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 invite Bob Brynildson to share his experiences on Tékumel while gaming in Prof. Barker’s Tuesday Night Group. Bob played the famous Kárin Missúm, who ended his career as a General of Vimúhla’s Legion of the Storm of Fire.
But before we get to the interview, our hosts update us on their current (and in one case, recently-ended) Tékumel campaigns.
[00:00:45] What have our hosts been up to lately?
[00:01:00] Victor’s Wednesday night campaign has been going really well. This game has been going on for two years now, and he has seven players. The main set of characters has just defeated some Yán Koryáni agents and a Mihálli who were attempting to break a compact between the Hláka and the Empire. Victor describes the plot in-depth. Spoiler: (only) one player character died. The hosts have a laugh at Victor’s over-suspicious players’ expense.
[00:04:30] Three of Victor’s players are new, and four of them are veterans. Now that he’s this far into the campaign, rather than starting off new players as fresh-off-the-boat PCs, Victor’s had to shift to having them start as friends or associates of the existing players.
[00:05:40] Victor was chided for not having a map drawn out for this campaign. He’s moving towards using more visual aids, including miniatures. Scott suggests using a white board, and Victor mentions that he uses post-it note poster paper for this purpose.
[00:07:02] “Dispatches to the College at the End of Time.” Victor encourages listeners to write in to us and tell us what’s going on in your particular Tékumel.
[00:07:35] James’s players are still exploring the southern continent. They’re presently at the end of a long trek to a far southern city-state, because they became convinced that there was a magical sword being held there. When they finally arrived by boat, they discovered that the weapon they were looking for wasn’t an actual sword, but some kind of ancient building.
[00:10:38] Victor has had a player who wasn’t able to keep up with the rest of the group, and has expressed an interest in continuing his character’s adventure. Rumors of the other characters’ side adventures are a way to give added depth to the world.
[00:11:30] One benefit of having a large group of players over the arc of a long campaign is that the gamemaster can pick up little threads of the different character’s stories and show that there’s a lot more going on in the world than the main plot.
[00:12:20] Victor wanted to run an adventure in the western part of the Empire, and so he had a session where his players made secondary characters to play there. James’s game has shaped up like this as well. It’s a great way to expand the world and increase the cast of characters.
[00:14:24] Scott’s campaign has recently ended. He had six players new to Tékumel, but the players moved away, and he only got seven sessions in. Scott likes to run a “gonzo” game, and enjoys improvising, but he tried to hew close to “real” Tékumel and felt that he was “wearing someone else’s fatigues.”
[00:17:27] James understands this. Sometimes he has ideas that he can’t fit into Tékumel. He feels an obligation to get Tékumel “right.” However, after a certain point, James feels like his ideas become rooted in the setting and this becomes less of a problem. The more you play Tékumel, the easier the process becomes.
[00:21:20] There’s still a pretty wide range of things you can include in Tékumel, especially as you stray away from the Five Empires. By setting his campaign on Tékumel’s unexplored southern continent, James has had more freedom.
[00:22:02] When you start a campaign, it’s usually better to begin in Tsolyánu, especially if you have newer players who don’t have experience with the setting. You have to give newer players a good grounding, and conversely, you have more freedom to fiddle with the setting when you’re players have more experience.
[00:22:55] One thing that Scott learned was that he has a very distinct kind of GMing. Victor felt like he had to work pretty hard when he started GMing Tékumel, even though he was a veteran of Prof. Barker’s campaign. He had to come to terms with the fact that he was running “his” Tékumel, and not Prof. Barker’s.
[00:25:56] Victor makes a suggestion on the fly: rather than starting players as fresh-off-the-boat from the southern continent, think of them instead as errant apprentices from the College at the End of Time who find themselves on Tékumel and have access to strange technologies.
[00:25:55] By Scott’s third session, his players were on the way to the Plane of the Azure Sun, a far-off location near the Isles of Teretáne. Scott can write a lot before hand, but it all goes out the window sometimes and he starts improvising, and does whatever seems most interesting in the moment.
[00:26:27] Scott got his inspiration in Belkhánu’s entry in Mitlanyál.
[00:26:40] Victor was present while Tékumel was getting defined, but what the other early GMs were doing elsewhere was also really cool.
[00:27:45] Special Guest: Bob Brynildson, player of the famous general Kárin Missúm, the mighty Qadardálikoi of the Legion of Red Devastation.
[00:28:32] Bob was a member of the Tuesday Night Group, but doesn’t recall how it got started. He was invited in because he played historical miniatures with Prof. Barker. He met Prof. Barker in 1973 when Bob was 16, at the Littleton Soldier Shop. EPT was published in 1975.
[00:29:16] The miniatures scene was college guys and older guys. As younger newbies, Bob and his friend to earn their stripes. It was not a friendly place, and they had to learn the rules on their own. Victor encountered this later when he started coming to the shop.
[00:31:01] D&D brought in a ton of young blood, which was new to the hobby. Bob got into D&D right away.
[00:31:54] When Bob bought EPT (for $35.00 [GPD: a whopping $165.18 adjusted for inflation!]) he didn’t connect it to Prof. Barker, and assumed it was based on a book. Bob when to B. Dalton and asked them to order the (then non-existent) novel.
[00:32:30] The first game Bob played in, he rolled up the first Kárin Missúm and went into a clan house. He was a fresh-off-the-boat barbarian, and was killed in a knife fight within the first hour of game play. Despite this rather ignominious end, Missúm I was alive long enough to father the more famous (and longer-lived) Kárin Missúm. Bob rolled up great stats for this second Missúm, except for a low Dexterity (18 out of 100). He had this low Dexterity through the life of the character, and it let to many comical labors.
[00:33:45] Kárin Missúm means “the Red Death.” Prof. Barker’s language books had just been released when Bob began playing, and he looked these terms up because he knew he wanted to be a Vimúhla worshiper and part of the Legion of Red Devastation.
[00:34:04] Bob played from 1975 to about 1980 or 1981 when he enlisted. His original hit dice rolls were poor, so he played two-and-a-half years with 2 hit points.
[00:35:24] Kárin Missúm started out as a priest because of his high psychic ability, but he switched classes at fourth level to a warrior because it better matched Bob’s play-style. He was the first player to switch classes. There was no multi-classing, so Missúm lost all of his priestly abilities over night, but he also gained the benefit of re-rolling his hit dice as a warrior.
[00:36:24] Bob’s first job was in a small city, and Craig Smith drew maps for it.
[00:36:42] Bob’s friend Peter played Kutumé, Missúm’s sidekick. “To be Kutumized” is a phrase meaning to be taken advantaged of financially. Kutumé invented the pyramid scheme on Tékumel. He would take money claiming to invest it in his clan connections, and when his mark would need money, he would charge fees to withdraw it. Kárin Missúm was his first mark.
[00:38:15] How did Kárin Missúm rise through the ranks? He was a private soldier who through his exploits was promoted a commander of ten men. Then he had an adventure with Princess Ma’ín, and as a reward was granted membership in the clan of Golden Sunburst. Through these clan contacts, Missúm became a drinking buddy of Mirusíya before he was declared a prince. When Mirusíya was revealed, Missúm was promoted quickly, eventually commanding the Legion of Storm of Fire on the eastern border. They were specialized at fighting Ssú at night, and brokered a deal with the Temple of Hrü’ǘ, who provided the legion with crossbow recruits.
[00:41:07] How was this kind of game run? The action of Tékumel basically involved border wars, and even though the players’ characters were commanders, they were running around having adventures in the jungle while the NPCs from respectable clans managed the day-to-day activities of the troops. This freed the PCs up to participate in the higher politics of Tsolyánu.
[00:43:10] There was crossover between miniatures battles and roleplaying sessions. Prof. Barker’s group had about 200-300 painted Red Devastation minis, and used others. Prof. Barker enjoyed storytelling, and didn’t enjoy meticulous rules. He would block up groups of troops and decide the outcome of their battle based on single die rolls. Prof. Barker really loved miniatures.
[00:45:54] Bob thinks he’s played all of the different rulesets for Tékumel. He feels like he contributed to making the rules too complicated at one point.
[00:46:35] Kutumé was an archer, and Kárin Missúm would use a spell to effectively “mine” his arrow heads. Kutumé would then do a called shot and kill things in one shot until the rules got changed.
[00:48:50] Also at Prof. Barker’s table during Bob’s tenure: Mike Callahan played Elóya, a magic-user scribe who was constantly trying to educate himself about the deeper secrets of Tékumel. His companion was a Tinalíya, one of the only PC-directed non-humans Prof. Barker allowed at this time. Craig Smith played Ahan Basrim. Kutumé was Bob’s friend Peter’s character. Kutumé was a pike-man, archer, and torturer. Others came and went, but these were the core four players.
[00:50:45] Victor mentions that Joe Zottola was one of the few players who stuck with the Thursday night group. Joe’s character Arumél got his start in the Tuesday night group. Arumél couldn’t care less about the military, but as Bob notes, this is the quickest way to raise your status in Tsolyáni society.
[00:53:10] The true understanding of Vimúhla: “We want stuff on fire, and sometimes you have to set it yourself.” Kárin Missúm is the only PC to make Vimúhla laugh. Bob supplies an anecdote so great, these notes can’t do it justice.
[00:58:22] What books did Prof. Barker like? He read widely, and a lot, but most of his discussions with Bob were about history.
[00:58:58] Secrets of Tékumel spilled. Originally, Tékumel was a recreational planet for the armies of the humans and their allies in an interstellar war. Their enemies shoved Tékumel into a pocket dimension (Ts. béthorm). The Ssú and the Hlǘss are the original natives of Tékumel. The Hokun are associated with the Pariah Deities. The Weapons of the Age exist to keep Tékumel like it is, whereas the Goddess of the Pale Bone represents humans trying to restore Tékumel to normal space. “She’s the good guy,” says Bob. The enemy is using Tékumel for something nefarious.
[01:01:50] The Crater of the Straightened City is at the closest point to the hole where Tékumel entered its béthorm, and it physically connects with the outside universe. A lot of this was discovered through Mike Callahan’s Elóya. He actually discovered how to return Tékumel to the outside universe, but kept it to himself.
[01:05:11] Tékumel is Prof. Barker’s creation, but it gave him great joy to know that others were creating with it.
Hosts: Scott Kellogg, James Maliszewski, and Victor J. Raymond.
Special Guest: Bob Brynildson
Tékumel Products Referenced:
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.
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 original Legion of the Petal Throne 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.
Our hosts interviewed Ambereen Barker in episode 28 of this podcast.
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.
B. Dalton was a bookstore. You see kids, back in the halcyon days of yore (i.e., the 1980s), prospective shoppers couldn’t buy everything online at Amazon or in person at Wal-Mart. Instead, commercial products had to be obtained from specialist sellers, who individually only retailed one or two categories of goods. Near the end of the 20th Century, there was a tendency for several of these establishments to accrete into a composite entity known as a “mall.” These malls were terrible inefficient. Also, thanks to important documentaries like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Mallrats, we now recognize that malls promoted loose morals and juvenile delinquency. Thankfully, malls have gone the way of the dinosaurs. And like the great thunder-lizards themselves, society preserves their fossilized husks as a reminder of things that are large and also dead. The last B. Dalton closed in 2013.