[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.]