1879: The Peculiar Preoccupation of Wilhelm Käsebier

In which we describe a Dodger working for the Prussian Freikorps as an infiltration specialist, as an alternative to being held while the police try to find evidence of what they’re quite sure he’s done.


Wilhelm just couldn’t help himself. He had to know.

People spent fortunes trying to protect their fortunes. High walls, bars on the windows, complicated locks, electric alarms – did all of this actually work? Was it possible, could he himself slip into one of these secured buildings and back out again without being detected? At thirteen, a boy who should have been focused rigidly on the Prussian school system’s curriculum of mathematics, history, geography, and military theory kept checking out books on electricity, construction techniques, and architecture from the public library. Much of his spare time, and all of his allowance, was spent in salvage shops and hardware stores throughout Moabit and across the north side of Berlin, buying tools and old padlocks and door mechanisms and taking them home to disassemble, explore, refine, and learn.

Of course his actions drew attention. This was Prussia, after all. Every book checked out, every purchase made, each trip on the S-Bahn to visit the statue of his famous ancestor Christian Andreas Käsebier (erected by King Frederick the Great after the Siege of Prague), left a tick mark in a notebook, a punch in an Engine card, and it added up. When young Wilhelm finally worked up the nerve to field-test his self-taught knowledge, rerouted the electric alarm and picked the door lock, and stepped into the loading dock of Herr Lindt’s candy factory, a police officer was waiting for him. He gave the boy a stern lecture about the proper use of knowledge, and respect for boundaries and the law. Since Wilhelm had not brought anything to carry pilfered goods in, and had not yet committed an offense greater than illegal entry, the officer warned him that while there would not be an official report this time, so as not to damage Wilhelm’s potential career, if there was a repeat incident no such concerns would enter into the picture.

Wilhelm learned an important lesson from that night, namely that he needed to know how to avoid leaving traces of his activities. More embarrassed than frightened by the encounter, he set about studying the monitoring methods used, and finding out how to circumvent them, or avoid their reach entirely. Saving up his allowance for several weeks and doing a few odd jobs to pick up an extra pfennig, Wilhelm traded in his old bicycle for a larger, sturdier one with a basket over the front wheel and cargo panniers to either side of the rear one. He grew a bit more lean and wiry pedalling the beast as fast as the traffic officers would allow, keeping his travel time down so as to help mask how far he was going. He set up a tiny forge in his uncle’s abandoned garden shed, picked up scrap coal from around the delivery chutes behind houses to fire it, pocketed the odd bit of metal that wouldn’t be missed and started making his own tools. In a bold move, he stole the jacket of a boy from another school from an unattended knapsack, found his student card in the breast pocket where of course everyone kept theirs, and two weeks later impersonated the lad, walking into the boy’s school library and checking out several volumes that he stored in the ceiling above a janitor’s closet in his own school. Eventually, the officer from the candy factory came round to ask if he knew anything about the missing books. Wilhelm said no, and offered to let the officer in to have a look for them. The officer declined the invitation, but went away with narrowed eyes and unallayed suspicions. Wilhelm’s parents didn’t quite believe his story either; why would a police officer be coming round over a few library books? But Wilhelm’s room was tidy, there weren’t any hidey-holes in it they didn’t know about, and nothing in those places except the private items you’d expect a boy in his teens to have, so they let it drop.

Such activity does draw attention, although not necessarily from the authorities. Those already in the game became aware that there was a new player on the board. Tracking the absence of a thing is more difficult than following red flags, and so it was that Wilhelm emerged from his fifth successful foray into someone else’s establishment to find a woman waiting for him. Not a police officer, no. Helga was a professional, well, let’s say that she pointed out a couple of things that Wilhelm had overlooked, and let him know that he either stopped what he was doing, or learned to do it right, so as to quit muddying the waters. The next day, Wilhelm informed his parents he had secured part time after school employment, as an apprentice repairman in a clockwork shop. And he had; Helga maintained a thorough cover, to explain her tools, her skills, and her income. Years of instruction followed, learning Engine programming, advanced mechanical and electrical work, how to climb a wall without leaving scuff marks, evaluating items in poor lighting quickly so as to make the forays worthwhile. Wilhelm made new friends. He graduated from secondary school, put down his trade at the kiez governance hall as journeyman clockmaker, and went on to a successful dual life.

Eventually, of course, a certain government office, whose job it is to spot activity by the absence of evidence, caught up with him. Now, they couldn’t prove anything, not definitively, but they could certainly bring enough attention to bear on Wilhelm to make his life very difficult, very much indeed, and that sort of attention would annoy his friends, now, wouldn’t it? Nobody likes someone who draws fire. Prussian law allows for holding a suspect for up to a week while evidence is gathered, whether charges are filed or the suspect released at the end. A succession of such weeks would make earning a living somewhat difficult, wouldn’t it? Having been made an offer that he couldn’t really refuse, Wilhelm took the Kaiser’s mark, and signed up for service with the Drittes Königsberger Bataillon of the Deutscher Nationaldienst Freikorps. When his country calls, he serves much as his famous ancestor did, infiltrating, gathering information, sometimes picking up an item or leaving one. In between, he’s left to his career, or careers, as long as he does nothing to attract the attention of the Stadtpolizei. It’s a precarious existence, but then the challenge of it was why Wilhelm got into the game in the first place.

Character Sheet

See the PDF, and note the following.

  • His Profession abilities are:
    • Karma for any DEX-only Test.
    • Bonuses to Social Defense and base Karma Step, accounted for in the character sheet.
    • That Drainpipe Looks Solid Enough.
  • His Money reflects what he’s officially got, taxes paid and all. Unofficially, he could probably lay hands to several thousand marks in a couple of days if he really needed to, but it would take a couple of Streetwise Tests and going to see one of his Connections to exchange goods for cash.

An expanded version of Wilhelm, with Connections, Adventure Hooks, and Goodies (three steampunk thief’s devices!) will be available at the end of the month in PDF for $1.99, from the FASA Games web shop and through DTRPG.

Tally Ho!