Sabina's Castle

Session Zero

Andy and I were doing a Whitehack game, which was a bit doomed to fail, I suppose. Andy has never been a fan of DnD and I found that Whitehack’s world-building mechanics work better with more than… well… one player. So when I started talking with Andy about the Burning Wheel setting that I’ve been running in for years, he perked up. I threw my pitch for the setting Kakusaretta Sekai at him: at the center of the planet is an enormous blue flame, surrounded by water.

This flame is the source of all the goodness in the world. A long time ago the world had rejected this flame, and it went out. The God of this world came back, incarnated as each of the 8 races- human, elf, dwarf, orc, spider, roden, wolf, and troll. Each time He incarnated He was inevitably betrayed by those of His race, and was finally killed as a human child by an angry mob. Each time He was betrayed He refused to let go of the Flame He possessed by right. By refusing to reject Himself the Flame of the Earth was re-lit.

I then went and outlined the one continent I had played in the most, the northwest one: Helmi. This had two kingdoms in it: The Iron Kingdoms and the Argentum Empire. I had done most of my campaigns in the Iron Kingdoms, but had only ever done one short campaign in the Argentum Empire, and didn’t have much of a handle on the place. Naturally, Andy wanted to play there. Oh, and he didn’t want to play a human, the dominant race of the Argentum Empire, but a dwarf, who have their own things going on, below ground. So, y’know, Andy was being Andy.

At this point I revealed that I hadn’t really worked out anything else for anyone but the humans, mostly. Andy laughed and we began to get to work. We discussed the planet’s primary villains: the Inimicai, who are a being from each race who set up their own anti-Flames, against the Flame of God. Andy loved the concept… and was disappointed that I’d no idea what the dwarven Inimicai was like. In the my previous campaigns I’d centered around four Inimicai: the head Inimicai Eous, the elven Inimicai Kenodoxius (also known as The One in the Deep), the human Inimicai Golau, and the orc Inimicai Rahbarl, but when Andy asked me about the dwarven Inimicai I think he could hear me hanging my head and blushing in shame over the phone.

Some of the most impressive worldbuilding I’d ever heard just jumped right out of Andy’s mouth. He went off for a good long time, on and on about the Inimicai he named Leviathan. Unlike the other Inimicai, Leviathan had never been seen before, and in fact it was not known if he ever actually existed. It was rumored that, should Leviathan show up, everything would end. But even the other Inimicai scoff at Leviathan’s existence. And yet there are those who think it does exist.

You have to understand that I was in complete and utter awe, but we had to move on.

We decided to go with the Dwarven default of stone-listening, turned up to 11. Dwarves can interact with the Flame inside the stone, given they have the sufficient skills and magical aptitude. This, of course, has led to the folk tale that dwarves can talk to stones.

Andy’s character,a dwarf named Spar, decided to take advantage of this universal human ignorance. He took up a job with The Processors, a magical guild that got rid of the garbage in the Argentum Empire. He was hired by The Processors to snoop on the other guilds that frequented a neutral ground called Sabina’s Castle, which was on the very outskirts of Argentum Prime, the capital of the Argentum Empire.Spar, a greybeard amonsg the dwarves, took up the position of janitor, pretending to be a human named Jasper. While there Spar took a human earth mage known as Tara as a lover. She figured out pretty fast he was a dwarf and kept the secret. The tone of the campaign was intended to be a lighthearted, episodic, campaign.

Yeah, that went well.

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Session One

Spar was approached by his boss, Germana Corvus, head of the Processor Guild. Her son, Caius, had attacked a dignitary. Germana was convinced her son was being set up. So Spar went back to the castle and started looking around. During this investigation he bumped into Herminus Luzi, an abrasive and dumb guard, who didn’t like that the lowly janitor was poking around Caius’ cell.

Continuing on, into a crowded room filled with dignitaries, Spar discovered that two members of The Unemployed (the totally not existing magical assassin guild), Agrippa and Aelinus, were plotting to kill Herminus. There was a Death’s Head, which forced someone to attempt an assassination, placed on Caius. Agrippa and Aelinus weren’t able to get the Death’s Head off of Caius before he got put into prison. So this time they decided to put a Death’s Head on Tara, Spar’s human lover and member of the agricultural mage’s guild The Kami Guardians, so she would kill Herminus and Caius. They would then remove the Death’s Head from Tara. But they decided to try and get past Herminus, who was Caius’ guard, one last time, before they went and did something as drastic as putting another Death’s Head on another person.

Of course Jasper lost no time in telling Tara, who then ran down to the jail cell. She surprised Agrippa and Aelinus as they cased Herminus, spilling their whole plan at the top if her lungs. Agrippa and Aelinus, embarrassed, began to try to get away from Tara, but she followed them, yelling at the top of her lungs. This called in other guards who, out of respect for Tara and her position with the Kami Guardians, arrested Agrippa and Aelinus.

Spar contacted Germana and told her everything he had learned. Agrippa and Aelinus vanished very quickly. Spar patched things over with the overenthusiastic and lawful stupid Herminus, who offered to help Spar whenever he needed it.

Session Two

Germana told Spar that Severus, the studly cook, had been kidnapped and she wanted Spar to find out why. A few moments after Germana left Spar to investigate it became discovered that Severus was kidnapped by the general public. Spar went to Severus’ room under the pretense of cleaning. The room was locked from the inside, so Severus hadn’t been taken out from there. Severus was known for being extremely clean, but the books on his shelf were strewn about, the shelf itself knocked over. But the window (which was several stories up) was not forced open. As Spar left the room he walked directly into Olivia, one of the maids. she was angry that Spar had been in the room and walked off in a huff. Spar noticed she had a key to Severus’ door, in her hand.

Spar then went into the castle town and found fellow gambler Lucius. The two had a game over a ruby ring. Spar won. Lucius told Spar that the Shadow’s Sons (Unemployed) had been paying handsomely for people to case Sabina’s Castle. Felippe was one such gambler, who had been milking the Unemployed for all they were worth. Spar went back to the kitchen for a bottle, which he filled with a couple of thimblefulls of Dwarven Nog, known for knocking out a human with nary a drop. He found Felippe and presented him the bottle. Felippe, always eager for a drop of something new, was unceremoniously knocked out. Spar brought Felippe back to his daughter Salt’s place. She was annoyed that Spar had brought a human to her place.

After a few hours Felippe woke up, feeling pretty rough. After a quick bribe Felippe told Spar that there was a spot the Unemployed negotiated with people, at midnight. Spar went to the spot. Severus showed up there at midnight. Octavia showed up and began to argue with Severus, who explained what had happened. Severus had been “kidnapped” by Arianna, his childhood sweetheart. She had been thought dead for decades, only to show up out of nowhere and spirit Severus away. It turns out Arianna had been abducted and trained by The Unemployed. She had showed up at Severus’ window once she was able to escape. Octavia, furious, stalked off. She was carrying Severus’ child…

Session Three

Herminus was promoted to the head of castle security. He called a meeting of the staff. Herminus told everyone he was going to do a background checks on every staff member of the castle. Ranus, the head cook, was clearly unhappy about it. The rest of the staff wondered about Ranus, which Spar, not wanting to be discovered as a dwarf, stoked this suspicion to a fever pitch. He also poked around to find out whatever he could about Ranus from each of the people he was manipulating.

Spar checked in with Herminus later that night. Herminus enlisted Spar as his eyes and ears, despite Spar’s feigned protests to the contrary. I mean, who else would be a better look out for the head of security but the unassuming janitor? Herminus asked Spar what he knew about Ranus. Spar told him what he had learned: Ranus was related to the Duke of Reinus, he had formal chef training at The Academy, and he was probably a noble (or at least a former noble) himself. Herminus told Spar that Tara, who was sleeping with Spar on the side, seemed to know Ranus as well, and that information could probably be gotten out of her.

So when Tara came to visit that night Spar warned her about Herminus wanting to investigate her. Tara was amused and laughed at Spar’s concern that Herminus would be trying to use him to get information out of her the next day. And that’s exactly what happened: Herminus wanted Spar to question Tara. The two of them faked a conversation, and Tara baited Spar into asking why Ranus had left his family. Tara considered it a tragedy. Ranus had accidentally killed his cousin’s -The Duke of Reinus’ - wife. Tara had helped set up Ranus with the job here, at Sabina’s Castle. Confused, Spar went to his daughter Salt for guidance. Spar didn’t want to hurt Tara by hurting Ranus. Salt told him he needed to stick to his guns, and to get Herminus to go after Ranus. Spar agreed.

The next day Spar and Herminus met up. Herminus had decided on his own not to investigate Ranus; some things needed to stay buried. He wondered aloud if he should investigate Tara, which Spar quickly said was a bad idea. Later that night Tara told Spar he was happy he’d gotten the heat off of Ranus, and that he had a good heart!

Session Four

During another sleep-over Tara told Spar of the plan that she’d concocted to raise the dwarves in the slums out of poverty; the Kami Guardians would help the dwarves raise rare veggies in their district that they could sell. The Kami Guardians would then get tax revenue from the sales. Spar tried to find a way to tell Tara how patronizing the plan was, but couldn’t find the words. He just smiled and nodded.

The next morning Spar was summoned by Germana, who knew of Tara’s plan. She was furious, because the dwarves were currently working for The Processors and she didn’t want to lose the cheap labor! Spar said that the dwarves needed the quality of life boost, not to mention an independent dwarf state within the city, which German and The Processors should be willing to provide and help out with. Germana tried to change the subject, but Spar was insistent. She tried to insult Spar and the dwarves, but he wouldn’t take the bait, sticking to his point. Finally Spar loudly dismissed her as a bigoted idiot. It is here that I am obligated to say that Spar totally beat Germana. No compromise was possible. I, deciding to be a good loser, chose to try to murder Spar. So there’s that. Germana flew into a rage and pulled a knife on Spar, who jumped out a window (they were on the ground level)! He ran and ran, ignoring someone who called out to him with a “Hey! Dwarf!”

Spar tried to find Herminus, only to find Germana had gotten there first. She tried telling the truth about Spar, that he was a dwarf she had planted in Sabina’s Castle as a mole. But she was so unhinged that Spar easily discredited her. Herminus dragged Germana off.

Caius found Spar later. Germana had snapped. Agrippa and Aelinus had made bail and had been threatening her, as well as taking (very effective) action against The Processors. Tara’s plan had been the straw that had broken the camel’s back. So Caius was now in charge and he promised to help the dwarves because of the debt he owed Spar. For the first time a human had actually earned Spar’s respect, not to mention gratitude.

Session Five

Spar was sitting in the castle town’s tavern, listening to gossip, when a dwarf sat down next to him and greeted him as a fellow dwarf. Spar tried to walk away, but sat back down when the dwarf threatened to tell Caius that he really couldn’t listen to stones, like he claimed. The dwarf claimed to represented someone who had determined that the dwarven furnishings in Argentum Prime were neglected by the humans. He offered Spar enormous riches to undermine the humans. The offer was rejected; Spar didn’t need a bribe to screw over humans.

Spar left the mysterious dwarf at the bar. When he returned to his room Spar found a junky wooden box. He broke it open to reveal a dwarven black marble, hewn deep below the surface, where the sun never goes. On the outside were dwarven runes, but Spar was illiterate. But even illiterate dwarves know the rune for Leviathan, the horrific monster that none had ever seen but was the terror of the dwarves, who had encountered its horrific cults and minions over the millennia; Spar dropped the box in fear. After a moment he opened the box and it slid open smoothly. Inside was an intricately cruel dagger, The Dagger of Betrayal, which was always put in the back of every tragic dwarven hero in ever dwarven tragedy, down the last detail. The crafting was subtle and carved, unlike the more geometric dwarven carving. Alongside it was a a note, of which Spar could only make out “Thank you.”

Tara knocked on the door and Spar hid the box and knife behind his nog keg, and let her in. Tara was bubbling, she had just gotten back from talking to the dwarven Patriarch Diamond-Face!.. who hadn’t let on a single facial expression, never mind talked to her. Spar knew that her ideas would be ignored, but he decided not to tell Tara that. The night progressed as normal.

In the morning Spar went to see Salt, who could read. Herminus stopped him and asked for advice rather pitifully. Spar sighed and asked how he could help. Herminus confessed that he was madly in love with Octavia, the pregnant lover of of Severus, the studly cook! Herminus had left her a note. Spar told Herminus that he would have to get back with him later that evening, and Herminus wandered away anxiously.

It was a cripplingly hot and humid day, but Spar managed to make it to Salt’s apartment, box hidden on him. Salt was in her room, trying to deal with the heat as best as she could. She was upset that the Kami Guardians’ deal was to be rejected. An argument arose between Spar and Salt. Salt argued that the Processors, who were currently employing the dwarves, didn’t deserve dwarven trust. Spar told her that the Processors were in his debt and he could use them. Salt suggested turning the Processors and Kami Guardians against each other by beginning a bidding war for dwarven services. Spar then tells her about the box. She freaked out at the merest peak at it. The note was no better:

Dear Spar,

Congratulations on attracting the attention of the Cult of the Leviathan! Thank you for advancing the cause of dwarven-kind. There is more to be done, however. At your earliest convenience please stab this into the back of Caius. The dagger will take care of the rest.

Salt, terrified, demanded they run. Spar told her that there was someone else he knew about who could “use” the dagger.

Session Six

As Salt declared her intention to run they both heard screaming and a crash. Spar looked out the window; two freakishly huge plants with teeth and human eyes had smashed through a building and were attacking dwarves in their slum! The one had Agrippa’s voice, the other Aelinus’; their screams were heard by all. From the hole that the plants had busted through Spar saw Arianna sneak out and away, running down the street. Spar ran off the other way, saying he would get The Processors involved. Salt balked; the dwarves could take care of themselves and Spar had sworn an oath to Onyx, Salt’s mother, that he would always make sure the strength of the dwarves was felt. Going for help would break Spar’s oath. Spar rejoined that the dwarves had no experience with huge talking plants and The Processors were the only mages who were allowed to set anything on fire! Salt protested, calling him an Oathbreaker, but in the end Spar was able to get away.

Spar saw Chloe, a prominent Processor, standing in the street, watching the unfolding carnage in horror. He talked to her, asking if she knew anyone important in The Processor’s infrastructure, hinting that he knew Caius and that Caius would want to know about what was going on. Chloe agreed and said she had an idea of where Caius would be at that moment. They ran uptown, to a warehouse with The Processor’s coat of arms on it.

The door slammed shut behind Spar and six crossbows were brought to bear on him. Tara came out from a balcony above Spar and gloated at capturing him. She explained that The Kami Guardians were going to take over The Processor’s business, and that the plants had been fabricated to resemble Processor casting, with all the appropriate paperwork forged. With this very public debacle of illegal genetic tampering The Processors would be finished. As Spar goaded Tara into gloating he edged toward a window. He made a break for it, ducking under whistling crossbow quarrels. Out the window he went and hit ground, running. Spar ran into the crowded human streets, trying to use the crowds as cover. But Tara and her entourage followed, shouting into the crowd that a dangerous dwarf, who was responsible for the trouble going on in the slums, was amongst the crowd. All eyes landed on Spar, who took out his Leviathan knife and laughed evilly, trying to scatter the crowd through sheer terror.

Spar was dog-piled; the Dagger of Betrayal was knocked from his grasp. Spar tried ducking through the crowd to a weak point in the mob, but it was no use; he was beaten down. The mob picked him up and surged toward the town square, where the gibbet stood. As the rope was tied around his neck Spar called out that he was being set up, that he was innocent. His plea fell on deaf and terrified ears.

Spar’s neck did not break when they dropped him. Swinging in the air and gagging he began to black out. Flames parted the mob; Caius had found him. Caius cut Spar down, asking what had happened. With what voice he had left Spar tried to tell Caius that The Processors had been set up. Caius couldn’t make it out, however. The police arrived, looking for Caius, whose name was all over the paperwork authorizing the misshapen plants’ creation. Caius was taken away in shame.

Spar wandered back toward the slums The two plants were dead, surrounded by Kami Guardian mages. Dead dwarves were strewn about the streets. Salt sat nearby, with a wounded leg. Spar told her it was all a set up; The Kami Guardians had played a perfect coup. Salt coldly asked if his human lover Tara, who had just introduced herself to Salt, was involved. Spar said it was. Salt told Spar that Onyx would have been deeply ashamed of him, and that she was as well. In a loud voice Salt called her father an Oathbreaker for trying to rely upon humans in a situation where the dwarves could have prevailed on their own strength, not to mention sleeping with a human! She told Spar to get lost.

With nowhere else to go Spar hobbled over to find Lucius, who was at a local bar. Lucius realized Spar was the dwarf who was almost lynched earlier that day… Lucius realized that Spar was a dwarf. Spar begged for a place to stay and Lucius, confused, agreed. They found a doctro to see about Spar’s neck, throat, and head injuries. It costed Spar more money than he thought he had. It mattered little: the scars on Spar’s face would never fully heal.

Session Seven: Trait Vote the First

We decided that there would be a time skip of six months for this particular vote. Andy reminded me of The Shadestone Players, a group of dwarven performers that Andy had made up and that I… had completely forgotten about. The Shadestone Players were a group of dwarven con artists, who traveled between different human cities and market dwarven farces as high dwarven art; they are incredibly successful. Spar had been funding them from his largesse. They will figure into the next few sessions.

Anyway, here’s Spar’s traits at the beginning:

Curious (Char)
Stone-Faced (DT, lets him lie better)
Ear for Voices (pretty much can pick a voice out of a crowd, it’s what let him fake listening to stones)
Oathsworn
Aura of Innocence (a Call-On that was stupidly unfair and let him essentially get away with murder)

This is eventually what he wound up with:

Curious (Char)
Desperate (Char)
Stone-Faced
Ear for Voices
Oathbreaker (basically no respectable dwarf will ever be seen within a hundred miles of Spar now)
Connected (City Dweller) (a trait that lets him search for human people in cities a lot more easily, as he now so familiar with the setting that he’s practically a native)

Spar’s snaffu earned him a 2D Infamous Reputation with all surface dwarves, everywhere. Word travels fast.

Session Eight

After six months of looking for The Dagger of Betrayal Spar finally found it, lodged in a random alleyway. A few hours later The Dwarf found Spar and told him that plans had changed. The Dagger needed to wind up in Tara’s back. Spar told The Dwarf that he would do it as soon as he could.

Spar started looking for someone who had a ready supply of dwarven nog. After a few weeks of searching the streets of Argentum Prime Spar found a young dwarf named Pyrite, who was sipping dwarven nog in a dwarven bar on the rough side of town. After a while of conversing and hitting it off in general Spar revealed who he actually was. Pyrite was shocked, but intrigued. He found Spar’s oathbreaking admirable, given that he had tried to save dwarven lives, which Pyrite found sympathizable. Spar told him that he wanted to bring the Kami Guardians down but needed to create an infrastructure to do so. Pyrite thought this an ambitious but righteous quest. Since the demise of the Processors the Kami Guardians had taken full advantage of the dwarves, paying them less for more work. All of this was to say that Pyrite was in. Spar told him he was wanting to sell dwarven nog to the humans. Pyrite went pale; dwarven nog importations were heavily policed by the dwarves from the home land. They were quite specific as to how to sell nog… but Pyrite knew a supplier and could Spar in contact with him, a dwarf by the name of Iron. Pyrite needed to talk with Iron first, however.

Spar waited for Pyrite to leave, waited a moment, and then headed out to talk to Iron himself. On his way over he ran into Quartz, a member of the Shadestone players. Quartz and Spar chitchatted for a few moments, with Spar’s current living quarters being with Luscius the center of discussion, including an off-color comment about Tara that pissed Spar off. The then started off toward Iron, gingerly picking their way through the filth-encrusted streets. The Kami Guardians were definitely not as good at cleaning up sewage as the Processors. Pyrite was standing outside of Iron’s apartment complex, holding his nose, when Spar and Quartz showed up. Pyrite panicked, telling them that they needed to wait for his signal. Spar told him that he couldn’t afford to wait.

That’s when someone came came soaring out a second story window and laded on with a sickening thud on his shoulder. Out of the front door rushed a dwarf with flaming red hair and golden irises, complete with bloodshot eyes. He proceeded to beat the unholy hell out of the defenseless dwarf, cussing him out the whole time he did it. Looking up at the crowd surrounding him, Iron loudly proclaimed the victim had slept with his sister and walked inside, back up the stairs. Spar followed him inside and coughed, loudly. Iron stopped and asked why an oathbreaker like Spar would want to see Iron, a respectable businessmen. Spar told Iron that he wanted to raise the dwarves up from their position of squalor. Iron walked up to him, intent on giving him a beatdown, but Spar managed to talk him down into listening. Spar told Iron of how stupid humans were, and how a little dwarven nog could be sold for an incredible amount of money. And all of that could be accomplished with just one keg of nog… which is so easy to lose!

That’s when Herminus showed up. he had been disgraced and fired from Sabina’s Castle because of Spar’s deception and had been looking for “Jasper” ever since… to join him! Herminus wasn’t embittered against Spar at all, but he did need his help. This amused Iron, who roared that if Spar got this much respect from someone he had betrayed then Iron had no problem with him! Spar, Quartz, and Herminus left. Herminus collapsed onto Spar and Quartz and passed out. Quartz tried to convince Spar to leave Herminus alive, but Spar told him that not everyone with value had a brain.