The Library of Worlds, Part One

[Full disclosure: about 80% of this was designed by Alexander Newman for 10.10.10.  He was a great helped while I worked out how to to run the thing.]

Legends tell of a vast library buried in the shifting sands of al’Wadi al’Aqbar — the Great Desert — where any scroll may be found, where all secrets are revealed, and where knowledge flows free and clear like water from a spring.

Some tall tales tell of prices to be paid that cost too much, some speak of bargains made that should never have been sealed, and some of fools who sought riches and found only death.

But all the tales of this Library of Worlds speak of its librarian: a mighty Prince of the Djinn. The Djinn will grant three wishes, the story goes, but is silent on how he may be compelled to do so.

Still, what matter the tales? You have trekked deep into the desert, and now the Library is before you.

Princess Leisha — Heir Potential to the Empress (She Who is Alm, Bless Her Name) — is on a quest to find a cure for the disease that is killing her mother and, in doing so, become Heir Apparent. Aided by her companion (the preistess Fatima, Imamiyyah of the Faith), her bodyguard Suleiman (a slave, as are all men in the Empire), and Nejat their desert guide, the Princess has arrived at the foot of a minaret, deep in the Great Desert. This must be the entrance to the fabled Library of Libraries, where surely a cure… and much else besides… can be found.

Chris couldn’t make the game, but I asked De and she and Rachel came up. Cool. Here’s who played who.

Tim played Princess Leisha:


  • I will find a cure for my mother, She Who Is Alm, and become Heir Apparent.
  • There is great knowledge in the Library: I will learn all that I can, for the glory of the Empire.
  • It breaks all the laws of Man and God, but I love Suleiman; I will consummate our love for all time.


  • Make a decision, then command.
  • Trust my advisor, Fatima.
  • Always study tomes carefully, you never know what lies between the pages.

De played Imamiyyah Fatima


  • The Djinn in the Library heard the Prophet’s words from her own mouth: I shall obtain a true transcript and thereby rise in the Faith.
  • The social order of the Empire is ordained by God: I will preserve its ways.
  • Leisha’s feelings for her slave are obvious, and must be dealt with; I will expose Suleiman as unfaithful.


  • Let a slave do the labor.
  • Lead prayer at the appointed hours.
  • Always help other through my skill with Astrology.

Kate played Najat


  • This quest is the opportunity I have been waiting for: I will exploit every advantage these pampered palace women offer.
  • Fool priests should keep their dogma to the palaces: it has no place coming between women and their men.
  • My fortunes change here: The Djinn must free all the Men of Alm, so that no one will suffer as I suffered.


  • Check for tracks.
  • Conserve water.
  • Speak my mind.

Randy played Suleiman the harem-slave/bodyguard


  • I would live free: if this is truly the Library of Worlds, I shall escape to where I can thrive as a free man.
  • The Princess will be a better Empress than most: I will protect her interests as well as her life.
  • Fatima is more lovely in spirit than any palace woman; I will try to take her with me, if I can.


  • Trust the twitch in my left eye (Sixth Sense)
  • Never surrender my blade.
  • Protect the Princess with my life.

So the four (plus the princess’s drover and a bunch of camels) stood outside the minaret, pondering entrance. Suleiman finally fashioned a hook and line from some traveling gear and got it up through the archway at the top of the minaret. (Beginner’s Luck Throwing test.) Najat scrambled up into the minaret and used a second rope to help Suleiman up (she had climbing, and helped him get up with another beginner’s luck test, this time of climbing).

Fatima and the princes weren’t interested in learning how to climb — they order Suleiman to pull them up, so what would have been climbing checks for them became routine Forte tests for Suleiman.

Once everyone was up in the minaret, they descended the stairs within the tower and into a circular room, the walls covered in glowing script. A crystalline orb about the size of a softball stood on a pedestal in the center of the room. The only exit was an archway ‘curtained’ in golden light.

The text on the walls was legible, but hard to decipher, as it was ancient, verbose, and somewhat poetic. (Think translating Chaucer into modern english.) Eventually, she was able to work out that these verses were the Library rules:

Take no tome, and mark none,
If you would your homeworld see,
Bring no flame, and make none,
Lest you too would burnèd be.

Free in body, free in mind,
Freely share the knowledge ’round.
If you would your fellows bind,
What you seek shall ne’er be found.

The way was opened when you sought,
The way remains for gifts you’ve brought.
Find what you seek and then, begone!
The way will not remain for long.

The inscription above the arch read “That Which is Written Remains”. The veil seemed to be woven from the same soft golden light as the verses on the walls and the inscription above the arch.

Sul and Najat went through the arch, immediately noticing that the air was cooler and more humid (the Library has climate control). When they looked back, they saw the veil over the arch was is utterly black, shot with red — when Sul approached it, his left eye twitched (sixth sense for danger).

The Tower (GM notes)

The center of the tower is a pillar with an interior spiral staircase that leads only down. The N/E/S/W bridges from the center shaft to the outer walkway also lead to other parallel towers that ‘belong’ to other worlds. The NW bridge leads to and from the shaft to archway out. The ‘rim’ walkway gives easy access to a larger collection of scrolls than anyone present has seen, as well as rare bound books like those from the keeps of the recently subjugated Western Lands. There are also arches at NE, SE, and SW that lead outwards into concentric circles of yet more scrolls and books that should–but do not–overlap neighboring world-towers. Farther ‘out’ in those sub-towers, the collection expands to objects that are inscribed in some way (like Suleiman’s sword). Pretty much anything written upon can be found here… the trick is getting it out again.

The pattern of walkways is repeated overhead, apparently inaccessible, and leaning over the side shows that the same structure extends downwards further than anyone can see. At the level of the entrance are roughly contemporary works, below are works from the past, above (theoretically) are works from the future. The collection is not complete, though, for contemporary stuff, and definitely not complete for the future (also, the stairs in the column don’t go upward — you’ve have to use a hook and line (Throwing test) — and climbing tests (with the potential of falling into the infinite past), to get up to a higher level).

The shelves are all made of the same smooth stone as the minaret, and ornately inscribed with strange glyphs that, again, give off a golden light, sufficient to read by.

Need a Map for the walkways? It’s the Burning Wheel logo

A robed and hooded figure waits silently at the entrance to the central pillar and spiral stair.

The other two held back in the entry room, and couldn’t hear what the others were shouting back, which meant that when the princess and priestess finally did go through, Sul and Nejat were already confronting the Servitor.

The Whosiwhatsit?

So Sul and Nejat approached the figure by the stairs. They see that instead of a face it has a smooth mask of something like paper, covered in symbols and text. Its robes and all its visible ‘flesh’ are the same material and similarly marked. It’s basically humanoid, but apart from the text, featureless.

As they approach, the servitor bows and touches where its heart, lips, and forehead once were with its right hand. Then it holds its hand out as if expecting to be given something. The servitor will wait until given something with meaningful writing (Princess and Priestess both have scrolls, Sul has his sword, Nejat’s bow).

The Princess and Priestess both gave over their written works (Fatima, her copy of the Faith; Leisha, a 364 line love poem about Suleiman). Najat pretended ignorance of what the Servitor wanted, and Suleiman understood what was being asked and flat out refused.

The Servitor didn’t press their refusal and bowed to the both of them again, then reached out to touch their cheek in a mirror of a priest’s blessing.

They both accepted the Servitor’s touch. The servitor then bursts into a swirling dervish of paper bits and bears the visitors gifts off into the recesses of the library.

And I called for Forte tests. They both failed.

Both of them get a black symbol on their cheek where they were touched. The skin under and immediately around the mark tingles, and feels dry and… papery. Fatima made a  Symbology roll to figure out that the central character on their cheek meant “Birth” is surrounded by an indication of the date of the character’s birth.

The Forte test determined how fast the ‘blessing’ was spreading. Sul really blew the Forte test, so he had hours — the symbols on his cheek were visibly spreading. Najat barely missed it, so she’s got 22 months.

So Sul’s was growing visibly – Naj’s wasn’t (“obviously: a man is weaker”). Sul immediately whipped out his sword and GOUGED THE TEXT OUT OF HIS CHEEK. Blood everywhere, and the hunk of his face turned entirely to paper and blew away.

However, he DID get the ‘blessing’ out.

While the princess tended to her wounded bodyguard, Fatima went back and snagged the crystal that no one had touched in the entrance (as soon as any character got rid of their printed materials, the veil turned ‘harmless’ for them — Sul still sees the scary black and red veil, and Najat… doesn’t see any veil at all, anymore).

Right when she picked it up, I gave De the chance to either avoid ‘contact’ with the orb or to try to master it. She attempted to master it and REALLY blew the roll, so she mastered it, but it taxed her Will down to 1, almost knocking her unconscious. The orb exposed her to a full, multi-dimensional, fractal map of the infinite library of worlds. Handy for Orienteering, but hell on the sanity.  She came back to their Library looking haggard, and with a crone-like grip on the crystal.

Once Sul was kind-sorta patched up (wounds take a long time to heal in BW compared to stuff like DnD), Orienteering rolls were made to find the princess’s desired knowledge

They got to that part of the Library with the complication of meeting the almost-turned-servitor-but-not-quite male scholar from another world. His near-transformation creeped Najat out (Steel test: passed), but she showed no sign of it. Suleiman was EXTREMELY interested in which tower that man had come through in the first place, because in that world, men weren’t slaves.

Fatima: “Some worlds have more difficult trials than our own.”

The not-quite servitor talked a bit with his ‘sister’ Najat (he still had a mouth, kind of), and said Najat could call on him if she needed help.

For the first Research test, I had Leisha make Ob 3 for compiling obscure knowledge from many sources.

Then I had her making a “learning all this stuff roll” by using the Learning/Teaching rules from the BWR. I gave the Library’s Knowledge an effect Will of 5, so the duration of her Studying was [Days of Study = 5 + (10 – Her Will) + OB of Difficult Apothecary Test = 13 days. She had to succeed at an Ob3 Apothecary test to learn the material, and if she missed it, she’d have to start all over for another 13 days. Tim made the roll by one, and squeezed the time on the test down to 11 and a half days.

While the princess studied, Fatima and Najat decided to go look for the Djinn. (Sul wanted to go to, but wouldn’t leave the princess.) They made the roll, even with a penalty +1 Ob from Fatima’s linked Djinn-wise failure.

GM Notes:

The Prince was trapped the moment he entered the Library: his people were created from smokeless flame, as Man is made from clay, and he inherently breaks the rules of the Library simply by existing; rules formulated by a higher power even than that which governs his wish-granting. Far from being the Librarian, he is a prisoner, now bound to punish those who kindle flame inside its precincts.

He has been granted a huge chamber in the Library, in which he has created over the ages a beautiful ornamental garden of paths and streams, scents and breezes, glades where the rattle of reeds syncopates with the falling of water to whisper lewd secrets to an uncaring universe.

In the middle of the garden is a lake, and in the lake an island. A single tree has been painstakingly trained to arc over the lake in a slender, graceful, thorny bridge leading to a many-layered pavilion of pillars and veils

Once they got there, Fatima and Najat had a pleasant conversation with the Djinn, who offered them both quite a lot in exchange for a favor: for Najat — a cure for the Blessing; for Fatima, the exact words of the Prophet (after he dropped the Bomb that it was a Prophet, not a Prophetess, once upon a time).

He said he’d do both those things for them happily, if only they’d bear him out of this Library that he’d accidentally gotten caught in ages before. Fatima readily agreed. Najat said that she wanted the Men of Alm freed more than she wanted to be cured of the blessing, and the Djinn (though surprised) agreed to that instead.

He told Najat to take his vessel with her back to their ‘camp’ (the princess’s study location), so she could call him if need be, and they said they looked forward to leaving with him in a week or two.

[When they were talking, he’d said “If you need me, simply call my n– call for me.” And De said “Hey, do I know his name?” So I explained how the Djinn had many names and had her roll Djinn-wise. She got a crazy number of successes, so not only does she know that the Djinn can actually be compelled to grant three wishes by invoking any of his ‘unused’ names, she KNOWS she’s got a name of his no one’s used, and that she can MAKE him grant her three wishes, rather than paying him off by taking him out of the Library.

And De claims she has a “Horrible” way to get a complete, perfect, accurate copy of the Prophet’s words out of the Library, on paper.

We’ll find out if she’s right on Wednesday.]

That was the end. Leisha and Sul’s players are VERY interested in the fact that the Djinn’s vessel is coming back to their camp — they both want to talk to him too.

One comment

  1. Part Two:

    Second and final session.

    A fifth player showed up, so I gave him the Wyrd spider from the Adventure burner. I’m going to sum his stuff up right now so that it’s out of the way, because he only impacted the rest of the story a little, which is fine. Anyway. His story is that he and a pack of ‘soldiers’ came to the library from their homeworld. Orders from the Queen. Turns out the ‘need to know’ orders were ‘find the Wish Weaver (djinn) and use him to release the Queen of the Demonweb. Our Wyrd spinner objected, and ‘lost’ the way back to the exit from the library, at which point the other spiders on the mission tried to kill him for treason. Bloody Versus. Tie. He escaped them for now, but they’re on his trail. He hies off into the Library…

    NOW: we’re back to the Princess and Suleiman. Princess is studying. Sul is circling the area. Sees that she’s tired and stiff-necked and comes over to rub her neck and shoulders. A discussion ensues, where the Princess says she can see how Suleiman wants to escape into another world attached to the Library and that she’s seen how he looks at “that peasant”. She wants him to promise to come home with her, be her slave forever in a perfect golden cage, help her become Empress.

    Princess: Suleiman must promise to come home with me, be my slave forever in a perfect golden cage, help me become Empress.
    Suleiman: I would be free! However… I could be pretty happy if I answered to You and You ONLY.

    Surprisingly (considering Sul was rolling Beginner’s Luck Persuasion), this DoW went for almost two exchanges.

    (The Wyrd spinner (“Boba”), stumbled on them during the middle of the DoW.)

    Starting BoA was 6 for Leisha and 4 for Sul. Sul got her down to 3 when Leisha blew an Obfuscate against his Point at the start of the second exchange (“If am beholden to any others but you, especially your evil sisters, then I will never truly be wholly Yours.”), but she finished him off in one shot with a Dismiss in the next volley.

    Result: Suleiman promises to be mine forever… and I promise to kill the most devious/evil of my sisters as soon as we get back to the palace. (Nice!)

    Suleiman tests Steel at the end of the DoW and Hesitates for a Loooooong time. Which is right when the spiders chasing Boba show up. The Hestitation is going to suck (-1 or -2D on the impending Bloody Versus), so Boba weaves whatever spell he has that removes hesitation to snap him out of it.

    Bloody Versus. Sul gets 3 successes above the spiders, including two sixes. He spends a Fate, blows up the sixes, and they BOTH come up sixes again, and then both come up success a second time, so he’s… I dunno. It’s like a B12 wound with two extra successes left over for making it extra gory? One of them, midi-wounded, escapes. Sul and the PC-played-spider begin cautious talks. (The princess, exposed to the gore, fails a Steel test and swoons.)

    We go back to Fatima and Najat, who are walking back to ‘camp’. Fatima asks if she can see the Djinn’s vessel. Najat hands it over. Fatima summons the Djinn with one of his names (a surprise to both Najat and the Djinn) and says:

    “Djinn, kill this woman Najat, right here, right now.”

    The Djinn blinks, turns, points a finger, and blasts Najat into a little pile of dust. Poof. Fatima gathers it up and stores it in the Djinn’s vessel. ( )

    The Djinn asks if Fatima needs anything else, Fatima declines and carries on toward the camp. The Djinn poofs back to his garden.

    Fatima is that much closer to securing the sanctity of the status quo in Alm.

    (Note: this move was discussed between the two players beforehand in another room, so there was no WTF here from anyone but the surprised GM.)

    We cut to the lowest, deepest, most central level of the library, where Najat has just reconstituted (with one month of time knocked off her Blessing duration). Library is more powerful than the Djinn, after all — the Djinn gave the murder his best shot, but since Najat’s a servitor-in-training, he could really only piss the Library off.

    Najat grabs her bow and moves with great haste toward the camp.

    Fatima arrives back in camp. Suleiman looks around and asks where their guide is. Fatima backhands him for speaking to her out of turn. This leads to a throw-down between the Princess and the Priestess.

    Duel of Wits #2:
    Fatima: Your love for a slave is an offense to God! You will stop this at once or be dead within the month! I have SEEN it!
    Leisha: The Church goes to far. Slaves are servants to the Empire, not the Church, and the Church will stay out of Imperial affairs.

    Disposition was 5 for Leisha, six for Fatima. The Princess tried an Incite in the first round and got two points knocked off for her effort. They both Avoided the next volley, then concluded with simultaneous Dismisses!

    (Meanwhile, Najat had arrived and was lining up a shot on Fatima. Suleiman saw this, and did nothing.)

    Leisha threw everything she had at the roll: persona, fate… and got 5 successes out of the six she needed to end it. 1 point left.

    Fatima did likewise, and knocked Leisha out of the DoW.

    Conclusion: The Princess Swears Unto God to never admit and always hide this terrible relationship with the slave (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Ugh.), or God will kill her within the month. Failing the DoW, Leisha tests Steel and Swoons (again). Suleiman carries her to the side…

    Then Najat shoots Fatima.

    Bloody Versus. Hit. Die of Fate for the Wound. B8, which on Fatima is a Traumatic.

    That’s a B5 test for the Princess to tend to the wound … plus she has to get the barbed arrow out first, which is another pretty hard test…

    Yeah… they just leave her to bleed out. Fatima’s player is very satisfied.

    Najat grabs the Djinn’s vessel and calls him. She makes a deal (she couldn’t make the Ob2 Will test to remember the name Fatima invoked): Give me One Wish and I’ll free you not only from the Library but from your Vessel.


    The group heads out of the library. Suleiman doesn’t want to leave his sword, so the Djinn bargains with him: give me your left ring finger and I’ll get you out of the library safely, with your sword.

    DONE! (Sul’s not thrilled, but it’s just one finger… where the harm?)

    So they get outside.

    Najat wishes all men and women be equal and free from slavery within Alm, then frees the Djinn.

    The Princess and Suleiman (and the camels) return to the capitol, hand in hand, in public (since Sul is no longer a slave). Najat returns to the Library.

    The Djinn takes the finger, uses it to douse for the lost Ring of Suleiman. Once he finds it, he returns to Alm as a god, burning a swath of fiery destruction across the Empire such as has never before been seen. One month to the day after the Princess allowed Najat to free all men from slavery, the Djinn executes the Heir Apparent on the steps of the Palace and burns the capitol of the Empire to ashes.

    In the Library, the door to Alm closes. Permanently.

    The. END.

    We reviewed who finished up Beliefs and such. (Everyone closed or pursued two of three, except for Kate’s Najat, who went 3 for 3 on hers.) We reviewed Embodiment (Fatima, hands down.) and MvP (Najat, for killing Fatima and then dooming Alm).

    Folks are VERY jazzed to see what we’ll do with our own campaign.

    Reviewing the game itself, the players really like pretty much everything about everything. Duel of Wits, bloody versus… it was all good, except for the tracking of tests for advancement; they found that overly fiddly and while they could see it pushing people to try Big Things, and allowed that they’d eventually learn it well enough to get used to it… they doubted they’d ever LIKE it. All in all, though, that was a pretty small fly in the collective ointment.

    One of my players, De, wanted me to specifically mention that she thought the situation, characters, and their beliefs for this game were brilliantly done and beautifully balanced against one another, and wanted me to MAKE SURE to tell Alexander that he did a bang-up job on the whole thing. Everyone thought it was awesome.

    I could not have asked for a better demo of the system.

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