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  • Curse and Scream – Cursed Undead Encounter for D&D 5e

An undead soldier encounter for parties of 5th-level or higher, with stat blocks for use in D&D 5e.

The wails that rise from Banshee’s Bridge have sparked the creativity of storytellers for generations. There are stories of the illusory screams warding off superstitious attackers who would otherwise have assaulted the adjoining outpost. Others speak of those who crossed the bridge and yet never made it to the other side. Many more tales attempt to explain the sounds, speaking of murders, dark magic, and vengeful ghosts, always originating from a nebulous time before anyone can remember.

These yarns tend to be told with an air of mutual embellishment, never quite believed by the teller or listener. But recent events have lent them unexpected credence. There are rumors that an unknown traveler crossed Banshee’s Bridge and was seen entering the outpost. This event would not be notable had it not been followed by an eerie darkening of the skies above and the spreading of those distant screams that were usually contained within the canyon. They can now be heard for a mile around as distant whispers carried on the wind. 

The people of the surrounding area believe that there is an evil at Banshee’s Bridge. They are not equipped to face whatever might be waiting there and there is a growing fear that it will not remain content to wait for much longer. The village and other homesteads have scrounged together a reward for anyone willing to investigate. 

Adventurers entertaining the request are quickly inundated with retellings of the legends of Banshee’s Bridge and its outpost in all of their grim details. The group would do well to listen, as the nervous townsfolk speak of the soldiers that once inhabited the outpost during an old time of war and of all the bodies left behind, buried in its yard. Though they do not know it, it is these very bodies, who once lived as their protectors, who now rise as an undead Curseguard, preparing to destroy everything nearby.

The exact cause for the undead appearing in the outpost may depend on your own campaign and the level range of the party. Perhaps a lich has taken control of the structure as part of a larger plan. It may still be there, where it can act as the climax of a larger encounter, provided the characters are of a sufficiently high level to face it. If they are not, the villain may have simply cursed the area before moving on, perhaps as a way to cover its tracks, as a distraction while it closes in on its true goal, or simply to wreak havoc on the area. 

If you wish to keep the encounter self-contained, it may be that there has always been a magical aspect to the echoes of Banshee’s Bridge, such as that of an actual banshee, which builds over time and has culminated in the rising of the Curseguard. Defeating the undead disperses this magic once again, though it promises to intensify and reoccur sometime in the distant future. If you choose this as the cause for the Curseguard’s appearance, include a partial explanation in the stories the characters hear. Maybe there is an old tale of a previous undead attack. Or perhaps there is a lesser-known rumor about the outpost’s soldiers, who were cursed by people they victimized. Maybe an ancient commander even attempted forbidden magic as a means of ensuring that he and his men could always hold the fort, even far beyond their natural deaths.

Banshee’s Bridge

You arrive at what must be the center of the gloom, where the road ahead of you is cut by a fog-filled canyon. The stone walls and steps and the iron gate of the outpost tower above the opposite side, appearing nigh untouched save for the wear of their age. The same cannot be said for the bridge leading to the structure. Large sections have crumbled away to break against the distant ground, leaving only precarious supports patching the holes. You swear you can hear more of the stone grind away as another torrent of wind blows through the canyon, though any sounds of movement or nature are drowned out by a chorus of dissonant, uncanny screams, echoing at every angle from within the fissure.

Banshee’s Bridge earned its name from the sound that echoes upwards when winds rush through the canyon, the whistles and howls distorting to resemble pained, cacophonous screams. The origin of this phenomenon went misunderstood for many generations, spawning all manner of legends as to its history and origins. The fear and trepidation these rumors inspired have kept most away from the bridge. As a result, it has fallen into disrepair since the abandonment of the attached outpost.

Cursed skies. The magic currently suffusing Banshee’s Bridge has darkened the skies above it, in a radius of half a mile. The sun in this area only provides dim light at its brightest and rain and storms are far more common.

A long fall. The canyon that the bridge spans is 60 feet deep, with rocks and boulders that rise 10 feet from the ground at the base of its walls. These walls are mostly sheer surfaces, with only sparse ridges to aid in climbing.

Wailing winds. Wind blowing through the canyon creates an echo that resembles the scream of a banshee, which the presence of the Curseguard has intensified to the point of being deafening.

On initiative count 20 of every round, roll a d20. On a 15 or higher, a gust of wind rushes through the canyon. Each creature on the bridge, within the canyon, or within 30 feet of its edge must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or be deafened until initiative count 20 of the next round. If a creature that is not a member of the Curseguard fails by 5 or more, it is frightened of the canyon for the duration.

Map & Asset Downloads

Banshee’s Bridge is based on and named for our recent banshee bridge battle map. But we have plenty of other maps and assets, whether you want them for creating the outpost or for an entirely different setting for the Curseguard to appear.

The Curseguard

Risen within the outpost at Banshee’s Bridge is the Curseguard, a unit of undead soldiers infused with necromantic energy. They are an accursed combination of corporeal and spectral undead. Some retain the skills they learned in life, while others are monstrosities born from the discarded dregs of other bodies, but all are empowered by the vile magic that has unearthed them from their graves.

Accursed Wisp

A tiny, ethereal orb of faint green magic floats in the air. It gives off a gentle light as it drifts, seeming to ignore everything around it yet moving with inexplicable purpose.

The accursed wisp barely qualifies as a distinct creature. Rather, it is the condensed energy of a bound soul, which has been commanded to act as the spark of undeath for the soldiers of the Curseguard. Its only goal is to seek a corpse to inhabit and raise as a curseguard skeleton. And when one vessel expires, the wisp simply seeks another.

The accursed wisp is the mechanic by which the Curseguard’s skeletons and blasphemers are created. The more advanced creations require far more energy to animate. In addition to the wisp enhancing the danger of the aforementioned Curseguard units, you could also incorporate it into the encounter by having the Curseguard’s creator summon wisps or by including wisps that are still searching for corpses to possess. Just be careful to not overuse them, as their Death Curse does pose a threat to melee fighters.

Curseguard Skeleton

A skeleton clad in tattered chains and armor raises its weapon and releases a low, drawn-out moan. Two beads of pale green light shine in its eye sockets and thin smoke of the same color rises out of its slack jaw and from beneath the joints of its clothing.

Every army needs its footsoldiers and every necromancer needs their disposable horde. But some choose to elevate these beyond simple zombies and skeletons by infusing the latter with powerful magic, creating the cursebound skeleton. This enhancement, granted by the accursed wisp within the skeleton, infuses the undead’s weapons with the power of decay. This same wisp is also not killed by the skeleton’s destruction. If not quickly dealt with, it may go on to find and raise another host.

Both the curseguard skeleton and curseguard blasphemer trigger their Lingering Curse upon death, releasing the spectral accursed wisp that was animating it. The wisps do not engage in direct combat but instead seek out new corpses to raise as skeletons. The skeletons will continue to replenish the Curseguard’s numbers until the party realizes to destroy them, which comes with its own risks.

Curseguard Blasphemer

A uniformed, skeletal soldier is bound in strips of parchment around its arms, other scraps affixed to its torso. These pages crackle with magical text in the same ominous green that drifts vaporously from the skeleton. But the brightest comes from the creature’s head, where these parchment bandages tie together three separate skulls, all muttering discordantly with venomous whispers.

A step above, and usually somewhere behind, the skeleton is the cursebound blasphemer. The blasphemer is similar to its martial counterpart in many ways but is set apart by the profane magic that it inherits from its creator. It wields this magic both to support its fellow undead in battle and to replenish their numbers by raising other skeletons and zombies from the Curseguard’s victims.

The blasphemer produces an accursed wisp upon its death but this wisp can only raise a corpse as a curseguard skeleton and not another blasphemer, as it lacks the additional magic used in the blasphemers’ creation. While this still reinforces the Curseguard’s unrelenting tactics, it does mean that their power dwindles with each defeated blasphemer.

Cursebound Execration

A monstrous humanoid of assembled parts lumbers as it moves, its patchwork of bone and musculature seeming to defy basic biology simply by functioning. Its mismatched, lopsided body is armored in similarly scavenged pieces of chainmail and metal. These defenses are so crudely affixed to its flesh that you see them cut into it as the monster moves, causing it to growl gutturally in pain. Yet, instead of trickling with blood, its wounds leak a putrid green fog.

Raising skeletons from the dead can leave behind what many might refer to as ‘excess material’. But this need not go to waste. Similar principles to the creation of a flesh golem can be employed to fuse flesh, armor, and the distilled malice of the dead into a new horror: the cursebound execration. The execration is a beast that embodies the evil of its creation, ravaging the battlefield without regard for itself or others, emboldened by the ability to modify its own body in response to the situation. It is a weapon to be pointed and unleashed, and one that rarely leaves anything alive in its wake.

An important aspect of roleplaying the execration is to highlight its Malleable Mutation ability. A quick description of its body changing and adapting not only makes it a more horrifying enemy to face but also gives the characters key information about fighting it. This helps them as the battle progresses and they learn how to deal with each mutation.

Cursebound Legion

A writhing cloud of sickly green energy coalesces, its jerks and spasms echoing with a chorus of agonized shrieks. Some resemble words, others just animalistic expressions of pain. It takes an indistinctly humanoid form, yet within each flex and pulse of its incorporeal body you spy faces, hands, and entire beings crying and pushing from within, fighting to escape. Their wails are muffled as they are wrenched back into the larger shape, only for another to claw its way screaming to the surface. 

The souls of the dead are a valuable resource for powerful necromancers but ghosts and similar specters are so often influenced by inconvenient vestiges of their former selves, like personality and morality. Fortunately, those with a bountiful supply of souls may achieve the creation of a cursebound legion. The legion is an amalgamation of a dozen or more souls lashed together in an inescapable, nightmarish afterlife. With their thoughts and voices combined, the legion loses all sense of identity in the madness of its combined form, resulting in a potent and unpredictable creature with corrupted, discordant versions of a ghost’s abilities.

Curseguard Dread Knight

A knight the size of several men towers above its allies. It is entirely encased in its armor that grinds and rattles as it moves, not a sliver of skin visible between the blackened metal, withered leather, and tatters of what once might have been the cloth denoting a uniform. From where these plates meet leaks a menacing green fog, some of which appears to encircle the immense, gnarled zweihander that the giant wields.

Every guard needs its captain; every army, its commander. The curseguard dread knight is created to fill this leadership role, having been forged from the remains of similar champions that have been combined and locked within its armor. The knight acts as a commanding influence and source of direction for the rest of the Curseguard. But it does more than simply issue orders. It leads by example, charging into the fray to personally deliver its enemies their deaths. The slaughter left in its wake inspires its allies, while the dread knight’s inhuman silence fills its opponents with fear and leaves them with nothing but the wait before its sword finds them.

Balancing the Curseguard

Given their individual CR values, your choice of Curseguard is most likely going to revolve around your inclusion of a cursebound execration, cursebound legion, or curseguard dread knight. Any additional undead can then be used to fine-tune the encounter’s difficulty. 

Fortunately, the setting of Banshee’s Bridge and the adjoining outpost provides an effective option for throttling the Curseguard’s numbers. Depending on their reason for being there, the Curseguard inhabiting the outpost may be fulfilling the expected roles of its soldiers. This means that they would be spread out between its different positions and defenses, including the yard, rooms, and patrolling the walls. Spreading the creatures out in this way, with structures and areas of cover between them, gives the party the ability to eliminate individual creatures before the encounter enters open combat. The CR system is most applicable to balancing this head-on combat, so giving the characters the opportunity to remove threats beforehand means that the CR of the entire Curseguard can be raised above the party’s level. 

In doing this, it is important to organically warn the party of what they might face so that they can prepare. This can rely on the characters’ own scouting if that is something they make a habit of doing but can also come from other characters mentioning the Curseguard’s numbers and control of the outpost. Likewise, you must be careful of how much difficulty you add through the spread-out creatures, as there is always the chance of a failed attack or skill check cascading and alerting more enemies than the party can handle.

Here are some examples of creature choices you can use to achieve different CR values for the core combat encounter:

CR 5: 1 cursebound execration, 1 curseguard skeleton, 2 skeletons.

CR 8: 1 cursebound legion or curseguard dread knight, 1 curseguard blasphemer, 2 curseguard skeletons.

CR 10: 1 cursebound legion or curseguard dread knight, 1 cursebound execration, 1 curseguard skeleton, 2 skeletons.

CR 14: 1 cursebound legion or curseguard dread knight, 1 cursebound execration, 2 curseguard blasphemers, 2 curseguard skeletons.

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About the author

Troy McConnell

Part-time DM and author of 2-Minute Tabletop's encounters, map lore, and characters. Basically, I write about all the campaign ideas that I don't have time to run. All with the assistance of my feline familiar, Wink.

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  1. I love these! Was needing undead with theme of blasphemy and y’all always have my back. The dread knight and legion remind me of Abyss’ forms in Marvel Vs Capcom 2

  2. Beautiful. Love the ideas. They mirror an encounter I ran in my current campaign a couple levels back – although the role of the accursed wisps was played by a different source due to Story – where an entire town had fallen under the curse…

  3. I really like the combination of atmosphere and mix-and-match encounter versatility. Good design.

    You can even dial it to overmatch, and have good scouting reveal this before a group gets in over their heads. I’m not a believer that PCs should take on every encounter or challenge – though I’ve had PCs knowingly cross the overmatch line with a good plan, and succeed.

    Note: The Accursed Wisp that’s key to it all may not have its entire sheet uploaded. To me, it seems to cut off at “Actions”.

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