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 are joined by special guest Ambereen Barker, the late Professor Barker’s wife. She shares her memories of Phil, his work on Tékumel, and the succession of gamers and gaming groups that passed through their home.
Also, our hosts begin the episode discussing several questions submitted by listener Jason Pasch.
[00:00:50] Questions from Jason Pasch. Jason is a listener who’s put together his first Tékumel game, and would like the hosts to address a few of his questions. Ask and ye shall receive, Jason!
[00:01:15] Question 1: Thoughts and feelings on the Guardians of Order Tékumel game? Victor actually contributed some material to this game, but he’s only played it a few times, and doesn’t feel like he has a lot to say about it. James’s experience is the same. He read portions of the manuscript and play-tested bits, but that’s the extent of his contact. Scott feels that it’s not his style of ruleset, and simply not his cup of tea.
[00:03:50] Question 2: More information on Non-Tsolyáni Gods? There’s some information on them in the sourcebook, but this is limited to name, where they’re worshiped, and Tsolyáni perspectives on them.
[00:04:22] James ran a Mu’ugalavyáni campaign for a while, and he did a little bit with the mysterious Mu’ugalavyáni deity, Hŕsh. The center of his worship is on an island in Lake Mrissútl that you can’t go there, and don’t really know what’s going on. Mysterious or inaccessible worship centers are a recurring feature of Tèkumeláni faiths. Victor lists several similar places in Tsolyánu; The City of Sárku; the Ruined City of Hmákuyàl (Ksárul and Hrü’ü); The Temple of Vimúhla in the Chákas which actually co-exists within another Béthorm; The Sákbe Road going south out of Haumá (or maybe Úrmish).
[00:07:45] Our hosts list several more mysterious faith centers in the other Five Empires, including Tsámra, Dlásh, The City of the Mad Ones of Hlíkku, and the Island of Vrídu.
[00:08:40] Prof. Barker always treated the non-Tsolyáni gods as mysteries, and only defined them when necessary for the narrative.
[00:10:20] Question 3: When, officially, is Tékumel now? Prof. Barker would probably say the official time is whenever you set it. But he also had a long tradition of maintaining a public dating chronology so people could understand what was going on in the world of his campaign. Victor’s group started in 2354 A.S. and continued through the 2370s. There’s not really a good way to continue having an official timeline.
[00:11:47] James’s current campaign started in 2354 A.S. (the same year that EPT was originally set) and is now almost in 2356. Scott has also started his new game in 2354. Victor’s game is now in Pardán, 2355, and they started in 2354. The hosts agree that this lets them use a wealth of detail, but Victor doesn’t necessarily feel bound by it.
[00:14:55] Question 4: Well known magic items of power? In James’s campaign, his players have discovered a lightning bringer (EPT §1500, p. 77, no. 14) and several eyes and books. He feels that magic items have never been a strong focus of his campaigns. He doesn’t use them as McGuffin — but, his old House of Worms campaign did start with the player characters attempting to track down some pages missing from the Book of Ebon Bindings. Victor is excited by this.
[00:17:30] Victor notes that early on in Prof. Barker’s campaign, there was a player interest in aircars and lightning bringers. James has an aircar in his current campaign. Victor also mentions that there were three eyes that appear in the TSR EPT that weren’t in the original mimeograph. These were found in the Jakállan underworld. Among these are the Eye of Transformation (EPT § 1310, p. 73, no. 30; it changes a target’s alignment), which caused Princess Ma’ín’s switch from a worshiper of Avánthe to Dlamélish.
[00:18:50] Magic items had a big effect on the Professor’s campaign. There are a number of items listed in EPT’s miscellaneous magic items (EPT §1500, p. 75) which seem innocuous or limited in scope, but are actually part of something much bigger within Prof. Barker’s campaign. Among these is the Crystal Claw of Kúrutesh (EPT §1500, p. 76, no. 5).
[00:21:40] Question 5: The Role of Aridáni Women in Tsolyáni Society? Victor plays sociologist for a bit. He thinks it’s interesting that Prof. Barker chose to create this role, and while it’s creative, it’s also inspired by similar roles in the traditional cultures that influenced the creation of Tékumel. It is very much a Tèkumeláni cultural aspect, and Aridáni status and its aspects vary across the Engsvanyáli cultures.
[00:27:22] Scott follows up on an earlier comment by Victor that, while you can make a fantasy setting that’s truly egalitarian, sometimes it’s more interesting to have these different cultural aspects, especially since those exist in some fashion in the real world.
[00:28:24] Special Guest, Ambereen Barker, widow of Prof. Barker. What’s her first memory of Tékumel? In the 1970s, Phil went through his old papers, and discovered the world he’d been working on since his childhood. He said it was subsequently influenced by his experiences in India.
[00:31:00] Prof. Barker’s early experiences in wargames. He originally tried to get together a student group at the University of Minnesota, but there wasn’t much interest. He ended up in contact with someone in Wisconsin (Gary Gygax or Bill Hoyt). Michael Moignard also shows up early on.
[00:32:30] Some of the memorable gamers who showed up to game? Ambereen remembers two groups, and Victor recalls several of the early members. Ambereen and Victor recall an incident with a briefcase and Bianca the cat.
[00:35:45] Most of what we have as published material was created in the 1970s and onward. While Prof. Barker conceived of Tékumel earlier, the bulk of what we have today was put down in the 1970s and afterward.
[00:36:00] The influences of travel on Prof. Barker. After they married, the Barkers lived in Pakistan for three years. But Prof. Barker was very busy, teaching during the day and working on his thesis at night. The cultures he encountered must have influenced Tékumel though.
[00:37:09] How did she meet Prof. Barker? They met at a function put on by an Islamic Studies organization when he was a teaching assistant at McGill. This would have been 1958, and they were married in 1959.
[00:38:03] Prof. Barker was only at McGill for a year. The couple returned from Pakistan in 1962, and moved to the University of Minnesota in 1971 or 1972. They left Montreal during Quebec’s aborted attempt at secession from Canada.
[00:40:25] We know that Prof. Barker’s leisure activities included D&D, wargames, and reading science fiction. Ambereen notes that he was extremely interest in astrology around the time they moved to Minnesota. He actually got a degree in astrology via a correspondence course. Victor notes that he would cast the horoscopes of players (not the player characters) in his group.
[00:42:35] Work on Tsolyáni astrology? Jeff Berry did some work on it, but interestingly enough, Tékumel’s Béthorm has no interstellar stars, so it’s all planetary.
[00:43:43] While Prof. Barker was in Lahore, he was praised for his ability to speak Urdu as a non-native speaker. He had a facility with languages.
[00:44:44] Ambereen notes that he loved Indian culture. They went to all the temples in south India. These are humongous, and overwhelming. Prof. barker also loved Egyptology, and Victor notes that he had five different language translations of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
[00:46:45] What Prof. Barker open about his love of science fiction? It was one of his hobbies. He loved Star Wars when it came out, only two years after the release of EPT.
[00:47:50] Recollections of the gaming nights? There were several female players, who were often girlfriends of the male players, and came and went. Giovanna was the only one Ambereen remembers as being interested in Tékumel independently.
[00:52:35] Sometimes gamers came and went, sometimes they became closer friends of the Barkers. Victor reminisces about the Professor’s dogs.
[00:53:40] James asks about Prof. Barker’s “artifacts.” Prof. Barker had a lot of arms and armor.
[00:55:10] Ambereen talks about Prof. Barker’s transition from typewriters to early personal computers. She feels that it improved his writing because he could write and edit faster.
[00:57:29] Prof. Barker was an Apple user.
[00:58:19] In addition to the various weapons, the Professor also has several guns. Ambereen went with him to the firing range.
[00:59:15] Prof. Barker was interested in Urdu poetry, and when he was in India, had artist paint these on bone.
[01:00:13] Prof. Barker wasn’t happy by the end of his time at the University of Minnesota. The University at the time was paring down its liberal arts departments and focusing on sciences. Ultimately, they did end up doing away with many of these programs, or combined several departments into one. Phil took early retirement and focused on his writing.
[01:01:10] All this time, he also had other groups playing other games, in addition to the two Tékumel groups. Ambereen says there was never a dull moment.
[01:02:40] There’s a story that on holidays special things would happen, including that Prof. Barker assembled a turkey one Thanksgiving that had six legs. Ambereen confirms that this didn’t happen.
[01:04:00] Prof. Barker also really loved hot food. Bob Alberti did too. Victor has his limits.
Hosts: Scott Kellogg, James Maliszewski, and Victor J. Raymond.
Special Guest: Ambereen Barker
Tékumel Products Referenced:
Tékumel: The World of the Petal Throne was a set of rules released by Guardians of Order in 2005. It uses the publisher’s Tri-Stat System. It is out-of-print, and the Tri-Stat System is effectively defunct now.
“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.
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.
Jeff Berry’s “Tèkumelyáni Astronomy and Astrology” appeared in The Imperial Courier in three parts, specifically Vol. 1, issue 4 and 5 and Vol. 2, issue 1. The Imperial Courier was a Tékumel-focused periodical published by Tékumel Games from 1984 to 1985. It is also out-of-print.
The Book of Coming Forth by Day, also known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead is a loose collection of ancient Egyptian funerary and spells intended to assist the deceased’s transition to the underworld.
There’s some indication that a movie called Star Wars was released in 1977. It’s difficult to find information about this property online, and the curious are discouraged from further research.