Today, I thought that I would post a history of the very first character that I ever played in AD&D. And I had the privledge of learning the game at a table of wonderful people, and playing the setting the Greyhawk. Not canon Greyhawk to be sure, but it was our Greyhawk.
Some of this has been posted in the thread on evil--but not nearly all. Enjoy!
He was a Lawful Evil monk named Arminas, and was playing in a mostly good/partly neutral party; one that furthermore included a Paladin of Heironious in the ranks. Our DM (a great GM named Steve Baker) and I sat down several hours before the game started and, as it was the very first time I had ever played D&D, we went over a few things.
He asked me to take a quick look at the book, and upon seeing the monk, I wanted to play one. No, I didn’t have to play him starting at 1st level; instead Steve let him come in with XP one level below that of the players: which made me 7th. This was back in the heady days of 1st edition, so he had me roll 3d6 in order--but, he told me since I wanted to play a monk, my stats would either be what I rolled or the minimum allowed for the class. Well, between some good rolls and bumping scores up to the minimum, I had a really good character by the time we finished with THAC0 and AC and saves and my attacks and damage and hit points and all that jive.
And then he asked me what alignment I wanted to play. Well, I started to answer ‘good, of course’, but then I asked him: what alignment do you think I should play? He got a grin on his face, and explained to me that the group was currently a quest for the Church of the Twins: a forced amalgamation of the clergy of Heironious (LG) and Hextor (LE). Half the party was good and devoted to Heironious; the rest was neutral, with a thief and a cleric of St. Cuthbert (LN). He said that any of the three alignments could fit, but that he would like to see a Hextorian join the party--if I was up to the task of playing it well. After which, he explained to me that Lawful Evil was a lot like Darth Vader.
Hey, it was 1986 and I was a freshman in college.
I jumped on it with both feet. We spent the next hour finishing up the details of the character (his height, weight, racial ethnicity [Arminas was a Suel], and bit of character background). I determined that Arminas was an orphan who had been raised by a local monastery in his home of the Theocracy of the Pale (which in Steve Baker’s world was run by the Hextorians, not the Pholtans! Take that you intolerant light-bringers!) as a ward of the Church of Hextor. His path was not that of the clergy, but instead that of a fighting warrior monk.
By the time I joined the party, Arminas had progressed to the point where he was a major trouble-shooter of the Church: in a very literal fashion (ok, ok, trouble-beat’em-‘til-they-cry-for-uncle-and-beat ‘em-some-more). And he was very religious. Oh, you should have the faces on the folks I would be gaming with that night when Steve introduced me: my character and the Holy Symbol of Hextor that he wore openly around his neck.
And even before I could make my introductions, the Bishops (11th level NPCs) of Hextor and Heironious walked up, I handed over my holy symbol was released from my vows to Hextor. I then took vows to the Church of the Twins and received my new holy symbol (basically a combination of H's&H’s symbols). And the party was then told I was the representative of the new Church hierarchy. Well, they were pretty much rattled, and since Steve didn’t let us share our character sheets, they had no idea what level I was or what my stats were or what my alignment was (although they could pretty well guess the last!).
We loaded upon a sailing ship that was taking us across the Nyr Dyv to Greyhawk City. I was paired up with the LN cleric of St. Cuthbert and by the end of that first session had him terrified of me. See, Arminas used a kusari-gama (basically a sickle on the end of a 5’ long weight chain); and I practiced my katas in our cabin. Swinging that razor sharp sickle over and over again inches above the cleric’s nose as he lay on his bunk. And Steve was in on it as well! He loudly announced that since the ship was moving, I would have to take a -2 on my To-Hit rolls--and if I rolled a 1 or a 2, I would hit the cleric. (Before hand, I had told him I intended to be very careful and Steve secretly gave me a +4 bonus for doing so, but we didn’t the others!)
The player, not the character, but the player was sweating bullets, especially when I announced that I rolled a ‘3’. Steve smiled and asked ‘before or after the -2?’ And he began to breath again when I said ‘after’.
On the first night of our voyage, Arminas found the thief rummaging through his belongings. The thief turned around and held up a magical dagger that Arminas had been given by the Church--and announced that since he could better make use of it, it was now his. This thief was a real tough guy, played by a very good role-player with whom I was friends. I nodded, and asked him if he was certain he was going to take what was rightfully mine--and he said yep. What’re ya going do about it? Cry to the paladin?
At that moment, I was so happy that I had selected a Lawful Evil alignment. I let the thief leave with the dagger and then I made a plan. Next session, I shared it with Steve before the game began and he burst out laughing.
You see, for that edition, monks had speak with animals. So, I made friends with the rats, and the seagulls and the ship’s cats. I fed them, and I talked to them, and I convinced them that the thief was their mortal enemy. Within a week, I had managed to talk them into driving the thief out of his mind. When he went above the decks, the seagulls began to scream and flap around his face (and firing projectiles at him, the type of projectiles that came out of their rear, if you know what I mean). The rats chewed up his bedroll, his straw mattress, his pack, his spare clothing. The cat’s gave birth in the mess and sprayed his face at night while he tried to sleep.
And I? I began spreading a rumor throughout the crew that the thief was obviously cursed by the Gods--otherwise why would the animals be treating him such? Soon, he became a pariah. His food had rat droppings and cat urine in it; he couldn’t bathe on deck without getting covered in seagull guano. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t rest. My character literally drove his insane.
And then, I told him. I was protected from thieves by the powers of my Gods. And all of this was the result of a curse from him stealing from me. He begged me to lift the curse, and offered back my dagger. I refused, saying that he had wanted the blade and the blade he now had. He offered me his ring of protection as well, and I smiled and agreed to lift his curse. The very night before we docked in the City of Greyhawk.
Guy had a nervous tick about setting foot on boats ever since and never, ever stole from me again.
Several months later (and after I had gained a new level by defeating an 8th-level monk master, woo-hoo!), we were busy getting into the meat and potatoes of our quest. And we found that we had several prisioners who were not cooperating and answering our questions. We needed their information, but they wouldn’t talk.
I offered to get them to talk, and that divided the party along alignment lines. The paladin refused to hear of torture, but the many of the rest knew we had to get the info. Finally, the paladin extracted a solemn oath from me that I would not torture the poor saps. I agreed, having just seen ‘The Untouchables’.
Demanding absolute solitude from the rest of the party--except for my two closest allies (the LN cleric of St. Cuthbert and a N gnome illusionist), I revealed my plan. The prisioners were tied to their chairs, while the cleric and illusionist began to interrogate them. Then I came in, slapping them around a little, and taking out a sharp knife. They got holier-than-thou, and forced me from the room. So I went outside, and right on cue, the illusionist said ‘oh my god, the other prisoner is out back!’
I slapped the corpse around a bit, making sure that the chair could be seen from inside the hut. And then, I said, tough guy, huh. You don’t want to talk? You don’t want to talk! And I took out the knife, and began to cut away fingers and the dead man’s nose and ears--as the illusionist created the most vile high-pitched screams anyone had ever heard. And then, I cut out the corpse’s tongue and hacked off his head.
Drenched with blood, I stormed back in--and right on cue, the cleric of St. Cuthbert said, I ain’t gonna stop him, not now, not when he is filled with blood lust. And he walked out. So there I was, holding a severed head, and both of the prisoners began begging me to listen to them as they spilled their guts.
Now the paladin was mad as Hades and drew her sword on me, swearing to run me through for breaking my oath--when the gnome said ‘he didn’t torture anyone; hell, he didn’t touch a living soul once.’
And the cleric confirmed it, to the constarnation of the rest of the party.
Shortly after the Untouchables scene, Arminas’s group managed to find and recover the item we had quested for over the past year. Finally, we thought, we could return home to the Duchy of Tenh and kick the butt of one character’s uncle who had stolen the throne and exiled our buddy, a NG ranger. Boy, were we ever wrong.
Upon our return to Greyhawk City, we were arrested on charges of multiple murders. Needless to say, the entire party took turns staring at ME. I had to remind them that I had been with them outside of the city when these murders took place. Confident that things would get cleared up, we went into custody with the guards and suggested that they speak with Mordenkainen, who had dispatched us on the last leg of our quest.
Well, there we were, with all of our gear taken away (the guards were kind enough to leave us with our normal clothing, so we didn’t have to wear prison raiment) and we were tough enough and scary enough that the other prisioners left us alone. Mostly. Like I said, our paladin was a lady, and that seemed to bring out the worst in our fellow inmates. But, three dead attempted rapists later (have I said how much I enjoy playing a monk because he can’t be disarmed?), the rest of them left us alone. But, unfortunately, those three deaths would be added to our list of crimes (and man o man was the party mad that I didn’t just subdue the thugs; but hey, nobody rapes someone Arminas knows in front of Arminas--no one.).
We could have broken out, and our new thief halfling thief (the previous thief having died in the Cairn Hills) suggested that we do just that--but we pretty confident that Mordy would sort things out for us.
Next morning, we are taken before a magistrate and put on trial. The trial was short, sweet, and to the point, and they had witnesses that testified against us. We got more and more uneasy, but then Mordy was called to the stand and to our utter horror, he told the court he had never before laid eyes upon us--and left.
We weren’t allowed to testify; we couldn’t present evidence; we were railroaded into a conviction. And, of course, it didn’t help when I promised the magistrate that once we managed to escape, I would be finding out who framed us and would pay a special visit to his home to show my displeasure of this miscarriage of justice. We were found guilty of the crimes (which we had not committed) and sentenced to exile. That wasn’t so bad, was it?
Our counsel told us that we would be transported to the Isle of the Damned, a lonely island far out in the middle of the Solnor Ocean. The Isle was protected by a one-way teleportation barrier that extended far out to sea, and was surrounded by a massive storm that circled the Island for miles--and never quit raging. The waters were filled with were-sharks and sahuagin and razor-sharp coral reefs. It was a place where Greyhawk City sent those prisoners too dangerous to keep in its dungeons.
Now that was a horse of a different color. The guards came back into the courtroom, and all of us were paralyzed by magic, as they proceeded to brand each of us on the right shoulder with the glyph for murderer. Since Arminas had been so wise as to actually threaten the magistrate, they also burnt out his right eye. And then we were teleported away.
We reappeared on a sandy beach, all seven of us together (the ranger, the paladin, the halfling thief, myself, the cleric of St. Cuthbert, a half-elf druid/MU, and the gnome illusionist). And with us there was a crate. Opening the crate, we discovered several suits of studded leather armor, chain mail, an assortment of weapons, three holy symbols, and two spellbooks. And a parchment letter from Mordy.
You have my apologizes for the deceptions and for the trials which you must now undergo. It has come to my attention, however, that the final key in the grand scheme which you have been investigating lies upon the Isle of the Damned. While I am well capable of traveling there and retrieving the item, it would consume time that I cannot spare from other duties. I have chosen you to retrieve this item (followed by a long description of exactly what we were looking for). Once you have discovered the rod, journey to the ancient ruins overlooking the escarpment on the north face of the Isle. Within, you will find the means to escape the Isle and return to Greyhawk City. The portal will only function should one of your number possess the rod. I await your return--M.
The dirty rat. And at that point, the parchment burst into flames, so that we would have no evidence of the Archmage’s intervention.
NONE of the gear was magical in any way. So here we were, 8th and 9th level characters, trapped on this island and having to undertake yet another quest to gain our freedom. But we weren’t alone. Remember, the Isle of the Damned was Greyhawk City’s exile prison. No, it was filled with cutthroats and murderers and rapists and the worst of the worst criminal elements. And it was divided up into different gang territories.
We tried to get off (the Isle, stop thinking those dirty thoughts!) via magical means, but our druid/MU tragically discovered just how effective the teleportation barrier was when he attempted to cast that spell. He vanished and then reappeared--fused with his fox familiar. So, from that point on, our druid was a half-human, half-elf, half-fox druid/magic-user who had a bushy red tail, a fox’s whiskers, an elongated snout filled with sharp teeth, fur covering half his body, and a rapidly deteriorating mind! He was a hoot!
It took us two bloody years of campaigning to find that damned rod and make our way to the ruins!
Along the way, the paladin and Arminas (in character; as players we were good friends) found their relationship growing more and more strained; especially after we discovered the Eye of Vecna. And since I had an empty socket . . . well, you can guess what happened next. She was getting more and more agitated with how my particular brand of diplomacy went: if some bandit gang attacked us, they died. All of them, their heads impaled on stakes to warn the other bandits not to trifle with us; even those who surrendered.
She really had a problem with that. I pointed out to her that (unlike us) the other denizens of the Isle had committed heinous crimes and were sent here as justice. They were the real condemned criminals and their lives were forfeit under all systems of justice in the Flaness. And the rest of the party agreed, the more so after most of bandit gangs began to leave us alone. But then we found the Eye and I popped it into place.
And she immediately attacked me! Well, after the party restrained her, I began to taunt her, asking why she, a Paladin of Heironious no less, would attack a person who posed no threat to her, who aided her, who had not betrayed her? Who fought at her side, who had prevented her rape? Who watched over her while she slept? And attacked, with lethal force, no less, for making use of an item that would drive any other member of the group towards evil. I, Arminas said, am already evil, and I have no qualms about using this artifact to aid us in leaving this horrid, diseased, dirty little island in the middle of nowhere. Arminas asked her, where is the justice in your actions, Sonandra? What would the Archpaladin, the Valorous Knight, her own sworn deity, make of such actions by his champion?
And she (the player) was so mad that she blurted it out then and there. I don’t give a damn what He wants! I’ll see you dead, you evil scum!
And then her eyes went wide (the player’s) and she started to back-track, but Steve was having none of that. An Avatar of Heironious suddenly appeared in the stroke of a lightning bolt (gods not being subject to the teleportation barrier, after all) and frowned upon his champion, his paladin. Needless to say, he was not pleased. He lectured her, and he reminded her that I was just as much a part of the Church of the Twins as she was; and he told her that her actions required punishment. She was stripped of her power’s as a paladin then and there.
But then his stern gaze softened. And he told her that one transgression, even one of this magnitude, would not end his love for her. She would be given an opportunity to atone, to redeem herself in his eyes. And he told us what Mordy (that rat-fink!) had not: the ruins were protected by a band of vampires!
They guarded not only the portal, but an ancient sword, a holy sword. He then charged her to find and recover the sword and to dispatch the Undead--and if she was successful, he would restore to her those powers he had just stripped away. And then before he left, he turned a stern glare in my direction and chastised me for provoking her! Arminas merely bowed and said, forgive my Lord, I was unaware that simple speech was an adequate provocation for a lethal attack. And he frowned. Soon, he said, the Church United would find its usefulness at an end, and then I (Arminas) would be forced to choose the side on which I would stand. And he glowered: if you choose wrong, then my champion will end your evil ways.
And he left.
So, we would spend another year (in real-life) searching the Isle, and then assaulting the vampire stronghold in the ruins to earn our freedom. But that, my friends, is another story.
By the time we finally found that blasted rod and journeyed across the Isle of the Damned to the vampire infested ruins, we were all getting bloody tired of the place. We hadn’t been able to go to a store in nearly two years of real time! Our gear was as mismatched as any D&D group had ever seen, and none of us had any underwear that wasn’t ragged and worn thin. Not to mention the lack of good quality ale or other drink.
But we were in our prime, 10th and 11th level characters (thank God, Steve didn’t freeze my advancement since wasn’t a monk of sufficient level on the Isle for me to beat and earn my new levels!), and we knew that once we defeated this hive of Undead, we could finally go home! Sleep in a real bed, eat a home cooked meal, spend some quality with a busty wench, smash a magistrate’s face into pulp . . . ah, forget I said that last.
So we get to the ruins, and did I mention that Steve was a penultimate bastard?
The thing was a maze, a labyrinth: complete with sliding sections of wall that quickly managed to split us up. We were screwed.
Arminas wound up by himself, and while wandering through the ruins trying to link back up with the others, he ran in the head vamp and his minion vamps. Oh joy.
But the guy wanted to talk. See, it turned out that they had been watching us (via scry) for most of the past year, and the leader had decided that Arminas would make a wonderful addition to ranks of henchmen. Well, since we were talking (and not getting level drained!) I decided to keep them talking, by nodding my head and making agreeable sounds every now and then. But finally we came to the crux of it: and their leader asked me if wanted to join his merry little band of blood-suckers.
Arminas (being really smart and wise with stats of Int 15 and Wis 15) snorted, and said that it was well-known that the vampire created by another was bound to it, as the servant to his master. He said the offer had merit, but do you really expect me to bow down and serve you?
The leader laughed, and he answered by saying that my character would indeed make a very good addition to the coven. He offered another way of becoming a vampire that would leave me free-willed; and then he grew very stern, and said time is running short, make your choice.
Well, I might have been playing an evil character, but even so I knew far better than to accept this type of a deal. I kindly refused, saying that I had urgent matters of vengeance which to mete out back in Greyhawk City; I then thanked him for his kind and generous offer, and would you be nice as to point out the direction to the closest exit?
That didn’t go over very well, and they grew their fangs and claws and began to close in on poor old Arminas. But you see, Arminas had one thing they didn’t expect: a sun-globe. Several weeks earlier, we defeated a small tribe of stone giants who were guarding the tunnels into the mountain where the rod (that damned rod!) was hidden. A good fight, but at the end we were the ones left standing, not the giants. After dividing up the spoils, we set up camp for the night (needing to replenish spells and hit points before going underground), and Arminas took one of the watches.
One of the gifts of the Eye of Vecna was ultra-vision (remember, 1st edition!). So he could clearly see things as he slowly circled the camp of sleeping adventurers. About fifty yards from the fire, I spotted a crate hidden amongst some bushes. There were torn and tattered clothes, a few mundane weapons, a bottle of brandy, and something Steve called a sun-globe. He warned it could only be used once, but that I would know when I needed to use it.
Truer words were never spoken.
Arminas whipped out the globe and uttered the command word, and suddenly real daylight appeared around him. Oh, those vamps were pissed! Two of them were too slow, and they burnt into ash, but the leader and the others managed to get out of range, not without being burned. And began yelling for reinforcements.
I remember Steve turning to me and asking, what are you going to do now? You have nine rounds until it is extinguished.
The answer was a simple one: run.
But then he told me that the daylight had revealed an open door on the opposite side of the room: and past it was a chamber filled with swords. And I could hear both Hextor and Heironious whispering in my head, there, go there!
Did I tell you that Steve was a right bastard?
So, I went into the room, and found there seven swords, one of which glowed. And I heard those voices in my head again saying you shall need these as well, my champion. Yeah, yeah, yeah; so I spent three full rounds shoving swords (luckily sheathed swords) into my bag of holding, and then I started to run, vamps chasing after me the whole bloody way.
But I was a monk, and faster than them, and I took random turns whenever a corridor opened up. Had to make about a half-dozen saves along the way as I set off trap after trap, but somehow I didn’t fail. But then it happened. I had taken a wrong a turn and wound up in a dead end corridor, just as the sun-globe sputtered and died.
Above me was a shaft, but I could hear the hell-demons behind me. So, I set down the bag, took out the swords, and picked up the one that was glowing. Now, Arminas was a monk, and monks normally can’t use swords: but Steve said this was a special sword. A sword that gave me proficiency with it. And a most lovely and wonderful blade it was indeed.
So here they came, all fangs and claws and burnt skin and looking to suck my levels away. And then it happened.
Arminas heard a voice from above yell out ‘make room’, and the paladin who absolutely hated my guts jumped down and lifted another sword from the pile. And she tore into that pack of vamps like nothing I had ever before seen. And then the ranger, the halfling thief, the cleric of St. Cuthbert: the rest of the party was there. And I attacked right alongside of them.
It was a bitter fight, but Steve had a sword designed specifically for each of us: all seven. We all lost a level or two, but when the fight was finished, we had enough XP to put us back where we were. And for 1st edition, that wasn’t bad.
We found the portal and activated it, and then we went through it.
And appeared in the study of a small manor-house in Greyhawk City. With Mordy sitting in an easy chair, his feet propped up on a chest full of our old gear. He smiled and he got up and said, well done! And I broke his jaw.
Best natural 20 I have ever rolled. The rest of the party was aghast as I beat that mage senseless, and bloody, and unconscious and then DEAD. And then the simulacrum turned back into ice and began to melt. Oh, I hate Mordenkainen.
At that point, a magic mouth popped open and gave a little speech, yada, yada, yada, on how happy he was that we had recovered the rod and that as reward, we could have back everything the city had taken from us. No, there was no need for us to thank him in person; that’s what the mobile ice sculpture had been for. And we didn’t have to give him the rod, because he had already teleported it away. Gee, thank you Mordy. Thank you a lot.
Substitute thank for a word beginning the letter F and you might understand how all of us (except maybe the paladin) felt.
Turns out, he wasn’t a complete bastard, since he had the presence of mind to draw up several baths, had servants ready to serve us food, had soft, warm, comfortable beds . . . it was heaven after our travails.
But Arminas wasn’t quite done in Greyhawk City; he had another errand to run that night before he could relax.
That magistrate. The miserable SOB who rail-roaded him into two years of exile. And gouged out Arminas’s eye.
So I paid him a visit, and he wasn’t a happy person by night’s end. Next morning, the party didn’t make any noises about the early edition of the Greyhawk Daily Ledger having as its headline SHOCKING MURDER OF CITY MAGISTRATE! Strangely enough, not even the paladin ever asked me the question; they avoided the subject.
Two days later, we left behind the City of Greyhawk, sailing back across the Nyr Dyv for home. Little did we know then, what would await us there. To include wedding bells and a nuptial feast for two very unwilling participants.
For once, we had an uneventful three weeks in the voyage from Greyhawk City to Radigast City in the County of Urnst, where the party was met by Bishop Stannis and Bishop Tomas of the Church of the Twins. Well, we were ready and waiting for our adventures to continue: but we also were worried. You see, Maklin (our ranger) was the rightful heir of the Duchy of Tenh. That was where we wanted to go, in order for our companion to regain his throne.
His uncle (Corrian) had killed Maklin’s father and forced the young man into exile years before Arminas ever joined the campaign. But, if there was one thing that the Church of the Twins wanted it was to keep upheavals to a minimum in the region. That had now changed.
Stannis and Tomas debriefed us, and congratulated us on recovering the rod, although they were both miffed at how long it had taken us to do so. That attitude did not go over well with even the good or neutral members of the group, much less with me. But they continued headlong, recognizing that it wasn’t our fault. And they wanted us to travel to Midmeadows, on the border of the Pale, Urnst, and Nyrond for a religious ceremony, despite more urgent matters pressing.
You see, Corrian had gone around the bend while we were trapped on the Isle of the Damned. Never a very stable personality, he had become increasingly paranoid and frightened of Maklin’s return (which he should have been). And in response to that (mostly) imagined threat, he had instituted a reign of terror which would have made the inhabitants of Rauxes blanch. Furthermore, he had begun extending feelers to Iuz, threatening the entire region with the addition of an extremely volatile and warlike demi-god who wanted nothing more than see the Church of the Twins weakened and thrown down.
And so, the Church United gave us our marching orders to restore the throne of Tenh to Maklin and remove Corrian from the throne. By peaceful means if possible, and with extreme prejudice if not (I was in favor of the latter, as were any members of our group with two brain cells). After we travelled to Midmeadows for a ceremony deemed crucial to the success of the Church.
So, we made our north along the Artonsomay River and then across the rolling hills and mostly open plains to Midmeadows.
This mighty city had become the home of the Church of the Twins, lorded over by the dual Prelates of the Church. We were greeted as heroes, with fanfare and a parade, and we all wondered just what boot Steve was about to drop on our heads.
Finally, we were admitted to the presence of the Prelates, along with their Bishops Stannis and Tomas. The future of the Church was in jeopardy, they explained. United to deal with the threat posed by Iuz, the Church was fractured between the Hextorian and Heironians factions. And those factions were poised to tear the Church asunder, even as the critical events loomed on the horizon to come. But the prelates had come to a decision; one that would serve to unite both branches of the Church.
As the Church had united spiritually, it symbolically needed to unite physically. And as the heroes of Church, and champions of its cause, we had been selected. For the Hextorian sect, I was chosen. And for the Heironian sect, Sonandra was tagged as it.
The two of us would wed, thereby uniting the Church in truth. Apparently, symbolism was as important as substance to matters of spirit and magic.
Our jaws dropped. Not just mine and the young woman playing Sonandra, but everyone’s at the table. We asked Steve, out of character, if he had lost his mind.
And then he asked us, in character, were we going to refuse our duty on behalf of the Church we had both rendered an oath to serve?
Well, Arminas was many things, but an oath-breaker, no. Still, he (me) was not at all happy. And Sonandra? She was pissed. It took an avatar of Heironious appearing before she finally agreed to the request.
The next game session was taken up by the wedding. Talk about a miserable bride and groom. Our wishes had nothing to do with it; the entire ceremony was conducted by the Church. And so, after several hours of preaching and dull rites, we were wed; with the promise that in the morn we would be allowed to leave for Nevnond Nevend, the capital of Tenh.
But before that, we would have to consummate the marriage.
Arminas and his reluctant bridge retired to the chambers prepared and our friend the gnome illusionist (who found the entire situation hilarious) had offered to cast a scrying protection upon us both. But the bedchamber wasn’t empty. There were observers from the hierarchy of the Church, who proceeded to inform us that the consummation would have to be witnessed.
Oh, man, was she royally and truly pissed off. At which point, Arminas smiled, and put his arm around one of Midmeadow’s senior Bishops, and proceeded to reason with him. The Prelates could very well enough ask their Gods if the marriage had or had not been properly completed, true? And were the clergy present actually questioning our sworn words?
He didn’t disagree, but stated that the law required the marriage be witnessed. Arminas nodded, and then shoved the fat bastard out of the window; we fifteen stories above ground in a tower. “Does anyone doubt that he is now dead?” Arminas asked. “By Hextor and Heironious both as my witness, I will make anyone else who remains in room as dead as he is, if they remain for one more minute. LEAVE.”
And for once, the paladin didn’t criticize me for resorting to violence. Heaven’s be praised.
The clergy left in a huff, and soon enough afterwards the deed was done. It would be the only time we shared a bed in the marital (as opposed to martial) way. Although Arminas was admonished for his extreme actions against the clergy, he was forgiven by the Prelates, who admitted that the priests had exceeded their authority.
And on the next morning, we departed for the Tenha border. Later, the marriage would lead to the creation of still more difficulties for the party. But that, my friends is another story.
Needless to say, the journey from Midmeadows after the wedding was a tense one. Most of the party had the good sense to keep their mouths shut, but they all still had smiles on their faces (mainly happy that it had not been them the Prelates had selected). All but my gnome buddy. He couldn’t shut up about the wedding and the wedding night and kept pestering us both with questions. He finally did quit the wisecracks after Sonandra dumped him in a horse trough at the next way stop.
Quentin Sackripper (I kid you not, here) was the character’s name. He was a gnome illusionist who wielded a light pick and had a nasty habit of aiming at larger creature’s crotches. Unlike many arcane wielders of magic, Quentin had few qualms about getting up close and personal in combat; I think he rather enjoyed it, despite his low hit points. He was an irascible old coot, and had a kind of perverse sense of humor, one that was witty and caused a smile or a chuckle when he used it on NPCs, but one that stung a bit when used on the players.
Marlyn (no relation to Maklin) our half-human, half-elf, half-fox Druid, parted ways with us soon after we left the city, and the last we ever saw of him was when he took off chasing a rabbit deeper into the forest on the edge of the Nutherwood. The player had just graduated from graduate school and was moving away, but we had a new guy to replace him. This fellow brought in a neutral cavalier by the name of Sir Loeweinbrough (and, yes, it was pronounced exactly like the brand of beer).
He had never played before, but he was game for anything, unfortunately he shared with the player of the gnome a low sense of humor. He was also destined for greatness: but not in the way one might think. More on this later.
First off, we had to find a way into the Duchy of Tenh. Corrian’s army had all of the river crossings between the Pale and Tenha watched closely, so those were right out. Especially since Lowenboob, the cleric of St. Cuthbert, and Sonandra were not especially stealthy. But the Yol River, while not as mighty as the Artonsomay, was not a placid stream lightly crossed.
Thankfully, Maklin was a Ranger and he knew that section of the river well. The plan was we would proceed down to Hatherleigh, get a good’s night rest, and then head out cross-country through the Nutherwood and try to cross at a little known ford into the Phostwood. From that point on, we would be on Tenha soil, but the Phostwood was little guarded since formed armies could not easily pass through the thick forest.
We rode for a few days (what, you think monks run everywhere? Believe you me, I rode a horse whenever I could!) until we arrived at the city of Hatherleigh just before dusk. The guards let us pass without incident and we traveled through the town until we came upon the first inn that we saw. Sir Loew spotted a shop and decided he had to make a last minute purchase before the woods and the river crossing, so he left us: we told him we would arrange for his room. Good manners, you know.
We get into the inn (and I can’t remember the name to save my life) and arrange for some rooms at which point Quentin can’t keep his mouth shut any. And asks for the honeymoon suite for the wedded couple. Since Hatherleigh was still in the territory of the Pale controlled by the Church, we knew we had to (for appearances sake) stay in the same room, but I swear, if evil glares could kill the paladin would have fallen again.
Being the gallant gentleman that I was (who said that evil characters can’t possess both style and substance? Huh?), I took her bags up while she and rest of the group were looking over the evening fare. BAD MISTAKE.
No sooner had I opened the room and stepped inside, Arminas was attacked by three assassins. Two of them couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn, much less me. Heh. But the third! That was a different story, and he hammered me hard. I went from having sixty-odd hit points to fourteen in a single hit! (And that part I remember crystal clear!).
Arminas was in over his head, and he (I) knew it. So I back pedaled out of the room, jumped over the banister, and landed (bleeding like a stuck pig) on the common room floor below. While the party just looked at me, and then looked up, and they blanched. It was like that scene from Kill Bill. Every door upstairs opened, and a flood of masked men stormed down the stairs, weapons raised.
Maklin took a second to look at me again, and asked, ‘What the hells did you do this time?’
Sonandra, god bless her paladin soul, simply drew her holy sword and said, ‘No one but me kills my loving husband.’
Not exactly the words of adoration and loving content I had hoped to hear, but then again I was gurgling on my own blood bubbling into my lungs, while the cleric just shook his head and hit me with a Cure Serious.
This was a serious fight and it took every bit of our resources, especially since Lowenboob was still at the bloody store! But finally, we had the upper hand and the three surviving assassins broke through the door. We pursued, of course, and a hundred feet down the street Sir Loew was at long last riding up to the inn.
He blinked, taking in the blood on us, and the three masked men running away, and holding his packages like a shield, he lowered his lance and charged. (We helped by singing the Budweiser jingle as he ran them down). At the last minute, the leader turn and threw a poisoned dart—that hit his horse! The horse went down, Sir Loew went over the pommel, his lance hit the leader, skewered him, stuck in the ground, and Sir Loew went a pole-vaulting over the heads of the remaining two assassins! Wow. We actually applauded, and then he got up, drew his sword, and hissed. “You killed my horse; prepare to die.”
But the assassins were starting at their dead leader in horror, and then they bowed to Sir Loeweinbrough, shouting out, ‘You killed the grandfather! Long live the grandfather! Command us, grandfather!’
Yep. Sir Lowenboob had just put paid to the Grandfather of Assassins. And by the rules of the Assassin’s Guild, he was now their leader. Well, after we stopped laughing, we tussled up the two survivors, and took them and the leader (the ex-grandfather, rather) back into the inn for some questioning.
Turns out that we were all their targets, but they had explicit orders to kill three of us even if it meant the rest got away: Maklin, Sonandra, and myself. Only the grandfather (former grandfather) knew who had hired them, and we found no more clues on the bodies. Then one of the surviving assassins, looked straight at Sir Loew, and told him to spend his final days well.
What? Our cavalier asked.
He was then told that by killing the Grandfather of Assassins he had become the Grandfather of Assassins. And that the only way some other assassin could claim the title and resume rule of the guild was by assassinating him. He had just become the most wanted man in the Flaness. You should have seen his face fall. As a cavalier he was in it for the glory, and now as stories of him spread, so to would the assassination attempts come faster and faster. Finally, he was able to blurt out the words, ‘oh bloody hell.’
Well, the prisoners having no further use, I went ahead and quietly and painlessly relieved them of their lives. At which point the guards arrived on scene. To find us, bloody and battered standing amid an abattoir of bodies and carnage.
In the process of being questioned, our gnomish friend (always ready to torpedo us even more) blurted out, ‘you should really ask the new Grandfather of Assassins there about this. He’s their leader, now.’
And would you know, the guards looked at ME?
But they were then quickly corrected, and simply stared at the shining, upstanding cavalier knight who was now the leader of all assassin’s across the Flaness; at least until they could kill him.
Maybe Steve actually took pity on us, but he didn’t have the guards arrest us and throw us into a dungeon. They accepted our story, led us to a second inn, and we were (finally) able to get some sleep.
We easily crossed the Yol (well, it wasn’t easy, but we managed) and entered the majestic and magical Phostwood. Even Arminas was struck by the natural beauty of those woods. The Phostwood was a very special place, you see. The leaves of the trees there were natural phosphorescent, like fireflies. When disturbed, each leaf would begin to softly glow, increasing from a barely perceptible illumination to shining as bright as a candle, and then dimming again. And not just a single color, but an entire spectrum of light. Even the wind would cause this, painting the nocturnal woods with a constantly shifting tableau of painted light.
Suffice to say, the woods were stunning, and we were all moved.
But the damned forest had a pixie problem. It was infested with the things. And like all pixies everywhere, the fey were practical joker in the extreme. We tried to avoid them, but no. We tried to reason with them but no. And they had a particular dislike for Arminas.
You see, pixies don’t like evil critters or characters, not one little bit. I discovered this the hard way as we traveled for five days through the Phostwood with those little winged SOBs buzzing around my head. For four days, Arminas (and I) bit his tongue as the rest of the party was pretty well ignored by those delightful, joyful faeries. Until he woke up after the party camped for the night and discovered that the pixies had stripped him of his clothing in the night. Every stitch. Oh, they had left my clothes, folded up nice and neat at the end of my blanket: all filled with itching powder. And every change of clothing I had also was also filled with that foul stuff.
The kicker was I had been painted blue over every single square millimeter of my body. A pale baby blue, with bright crimson lines drawn around the perimeter of my eyes, lips, and various other bodily orifices. My hair had been bleached white, and my fingernails and toenails painted pink.
For once in his life, the gnome was utterly speechless. It was the rest of the party that was laughing their butts off. Mine was just freezing off (did I not mention it was the middle of winter?).
Arminas’s patience had utterly and finally run out. With those winged devil-impish faerie-folk. I took a deep breath and wrote Steve a short note, passed it across to him with a serene look on my face: and he burst out laughing. And the party began to look worried.
He asked me, you are really going to use this here? Now? For this?
And I said hell yes.
At which point, my companions began to sweat, and Quentin blurted out, ‘You can’t burn the whole forest down, lad! It’s a priceless treasure!’
‘No burning, Quentin,’ I answered.
Earlier, I told you that Steve had given me the artifact the Eye of Vecna. And how it let me see perfectly in darkness of any type. Well, it had other powers too, including one power that I could only use once in my lifetime. I was cashing that one in.
Arminas closed his eyes, and cleared his mind; he stood nude (and blue) in the middle of the camp, and he concentrated, and he concentrated. And he unleashed the evil that was contained within that eye that roiled up within him. The party watched in horror as Arminas screamed, and one eye (the Eye of Vecna) opened and shot a red beam into the sky, and then the lights went out in the Phostwood.
The wind stopped. The birds and animals and insects grew silent. And from the soil of the earth around Arminas, shadowy spectres and wraiths and shadows emerged: dozens, scores, and then hundreds. Needless to say, the party was now standing back to back with drawn weapons.
Arminas at last stopped the primal scream that had emerged and he stood straight and tall (and naked and blue). One of the red-eyed wraiths floated over and bowed low. “How may we serve you, Master?” he hissed.
“Bound to Vecna in life you were, bound to his relic in death you are. I bear that relic. And I command you, in his name, and in my own, Arminas tar Valantil, Master of the Eye, go forth and slay every pixie and brownie and sprite and other faerie folk that inhabit these woods, the Phostwood. Leave not the shelter of these trees and harm no others by my command. But slay the fey!”
At which point Quentin piped up, “You can command an army of undead to kill fey? That is SO cool! Hey, wait! Aren’t gnomes fey?”
“Other than my companion. Are these instructions understood?”
“Yes, my master. And when the fey are slain?”
“Then I release you from your oath. Do as you will, excepting only this: you shall not harm me, or any of those who travel with me.”
The wraith bowed low. "It shall be as you command, Master."
The party watched in horror, as the incorporeal creatures darted into the woods, and horrifying screams of the faeries surrounded us on all sides. Sonandra was aghast, and asked me why?
I gestured at my body, and said the little bastards had it coming.
It took three weeks for the paint to wear off. Those little butterfly winged imps. But Arminas got the last laugh out of that one. And on that day, every faerie who did not flee the Phostwood was slaughtered where he or she flapped his or her little wings.
Well, we left behind the Wode of Dead Fey and at long last (4 years of gaming) we set foot on the soil of the Duchy of Tenh. Strangely enough, Quentin Sackripper decided that the party was no longer a friendly environment for a practical-joker, so he left our company when we ran across a small gnomish village. (The player had another, more serious character he wanted to try.)
Thus it came to pass that Sakura, a Wu Jen from the distant West, joined our intrepid group. Sakura would become Arminas's closest friend and ally in the party, since in the wake of the Pixie Genocide, relations between him and the good-members had chilled.
Tenh was . . . a sad country. There are no better words to describe it than that. Formerly a bulwark against the Bandit Kingdoms and the realm of Iuz, a staunch defender of the passes against the Northern Barbarians of Stonehold, the realm had fallen into a malaise, a depression, a sadness.
Corrian, the unlawful Archduke who had usurped the throne from our own ranger Maklin, had grown more and more paranoid. And he had instituted a most bitter and hated regime. We heard tales that the Baron of Redspan had denounced the Grand Duke and was soon to be attacked by pretender. So off to Redspan we went!
The city was in a state of siege by Corrian's army and it took us the best part of a month to find a way in. Redspan was one of the jewels of the Duchy, a mighty city-fortress perched on the banks of the Artonsamay River. An ancient bridge of red stone crossing to the south bank gave the city (and the Barony) its name.
Well, we evaded the besieging army and entered the city, and proceeded to an audience with Baron Fell, to convince him to declare for Maklin.
It was a memorable experience in the Baron's throne room. Fell was not at all pleased with the idea of restoring Maklin to the throne--he wanted it for himself. But then I pointed out that even if he overthrew Corrian (unlikely, but still) he would have to content with the Barons of Stroun, Braycott, Watton, Tolran Hill, Narleon, Calbut, High Hadley, Harpender, and Atherstone: none of which would be willing to put an 'equal' on the ancient throne of Nevond Nevnend.
No, Arminas said, you have too many enemies, Your Grace to hold together the Duchy. But your grandson might well sit on the throne in your stead.
Maklin jerked upright when I said this, but Arminas pressed on.
You, Your Grace, have a daughter of marriageable age; Maklin will need a wife. If you declare for him, he would agree to a betrothal, with a wedding to follow once he ascends to the throne.
Bruce--the fellow playing Maklin--his jaw just dropped. And he began to sputter, but I pressed on ahead anyway.
His Grace, the Archduke Maklin, would recognize your support for his claim against the pretender as your daughter's dowry, my Lord. Which would save a good deal of Redspan's treasury.
The party was dying, even as Maklin was sputtering. And Steve was smiling.
Finally, Fell agreed to the deal: on one condition. We would have to lead his army to victory and break the siege outside the walls. I assured him that this would NOT be a problem.
Once we (the party) were alone, I got it from all sides.
Maklin: You gave up my dowry! And promised that I would marry a girl I have never before seen!
Loeweinbrough: We have to fight an entire army! Are you insane?
Sonandra: You shushed me! You shushed me right in front of the Baron! And you practically SOLD that girl to buy Fell's support for Maklin! Well, I did shush her; her Charisma might have been high, but she was never good at talking people into things (or out of things). And I KNEW she was about to put her foot into her mouth over (another) forced wedding. So I deserved that one.
I just asked my fellow players, what other choices are there? We are in Redspan, we are being besieged as well. Can you, Sonandra, or you Loewinbrough, just ride off and let the city be sacked? Can you, Maklin, afford NOT to gain whatever support you need to overthrow your mad uncle BEFORE he utterly ruins your kingdom?
I am telling you, I got haughty and my feather's rumpled over how I had worked Fell into supporting us, and then the party complains about it! Talk about a bunch of ingrates.
And then Sakura spoke up. He didn't agree with my methods, (he said with a wink at me) but he agreed with my premise. We needed Fell and Redspan's soldiers. It was a small price to pay to free the Duchy. Of course, Maklin could always give up his quest to regain the throne, if he thought it was too hard for him to complete.
Oh, that did it. The guy playing Maklin huffed and puffed a little bit more, but he came around. And even Loewenbrough finally agreed that the glory he could gain on the field of battle was a reward in and of itself. Of course, Sonandra was still pissed at me, but then she had been for the past two years! What else was new?
Next day, we took to the field, the seven of us at head of a hundred knights and five hundred men-at-arms wearing Redspan livery. Against an army numbering nearly a thousand.
"You know," Maklin said, "it sure would be nice to have an army of Undead right about now."
"No, my Lord soon-to-be Duke. That would only rob you of the glory you will earn this day. Have faith, be stout, and we shall prevail," Arminas answered.
The plan was for Maklin to lead the men-at-arms in defending against Corrian's army, Loewinbrough to command the knights in a massive charge, and for Sakua to teleport the rest of us (Arminas, Sonandra, the halfling thief, and the cleric of St. Cuthbert) directly atop of their command post.
Ah, it was a glorious battle, my friends. And between me, the thief, and Sonandra, we cut the head from their army, even as Lowenbrough began his charge against the levies and Maklin and Sakura were wasting Corrian's knights that had charged the defenses! I won't bore you with the full tale of the fight, but by nightfall they were in complete rout, running for home with their tails between their legs!
Knights and men-at-arms are little use against 11th, 12th, and 13th level characters after all. Especially when those characters have their own fodder.
So, Baron Fell of Redspan declared for Maklin, and the campaign to liberate the Duchy was well underway.
We spent a week in Redspan and other than the four assassination attempts on Grandfather Loeweinbrough (none of which succeeded), our stay was relatively uneventful. Maklin did meet Baron Fell’s daughter, and I remember Steve describing her when she lowered her veil (remember, it was 1990): ‘Bruce, remember Risky Business? The prostitute played by Rebecca de Mornay? Well, she looks just like her at age 17, only virginal. She is demure, and quiet, but her eyes promise passion like you have before experienced.’
Needless to say, Maklin was quite pleased with his betrothal after all. Especially after Baron Fell commented that she had been specially trained and prepared in the Arts of Pleasure for her wedding night over the course of several years by the Sisters of Myhriss, the Goddess of Love, Romance, and Beauty. Bruce leaned across the coffee table we rolled dice on and told me, ‘I owe you one; I owe one a big one.’
Sonandra was still pissed at Arminas (what else was new?), especially when I made the comment, ‘That is what if wife is supposed to be.’ She knocked me in the back of my hand (the player actually did that!) and then decided to give him the silent treatment. It didn’t get any better when she received an urgent sending from her family in northern Urnst. You see, she and I were married under the laws of the Church of the Twins, and the Church leaders (yep, Bishops Stannis and Tomas) had ruled (in our absence) that since Church law stated that the wife’s property became that of the husband, and since as a monk of the Twins I was forbidden from owning property other than what I could carry on my person, ALL of Sonandra’s possessions were now part and parcel of the Church to dispose with as the Church leader’s deemed appropriate.
They sold her lands, her home, her art works, her clothing; they cleared out her bank accounts; they fired the servants who had worked for her family for generations; they evicted her father and mother from the properties they had bequeathed to their daughter. Oh, her family still had money, but they had given the most valuable part of their lands into the keeping of their paladin daughter, since paladins didn’t pay taxes to the Urnst government.
And (of course) she blamed Arminas. Me.
Needless to say, we were all becoming rapidly disillusioned with the Church, which was how Steve wanted it.
Concluding our business in Redspan, we moved out across the central highlands of Tenh to confront Corrian in the capital of Nevond Nevnend. The trip took a couple of weeks, and with the exception of several assassination attempts on Loeweinbrough (poor guy couldn’t catch a break), it was mostly without incident. By the time we arrived at N2, he was so flustered and paranoid that he wouldn’t approach a beggar without a weapon drawn—and he several thousand gold for a magic goblet that automatically detected poison of any liquid poured within it.
N2 was a major city; nothing like Greyhawk City, of course, but still a large and robust community of more than seventy thousand souls. We all got just a little bit concerned when we were able to pass through the city gates without incident, and still more when we weren’t molested by the Guard or the Watch.
And got really spooked with Corrian’s herald arrived and invited us to join him in the Palace.
We knew it was a trap, but we were heroes by the Gods and Goddesses! So we went, but we went with our eyes open and ready. Corrian was ready to make us an offer, he said, from the high throne on which he sat, surrounded by clerics and guards and fell beasts from the depths of the Abyss. He wanted Maklin to publicly renounce his claim to the throne and leave Tenh willingly. In return, he would spare our lives and leave us be, and he offered a pile of treasure as well.
Well, we weren’t having any of that! After all, his treasure would be ours once we put paid to the man, and none of us trusted him and his Iuzian advisors. And so, the fight was on.
It was a doozy, let me tell you. This one fight through the palace took an entire eight-hour game session to run from start to finish. By the time it was over, Sakura and Clement (our St. Cuthbert priest) were completely out of spells and we were all low on hit points. But we came, we saw, we kicked their **** right off that throne.
Finally, it was just the seven of us (Arminas, Maklin, Sonandra, Loeweinbrough, Clement, Sakura, and Jaspar [the halfling thief]) and Corrian. He had been badly injured, and was trying to crawl away from us, and begged, he pleaded, with us to spare his life. We refused (and not even Sonandra protested this killing after seeing the depths of his evil and depravity).
And that is when it happened. Steve launched into a final monologue, and he revealed many plot threads and hinted at things yet to come. We all received information that we found disquieting, but Arminas was perhaps the most shocked.
You see, Corrian revealed that it had not been bandits that slaughtered his family while he was a child: it had been done by the Hextorian Church at the direction and order of none other than Stannis. Stannis (and his superiors) felt that Arminas’s father (never a true believer in Hextor) would pose a threat to their rule, so they were the ones who had him killed. I had grown up believing the lies of those who had brutally killed my family, and then I had served them.
Arminas did not take this well; he didn’t in fact believe it! (Remember, he was a fanatical follower of the Church when we first met him.) But Corrian only laughed at me, and he prophesized that I would indeed discover the truth for myself, discover just how far that I had been betrayed by those to whom I had given my Oath.
And I killed him for it. Arminas grabbed Corrian and snapped his neck. But the words of that old man would haunt him (me) until the end of the campaign.
The Duchy rejoiced at the news of Corrian’s death, and within three weeks, the Barons of Tenh had assembled for Maklin’s coronation and wedding. He assumed the throne, and he pledged to rebuild the Kingdom into a force for Good throughout the North. He forgave the Baron’s their debts, he proclaimed amnesty for all those Corrian had unjustly imprisoned, and he ordered all priests of Iuz and the lower planes put to the sword.
To his companions, he gave many gifts, among them he named us as Knight-Captains of the Halberdier Guards of Tenh; the elite order of knights that traditionally served the Grand Duke.
Thus it was that Arminas tar Valantil became Sir Arminas. Still plagued by Corrian’s final words, I asked Maklin to hold in his treasury the portions of the spoils that he had showered upon me and Sonandra, so that the Church of the Twins could not seize them. That proved to be a wise act by the escalating events that later took place.
Last edited by masterarminas on Thu Aug 09, 2012 5:15 pm; edited 1 time in total
Well. That information was certainly a shock. And Arminas wasn’t the only member of the party to receive suspect info from Corrian (may he rest in peace). Of course, he could have been lying, but . . . he was convincing. We bid Maklin a fond farewell, and received fresh steeds for the journey back to the Pale.
Bruce (Maklin’s player) had been offered a job out of state, so he was leaving our merry not-so-little band of adventurers. The rest of us, however, had a date with destiny. We rode East from Nevond Nevnend to the city of Atherstone, killing another a dozen assassins that continued to plague us. This time around, we crossed the main bridges at the Pale’s capital city of Wintershiven, and then instead of travelling straight to Midmeadows in the south we pressed east some more, past the township of Dawnin, heading towards the Old City of Wintershiven.
You see, when the Hextorians took over the Pale almost a century before Arminas was born, the Old City was sacked. Rather than rebuild the ruins (at the time), the Hextorians instead built a new and modern city on the banks of the Yol, naming it Wintershiven as well. Now, by this time, the Old City ruins had been (mostly) cleared and were home to a small, but thriving community. But our destination wasn’t the Old City; rather we were headed to a small lake on one of the many tributaries of the Yol.
The lake on whose shores Arminas’s family had built their vineyards. My; excuse me, ARMINAS’s father had been the head of the House of Valens, a minor Suel noble house that had fled the Cataclysms centuries before. The Suel who had settled the Pale were never much taken with religion of any sort; most of their gods had clearly failed to present the destruction of their Empire in the West after all. And Father had been a leader to whom the common Suel of the Pale had looked for guidance.
All of which led Arminas to believe that Corrian’s tale could indeed be true. And if so, he needed to unearth that truth, regardless of the cost. Of course, the estates were now Church property, since I (Arminas) could not own property as a monk. What we discovered there was shocking. And I say that as Arminas with all that he had been through.
The Suel on the estate were not mere serfs; the Pale had never had such a tradition. Our people were free landowners, not servants. But here, on the palatial grounds where the manor had been rebuilt, they were more than serfs, they were slaves. Condemned to such by the Church that I had served, against the laws that Church claimed to uphold. We had been blind to the corruption of the Church before this; strike that.
Arminas had been blind to the corruption.
Before now, he had spent his entire life in one monastery cell after the next, travelling only where he had been directed by the Church to accomplish its goals. All the while he had been told time after time that it was for a better tomorrow for the people, the Suel, of the Pale. His people. Never before had Arminas strayed from the course that the Church had cunningly guided him, and he realized now that outside the clean shining cities and majestic temples and serene monastic fortresses, the true plight of his suffering people.
And Arminas grew angry.
The overseers, of course, were not keen on allowing us access to the lands and people. But Arminas only stared at them, and presented his holy symbol. He then asked them if they truly wished to stop agents of the Church from our appointed duties in a voice that dripped with menace. I then, as a matter of fact, simply described to those overseers exactly what I and my companions would do to them should they attempt to get in our way.
(In fact, after the game, Steve said that when I soft that softly and my voice dropped an octave and rumbled in my chest that HE got a chill.)
Of course, that pissed of Sonandra even more, but she too was concerned with the well-being of the people (the slaves) who awaited us. Sakura (god bless him!) only asked me whether I wanted them (the overseers) roasted slowly or quickly with his magics, and even Jaspar got into the swing of things, licking his dagger’s blade as he drooled.
The Overseers let us pass.
The manor was nothing like I had remembered it. Oh, the dimensions were the same, and it had the same granite foundations and lower floors as I pictured it. But the simple, warm, comforting home of my childhood was transformed. It was filthy, unkempt, and in disrepair. The overseers apparently could not be bothered to maintain the domicile. But they had young girls scantily clad aplenty; young slaves they kept locked into their apartments.
We toured the fields, where all but the most basic tools were denied to my people. Who dug into the earth with a trowel and not a shovel. Who weeded with their hands and not a hoe. Who wore rags and went shoeless and stank of poverty and hopelessness.
None would speak to us, but Arminas set his jaw and he continued on. Until at long last, he heard a faint voice, an old and familiar voice.
It was my father’s youngest armsman, Sir Deleon, the man who had taught Arminas the first basics of swordsmanship when he was a child. He was now a withered old man, his back bent under the years, his teeth missing. It was not right. Deleon was a member of our household—an honored servant who had guarded the House of Valens. And one that the Church had told Arminas had perished in the attack by bandits years before.
Deleon told Arminas the truth at long last and it was indeed as Corrian had said. The Church had used me as a fool; as a token representative of the Suel, while my people were being held in slavery and abuse. As a player, I was not surprised by this; I knew my alignment going in. But Arminas was surprised and shocked.
He crucified the overseers on the estate and threw open the silos ordering all the slaves to take what they could and go. Sonandra protested and Arminas slapped her. I admit, he lost his cool, and that didn’t even include his proclamation, “Wife, OBEY THY HUSBAND!”
Oh, she was pissed.
They left Arminas alone after that, and he stood there on the edge of his father’s vineyards watching the overseers slowly die. The party didn’t depart completely; instead they set about making the manor habitable. Only Sakura came out to stand beside me—and he never asked me a single question.
He only said, “We will stand, or die, alongside you. It is your choice.”
And in those words, I could hear the laughing voice of Heironious from the Isle of the Damned.
Arminas took the freshest two steeds we had used to travel to his family’s former holdings in the early hours of the morning. He left behind a note explaining that he could not, in good conscience, ask the party to accompany him to confront Bishop Stannis. I bid them a fond farewell in the note, and I mounted up and rode hell-for-leather for the capital city of Wintershiven.
By dawn I had arrived in the capital, just as the eastern gates were being opened. Knowing me, the guards allowed Arminas to pass and he galloped through the still empty streets all the way to the Cathedral. Every bit as grand as the Prelate’s Cathedral in Midmeadows, this structure had been the heart and soul of the Hextorian Church for nearly a century. Oh, there was a token adornment to the ‘Twins’ here and there, but at its core this mighty temple was devoted to Hextor, and to him alone.
Up flights of stairs Arminas rushed, and he barged into the private quarters of Bishop Stannis; second only to the Prelate in authority. And he was expecting me.
He offered Arminas wine and breakfast, but the monk refused. And that was when Stannis stood and looked out over the slowly awakening city below.
“See the realm at our command, Arminas,” he said, passing his hand over the city. “The threat has receded after our priests activated the artifact you and your companions retrieved. And with Corrian dead, the threat that Iuz poses is no longer as grave. You have done well, my dark knight.”
He paused and cocked his head. “The time has come to sever the ties of this farce of a church united. Our differences are too profound, too ideologically dissonant to remain tied together. Both sides want this; just as we find the philosophy of Heironious naïve and foolish, so too he hates and fears us. They are preparing a first strike against us here, in our homeland. They are preparing to march upon us in open war. And it will be our Church, our Church that shall prevail.”
Arminas stood still, his face fixed without any outward sign of emotion.
“You, my child, you play a great role here. So long as you and your wife hold to your vows, our Gods are bound to the oaths they have sworn: while you live true to your oath, their United Church still exists, and other powers will hold them to their sworn word.”
Still Arminas did not react.
“You must renounce your ties to the Church of the Twins. Break your oath, and the ties that bind us shall be severed. Come now, it will not be held against you, my champion. Simply swear your allegiance to Hextor alone, and all shall be forgiven.”
Arminas smiled and he took a goblet of wine from the table and drank down a swallow. “All will be forgiven in the eyes of Hextor. Just as he forgave you when you slaughtered my family. Just as he forgave you when you slew my father. Just as he did when you enslaved my people against your own laws.”
Stannis chuckled. “Lies, Arminas. It is all lies. Your companions seek to deceive you; your people live as free landholders as they have for centuries.”
Arminas reached down and pulled a sack from his belt and emptied a dozen signet rings, the rings of the overseers at his family’s holdings, onto the table. Stannis jerked and stared at Arminas.
“No, my Lord. You lie. I have seen the farms; I have seen my people wallow in their misery; I have heard the truth with my own ears. And I will have it from you.”
“You thought perhaps that this Church runs on charity and kindness, Valens? We must be strong, and the weak shall serve us forever!” he shouted. “YES. Your father was an enemy of the state and of the Church, and for that he died. We ensured that you would live, however, and come to love to the Church, to one day lead your people to their rightful place among the strong in the service of the Tyrant of Hell! Now renounce your oath and pay your homage to Hextor! I command you!”
“No,” answered Arminas again. “I shall hold my oath, and it will bind you and our God. I will not break it at the command of a treacherous priest who knows no honor.”
Stannis nodded slowly. “I always thought that you might someday become a problem. Take him,” he said as he suddenly vanished from sight, uttering his word of recall.
A dozen guards leapt into the room, but Arminas was already out the window, slow falling down the side of the Cathedral tower, and he landed in the courtyard. Where dozens, if not scores, of temple guardsmen emerged and alarm bells pealed out their summons. Arminas was getting ready for the fight of his life (perhaps the final fight of his life) when suddenly a fireball hurtled through the open gate in the walls that surrounded the temple grounds and exploded in their midst.
And through that gate rode my companions. It was a hard fight, but we got clear and across the river, where Maklin (now an NPC) gave us shelter. And it was there in Tenh that we discovered that Stannis had spoken at least one truth: the Heironians wanted us to break our oaths as well. The moment of decision had arrived for Arminas.
The campaign was getting close to its conclusion. Sandy (the girl who played Sonandra) had been hired out of state; Steve’s wife had received a new posting at Fort Carson and HE would be moving soon. We knew there were only a handful of epic adventures left in this campaign, and they proved well worth our attention.
So there the party was, back in Nevond Nevnend, and things were looking bad. The Church United was falling apart, and both sides were eager to come to blows and settle old scores. And only Sonandra and I stood in their way. Oh, she pleaded with Arminas to change sides, to be reborn into the light and stand tall in the grace of Heironious; but that wasn’t Arminas. That wasn’t who he was.
That night, after Arminas retired and after falling asleep he awoke.
But instead of a dark bedroom in Maklin’s palace, he stood in mighty temple. It was round, with a vault ceiling suspended on marble pillars marching around the perimeter.
Surrounding the sunken floor where Arminas stood, there were tables of carved stone, and seats, all sized for Titans, and each marked with the holy symbol of one of the Gods. And he was alone.
There were no doors; there were no windows. No torches, but the chamber was illuminated in a clear soft light.
“Ah, you are aware of your surroundings; that is good,” cackled a harsh voice. Arminas turned and he saw Hextor leaning against one of the tables, the six armed giant with two of those arms crossed over his chest.
“My Lord,” I said. And Hextor frowned.
“You do not prostrate yourself before me, mortal? Such spirit, such fire. I admire that. Why have you forsaken me, Arminas?”
“I have not, my Lord. I serve the Church of the Twins, as you have commanded.”
Hextor spat. “That congregation has outlived its usefulness. It is time for the Church United to end. My servant Stannis has informed you of this, but you fail him and you fail ME. Cast aside your oath to Heironious and I shall restore you to my service, and I shall deliver unto you Stannis for all of the crimes he has committed against your family. I reward well those who choose to serve me.”
“Forgive me, my Lord,” Arminas said quietly, “but my Oath, that I took at your direction, binds me no longer to you alone. My Oath is to the Twins, and you cannot compel me to break it.”
“I CANNOT COMPEL YOU? You foolish maggot! I am Hextor, I own your SOUL! Swear anew your faith to ME, shatter this Oath to the Twins and I will not send you screaming into my domain to suffer for all of Eternity!”
Now, I don’t know what Steve was expecting; perhaps he thought I might quail against this threat. Perhaps not. He was usually a step or two ahead of us; but I played the role I had chosen to the end.
“No. I shall not break my Oath, freely given. Not even at your command, my Lord. And should you continue to command me otherwise, then it is YOU, o Champion of Law, o Dark Prince; it is YOU who have broken your Oath to ME. You are the Oath-Breaker here, my Lord. By your own words, my bond to you is now severed—be gone, and trouble me no further.”
Well, that was the wrong thing to say to a God. Arminas was flung across the temple and slammed into a pillar. Hextor was FURIOUS, to say the least.
He summoned forth a bolt of lightning in one arm and drew back. “Then your Oath shall die with you!” he screamed and he hurled the bolt towards me.
But it didn’t hit. Hextor snarled and looked around the chamber, and then he wilted. He cowered. And a voice spoke from the air. “So judged. His soul no longer belongs to you.”
Hextor began speaking in a language Arminas couldn’t understand, but it sounded as if he was pleading someone that Arminas couldn’t perceive. But his words got weaker and weaker, and finally Hextor turned back to me. “This is not finished, mortal,” he snarled. “I shall be waiting for you.”
And he vanished.
“Bravo. Bravo!” boomed a third voice, a voice that Arminas had heard before on the Isle of the Damned. He turned and there stood Heironious, clad in his shining mail. “My brother does not warrant such loyalty to an ideal; you stand on the edge of redemption, Arminas tar Valantil. Swear yourself to my service alone, and you will earn a place in the ranks of my knights.”
“Together, Arminas, we can vanquish Hextor’s religion from your land and free your people of their servitude. After all, I am the God of honorable warfare, of just conflicts for the right causes. What better cause that to free your people from their enslavement at the hands of my brother’s priests? Join ME, swear your Oath to ME, and we will cast aside this farce of Church which has bound my plans for too long.”
Were they all blind?
“You claim a difference between yourself and Hextor, and yet, you plot and scheme as much as He. You engineer the formation of a Church: a Church which you, my Lord, swore into being as a means to fight the Plague which we have now vanquished. It is an oath that you would now ignore solely because it has proven to be inconvenient in your war against Hextor!”
“Inconvenient? No child. There is more here at stake that you realize. Good and Evil are preparing for a final conflict, and I shan’t be yoked with Evil. Swear allegiance to me, end this Church, and you will have my promise that Hextor shall never touch your undying soul.”
“A yoke that you willingly put around your neck, my Lord. No. Demand this of me and you as well shall be an Oath-breaker, Lord of Honorable Battle! You seek to circumvent your oath through loop-holes and the shredding of the SPIRIT of your own words; you seek to buy my loyalty with the promise of you protection. I need no such protection from a false God who lies. May a pox lie upon both you and your brother, with whom you are far closer in spirit than you care to admit to yourself!”
Now Heironious grew wrathful. I seemed to have a knack for pissing off Gods.
But he didn’t attack me. He glared at me. “So be it. You refuse my protection; you shall not have it. You refuse my own of redemption; you shall be cast into the pit of Hell upon your death. You refuse to serve under my guidance in this Our War upon Evil; then my champion will finish you.”
He stopped and looked over his shoulder, and his expression dropped, his complexion turned to ash, as a third God appeared. Lendor, the head of the Suel pantheon.
“Your threats are pointless, Heironious. He belongs to neither of you, and his Oath is no longer binding. You and your brother are once more free to deal violence upon each other, and your followers the same.”
“And him?” Heironious asked, pointing to me. You will claim him then?”
“I claim him not. For he belongs only to himself. His fate is neither in the hands of you or your brother.”
Heironious nodded and turned back to Arminas. “Know this, Arminas tar Valantil. Despite what is to come, you shall not enjoy the fruits of your labors.”
And he left. And Arminas stood there with Lendor.
“Why?” he asked the God.
“Despite your past deeds, you know what is important to your own self. You know yourself. You held to your Oath despite all that the Gods themselves did to persuade you to break it. And for that, I grant you freedom from the oaths that you have sworn, and the freedom to make your own choice on what lies ahead. Take that freedom, child of Suel; take it, live your life, and depart from this hallowed place.”
And so Arminas did. He woke in his bed back in Maklin’s palace, and he cast aside his holy symbol. Never again would he wear the symbol of any god or goddess, nor would he bow his head or bend his knee towards them. Lendor he respected, but did not worship. But he would be the target of Hextorian wrath to the end of his days.
The following day, Arminas told his companions of what had transpired in the night. Sonandra was crushed that he had rejected the offer of Heironious for Arminas to take up arms at his side, at her side.
“I don’t understand,” she wailed. “We have been through so much together, we have accomplished great things together. Why are doing this?”
Arminas looked at her with pity. “I cannot worship him; he is an Oathbreaker.”
“I gave up my life for you; my family has been made paupers because of you. You betray us!”
“Would you have back your life, Sonandra?”
“Yes! And we can regain it together, Arminas,” she pleaded. “Join us. Heironious will forgive you. I-I . . .” she looked down at the floor in character. And she grinned at us players in game! “Damn it, I love you!”
We all smiled. And, well, I couldn’t resist. “I know. But my dear, I have never loved you. Everything I have done has been out of duty. But I give you one final gift. As the last man who held onto his Oath to the Church of the Twins, by the laws that the Church encoded, I hereby, in front of these witnesses, and sight of all of the Gods, do divorce you. Live your life. Reclaim your life.”
We had one last game session the week afterwards. We didn’t game that session, but Steve gave us our future history.
Maklin ruled Tenh justly, living to the ripe old age of 97. He was remembered fondly by his people, and he had five strong children that unified that realm, tying together the various baronies into a strong central government under his firm rule. He remained friends with Arminas to his last days and supported the campaign that Arminas waged against the Theocracy.
Sonandra gave up the sword and retired to a quiet nunnery in Urnst. She renounced her remaining wealth, giving it to the poor and at long last found a measure of peace.
Loeweinbrough found the glory that he had been seeking, becoming a renowned knight errant on a hundred different battlefields. He fought off every assassination attempt by the Guild and died in his sleep at the age of 68, being the most unusual and ineffective Grandfather of Assassin’s in Greyhawk history.
Jaspar returned to Greyhawk City where he became the Guild-master of the Nighthawks, a thieves’ guild that controlled the streets and alleys where the Watch did not dare patrol. He amassed wealth and notoriety and died many years later in a hot-tub he was sharing with six lovely young halfling concubines.
Clement decided to journey eastward with Arminas. Together they fought against the Theocracy until at long last the Hextorians were defeated and driven from the Pale. He may have had moral qualms about how Arminas accomplished things, but he respected Arminas for holding to his given word. Although he tried to convert Arminas to the faith of St. Cuthbert, he knew it was a forlorn hope.
Sakura as well journeyed with his friend and fought in the Palish Wars. True to the end, he died only a week before victory was declared. Arminas honored his friend, who perished in battle and invited his family to come to the Pale and live in peace.
As for Arminas himself? He did free his people. He drove the Hextorians from the Pale and tore down the Theocracy. He repaid Stannis in full for all his evil, and he assumed the ancient throne of Wintershaven as Prince Regent. But his story did not end there.
For the final words spoken by Heironious were not bluster, but prophecy. On the morning after his coronation, Arminas was stolen away by powerful summoning magic, and taken to a world far distant from Oerth, a world in need of heroes. He never saw his homeland again. But he remained Arminas until the day he died.
And of his tales in that distant place? That my friends, is another story.
For five years, I played in this campaign. It was my first campaign an, to this very day, it remains my favorite. I was honored to have such an excellent DM and wonderful friends and gamers who made all of our characters come to life.
May you and your games be as fun and as memorable as this one was for me.
Sounds like you miss your friends, many of us had a good experience with a group of people enjoying the game. However, it was more the experience with the group we played amongst and the camaraderie we all shared.
Sounds like Steve was a fan of the Greco-Roman gods with his constant interruption of deities in the campaign. Thanks for sharing your early adventures with us. I can tell how much you enjoyed reliving the tales.
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