Floorboards creaked under his feet as Ultrak made his way through the torch-lit hall. To his left and right hung a series of portraits, great warriors, conquerors and heroes, resplendent in their armor. At last he reached the door. He gave two hesitant raps and a voice beckoned him inside. Ultrak paused to brush the wrinkles out of his shabby tunic. It was not often that people were granted a second chance at greatness. The young man hoped he was worthy.
The office of Count Malthicus was bright and cheerful. Sunlight fell from the high windows illuminating the colorful rugs and tapestries that filled the room. The Count himself sat behind a wide desk, fat and jolly. He blew a puff of sweet-smelling smoke toward the ceiling and set his ivory pipe down. The Count leaned forward to inspect his visitor and smiled. The skin around the Count's eyes creased, betraying years of gay laughter, but the eyes themselves where cold and calculating.
"You were a student at the Academy," said the Count. "Yet you abandoned your studies to apply for knighthood. Why?"
"The life of a warrior is the only true course for a man," said Ultrak.
The Count smiled.
"You quote Festivus," he said, "a true testament to your scholarship. But tell me boy, why did you fail?"
Ultrak's face burned with shame. For months he had practiced with sword and lance. The form of his thrusts was perfect. He had memorized the Code of Honor to the letter and could quote any part of it at will. It was in the arena where he had met his only true challenge, a test which ended in failure.
"The Test of Pain," muttered Ultrak.
The Count leaned back in his seat.
"You are not the first to fail this test," said the Count solemnly. "Yet there is a way you may still serve your country, perhaps even to earn the title of knight you so prize."
Ultrak's eyes brightened. He knew he had been summoned to the Count's chamber for a reason, but this was more than he could have hoped for. The Count's eyes were ever on him, evaluating.
"I need a man versed in the ways of rhetoric and debate," said the Count, "a man with knowledge of history and science."
Ultrak shivered with anticipation. He knew he could succeed in this mission. At last a challenge worthy of his gifts, not a test a bloody-minded peasant could pass.
"A villainous wretch has come to the Academy," said the Count with venom. "He is poisoning the minds of the youth with his immoral lessons. His name is Daemacon, and he must die."
Ultrak swallowed and asked in a quiet voice why the Count didn't simply have the man arrested.
"Daemacon has many followers," said the Count. "Among his sycophants are sons and daughters of high government officials. I need a brave soul to act alone, to mix with his followers, and kill this evil philosopher!"
The Count tossed a short, ill-forged dagger onto his desk. Ultrak looked at the weapon, confused.
"I'm to be an assassin? The Code of Honor strictly forbids this!" cried the youth.
The Count stared into the boy's eyes, and spoke calmly.
"The feint, the bluff, the ambush, these are in the arsenal of every warrior, be they true or wicked. There is a cancer eating at the youth of our nation, and its name is Daemacon. You are the only hope for the future of our people."
After a long moment, Ultrak took up the blade.
Pink petals fell from the blossoming trees in the courtyard of the Academy. A great crowd had gathered at the steps of the library. They were all students dressed in identical white togas. Ultrak made his way through the students, concealing the dagger in the folds of his white robe. Before the doors of the library stood Daemacon, dressed in black, his bald head gleaming in the bright sunlight.
"The Underworld," said the evil philosopher, "is ill-named. For if we stood there, would not our own world hang beneath our feet?"
The crowd murmured. Ultrak moved closer. That was when he saw him. A man in a dark cloak stood in the shadows behind the philosopher. No, not a man. Its long arms ended in sharp claws -- a goblin. He would have to wait for a better time to strike. Ultrak withdrew into the crowd. Too late, the goblin had seen him! It shuffled over to Daemacon and whispered in his ear. The philosopher ran his fingers through his long pointed beard and pointed at Ultrak.
"You there, learner!" said Daemacon. "Would you die for your country?"
Angered, Ultrak spoke.
"It is a man's greatest honor to die in the service of his nation!"
Daemacon was amused.
"Spoken like a true follower of Festivus," said the philosopher. "Death is the final mystery, and it is for truth we must die."
Daemacon dismissed the students and bade Ultrak to follow him into the library. The goblin's eyes were ever on him. The philosopher drew up a chair and sat. The goblin placed a seat in front of him and shoved Ultrak into it.
"Tell me, student of Festivus," said Daemacon. "Why haven't you taken the test of knighthood?"
Ultrak cast his eyes to the floor.
"Ah," said the philosopher, "you have. Tell me, how did you fail?"
Ultrak, without lifting his eyes from the floor, recalled for Daemacon the Test of Pain. Set in the Arena, the prospective knight stands alone and weaponless, watched by his friends and family. He is set upon by six older knights. They beat him with wooden scabbards, challenging him to rise again when he was knocked, bleeding, to the ground. It was here Ultrak failed. He cried like a girl, begging them to stop.
Daemacon considered this for a moment.
"Pain is illusion," he said. "It is our body's way of keeping us alive. It is good to embrace pain. To ignore it, you ignore life. But I sense a deeper shame in you. Tell me, why are you here?"
Ultrak withdrew the dagger. The goblin made a motion to seize him, but Daemacon held up his hand. Ultrak let the dagger fall to the floor. Daemacon stood from his chair and knelt before the boy. He took the dagger and placed it in Ultrak's hand.
"Those that sent you on this errand are murderers and cowards," said Daemacon, "but you still may have need of this weapon. You must come to my lectures. There you will learn truth beyond the teachings of Festivus and the other hypocrites."
Throughout the week Ultrak took lessons from the philosopher. He learned that heroes were cowards, that nobility had earned their titles through bloodshed alone, and that history was as true as the liars that recorded it. Before the final seminar, Daemacon called Ultrak into the library.
"The time has come," said Daemacon. "You must choose your path."
The philosopher drew a dagger from his robe and handed it to Ultrak. The boy took out his own dagger and placed them side by side on his lap. They were identical, but the philosopher's dagger was made of wood, and the blade collapsed into the handle.
The philosopher left the library and stood before the waiting crowd. Ultrak watched from the doorway as Daemacon began his lesson. He talked of the meaning of wealth. He told them that material things bring no true happiness and should be discarded. The crowd cheered, and Ultrak saw his chance. He walked quickly up behind the philosopher and jammed the dagger into his back. When the man did not go down immediately he stabbed him about the head and neck until he collapsed.
The crowd panicked and fled in all directions. Ultrak made his way out of the courtyard and found guards waiting for him. They clamped him in irons and brought him to the Count's residence. The Count was overjoyed to see him. He handed him two scrolls.
"Your articles of knighthood and a pardon for the murder of Daemacon," beamed the Count. "I had them drawn up as soon as you accepted the mission."
Ultrak drew the dagger from his robe and tossed it onto the desk.
"Now I have truly passed the test," he said.
Ultrak bowed and left the room, taking the scrolls with him. The next day he made his way to the tomb of Daemacon. A huge crowd had gathered at the crude stone building. There the wealthy sons and daughters of the Academy piled their valuables inside. After a short ceremony, the doors were sealed shut and the crowd dispersed. Ultrak waited until nightfall when the goblin arrived driving a mule towing a wide cart.
Seeing the monster, he stood, drawing a dagger. The goblin waved and Ultrak snapped the wooden blade in two. Together they pried the doors of the tomb open. Daemacon emerged smiling. The three conspirators piled the cart high with gold and jewels. Ultrak thought of the Count's evil mission and the knights that beat him. Before they left for the border, Ultrak entered the tomb and laid the articles of knighthood to rest in the open coffin.
There are some elements here related to dramatic presentations in a general sense. Things like arrests/pardons for show, collapsing weapons, fake deaths and fake assassinations. It would be nice to formalize an actor/audience relationship in various contexts. There's also the notion of somebody presenting a false appearence with their clothing and mannerisms and decorating their room to further project this image.
The impressionable children of nobles can do naive things, and they can be targeted for this reason.
There is the notion of a nemesis having a single trusted yet nefarious helper.
In a sufficiently 'advanced' society, education could be formalized to the extent that there are academy subentities that have might have their own uniforms, etc. Other entities might have official testing procedures prior to entry.
There are some other elements to observe: searching a crowd for suspicious figures and reporting their presence, purposefully asking somebody questions you know the answer in order to mess with them, flattering somebody to get them to do things (possibly appealing to their sense of entity pride), quoting famous people and scholars for various reasons, turning an agent to your side and letting the people that sent the agent think that the agent is still under their control (double agent), trusting someone with your life depending on your intimate knowledge of their mental state and through this gaining power over them, lying to people and putting weird ideas in their heads to separate them from their possessions, granting offices to people as bribery or as inducement to perform some task, having to act indirectly for political reasons. Some of these are difficult to realize as general game elements, but they can still occur in dialogue and random scenarios the game can initiate given preconditions.