The campaign begins with a cutscene.
Twenty years ago, around October of 1997, I began telling a story.
This is how it ends.
At the edge of the swamps north of Trinsic, there stood a dark tower. Soldiers drilled in a small patch of land cleared between the tower and the bay and crossbowmen stood watch behind the parapets. Inside, they drank, slept, laughed. Did all the things that soldiers do.
There was a large room at the top of the tower, packed full of books, maps, and the occasional martial bauble. There were two desks, a small one, at the back, where an old man sat translating an ancient and brittle scroll into a fresh book, and a large one in the middle of the room, facing the door, where a middle-aged man sat, troubled.
He looked up from the book he was poring over and fingered the rose and swords pin on his chest. It had been passed down for generations. It meant everything to him. Ralben, the wizened scribe who had seemingly always been around the company, muttered something to himself, and the scritch scritching became more irritated for a moment, then resumed its previous rhythm.
He returned to the text, searching for an answer he knew wasn’t there.
This seemed to be how he spent most of his days: troubled, searching for answers. For history rarely lets her champions rest.
There was a knock at the door, and before he could answer, a younger man with Lieutenant’s bars pushed it open and poked his head in.
The older man looked up wearily and waved him into the room.
“Got word from the King of Winterfell, Cap’n,” the younger man began, “ He wants to hire us to stamp out an orc problem.”
“Hrrm,” muttered the man behind the desk. “Who is it this week?”
“Who’s what, sir?”
“The King of Winterfell….”
The man opened his mouth, then stopped, and tilted his head in thought for a moment.
“Yeah…you got me, no idea. Probably an Evans.”
The older man nodded. “Probably so.”
‘You’ve been poring over that same book for a week, boss.”
“Yes, I know. But dammit, Laz, there’s got to be an answer. These things are ancient, and they’re powerful, and they’re fucking with us, and I don’t know why.” He straightened up and pointed to a passage in the book. “It all starts here. Right after Tennyson was killed, Muerdetta is on the run and everyone…and I mean everyone is after her. Even Volkov. Volkov was a brother, what would make him turn like that? And she takes the Company and makes a beeline for the Waygate. Something happened…something that destabilized everything and put a bullseye on the Society for hundreds of years.”
The Lieutenant closes the door quietly. “I’ve got a theory….”
The older man raises an eyebrow inquisitively, then gestures to a small table of bottles and glasses across the room. The Lieutenant steps over to the table and looks over the bottles. He whistles appreciatively. “How in the world did you get hold of this?” he asks.
“Pickens lifted it from the monks at the abbey in Yew. Pour it. Theory.”
“Yessir,” he says with half a chuckle, the sound of a cork popping, and two glasses being filled. He sets one down in front of his commander and takes a seat in front of the desk. He sips the wine with a sigh.
“Right. So. In all of the histories, at least the ones that we have, the gates all go to Tablenhelm, right? If you want to get anywhere, you have to go through that choke point. Even on your most recent…jaunt…it was necessary.”
“Seems that way.”
“And that’s a tactical nightmare, time moves faster in Tablenhelm – the sheer act of passing through there on your way to somewhere else diminishes the relevance of the action.”
“So if it were possible to go directly gate to gate, it would be of huge strategic significance.”
The scritch scritch of Ralben’s quill had ceased. Neither of the other men noticed.
“So in the thousands of years of conquests, the Ringwielders always passed through home.”
The older man’s eyes widened in surprise as it dawned on him.
“Uh huh. Until Delayne Muerdetta…this bookish farmgirl from the ass-end of nowhere with no business whatsoever leading a company of soldiers…opens the Khevoran gate straight here.”
The commander stared off in the distance, his wine forgotten, calculating.
“Kishara didn’t build the gates. They just figured them out… And Muerdetta….”
“The bookish farmgirl from the ass-end of nowhere…”
“Found the manual.”
“And they think we have it.”
“Damn. That’s awfully thin.”
“Fits the facts though.”
“Aye. Fits the facts.”
“Sir? Do we? Have it?”
Captain Debinani Rahl, Commanding Officer of The Black Rose Society glanced over his shoulder at the piles of un-translated books and scrolls recently uncovered from a hidden cache. He didn’t notice Ralben at his table, pale as a sheet, hands shaking slightly.
“If we do, we haven’t found it yet.”
“Well, that’s unsettling.” The Lieutenant stood and opened the door. “C’mon boss. Put your talkin’-to-royalty cloak on. Let’s kill some orcs, make some gold. Delayne Muerdetta’s been dead a long time. She’ll be here when you get back.”
“Rune library in five, Laz.”
The younger man tossed a casual salute and left.
The Commander sighed and stared at the words on the page.
“What did you do, Delayne?”
Hundreds of years prior and a world away, a dark and cold winter was slowly coming to the end across the northern plains of Khevoran. And in a secluded farmhouse near Harrowburg, Lieutenant Delayne Muerdetta of The Black Rose Society leaned against the wall, witnessing a conspiracy unfold.
There was the elf…kinda…sitting curiously straight with a slight smile on his face. There was something a little off about him, probably wasn’t a true-blood. Everyone took a second glance though, because he stood out. No one had seen an elf in years.
There was a sole soldier in the gathering wearing the colors of the Imperial Army, a woman, shockingly attractive, especially for the surroundings. Her insignia marked her as a non-com in Volkov’s 5th division.
The dwarf and the blademaster had a wide space around them. They didn’t seem to know each other well, but they knew everyone else less, and their body language screamed “go away”. The human had a sword on his back that wasn’t an Etu’sauri blade, but looked like it would handle like one, and he didn’t have the look of a pretender.
The halfling and the other human woman had the look of siblings after the loss of a parent. They spoke with the shorthand of years of familiarity and shared the same haunted look. They were both obviously bedraggled from a long journey.
The final pair in the room were by far the oddest. The first was an old man in a hat and travelling robes; he somehow managed to be dirty without being filthy, as if he’d lived comfortably in a rabbit warren for a year. The only way he’d look more the part of a hedge wizard is if he’d had the word “Wizard” stitched to his hat. His companion, once the brain finished processing that he was neither a halfling nor a child, took everyone by surprise in turn. Beneath the raised cowl of a very dirty short cloak was a small, green, somewhat smelly goblin, who vacillated between attempting to look bold and confident, to almost hiding behind the older man – especially after seeing the dwarf.
There was a muffled conversation coming from the kitchen room of the house, but it was unintelligible.
After an uncomfortable silence and a few awkward greetings, four men entered.
Volkov introduces the other three, as well as the assembled party, and informs them that they’ve been gathered to aid in overthrowing Duke Tyr and ending the civil war in the North. Before the party separates to rest from their travels, Smoot informs them that they’ll be heading to the barony of Harold Giles to handle an issue that can’t be addressed by the standing army.