Welcome to the The Hall of Blue Illumination, the podcast dedicated to the world of M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel. In this episode our hosts continue their discussion of the Book of Ebon Bindings, with a special focus on the nature of the Demon Planes themselves, and their place in Tékumel’s cosmology. See episodes 19, 20 and 21 for the denizens’ previous discussions of this dangerous tome. The Hláka are featured in our “Nonhumans of Tékumel” segment, and we close out the episode with a spotlight on the nation of Yán Kór.
[00:00:56] Continuing to discuss material from the Book of Ebon Bindings, Scott introduces the main topic: the Demon Planes.
[00:01:01] The people of Tékumel are fully aware that beings greater than themselves exist, and understand that humans are relatively low in the hierarchy when these entities are taken into account.
[00:01:36] The Tèkumeláni are comfortable with their place in the world, because that gives them meaning.
[00:02:10] We see this in the novels, where characters seem resigned to the occurrence of events that are beyond their power to cope with. To quote no one less than Pavár, “What matters it to the Drí whether he is stepped upon by a man or by a dog?” (BoEB, p. 5).
[00:03:00] The Tèkumeláni outlook is not that modern humanity is the culmination of a long process of progress. It seems to Victor that the Tèkumeláni don’t have the sense that society should strive to advance.
[00:05:40] James agrees. This viewpoint is alien to a modern American, but peoples in the real world have held similar views throughout history.
[00:06:50] The things that inhabit the Demon Planes are very alien.
[00:07:15] “None can know those places wherein the Demons dwell…” (BoEB, p. 18). It’s clear that Prof. Barker was inspired by works like those of Clark Aston Smith or H.P. Lovecraft.
[00:09:08] Victor reads a couple of paragraphs discussing the nature of the Demon Planes. (From p. 18).
[00:11:20] This is a wonderful look into the myriad worlds of the planes. There’s an exploratory quality to it all.
[00:12:02] James believes that this is an aspect of the setting that’s not really appreciated. What’s transpiring in the larger cosmos is an important part of Tékumel.
[00:13:40] The Planes were part of what Prof. Barker called “Graduate Level Tékumel.” He wanted players to get interested in these greater mysteries and take them up. Victor knows of this happening twice among the Professor’s own players. One was with the Tuesday Night group around the wizard Eylóa, played by Michael Callahan. He figured out how to return Tékumel to the normal universe. The Thursday Night Group had quite the surprise when they arrived one night to have Prof. Barker say that Tékumel was finished. Of course, he wasn’t done with it, and nor were the players.
[00:16:21] The second time was when the Thursday Night Group (Victor among them) reached the End of Time and met Pavár.
[00:17:11] Scott notes that the latter novels feel much more like explorations of these things than material written for the reading public.
[00:17:29] The matters discussed in the latter novels are things that Prof. Barker though were important, and he was affronted when he was told that it wouldn’t sell to a modern audience.
[00:18:28] Scott mentions the Demonology spell from Swords & Glory (S&G Vol. 2, p. 176). Each of the deities has their own (minor) servitors accessible this way.
[00:21:09] James mentions that in the myth of the Battle of Dórmoron Plane, the gods summon humanity to fight by their side. There’s an implication that humans and demons might not be all that different.
[00:22:30] In the introduction the BoEB, Tsémel Qurén notes that the gods are not omnipotent, and might in fact need humans in some way. (HoEB, p. 5). Prof. Barker always made the point that the gods weren’t gods in the true sense, but were very powerful beings.
[00:23:47] Each of the Demon Planes exists in a separate béthorm (Ts. “pocket dimension), just as Tékumel is a world that exists within a béthorm.
[00:24:10] While features of the Demon Planes can be beyond human understanding, some aspects of them are knowable. There’s also a sense of hierarchy among the demons.
[00:25:20] The Demon Planes are numbered in the BoEB, “so you know who to ask for when you get there.” (p. 19) Some of the names are curiously close to other entities attested on Tékumel. For instance, several of the names on this list are similar to those of the Livyáni Shadow Deities.
[00:28:56] On some level, James has always felt that the term “demon” was unfortunate, because of its mythological and religious connections to our world. They’re much more like alien races, or different kinds of beings.
[00:30:04] One of the interesting things about the list is that some of the aspects of the planes are unknown. On the next page, theories and speculation about these planes are discussed.
[00:32:51] There are dedicated Tékumel fans, like David Lemire, who have spent time discussing what we know about the Demon Planes. David has done challenging analysis of what we really know about all of this.
[00:33:40] Nonhumans of Tékumel: Hláka, the three-eyed flying beasts and throwers of javelins.
[00:33:55] We actually don’t know that much about them. They serve in the armies of the Five Empires, and they have their own land to the east of Tsolyánu.
[00:34:30] James hasn’t really used the Hláka in his campaign yet. They’ve been on the periphery.
[00:35:30] There are hints in EPT and S&G that the Hláka are one of the few intelligent races to whom the Ssú are not hostile. James notes that he thinks it’s noted somewhere that the Hláka serve as intermediaries in the zu’úr trade. (GPD: Victor suggests that this may be in Dragon #4, but try as I may, this humble scribe cannot find it there!)
[00:37:03] The Hláka do not mesh well with the humans of the Five Empires. They’re deathly afraid to go underground (even though, as Victor notes, it’s possible to encounter them underground on the encounter tables).
[00:37:50] Being an aerial species, they have a very different outlook on how to live. There are also some indications that early Hláka communities had arrangements of stones that said something about how they perceive magic.
[00:38:55] Where are they from originally? Like most beings on Tékumel (besides the Ssú and the Hlýss), they came from another world before the Time of Darkness.
[00:40:17] Humans of the Five Empires perceive that the Hláka can have fickle loyalties, even when belonging to a Tèkumeláni army. This actually has a lot more to do with the fact that the Hláka don’t really understand human social contracts.
[00:41:40] The relationship between the Hláka and the Shánu’u. It’s mentioned that the Hláka can exert some degree of control over the Shánu’u. (GPD: Either the Gerednyá or the Lrí (EPT, p. 46) is probably the creature that Victor is trying to think of at 00:43:03).
[00:43:50] It’s very clear that you have different biomes in different places, which are caused by the history of Tékumel. For instance, the extreme heat at the planet’s equator caused by the breakdown of the ancient terraforming and gravity engines.
[00:45:08] The Hláka are an opportunity for referees to think in a very alien way. The Hláka see themselves in three dimensions at all times. Their fickleness might be characterized as a more immediate awareness of their surroundings.
[00:46:38] Nations of Tékumel: Yán Kór, the youngest of the Five Empires.
[00:47:25] One of the things that James tried to play up in his campaign is that Yán Kór has a lot of distinct cultural aspects. It’s a nation composed of various regions and city-states all welded together by Baron Áld. This is very unlike Salarvyá, with its long history of noble aristocracy.
[00:48:42] Yán Kór is also matrilineal, which is unusual among the Five Empires.
[00:48:50] Victor thinks it’s important to remember that at one point, Yán Kór was actually a series of islands and coastlines. There was a major upheaval at the end of the Engsvanyáli period which led to the creation of the land of Yán Kór. Before this event, the islands boasted isolated cities.
[00:50:20] Each one of the modern city-states has a strong, distinct cultural identity, but what they have in common is that they’ve long been the frontier of Tsolyánu. They’re sandwiched between Tsolyánu and Milumanayá to the south, and the lands of the Lorún to the north and east, and the oceans of the north. The legacy of the Engsvanyáli is much “thinner” here, and it’s a credit to Baron Áld that he’s been able to unite them and hold them together.
[00:51:45] So what’s the root culture if Engsvanyáli is not? They use a different script from the other languages, and it’s the least linguistically connected to the prior languages.
[00:52:10] This is one of the reasons why the Declaration of War by Yán Kór on Tsolyánu is done in a Yán Kòryáni styling of Tsolyánu script.
[00:53:27] There is one part of Yán Kór that we know more about, and that’s the island of Vrídu, one of the refuges of the Vriddu clan of Fasíltum after they fled north. Lady Déq Dimáni makes it clear that Vrídu is it’s own place.
[00:55:11] To the east is also Chayákku, where the Engsvanyáli legacy is even more limited.
[00:55:37] James brought up the worship of the gods. Prof. Barker wrote an article about the gods of Yán Kór from the perspective of a Mu’ugalavyáni traveler. James finds it fascinating because it shows how the gods of the Tsolyánu are interpreted by other peoples, and that matters aren’t as simple as the Tsolyáni would have you believe.
[00:57:50] Yán Kór has a lot of exceptions. They have no real history before Baron Áld, and have several neighbors who are very weak. It’s actually very hard to get to Yán Kór from Tsolyánu.
[00:59:51] It would be interesting to run a campaign in Yán Kór, but it would require a very different approach from one run in Tsolyánu.
Hosts: Scott Kellogg, James Maliszewski, and Victor J. Raymond.
Tékumel Products Referenced:
The Book of Ebon Bindings is fantastic, but currently out-of-print. The 1978 (or was it 1979?) edition was published by Imperium Publishing. Theatre of the Mind Enterprises re-printed it in 1991.
Empire of the Petal Throne is the original Tékumel sourcebook and rules set. It was first published by TSR in 1975. It can be purchased as a print-on-demand book, or as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.
Lords of Tsámra, Prince of Skulls, and A Death of Kings are the last three of Prof. Barker’s Tékumel novels. They were originally published by Zottola Publishing between 2002 and 2003. They are currently out-of-print, and can only be obtained at significant cost from third-party resellers. The Tékumel Foundation plans to reissue them in print and electronic versions in the future.
The Dragon #4 is subtitled “Special Empire of the Petal Throne Issue” and cover-dated December 1976. The magazine was originally published by TSR, and titled The Dragon until 1980 with issue #39. The Dragon #4 can be viewed or downloaded free-of-charge here.
The Tékumel Bestiary was originally published in 1992 for the Gardásiyal rules set. It was co-written by Prof. Barker and Victor Raymond. Giovanna Fregni created the artwork.
Flamesong, Professor Barker’s second novel remains out-of-print, but is easily acquired through online used booksellers. The Tékumel Foundation plans to reissue it in print and electronic versions in the near future
The Declaration of War was produced by Prof. Barker. It was sold by TSR as a poster in the mid-1970s.
“The Almighty Gods of Yán Kór” is an article written by Prof. Barker. It discusses the beliefs of the Yán Kòryáni. It can be purchased as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.
Clark Aston Smith and H.P. Lovecraft are two of the greatest writers of “weird” fiction. Along with their contemporary Robert E. Howard, they were the chief contributors to the Mythos, a shared body of fantasy and science fiction lore which has spawned decades of fiction and roleplaying works.
“Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading” was complied by Gary Gygax and published as part of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide. It lists various fictional works and authors that influenced the initial version of Dungeons & Dragons.