[WHFB] ...Among the Wicked Dawi - Part 17 - The Royal Game


What happened next was, at that time, the closest thing to ritual or ceremony I had ever seen among the greenskins. A malevolent reverence swept through the assembled mob. At the sounding of a great black drum, made of hides stretched across rotten wood and balanced haphazardly against the wall of the cave, the crowd dispersed. Small fights and scuffles broke out as more wagers and boasts were made on the outcome, but Ashirk and his opponent remained in place beside the fire, their stakes - myself included - lying on the ground between them.

Parting the assembled hobgoblins with shoves and prods, through the crowd came the muscular goblin with the skull-cap ringed by a white fox’s tail that I had seen previously. Behind him were half a dozen heavily armed and armoured goblins, carrying polished, stumpy broadswords and heavy wooden shields.

There was a certain aura to this goblin, I must admit. He was half my height, but radiated a kind of scarred brutality that marked him out from his kin. These others must have been his chosen men. They pushed through at last to the fire-pit, and I realised what they had been summoned to do. These were the only beings the two players could trust to guard their wagers.

They scooped up the axe, the head, the bone-coin and… me. Two goblins lifted me from either end as if I was an inconvenient corpse, though they quickly shuffled me to an easily guarded position and propped me up with a clear, close view of what would rapidly become the action. Besides me, the severed head of the larger hobgoblin was also placed gingerly, together with the axe and the bone coin. It seemed to be significant that as prizes, we be placed in the open and not held by any particular greenskin. The goblins formed a cordon around the wagered items, which I surmised was the only way to avoid them being stolen. Even so, I saw the axe in particular being eyed hungrily by a number of glowering eyes.

On the near-side of the fire-pit, a space was cleared, lit by the flickering flames on which the charred bones of Ashirk’s first assailant were still visible. The crowd of hobgoblins, again cowed to a quiet murmur, formed a semi-circle and whispering grins, nudging limbs and sharp eyes. Every now and again one would grab an arm and twist it, or turn and punch a fellow in the face or gut, and I surmised this was to deter pickpocketing and pursecutting.

Ashirk faced his opponent over a filthy, moss-covered, chest-height stone column covered in ornate but faded carvings. On it was placed a dirty column-shaped board, broad at each end, thin in the middle, about a handspan in length. It was painted with geometric shapes and stars, dotted around a sort of grid, divided up into equal squares.

Each of the two players revealed an assortment of bags from hidden locations in the fold of their tunics. Ashirk produced one from an ankle, his opponent from beneath the horned hat. The reason for their bulky, loose clothing became apparent. It was as much for security as anything else. Loose, hanging sleeves and fat, floppiing caps were ideal for hiding valuables, and difficult for the wandering hands of a thief to traverse. Treachery runs through the very core of the hobgoblin; it surrounds them and penetrates them. And, in its own perverse way, it binds their society together. Soon I would see that it had shaped their very bodies.

From one pouch, Ashirk poured out a set of four pyramid-shaped black and white stones, and from another, a set of three smooth polished discs. His opponent dumped similar shapes of his own on the other side, and they each lined up their discs on one side of the fatter end of the board.

It would be some time until I learned the rules of the Royal Game of Zharr Naggrund, long after this particular game was complete. I will say this. What I relate here bears some resemblance to the game as the Dawi Zharr play it, in the bare bones. The hobgoblins add a different… factor. We will return to the matter of the ‘official’ rules, the learning of which was part of the most horrifying experience of my entire life, in a later chapter. For now, I relate to you what I felt in the moment; puzzlement, curiosity, and a mounting sense of dread.

In his set of black and white pyramidal stones was one made of bone. It was the prize Enmerkar had paid Ashirk for my capture, and by his reaction at the time, I had thought it a coin of great price. Ashirk had kept it concealed all this time, but it did not seem to be currency as I had assumed. Instead it was what - a piece for some alley gambler’s distraction? How could this be?

Little did I know, it held value beyond measure.

The players gathered their pyramid-stones together and threw them as if dice. Tiny corner markings seemed to count if the upmost corner of the pyramid was marked - if the upward corner was blank, it was worthless. Half the four corners were marked, half were not. Akin to a simple sailor’s game of chance.

Ashirk seemed to have won their initial roll, and so he moved first. A few hobgoblins crowded around passed each other items glumly, clearly having lost their own wagers. This activity - along with the shoving and punching - would go on throughout the game, ignored by the players and my bodyguards alike.

Ashirk took one of his stone discs and placed it on a tile, rolled his dice, then moved it forward a few squares. The game seemed to be a race of sorts, and as his opponent rolled and moved, it looked that they were both heading up opposite sides of the board. With the shape as it was - three across at the wider base, thinning to a single square in the central track - it seemed clear their pieces would soon collide. Finally, Ashirk landed his second piece on a tile marked with a hideous glyph, just one square behind his opponent’s foremost piece. The crowd whispered in awe. It seemed he had somehow the right to roll again, and he did so. Every one of his dice came up with nothing, and the crowd seethed, but the die Enmerkar had given him popped like a grain in oil and burst upwards, falling this time with a marked point upward.

If this was cheating, the crowd adored it in their own villainous way. They erupted in a quiet chaos of hissing tongues, clinking knife-points, stamping feet. There was more scuffling and exchange of goods wagered; although I did not know it yet, the first piece was about to fall.

His opponent’s reaction was bizarre. He began to unfasten the clasps on his tunic, and rapidly shed it, stripping to the waist. What was this conduct? What was this game?

Ashirk placed his piece gently on the square of his opponent’s, and moved that piece aside, tapping it respectfully back to the other end of the table. His bare-chested opponent stood away from the board, turned his hunched, green back and looked away sullenly into the dark. This seemed a singularly dimwitted move, but I assumed correctly that it was somehow, inexplicably part of the game.

A moment on hobgoblin physiology. A thick, bony ridge at the summit of the spine gives the hobgoblins of the Dark Lands a perpetually hunched appearance. The more stooped a hobgoblin, the better adapted he is to the brutal assaults from behind that characterise their species. The thickness and density of a back-plate is fundamental to a hobgoblin’s length of survival, and nowhere is this more strongly reinforced than in their version of the Royal Game of Zharr Naggrund.

Ashirk drew a different dagger to the curving, wicked disemboweling knives I was used to seeing him wield. He drew a thigh-length blade of dirty steel which appeared to undulate in a shape quite unlike any other I had seen. These knives are known as kris among those who are knowledgeable on such matters, and are stabbing weapons. He tested the weight a few times, and made a few false moves, causing a sharp intake of breath from some of those assembled. At last, he jumped lightly into the air, swung the knife back above his head, and landed the full force of the tip directly in the bony ridge of his opponent’s back, attempting to bring his strength, mass and falling weight all into that tip. The opponent cried out in pain as the kris opened an agonising wound and entered a few inches deep into the bone, but the strike was not clean, and the blade wrenched out again as Ashirk’s feet touched the ground. His opponent looked like he would fall to one knee, but endured the pain. The crowd were pleased, but whether this was because of the stoicism of the victim or the theatre of the stabbing itself I could not tell. I sensed little satisfaction from the assassin. He had wanted a quick victory, and was frustrated as it slipped from his grasp.

His opponent turned, nostrils flaring, and trod heavily back to the game-board. The warrior’s body shook a little with involuntary tremors, but across the flesh of his sagging, hideous face, a needle-toothed grin spread. He fixed Ashirk with greedy eyes, and threw his dice, not bothering to even look at them as they came up with three marked tips. He simply continued staring directly into the assassin’s eyes as he moved his second piece up the board, and gently nudged aside Ashirk’s leading black disc.



Brutal, absolutely brutal.
What’s the inspiration behind this?

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The Royal Game of Ur, mankind’s oldest known board-game. Intimately tied to the real-world places and monuments that inspire the '93 range, the Royal Game was popular with all social classes of Mesopotamian society. Ornately painted sets have been found in the Royal Cemetery (from which the word Royal in the game’s modern name is taken - purely an archaeological marketing tool, sadly), and was just as popular with the underclass, to wit:

“A graffito version of the game carved with a sharp object, possibly a dagger, was discovered on one of the human-headed winged bull gate sentinels from the palace in the city of Khorsabad”

I thought it such a wonderful aspect of history that I just had to have it in the story, and so it appears twice, both times with deadly stakes. It was as much a barracks-room commoner’s game as fit for a king, and as such I posit that the Hobgoblins play their own version - in which ritualised backstabbing takes it’s due place, as Russian Roulette or the Knife Game have among bored, thrill-seeking soldiers throughout history.

As our protagonist has promised, rest assured that the version played by the Chaos Dwarfs is much, much worse.


Very good @chitzkoi, it’s a gripping story and I want more!


Hilariously bonkers and dark. Twisted and malevolent. Neat inclusion of this ancient boardgame hit! @Enjoysrandom , a cousin to your Royal Game of Zhur has been glimpsed!

It would be fun if the Royal Game of Zharr-Naggrund (Hobgoblin & Chaos Dwarf version respectively) was ever made into a little pixel videogame. Complete with Hobgoblins cheating and backstabbing each other as per rules. And whatever insane take the Dawi Zharr bring to the table. This may be of interest to @Loidrial , just in case your jolly Italian team feel like doing a boardgame with a mad streak.


Trust the narrator when he says the Chaos Dwarf version was the most horrifying experience of his life…

It their own way, the hobgoblins have found a way to manifest their tendency in it. If you think about it, the game requires each piece backstab the one in front of it. Frontal assault isn’t even possible.

The game’s inventors see it… differently.

We have a LOT to get through before we get to that, though. New locations, characters, ideas… some it I’ve even had time to write \(°□°)/


Easily my favorite chapter to this point. The derivation of old board games and the mechanics they’ve inspired to this day are a consistent interest of mine. Seeing that at play in a fantasy setting makes for a very fun read.

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