The Let's Play Archive


by Bobbin Threadbare

Part 62: Stars and Theaters

Anedius 27-28

It has long been an oddity of history that the Academagia has not one but two full, functioning theaters attached to it, the Dimmae and the Spavia. As the story goes, an emperor centuries past commissioned an architect to build him a theater on the Academy grounds, one meant for him and the nobility alone. The architect took his commission very seriously, and spent a full ten years in seclusion designing the perfect building.

However, when he came back, a new emperor was on the throne, this one more populist minded. The emperor was too impressed with the architect’s design to simply throw it out, but he did demand that a second theater be constructed with equal funds, this one meant for the people. The architect famously replied, “The people cannot understand theater.” Still, to build his Spavia, he accepted the emperor’s condition. And the day after dedicating the new stage, the architect died satisfied.

Touring the building before working hours, you can see how someone would be willing to spend their life creating the Spavia. Thanks in no small part to Academagian alumni, the theater has been kept in perfect condition; everything from the ivory inlaid arches to the gold scrolling on the balcony roofs is just the way the architect imagined it. The acoustics are perfect, too; not a single seat or balcony can help but hear what happens on stage. Even the orchestra pit has been designed to show off the players rather than hide them away, and soloists even get a special musician’s overlook from which to show off. As was the style at the time, the theater was built in the round and without a roof (though with extensive anti-weather enchantments to let in only the view), and over the high seats you can see the majestic spires of the main Academagia building and the college campuses nearby, though all the most expensive booths give a lovely view of Chorda Peak and the distant Imperial Palace.

Perhaps the most eccentric addition to the theater is a dueling circle, usable for boxers, wrestlers, or magical combatants. Sometimes it is used to enhance a play, but often enough events are planned around simple matches or tournament for their own sake.

We last discussed the benefits of leadership. Now let us bring the idea of winners and losers back in: do you suppose the winners would allow the rest to choose their own leaders, given their importance? Remember, having the power to slice the pie means having other powers as well, or at least implies the ability to gain them.
So they’ll make one of their own the leader?
Correct. There will of course be a struggle within the group to determine the leader, and this may lead to struggles just as bad as between groups, but the members will not go too far, or else the other groups will challenge them again and likely win. This leader among winners will be the richest of all, both for the prestige due to her position, and for having the power to slice the pie.
But slicing the pie is far more dangerous than weighing the flour or measuring the pans. You must give generously to your friends and family, or they will consider whether they might be a better leader. You must give well to your allies, or they will find new ones. And you must give enough to the rest, or they will rise past your ability to put them down and replace you. Even a good and wise leader who appreciates the struggle of the many must appease his allies, or be a leader no more.
But there is an alternative, a way of sharing the pie more fairly. What do you suppose would happen if many groups allied to defeat the rest, but did not trust each other to govern? I shall leave you to meditate upon your answer, and next time we shall discuss the republic and shared leadership.
Until then, perhaps it is time I showed you the difference between tin, iron, and other Materials. And did you know Pure Luck is not about luck at all? It is about trusting your instincts, your ability to size up a situation correctly and in an instant…

It’s funny. You must have walked past the Mallen-Stone sculpture a thousand times, but you never really stopped to look at it until now. As you admire the rough edges and carefully recreated pits in the stone, the story of Durand, Aranaz, and the Battle of Mallen Field passes through your mind.

Every child is taught about King Durand’s life from an early age. Back during the Captivity of Man, Dragons ruled humanity by controlling their Kings, and then letting the humans oppress themselves for the most part. Kings who collaborated with the Dragons were rewarded with additional land, wealth, and subjects, while those who were not properly subservient were killed and replaced. Yet despite the Dragon’s claws, King Durand stood up against the wyrms and began a rebellion. King Aranaz was the greatest of the collaborator kings, the personal favorite of the Emperor of Dragons, and so it was he who was set against Durand.

But King Aranaz was no friend of the Dragons.

Aranaz’s revolt started quietly, by spreading misinformation and leading Dragons into decisions that would bring their death. His armies, before unconquerable, started to lose important battles against King Durand’s malnourished and underequipped troops. As more and more Kings and Queens joined the fight, the Dragons started to mistrust all royals—all except Aranaz. Even as Durand’s insurrection grew, Aranaz was given enough strength to defeat it. The time came to make a decision.

Aranaz ordered a gathering of all Kings and Queens, even those favoring Durand, and in secret even Durand himself attended. The Dragon Emperor’s representatives were also present, and witnessed when Durand revealed himself and spoke for an hour straight against the Dragons. To this the imperial men laughed and looked to Aranaz to chase Durand from his castle—but it was the Emperor’s servants who had to flee that day.

With Aranaz openly at his side, Durand’s lasting victory at Mallen Field was all but assured. There would still be years more before the New Gods appeared and ended the Dragons’ influence once and for all (though perhaps not forever), but Mallen Field was still significant, especially at the time.

A particular moment after the battle is still remembered: Durand picked up a star-shaped stone, declared it the Honor of Mallen Field, and stated that he and his descendants would wear it as a reminder of his struggles. Aranaz, at his side, asked if he was not due a share of this honor. Durand scoffed, reminded Aranaz of his treachery, and said he must get his own stone, as only the Dishonor of Mallen Field was due to him.

Aranaz did not take a stone, but forever after wore a necklace with no ornament, even as High King Durand wore the heavy stone on his chest.

Personally, you always thought Aranaz got a bad rap. So what if he benefitted from helping the Dragons? He kept the peace. He helped Durand even when they were on opposite sides, and he waited until he was sure Durand could succeed before throwing in his lot with him. Suppose Durand had failed and Aranaz helped him anyway? How many would have died then? Even so, Durand still didn’t win, not completely, not until the New Gods showed up to clean the mess. Aranaz even performed an epic poem after the battle, but no one remembers that, naturally. Just the bit about a stupid stone.

Obviously, you aren’t the first Aranaz student to think that way, since the Mallen-Stone sculpture has been on Campus Aranaz for centuries, practically taunting the large statue of High King Durand with its Mallen-Stone necklace over on that campus.

Finally, you wrench your head back to the present and move on to the common room. On your way over, an older student roughly bumps into your shoulder and clears her throat. You mumble an apology—you aren’t in the mood for a fight—but when you reach the doorway, she grabs your arm.

“We need to talk,” she explains, “and apparently, you can’t take a hint.”

Before you can say anything, she drags you away. You go down a mental checklist of possible offenses, but you can’t think of any reason why this particular older student would be so irritated. She leads you to a small door off to one side and knocks seven times in an odd pattern.

“Come in,” a voice on the other side responds. She pushes at the door and, to your surprise, you see a rather spacious room furnished as elaborately as the main common room. Funny, you were sure this door led to a cleaning closet. Must be some magical transposition going on here.

A small gathering of students stare at you, all from higher years, looking as though they are trying to judge your worth down to the half-pim. “Welcome,” begins the student sitting in the center. A certain air of arrogance surrounds him that seems as solid as his fellow students. “We’ve been waiting to speak to you.”

You still aren’t certain why you’re here, so you avoid blurting something out.

“Not a talker, eh?” he laughs. “Allow me to formally introduce myself. I am Alexander Covington. My associates and I make up the Sphinx Syndicate. You’ve heard of us, surely?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” you admit.

“Ah, finally!” Alexander shouts, grinning. “Someone who admits ignorance! Yes, we try our best to keep our order a secret. But it’s high time to let some new members in. The most successful graduates of College Aranaz have all been Sphinx Syndicate members, you know. Membership is exclusive, but we’ve determined that you, Iliana, are worthy of consideration. What do you say?”

You’ve long heard about the benefits of joining a secret society while at Academagia. Oan described them to you once while you were hanging out: it’s really about making connections with other future movers and shakers, but there’s usually some sort of test or initiation you need to pass to get in. “I’d say I’m interested,” you respond.

“Fantastic!” Alexander cries. “We’ll inform you of what we need from you to become a member next—”

“Hold it,” interrupts the student who brought you in. “The vote wasn’t unanimous. Before she’s even considered, I think she should be tested.”

“A test to consider if she’s worthy to take the test, Clarissa?” Alexander asks, frowning. “That seems rather needless.”

After some more bickering from Clarissa, Alexander relents. “Very well, Iliana, prove to us that you have what it takes to be in our order.”

After everything she’s done in the past year, these banana peels want to know if she’s worthy? Well, I suppose they haven’t heard about half of it, and half the rest they probably think is exaggerated. Still, there’s no way she’s hauling carcass just to prove she’s worthy yet again. First let’s butter up the dissenter with some Flattery…

Clarissa seems most opposed to your possible inclusion in the order; perhaps a compliment or two will make her friendlier? “So I guess you let Clarissa help you make decisions, Alexander? I can see why she has so much influence in the Sphinx Syndicate.”

“And why’s that?” he asks.

“Because she’s clearly someone who doesn’t tolerate nonsense or weakness. And I’m glad she is, because I don’t tolerate that, either. She must be why the Sphinx Syndicate is so strong.”

Clarissa purses her lips as though annoyed, but you can see she’s blushing a little. Success!

Now to talk our way past this nonsense.

“So, can I ask how most students prove they’re ready to take the test?” you begin.

“Erm, I’m not really sure,” Alex mumbles.

“Surely it’s in the bylaws? Or you must have some examples recorded, or personal experiences?”

“…The requirement isn’t written down,” Clarissa admits.

That’s your cue. “Well, without any kind of precedent, how can you require me to do something that none of you had to do and still call yourselves a legitimate organization? If you can change the rules so easily, this might as well be just another clique.”

Alex gives an appreciative snort. “I guess that settles it, then. Clarissa, do you accept Iliana’s argument?”

She reluctantly nods.

“All right, you’ll receive instructions on the test later. We will meet again.” With that, you’re dismissed.

While practicing your spells, you notice the end of your wand is giving off sparks. That’s not normal. Well, not unless you’re casting a sparking spell, but you aren’t.

Just a quick test…

Trying to diagnose your problem, you cast a simple wind spell. Fortunately, when you finish the phemes and release the spell, the sparks die down and the spell goes off normally.

You hear a frustrated sigh from the next room. When you go to look in, though, you hear the patter of someone running away, and you only catch a glimpse of the edge of a robe turning the corner.

Are there pranksters stalking you now? But Philippe’s crew wouldn’t be this subtle, would they? And do they even know whom you’re working with yet?

Ah, the Dimmae Theater. Although constructed simultaneously with the Spavia, the architect’s low opinion of “the masses” meant that more money was spent on solid construction materials than on designing the structure or perfecting the acoustics. Built as an amphitheater, all the seats do still have a good chance to hear the stage, but sometimes it can be drowned out by the small forest of trees planted to screen out the rest of the world (or, if the architect planted them, screen out the Dimmae from the rest of the world).

Still, whether the architect believed it was possible or not, the masses have made the Dimmae extremely successful. A number of playwrights with controversial opinions have seen their plays staged here, even under the emperor’s nose, thanks to upper classes ignoring the Dimmae’s existence. In fact, a number of revolutions—some more successful than others—have started one night at Dimmae. This has led to occasional open conflict with the Minetan Guard, as well as with its high-class sister, the Spavia. Fortunately, actors and set crew don’t know how to actually fight, so few were harmed in the latter melees.

While the seats take up more room, the backstage building is by far the most interesting feature of the theater. Built, repaired, burned down, rebuilt, and more repair have made it into a honeycomb of tight passages, office rooms, green rooms, special effects windows, and dusty prop chambers forgotten by time. Even though you performed a play here, you don’t think you saw half the rooms backstage until you bothered to explore.

Over lunch, you hear an odd rumor about how you set all the animals in the bestiary free at night. It’s particularly odd because you haven’t been setting the animals free at night!

Someone is framing you.

Funny how this stuff keeps happening all of a sudden. Lots of green options and maxed skills, so how about we make use of the school newspaper?

You find Rikildis von Kiep and spin her a story about how someone is out to get you by ruining your reputation. The idea of someone scheming to harm your good name is certainly more entertaining than the original story was, so she decides to run the article.


Tell me, dearest, where did you say you were from?
The Republic of Pievre. It’s just to the north.
And tell me, what defines a republic?
Well, we’re led by a council instead of a noble. Anyone who can buy a seat can get in the Common Council, and because that’s too big, everyone gets rotated through the Advisor Council. They elect the Cabinet when they switch around, and the Doge when he dies or gets removed. Dad’s been trying to get a seat for a while now, so he talks about it a lot. I think I kinda set him back a few years by coming here, though…
Education is always a wise investment, as I’m sure your father understands. How did he come by his wealth, may I ask? I recall you said his father was born a peasant farmer.
Oh, that’s pretty simple. He saved up and bought a share in an investment company—you know, a collective that funds a voyage, I set one up myself a couple weeks ago—and when it paid out, he bought another one, and another one, until he got enough to start paying the grand investment himself. These days he owns a couple of ships! It wasn’t all him, though; Mom’s better at picking good investments, plus she interviews the ship officers herself.
A stunning rise, then. And I suppose your Council had something to do with it, as well; first by regulating the market so that scams would be uncommon, and second by not limiting investors to their number alone. A republic is, from what I’ve seen, what happens on the rare occurrence when a wide number of groups band together and form a government.
The key lies simply in quantity. When no group is powerful enough to conquer the rest, they must compromise and share power more evenly than they would want. Thus, the government they build would be based on distrust and power sharing. But this also has an odd side effect.
Let us return to the tinsmith. His group are winners now—among many—so he is guaranteed a fair if meager share of pie for his work. And if the pies are bigger, so too is his share. Would he now make bigger tins?
I would.
Naturally. And if the tin miner, the wheat grower, the miller…if everyone were given a fair share that grows with given effort, would they not work harder? Would the pies not be made bigger, faster, more frequently than before, given natural limitations? Pievre is doing well for itself, is it not? Certainly better than it fared under the Empire. Shared governments share wealth, and shared wealth encourages prosperity. This is what I have seen.
Not that such cooperation isn’t precarious. Each group is still trying to reign dominant over the others, after all, and if one gains enough power, the government can be forced back down the usual path. But there are ways, and there are ways, and we shall discuss them next week.
So…we’re all better off if we don’t trust the government?
I have watched far too many emperors far too closely to believe otherwise. The only time you may fully trust the government is if they tell you, “We cannot be trusted.” If they say the opposite, then you know they cannot be trusted.
Today ends our lessons on the basic theories of power and Gates. Perhaps I should teach you more zoology to lead into phemes; Mammals for now, and how to Mimic their cries.

Returning to your dorm room, you find a letter below your door.

Dear Iliana,

One of the Sphinx Syndicate’s core missions is to protect Aranaz against outside forces, namely College Durand and its Secret Society, the Legion of Lions.

The stone sculpture of the Mallen-Star is a constant target of attack. You know the story: King Durand claimed the honor of the battle and snubbed King Aranaz to his face, so we put a sculpture of what’s rightfully his on his campus. It’s something of a tradition for Durand students to try and deface our Mallen-Star, while we try to steal the stone from around the neck of Durand’s statue in Campus Durand. This year will be no different.

Your primary goal will be to steal the star necklace. But first, we must make sure our monument is safe. Find out what Durand is up to and report to us. Then you may focus on your main task.

If you succeed at your final goal, we will make you a lifetime member of our order.



PS: This letter will self-destruct in 5 4 3 2

The letter bursts into flame and evaporates.

You aren’t sure where to begin to try and steal a necklace off a statue, but at least it’s not your immediate concern. First, you must gather intelligence. But how?

Know thy foe.

You observe Durand students throughout the day. Your status as an Aranaz limits your ability to get close to them, beyond your acquaintances, and a few of the older students are even bolder, tossing a casual insult or two your way. Clearly the rivalry between Durand and Aranaz runs strong. You realize you must act with extreme caution at all times, and avoid the older students when possible.

Good enough. Now, nothing works better than faking a friendship!

Befriending someone in Durand will get you inside information. Offering to help tutor one should do the trick.

Most students are pretty stressed out with exam month starting tomorrow, but you notice that Sheary Warrington seems to be more worried than most about his arithmetic. Even though you don’t take the class, you’ve clearly picked up more than him on the topic, and so despite his initial suspicions Sheary accepts your help.

These multiplk…multiplidle…ugh! These inverse tables are killing me! I just don’t get it.

You take Sheary step by step through the problem, show him one example after another, and after twenty minutes of solid pounding he finally seems to get it. He even dares to smile after he realizes what he was missing.

I guess not all Aranaz students are bad after all. I was afraid you were gonna make fun of me.
What, just because you wear red robes instead of blue? Honestly, I think this whole rivalry thing is just foolish. It’s just a dorm building, you know?
Yeah, I think it’s all stupid, too. I mean, just the other night I heard some other students planning to deface your star sculpture by enchanting it to say nasty things about Aranaz students.

Well, that was easy! Now you just need to report your findings to Alexander.

Gains of the Weekend

Toured the Spavia.
--Theatre increased by 1 step.
----Relaxed pheme learned.
--Awareness increased by 1 step.
----Relationship with Rui da Casga increased to 12.
----Society increased by 1.
------Minor Insult action learned.
--Learned about Spavia Theater.
--Learned about Spavia Theater: Duel Circle.
--Learned about ST: Freshening Station
--Learned about ST: Musician’s Overlook.
--Learned about ST: Orchestra Pit.
--Learned about ST: Stage.
Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Materials Knowledge increased by 1 step.
----Brittle pheme learned.
--Theory of Gates increased by 1 step.
----Selective pheme learned.
--Pure Luck increased by 1 step.
----Amplify pheme learned.
Successful adventure!
--Debate increased by 1 step.
----Hostis pheme learned.
Malacresta and Vrenelle used Compete; Aranaz merit now at 480.
Successful event!
--Stress decreased by 1.
Low Stress! You now feel Affection: +1 to Charm, Confidence, and Awareness (unlocked by 11+ Relationship with someone of the opposite gender).
Low Stress! You now feel Prophetic Certainty: +1 Astrology and -1 Observation (unlocked by Glory 2+, Pure Luck 7+, and Stress 2-).

Looked around the Dimmae Theater.
--Theatre increased by 1 step.
--Architecture increased by 1 step.
--Learned about Dimmae Theater.
--Learned about Dimmae Theater: Backstage.
--Learned about DT: Cheap Seats.
--Learned about DT: Green Room.
--Learned about DT: Secluded Attic.
--Learned about DT: Stage.
--Learned about DT: Stage Director’s Booth.
Matched Wits with the Emperor’s Sphinx.
--Theory of Gates increased by 1 step.
----Theory of Gates skill maxed!
----Phantom Doppelganger spell learned.
----Learned about Rabirius’ Shack.
--Mammals increased by 1 step.
----Mammals skill maxed!
----Passionate pheme learned.
--Mimicry increased by 1 step.
Successful adventure!
--Relationship with Sheary Warrington increased to 1.
Aveline used Compete; Aranaz merit now at 483.

New Abilities

Minor Insult: Insight/Awareness+3 v target’s Insight/Confidence, Information required; target takes -1 Charm and Persuasion and -2 Society and Awareness for 7 days.
Play in the Theater Orchestra (Spavia): Lute skill 9+, Finesse/Lute v18, and Insight/Lute v25; first 250 pims, then +1 step in Confidence and Dedication, then +1 Glory and Merit.
Hang Out in the Spavia Theater Orchestra Pit: +1 step in Music Theory and random Music skill, but -1 Listen for 4 days.
Stand on the Spavia Theater Stage: +5% Chance of Success for Perform actions and +3 to Acting for 4 days.
Join In Backstage at the Dimmae Theater: +1 step in Acting, Theatre, and Carpentry until Acting 7+.
Visit the Dimmae Theater’s Stage Director’s Booth: +1 to Leadership, Theatre, and Insight for 2 days.
Sit in the Cheap Seats (Dimmae): -5 pims; +1 step in Lip Reading, Observation, and Listen.
Phantom Doppelganger (Spell): Insight/Theory of Gates v10; add Seeing Double ability to target (+35% Chance of Failure for all Combat actions/abilities until Rest).