Our Dungeons & Dragons campaign picked up with the party leading Stragen and heading for Locoritum, the seat of the Vangiones tribe. Their path took them through several villages and hamlets in the Moenus (Main) River valley. There was some character development — the monk doing some light healing on sick children; competition between the bard, Calvinus, and Carrus the Dwarf over Carona, the satyress before Marcellus explained the situation: She’s not like people, but more animal in nature…she doesn’t mean to cuckold him; she’s just…free spirited.
Eventually, they arrived at Wolfsangel — a town on the Moenus where it loops south around the mountains between them and Locoritum. They arrived in the late afternoon to the sound of revelry or riot — they’re not certain which. Marcellus reconnoitered the town and found the locals were in the middle of lynching. The victims, a family of dark-skinned, white-haired Celtoi (drow elves) who were apparently Christians, to boot.
Returning to the party, his report on the situation sent the monk, Icio, into flight, racing towrd the city (used his chi to boost his speed, then fired up the whole glowing wings thing the aasimar can do!) He scared the hell out of the city guard, slid past a few of their attacks and right through the gates, with Carona right behind, then the rest of the party on horses.
Once inside, they interrupted the riot and after a few tenses turns of trying to get the people under control and find out what was going on, they figured out the Christians were being accused of bringing “die Schwarze mann” to their town. This “dark man” is some kind of creature that is kidnapping and murdering their children, and it only started its reign of terror after the Celtoi blacksmith and his family arrived. The description of the creature was that of the bedtime stories parents tell their kids to get them to behave — the bogeyman. But this one was seen by one of the children that escaped it in the woods to the south. It tried to lure him in by imitating one of the missing children. Augstinius used a suggestion spell to convince the town mayor that they would hunt down the creature and kill it, if they would allow the family to leave in peace.
After that they visited the home of the “Old Man” — an alleged “once powerful magician” who is now sick and going senile. Inside the man’s home, a hoarder’s paradise of weird knick-knacks from all over, piles on piles of pages of cribbed handwritting that made a warren of tight corridors between all the junk, the ancient housekeeper/ wife/ daughter/ whatever of the Old Man took them to his bed, where the sick, crotchety, talkative wizard talked about his time “away from the world” in Asgard, his memoirs (all the clutter), and listened to their story about the Dark Man.
The Old Man opined it was a “wight” — a creature killed under bad circumstances, and which was haunting the world because its soul could not go to the afterlife. It is a creature of darkness and will avoid the sun — but dark places near burial mounds, like the barrows to the south in the woods, would be its haunting grounds.
After a night’s rest, they set out early in the morning to find the creature. Through thick fog, and shockingly quiet surroundings, they looked for the creature, with Carona playing the part of a lost child (fairly convincingly, as she’s maybe 14…) Then they lost sight of her. After a few tense minutes, they find her, having discovered one of the olst children! However, Augustinius isn not fooled and lights the child up with a radiant attack, blasting away the mirage and exposing the half-rotted corpse of the kid. Carona morphs into a dark, shadowy figure whose long arms and fingers lash out to try and grab the bard and Carrus — the two closest. they are able to avoid the attacks, barely Augustinius lets fly with another spell, and the sheet of flame destroys the zombie child, but the Dark Man simply collapses into a puddle and disappears!
Meanwhile, Marcellus had found Carona, standing transfixed by the side of a large, black body of water, unfrozen like the snow and ice around it, and utterly dark, reflecting no light. He was able to wake her, then hears the fight with the monsters start. Trying to get a good position to shoot with his bow, he accidentally steps in the water. His arrow does nothing to the creature, then he is grabbed by the hands of the other two missing children, who are trying to pull him into the water. Carona’s scream of terror brings the rest of the party to help.
The cleric is able to turn the undead long enough for Marcellus to scramble out of the pond, which sees no ripples, no reflection still. Their other ranger, Titus, starts using his lantern to set the nearby branches alight, to give them a better chance against the light-hating creature. With the forest around the pond burning, and the pool still pitch black and still, they prepared for their next encounter…
While they were all focused on the water, a shadowy figure rises up behind the band and cleric — the two magicians that have caused it trouble, thus far… And on that we cliffhangered for the night.
So…horror is hard. It always has been for me, and I wanted their first encounter with a monster to be more than the run-of-the-mill D&D “Oh, it’s a [monster]; I’ve read the Monster Manual so [tactic] will work…” A thing like this should be creepy, it should be frightening, and I tried in this episode to catch that horror movie vibe by taking a standard creature (a wight) and modifying it to incorporate other “behave or the [monster] will get you” stories. In the Germanies of the time, water critters were popular for scaring the shit out of your brats, but the most popular was the “dark man” or “black man” trope. Fusing a wight with a shadow, and throwing in the ability to travel through water without worrying about sunlight gave me my critter.
This encounter also took us further away from the alt-history world we’ve been playing in. It’s still mostly historically accurate, but bringing in the fantasy elements, but with a gritty, horror angle, will hopefully keep the player’s (and my) interests. It’s a weird melange on styles for me — horror is something I just don’t do well, the alt-history is more my speed, and the classic “kill the monster” isn’t interesting to me. But fusing them is making for a more unique and fun setting (at least for me.)