My birthday just passed recently, and I’m not of a want for anything material; I fully believe special days, holidays and traditions are fully for doing fun things and making memories rather than asking for money or presents.
Naturally, this puts my family in a slight bind as 1) We’re currently still in a global pandemic and limited on what it is we can actually do and 2) It’s much easier to just buy socks and aftershave and call it a day.
The distinction here for me is that I don’t want the people I love to feel obligated to either buy something for me or to hang out with me just because it’s my birthday, because there is no love from obligation. I want to do nice things with my family and friends because those are good things to do, not because they feel like they have to.
When my birthday rolled around, the only restaurant I really wanted to go to hadn’t reopened just yet, so I formulated a new plan; go to the pub then play Dungeons & Dragons with my dad and step-mum, who had never played it before, and understood nothing about it.
DnD, for those have never gotten a chance to play it, is more popular than ever now. It’s a collaborated story-telling-event more than a game, but it has this wonderful side-effect of allowing people in our society who have been drilled into believing that imagination is pointless to vent that unreleased part in our hearts. Everyone has it, and it is tragic that it is taught to us that we should forget it entirely. My Dad is one such example, he used to hate the idea that I liked to play ‘imagination games’ (Not DnD, but kid stuff) and write or draw, but I know that isn’t what lies in his heart, that was what society taught him.
So, we decided to play, and it was alot of fun. They had never played before, and I had never really DM’ed before, however as an aspiring writer with experiences of performing improv and acting, I couldn’t really imagine anything better suited to my personal talents. I spent a week devising a world, characters and quests, and needless to say, I was beyond excited, and it went like a dream.
What comes next is the chronicle of our story, however I want to leave a disclaimer first. That is, we tried to create an experience for each other that is almost entirely character and story based, and be very lax on the actual mechanics of the game, and avoid all meta-gaming where possible. I asked them not to think about the story as if I had written it, but as a world that was appearing in front of them. I had never DMed before, and I was building on a completely new Homebrew, the only thing I really used to connect it to the DnD world was the use of three rule-books (All 3rd Edition, as they were the books I collected as a child). We played loose on the mechanics in favour of interesting stories and moments, and I very much hold the right to be arbitrary. So if you’re a DnD purist for some reason and hate the idea of people putting the rules to the back-burner in place of having fun, this isn’t for you. It isn’t a story about three people creating a game, its a story about a story, and three people learning from that.
The Elf hated places like this, you could tell by his face long before you noticed the rigidity in how he sat. Nestled far in the corner of the Black Shuck, which itself sat in the corner of a small village on the edge of the continent.
He wanted a drink to calm himself from his journey, but dusk had brought in the workers. The tavern was almost at capacity, burly men, drunken Dwarves and a smattering of elves filled the cosy, dark interior. The burly proprietor of the tavern was Arnold, a large man with equally large muttonchops on his puffy cheeks. The Elf could see he was in a fluster as the room filled with thirsty patrons. Pockets of laughter erupted from separate corners of the room, tankard’s clinked and the Elf’s ears twitched at every instance. He scrunched his nose. The room was stale with piss and beer. He tapped his fingers impatiently at the table before him. A strange letter had come to be in his possession.
Come to the village of Phaos on this night, find me at The Black Shuck
Despite all common sense, he had come.
What had drawn his curiosity most was the symbol that marked the envelope. A deep purple eye, but instead of a pupil or iris within, there was a diamond made of four triangles. He soon found himself staring at the symbol once again. There, in the middle of the room, sitting alone at a table with three empty chairs, sat a figure all in black. His hood was drawn, yet there was the same symbol on its crest. A silver tankard sat next to the figure, yet they did not move. The Elf could not see his face, yet he knew he was being watched. Slowly, the figure raised his arm and beckoned towards him. The Elf felt his hands tighten, yet he did not move. He continued to stare the figure down, and the hooded man stared back.
Hidden in a corner of the tavern sat a woman. A Half-Elf, beautiful, yet solemn. Her quarterstaff rested against her shoulder as she took a sip from her drink. Her eyes were darkened by the absent light, in one light they appeared a rich and deep brown, in another, crimson. She watched the interaction between the strange Elf and the even stranger hooded man. Slowly the hooded man turned to face her, and raised his hand up to beckon her too, yet she did not move either. She watched as the cloaked man seemed to tense slightly, and beckon at the Elf yet again, and then at her. Yet neither moved. The figure sighed and leaned back in his chair slightly, and began to drum his fingers on the table, noticeably irritated. The Half-Elf, however had been aware of a gaggle of human drunks by the bar who had been staring at her all afternoon, drinking swiftly to build their courage. One of them wiped the liquid from his mouth and whispered something to his friends, and they sneered. Her ears twitched as she realised he was making a move towards her. Instantly she sat up and took her staff and drink, and passed the drunk as he trailed her with disappointed eyes. She sat heavily down next to the hooded man, and fixed him with steel eyes, but did not say a word.
When the Elf saw this, he too stood up. He pushed past drunken locals and sat opposite the two. He stole a glance to the man, and then the Half-Elf, and she met it like a clash of swords. The hooded figure leaned forward and tented his fingers.
“Thank you for joining me.” His voice was low and deep. “Apologies if it was such an inconvenience for you.” He said bitingly. The two watched him carefully, but didn’t say a word. “Now, if you would present me with your invitations.” He asked. The two shared glances once more, and slowly reached into their own pockets, and presented two letters, each marked with the same symbols. The figure nodded carefully, and took each of them. As he did, the two watched his gloved hands, the elongated fingers and circular palms. Whatever was hidden under the black hood, he certainly wasn’t human.
“Very well.” The figure said. “I thank you for coming. My name is Marlon, and I represent the Indigo Order. I need your help finding a…certain object.” The figure leaned forward, and the two mimicked him. “What that object is, I cannot say. Not yet.” He added sharply. “First I must be sure you two are capable enough for the job, so myself and one of my agents have prepared a test of sorts for you, if you accept. You will not be the first who I have sent on this mission” The two Elves shared a look of curious disgust. This was a sudden deluge of information to receive from a stranger. Ignoring this, Marlon leaned in once more, and turned his gaze towards the bar. Near the drunkards who had almost approached the Half-Elf, stood a man draped in black; from his cloak, to his leather armour to his chains and to the shaggy mass of hair. He knocked his head back in laughter, before feeling compelled to turn his head towards Marlon, who beckoned towards him. Slowly, the man began to turn, and with three tankards held between his hands, he moved to the table. The two Elves watched as he stumbled towards him, swayed by drink, yet standing tall with a quiet dignity, a bastard sword swinging heavily at his side.
He sat down hard with a wheeze, and placed the three tankards on the table. The Elf watched him seriously, as the man moved towards the tankards, and swiftly took a sip from each cup. The Elf’s brows hardened into a frown, but still he was a silent. As they watched the man drink from each cup, and then once more for good measure, he stifled a burp and leaned back in his chair.
“Alright?” He said lightly. The other two were silent. He smiled at them, but they did not return even a whisper of a grin. Marlon watched them carefully.
“This is Alestar Evergreen. He has helped me on several missions prior. He will be assisting you two, if you would be so kind as to introduce yourselves.” He gestured towards the Elf, whose face was nothing short of a grimace. Alestar continued to smile, and watched him patiently.
“I am Enviro, of the woodland realm.” He said carefully. He stole a glance to Alestar, who nodded in reciprocation, and then back down to the man’s three drinks. Marlon gestured at the Half-Elf, whose eyes were similarly bitter.
“Sophia.” She said.
Marlon watched patiently, but it was clear she had no more to say. Alestar’s smile widened, and his eyebrows bounced.
“Very well.” Marlon continued. “This is not a quest I ask of you lightly, and yet…we are running out of options. This relic, this…” He began, but hesitated. “It is of upmost importance. To the Indigo Order, to the continent of Valedisk, perhaps to the world.” He added, hoping the dramatic effect would sink in, yet the two Elves stared at him, and Alestar trailed the rim of one of his tankards with his finger. Marlon knew he had heard this before.
“Why us?” Sophia said, breaking the silence that emerged through the din.
“And just what is this object?” Enviro added.
Marlon cooked his hooded head slightly, allowing the slightest hint of irritation.
“Frankly,” He said with slight authority ” I’m running out of options. The last team I sent have been missing. Its been weeks since I last heard from them.”
“Yeah, don’t worry about all that.” Alestar added, draining the third and final drink. “The only thing you should be worried about is if something is in the way, and it needs killing.” He let an easy smile part his lips. Enviro turned his steely stare to Alestar, obviously working out if this was an invitation. Alestar was clearly oblivious.
“Just relax, hey, you want a drink?” He pointed at Enviro, who nodded slightly. “Great, ill have one too. How about you, you want one?” He pointed idly towards Sophia. “Make that three. Thanks man.” He smiled again, oblivious to how the posture of the two Elves tightened and contorted.
Marlon cleared his throat, deep and thunderous.
“What you need to understand, is that this particular relic could spell disaster in the wrong hands.” He paused in contemplation. “If I had any other choice, I would not send yourselves, but what I require are mercenaries who are…” Expendable, was the word he wanted to use, and they all knew that very well.
“…capable, of carrying out such a task. Unfortunately, time is against us. There are forces working against The Order, forces who either want the relic for their own nefarious intentions, or believe that no-one should find it.”
Marlon let it sink in for a moment, until Sophia broke the stillness, asking the question she thought obvious.
“If this relic is so important, why should we trust you to have it?”
Marlon felt the burn of all three stares upon his hooded figure.
“You can only trust in what I say, I know this. As I have said previously, Alestar has created a test for you upon completion, I will share as much information as I can. I will risk my trust, but only if you agree to meet Alestar tomorrow, at dawn, in the edges of Brownboar forest outside of the village. If you accept, I will tell you all you need to know. But for now, know this; The Indigo Order works for the people. This is our mission, to save lives and the world at whole. I hope you turn out to be people I can trust, I truly do.”
With a slight nod to Alestar, who replied with a salute, Marlon stood up, and walked into the crowd, after a blink, he was gone, vanished from the world. Alestar slowly reached for Marlons untouched and full tankard, and slid it his way with a greedy grin.
Enviro and Sophia watched as he drained it in one swoop, and wiped the ale of his face with the back of his hand.
“Right! See you tomorrow, bright and early!” He said with a burp, before standing up, and staggering over to the bar to find someone to buy him a beer. The two Elves avoided looking at each other, but soon their eyes met.
“What do you think?” Enviro asked stoicly.
“I don’t like it.” Sophia replied coldly. ” I don’t like him.” She turned to Alestar, and the two watched as he interrupted a group of Dwarves who sat in the corner. They watched as he squeezed himself in between them and roared with laughter ignoring the shock and anger upon their faces.
“If this is such an important mission, why would he trust us with him?” Enviro said with venom. “Look at him, he won’t even be awake for dawn, let alone be able to test us.”
They watched as he continued to talk to the Dwarves, who were no longer angry, but certainly irritated and uncomfortable. Sophia had to admit she felt the same, and finished her drink.
“Well perhaps I’ll see you tomorrow.” She said politely, and Enviro nodded. He still had a thirst, and stood up, and strolled to the bar.
Sophia could feel multiple drunken eyes upon her. She scanned the room, and saw through the crowds of leering sodden workers; a lone Elf, sitting alone in the corner. He was strikingly handsome, with long flowing hair of gold, and piercing blue eyes. He was adorned with deep green clothes, and rings that shone as brilliantly as his hair. He caught her eye, and smiled. She hesitated, but moved towards him. She stood before him, and he gestured to the empty seat in front of him.
“Well, its nice to see fellow kin in a place like this. What brings you here?” He gestured towards her politely.
“Sophia. I came here for work. And you?” She said, settling into the chair. He smiled wider.
“I am Carlyto. A pleasure.” His eyes reflected his smile. “Tell me, what type of work might that be?”
“I’m not quite sure.” She said with half a shrug. “What line of work brings you here?”
“Ah, a woman of mystery.” He purred. “Myself? I am a merchant, I travel all across Horegon with many fine things. That is my business, and my pleasure.” He grinned as he raised his tankard to his lips. He paused, but his eyes said; Your move.
Sophia cleared her throat. She felt heat brimming in her cheeks, and she dared a glance to the surrounding world.
“You say it is nice to see kindred, but I see others of our kind.” She saw Enviro trying, and failing, to get a drink at the bar. Some are even female, She thought.
Carlyto took another sip, but by his face, it could have been Tarrasque urine.
“Yes, well they are not like you and I, Sophia.” His voice was laced with poisoned honey. “Half-breeds.” He said with disgust. Sophia felt the heat in her cheeks raise to the back of her skull. Her ears twitched, like a hummingbirds wings.
“They may be welcomed in Phaos, this village is home to the refuse of the world, but not at this table.” For an instance, his very visage appeared monstrous, but it was in between movements, less than a blink. “But they do not concern us. Not at this moment.” He let the smile wash over his face like a calming wave. “May I buy you a drink, Sophia?” The warmth returned to his voice, yet Sophia said nothing. She allowed a small smile and a nod, and Carlyto excused himself and strode to the bar. The crowds of men and Dwarves patted before him like a prophet of old.
He wandered towards the bar and stood patiently. Arnold pulled a pint of bitter for Enviro, who leaned towards him as the ale was set down.
“So, what can you tell me about that…mysterious figure who was just here?” He asked in little more than a whisper.
“Who?” Arnold asked, wiping the sweat off his brow.
“The cloaked man. You must have seen him, he had bought a drink prior.”
“You mean Dave?” Arnold said gruffly, pointing to a lone man in a booth, toothless and sitting in a dirty cloak, who appeared to be arguing with a dead crow in his hands.
“No, no.” Enviro said, irritated. “He said his name was Marlon? Strange symbol on his hood?”
Arnold scratched his chin. “Only mysterious man I’ve seen is Dave. He’s here most nights.” Enviro turned to look at the mysterious man, who was now passionately kissing the deceased bird. Enviro shook his head.
“What can you tell me about him?” Enviro asked, nodding towards Alestar, who roared with laughter and slapped one of the irritated Dwarves on the back. Enviro watched as he kept trying to grab the Dwarves drinks, as they kept pulling them away.
“Oh.” Arnold said grumpily. “Him. Yeah, he comes in every now and then, disappears for a while, then comes strolling in like a local. Always a nuisance.” Arnold coughed into a handkerchief. “Hes got a strange brooch on his cloak though. Similar to the flags they used to have in Dustlay. That family don’t run things there no more though, so why he keeps wearing it…” He said, trailing off. Enviro nodded and handed the man his silver.
He made his way through the drunken clouds of locals and found Sophia sitting by herself, eyeing him suspiciously. He sat himself down without asking.
“We have to do something.” He said, turning to watch Alestar laughing. The Dwarves curled their fists. “The Human won’t make it till morning. He’s too sodden with ale.” At that point, Alestar made a jeer that caused the largest of the Dwarves to stand up, fists clenched, eyes of fire. Sophia sighed.
“Very well.” She said, sternly. She raised a delicate hand. She started to strum her hands upon the air, playing to an orchestra only she could see. Enviro watched as golden sparkles appeared and danced to the silent tune. Tiny stars of pure metallic light glimmered and gleaned. Enviro watched as she concentrated. The illumination caused her eyes to brighten, and he could see that they were not truly brown, but heterochromatic; one was a brown so dark it could have been black, the other a rich and deep pink. The sparkles mingled amongst each-other, and soon began to float above the heads of Alestar and the dwarf. The two noticed and stared at the ceiling in disbelief, their focus suddenly changed. They began to twist to where Sophia and Enviro sat, but they were too late. The spell had it’s hold on them.
The Elves watched as Alestar and the Dwarf rolled their eyes back to stare at their skulls, and fell backwards each. Alestar hit the floor heavily, his legs sprawling in the air before they too hit solid ground. The Dwarf flopped backwards onto the table, causing drinks to fly into the air, and the table to crumble beneath. All eyes were on them now, as the other Dwarves staggered to their feet. They began to point at the two unconscious figures in a gruff, angry language. Enviro and Sophia both stood up, and made their way to the commotion. Everyone had turned to watch the consequences of what had just occurred, but they silently strode past the gawping crowds, and crouched down to check on Alestar, who had fallen into a deep and blissful slumber. The Dwarves began to point and accuse in their own language, as Enviro tried his best to soothe their tempers, but it was to no avail.
“Out!” Arnold had shouted from half a world away. Sophia and Arnold looked at each other, and took him by the arms and legs towards the entrance.
As they left, she saw the handsome Elf Carlyto, watching with surprise as he clutched two goblets of wine. Sophia avoided his stare, feeling the blood rush to her ears. They dragged the unconscious human into the evening light of Phaos, leaving behind the clanking of drinks and roaring of laughter. Enviro sighed.
“I suppose we had better take him to the Brownboar forest, where we were supposed to meet him. He should be up by dawn, right?”
Sophia only shrugged and took him by the arms again. They passed their way through closed shops as the breeze began to pick up. They passed the small wooden bridge that separated the industry side of the village from the residents, and onward towards the front gate of Phaos. Silence filled this side of the village, as tired workers and excitable children prepared to rest for the night. Enviro felt his nose twitch as the smoke of multiple fires drifted aimlessly into the air.
They passed the village gates as sleepy guardsmen looked on, and through the desolate fields that separated the village from the forest. Finally the reached the edge of the silent wood and dropped the sleeping man heavily on the ground, agreeing to make camp for the night. Enviro pulled out his tent and bedroll, marching around the roots to find the most suitable spot, before finally setting up. Sophia pulled out her only matted bedroll, and felt a twinge of envy at his preparedness. The night was peaceful, yet the wheels in their head would not stop turning.
Sophia awoke abruptly to the light of dawn, the smell of fire and the crackle of footsteps.
“Morning.” Enviro said, clutching a handful of sticks. He dropped them next to the fire, above which held a metal pot, and he stirred the contents within. “Has our new friend awoken yet?”
Sophia blinked through tired eyes, and turned to find Alestar still asleep, face down in the foliage, snoring wildly. She reached out with her leg and kicked him lightly, which disturbed his snoring for only a second. She turned to look back at Enviro, who continued to stir.
“Well, I’ve made some breakfast. The lady at the market only had turnips, and I tried to catch a rabbit but it…” He turned back to watch the turnip stew boil above the fire. Sophia felt a sensation in her stomach, but it was far from hunger.
“You are a ranger, are you not? How did you fail to hunt a rabbit?” Sophia said coarsely, rolling over to get out of bed. She had only made an assumption based on his gear, but the silence seemed to prove her correct. She could feel his wordless stare on the back of her neck. The silence did not break when they sat to eat their turnip stew, or for an hour after that. Sophia sat by a tree, reading a spell-book from her bag, hoping to find something about the duration of sleeping spells, but had been distracted by some interesting magic involving acid. Enviro had been carving a stout piece of wood he found, but soon he threw it down in frustration, and stood up. He walked over to Alestar, and gave him a staunch kick in the side.
Alestar woke with a splutter, then a groan. He placed his hands on the ground and slowly lifted his head. He licked his dry lips and squinted as the daylight pierced his retinas. He slowly lifted the top side of his body up, and found an impatient looking Elf staring down at him.
“Who the hell are you?” Alestar asked with a cracked throat. Enviro said nothing. Alestar turned and saw Sophia, peering over her book, staring at him with her mismatched eyes, and he grew a weak smile. “What happened last night? Where are we?” He turned his head to survey the area. “Oh. Wait. I know this. We’re in Brownboar, right?” He coughed slightly, and slowly began to push himself up onto his legs. He stood at full height, and clenched the side of his head, obviously in pain. “Oh yeah. I remember now. I was supposed to be doing that test with you guys today right?” Enviro allowed himself to nod a little.
“What the hell happened? I didn’t drink that much did I?” Alestar turned to Sophia, who watched him sternly, but shrugged lightly. “Well, real couple of chatterboxes, you two are.” He rubbed at his eyes with the palms of his hands and cricked his neck in a way that seemed deeply satisfying to him. “Right, well. I’m sure this will be tons of fun.” He said drily. “Come on, pack up and follow me, I think i know the way.” Enviro and Sophia swapped a final look, and picked up their belongings. Alestar stumbled past the trees, further into the woods.
“Hey, do either of you have any drink?” He called out, as he disappeared into the heart of Brownboar forest.
This is based on our first session, which was only supposed to be five minutes and then they would move onto the test, instead what you just read took about two hours. When planning a campaign, you have to be prepared that things will not go your way, but that is what makes it so damn fun. Next chapter will be out next week!