The Realm of King Aldak-thrim - Weird Dark Fantasy

My spouse (Adrean - they/them) and I decided to play The Burning Wheel. It’s our favorite tabletop roleplaying game to play together. We had just played a few sessions of King Arthur Pendragon, and it didn’t click with just one Player Knight. We never got into some meaty Arthurian Questing in a Weird World, and so we decided to do it in our own way.

We started with the following concepts…

  • The main character would be a Knight.
  • The Rulers wouldn’t be quite human, more like ambitious gods.
  • Only humans stocks - no elves, dwarves, orcs, etc.
  • Death is final for everyone, including gods. No ghosts. No undead.
  • The gods are here, we are in their realm.
  • For aesthetic inspiration: Demon’s Souls/King’s Field, Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane, Berserk and King Crimson.

I hammered out a sketchy Big Picture & Situation. We refined it a bit by focusing on the cool parts or expanding on assumptions. This is what we started with.

Big Picture

King Aldak-thrim rots from his bloodstone throne. He is God, this is his Realm and he rules all within. When he dies, does the world end or is it reborn? Will people even know? None have left The Crimson Palace in over a hundred years. The Princes and Dukes still pay homage, give worship, and rule in his name.

The Court’s influence the nature of their domains in subtle and overt ways. However, nature once tamed has become ungovernable. New growth is aggressive, strange and twisted.

Society has become decadent, callous and unjust. The Prince’s plot against one another. The Dukes are engaged in petty and violent squabbles. People suffer, many die, life goes on.


The Bloom has come from upriver, a tide of colors bringing pestilence and famine to The Citadel, Ye-Ril. Plants of unseen hues are growing out of wood, flesh and stone. Fire slows the spread. Amputations and mass burnings are now common.

After establishing the Big Picture and The Situation. Adrean made Sir Vornal, and we nailed down the Action or Immediate Circumstances.

Action/Immediate Circumstances

Duchess Kel’moru, who rules from Ye-Ril, is sending some of her household Knights to the corners of her domain and beyond. Sir Vornal is sent with messages bearing the Seal of the Aldak-Thrim to the northern fiefdoms; Toover-Shy, Pag-Shy and Oldar-shy.

The Duchess’s commands for her Knights were as follows.

  • Deliver instructions on dealing with the bloom, assist the nobility with this.
  • Seek out the cause and any means of eradicating the bloom.
  • Only return when one has found the means or the knowledge.

Sir Vornal/Adrean


  1. I shall show Ath [minor relationship] how to walk among the nobility with respect.
  2. I will travel far to spread info and gain knowledge about The Bloom.
  3. It is my fate to force cooperation if the world is to be saved.


  1. Always boil my water and wine
  2. Confront those who are evasive or withholding the truth


  • Cultural Character Traits: Colorful, Proud, Resigned to Fate
  • Sworn Homage [dt]
  • Iron Will [dt]

Events of the first session to follow!


Before the first session, we decided to start at Toover-Shy, the closest of the manors, the Duchess wanted Vornal to visit.

Preparation for Session 1

Toover-Shy, a small manor

  • An exiled duke lays under the village, the bloom has begun to grow from their slumbering body and taken aspects of the exiled Duke of Agriculture.

Rules Note: The King is The Chief Deity (3 Spheres). Princes are Major Deities (2 Spheres). Dukes are Minor Deities (1 Sphere). When a Prince or Duke are exiled, they slumber and are treated as “Dead Gods” as per the Codex.

  • Lord Utury, assumed his hereditary position recently after the passing of his aged father. He discovered the exiled duke, and prayed to it. This was early on in Spring, when the bloom was spreading from upriver. He has formed a small cult, and who lead the village to “tending” to their exiled duke, in hopes it may rise again. There has been a bounty, though the harvest is strange.

I imagined, Lord Utury, as an erudite and reasonable person, who really does care for Toover-Shy. The cult around the slumbering duke is ACTUALLY containing the Bloom, people are not getting sick or dying. This is working.

More Bloom troubles

  • A few children have gone missing (Vockat, Muy, Kustnd) have wandered into the woods and are being consumed by a plant creature. It is a holly-like plant with berries of an unseen hue. This plant creature isn’t part of the exiled duke.

  • Two adults, an ex-soldier, Amoithi and her husband, the tanner, Hadaria. Have been trying to rouse the villagers to find these children, their child Kustnd, was the first missing and presumed dead. The Lord won’t permit a search, as planting and tending, needs done.

Small World Building Details

  • Odd behavior by some adults that are communing with the dying god. Many keep concerns to themselves, as this is meeting their material needs.

  • No public fires, beyond cooking and candles. A lot of meat in the diet. The Bloom is extremely flammable.

  • The “bloom” is evident in a lot of the tended plant-life. The areas of cultivation are odd, and irregular.


If the cult is uncovered; Lord Utury will do everything in their power to keep the secret from getting out through initiation first and murder last.

If the plant monster is burned; burning it will send nightmares to adherents. They will not know the cause, but will sacrifice more recklessly.

Everything else was in my head! Next up is the re-cap of session 1.

Session 1 Account

March 12th 5351, Friday - morning

Sir Vornal [Adrean’s PC] and Master Ath [NPC ~ minor relationship] are departing Ye-Ril for northern domains of the Duchess. The northern road follows the river. The further from civilization the bloom grows along the bank, becoming denser and more frequent. There are few attempts to control the growth away from villages and cities. This was some simple descriptive roleplaying to set the scene.

March 14th, Sunday - midday

As they approach Toover-Shy, the areas around The Bloom patches show signs of cultivation, seemingly containing it. This was unusual, to say the least, as fire was the only known method of curtailing The Bloom’s spread. Sir Vornal made no attempt to hide his presence as he approached the village, which gave ample time for the villagers to notify their lord.

Adrean asked if Sir Vornal knew Lord Utury. Vornal has four circles: City, Noble, Professional Soldier and Noble Court. This was enough context for a Circles test to establish the relationship between the characters.

Circles - Obstacle 2.

  • Success: they are on cordial terms with some shared history.

  • Failure: the Enmity Clause, Lord Utury will be obstructive and unhelpful, though not outright.


Sir Vornal had embarrassed Lord Utury years ago during Sword Training. All Social tests made against Lord Utury would face a +2 ob, and his Body of Argument for Duel of Wits has +4D.

The reception from Lord Utury was icey, and dismissive. A failed etiquette test, in an attempt to smooth over ruffled feathers, only made Lord Utury disinclined to offer any help or hear advice. If it wasn’t for the message from the duchess, Lord Utury would’ve sent Sir Vornal away.

Etiquette - Obstacle 3

  • Success: Lord Utury will offer full hospitality, and hear out the duchess’s message with open ears.
  • Failure: Lord Utury will offer the barest amount of hospitality, and continue to humor the messenger, as to not offend the duchess.


I am not happy with this test, it does make a sense and is valid but we were both a bit rusty playing Burning Wheel and it felt kind of weak

Utury offered the barest amount of hospitality, as to not lose face at Court for mistreating a messenger of The Duchess. Utury brought Vornal to the old long house to read over the letter from the Duchess. Vornal sent Ath away with Nistwar, Utury’s stablemaster, to tend to the horses.

In the hall, Utury read the message and dismissed the “solutions”. His family has cultivated the land for generations, and have had peace since they began to tend to the Bloom rather than destroy it. An argument led to a Duel of Wits.

Duel of Wits


  • Vornal: Burn the bodies of the dead, follow the duchess’s commands.

  • Utury: The old ways are working, we have no reason to change.

The dice hated Lord Utury. Sir Vornal surprisingly won the DoW with a compromise.

  • Compromise: Lord Utury will go to the council to hear out the duchess and other council members, but will not deviate from tradition until then.

I wasn’t super happy with this Duel of Wits. As I said, we were a bit rusty and partly due to dice results the DoW went two exchanges too long. It got to the point of “lets just roll dice and be done with it, we’ve already made our points”.

After the most awkward luncheon, Sir Vornal and Ath are sent away to see “the peaceful village” for themselves. Utury offering them little beyond a night’s stay in the stables for Ath, and a bench for Vornal.

When they left the old long house, Amoithi, an old soldier, approached Vornal with a disturbing story. Weeks ago, three children, including one of her own, went missing in the Old Wood. She hopes that a Knight of the Duchess will help find the children or at least their bodies. Vornal agrees to help. She guides them to her home, just outside the village, where her husband, Hadaria, is tanning hides. She tells them about the old wood, where the dead are traditionally buried, and Lord Utury not allowing a search due to other pressing needs. The Lord considers the children as good as dead.

We took a short break right here, and the second half the session picked up as we found our groove.

March 14th 5351, Sunday - afternoon

Amoithi takes her spear and dons armor, and leads Sir Vornal to the Old Wood. Sir Vornal takes the lead and makes an unskilled Tracking test.

Tracking Obstacle 4 (Beginners Luck Penalty)

  • Success: The path the children took is found via scraps of cloths, and clumps of hair. It leads to a thicket, where the bushes grow strange berries.
  • Failure: Sir Vornal stumbles upon a Field of Bloom, where the dead are buried, and stranger things await.


The Tracking test failed. Sir Vornal saw the Bloom all around, and quickly surveyed the area. This led to a Stealthy vs Observation test, as a living Meat-Eating Plant was creeping up Vornal.

Stealth vs Observation (Beginner’s Luck)

  • Success: The Meat-Eating Plants are seen in time to act.
  • Failure: The Meat-Eating Plants get the drop on the party and attacks.

Sir Vornal sees the Meat-Eating Plants approaching, he gets supplies from his Page and tries to start a fire quickly with an unskilled Firebuilding test.

Firebuilding - Obstacle 4 (Beginner’s Luck)

  • Success: A fire is built and drives all the Meat-Eating Plants back.
  • Failure: A Meat-Eating Plant attacks and knocks the tinderbox out of Vornal’s hand.


Sir Vornal wasn’t fast enough, and the Meat-Eating Plant knocked the tinderbox to the ground. Seeing no other choice, Sir Vonral draws his sword and starts hacking away. We do a big Bloodi Versus test.

Bloody Vs

  • Success: Sir Vornal and friends make a fighting retreat out of the field.
  • Failure: They are surrounded and captured by the Meat-Eating Plants.


There is nothing in the universe that steel won’t cut, the blades sang true and the Meat-Eating Plants fell before the wrath of Sir Vornal, Amoithi and Ath. The Bloody Vs resulted in a Mortal Wound against the Meat-Eating Plants, sending the plants “heads” flying. Sir Vornal carefully placed one of these “heads” in a sack, to bring to Lord Utury, in hopes to spur him to action.

March 14th 5351, Sunday - evening

It was nightfall by the time Sir Vornal, Ath and Amoithi made it back to the old longhouse. It was supper, the Lord and all his attendants were dining. Sir Vornal made a dramatic entrance with a successful Conspicuous test, which linked into a Intimidation test to instill fear of the Bloom into the hall-goers. This Intimidation Check failed, Utury called for his guards to escort Sir Vornal off his lands.

Linked Test

  • Conspicuous vs Obstacle 3
    • Success: everyone is stunned into silence as the ichor covered Vornal & friends throw the hall door open.
    • Failure: All the attendees rebuke the Knight for his arrogance, breach of etiquette and unkempt look.


  • Intimidation +1D for Linked Test, +1D for throwing the head of a Meat-Eating Plant. vs Obstacle 6!
    • Success: people are terrified and spurred into action against these carnivorous plants.
    • Failure: Uturty sees this as a breach of hospitality and . He sends his guards to remove Sir Vornal from his lands


As the men-at-arms advance on Sir Vornal. He draws steel and attacks the nearest one. This begins a very one-sided (the dice were against me) Fight! that ends in seconds with Vornol decapitating one of the Lords men. I ran a quick Bloody Vs for the NPCs, and Amoithi and Arth handly wounded the other men-at-arms.

At the start of the fight, I had Lord Utury test his Steel. He succeeded and ran towards the stables at the first sign of trouble. Vornol gives pursuit, and fails to catch Utury on foot before he reaches the stables. As the Utury rides off into the night, Vornal loses sight of him. Vornal attempts to follow his trail with a Tracking test which fails, and Vornal spends all night on a wild goose chase.

Linked Test

  • Speed vs Speed! Failure!
    • Success: Catches Utury before he reaches the stable
    • Failure: Utury reaches the stables and rides off! +1 ob to the next test.
  • Riding vs Riding! Failure! +1 ob!
    • Success: Catches up to Utury outside the village
    • Failure: Utury loses Vornal outside the village. +1 ob to the next test.
  • Tracking - Double Obstacle (Beginner’s Luck) +1 ob! Failure
    • Success: Utury is tracked down, hiding in an old abandoned tower.
    • Failure: Vornal spends all night, lost outside the village.


March 15th 5351, Monday - dawn

Sir Vornal, Ath and guided back to Amoithi’s home outside of Toover-shy only to find Hadaria missing and the hut ransacked.

2 Fate points for following beliefs.
1 Fate for playing traits.
1 Persona point for embodiment! That scene in the long-house was just awesome, vibrant, wonderful blood and thunder sword & sorcery.

The failed circles roll set the entire tone of the session. It was fantastic, and one of my favorite mechanics. The use of a failed circle rolls to have an inimical rather than outright results was exactly right for the situation. I’ve gone to the “mwahaha ill intent route” too many times, which makes a game feel utterly divorced from emotional reality as the NPCS wind up being cartoon characters, who solely exist for contrived conflicts.

The first half felt a lot rougher than either of us were happy with. A lot of “ummms” and rules look ups. We didn’t lock down the events as strongly we should have. The Task part of Intent & Task is more important for determining failure and future constraints on events. The second half, we shook the rust off, and it was so much smoother.


I love the kings, princes, and dukes, especially slumbering dukes, as deities. The role of embodied magic in the setting feels so cool. And it sounds like a romp!


I decided to use the Practical Magic rules for the setting, however I massively changed how the Schools of Magic worked because they lacked an in-setting flavor and some Schools were just crap (Physical).

Now each School of Magic has a discreet number of skills around a theme (Military Command, Equestrianism), with some occasional spell like effects. The Equestrianism School has the “Low Speech” spell but limited to talking to horses.

Im going to name each School of Magic after the various Princes and Dukes.


I blame the Pattern Juggler.

Very characterful setting.

How are you coming up with your names? They’re very good.

I really love how you’ve done your write up! I always struggle to communicate in fiction vs game mechanics in my write ups for players, this is just a phenomenal way to do it!


I found a name generator that slams together random syllables, and made a massive name list I’m riffing off of. I hate naming things.

In a rare turn, I’m referencing a conversation form the Discord here!


I should post the link to the name generator website huh?

I copy a bunch of names into a spreadsheet, and pull from that directly and/or fill a d66 Table.

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Session 2 Account

(This session and the following session where shorter than the first)

March 15th 5351 - Monday- morning

After spending the night unsuccessfully searching for Lord Utury. Vornal, Ath and Amoithi return to her home to find the place ransacked and Hadaria (Amoithi’s husband) missing.

All the characters needed to make a Health Test to resist fatigue from the all-night chase.

Health Test ob 3

Success: The characters push through the exhaustion.

Failure: a +1 ob penalty until rested.

Vornal and Ath succeeded, Amoithi failed. She collapses from weariness and is crestfallen. She’s lost her entire family and her place in the community. Sir Vornal tells Amoithi to get rest and stay hidden. She does so.

Sir Vornal and Ath head out to the long house with grim intent. They make no attempt to hide their presence which sends the village into a panic. Folks begin to flee the village or escape to the safety of the longhouse.

Those left in the militia begin to shut the gate, and prepare to fight. Sir Vornal uses his Sorcerous power of Command/Oratory to make them abandon their post.

Sorcery/Practical Magic ob 3 (Common Will)

Failure: The militia rushes in and attacks mid-speech.

Success: The militia retreats, not wanting to die fighting a heavily armed killer.

5 Successes!

Tax test failed by 1.

With the additional successes I rule that everyone within earshot ran away. No one wants to die.

Vornal finds the long-house front door barred, but goes around to find the other exit Utury took when he fled the night before. It is also barred, but Vornal and Ath break down this door.

Power ob 5

Success: The door is quickly broken through.

Failure: This is a long process, will saps the energy of Ath & Vornal.

Inside the longhouse was in disarray. Sir Vornal quickly searched for where Utury could be, and found a tapestry hastily covering an old archway that led down under the house. It takes time to descend into the ground, as they get deeper, a faint unnatural light illuminates the tunnel until interrupted by a small campfire at the very bottom of the tunnel.

Sir Vornal sees a figure, Lord Utury, with a couple other men burying Hadarai up to his neck, in front a large mound of cultivated plants and an array of statuary. Sir Vornal decides that action is called for, and strides towards Utury.

Sir Vornal threatens Utury to surrender or be killed.

Intimidation ob 6 (+2 ob Enmity Clause)

Success: Utury knows he can’t stop Vornal, but begs and pleads instead.

Failure: Utury has time to Curse Vornal with his Faith in Dead Gods.


Utury invokes the “mound” behind him, cursing Vornal! The sword Vornal holds begins to feel heavy and unwieldy (+1 ob). Sir Vornal fights on, and due to a bit of bad luck, smart scripting - Utury gets his skull split by the end of the third volley.

The two men with Utury have fled. Vornal allows them to leave. Ath and Vornal unbury Hadarai who is bruised and beaten but otherwise unharmed. This is when Vornal notices the “mound”. It is a large bulbous hill made out of flesh, weaved with the bloom in a macabre parody of a suffering human face. Its “mouth” is drawn open, half buried with odd plant life growing from it.

Sir Vornal sends Ath and Hadarai out to the surface. Sir Vornal grabs an extra torch and throws it at the hill. As the hill goes up in fire, an ear-shattering scream forces a Steel Check.

Steel ob 11

Success & Failure as per usual.

Failure by 3! Run Screaming!

Running screaming for the surface!

Speed ob 3 (+1 from failure)

Success: Escapes!

Failure: Takes a light wound from the smoke.


We left off right there. Due to how short the session was, only one persona and a fate were awarded.

I don’t have too many thoughts, it was a quick zippy hour of play with some cool color (the journey underground was more psychedelic and nightmarish) and good characterization.


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