We stand in a ruined courtyard of giants and undead priests. Even though we’re within striking distance, my opponent uses the ‘bow’ emote. He has experience. The fool.
As he stretches his arm behind him in polite courtesy, I whip a special attack into his helmet, slamming his character back onto the pitted stairs behind with a bolt of lightning channeled through my spear. My opponent dodge-rolls away, outraged, and slaps my hardened shield with a series of heavy, futile blows.
I am an Aldrich Faithful bastard, and I love it.
How It (Usually) Works
After three games, PVP etiquette in Dark Souls 3 has becomes fairly routine. Bow before battle. Don’t drink your healing Estus flasks mid-fight. And if there’s more than one fighter, only take on one target at a time. They’re simple rules. Follow them, and if you lose, you lose with honor. Break them, and your good ol’ Host of Embers is instead free to summon friends, chug Estus like a thirsty, undead alcoholic, and make your life as unpleasant as possible. Whether you’re an invader or a defending Host of Embers, these unspoken, community-enforced rules serve to make an uneven, deadly playing field as ‘fair’ as possible. They’re also directly reinforced by the game’s mechanics.
Using an Ember makes you ‘Enkindled’, increasing your health, restoring your humanity, and allowing you to bring other players into your world for some jolly cooperation. However, it also allows other players to invade you, risking their own Enkindled status in the process. You end up battling, not only for each other’s souls, but for the simple chance to survive a fraction of a minute longer against the next boss. To reach out to others, if needed. To defeat the foe making an already difficult experience harder. You bow out of respect—because you both have something worthwhile to lose.
That’s around the time when you first encounter the Aldrich Faithful.
After defeating Pontiff Sulyvahn (and unlocking the accompanying bonfire), you could reasonably expect a period of rest. However, exiting the cathedral this boss fight is located in and strolling to the left immediately presents an ominous sight. Two figures wielding powerful weapons, flanked by a row of sleeping giants. Yet another majestic cathedral rising in the distance, and to your left, a balcony occupied by portly undead priests staring into the distance. If you had the misfortune, like me, of being Enkindled when you entered this area, you’d also receive a message:
“Invaded by Aldrich Faithful.”
A red phantom wreathed in blue emerges from an angular passage beneath the balcony. I bow to it, as was custom, and eat a face-full of pyromancer fire. As I run from the figure, I dodge fireballs from skeleton sorcerers I had missed, hiding in the trees lining the balcony. Pretty soon, I'm rolling away from a couple angry giants and a half-dozen bolts of flame. The Aldrich Faithful jogs away and finds a grassy patch to lie down in and watch the show. “Yeah, nice job following the rules you idiot,” it’s sprawled limbs seem to say.
After several attempts, you begin to realize how desperate the situation actually is. Knights bearing massive bows and spears line the narrow walkways leading up the cathedral. If you manage to get past them and, confused, run down the wrong corridor, you’ll end up in a giant hallway stretching to a dead end. Then, if you go in the right direction, you still have to pull a lever to bring a tower with a spiral staircase down to your level, sprint up that, turn yet another crank, wait for the tower to rise again, and then—then—race to the bonfire mocking you at the center of a cobblestone path.
All of this, while being hounded by confusing Aldrich Faithful. Some might wait until you surmount a perilous obstacle, before kicking you off a cliff. Others will fall from death-defying heights, sucking down Estus afterwards in their eagerness to attack. Some of them might not even try to fight—just watch, as you die of your own stupidity.
To be fair, the latter is an extremely successful strategy for the group.
Becoming a Bastard
I was resentful of the endless parade of failure, but when I became an Aldrich Faithful myself, I quickly learned the reason for this odd behavior. You see, much like its predecessor in the first Dark Souls—the Forest Hunter covenant—pledging to the Aldrich Faithful gives you a special item: A crest that, when equipped, automatically teleports you to Aldrich’s lair whenever someone dares enters it Enkindled. Unlike the typical invader, you don’t have to be in the same general location as your target. You’re free to quest across Lothric until pulled into an invasion, and then returned to your previous position once you succeed and/or die. If you’re defeated while invading the Host of Embers’ world, you don’t even lose your souls. The game transforms you into one of its many hazards, and you face no consequences for your actions.
The ‘rules’ no longer apply to you.
Want to launch yourself at the Host in a kamikaze-style attack, making way for a fellow Aldrich Faithful to finish them off? Feel free. If you die, you’ll just be returned to wherever you were roaming before you got pulled into the cathedral in the first place. See a good opportunity to lure an unwary enemy into a nest of Black Knights? All the better—you can get in a neat backstab while their backs are turned. Since other Aldrich Faithful are summoned alongside you if the Host lingers long enough, you could even choose to not work at all. Just shoot an arrow somewhere in the Host’s general direction from time to time to show your support. Oh, and while you’re at it, try hiding in the tower the Host has to raise to get to the next bonfire. Aldrich Faithful can turn the crank as well, so as your opponent strides towards their destination, lower the tower mid-walk for a nasty surprise (please don’t do that)!
[Editor's note: Do that.]
Being a member of the Aldrich Faithful rips away every obstacle to your own bastardry like a veil, by removing the typical consequences and risk found in Dark Souls’ invasions. From a narrative standpoint, you become the tool of a monster who devours gods, because the job offers a good paycheck and full health insurance. I’m still not even sure who Aldrich is, let alone how I can be faithful to to him after I murdered him two hours ago. But as long as he allows me to serve the same pain Dark Souls 3 dishes out so liberally, I’ll be as faithful as Aldrich wants.
I will gain your trust, using my ‘wave’ emote to lead you through secret shortcuts until I get bored and punt you off of a cliff. I will bow in mockery of your pitiful rules, stalling for time as my companions sneak around and cleave you with an axe as large as your body. If you have the gall to call in some friends for help, I’ll hide. Like a coward. Watch me. I have no shame. And the longer you wait for me to pop out my precious head, the more time my bastard buddies have to arrive. Think I’m bad? Wait until they get here. We have plenty of time and nothing better to do.