushing any creature even slightly injured in one blow, black ooze spurting onto the path, often swinging hard enough to strike two of the creatures at once. Greynen was also dealing heavy damage to the creatures but was being forced to back up as they advanced, and as more kept emerging from the trees even closer to him. Despite his efforts to focus on one vulnerable target at the time, he was forced to change targets to the closer threats and leave some injured but still dangerous, as yet more appeared – and now, when they looked round at a warning cry from Hazard, the rest of the party could see more creatures emerging from the woods behind them, on the other side of the mausoleum. They were surrounded. Hazard slammed himself hard against the door, and felt it move a little – but it stood fast.
Ragnar had run back to help the others, focusing his own ire on one of them and attacking it viciously – but now found himself flanked by two of them, a cluster of tendrils rising and lashing out, all of them targeted at him. He braced, raised his shield and prayed – and every tendril missed.
“Yeeesss!” he roared in triumph, and laid into them with his hammer, Sir Gerigold running over to help. They pounded the creatures into the gravel of the path, black ooze spattering their armour – but even more creatures were appearing, both on the path and into the clearing around the mausoleum, and oozing slowly towards them.
Morgaen called out words of power, sending healing magic out to bolster the injured Sir Gerigold, as she left the line and headed for the door. She reached for the thieves’ tools in her pouch, and crouched next to the door, but her first attempt to pick the lock with the new set of tools failed. Hazard slammed himself against the door again – it still held strong.
Greynen backed up into the clearing, still sending bolts of force into the advancing creatures, trying to keep space clear for the others. Ragnar dodged back out of the way of the advance – Sir Gerigold ran at the closest creature, making a great effort and destroying it, then backed up more slowly, watching the party’s rear.
“Get the door open now!” he suggested, tersely, over his shoulder.
“Come on, come on!” Ragnar encouraged, dancing impatiently behind the bard.
“Yes, I’m trying!” Morgaen snapped, then took her focus back to the lock. This time, she found the sweet spot – the lock clicked, and she pushed the door open. “Everyone in!”
Most of the party ran for the door at once – Sir Gerigold instead ran past to guard the other’s retreat against the creatures rapidly advancing from the right. Two of them oozed in to flank him, tendrils drawing back to lash out – but then the rest of the party were all inside and he felt himself yanked backwards by Morgaen. Taking his chance, Sir Gerigold let himself be dragged backwards and pivoted through the entrance - surprising his would-be attackers by this unexpected style of movement so that they failed to lash out as he disappeared - and Morgaen slammed the door of the mausoleum closed behind them.
This was Part 3 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: Lucas Pezeta, Yaroslav Shuraev, Valeriia Miller, Maria Orlova, Jeswin Thomas, map by the author using Inkarnate, Mariana Montrazi, Helena Lopes, Rachel Claire, Macro Mama (from StockSnap), Ghost Presenter (from StockSnap), Jatuphon Buraphon.