The Tékumel Foundation

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

News from Sokátis – Part Two

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[The Foundation has invited James Maliszewski to describe his on-going Empire of the Petal Throne campaign, set in the city of Sokátis.  This is the second part of a two-part entry.]

Over the course of months of weekly sessions, the player characters ventured beyond Sokátis, following in the footsteps of a revered clan elder who had been something of a ne’er-do-well in his youth. Their travels took them to Rü on the Salarvyáni border (and beneath it), where they became entangled in local politics, and to the Salarvyáni city of Khúm, where they tangled with a group of Yán Koryáni exiles seemingly in the employ of a Thirreqúmmu prince. More recently, an ill-timed use of an untested Eye of Departing in Safety obtained earlier in the campaign has transported the characters somewhere cold and even farther from home than Salarvyá. Such are the hazards of adventure!

What I have found most delightful to watch is the way in which the players, including those with little previous experience of Tékumel, have quickly become acclimated to the setting. In one notable example, the characters had been invited to dinner with a former high priestess of Avánthe in Rü. The players spent some time thinking about how their characters would dress for the occasions. What impressed me about this was the players considered this topic worthy of discussion at all. This was proof to me that, for all of Tékumel’s oft-mentioned complexity, newcomers could indeed get into the spirit of the setting.

I think it worth noting that, as the referee, I have not found my duties unduly onerous – certainly no moreso than when I refereed other roleplaying game campaigns. Now, it is true that, after more than two decades as a Tékumel fan, I am no neophyte. At the same time, it is worth noting that, for several months, the characters were based in Salarvyá, about which Professor Barker wrote very little. For that reason, I often had to come up with answers to some of the questions that arose through play, e.g. What are the Salarvyáni names of Pavár’s gods?

Rather than fret about how little I knew about Salarvyá, I decided early in the campaign to answer questions only as they arose. My initial mantra of “start small” evolved into “think small,” which is to say, “think only about matters at hand.” There was no need to know everything about Salarvyá in advance. Instead, I drew on what I already knew to come up with answers to questions that emerged through play. I felt no pressure, no stress, to “do it right.” Moreover, it is my firm belief that, so long as the players and referee are enjoying themselves in Tékumel, they are doing “right.”

My campaign will soon reach seven months of weekly sessions, which is admittedly not long in the annals of Tékumel campaigns. Nevertheless, I am greatly satisfied to have found six players who have not only turned up week after week to play at my virtual table but who have entered into the world of Tékumel and found it very much their liking.

[What’s going on in your Tékumel campaign?  Share your stories with the Foundation – we’re always interested in finding out what people have discovered playing in the world of the Empire of the Petal Throne.]

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News from Sokátis

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[The Foundation has invited James Maliszewski to describe his on-going Empire of the Petal Throne campaign, set in the city of Sokátis.  This is the first part of a two-part entry.]

By the time I started roleplaying in late 1979, M.A.R. Barker’s world of Tékumel was already legendary. I regularly heard tales of its “depth” and, more often than not, its “complexity” from the older and more experienced gamers I ran into at the hobby shops and games gatherings of suburban Baltimore.

Consequently, it would take me more than a decade to investigate Tékumel for myself, which I did by subscribing to the Blue Room mailing list and by purchasing the then-new Gardásiyal rules. I also began an email correspondence with Professor Barker – or “Phil,” as he insisted I call him. That correspondence, while irregular, instilled in me an abiding affection for Tékumel that is a driving force behind my launching my fanzine, The Excellent Travelling Volume.

My love of Tékumel is not academic. Though I enjoy lengthy conversations about Tékumel’s mysteries as much as the next fan, I also feel very strongly that Professor Barker’s world is best enjoyed through the medium of roleplaying. This is why I have refereed several different Tékumel campaigns since the 1990s, the most recent of which began in March of this year. This campaign uses the Empire of the Petal Throne rules, as have the last couple of campaigns I have run. I have come to appreciate the elegant simplicity of the original 1975 rules and have found them especially accessible to newcomers to Tékumel, of whom I often have several in any campaign I referee, including my current one.

This campaign is nominally based in the city of Sokátis, with all the characters being members of the local House of Worms clan. As its name suggests, the clan is devoted to Sárku and his Cohort Durritlámish. In terms of their direct experience with Tékumel (or Empire of the Petal Throne), the players are a mixed group. Some of them were complete neophytes, some knew something of Tékumel, and some were old hands, with a sophisticated understanding of the setting. Because I chose to run this campaign via the Hangouts feature of Google Plus, the players were as diverse geographically as they were in experience. I have players located across North America, as well as in the United Kingdom and continental Europe.

Because of their differences in experience with Tékumel, I decided early on that I would “start small” with the campaign. Initially, the player characters acted as agents of their clanmaster, undertaking errands and investigations on his behalf within Sokátis. This allowed me to introduce the neophytes to foundational elements of Tsolyáni society – the clans and the temples, for example – in a straightforward, easy to understand way. They learned by doing and, after only a few sessions, were familiar enough with the workings of their clan, temples, and city that they were ready for more.

[Part Two will appear next week.]

 

First Fantasy Campaign

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From time to time, the Tekumel Foundation blog will feature various items in the Tekumel archives.  In this case, Prof. Barker’s copy of The First Fantasy Campaign, written by Dave Arneson and published in 1977 by Judges Guild.  Dave was a close friend of Prof. Barker; they initially knew one another through the different game clubs in the Twin Cities in the mid-70’s, as board wargamers and miniatures players.  They became closer friends due to a variety of circumstances, including ongoing legal disputes with TSR which provided a common cause bringing them together.  Dave’s (in)famous character, Captain Harchar, was a larger-than-life character in the world of Tekumel.  One of the things that Dave liked to do was to make sure that Prof. Barker and players in the various Tekumel gaming groups had copies of different game products Dave had written.  The First Fantasy Campaign was not a polished campaign setting, as some commentators have noted, but it did provide an overview of Dave’s Blackmoor campaign – the setting for what became Original Dungeons & Dragons.  What makes this interesting for Tekumel fans is that both Blackmoor and Greyhawk were essentially backdrops for adventuring, leading Prof. Barker to wonder what a game would be like if it had a more complete and believable culture and society – what lead eventually to Empire of the Petal Throne.

 

Upcoming conventions and website update

Gamehole Con in Madison, Wisconsin was this past weekend, and Madison Traditional Gaming was one of the groups running games, including an Empire of the Petal Throne game referreed by Victor Raymond.  There are also some excellent after-action reports from other events, including a naval scenario at Fall In! run by Howard Fielding.  All of which is a decent reminder that there are more Tekumel events coming up in the near future:

  • U-Con is in less than two weeks in Ypsilanti, Michigan.  The Tekumel Track at U-Con has a long and glorious history – think about going!
  • Con of the North will be happening after the turn of the year in the Twin Cities – many Tekumel events are being planned!

In other news, The Tekumel Foundation website is offline while transitioning to a new host designed to provide better responsiveness and email service.  We want to make sure this is done right, so look for an update later this week about it.

Flamesong proofreading is complete

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The proofing stage of preparing the Tekumel Foundation’s edition of Prof. M.A.R. Barker’s second novel Flamesong is now complete.  Stephen Hearn has been responsible for the proofing projects for The Man of Gold and Flamesong with proofing partners Theresa Alberti, Kathryn Hearn, and Robert Dushay.  Proofing the first two novels has required two people, one working from Prof. Barker’s marked up computer printout manuscript and the other from the Foundation’s working electronic copy in PDF, both watching for discrepancies between the two documents.

Prof. Barker’s manuscripts are impressively error free.  Much of the correction consists of catching double periods, foreshortened dashes, missed italics and other anomalies in the PDF working copy.  Between the two novels Barker switched from British to American spellings (he had moved from Montreal to Minneapolis in the interim).  The proofing has occasionally corrected a word which missed this transition.

The goal is to produce a clean edition of the book with no anomalies in the text to disrupt the flow of Prof. Barker’s words and imagination.  One side benefit for the proofers has been the chance to read aloud and share these stylish and inventive narratives and immerse themselves again in the world of Tekumel.

The Tekumel Sourcebook is now available!

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The Tekumel Sourcebook, Swords & Glory Vol. 1, is now available in PDF, hardcover and softcover printings from DriveThruRPG.com!  This edition is a reprint of the original Gamescience edition, with the following changes and additions:

  • The original full-color box cover art has been reproduced on the cover, instead of the blue single-color cover
  • Notes about the Gamescience and later editions have been added on the frontispiece page
  • A new index and glossary have been added
  • The original back cover art has been reproduced on the new back cover (see below)

The Foundation will be releasing the maps from the Swords & Glory, Vol. 1 boxed set in the near future, to go along with the re-release of The Tekumel Sourcebook.  The original maps from Empire of the Petal Throne may be used in conjunction with The Tekumel Sourcebook.  You may purchase the print version of the Sourcebook along with the PDF as a DriveThruRPG bundle (nb: you may need to log in to view the Sourcebook).

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The Man of Gold

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The Man of Gold is available and can be purchased through Amazon.com or CreateSpace.com!  The Tekumel Foundation is pleased to have the first published novel by Prof. Barker back in print.  You can also purchase the eBook for Kindle, Nook, or Kobo.  We’ve learned a lot from this project, and that will help in publishing Prof. Barker’s second novel, Flamesong, in the near future.  If you have never had a chance to read about the world of Tekumel in novel form, The Man of Gold provides wonderful insights into the culture and society of the Empire of the Petal Throne.

In addition to The Man of Gold, the Foundation is getting ready to announce the availability of The Tekumel Sourcebook, a reprint of the original Gamescience edition, with a new index and glossary!

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Proof of Progress

MoG-PODThe proof copy of The Man of Gold arrived in the mail this past weekend, and it looks very good!  Of course, we’re combing through it, making sure that we catch as many errors as possible – some always sneak through the editorial and publication process.  Many Tekumel fans will be pleased to know that the diacritical marks have been restored in this edition, so the transliterated Tsolyani can be read properly.  It will be released through CreateSpace, which does a lot of print-on-demand books and also offers bookstore distribution services.  The price for the 6″ by 9″ trade paperback will be $18.95 – we should be releasing it within the next two weeks.

We’re still waiting on the proof copies of The Tekumel Sourcebook.  This may allow for enough time to see if we can get the maps from Swords & Glory made available about the same time.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Progress is made in small steps

The re-issue of the Tekumel Sourcebook is just about ready to go for proof production.  The index will be in a two-column format, rather than three column, for readability.  Additionally, the sections of the Sourcebook will be bookmarked, so readers of the PDF copy will be able to go right to the section they are interested in.  Once the proof copy is reviewed and approved, it will be released through DriveThruRPG.com as a PDF ebook, as a POD (print-on-demand) physical book, and together as a bundle. Assuming the proof of production is approved quickly, the Sourcebook should be available by Memorial Day.

With the re-release of Ral Partha miniatures, and the availability of 28mm miniatures from the Tekumel Project, there is growing interest in building miniature collections for Tekumel.  We are working on a re-release of the army lists for the Five Empires as well as the military-related articles which appeared after the publication of Empire of the Petal Throne.

Sales of The Man of Gold have been highly satisfactory – we’re working on making The Man of Gold available through the iTunes store as well as for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo.  Choice of the Petal Throne has also been doing very well – there is a very positive review of the game by James Maliszewski on the Black Gate website.  Many people over the years have asked for an introduction to the complexities of Tekumel; the Foundation hopes these two releases are a step in that direction.

Because of all of the production work required this spring and early summer, we won’t be able to attend North Texas RPG Convention.  However, Jeff Dee will be there – it will be a great opportunity to play Bethorm with its creator, as well as getting some of the other marvelous products for Tekumel UNIgames has available.  North Texas RPG Convention will be June 4th-7th, in Fort Worth, Texas.

Now make it YOUR Tekumel

The following excerpt is from The Tékumel Sourcebook; Prof. Barker presents some advice about how to approach playing Tékumel:

“There is no need for ‘your’ Tékumel to be identical with ‘my’ Tékumel. Introduce other characters, different animals, further races — after all, my terrain maps show only a portion of the planet’s northern hemisphere, and there is lots of room around the other side! Change the social structures, throw out or ignore features which do not appeal to you. Use your own imagination to bring in features which you and your players will enjoy. The game can function as a springboard into your own fantasy mythos, and if you go on to develop this, we shall all be the richer. If you have a campaign which uses some other set of rules, you may still wish to utilize these background materials either directly or as a stimulus to enhance your World. Even were we to issue a monthly newsletter or exchange data by telephone, there is no real way to prevent your history from diverging from mine. I can indeed provide further material — and some are already available from the publisher of this book — but we cannot keep your Tékumel from drifting away from mine. This is as it should be. You have just bought MY Tékumel. Now make it YOUR Tékumel.”

This advice is, if anything, more true today than in the past.  What Prof. Barker wanted was for people to go out and play in his world, and then share the results with one another and with him.  Trying to “get it right” is just falling down a rabbit-hole of needless worry.  It’s understandable that players and game-masters would want to capture the essence of Tékumel, but that should include testing out your own Tékumel inventions and imaginings in actual gameplay.

From time to time, the Foundation blog will present various excerpts and notes from Prof. Barker which should be of value to Tékumel fans.  This is the first in that series; we hope to provide some insights into what he thought was worthy of consideration as you explore Tékumel, the world of the Empire of the Petal Throne.

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