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 continue their walking tour of Jakálla. But first, Victor and Scott answer a listener’s email asking how to handle Tékumel’s touchier subjects, like slavery and gender roles.
[00:00:52] Our hosts read an email from listener Clint Finley. Clint is concerned about cultural appropriation with respect to Tékumel. How does a Tékumel GM avoid harmful cultural stereotypes when dealing with a fictional culture that’s inspired by real world cultures? What about other touchy aspects of Tékumel, like slavery and gender roles?
[00:02:12] Victor is a professional sociologist, and tackles these questions head-on. He begins by noting that the word “inspired” is key here. While aspects of Tèkumeláni cultures may be inspired by real world analogues, they’re far from direct copies. This is the “escape hatch” – that nothing’s actually being appropriated.
[00:05:40] Scott asks how one should handle Tèkumeláni slavery when he’s GMing for a group he doesn’t know, and there’s a person of color among his players. Victor mentions Consent and Gaming from Monte Cook Games. Victor believes that you have to confront these issues, and not only because you’ve got new gamers coming into the hobby all of the time.
[00:07:07] Tékumel is an adult setting, and it’s best to have a discussion about its aspects which new players might find difficult or problematic.
[00:07:37] One of the mechanisms for talking about this is Pathfinder’s “Lines and Veils.” There are “lines” that a group can agree not to cross, and “veils” where certain uncomfortable things can still occur, but take place off-screen.
[00:08:58] In the case of a person of color and the subject of slavery, Victor suggests talking about it openly. Slavery in Tékumel isn’t inheritable chattel slavery or racialized, as it was in the antebellum United States.
[00:10:25] Scott notes that this can serve as an opportunity for education on both sides.
[00:11:20] Tékumel is remarkable not because it copies, but because it’s its own thing.
[00:12:37] Walking Tour of Jakálla, Part 2: Eclectic Thúnru’u. Where last we left off, we had gone from Músa Jakálla harbor up the mighty esplanade that goes from the sákbe road entrance into the main portion of Jakálla. We’re picking up at the Bridge of the Splendor of the Gods (Map of Jakálla, 62).
[00:13:30] This is the most downstream bridges of Jakálla. The other main bridges are the Bridge of the Victory of the Emperor (Map, 63), the Qéqelnu Bridge (Map, 64) and finally the Bridge of the 41st Seal Emperor (Map, 65), along which the sákbe Road runs. Several other bridges connect the islands in the harbor.
[00:14:17] The Bridge of the Victory of the Emperor has several towers, and is probably decorated in such a way that acknowledges the supremacy of the gods.
[00:14:50] On the north bank, we encounter the Temple of Chégarra, cohort of Karakán on the left, and the Temple of Vimúhla on the right.
[00:15:05] What are the yellow squares around the Temple of Vimúhla? Victor suggests they’re commemorative arches or displays, Scott thinks stelae or obelisks. They go all the way up to the Hirilákte Arena (Map, 46) in the northeast part of the city. You can imagine a ceremonial procession passing underneath these arches on special occasions.
[00:16:22] What is the scale of the Temple of Vimúhla? The map is not necessarily to scale, but Jakálla is the second most important city in the Imperium, so these temples are going to be large. The temples of Vimúhla and Karakán are going to be massive keep-like structures, surrounded by walls that are fortress-like. You’re going to be able to see them all the way across the city. The Temple of Vimúhla specifically is going to have a large opening so that the some of the sacrifices can waft over the city.
[00:17:47] Is the central red rectangle the temple gong? No, it should be off the main keep, in its own tower. Each temple gong has its own character, to distinguish its sound from those of the other temples.
[00:18:42] It’s not necessary to literally interpret every structure on the map. They’re representational. The small red rectangle might be the red capstone of the temple keep itself.
[00:20:00] The back area of the temple is where offices and dormitories are. The temples are going to have many ancillary structures around them with buildings that have been repurposed and adapted over time.
[00:20:58] Because of ditlána, there are going to be an endless amount of things under the map that we can’t see. The underworld of Jakálla is extensive, and the map that Prof. Barker developed was essentially the condensed, “good bits” version of it.
[00:21:46] Turning next to the sea and the estuary of the Missúma River, past the temple of Chégarra, we find several barracks (Map, 28-31). What you’re seeing here is part of the fortifications of the city, placed curiously where they can watch over the Foreigner’s Quarter.
[00:23:15] The Battalions of Vrishtára the Mole (Map, 31) is evocative. Victor suggests if anyone’s trying to burrow out of the Foreigner’s Quarter, they’ll be able to put a stop to it.
[00:23:53] The whole seaward side of the Foreigner’s Quarter has a lot of towers, and these run up to the Prison of Little Ease (Map, 38). The name of the prison “For Debtors and Persons Cast Out of Clan” gives us an idea of the significance of clan membership – you can end up here.
[00:25:10] There’s an idea players have about Tsolyánu that when you do something wrong, you either pay a small fine or you get impaled. Jakálla, however, has three prisons (Map 26, 38, and 39). The descriptive names of The Tower of Bones and Tórunal Island imply that some offenses merit more than a fine, but less that actual impalement. One of the things that’s up for consideration is how many prisoners are actually incarcerated here, and how that varies depending on the imperial administration.
[00:26:59] James joins in, and mentions that he can’t think of any other maps where the prisons are mentioned. Victor points out that the map of Béy Sü includes the Tólek Kána Pits, or as James describes them, “The Cadillac of Prisons.”
[00:27:48] The fact that there’s a whole legion (with 30 cohorts) devoted to prisons implies that there’s a bunch of them in the Empire.
[00:28:31] The Prison of Little Ease, interestingly enough, has its own docks. It’s also built like a fortress, and can serve in that capacity if needed.
[00:29:27] In the Foreigner’s Quarter itself, you have the Temple of Karakán and the Palace of War, which contains the military administration’s offices. It’s curious that these are located in the Foreigner’s Quarter.
[00:29:51] How does one enter the Foreigner’s Quarter? Victor suggests a couple of locations. There’s an open street along the side of the Temple of Thúmis (Map, 7), and other entrances further north along the wall of the quarter. The tower that has some green space on the north and south of it probably provides some kind of entrance.
[00:32:54] After entering the Foreigner’s Quarter, where do you go? It depends on your status as a foreigner. Let’s say you’re a Salarvyáni merchant seeking a rest-house of middle status. Visitors of middle status would head to the House of the Green Kirtle (Map, 32). It’s possible, but not necessarily true, that this rest-house is actually operated by the Green Kirtle clan. It’s not their clan house, however.
[00:34:38] North of this is the Hostel of Birrukú, the Allaqiyáni (Map, 33), which is a rest-house for visitors of lower-middle status.
[00:35:10] The most infamous location in the Foreigner’s Quarter is north of this, the Tower of the Red Dome (Map, 34), where visitors of no status can lodge. In Prof. Barker’s records, this location is overseen by a Livyáni of dubious reputation. Why does he have to be dubious? He knows a lot of people. Also, he’s Livyáni.
[00:36:36] North of this is the Palace of Mrúthri (Map, 35) the Lordly Domicile of the Hand of Hrúgga (Map, 36), and the Court of the Fourth Emperor (Map, 37) which cater to individuals of higher, noble, and upper-middle statuses, respectively. You should be able to locate yourself precisely where you should be.
[00:37:35] Back to the Hostel of Birrukú. How did Victor describe it to his players? He told them its style was similar to a building in Sá’a Allaqí, a walled compound with walls leaning inwards a bit, and the entire area provided with a roof. There would be a pleasing display of Sá’a Allaqìyáni symbols that would show the origin of the character’s host. Birrukú himself actually helped Victor’s players make contacts within the city.
[00:39:40] What about all the brown areas in the Foreigner’s Quarter? One of these is the Armory of the Shield of Imperial Valor (Map, 56) There are several other armories scattered throughout the Foreigner’s Quarter (Map, 52-61). This suggest that armories are in the Foreigner’s Quarter for a specific reason. They may be noisy, or have some kind of noxious element that actual citizens don’t want in their backyards. Prof. Barker might also have located them here for meta reasons, so that players won’t have to go far to get equipped.
[00:41:45] This also could be because of some kind of ancient edict. The city has definitely changed overtime, and seems to have grown from the east. The rivers and harbor have to be dredged regularly.
[00:42:46] James wonders about the underworlds of Jakálla because the water table would be higher with the city located on the seafront. Victor suggests that there may be ancient, underground machinery hidden below the surface that serve as a sump pump for the underworlds.
[00:44:20] Locations 47 and 51 seem to indicate something of the ancient arrangement of the city. Victor has spent some time thinking about the growth of Jakálla over time. For instance, because the Foreigner’s Quarter is furthest west, it should be the newest part of the city.
[00:45:45] The scope of the past in Tékumel is so broad, that by “new” we mean it developed over roughly the last one-thousand years.
[00:46:08] Jakálla is at least 250 years overdue for ditlána. It’s important to keep in mind that even during ditlána, some locations are preserved in situ. This could mean that these locations have to be raised up as the city is built up around them.
[00:47:10] There’s a tendency on the part of players to think that a fictional society would always do what makes the most sense, or is the most obvious. But that’s not how the real world works. Sometimes decisions get made based on what seems right at the time, and might be illogical to more recent people. People also have contrary or competing agendas.
[00:48:20] James wishes we knew more about ditlána. There was a discussion about this on the Blue Room. It’s something that a city decides to do for itself. It’s a way in which the powerful elements of the city settle their accounts, and has a significant political aspect.
[00:49:44] Ditlána also has religious connotations, and the temples probably take omens. It’s definitely a ritualized process that has theological and auspicious elements to it, and that’s one of the reasons it doesn’t happen all the time.
Hosts: Scott Kellogg, James Maliszewski, and Victor J. Raymond.
Tékumel Products Referenced:
The color Map of Jakálla (from the 1975 edition of EPT) is available 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.
“The Blue Room” was a Tékumel-focused ftp site formerly hosted by Chris Davis. It saw regular contributions from Professor Barker. An archive of this material is available here. If you’re looking for information on a specific topic, search the document found here to find the appropriate volume(s), and then access them here. [GPD: Unlike the Temple of Ksárul, my methods are neither secret, nor jealously guarded.]
Consent and Gaming is a PDF product written by Sean K. Reynolds and Shanna Germain and published by Monte Cook Games. It’s available at no charge.
“Lines and Veils” is a concept originally outlined by Ron Edwards in a 2003 supplement for his Sorcerer Role Playing Game called Sex and Sorcery. It was published by Adept Press.
Pathfinder is a roleplaying game first published by Paizo Publishing in 2009. It is based on the revised version of 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons. A second edition was released in August of 2019.