The party was playing a digital game based more on character backstory instead of a single overarching BBEG, and so a lot of our time was spent adventuring, roleplaying, discovering about a characters backstory, and then going on a quest to help our in game friends. Every now and again a quest would call us to hunt down an evil wizard, or maybe a vampire terrorizing a local duchy, but mostly we enjoyed exploring and collecting lore on the world and each other. There was Mala, the Tiefling fighter. Dorn the human paladin, Rustjaw the Warforged Artificer, Balthazar the dragonborn wizard, and Aine the half-elf rogue. Immediately off the back the paladin and rogue did what paladins and rogue do best. Roleplaying their morale standpoint and laughing about it out of character. Rustjaw and Mala got along fairly well and Balthazar simply tolerated everyone with his usual sour attitude in game.
For a bit of background, there was a huge invasion by Demons into the Material plane about Fifteen years ago, and all of us had made characters that had some part to play during this event. What it was that others did we didn’t know at the start, since the dm had one on one’s during the war to determine what people had done. This will be important later. It was an interesting twist that just added a bit of flavor of mystery when we first met in game as a party of adventurers looking to make a the world a better place. The invasion was stopped, but lots of people were killed, and a huge amount of land was lost to corruption that left it as a wasteland. Most didn’t like to remember or talk about it, as it was just a bittersweet victory. But back to the game.
After several weeks of sessions the party found themselves gathered around a fire, enjoying some ale after a hard days journey. There were rumors not too far off down in the south that a local warlord had been causing a lot of trouble for some major trade routes, and so the party was taking part in an open contract to bring him down. This was our first meeting. At the campfire the party laughed and chuckled, even started discussing a few darker themes of their past and what brought them here. Dorn had lost touch with much of his faith after taking an oath of conquest. War had never been easy, but kept his belief strong so as to not become an oath breaker. Now that the war was over he found himself with time to think on past deeds. He confided in us the War made him do some terrible things. There was one event he mentioned where he had called in arrows on a demon swarm with some friendly soldiers near him. He stated no matter what he would’ve done it again, it was a necessary evil, but even then it hurt.
Rustjaw was eager to find his creator, learn how to make more of himself, and create a place for his people. Though years of abuse and bad maintenance had stolen a lot of his higher functions. During the war he described how his creator imprinted him with memories of great inventions of weapons to beat back the Demons, and stated how proud he was of his originator.
Balthazar was Balthazar. A sour young dragonborn man that dreamed of being a great wizard, but could never find anyone to take him in, or an academy that let him play fast and loose with the rules as he wanted. He was powerful of course, and had a lot of potential, but had a bad habit of looking down on non-magic users. During the War he boasted of his exploits in a mage brigadem and talked about the noble blood in his veins that made him quite powerful.
Aine had grown up on the streets, and even despite the desire to steal and kill to survive, he wanted to one day open an orphanage so as to give kids growing up on the street a better life. He of course recounted some of his finest kills as a joke, which only caused Dorn to enter into another debate on morality. He didn’t have much to say about the war, only mentioning he did what he had to.
Mala apologized, stating her story was not as sad. She had a big house, land, and was merely wanting to see the world. The party laughed that she was so out of place, which only embarssed the tiefling further. During the war she stated she’d been in a reserved unit her family let her serve in. Still, she did her best to keep morale high. “I know, I know, I grew up quite pampered,” She said while holding up gloved hands to jokingly defend herself.
But Balthazar scoffed. “Don’t look pampered.” He muttered causing the party to roll their eyes.
The game continued with more and more side jobs as the party finally made their way south. The Warlord wasn’t exactly perched up in a walled city with ten thousand soldiers, but more a bandit king with a couple dozen just causing a lot of problems. We fought our way through the worst of it and manage to get him to surrender. The job promised a bit of a bonus for capturing alive, so it called for celebration.
The party drank and feasted with a few of the locals that no longer needed to live under a tyrant, and it was a night to remember as many laughs were had. Then morning arrived, DM private messages were sent to the players, and a reality check struck the party. After the hangovers were had, a scream echoed across the great hall causing the party to rush to the stockade. There the horror sat before them, as the warlord was stabbed to death in his sleep. Not just him, but several of his lower ranking members that were more servants than actual bandits. All still in their cage with Aine’s dagger in the Warlord’s back.
“God damn it!” Cried Dorn’s player as he got into character. “Aine you son of a bitch! Why would you do this?! If you had some kind of grudge you could’ve at least told us! By the gods why?!”
Aine looked absolutely confused, “What?! Me?! Excuse you! I would never make such a sloppy kill! I mean I was passed out drunk, you think I stabbed him to death in my sleep?!”
“Oh well excuse you, not like you won’t shut up about that tavern in Heinwall, you took on three bandits drunk out of your mind with a splinter of wood. So yes, I do think you would do this! You’ve been complaining about letting him live since we beat him! Plus it’s your knife in him!” Dorn scoffed.
“It wasn’t me?!” Aine shouted again.
“You just cost us a hefty bonus, that’s going to come out of your cut!” Dorn scoffed again before moving to pull the dagger out of the warlord and throw it back at Aine.
“Oh bull! This was probably someone else that took my dagger, probably one of the locals that was upset at his rule! Politics can be dirty you big oaf.” Aine protested further before muttering about where the heck his dagger had gone early that morning.
“Oh yes because a random person here can simply sneak past all the guards, all the security, and kill a very powerful warlord. Even without armor I’ve no doubt he would’ve made a noise from getting stabbed, so it had to be a professional assassination. Your fault, you’re not getting out of this, deal with it.” Dorn looked at the rest of the party. “Everyone pack your things. I guess we’re carting a corpse back.
The party nodded, leaving Aine to yell and scream it wasn’t him. Rustjaw and Mala stayed for a moment to comfort him. “It’s ok friend,” Rustjaw started, “He was a bad man, I don’t blame you.”
“Shut up you glorified frying pan, I didn’t do this. Anyone can stab a guy in the back while he’s sleeping. It doesn’t take a professional!” Aine growled.
“Aine, it’s pretty clear you did, just…. Look don’t worry about it. Like Rust said, he was a bad guy, it’s understandable.” Mala said sadly while holding his shoulder. She and Rustjaw left to go get a cart, Balthazar tried to freeze the body to preserve it, and Aine continued to try to find someone to blame.
For context, Aine had indeed complained over and over again that the warlord was too dangerous to let live, and the rogue had pulled rogue moves before with doing something sketchy then lying about it. So we had our suspicions he had done it, and judged him heavily for killing the innocent servants, but just wanted to leave. After finally getting the body loaded on a cart encased in magical ice the party set out to to deliver it to the local city guard a town over to collect our bounty.
On the way there the party stopped at a small village particularly effected by the Warlord. Mala and Rustjaw led the effort to help pass out supplies we had in our cart, while the rest finally convinced them to continue traveling well into the night. We took turns sleeping on the cart, and by the next day we had made it to the city.
The body was delivered, Aine was forced to apologize for not delivering it alive, and the party set out to find it’s next great adventure.
It was then Rustjaw noticed something that brought a burning light into his metal heart, as he spotted another warforged for the first time in ever. Warforged were insanely rare, so finding one in the wild got his gears turning with enthusiasm. He immediately approached, dragging Mala with him as he wanted to show his friend what he found. Aine tagged along as well, wanting to be as far away from Dorn as possible, and routinely rolled his eyes at the other warforged working as a blacksmith.
Rustjaw, the new warforged, and Mala got along swimmingly, and Aine continued to roll his eyes and looked at all the good stuff. “Heh, do we get discounts since we have a toaster with us?” Aine chuckled.
“Aine stop it, do not be rude,” Mala frowned, “Sorry Rust, take your time, I’m going to take Aine elsewhere.” She said as she dragged him off to go shopping around for potions and anything else we could use.
The party took care of whatever business they had in the city, and finally retired to a local tavern. Drinks were had, job listings were read, and we enjoyed some sleep in warm beds. Balthazar left before everyone fell asleep, stating he wanted to go play cards since he couldn’t sleep, and Aine agreed wanting instead to wander the town. Rustjaw not needing sleep, decided to join Balthazar for cards, and so Dorn and Mala got some rest. The next morning the party prepared to leave, but as they made their way to the gate they noticed a bit of a crowd around one of the buildings. After a short investigation, Rustjaw immediately slunk his shoulders. The Warforged from yesterday was in pieces, their core destroyed, and the blacksmith hammer buried in the back of its head. After the guard ruled it a murder, statements were taken, and Rustjaw looked angrily at Aine and Balthazar both.
After they left Rustjaw decided to confront them. “Was he with you the whole time?” Rustjaw asked Balthazar.
“Do I look like a babysitter?” Balthazar raised his brow as he looked up from his book.
“Was he with you?!” Rustjaw shouted.
“I didn’t hold his hand when he left to use the latrine if that’s what you’re asking.” Balthazar rolled his eyes, “I doubt he had anything to do with that.”
“So we roll up into town, he hates I’m talking to one of my own kind, and then my fellow warforged gets killed from behind?! You expect me to believe that?!” Rust shouted.
“Hey! I didn’t do it, what?!” Aine shouted as he sat up from the cart, “I was with this dragon the whole night, sure I left to use the latrine a couple times but I didn’t kill your girlfriend!”
“You’re a liar! All you do is kill and steal!”
“That’s insensitive, I’d argue I cook at least twice a week!” Aine protested.
“Your cooking isn’t really that great,” Mala said quietly while looking at Aine with disappointment.
“That hurts, that really hurts,” Aine grumbled.
“It’s going to hurt worse when I catch you red handed for what you did,” Rustjaw growled as he glared at Aine.
“Hey! Rust bucket, read my lips. I. Didn’t. Do. It. Can you not understand common anymore?!” Aine shouted again before Dorn finally calmed everyone down.
Tensions were getting high, especially with all the backhandedness going on, and the party was getting a bit on edge. Out of game everyone was pretty chill, so thankfully the in character RP was only what was on edge, in case you were curious. Most of the party were eager to find out how the Warforged had been murdered but after a day or two of looking around we had bigger things to handle.
Several weeks passed as the party continued their adventure when Dorn had picked up a trail from his past. The party agreed to help and soon he explained that he was wanting to track down his former commanding officer. The rest of his team from when he was young were all quite dead, but he heard rumors his former leader was still alive and kicking, and so wanted to track him down. And thus the party began to open up a bit about their roles during the invasion. More than they had all that time ago.
During the Demon invasion I mentioned earlier, Dorn had fought on the frontlines, and was a real “I was just following orders” type. Aine survived in one of the many cities that needed to be rescued, stealing and smuggling to survive. Rustjaw was built to fight and make siege equipment during the invasion, and Balthazar had lost his brother to the horde while assisting with the previously mentioned Mage Battalion. Dorn recounted us with a tale of his commander calling in waves of arrows and trebuchet fire on a target, completely ignoring that Dorn and his allies who were right there in the thick of it. He used this to justifty himself doing the same thing, but wanting answers from the higher ups nevertheless.
He wanted answers and vengeance, and so the party agreed to help him gain some closure His faith was already waning to a point he was going to abandon the oath of conquest, now that there was no war to fight anymore, and prehaps this meeting would be the tipping point for Dorn to let go.
The party traveled to the east, keeping a watchful eye on Aine as they traveled. Any thefts were immediately reported and he was forced to give up his spoils if it was him. Any mild joking threats were investigated heavily, and soon Aine stopped making them. He still enjoyed the party as they had been his safest bet to his goal, and the player was eager to try and prove he didn’t do anything at all, so thankfully we all continued to stick together.
It took several in game weeks of traveling by foot, but soon we found a small little shanty fishing village. After a thorough investigation of a rundown castle overlooking the village, we were surprised to learn no one was living here. After some further looking around we found a much fatter, haggered, drunken man that smelled like fish guts and ale. He was barely even recognizeable, but Dorn soon called out to him.
“Remember me, Commander Yarkan?” Dorn gripped his sword tightly
“Huh?” The man hiccuped before looking back at Dorn, “Triplets? No Twins…. No,” his eyes drifted to Mala before grinning, “Hey there pretty lady,” he hiccuped once more before Dorn grabbed him by his tunic and lifted him up.
“Look at me Yarkan! Look at me damn it! Do you remember me?!” Dorn shouted angrily.
Yarkan squinted, “Bell boy possum,” Yarkan slurred before snorting to himself.
“I think he’s a bit too far gone, Dorn,” Mala spoke up. She sighed before continuing, “What did you want to do?”
“I…. I don’t… Ugh I want him to sober up.” Dorn grumbled.
“You really want to stay in this dung heap and wait for his liver to start working?” Aine raised his brow.
“You don’t get to talk!” Dorn shouted, “You’re already on thin ice Aine, we’re waiting for him to recover.”
Mala nodded before looking at the others, “We should wait, this means a lot to Dorn, If you don’t want to wait here I’ll stay with him.” She offered.
“Ugh fine, deal with it yourself Dorn,” Aine scoffed before heading for the door, “Thought our banter meant we were friends, but be a prissy prima donna, see if I care.” Aine left the tavern in a huff.
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid,” Rustjaw added before leaving.
“Sappy emotional moments aren’t my forte so I’ll take my leave as well.” Balthazar left, apathetically as usual.
Most of the party returned to the outskirts of town where we had left the wagon, waiting patiently until the sun fell down. Afterwards the outline of two character returning got the three to perk up, and even Aine tensed up as the hair on the back of his neck raised.
Dorn was covered in blood, a dark expression across his face, and Mala seemed at a loss for words behind him. “What. . . What the hell happened?” Aine muttered, looking at Dorn worriedly.
Dorn looked down at Aine with a cold stare before he moved to a nearby river, and began washing the blood off of him. Mala sat down and looked at the fire, shaking her head. “I assume he’s dead?” Balthazar added.
Mala nodded, “Dorn…. Dorn killed him….. Yarkan had no mercy, said it was the price of victory, then tried to justify it. He started laughing uncontrobly before he could explain. I tried to calm Dorn down, but Dorn. . . By the gods,” She shook her head.
The night was quiet, and by next morning Dorn had cast aside his plate mail. The trophies from past battles, the wear and tear that told his story, he buried it beneath a tree save for his boots, sword, and shield, and told the party it was time to leave. He refused to continue talking about what had happened, and his tone grew only more grim as the party continued on.
What few jobs could be had continued to take the party on the increasingly difficult venture, until a rumor reached our ears. When the demonic horde had invaded, large swaths of land became tainted wasteland where only the most foolish dared to venture. If you got lucky and found a city you could scavenge plenty of fine loot, but there was always danger. Rumor had stated that in these distant deadlands there was a cult trying to open a new portal to the nine hells. The party, along with many other interested groups, decided to set out. Rustjaw was particularly eager to go, as he had heard tales of a mad artificer living somewhere in the deadlands that sounded like his creator, but never had a good enough reason to drag along his still very much alive companions.
The party set out and eventually winded up at a gathering point where many other groups were getting ready to make the long expedition into the Deadlands. The plan was to stop along the way with many different cities and scavenge what could be scavenged so as to cover the cost for all the pack animals carrying food and water. All in all the expedition had about fifty to sixty NPCs, and the journey was expected to take up to two months in game. So once we were prepared the party set out with the caravan into the Deadlands.
It was a pretty nasty nightmare, as many of the scars of the war from before still hung around. Impact craters from fireball or siege machines, skeletons of both Demons and the mortal races, entire villages silent as if nothing had ever been there. Morale was stable, but many were clearly on edge. Every now and again we would be attacked by crazed bandits, the odd demon that still skulked around, and at night we had constant warnings from sentries about incoming monster attacks which only made the party more and more exhausted.
About a month into the journey the expedition found one of the many cities that had been absolutely decimated by invasion. The streets were littered with skeletons, the houses were burned, and everything was simply too quiet. The expedition leader called for an early camp as this place would be easier to rest in, and everyone agreed. The night was difficult, but many got the rest the needed. The party had huddled around a campfire as the cold started to set in around them.
“Hey…. Do you guys think we’ll be ok?” Mala asked nervously.
Rustjaw put an arm around Mala, “Fear not friend, we will be ok. We’ve done well so far.”
“Thanks Rust,” Mala nodded.
“Pfft,” Aine rolled his eyes again.
“Shut up, I’m still angry at you.” Rust glared at Aine.
“Oh screw you, you bucket of wasted scrap.” Aine rolled his eyes, exhausted and done with being accused he stood up. “I’m gonna go pick through what I can in this town. Alone, hey maybe I’ll get picked off or something,” He said with a theatrical sarcasm before going off.
“Aine you know that’s a bad idea,” Balthazar stated without looking up from his book.
“Leave him,” Dorn stated. “If something happens then we’ll know he can’t lie his way out of it.”
“I mean, there are other rogueish types here in the caravan you know,” Mala muttered quietly before lowering her gaze as Dorn glared.
The party tried to get some rest, but the distant shrieks of demons wasn’t helping. By morning another issue had struck the expedition. One of the pack animals carrying vital water barrels had been killed. It’s throat was slit and the water barrel had been broken. The expedition still had water, but now was on edge thinking the city probably had enemies in it still, or worse that someone here had done it.
The party immediately looked to Aine who frowned at them. “Aine,” Dorn growled.
“Shush, lower your voice. It wasn’t me you halfwit,” Aine whispered as the party moved off to one side to speak. They were still in the open so as to not look too suspicious, but the party all glared at Aine.
“You were the only one to leave us at night while we were trying to sleep.” Dorn folded his arms, glaring down at Aine.
“Hey Rust bucket, did anyone else get up and leave in the middle of the night?” Aine asked Rustjaw.
“You fleshy things need to use the restroom so yes. I saw many from the caravan get up from time to time. Balthazar and Mala both, but they returned fairly quickly.” Rustjaw shook his head, “You however didn’t get back to very late.”
“Oh by the gods, it’s not me.” Aine growled again, “Why do you insist on pointing your fingers at me. Look, I was watching from one of the buildings last night. I saw someone do it, I wanted to confront them but they gave off some seriously dangerous vibes alright?”
“Bullshit,” Dorn scoffed.
“Stop fighting,” Mala begged, “We all got up in the middle of the night except Dorn, if it helps then blame me, just please stop fighting,” she begged again. “Why can’t you two just get along like you used to?”
“Mala shut up,” Dorn ordered, “Stop trying to take the blame, I will tolerate Aine but he’s gone too far this time. He probably just wants the expedition to turn around then steal the best loot that we’ve found so far.”
“You have literally no proof!” Aine raised his voice before lowering it, seeing it got a little too much attention from the crowd. “You have no proof,” he whispered, glaring at Dorn. “I just told you I saw someone else do it.”
Word reached the party not a minute after that the expedition still had enough supplies to continue but rationing would be tight. The hunt was on and the journey not much farther. There was at least one magic user that could create food and water, though not in great quantity, so the expedition was on.
The days dragged by, fight after fight, and the party only grew more distant from Aine. Even Balthazar became more reserved as the tensions grew, and Dorn appeared to have just given up on whatever friendship he had. Mala and Rustjaw tried their best but it was clear that whatever Aine had done had broken any chance of working together. After a few more days, the expedition stopped near an abandoned village and a tower that was sunk deep into the ground. The expedition would scavenge a bit more and take some time to rest, and Rust rolled an arcana check.
A great power was coming from underground where the tower was buried, and he felt magic akin to what powered his core. After much debate and persuasion, the party decided to check out the tower with Rustjaw. What happened next was but one of many nails in the coffin.