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 interview of Jeff Dee and Manda. As mentioned in Episode 29, Jeff and Manda’s UNIgames has recently released the Kúrt Hills Atlas, a system-independent gazetteer of the Kúrt Hills region of Tsolyánu.
But before they return to our guests, our hosts discuss Tékumel’s wargaming roots.
[00:00:49] Our hosts begin with a discussion of the history of wargaming on Tékumel.
[00:00:58] The wargaming history of Tékumel goes back before the publication of EPT. Prof. Barker was part of a proto-wargaming group while he was still a graduate student at Berkley. The Foundation has notes to this effect, including old rules.
[00:01:42] At the U. of Minnesota, Prof. Barker was asked to be the advisor for the Conflict Simulation Association, the campus student group that played things like wargames.
[00:02:06] He was very interested in the historic empires of Earth from the ancient through the medieval periods, saying “Gunpowder is where he lost interest.”
[00:03:03] Roleplaying in the modern gaming sense grew out of wargaming.
[00:03:23] There are a number of miniatures rules for wargaming-like games on Tékumel, most of them out-of-print. These include Legions of the Petal Throne, Missum! and Qadardalikoi.
[00:03:37] Legions of the Petal Throne was written by David C. Sutherland. The miniatures were first produced by Old Guard, then by Ral Partha. This 25mm line included miniatures for the legions of Tsolyánu, the guréks of Yán Kór, and the legions of Mu’ugalavyá.
[00:04:11] Missúm! was developed by Gary Rudolph and Craig Smith. It shows some heritage back to the old Wargames Research Group (WRG) rules sets.
[00:04:21] Qadardalikoi was written by Jeff Barry and Prof. Barker, and was an attempt to create a set of rules that would allow for grand, tactical battles.
[00:04:40] They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Victor says that from running Legions games at GaryCon, he feels like the hobby has moved on. The 25mm miniatures from the 1970s have been supplanted by 28mm miniatures, and the 28mms from Howard Fielding’s Tékumel Project are beautiful.
[00:05:42] Victor regrets how long it takes to produce new miniatures, but he encourages everyone to buy them.
[00:06:08] Howard has been working on a new set of rules to work with his 28mm line.
[00:06:31] So how would someone run a campaign with miniatures? Victor indicates that the original roleplaying game was supplemented by miniature battles.
[00:06:53] Victor notes the account of the Battle of the Temple of Chanis mentioned in Dragon #4. Prof. Barker’s group actually ran this battle three times, with Tsolyánu winning twice, and Mu’ugalavyá once.
[00:07:55] The player characters in Prof. Barker’s campaign often had some kind of military affiliation, and often directed factions in these battles.
[00:08:50] Inevitably, there’s a tension between roleplaying versus wargames. Wargames are unfamiliar territory for many players. One of the ways to handle this is to play through this a few times and use the results as advisory.
[00:09:54] Miniatures games cost money. There’s been a push lately to have smaller scale rules.
[00:11:00] The Qadárni Battle: a cohort (400-500 men on a side) enters enemy territory and proclaims that they wish to “test their mettle” against the enemy. This is an important part of Tèkumeláni military culture, and Prof. Barker introduced it in part to give players an introduction to wargaming.
[00:12:45] Tékumel has rich legion histories; Deeds of the Ever-Glorious, for instance is chock-full of interesting anecdotes and information about the legions.
[00:13:13] James’s “House of Worms” campaign has increasingly been involved in potentially military confrontations. He’s not yet decided how to deal with a military battle.
[00:15:03] Our hosts discuss online options for these kind of games. Victor tasks someone with thinking about building a strategy game in something like VASSAL.
[00:17:04] Victor mentions seeing pictures from an east coast con where someone ran a Tékumel miniatures game.
[00:17:30] Part 2 of Interview with Jeff Dee and Manda, creators of Béthorm and the Kúrt Hills Atlas.
[00:17:58] Victor notes the “sheer amount of creative thought” that went into the Kúrt Hills Atlas.
[00:19:06] Jeff returns to the idea of random generation. It’s a lot of work, because Jeff just used it as a starting point, and then had to turn it into something he would build out.
[00:19:59] While Jeff was generating words with certain vowels and sounds, Manda used “sound-symbolism theory” to turn them into something. Sound-symbolism theory is the idea that certain groups of sounds mean something to specific populations. She gives several convincing examples.
[00:23:07] They also double-checked against Tsolyáni words, and used them where appropriate.
[00:24:40] Some Tsolyáni words are long when written down. Manda recommends taking a long word slow and sounding it out, because it will give you insights into using it in-game.
[00:26:06] Jeff could have thrown out all of the more complicated words, but this felt “fake” to him.
[00:26:49] As previously mentioned, James generates a list of names for people beforehand. Victor asks him about doing so for places. James mentions using con-lang tools to construct words and names that sound consistent.
[00:28:42] Back in the ‘80s, Jeff and Manda wrote a computer program based on Prof. Barker’s “Tsolyáni Names Without Tears” article, using his tables to printed out sheets of Tsolyáni names.
[00:29:11] “Johnny New-shoe”
[00:29:51] Even in Prof. Barker’s article he encourages players to take a filter to the results.
[00:31:08] Manda notes that the naming thing creates a bit of a barrier for players unused to Tsolyáni names. When she run sessions at a convention, she finds that players can remember their characters’ own names, but have trouble with those of their fellow players’ characters. As a result, she went back and named the sample PCs something that would be more evocative, even if they’re less authentic. She gives some examples of her approach to this.
[00:34:15] Victor notes that two of the names mentioned by Manda (Arján hiVaisonér and Arlúa) are both old player characters. Arján hiVaisonér was Bob Alberti’s character (see HOBI e25, 00:39:55)
[00:34:21] Prof. Barker would “stoutly insist” that he didn’t pander to English-speakers, and Tsolyáni was its own thing.
[00:35:20] During the very early days of Tékumel gaming, some of the names were created in fun. He gives some examples, including the original name of Michael Moignard’s character.
[00:37:11] If someone were new to Tékumel, Katalál is an entry point for the Kúrt Hills Region, much like Jakálla for EPT. If you start out in other places though (for instance, in a dusty village) you get a very different campaign. Most of the adventures Jeff and Manda have worked on thus far are clustered around Katalál.
[00:39:25] Manda comments on the new player’s impression that they may be doing Tékumel “wrong.” She advises retconning inconsequential things, as well as using the idea of local variations.
[00:42:35] Jeff suspects that there’s two ways that GMs feel they’re getting it “wrong.” The first is in the big-picture stuff, like names of emperors and what’s going on in the world at large. Jeff and Manda have tried to supply some of this information, and allow the rest of the Tékumel corpus to fill in the details. The second way is on a much smaller detail level – what’s in this 80-mile wide hex? — which is what the Kúrt Hills Atlas is meant to address.
[00:46:21] There’s two ways to use the Kúrt Hills Atlas. The first is as a travelogue. The second is to open it up at random and look for something interesting you can use. Most of the things there can easily be transplanted to somewhere else.
[00:47:40] Jeff cites another influence on the Kúrt Hills Atlas: a fan effort to develop sections of the map on the Yahoo Groups Tékumel Discussion Group.
[00:48:57] As mentioned previously on HOBI, Prof. Barker knew what was going on in “his” Tékumel, but liked to see what other people came up with. He wasn’t afraid to incorporate their material into his campaign if he felt it worked.
[00:50:15] At some point, some people got the idea that there was a hidden timeline or store of knowledge that Prof. Barker would measure you against. He was always mystified by that. There’s not some secret “right” way to do Tékumel.
[00:51:50] When Tékumel first appeared, it was radically different from everything else available. But we have so many examples of how to build worlds today, so it’s no longer extremely different.
[00:53:14] Jeff prefers the word “exotic” over “alien” in describing Tékumel. The Tèkumeláni are still human beings, even if the details of their cultures are different.
[00:54:22] The novels showed Jeff that these were people with their own motivations.
[00:55:01] Prof. Barker was generous with his time, and would lavish praise when someone was creative, even if that didn’t sync up with his idea of Tékumel.
[00:55:40] There are other dimensions (and other Tékumels!). Manda gets through six of her list of 10 “Other” Tékumels: 1. Go someplace else, it’s a big planet; 2. Other planes; 3. an Tékumel without slavery; 4. Psychic talents or superpowers instead of (or along with) magic; 5. More diverse human species; 6. A less-sophisticated, more He-Man Tékumel.
[01:02:57] Victor supplies an anecdote about parallel dimensions in Prof. Barker’s campaign. When Dhich’uné usurped the Petal Throne, in order to escape, the PCs went to the next plane over, where the Emperor was a follower of Belkhánu, to bide their time. They also visited one where Prince Mirusíya was emperor of a greatly–reduced Tsolyánu, surrounded by enemies. They didn’t stick around in that one.
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:
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.
Legions of the Petal Throne, created by David C. Sutherland was published by TSR in 1977. It was the first set of rules for miniature battles set on Tékumel. The original miniatures were sculpted for a company called Old Guard by William Murray in 1977. Ral Partha began issuing these in 1978, with Tom Meier and Brian Apple providing additional sculpts. Ph.D. Games did reissue some of these after 1979, when Ral Partha discontinued them.
Missúm!: Miniature Rules for Tékumel was published in 1978 by Imperium Publishing. It was developed by Gary Rudolph and Craig Smith.
Qadardalikoi: Miniature Campaigns on the World of Tékumel is also out of print. It was created by Jeff Barry and M.A.R. Barker. Published in 1983 by Tékumel Games, it is a companion of sorts to Swords & Glory.
Howard Fielding’s Tekumel Project is a range of 28mm scale miniatures for Tékumel.
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.
Deeds of the Ever-Glorious: Histories of the Tsolyáni Legions provides comprehensive histories of the legions of Tsolyánu. It was originally published in 1981 by Adventure Games. It is available as a PDF from RPGNow.
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, and western Milumanayá along the northwestern border of Tsolyánu.
The Tsolyáni Language is available for purchase as a PDF at RPGNow. It is a two-volume guide with pronunciations, grammar, useful expressions, English-Tsolyáni and Tsolyáni-English vocabularies, and Tsolyáni script.
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.
Prof. Barker’s “Tsolyáni Names Without Tears” article appeared in The Strategic Review, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter, 1975). After a brief introduction where Prof. Barker discusses his influences, the article includes a method of randomly generating names. The article can be viewed here. The Strategic Review was an early RPG periodical, a predecessor of The Dragon. It was published by TSR from 1975 to 1976.
High and Dry is an adventure published by UNIgames for Béthorm. It is set in the small town of Mishábar, near Katalál. It is available as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.
Yahoo Groups Tekumel Discussion Group is a mailing list for discussing Tékumel-related topics.
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.
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.
Prof. Barker’s “Imperial Dispatches” appeared both in the Strategic Review and in the early issues of Dragon.
Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World is a book exploring the origins of wargames and roleplaying games. It was first published in 2012.
Wargames Research Group (WRG) was founded in 1969 and has published wargaming rules ever since. Among other products, they publish De Bellis Antiquitatis, a “fast-play” rules set meant for historical miniature wargaming.
Roll20 is a popular virtual tabletop service, which allows players to host and play a variety of tabletop games over the Internet.
The VASSAL Engine is a game engine for building and playing tabletop games online.
Sound symbolism is the theory that sounds can carry meaning in and of themselves.
Since 1982 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe have protected the secrets of Castle Grayskull from Skeletor and his evil henchmen.