Elminster's Guide to the Realms

The Haunted Bridge

by Ed Greenwood, illustrated by David Day, (Dragon #307)

North of Westbridge and south of Triboar, a wide stone bridge carries the Long Road across a sucking bog centered around the wandering waters of the stream known as Huntinghorn Water. The bridge stands in isolated, bugbear-populated terrain and for years has been known to mapmakers as "Ilikur's Bridge," To those in the north, however, it is simply called the "Haunted Bridge."

This latter nickname derives from an eerie property of the structure: From time to time, the stones of the bridge speak. Their utterances are loud, clear, and always delivered in the same calm male-pitched voice.

What Meets the Eye

Ilikur's Bridge is built of tightly fitted irregular blocks of local granite that rise in a gentle arch about four feet at its center from the level of the road at its ends. A huge slab of rock resting atop two gigantic stones bridges the Black Maw Bog and carries the road atop its back. This cross-slab is 100 feet in length, half that in width, and 12 feet thick. The two leg blocks are 40 feet tall (with the bottom 10 feet buried in the soil), sixty feet across (east-west), and over 20 feet wide (north-south). Behind each leg block is a wall of fitted stone filled with rubble that carries the road up and down from the height above the cross-slab.

Gravel and river rock have been built up over the cross-slab to make a smooth roadbed, and then finished with cobblestones. The bridge's road runs for 300 feet and is 40 feet wide at all points, allowing the largest laden wagons to pass each other with ease.

On either side of the cobbled roadbed, high walls of dressed and fitted stone topped by sloped, smooth capstone rails protect users of the bridge from accidental plunges over its sides.

The now forgotten builders of the bridge - who might or might not have had anything to do with Ilikur, whoever or whatever "Ilikur" was - were either dwarves or persons whose stonemasonry skills equaled that of the dwarves of elder times. Although no visible drains pierce the sides or bed of the bridge, the builders chose the type and arrangement of stones so carefully that water seeps through the structure, drains away, and leaves the bridge unharmed by the ravages of winter ice.

The Haunted Bridge is known to have stood at this site, without recorded repairs, for at least eight hundred years and probably for at least a century or two before that, given that its earliest mention in journals and guides all describe it as "old". It might well precede the Long Road by many years, and perhaps once had a purely local use - in a settled land now long vanished beneath the ravages of the northern wilds and weather.

The Black Maw Bog has moved and grown in size over the years, expanding to the east at least as far as a person standing at the height of Ilikur's Bridge can see. Overlain by the wide, slow-moving waters of the Huntinghorn, the Bog is hard to see. Over the years it has swallowed many reckless or ignorant travelers - and their beasts and wagons, too. The Bog consists of thick mud at least 20 feet deep in most places (and almost twice that beneath the midpoint of the bridge). Crabgrass and many small plants grow atop the bog, hiding its true size.

It's considered bad luck to camp or even tarry upon the bridge, a belief fostered both by its haunted reputation and by the practice of several local bugbear raiding bands of attacking all travelers who try to spend the night on the bridge.

What Lurks Unseen

Popular belief refuses to accept reports attesting to the truth about Ilikur's Bridge, but many wizards and sages have investigated the structure thoroughly, and almost all have reported (accurately) that the bridge isn't haunted at all. Instead, it was enspelled with many variant elder versions of magic mouth spells that cause it to "speak" under certain conditions (the visible mouths almost all appearing underneath the bridge).

Dozens of the bridge's stone blocks can be removed once the proper "trigger-stones" have been found and manipulated, revealing clever hiding places - one of them a chamber large enough for up to eight humans to hide in. These features are no doubt the source of legends that insist hidden treasure can be found in the vicinity of the bridge. The loaded wagons and coaches of wealthy merchants and nobles sucked into the bog have added to such legends over the years. Most of the sunken wagons and carriages lie to the east of the bridge, from 60 to 100 feet away from it. Some intrepid adventurers using ropes, harnesses, and magic have recovered valuables from inside these coaches, but drownings regularly occur during such attempts.

There are also ancient tales of a dragon that often landed on the bridge and then just as suddenly vanished, and a ring of glowing wizards seen standing in solemn meeting on the bridge by night, but if any of these sightings actually occurred, they've left no mark.

Legends say that death will swiftly strike down anyone who tries to shatter or carry off stones of Ilikur's Bridge - such as the treasure seekers who once dug away at the roadbed at the center of the bridge's span and uncovered a smooth-carved stone giant lying on its back. According to the tales, the stone golem sat up and blasted those who uncovered it with lightning bolts, cooking them alive and hurling them far from the bridge. It then collected all the disturbed stones, laid itself down, and reburied itself, waiting for some momentous occasion before rising again. What this occasion is has caused great debate, and no one can say for sure.

What the Stones Say

Here are some of the recorded utterances of the bridge, along with their known "trigger" conditions. These have been determined by experimentation; the bridge says many other things when conditions that have not yet been precisely defined occur. Even Elminster won't venture an opinion on the meanings of any of these sayings.

The Black Maw Bog

The Black Maw Bog is a serious danger that has killed many unsuspecting travelers and adventure seekers. It has varying depths but is 30 feet deep at its deepest point. If a creature suspects the bog is there or is especially alert for quicksand, poor footing, or a possible trap, a Survival check (DC 15) enables the creature to feel or notice the edge of the bog and move freely to avoid it.

At the shallow edges of the bog (no more than 5 feet from the edge), creatures unable to levitate, fly, or otherwise free themselves from the mud sink until hip- or chest-deep, reducing their speed to 5 feet and giving them a -2 penalty on attack rolls and AC. Brush thrown atop the mud can support creatures able to climb on top of it. Creatures large enough to walk on the bottom can wade through the area at a speed of 5 feet. Creatures can also be pulled free of the mud with a successful Strength check (DC 20).

As creatures reach deeper areas of the bog, it becomes more dangerous, threatening total immersion. A creature over a "bottomless" area of bog sinks hip- or chest-deep with the same effects listed above. After 4 minutes, the creature sinks shoulder-deep, it cannot move, and the penalty on attack rolls and AC rises to -4. After 5 minutes, the creature sinks chin-deep, it is unable to make attacks, the penalty to AC rises to -6, and all spellcasting that requires a somatic component becomes impossible. Total immersion occurs after 6 minutes.

A creature sucked completely under the thick mud of the bog can hold its breath for a number of rounds equal to twice its Constitution score. After this period of time, the creature must make a Constitution check (DC 10) every round in order to continue holding its breath. Each round, the DC increases by 1. When the creature finally fails its Constitution check, it begins to drown (see The Drowning Rule in chapter 3 of the DUNGEON MASTER'S Guide).

"Bogged" individuals who remain absolutely motionless delay their sinking by 2 minutes. Creatures who plunge or fall into the bog also hasten their sinking by 2 minutes.

Elminster's Notes

Know ye that the tales of vanishing dragons are the result of a two-way portal located at the south end of the bridge. The portal once connected to a dragon's lair but has now either been sealed or destroyed. I've read varying reports that the lair's owner was a large red or black dragon, but I have no idea where the lair is located, nor do I know its contents or if it is currently occupied. When functioning, a creature can make the portal appear by touching the correct two bridge stones - one on the east wall and one on the roadbed - simultaneously.

As for the tale of the golem, there I can be more specific. There is a carved stone figure buried face-up beneath the center of the bridge, but as far as I know, this statue has never been enchanted in any way and was in fact salvaged from a monument that once stood nearby (along with all the other stones of that edifice) to provide stones for the bridge. Dwarves repaired the bridge after the statue was dug up and spread the tale of the statue reburying itself to discourage anyone else from similar excavations. The lightning bolts, however, were real - and there are several more, still-buried stones that yet lie within the bridge, waiting to discharge various deadly electrical spells at those who disturb them. Be warned that some of these stones contain more than a single use of such spells.

There are many things in Faerûn better left undisturbed, and this bridge is one of them. Pass over it, admire it - and leave its stones be. Unless, of course, a swift grave is thy goal.

Elminster's Guide to the Realms