Back in summer of 2004 a few friends and I started a tabletop RPG campaign, since Privateer Press had released a tabletop RPG setting for their Warmachine minis game. It was based on the D&D 3.5 rules Open Gaming License, so it was pretty easy to pick up for us with a little 3.0 and 3.5 experience.

Within the first couple of session the group grew a little, and we had a gang of misfit adventurer types in a world of Steam Power Fantasy – a little bit of traditional magic and old-world charm, a bit of steampunk Victorian styling, and a LOT of giant robots making the world a distinctly different thing from your classic D&D game.

One of those fine characters, Diego, came to us with a touch of madness and more than a touch of drive to someday venture northwards in the tradition of his family, to fulfill a mighty duty that the Lenska family was charged with. His magnificent sword was his birthright and his burden as it would someday drive him to the frozen wastes to unlock a secret.

Over these years our small ragtag adventuring party became a formal mercenary company, known as The Iron Dragon. The system was changed over to Pathfinder rules, with a one year interlude in the new Iron Kingdoms rule (but reverted to Pathfinder). Each of us developed three characters each to allow us to explore different corners of the world (but mostly to keep gaming even when a main storyline character was sans player). Three simultaneous groups at any given time, which means time in our world passed much faster than time in the game world, but 15 years in the real world still adds up to quite a bit in the game setting, and eventually the inevitable came to pass – Diego Lenska began his noble march to the dwarven lands where he sought to use his mystical sword as a key to activate one of the ancient and great Colossus war machines of untold power, to bring to life the destiny and secrets he had guarded. My little dwarf from the north marched with him, as the real world years ticked on and we dropped in on this group whenever possible, in a mighty journey delayed by the real world’s interference time and time again.

Finally Diego’s deal with a devil manifested in a complicated combat – our Curator ally, Gerlath, trying to summon in the fuel we needed to power our Colossus, my dwarf’s sweetheart guarding the fuel in question, and the powers of the demonic forces led by ‘He who’s hand held The Dagger’ – a powerful infernal force to be reckoned with – tearing us apart in any number of ways. The scope and scale of this combat itself even took months to manifest, but Sunday night we sat as a group and, despite the timeline traveling deep into the early morning hours, we were determined to see it to the end.

Around 3 am in our real time, we finally took out the last of the demonic forces, aside from the one last vicious (and mythic) lackey and of course ‘ He who’s hand held The Dagger’ himself. That’s when the villain determined that if he could not take the power, nobody would, and the forces turned to tear the cavern down around us to wipe us out for good. But the mantra “Wait… and hope” echoed from my diminutive dwarf as our ally Gerlath had instructed before slipping between the sands of time. So we held out, coming mere degrees from utterly losing hope in the face of a Prismatic Sphere around our lead enemy, and yet…

Yet despite so little chance of victory, the certainty of a TPK (Total Party Kill), and having one of our clerics fall into the grip of death not just once but in two successive rounds – thank goodness in a world where Resurrection is not an option there is Breath of Life – we waited… we held onto hope… and thanks to the efforts of Gerlath and Bullet Bill (the sweetheart mentioned before) we squeaked through in the end. Our prime enemy did escape through those cursed portals my dwarf just couldn’t managed to close, but we lived and won the day.

The big day. The one that really, truly, mattered.

This is what it’s all been building towards, for fifteen real years of friendship, through life and so many landmarks in our own timelines as well as that of our characters. I love this group of friends, and it’s been an honor to spend just about every other Sunday in their company, where half (or more) of every session is off-topic bullshitting and bantering, to see marriages – including my own – manifest, children come into the picture, and to know that it all ended in a win.

Long may The Iron Dragon fly. More than a mercenary company, in game and in reality it’s come to mean family.

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