Straßen, the Game of Kings

Straßen is played on a square board with even spaces not unlike a chessboard. Though there are variations, the most common boards used in the court of Morgstadt from whence the game originates are 7×7 spaces. At the start of the game the board is empty, and in a standard game each player is given 40 common stones and 2 schloss stones.

Starting Play
Players alternate turns throughout the game. You must play on your turn – there is no option to pass. Straßen is played with only orthogonal movement and connection; squares are not connected diagonally and diagonal movement is not possible. On each player’s first turn, they will place one of their stones flat on any empty square of the board. Play then continues with players placing new stones or moving existing stones they control.

On Your Turn
On each turn, you can do one of two things: place a stone on an empty space, or move stones you control.

Placing Stones
On your turn, you can opt to place a stone from your reserve onto any empty square on the board. There are three stone types that can be placed: Flat Stone – The basic stone, laid flat on its face. This is what you use to build your straßen, or road. Standing Stone​ – The basic stone, but standing on an edge. Also called a wall. This does not count as part of a straßen, but other stones cannot stack on top of it. Schloss Stone – This is the most powerful piece. It, like a flat stone, counts as part of your road. Other stones cannot stack on top of it. The capstone also has the ability to move by itself onto a standing stone and flatten the standing stone into a flat stone. You can flatten both your opponent’s and your own standing stones in this way.

Moving Stones
The other option on your turn is to move stones that you control. If your stone is on the top of a stack, you control that entire stack. All three stone types (flat, standing, and schloss) can be moved, and moving is the only way to create stacks. There is no limit to how tall a stack can be. When moving stacks of stones, you cannot move more than 7 stones.

Stack Moves
Pick up any number of stones up to 7. Do not change the order of these stones. Move in a straight line in the direction of your choice – no diagonals and no changing direction. You must drop at least one stone from the bottom of the stack in your hand on each square you move over. You do not need to leave a stone in that stack’s starting space. You may not jump over walls or schloss stones. The schloss stone, if on the stack, may drop by itself onto a standing stone at the end of a move to flatten it.

The object of Straßen is to connect any two opposite edges of the board with your flat stones and schloss stone, creating a road. Any square or stack you control can count as part of a road (except ones with walls on them), but stones in a stack controlled by the other player do not. A road does not have to be a straight line; it can zig-zag across the board as long as all squares in the road are adjacent, not diagonal. If a player makes a single move that creates a road for both players, then the player who made the move wins. In the event that neither player creates a road and the board is either completely filled (no empty squares) or one of the players places their last piece, a secondary win condition comes into effect. When either of those cases is met, the game immediately ends and the winner is determined by counting who has more flat stones controlling the board. Only flat stones on the top of stacks or solely occupying a square are counted. The player with the higher flat count wins. A tie in the count results in a tie game.

Etiquette & Variants
As this game has been declared by many to be the Game of Kings, proper manners whilst playing have become an integral part of the game. That said, what constitutes good manners varies based upon the context of the game, and some variations have become standard for different rules sets.

The most commonly used etiquette is what is known as Court Manners, a style of play that is intimate and deferential, and is most closely associated with the game in its standard 7×7 variation. When threatening a road win on the next move, you must declare “Straßen”. Undoing your moves is both permissible and acceptable.

There is a variation of the game popular with the underclasses for its ease of transport played on a 5×5 board with 21 stones and one schloss per player, commonly known as Tavern Manners Straßen or derisively as “The Game of Merchants”. It’s a rowdier game than one played with Court Manners, and is prone to spectators, boasting, and betting. The goal is to win at any cost; as such declaring “Straßen” is considered to be against the spirit of the game, and taking back moves is not allowed.

A less common variant is known as Mage’s Manners Straßen, and originates from the halls of the Infragilis Vigilo in Scrow. Played on an 8×8 board with 50 stones and two schloss to a player, with the goal being to prove one’s cleverness and foresight. Moves can be taken back, but asking to do so means admitting a mistake. “Straßen” isn’t called; rather, when a player completes a road through an oversight of another player, it counts as a win, but the move is then taken back and the game continues. The player who wins three times first, or else orchestrates and inescapable win, is the one considered to have properly won the match.

A simple variant rule that can apply to any game variant is known as the Peasant’s Rule, which states “A player may not play their schloss stone until an opponent has played a wall or a schloss stone”. Though simple, this variant creates a clear delineation between two phases of gameplay: one where only flat stones may be played, and a second phase where anything goes. This variant rule is growing in popularity, as it grants the early game a unique flavor, opens the door for interesting strategy as to when one might wish to place the first wall, and leads to a dramatic ramping of tension throughout the game.

Canticle of Silk, Verse 1 – The Demon Within

Jakob stared at the leech as it sucked at his forearm with open amazement. It didn’t hurt nearly at all, not like he thought it would, and even if it was uncomfortable it wasn’t nearly as bad as his burning lungs. Besides, he was five now and he had to make sure the priest knew he was tough.

“Does he-.” A sudden bout of wracking coughs doubled him over, his free hand clinging to his gut as the arm with the leech stayed strapped down in the small chair. Father Tycho gave him a pitying look as he groaned and helped him back into his chair after the coughing subsided. He wiped Jakob’s eyes of tears with the handkerchief he always kept in his breast pocket with that ever-present powdery old person smell before stowing it away. Jakob, his senses regained, took a deep breath and tried again.

“Does he live there now?”

Father Tycho gave him a curious look before his eyes were drawn once again to the leech upon his arm, now swollen with his imbalanced humors, and chuckled kindly with a shake of his head.

“Oh, no child. He comes off just as soon as he’s had his fill. See?” He gestured with his withered hand and in moments the leech tumbled off into the Lurihim’s palm, completely engorged. The handkerchief was once again in hand, this time dabbing at the young boy’s ring shaped wound that bled freely in the leeches absence.

“But I think you’ll be seeing him quite a bit from here on out. Him and his little friends. You gave your mother quite a scare the other day, didn’t you?”

Jakob didn’t have to pretend at embarrassment, looking down into his lap in shame. His throat was still raw, and he tasted metal every time he swallowed.

“It wasn’t my fault,” he whispered so quietly the old priest had to lean in to hear. These past few weeks he’d learned many strategies to keep the coughs at bay, so painful were they that he’d do most anything to avoid them. He’d stopped running anywhere at all, took stairs slowly, spoke little and, when he thought he could get away with it without being rude, whispered.

“I didn’t do anything. The coughing just started, and I couldn’t stop. I fell down…and then there was blood on the carpet.”

Jakob folded in on himself, reliving the moment again in his mind.

Lord Sauber, his distant cousin he’d been told, had rode out with his retinue to the country manse a days ride from Laatzen. Jakob’s parents had moved him out there on the advice of one of the Prosecutors stationed within the Order of Enlightenment, who told them that the foul spirits of rumor and deceit might have infected him given how plentiful they were in the city, and that some time in the country might give him a chance to be away from them and not under their constant assault.

After a month his condition hadn’t improved. Lord Sauber had come to speak with his father on matters of state, but also to see young Jakob to see if he couldn’t lift his spirits. Before dinner could even be served Jakob had been weaving between the servants in the main hall when he felt a small cough coming. One cough turned to two, then three and four, and before he knew it he’d crumpled to his knees coughing blood out next to the Graf’s dinner chair. He couldn’t breathe, his chest seizing, the coughs refusing to stop until everything went black.

Needless to say, dinner had been canceled, and despite his protestations to the contrary Jakob knew it was his fault. If he’d just been…better? Stronger? Maybe then he wouldn’t have embarrassed his parents so much, caused such a fuss. And now they’d gone and called up some village Lurihim while they waited for one of the Sisters of Sorrow to arrive as his new personal doctor.

Father Tycho’s hand fell on his shoulder and gave it a soft squeeze.

“It’s alright my boy,” he said in that way elders did when they were trying to protect your feelings.

“You’ve got a demon latched onto your lungs something fierce. Too much of the phlegmatic humors, not enough of the sanguine. It’s alright, my boy, we’ll get you sorted out just right. If I can’t cast out the demon, the next one will, else Lurien will call you back to God, and you won’t have to worry about pain any more.”

There was some comfort in that, at least. Worse than the embarrassment was the pain, but he was a big boy now and had to grit his teeth against the tears whenever the coughing finally stopped. He hated the demon inside him, torturing him, ripping him up from the inside. He’d do anything to be rid of it, even read one of those big books his tutor had that had all the words in it that made his eyes hurt. He’d read it all the way through and not complain if it meant the demon would go away.

If only it were that easy.

Stragosa and Its Peoples; Prologue

It is my hope that this book survives to tell the world of the subject of its title, namely the mysterious city of Stragosa and the people that dwell within it, but if history is any indicator I am indulging in a futile exercise of vanity. The city has existed for an unknown period of time, but no records exist of a settlement in that northwestern corner of Gotha, either at the Parliamentary University of Port Melandir or anywhere else in the Throne to my knowledge.

Reports coming out of the city indicate the ruins are very old, and perhaps with an unknown number of layers of ruins beneath the surface. Is it possible that a city so unknowably old could escape notice for all of recorded history? I think such things impossible, save for either divine intervention, malign urgings, or sorcery. Human nature indicates curiosity would discover such a place and make a note somewhere for it to be found by others were it not somehow protected from such pryings. Which does beg the question: why now? What powers have allowed this place once hidden to be discovered in this time, and to what end? Has it happened before? I’ve a notion it has.

Perhaps such questions, too, are futile to ask but I intend to ask them all the same. If this book ends up like doubtless so many others on some pyre for containing dark secrets not meant for man to know I will rest easy in my grave knowing that I lay my fingers upon fate and tried to move her. I am on a mission to document Stragosa as it is and was in the past without obfuscation, that others might understand it clearly.

For me to accomplish this with any efficacy you must trust in me, my intentions, and my ability to accomplish the task I have taken up. I, Narcisse Lamothe, was born in the lands Bouclair in Capacionne and raised by agents of the Guild Dextera Inflammatio, as my father was among the paragons of that order of magicians. I was issued a stellar classical education to rival the finest noble tutelage in hopes that I might follow in my fathers footsteps, but I was instead taken by the arts and moved to Port Melandir to expand my education. There I excelled, completing the Trivium and Quadrivium in a mere two years, and earning the title Master of the Seven Liberal Arts. For another year I taught basic courses to the newest students while pursuing my own interests, primarily the studies relating to the human mind and human behavior both individually and in groups.

As my year teaching there came to a close I realized that I could either remain there and make a good life for myself instructing others, or I could accomplish new feats in the studies of my passion. I decided on the latter, and so headed to Stromburg where I had several former students and companions who knew me well and could assist me in preparing for my journey. It was there in discussions with a good friend of mine, Robert of Stromburg, that the topic of Stragosa first arose and an interest turned to a drive to find answers.

Tales drift across the mountains of Stragosa as it is; a melting pot of cultures from every corner of the Throne and beyond it. No small number of Rogalian and Gothic Noble Houses have representatives there, but I hear tell of a Prince of Capacionne, a Princess of Hestralia, and even a son of the Padishah Emperor of Sha’ra. All dance upon the graves of thousands, perhaps unknowable millions that came before them, and so Night Malefic walk more commonly there than any other land on God’s Earth. And the reason so many come from so far and bear so great a burden of black sorrow? An artifact known as the Miracle, a slab of stone known to return the dead to life.

I come to this place with no preconceptions, and will record every aspect of my significant encounters with the people, entities, and places of Stragosa as I experience them to the best of my ability. I expect I will encounter individuals of every class and culture to garner their unique perspectives on the present state of the city. I will seek out those who have seen it at each significant event known to us, from its discovery and first settlement to the present day. Further, I expect if stories have traveled as far as the University of layers of ruins beneath the first, there are those delving into those ruins I could speak to in order to discover elements of the cities history before our involvement I would doubtless wish to encounter. Beyond that I will of course record any events of significance I experience in my time there, in order that this text may be not only a record of second hand tales, but a primary source written by a critical academic.

That said, I write this before I cross the mountains, and cannot say what adversity I will meet once there. They say the mountain pass is frozen over at this time of year, but I will not allow this to stop me. I have been told there is a trail guide that knows of a goat path they have used in previous winters to escort travelers to the city on foot. Though I am loathe to leave my carriage behind, adventure waits for no man and I will not be left behind for want of creature comforts.

One last note, and perhaps a somewhat morbid one. If you are reading this text and it comes to an end with no conclusion, only an abrupt stop with little in way of explanation, you must assume I have passed before completing my work. Stragosa is notoriously dangerous, awash in monsters, heretics, and wicked souls. If I fall to any such beast and do not complete my work, I ask you pray for my soul, and that someone else might take up the torch and finish my work. Let curiosity and a sincere desire for truth drive us into a more complete understanding of the mysteries of the world and our fellow man.

Last Night in Stromburg, A Prologue

“So, Stragosa is it, Professor?”

Narcisse raised his eyes to look across the table at Brandon, egg tumbling off his fork as he stopped it halfway to his mouth. Brandon had always been among his better students back when he still taught at the Parliamentary University of Port Melandir, always had a way of deducing the truth from but a whiff of evidence. He should have known the boy-, no he was a man now, would catch on eventually.

He gave one of his sheepish half-smiles.

“How did you guess?”

The rotund black haired man chortled with a self satisfied look, stirring his own breakfast like a witches cauldron.

“Nobody ‘winters in Stromburg’ for a month before packing their bags, especially with the snows coming in the next few days. We’re well north of Rogalia, so you had to have a reason to come here. But it’s just as much a crossroads as it is a destination, so you could well be on your way just about anywhere on the northwestern coast of Gotha. But what’s been the heart of the world’s curiosity for near half a decade and stands just over the mountains?”

“Stragosa,” he admitted, shaking his head with a wide smile and spearing his eggs again.

“And you’ve always been sentimental,” said Brandon, popping a grape into his mouth. “Thus inviting me to brunch with you.”

“I confess, I confess!” Narcisse laughed, holding up his hands. “I’m leaving for the miraculous frontier.”


“My ship arrives tomorrow morning and departs at midday.”

“Bah!” spat Brandon. “You never give me time to do anything.”

“Excusez-moi?” he asked, eyebrow raised as he brushed egg from his beard.

“Isn’t it obvious?” the student replied, as if it was. “We’re going to need to throw you a going-away party. I’m a wealthy man now, your tutelage saw to that. Run the books for nearly all Stromburg’s fabric exports to the northern Rogalian counts. Let me repay the favor, Professor; it won’t be any trouble.”

“I don’t know, I can’t miss the-”

“Put it out of your mind,” Brandon said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’ll take care of everything. It will be just like old times when you visited us in the dormitories after final examinations! You’ve a lot of friends up here who would be heartbroken if they learned they didn’t see you while you were here.”

Narcisse smiled slowly, folding his napkin and brushing crumbs from his coat as he rose to his feet. He’d left the University in a hurry, and had missed many of the relationships he’d built there in the cold winter months since. It would do him well to see some old faces, blow off a little steam and enjoy one last night in a beautiful city he’d hardly had time to properly adore.

“Well…” he sighed “I certainly wouldn’t want to disappoint them, eh?”

“It’s of a merchant’s daughter brought up in Vigevano~!”

The faces of friends and strangers around the table upon which he stood grinned up at him, steins in their hands as his heel stomped out the beat. Whether he’d met them years ago, just tonight, or never before made no difference; they all knew the song’s reply.

“Hurrah~! Hestrali girls~! Doodle let me go~!”

His own stein sloshed beer onto the table as he raised it high, boots splashing the bitter puddle onto those closest in the press of bodies. He wondered idly why he’d had it filled just before leaping onto the table before deciding it hardly mattered and the remedy was as simple as drinking it.

“She brought me in the parlor and said ‘won’t you be me beau’~?”

“Hurrah~! Hestrali girls~! Doodle let me go~!”

He brought the glass to his lips and started chugging, hopping and jigging along the tabletop causing mugs and plates to scatter in his wake. All the while he drank, and all the while the crowd sang out the chorus.

“Doodle let me go, me girl~! Doodle let me go~! Hurrah~! Hestrali girls~! Doodle let me go~!”

His head swam with the warm buzz of the alcohol as he danced and sang. Verse after verse thundered by in a blur, and he tried his best not to tumble off into his audience.

Halfway through he lost his barrette and his jacket unbuttoned to the waist. As the final chorus rang out and the audience clapped and cheered, Narcisse slung the stein with all his might over their joyous heads. It shattered into a thousand sparkling crystals, and they cheered all the more.

“So you’re the Professor everyone’s talking about, hm?”

Narcisse pulled the wine glass from his lips and shook his head.

“Please, you were never one of my students. You have no need to call me that. Narcisse is fine.”

“But you are him, aren’t you?” The blonde had hope in her eyes and a smile tickling the corner of her mouth. He couldn’t help but smile back, he always was weak for the kindnesses of women.

“Oui, I am. Professor Narcisse, Master of the Seven Liberal Arts, poet, playwrite, and partisan,” he said with a sloppy, heavily intoxicated bow. “Though not necessarily in that order.”

“But you’re so…young! I always thought academic were stodgy old coots up in high towers.”

Narcisse chuckled, running a hand through his hair. He wondered for a moment where his hat made off to before promptly forgetting he ever had one.

“I, eh, had a very educational upbringing one might say? I did not have long to go when I made it to the University; it was more a matter of proving my knowledge and filling in the gaps than anything.”

“Well you certainly know how to throw a party,” she grinned, gesturing to the merrymaking all around them. His own grin widened too. Flattery would get her anywhere.

“My specialty is people. People in groups even more so. It only makes sense I would know how to put a smile on their face. With suchshortcuts as alcohol and song, it’s truly not so hard!”

“Well…” her eyelids fluttered. “Do you know what would put a smile on my face?”

“Tu n’es qu’un poulet mouillée!”

He wasn’t certain precisely when he’d reverted back to his mother tongue, but by now the toxins coursing through his veins burned enough that he hardly cared. Who knew if they understood him? They certainly weren’t making any effort to speak Cappacian.

He swung a right hook which Randel neatly dodged, smacking him upside the back of the head and knocking him off balance. He would have fallen flat on his face if he hadn’t instead collided with the wall of bodies that framed their makeshift boxing ring.

“Celui-ci était gratuit, mais vous n’en obtiendrez pas d’autre!”

“You’re in the Throne! Speak Gothic ya fucking frog!”

Rage boiled up in him the way it only ever did when he drank. No one insulted his country and lived to tell of it! He’d kill Randel right here in front if all these people, and he hardly even cared if they saw. He’d do it, and nobody could stop him.

He spun and lunged, arms outstretched as he roared his fury. Randel, the greasy haired man who he’d only met tonight, one of Brandon’s friends in the cotton trade, looked taken aback for but an instant.

As the fist connected with Narcisse’s jaw he remembered why he took up the pen instead of the sword.

Sunlight shone down on the poor poet, whose eyes pierced into him like shards of glass as the blinding Ray’s tore through the shades. A smokey haze filled the room, and groaning revelers made their way around piles of snoring drunks as they made their way about their business.

Hissing and holding his throbbing head, Narcisse crawled to one of the nearby tables that hadn’t toppled over, using the chair to climb to his feet. His shirt was gone, as was his hat and jacket. He had one boot on and had no idea where the other might be, but something told him he wouldn’t have time to find any if his belongings. Even his coin purse was missing, and it hardly helped that his head was ringing like a bell.

“Excusez-moi monsieur,” he begged, wincing at the sound on his own voice as he reached out and tugged on the cuff of a passing party goer.

“What is the hour, do you know perchance?”

“Eh, nearly noon I’d say. Sun is nearly at its peak.”

“Merci beaucoup, monsieur, truly,” he nodded, his head dropping into his hands. At least the whole day wouldn’t be wasted, and all told he still might have enough time to find the other boot before-

The boat.