My somewhat mentally-unbalanced Unaligned ranger Molly Borden carries a number of handaxes: one in her left boot, one hidden in the small of her back, and five in a pair of specially-made quick-draw holsters - Along the front of each leg, a wide piece of thick leather stretches from the front of her belt to mid-thigh, strapped down like a gunfighter's holsters. There are three thick loops sewn to the leather pad on each leg, and each contains one of her perfectly balanced, perfectly matched handaxes. All except for one... The top loop on her right leg. In that loop hangs an ordinary wood-chopping hatchet, of the sort found in every household in every village. The same hatchet which Molly used to kill her parents when she was thirteen...
Though all of her axes appear almost obsessively clean and polished, anyone who looks closely at her hatchet will notice a few tiny dark spots in the crevices or on the blade, as though the gore of old battles hadn't quite been cleaned well enough and discolored the metal. And old battles the axe has seen - the hatchet was originally a waraxe, an evil weapon forged in the fires of malevolent intent and used to commit bloody murder and mayhem for centuries before being reforged into a simple woodcutter's axe six generations ago by one of Molly's ancestors, and reforged again into a hatchet by that man's daughter. Among the few tiny bloodstains on the weapon lie those of several of Molly's ancestors, slain with the hatchet by their own kin, a family for whom misfortune, madness and murder have become a family legacy and, as it is often rumored, possibly an actual family curse.
I've yet to actually decide what sort of magic weapon it actually is, since A.) Molly's only gotten to 4th level and hasn't picked up a magic weapon yet, and B.) I intentionally wrote a DM choice into Molly's background, never quite determining whether or not the madness and tragedy of Molly's family history is actually a direct result of the presence of some "evil" cursed weapon or simply a family history of mental illness and abuse. It could be both - perhaps it was an intelligent weapon that simply found a family predisposed to the sort of behavior it preferred to encourage.The Long Story
"Elsie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one..."
A simple children's rhyme, sung while skipping rope, old as the city itself. An urban legend, an old wives' tale children tell to scare each other. Nothing more than a fable, surely?
How soon they forget...
Six generations ago, a bunch of local young men returned from the latest, largest campaign against the gnolls, and were welcomed as homecoming heroes. With them came a man named Harris Borden, a mercenary who carried a wicked-looking waraxe, brightly polished but with a few small spots where old blood improperly removed had stained the metal. They had come upon him alone in the midst of the last climactic battle, claiming to have been separated from his unit several days past and having taken the waraxe off the body of an enemy after losing his own weapon. The whole town celebrated their return for several days, and many weeks passed before those young men paid for a single drink or meal, constantly called upon to tell and retell their adventures in the war. Though Harris Borden was also welcomed as a hero and the young men he had fought with would tell grand tales of his bravery and ferocity in the final battle, Haris himself spoke only sparingly of his deeds during that skirmish and not at all of what had happened to his former mercenary unit, seeming to want to put it all behind him. It wasn't long before he married a local girl and settled down to run a small inn at the edge of town on one of the smaller trade roads. The wicked-looking war axe was reforged into a woodcutter's axe, and soon forgotten about by everyone in the town. A year later, Harris's wife gave birth to a daughter named Eloise, who quickly became known to all as "Elsie".
Although it seemed that fortune had smiled on Harris Borden, who had a loving wife, a beautiful daughter and a successful business, things began to change over the next ten years. Always seen as a quiet, sombre man, Harris became withdrawn and close-lipped. He seemed to be crumbling under the weight of some unbearable burden, something that haunted him. Though speaking few words to the people of the town and leaving the operation of the inn to his wife, he would often sit in the main room of the inn conversing late into the night with travellers who had passed through the lands previously held by the gnolls, questioning them obsessively about their travels. Over time, the small trade route fell into disuse, replaced by a larger one that entered the town some distance away. Few people stayed at the inn anymore. It began to be whispered that Harris Borden had taken to drinking heavily and beating his wife. Though originally hailed as a hero, it was now whispered that Harris was an evil man.
Harris' only response was to drink more and say less, becoming violent whenever his deeds during the war were mentioned. Most people questioned whether he truly had ever been a hero during the war, as noone clearly remembered Harris ever telling an exciting tale of his battles.
In point of fact, not only had Harris never actually mentioned which mercenary company he had previously fought with, but had also said nothing about which side his mercenary company had fought for. Nothing is known about the man called Harris Borden before he wandered out of the gnoll lands bearing a weapon apparently somehow tainted by evil. Whether Harris Borden was originally a good man brought down and corrupted by the influence of the axe he carried, or if he had always been an evil man, the true owner of that cursed tool of destruction, it was certain that he had become morally bankrupt and possibly mad by the time of his death: It was occasionally implied, although always in hushed whispers and quiet tones, that although he rarely touched his wife other than to beat her, Harris Borden possessed an unhealthy fascination for his lovely daughter Elsie.
What was not whispered amongst the good people of the town, however, was another secret just as dark - Ten-year-old Elsie possessed an equally unhealthy fascination with her father's wood-cutting axe...
The butchered bodies of Harris Borden and his wife were found by a neighbor the next morning, and young Elsie was found outside in the yard seemingly near-catatonic in shock. There was no sign of the weapon used to kill Elsie's parents. Refusing to believe that such a sweet beautiful girl had murdered both her parents with an axe, everyone blamed the incident on the recent rise in raiding activity by the newly resurgent gnoll clans. The neighbor who found the bodies took over the operation of the family's inn and raised Elsie as his own child.
Years later, after the incident was mostly forgotten, Elsie married a distant cousin (also named Borden) and took up the family innkeeping again. She bore her handsome new husband three sons. On the first anniversary of their wedding, Elsie presented her husband with a brand new hatchet of supperior quality and balance. Less than a year later, the man accidentally severed the tips of two fingers while chopping wood. When Elsie's youngest son was still in his teens, her husband died during the winter after a long bout with influenza. Elsie herself passed away two years later.
After Elsie's death, the inn managed to stay afloat financially for a few years but was closed down after her two oldest sons argued over the business and the second oldest split the skull of his older brother with the family hatchet. People began to whisper in the streets that the family was cursed. Her youngest son Harrison eventually married and raised a family, though tragedy continued to stalk the Borden clan. Two of his children died at a young age, and Elsie's only granddaughter Sarah eventually went mad. In each generation, there was always something - madness, murder, incest or illness... As the village had grown into first a large town and then a small city, nearly everyone had forgotten the fateful story of the Borden family and a number of tragedies and atrocities went completely unremarked upon, the "family curse" having long since since become a thing of fiction and the subject of nursury rhymes. Few in the Borden family themselves even realized that the hatchet still existed, passed down through the generations with other family heirlooms.
Molly Borden was thirteen when she killed her abusive father and mother, and the bodies were discovered by a neighbor who found Molly sitting nearby, soaked in blood and still clutching the family hatchet. One of the few aware of the so-called "Family Curse", as well as the rumors that Molly's parents may have been abusing her, the neighbor tossed the hatchet into the Borden family home and set fire to the building with the bodies of Molly's parents inside, in hopes of somehow ending the curse. The man told the city watch and others who came to fight the fire that it was an accident. Whether anyone actually believed the legends of a family curse or not, that Molly had murdered her parents, or that the fire was truly an accident, everyone present simply stood there watching as it burned to the ground, most making signs against evil and praying under their breath. Molly, the last of her family, was placed into the local orphanage.
Molly got into a large number of fights in the orphanage, often protecting the smaller, weaker children and nearly killing a number of older children who tried to touch her. Shunned by the other children and feared by the adults, Molly sometimes simply wandered off for days at a time, unbeknownst to her nominal caretakers often spending hours walking around the former site of her childhood home. Few noticed when she came and went, and nobody cared - they were happy to see the back of her when she left. At the age of nineteen Molly one day packed up her few possessions and simply walked away from the entire city. Several seasons later, a crotchety and cantankerous old ranger found her living half wild in the woods on the edge of the gnoll territories, carefully braiding strips of what appeared to be gnoll pelt onto the end of a "trophy rope" made from strips of at least a dozen other gnoll pelts.
Molly started out as a 4E translation of a 3.5 character I had named Hatchet, a handaxe-using ranger/fighter spec'd out as a TWF combat beast. I only ever got to play him in Neverwinter Nights, though. For some reason, during the translation to 4E the character just seemed to take on a more female feel, but I'd never really come up with a backstory for the character since it was mainly a mechanical concept build - I just named the original character Hatchet cuz it was a cool thematic name, y'know?. However, an interesting confluence of events happened a short while later - I was reading a post on the forums about character backgrounds and somebody posted a link to an article about the Lizzie Borden story (As a New Englander and a bit of a student of the area's darker history, I was of course familiar with it) so I followed the link. As I was reading it, the online radio station I was listening to just happened to play Molly Hatchet's "Fall Of The Peacemakers". Something about the lyrics, especially the line about "stop the madness" kind of struck a chord in my brain.
Suddenly, "Hatchet" had morphed into "Molly Borden". And the story of Lizzie Borden became a family legacy of madness and misfortune that may or may not be a "family curse" brought on by the possession of an axe tainted by evil...