The Tékumel Foundation

News about the World of Tékumel® – the creation of Prof. M.A.R. Barker

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

Journey to the Naqsái Lands

19 Pardán 2371

I had little desire to see more of Tsámra and stayed on board the ship for most of the time we were here. The days passed while supplies were loaded. I was bored. It seemed that either everything was too exciting, or that nothing happened for long stretches.

Electronic Tekumel Part Two

I left off the previous post with a promise to talk about data recovery of Apple ][ diskettes. Here’s that story:

I was able to lend the Foundation a Platinum //e with two working Unidisk drives. This is a late-model Apple ][, with 128K of memory and integrated 80-column card. I also tricked it out with the crucial component: an Apple Super Serial card, which I’ve put into Slot 2.

There’s a magnificent program called ADTPro, which is designed for exactly this sort of recovery project. On the Apple ][ side, it is a straightforward program to either read a block from disk, or read a block of memory from either a serial, ethernet (yes, there are Apple ][ ethernet cards; a few (rare) from Back In The Day, and some modern ones as well), or cassette audio interface, and then write that block to diskette. On the modern-computer side, it’s a Java program that does
the same thing: reads blocks of data from disk and pushes them over the wire, or receives blocks of data from the wire and puts them onto the disk.

We are of course going to be using this in its read-a-physical-diskette-and-transfer-it-over-the-wire mode. Serial is the best combination, as Apple ][ Ethernet interfaces are not cheap.

While most modern computers don’t come with RS-232 ports anymore, a USB-to-RS232C converter is about twenty bucks at Micro Center. Finding drivers for modern Macs is a little more problematic, but there’s an open-source PL-2313 driver that works fine (the Prolific PL-2313 seems to be the USBRS232 economy chipset of choice). As it happens, the Foundation’s laptop is a Windows 7 machine, and of course all these converters come with Windows drivers. Linux support, as always, is comprehensive and unproblematic.

So that’s the hardware needed: Apple ][, Super Serial Card, and a USB-to-RS232C serial converted. The software is ADTPro. After some initial experimentation, we were able to start transferring disk images. Early results suggest that about 60% of the disks are recoverable, which isn’t too bad for 30-year-old media. Our goal is to work with the actual diskettes as little as possible: to the degree we can extract data from them and then work with the extracted copy, that’s what we want to do, in order to reduce, as much as possible, the damage that reading the diskettes inevitably will do.

Somewhat strangely, Professor Barker’s documents seemed to have a much better recovery rate than those diskettes containing programs. Some of this may be that those programs are copy-protected, and therefore not amenable to the simple track-by-track copying that ADTPro does.

However, there is certainly enough to keep us all busy for quite some time just working with the disk images we are able to transfer. Once we have the disk images, our work isn’t yet done. I donated a Virtual II limited license to the Foundation, so we can fire up a virtual Apple //e and mount the disk images and use them. This may be necessary as we find documents in strange binary formats. If it becomes necessary, we can try a number of other recovery options–the Asimov Apple II Archives contain a vast collection of Apple II software of, admittedly, dubious legality. Armed with disk manipulation utilities and (almost certainly) the program that produced this data in the first place, we should be able to work with the data either under emulation or on the Apple //e itself.

However, the bulk of what we’ve recovered so far are just text files. Inspection reveals some word processing formatting codes, but for the most part, the contents are just ASCII text. For these cases, it obviously will be a great deal faster to simply extract the files without having to go through an emulator to view or “print” them (one suggestion was to install a printer driver that simply printed to a local file from the emulator). A little Googling suggested a solution.

AppleCommander is an Open Source java program designed to allow manipulation of a wide variety of Apple ][ diskette images. While it doesn’t have an “extract everything” mode, it turned out to be very easy to write a little perl wrapper to determine the diskette format and retrieve a listing, and then extract each file. I did a little bit of file-type association to append an appropriate suffix to each file name, and a little bit of filename mangling to make the files easier to work
with in a Unix context. As it stands, the wrapper can work with DOS 3.3 or ProDOS images, and knows about text, Applesoft BASIC, and Integer BASIC files (everything else just gets extracted as unmodified binary).

This tool will enable the Tekumel Foundation to quickly extract the word processing documents that represent much of Professor Barker’s Tekumel work. Future enhancements may include a converter to interpret the formatting codes and transform the raw text into cleanly-formatted documents.

However, even the capabilities we have now will enable us to (most importantly) get what data we can onto media with a longer shelf life, and (secondarily, but still significantly) fairly easily prepare text files so that Tekumel scholars can have access to some of the pre-publication stages of various Tekumel documents.

Asimov Apple II Archives:

Electronic Tekumel Part One

Editor’s Note: The following guest post is by Adam Thornton, a Tekumel fan from St. Louis with a particularly valuable background and skill set. When I encountered Adam at GaryCon III, I began talking with him about the conundrum of Prof. Barker’s electronic data. Adam expressed interest in helping us out, and in mid-July he was able to visit the Twin Cities. The following is his analysis of the situation – Victor Raymond PhD

When Professor Barker died, he left what a kindly chronicler might call a “robust collection of personal effects,” and what a less biased observer might call “a jumble” or perhaps “an unholy mess”.

The members of the Tekumel Foundation have done yeoman’s work in terms of sorting out the Tekumel from the probably-not-Tekumel stuff. Among the as-yet-uncategorized items, however, are multiple boxes full of floppy disks. Most of these have some sort of written label on them. Other than that their contents are a complete mystery to the Tekumel Foundation.

Victor Raymond had mentioned the existence of this trove to me back in 2012, and I had made loose plans to assist the Foundation with data recovery. This past Saturday (July 20, 2013), I was able to spend a few hours at the Foundation attempting two things: first, to put together a setup that would allow data to be extracted from the disk archives, and second, to teach Bob Alberti how to do that extraction, since he’s going to be present far more frequently than I am.

The diskettes appear to span the late 1970s to the late 1990s; in general, the 5-1/4″ diskettes are Apple ][ diskettes (all the ones I have so far found are DOS 3.3 rather than ProDOS), and the 3-1/2″ diskettes are Macintosh (so far I’ve found 800K HFS floppies rather than 400K MFS). I only examined a small fraction of the disks. The earliest I found was a (sadly not readable) 13-sector Apple DOS 3.2.1 master disk, which I’ve never seen in the wild before–it’s dated 1979.

There are also at least a few Zip disks. I don’t think I have a Zip drive; if any readers out there have one that’s been gathering dust for a couple decades, we sure could use it. Please get in touch with Victor or Bob if you have one the Foundation could borrow.

It obviously is going to be a fairly major undertaking to rescue the data from these disks. Time is not our friend here–floppies do not age particularly well, and it is evident that the box in which the 5-1/4″ diskettes were kept was water-damaged at some point. Fortunately, the diskettes themselves were in plastic cases inside that box and appear largely undamaged.

There are therefore two categories of disks we can do something about. The 3-1/2″ disks are actually pretty easy–I have lent the Foundation a a PowerMac 6150, which has the following lovely characteristics:
1) New enough to have a functional (although super-painfully-slow) Ethernet interface and TCP/IP stack (running Mac OS 8.6.1)
2) Old enough to have a floppy drive compatible all the way back to 400K MFS or ProDOS 8/16 3.5″ disks, but new enough to have a HD floppy drive (and the appropriate extension) so it can read 1.4 MB DOS disks as well.
3) Has one of those 9-pin-DIN to RJ-11 adapters to run Appletalk over phone wire if that should be useful.

It turns out that modern Macs aren’t actually happy with Appletalk-over-TCP/IP to that vintage OS, but MacSSH has a built-in (cleartext) FTP server, so (although we may have to reset file types, if we care) it’s actually quite easy to get files off the floppy disks and over the wire to a more modern machine.

That leaves the Apple ][ diskettes. In the next post, I’ll talk about the tools and techniques we will use to recover data from those diskettes, which are generally from 34 to 25 years old.

Asimov Apple II Archives:

Editor’s note: Part Two of “Electronic Tekumel” will appear in one week.

Upcoming Games

One of the activities that Prof. Barker often encouraged people to do was to actually play games set in Tekumel.  To that end, we’d like to point out upcoming games that people have announced.  If you have the chance, go check them out:

Chirine Ba Kal is running an event in St. Paul, Minnesota happening TODAY.  From the emails about it: “the folks at the Fantasy Flight Games Event Center have very nobly stepped up to the plate, and so our annual David L. Arneson Memorial Maritime Miniatures Mayhem Event in combination with the M. A. R. Barker Memorial Invitational Pro-Am Miniatures Event will occur on Saturday, June 8th, at noon at the Event Center.

Later in the year, Tim Harper intends to run the following: “I am going to run my 2nd Empire of the Petal Throne 1-shot this year in November.  The blurb for it follows after.  The artifact in question is one that was attained at great cost during last year’s 1-shot.  It can summon the Legion of Despairing Dead (see Lord Srukarum from the Book of Ebon Bindings) for roughly one year’s time.  The Temple of Sarku has this artifact.  How would you run it?  What would you do with it?”  (probably at UCon)

Victor Raymond is running a regular Empire of the Petal Throne campaign at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin on Tuesday nights:  “Mighty Jakalla!  Adventurers fresh from the Southern Continent seeking their fortunes in the City Half as Old as the World. Delve into ancient tombs in the Underworld, or seek adventure elsewhere in the Five Empires. Set in the world of Tekumel, using the original 1975 TSR game with house rules.”

What Tekumel games are YOU running or playing in?  Inquiring minds want to know!

FAQ: Writing Adventures

The following is an excerpt from the Policies FAQ on the website:

Q: I want to write adventures that take place on Tékumel for my blog or create other Tékumel-related items to share for free. Can I?

A: Fans of the World of Tékumel have drawn on and added to the rich setting in various media over the years. The Foundation has no desire to interrupt the free flow of ideas and non-commercial additions to the World of Tékumel; however, it cannot allow others to benefit financially from Professor Barker’s years of work without compensating his heirs.
The Foundation has a liberal use policy for fan-created works not intended for sale, and for which you are not seeking approval as “authorized” Tékumel material (“Fan Publications”). Specifically, all materials written by Dr. Barker (“Official Tékumel” materials) may be drawn upon for the purpose of creating derivative works (e.g., new adventures, new characters, etc.) in the form of Fan Publications, subject to the following conditions:

  • You will not seek direct payment or remuneration in any form for the publication, distribution, or other development of the work. This means that you cannot charge for access to a website containing Tékumel-based materials you have written; however, you may display advertising on a website containing Tékumel-based materials you have written. If you have any questions about whether your website’s money-makers are permissible, please feel free to contact the Foundation at
  • If an opportunity to receive any form of payment or remuneration is presented to you, you will contact the Foundation through the usual channels for inquiries (see below) to receive the appropriate permissions. You understand that if the Foundation does not grant these permissions, you may not receive the offered compensation.
  • You must place in a prominent location (for example, at the beginning , at the foot of each relevant page, or in the credits) the following statement:
    • “This work is a Fan Publication, an unofficial work not approved for Tékumel. Tékumel, the Empire of the Petal Throne, and all related products and materials are protected by national and international intellectual property law. For additional information, please visit”
  • You will not challenge the ownership of any intellectual property relating to the World of Tékumel based on copyright, trademark, or any other theory of ownership or law.
  • You acknowledge and agree that the materials contained in your Fan Publication may be identical with or similar to materials that the Tékumel Foundation or its licensees or other parties have independently developed; that you shall not be entitled to any compensation by reason of the use by the Tékumel Foundation or its licensees of such identical or similar material; and that the ideas, concepts, know-how, or techniques contained in any Fan Publication may be freely used by the Foundation, its licensees or any third party for any purpose whatsoever.
  • The Tékumel Foundation would like to preserve copies of all works relating to the World of Tékumel, including any Fan Publications. You may choose to provide a copy of your work for the records of the Tékumel Foundation, to be held as part of the Tékumel archive. In addition, by using the rights granted in these Policies, you agree that you will provide such a copy if requested by the Foundation. You may submit your copy electronically in PDF format by emailing it to , or you may mail a copy to The Tékumel Foundation, Box 23, 2500 University Avenue West, St. Paul, MN, USA 55114.
  • You acknowledge and agree that the permission granted in these Policies may be revoked at any time with thirty (30) days’ notice to you. If your permission is revoked, you will remove the Fan Publication from any publicly available location within thirty (30) days of receiving notice to do so.

FAQ: Making Copies

The following is an excerpt from the Policies FAQ on the website:

Q: I want to make copies from a Tékumel book for a game I am running. Can I?

A: Those copies would be considered copies made for personal use.
The Foundation has a liberal fair use policy for personal use of Tékumel materials. Fans are free to make copies of up to a few pages at a time to support playing games within the World of Tékumel, including scanning copies to a computer, creating spreadsheets which automate processes within the game, or making copies of pages as handouts for players. These personal, non-public uses are all permissible. However, you may not create and/or distribute copies in such a way that it hurts the market for Tékumel books or products, for example by posting a copy of one or more pages from a book on a website.

Favorite Artists?

Who are your favorite artists, when it comes to science fiction and fantasy?  We’d like to know, because the Tékumel Foundation is planning on publishing more material from Professor Barker’s archives, and we’d like to find artists who would be right for the job.  By “right for the job” what we mean is…

  • …artists who are genuinely talented, and 
  • …can paint dynamic, interesting material
  • …and who understand the world of Tékumel

If you know artists who fit the above criteria, then the Tékumel Foundation wants to hear from you.  Send us their names and contact information and we will follow up.

New cover art for The Man of Gold?

Man of Gold

The Tékumel Foundation is planning on re-releasing The Man of Gold later this year, and we’re interested in your ideas for cover art. Michael Whelan’s original cover for The Man of Gold, Professor Barker’s novel published originally by DAW Books, is a gorgeous work of art that unfortunately has very little to do with the actual story.

We think a new cover for the new edition ought to have something to do with the story and the world of Tékumel. What do YOU think? Tell us your ideas for the new cover art for The Man of Gold.  We will carefully consider all of the suggestions in choosing what will appear on the cover of the new release.

Let us know what you think would make the best cover!

Five Questions with Brett Slocum

Brett Slocum

Brett Slocum

One of the most consistent supporters of Tékumel, Brett Slocum has been at this a long time.  We had the chance to talk with him about his deep and abiding interest in the world of Empire of the Petal Throne:

How did you get involved in Tékumel?

In 1976, I found EPT on the shelf of The Little Tin Soldier Shoppe in Minneapolis, the only game store in town. I’d never seen anything like it, with color maps, and crazy aliens, and temples that made your hair stand on end. I paid my $30, an absurd amount at the time, and took it home. Sometime later, I was in The Shop (as we called the place) when Craig Smith and Tim Cox started their weekly campaign. They were in Professor Barker’s basement campaign. We played for nearly two years, and I was ruined for most any other fantasy game after that. We started as fresh-off-the-boat foreigners based in Penóm, and the first night one of us died on the impaling stake for talking to a citizen and mangling the speech. Later, we had a long ship voyage, with attacks by pirates, Hlüss, and the Livyáni. We found a military R&R post on a tropical island, staffed by friendly Ru’ún and Yéleth. We left with some high-tech weapons, laser pistols and such. We had a grand time.

What memories do you have of gaming in Tékumel when you were younger?

I remember dying countless times. I remember praying desperately for divine intervention. I remember Phil’s cigar and his chortle of delight when something truly awful was going to happen to us. I also remember a parody underworld that one of my buddies created. It involved a previously unknown deity named Tsiknus. We had an Eye of Raging Juice, which shot a slightly acidic orange liquid. If you got it in your eyes, they would sting real bad. It turned out that we were reading the names all backward, since Tsolyáni is read right to left. Sunkist! (Thanks for the fun, Mark!)

You started your Tékumel page in 1991, even before the web existed. What led you to put together this resource?

During the 1980s, the various fanzines helped keep the Tékumel community together, with letters and new content. In the 1990s, I was feeling the loss, so in May 1991, I started the Tékumel Digest, a moderated mailing list. It was my way of maintaining the community of Tékumel enthusiasts. It only lasted into 1993, but I put out over 50 digests. From the start, I put the archives up on Gopher, an information locating software and protocol that another Tékumel personage, Bob Alberti, co-wrote. In December of 1993 I downloaded the Mosaic browser, I experimented with HTML, and in January of 1994, I put up my Digest archives on a web page. It was among the first 200,000 pages on the Web.

You’ve put together different rules sets for Tékumel, using The Fantasy Trip and GURPS. Would you share some of your insights about writing those conversions?

My biggest insight from these conversions is that it truly doesn’t matter what set of rules you play with, or that you’ve read all the novels, and memorized the Sourcebook. What really matters is that you sit down and play and have fun. As Phil would say, “Make it your own.”

What sorts of gaming are you doing with Tékumel now?

Last fall, I playtested my TFT Tékumel rules at a friend’s birthday, which is becoming a yearly tradition. I’m running a short EPT adventure with my local game group every other Tuesday. I also run GURPS Tékumel adventures at conventions, including Con of the North in St. Paul, MN and the Tékumel Track at U-Con in Ann Arbor, MI. In my spare time, I’m writing more conversions for Tékumel, using both old and new systems. GURPS, Heroes and Other Worlds, and finishing my TFT rules.

FAQ: Is there an “official” Tekumel roleplaying game?

Is there an “official” Tekumel roleplaying game?

Over the past forty years, fans of Tékumel have played roleplaying games written by Prof. Barker and devised their own.  When last we checked, there were over a dozen Tékumel roleplaying games either written or in development, including everything from original Empire of the Petal Throne to Savage Worlds Tékumel.  Professor Barker himself wrote Empire of the Petal Throne and Swords & Glory, and co-wrote Gardasiyal and Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne.  All of these games represent different approaches to gaming Tékumel, and are distinct from the background setting.  Prof. Barker said as much in The Dragon #9:

As I have said elsewhere, we must at once distinguish between “real” Tékumel — the fantasy world — and “game” Tékumel — the abstracted, simplified, and somewhat altered version which results from playing Empire of the Petal Throne. There are many differences — things which become overemphasized in the game, things which were peripheral and unimportant to the game while being of value to the people of Tékumel, etc., etc.

The best way to think about this is as follows: Tékumel is a created world, not unlike Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, with languages, stories, myths and legends.  It is best understood as a setting for games, rather than any one single game.

But how do I resolve differences between different rules sets?

That task is best resolved by you for use in your own game.  The Foundation takes the position that the source material written by Prof. Barker is not tied to any one game.  Thus, the rules that appear in Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne published in 2005 are not necessarily “better” or “more accurate” than those found in original Empire of the Petal Throne published thirty years prior.  They are simply different expressions of the world in game terms.  Again, Prof. Barker said it best in The Dragon #4:

For example, two referees might grant the same fief to different players; one referee might initiate an Empire-wide rebellion; another might begin the Yan Koryani invasion; and still another might just allow the dreaded Black Ssu to run every human off the planet!…Be all this as may be, the problems of running a centralized campaign information centre are severe, and the easiest solution would be to declare all campaigns as equally valid “parallel universes.” It would then be interesting to publish reports on developments in several of these campaigns. It would be fascinating to compare various referees’ and players’ handling of the problems and issues described in the first sections of the Empire of the Petal Throne rulebook. This game really belongs to the referees and the players; it can be played at levels ranging from simple adventuring all the way up to involved socio-economic-military intrigues.

Therefore, you should do what you want in your own game – make use of the material you like, and do not worry about whether or not you are “doing it right.”

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