The Black Boatman
Lawful Evil Ghost
Str - Dex 17 Con - Int 10 Wis 16 Cha 21
Ashes of Arend
The Black Boatman is a legendary wraith that haunts infrequently traveled rivers that are often cloaked with an erie fog or clinging mist. Signs of the Black Boatman include the distant sound of a small, tarnished brass bell blowing in an unseen wind or the appearance of a rotting dock jutting out a short distance into a river with a small post at its end from which hands an old bell.
Stepping onto the dock and ringing the bell causes a hush to settle in the air and the distant sound of a pole dipping into the water can be heard. From the fog slides the flat bottomed skiff of the Black Boatman. Taller than a man, thin and gaunt within a cloak that shrouds horse-like skull of a face.
The boatman rarely speaks, preferring silence, and beckons with one bony hand and points across the river, displaying fingers that are oddly long for they each have an extra knuckle, and then holds out its hand in a manner suggesting that it desires a coin for the service of traveling across the river. Any who pay may board its skiff. A spot check (DC 20) causes passengers to notice that something odd happens as they enter the skiff, their magical items and powers cease to function as though contained within an antimagic field.
Once all have boarded, the boatman pushes away from the shore. Observers on the shore will notice them disappear into the fog, invisible by all means, even to blindsight, the sound of the boatman's pole dipping into the water fades away.
Somewhere midway across the river, just as the far back can be dimly and distantly seen, the boatman stops its craft and turns its head to its passengers and holds forth its hand again. This time though, any who attempt to drop a coin into its hand, the coins simply fall through its fingers and clatter on the boat bottom. It flexes its hand as though it wished the passenger to offer the touch of his hand, meanwhile, observant passengers begin to note that the shallow skiff is slowly sinking into the water and rising beneath the surface are grotesque undead beings (the remains of those who refused to pay the boatman his fare).
Should the passengers take the boatman's hand, its fingers wrap about their wrist and they are suddenly aged one year; their fingernails and hair growing a years worth in but a moment, their nose running and a years worth of dead skin falling from their flesh. Each passenger must pay the toll. Once this is done, the undead disappear back beneath the waters and the boatman delivers them safely to the other shore. Those who refuse to pay the price will find the entire craft slowly sink beneath the water, where the wights below quickly drain them of their life. At any time they may choose to pay the boatman and be saved from the watery fate. Attacking the boatman elicits no response from it, weapons simply passing through its body as though it were incorporeal. Characters on either shore of the river cannot hear or see anything of their companions misfortune.
Once safely upon the other side of the riverbank, astute observers will note that a similar dock rests slightly downstream, awaiting use for a return passage across the river. Whether they realize it or not, passengers of the Black Boatman have just contracted a terrible curse which stops them from crossing any river of running water that is too big to step across in a single stride. Attempting to cross such a river without the assistance of the boatman subjects the victim to terrible pain and causes them to begin to age very rapidly, at a rate of 1 year per round or 10 feet crossed, whichever the greater, though a palpable fear should warn them of making any such attempt and in fact, a Will save (DC 20) is required to even attempt a crossing without the boatman. Fortunately, the dilapidated dock and rusty bell can now be seen by the cursed characters at any river of significance that they come to. The toll remains the same each time and adventurers can choose whether to pay it and safely cross the river, or to refuse and find some other way across.
Getting Rid of the Curse: How the curse is removed may depend entirely on the whim of the DM, the style of the campaign, and the level of the party. However, here are a few suggestions:
Low-Levels: A Remove curse by a 6th level or higher priest is the most simple method, allowing PCs a chance to meet someone of middling rank within the church. A more adventurous option might include performing research, using bardic knowledge, or consulting a sage. Such research might reveal that by casting consecrate (Clr 2) on the waters where they first encountered the Black Boatman, laying the spirits of those he's claimed to rest.
Mid-Levels: Using a summon undead to lure the wights from the river waters where they can be properly dealt with is one possible solution that is easily adjustable for a broad range of levels by altering the number of wights they must face. One could reason that the Black Boatman draws his power from those he's slain after many boat trips of who were dunked in the river and perished to the wights. A remove curse cast by a 12th level or higher priest is also an opportunity to meet higher officials of the church.
High-Levels: A high level party should have the experience and ability necessary to handle challenges that require greater inventiveness. Perhaps by trapping the boatman on one side of the river with a dimensional anchor, use of walls of force and then attacking it with ghost-touched weapons, followed by invoking hallow over the river area to sooth restless dead into the afterlife. Details of the boatman's statistics are up to the DM, though his energy draining touch and ghostly countenance could be fearsomely dangerous. We suggest against dealing PCs too much magical aging if there is no way to counter such an effect in your world, though it might prove an interesting side-quest for a powerful group if they are temporarily weakened by age while seeking to regain their youthfulness. If the boatman summons up the wights (or even wraiths) from the river to aid it, the challenge could be even more difficult.