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 interview Jeff Dee and Manda about their Kúrt Hills Atlas. This is a system-independent gazetteer of the Kúrt Hills region of Tsolyánu, created to supplement UNIgames’s Tékumel rule system, Béthorm.
But first, our hosts discuss the Empire of Mu’ugalavyá – the most mysterious and least detailed of the Five Empires.
[00:00:50] Before our hosts get to their special guests, they discuss another of the Five Empires — Mu’ugalavyá.
[00:01:15] James has run a campaign in Mu’ugalavyá. For preparation, he mined the Sourcebook. He also consulted Prof. Barker’s “Gods of Yán Kór” article, which is written from the perspective of a Mu’ugalavyáni scholar.
[00:02:04] From there, he just invented as necessary. Even though the Sourcebook has a lot of material, there are some things it doesn’t talk about. One of the things that came up were questions of the political hierarchy. While Tsolyánu is described in detail, other than the Four Princes who divide Mu’ugalavyá between them, we don’t know much beyond that. How are the princes chosen? How does this filter down to the day-to-day operations of empire?
[00:03:22] Victor interjects that some of this information can be found in Armies of Tékumel Vol. III. There’s a general sense from the Sourcebook as far as the areas the principalities control, but not much else.
[00:04:25] “Don’t mistake their friendliness for being friends.” During Victor’s time gaming with Prof. Barker, the Mu’ugalavyáni he encountered were on the whole bluff and hardy, and had an immediate sense of humor. Prof. Barker did warn Victor however that just because they had a sense of humor doesn’t mean that they were any less hostile.
[00:06:07] Mu’ugalavyá is more of a mystery than Salarvyá and Livyánu. Two interesting sites are the island in Lake Mu’úgalla which is the center of the worship of Hŕsh and the port city of Khéris.
[00:06:25] The lack of information on Mu’ugalavyá was part of the appeal to James. Prof. Barker didn’t write much about it, even though it’s Tsolyánu’s great rival. None of the characters in the novels are from Mu’ugalavyá, and none of the action occurs there.
[00:07:42] James’s shorthand description was that they were like Rome in China or Chinese Rome — the bureaucracy is important, but so is the military.
[00:08:09] Hŕsh is also fascinating. He’s a non-Tsolyáni gods that doesn’t seem to have an easy analogue among Pavár’s pantheon. He’s very popular among the aristocracy and higher clans, but they’re secretive. His worship isn’t well-known outside of the cult. The common people worship various Pavárian analogues, with Vimúhla being the most popular within the Mu’ugalavyáni military.
[00:08:56] The world is very different to the Mu’ugalavyni. From their perspective, they’re the original home of the Dragon Lords. When the Engsvanyáli expanded westward, they encountered the Mu’ugalavyáni, who were already present in the region.
[00:10:02] There’s some real possibilities for a fresh-off-the-boat campaign set in Khéris. Among interesting encounter possibilities are the Swamp Folk, the greater presence of Shén galleys, and a Livyáni enclave.
[00:10:42] In his campaign, James tried to reframe familiar aspects of Tékumel within the context of Mu’ugalavyá.
[00:12:02] James’s player characters all started out as Mu’ugalavyáni from the Dust of Gold clan. They were primarily merchants who had military connections and supplied the legions.
[00:12:46] James found that it was more difficult to add-in details to an already existing culture than it would be to create the culture from whole cloth.
[00:13:20] Early players in Prof. Barker’s campaign visited the city of Ch’óchi, which is mentioned in Man of Gold. Victor thinks that early on, Prof. Barker wanted to work out some of the side events that are mentioned in the novels. He would often run adventures to explore areas that he would use later.
[00:14:35] Player characters rarely appeared in the books, but Prof. Barker still took advantage of them to explore the world. Victor relates and anecdote about a party of player characters containing the equivalent of a Kási in the Legion of Dune Leapers who were in the area of Trahlú. One of the players was a wizard who cast a light spell, and the characters all had to climb up on a ridge because casting magic in that area would bring out the sand worms and the Trahlú. The whole night, crossbowmen watched the wizard to keep him from casting anymore spells.
[00:16:44] There’s got to be more going on in Mu’ugalavyá. Just consider how much is going on in the other places we know about.
[00:18:02] The Plane of Towers (where empty silver spaceships stand!) was one of the early things that grabbed James’s attention.
[00:19:36] Healing spells don’t work on radiation. The reason this is a thing is because some player characters encountered radiation in the Sunken City of Yró of the cost of M’mórcha. (GPD: Victor’s memory is, as usual, incredible; radiation damage is first mentioned in Q. 5 of the “Seal of the Imperium” column in Dragon #9.)
[00:20:30] The tribesmen of M’mórcha have also trained puff spiders.
[00:20:49] There’s a military base on the coast close to M’mórcha (GPD: Port Chanúi?). The Mu’ugalavyáni built it because they wanted to bolster the Tsoléi against the Livyáni and the Shén. The Mu’ugalavyáni need the sea routes through Tsoléi to be open so they can move further west. They’ve actually had success there, because magic (upon which the Livyáni are more reliant) doesn’t work in this region.
[00:23:30] The Mu’ugalavyáni are known for their powerful military. In the war of 2020 AS, they almost reached the walls of Béy Sü. They got this way by having consistent opponents. In the north, they have the barbarian N’lüss, in the south, Tsloyánu, and in the east, Livyánu. Martial virtues are therefore very important in Mu’ugalavyá.
[00:26:00] Special Guests: Jeff Dee and Manda, creators of the Kúrt Hills Atlas.
[00:26:20] What led to the creation of the Kúrt Hills Atlas? After they published Béthorm, Jeff and Manda approached the Tékumel Foundation to find an area that they could detail for an expansion. The area around Katalál wasn’t as well detailed as most of the rest of Tsolyánu, and this gave them the freedom to create something new.
[00:28:40] The Foundation has been working on the northeast frontier maps. Jeff’s first impulse was to develop the region around Hekéllu in the east, but he didn’t have much material he could use. He’d also developed the forest of Pán Cháka for one of his campaigns, but this turned out to be too near the Temple of Vimúhla.
[00:29:15] Victor suggested the Kúrt Hills Region. The Legion of the Inverted Hand is associated with this area, and the Temple of Vimúhla here was the one represented in the old model. This is also the region of the home of the Thu’úsa language.
[00:31:10] As a Gamemaster, Manda wasn’t initially exited by the idea of a gazetteer. Her first approach was to make it as a collection of locations, that could be used like a travel log for a military campaign. But Jeff suggested several overarching plots, some of them based on hints by Prof. Barker, and some of them constructed out of whole cloth.
[00:33:30] One of the ways that Jeff and Manda work well together is by having complete control of their own parts of the project. Manda wrote the complete background for UNIgames’s Quicksilver RPG. For the Kúrt Hills Atlas, they initially separated duties with Jeff doing the map and Manda doing the writing. Together they would agree on the major themes, which would be present as campaign arcs.
[00:35:30] Having these overarching threads helps to tie different locations together.
[00:37:10] The major plot threads in the region are the incursions of the Demon Bésh; and the consequences of Dhich’uné pushing out the followers of Stability who had previously managed the fertile agricultural region of the Golden Meadows. How would followers of Sárku run farms — probably exactly how you think!
[00:38:25] The default setting for the Kúrt Hills Atlas is after 2369 AS (Emperor Hirkáni Tlakotáni dies in 2364 AS). For comparison, EPT is set in 2354 AS, and the Sourcebook is set in 2358 AS. That tracked forward during the years after their publication. Mitlanyál took the timeline even further.
[00:40:36] The business in the Golden Meadows gave Jeff and Manda the chance to cast bumpkin followers of Stability in the role of bad guys raiding Sárku-run farms.
[00:41:09] Katalál is the starting point for Béthorm. Another plot thread is that in the Western Kúrt Hills they’ve placed a Jungle Book inspired culture of “semi-intelligent” creatures — things that can talk but don’t have cultures, like the Rényu, Küni bird, Chnéhl.
[00:42:37] In the north are the Swamps of Ksárul, which are just south of Purdimál. So in the entries for the swamp region, there elements that connect with that city. Manda gives one example of this, the Narcotic Gardens. Jeff basically came up with intriguing names for locations, and gave them to Manda to explain them.
[00:44:05] The first thing Jeff and Manda did after the region was chosen was put together an eight to twelve page document that contained all the canon information referencing the Kúrt Hills region.
[00:44:50] The names on the map were completed first, and then Manda explained them. The names themselves were randomly generated, with some creative massaging. Jeff basically took Prof. Barker’s NW Frontier Gazetteer and analyzed the average number of sites within certain kinds of terrain, and then rolled dice and “spewed out the details.” Then he put in the roads.
[00:47:02] Jeff created tables for geographic features and went hex by hex. Then he analyzed how things were named on Prof. Barker’s maps, used Tékumel sounding word generators, and then did some editing.
[00:48:56] Victor suspects that a similar process was used by Craig Smith and Prof. Barker for some parts of the NW Gazetteer maps. Other parts Prof. Barker already knew.
[00:50:50] James used a similar approach to the development of the southern continent for his campaign, but the difference is that he didn’t need to create a complete product to be presented to other people; instead he generates what he needs during the course of the campaign.
[00:53:10] The players are also creators in James’s game, as they move through and suggest things. Like any good GM, James steals from his players.
[00:53:40] There are multiple maps of Tsolyánu from the various versions of Tékumel. Jeff pulled these into Photoshop and overlaid them so that he could see the concurrences and differences. He also visited the thesaurus. Jeff notes that one of the things that is wonderful about Tékumel is Prof. Barker’s use of wonderful, flowery obscure words. He also used an app that generates ideas for writers, and used that as the first step in this process.
[00:55:41] When Craig Smith and Prof. Barker made the original NW Gazetteer maps, they used large and small hexes. This created an issue for Jeff and Manda in identifying specific hexes. The original maps were numbered using four-digit hexes, the first two digits being the Y coordinate, and the last two digits being the X coordinate. For the Kúrt Hills Atlas, they used letters and numbers. One of the quirks of hexes is that they zigzag from top to bottom, so they had to visually indicate the column using a little triangle.
[00:58:34] Jeff wanted the small hexes to be analogous to those Craig Smith and Prof. Barker used in the NW Gazetteer, which is a convenient size for roleplaying maps, because six miles is about the distance that a normal-sized human can see to the horizon.
[00:59:10] Victor notes that the hex coordinate system was borrowed (with permission) from Simulation Publications Inc., and another link to the hobby’s war-gaming past.
[00:59:50] Tékumel is also bigger than Earth…but let’s not talk about that right now.
[01:00:15] With Béthorm, Jeff wants to use the standards established by the earlier systems. Backwards compatibility is great, but also, why bother to reinvent the wheel?
[01:01:10] Manda asks about the “Imperial Dispatches”, where did they come from and how were they published? Victor indicates that they were a product of Prof. Barker’s games. His players would affect the world, and he would write them up. The first set of “Dispatches” appear in Strategic Review. Victor elaborates on his tantalizing comment from HOBI e.28 (at 00:04:22) as far as that Sákbe Road heading south of Haumá. Dragon #4 is where the next set of “Dispatches” appears.
[01:04:22] If anyone listening has a Tékumel campaign and wants to send a dispatch in, we’ll put it on the air.
[01:04:36] Manda is currently running a Béthorm campaign that is actually two concurrent campaigns. Jeff is a player in these, the first involving the members of a merchant clan out of Sárku, and the other is a mixed bag of characters from various clans, but are all followers of the gods of Change. The characters in that campaign have recently found out that they are all offspring of Dhich’uné.
[01:06:00] The Kúrt Hills Atlas was the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, and as a stretch goal, Jeff and Manda promised a coloring book which has just been released. One of the things you’ll find inside is a variant on Thu’úsa writing. Manda notes their visual similarities to an audio graph of human speech.
[01:07:20] Manda encourages GMs to look up the more obscure aspects of Tékumel, such as the Pariah Gods.
Hosts: Scott Kellogg, James Maliszewski, and Victor J. Raymond.
Special Guests: Jeff Dee and Manda (aka “Talzhemir”)
Featured Tékumel Products:
The Kúrt Hills Atlas is a complete campaign setting for the Kúrt Hills region of Tékumel, published by UNIgames. It can be purchased as a PDF at DriveThruRPG, or in print from UNIgames’s Lulu store. It was created by Jeff Dee and Manda (aka “Talzhemir”). Backers of the original Kickstarter also recently received a Coloring Book containing art created for this product.
Béthorm is your one-stop shop for UNIgame’s rules set for gaming on Tékumel. It’s available both in PDF and in print, and boasts a growing number of authorized supplements and adventures.
Other Tékumel Products Referenced:
Swords & Glory Vol. 1 was first published by Gamescience in 1983. It is a detailed sourcebook for the world of Tékumel. You can purchase it as a print-on-demand book, or as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.
“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.
The Armies of Tékumel books were published in six volumes by several companies over a twenty year span beginning in 1978. All are now out-of-print, and some are harder to acquire secondhand than others. In addition to miniature painting guides for the respective armies, these volumes detail military units, their equipment and commanders. Volume III was devoted to the armies of Mu’ugalavyá.
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.
The Northwest Frontier Gazetteer & Maps is out-of-print. This product was originally created by Prof. Barker and Craig Smith and published in 1986. It contains six maps, covering the area from Pijnár in the northwest to Khirgár in the south, and includes sections of Pijéna, western Milumanayá along the northwestern border of Tsolyánu.
Mitlanyál is an in-depth exploration of the religious practices of the Tsolyáni in two volumes. It was written by Bob Alberti and Prof. Barker and published in 2004 by Zottola Publishing. It is currently out-of-print.
Non-Tékumel Products Referenced:
Quicksilver is a fantasy roleplaying game based on UNIgames’s Pocket Universe system. As with Béthorm, Quicksilver products can be purchased digitally from UNIgames’s DriveThruRPG storefront, or in print from Lulu.
Villains and Vigilantes is a superhero-themed roleplaying game created by Jeff Dee and Jack Herman and first published in 1979. In 2016, their company Monkey House Games successfully kickstarted a third edition of the game, which is marketed under the name Mighty Protectors. You can purchase both these new products, as well as rules and supplements for the two previous editions in electronic PDF format on DriveThruRPG, or as print-on-demand products from their Lulu storefront.
The first of the stories that comprise the bare necessities of The Jungle Book were published in 1893. They were written by Rudyard Kipling. If you’ve never read the book, forget about your worries and your strife — I think there’s a movie, maybe.