Welcome to The Hall of Blue Illumination, the podcast dedicated to the world of M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel. In this episode our hosts consider méshqu plaques. What are they and what is their place in Tsolyáni society? After answering these questions, the discussion moves to the Swamp Folk, the next race in our Nonhumans of Tékumel segment. These mighty sailors don’t like to be away from the water, and have zero psychic or sorcerous ability. However, they are an important part of Mu’ugalavyáni society.
[00:00:46] Méshqu Plaques! These badges are hung in front of Tsolyáni homes to indicate the disposition of the dweller within.
[00:01:21] More specifically, a méshqu plaque is a small visual representation of the mood of the person within a residence. It’s usually hung on a hook outside of a door to indicate how the host is feeling.
[00:01:34] Victor gives some examples, including the “Fist of Stern Retribution.”
[00:02:20] These are made from a variety of materials depending on the status of the owner.
[00:02:48] Two sources for méshqu plaques, the Source Book (§1.910, p. 92) and Tékumel Journal #1. The Tékumel Journal gives black-and-white examples, but also indicates that there are myriad variations on their designs. For everyday use, most people only have a couple of dozen of them.
[00:04:14] Scott makes a bold admission — he hasn’t memorized the 34 forms of the Tsolyáni pronoun for “you.” Sometimes he improvises them, and you can do the same with méshqu plaques.
[00:05:31] méshqu are a great reminder of the Tsolyáni love of visual representation, and something that players can pick up easily.
[00:06:43] Could a resident put out a misleading méshqu plaque? Would that be an ignoble act? Are they followers of Lord Ksárul?
[00:07:05] All of the Five Empires are very aware of clan and caste differences, and they like noting those things. Victor gives the example of the Tsolyáni distinguishing relative social levels by different levels of sitting mats.
[00:08:20] Individuals can create personalized méshqu with new meanings that are only understood by their close intimates, while local variations can exist as well.
[00:09:23] Can you put a méshqu plaque on a palanquin? Victor doesn’t recall any previous example, but Scott volunteers to innovate. Let’s hope he doesn’t get stoned to death for this innovation.
[00:09:50] Sometimes referees fail to take advantage of regional differences. The cultural aspects of Khirgár can be different from that of Sokátis.
[00:10:54] “You can have a lot of fun with this if you work at it a little bit.” Scott emphasizes the wisdom of this statement.
[00:11:35] The small, obvious things make it apparent that Tékumel is different. For instance, the PCs will wonder where they “go to find people” if Tsolyánu doesn’t have any taverns.
[00:12:31] Some of the other cultures have tavern-like places. Also, the wine-makers clans of Tsolyánu will rent you a party room.
[00:12:42] Our hosts (and indeed the source material) often discuss culture with a Tsolyáni bent. But it’s interesting to look at Tsolyáni culture through the eyes of non-Tsolyáni Tèkumeláni.
[00:13:33] James talks about a moment from his House of Worms campaign where his players were suddenly transported to Yán Kór and were appalled by the non-Tsolyáni way the people were acting.
[00:15:00] You’ve got to set the baseline before you can create contrasts. It takes time to teach your players to appreciate the cultural differences.
[00:15:37] For this reason, Tékumel is better suited to a longer-form campaign.
[00:16:40] Nonhumans of Tékumel: The Swamp Folk. No roll is made for the Swamp Folk’s psychic ability, because they have no psychic talents. Only 1 in 50 is a psychic dampener.
[00:17:08] One of their advantages is that they can sense “wrongnesses,” e.g., changes in direction, tunnels that curve or slant upwards or downward, and interdimensional nexus points. They’re also excellent swimmers and sailors.
[00:17:32] One disadvantage of playing a Swamp Folk is that they are completely unable to use sorcery (though they can use ancient technological devices). They dislike being away from the sea, and in hot or dry areas require double the water rations of a normal human.
[00:17:43] We don’t know that much about the Swamp Folk. Even the Gardásiyal description is a compilation of prior material.
[00:18:08] James has toyed with exploring them more because the Mu’ugalavyáni use them in their navies as marines. In fact, it’s suggested that they have a significant place in Mu’ugalavyáni society, especially along the rivers and swamps in the central portion of that empire.
[00:18:52] The Swamp Folk are uniquely integrated into Mu’ugalavyáni society, and have a particular status in its hierarchy. This is distinct from the Tsolyáni approach of treating nonhuman integration on a case-by-case basis.
[00:20:13] The Mu’ugalavyáni are even more bureaucratic than the Tsolyáni. There are many clear delineations in their society, and this means that while they have a place in Mu’ugalavyáni society, they would be heavily constrained outside of certain socially-accepted channels.
[00:21:21] How can the non-psychic Swamp Folk detect “wrongnesses”? James’s interpretation is that they can detect psychic use in a “negative” way. This reminds Scott of Guinan from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
[00:22:58] This is an example of how nonhumans on Tékumel are “alien”. It’s different from trying to fit them into various analogues from traditional fantasy settings.
[00:23:40] On the surface, the Swamp Folk seem easily understood, and their interactions with humans relatively normal. That is, until they’re suddenly very different.
[00:24:09] Victor suspects that among themselves, the Swamp Folk have a culture that only they really understand. This is based on what we’ve seen with other nonhumans on Tékumel.
[00:25:10] All of their enclaves are along the Putuhénu River in Mu’ugalavyá.
[00:25:37] They seem to try to fit in with Mu’ugalavyáni society, and do a good job of it. But within their own enclaves, they probably keep to their own customs. None of the nonhumans have been completely integrated into any of the societies of the Five Empires.
[00:26:34] With respect to Tsolyánu specifically, the Pé Chói are more integrated than any of the other nonhumans into human society.
[00:26:59] The Mu’ugalavyáni do not get along with the Páchi Léi at all. There’s a longstanding cultural antipathy.
[00:27:25] Our hosts are pretty sure the Swamp Folk do not hang dead fish outside the doors of their domiciles as Méshqu plaques. Except for that one guy…
[00:27:45] Would the Livyáni even know what to do with the Swamp Folk.
Hosts: Scott Kellogg, James Maliszewski, and Victor J. Raymond.
Tékumel Products Referenced:
Swords & Glory Vol. 1 (a.k.a. the “Source Book”) 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 Tekumel Journal was the first journal devoted to gaming on Tékumel. Issue #1 is available for purchase from DriveThruRPG as a PDF.
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 Gardásiyal rules set is out-of-print. It was originally published by Theatre of the Mind Enterprises between 1992 and 1994.
Greyhawk was an early (though not the first!) campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons. It was developed, at least initially, by Gary Gygax and his players. Since the mid-1970s, myriad products have been published detailing various aspects of this world.
Star Trek: The Next Generation was a TV show created by Gene Roddenberry, which premiered in 1987. No one paid any attention to it, and the Star Trek franchise definitely ended then and there.