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 talk to Keith Dalluhn, who played Sanjésh hiKirisáya, Priest of the Temple of Thúmis in Prof. Barker’s Thursday Night Group. Keith supplies numerous anecdotes and fascinating stories about gaming in Prof. Barker’s Tékumel.
But before they interview Keith, our hosts spend the first part of the episode exploring two of Tékumel’s most notorious inhabitants, the inimical Ssú and Hlǘss.
[00:00:54] The Ssú and the Hlǘss.
[00:01:01] How do you pronounce “Ssú?” Victor says that in Tsolyáni, the double-s indicates more of a /ʂ/ sound. But he doesn’t remember anyone actually pronouncing it that way. [GPD: For the linguistically inclined, see The Tsolyáni Language, p.2 – Prof. Barker says it’s a “voiceless grooved retroflex (or cerebral) fricative.”]
[00:02:22] With pronunciation, you do the best you can under the circumstances. But wouldn’t it be cool if Prof. Barker would show up and correct you?
[00:02:39] Are these two inimical races truly “native” to Tékumel? Prof. Barker himself ended up leaving their origins up to interpretation. Victor interprets Prof. Barker and takes the position that they’re native until we discover evidence that they’re not.
[00:03:48] How did James use these creatures? How did he interpret their alien mindset? Basically, he didn’t. Portraying a truly alien mindset is hard, because once you begin to understand it, it’s not alien anymore.
[00:05:05] The Ssú don’t seem particularly happy with what’s become of Tékumel. The Sourcebook is clear that the Ssú were once the masters of the landmasses of Tékumel, while the Hlǘss lived on the coasts and the seas. There are two subspecies of Ssú, the grey Ssú and the black Ssú. There might also be other colors.
[00:06:20] The Ssú are only friendly with the Hlǘss. But the Hlǘss are also friendly with the Shunned Ones, and neutral to the Hláka, so long as they’re unaccompanied by humans.
[00:06:50] The Ssú have been pushed back to Ssuyál (which is just Ts. plural “Ssú”). Ssuganár is the old ruined Ssú capital, which is now in human hands (in the kingdom of Pecháno). Ssú cities and habitations bear no resemblance human analogues.
[00:07:50] The Ssú are iconic in Tékumel, as are their high-chiming voices, their blue lights and the smell of cinnamon.
[00:09:00] Some interesting pieces of Ssú lore. In the published version of EPT, there’s mention of the Ssú having access to the ancient underground labyrinth of tunnels which were leftover from before the Time of Darkness. This isn’t in the memo version of EPT. The Ssú and the Hlǘss are part of these historical mysteries.
[00:10:50] Can Victor give us a story of his encounters with them? Well, they tried to avoid them if they could. They are highly skilled and trained sorcerers, and make formidable opponents.
[00:11:15] There was one time where Victor’s group encountered Ssú in the Valley of Kashkomái. They were actually friendly, and as a result, it was a truly alien encounter.
[00:11:30] In one of the Thursday Night Group’s adventures, they encountered an island with a golden city inhabited by humans and others – including a black Ssú. The Ssú wanted to talk with them, and they were able to have an ongoing conversation with him. But there was some question about whether this creature was all he appeared to be: the Ship of the Ancients the group was traveling with was shortly recalled to Avanthár to provide an escape for Dhich’uné, so there’s some suspicion that this was actually an agent of the Worm Prince.
[00:14:20] What’s the relationship between the Ssú and the Hlǘss? They have superficial physical similarities, but so do a lot of races. The Ssú are clearly the more land-bound of the two races, while the Hlǘss have ships and travel the oceans.
[00:15:05] The Hlǘss are behind the zu’úr trade. If you play through the Adventures of Tékumel scenario that takes you to Penóm (Adventures on Tékumel II/2) you find out more about this. The zu’úr trade also shows up in early Dispatches as something that undermines the Empire.
[00:15:45] The Hlǘss’s ships produce a humming that is both audible and subsonic, and this can be even more terrifying than the chiming voices of the Ssú.
[00:16:07] The Hlǘss have been operating at the edges of James’s House of Worms campaign, but his players haven’t (yet) encountered them. The Hlǘss seem more dangerous, because they range about. The Ssú seem a lot less assertive.
[00:17:57] Where does zu’úr come from? James seems to remember that it’s derived from a secretion of the Hlǘss, but Victor isn’t sure. [GPD: If this is out there, I can’t find it. An attempt was made.]
[00:18:52] The Ssú are masters of the tubeway system, but we really don’t know what they’re doing. The Black Ssú have their own island off the coast of Tané. There is an account of a human who spent many years at the court of Bássa, king of the black Ssú.
[00:20:49] Special Guest: Keith Dalluhn (player of Sanjésh hi hiKirisáya, Priest of the Temple of Thúmis). Keith was a member of the Thursday Night Group with Victor, and the first “iconoclastic” member. Bob Alberti showed up with Keith one night, completely ignoring the then-practice of debating over new members.
[00:22:20] The first night Keith showed up, he expected to sit at the end of the table and watch. But Prof. Barker threw him a card for Sanjésh hiKirisáya, and the legend was born. Prof. Barker was good about picking out characters for his player’s personalities.
[00:23:35] Keith had a lot to work with with Sanjésh. Keith also often picked up on things that Prof. Barker seemed to be hinting at, but that the rest of the group was ignoring. Prof. Barker sometimes played to this.
[00:24:23] Aís Krüthai, Sanjésh’s first wife. She was the daughter of one of the Bednálljan Kings (Thukén, who later became one of the Undying Wizards) who was dead for a long time. Sarvodáya Di’éla went back in time and took her after her death and resurrected her to keep as a handmaiden. At first, Aís had a necklace that if you broke, her soul would be released and she would die. Sanjésh met Aís at the College at the End of Time. She had more power than any character he knew. She had the moonbeam spell, which could disintegrate any enemy.
[00:26:49] At the wedding, Súbadim the Sorcerer came up to give his gift, and took the necklace, broke it, and restored Aís’s soul to her.
[00:31:07] Players sometimes get the impression that their characters are “special” because they’re PCs. But as our hosts have said before, “there are no NPCs on Tékumel.” This cuts both ways. If Prof. Barker thought you thought your PC was special, he’d make sure you didn’t think so for very long.
[00:31:50] Keith says that Prof. Barker’s game has ruined roleplaying for him in some ways. He gives an account of an encounter on the planes, where, after communication with the spirit of the inhabitant of a tower, he tried to preserve the items inside. Another player got so ticked off that got up and left after Keith said he didn’t want to grave rob.
[00:35:20] Keith gives another account where Bob Brynildson used the Divine Intervention rules (EPT §2110, p. 91) and ended up summoning Sárku. Getting Prof. Barker amused was a good way to get him to help you.
[00:36:45] Keith gives more context for a story he first told in HOBI Ep. 25 (at 00:32:20!) where he created a whole cohort of hundreds of characters with lineages and families, only to discourage Prof. Barker from killing them.
[00:39:06] Early on, there was a lot of interest in miniatures battles. This ran into the problem that some players were better generals than others. In Dragon #4, Prof. Barker mentions that they played the Battle of the Temple of Chánis three times. But by the time the Thursday night group was playing, there were no miniatures and it was purely theater-of-the-mind.
[00:41:02] Players playing the GM. Keith likes to turn the game on the GM, and influence him.
[00:43:37] Experiences with the Pariah Deities, they were never good. Keith and Victor discuss an encounter with a manifestation of the Goddess of the Pale Bone. Prof. Barker would drop a lot of hints, where you wouldn’t realize something was significant at the time, but would connect the dots later.
[00:45:50] “Ley-lines of Power”: If you drew lines between the major cities, at the points where lines intersected, interesting things would show up. This includes the Valley of Kashkomái. Several short anecdotes follow.
[00:50:36] A question about some very weird children.
[00:52:16] Keith wants this out there: Sanjésh beat Kárin Missúm to the top of the walls when they laid siege of Tléku Miriyá. The Thursday Night Group was present when Prince Mirusíya became the emperor.
[00:53:16] A plot point involving the Crystal Claw of Kúrutesh (EPT §1500, no. 5, p. 76), which had much more significance than its description in EPT would imply. The Silver Butterfly isn’t detailed anywhere. [GPD: It’s very briefly mentioned in The Tongue of Those Who Journey Beyond: Sunúz]
[00:55:07] Scott notes that both Keith and Bob describe things in a visceral, first-person way. Keith says that it felt weird sometimes, when you felt your character’s emotions. It’s about the connection with the group. Scott compares it to playing in a band; Keith compares it to his experiences in a comedy troupe.
[00:58:08] There were some late nights in Prof. Barker’s basement. The group would spend an hour afterwards talking outside to process everything that happened. In the early days, a few times they actually went all night, and went for breakfast in the morning.
[01:00:10] The Group would spend time out-of-session planning what they would do next, but Prof. Barker would do something at the beginning of the next session that would immediately undermine them.
Hosts: Scott Kellogg, James Maliszewski, and Victor J. Raymond.
Special Guest: Keith Dalluhn
Tékumel Products Referenced:
The Tsolyáni Language was originally published in two volumes beginning in 1978. It is intended to be a complete guide to the language, and includes a pronunciation guide, an extensive grammar, a script, and English-Tsolyáni and Tsolyáni-English vocabularies. It is available for purchase on DriveThruRPG as a PDF.
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.
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.
Adventures on Tékumel Vol. 2, Part #2 – Beyond the Borders of Tsolyánu was a supplement for the Gardásiyal ruleset. It was published in 1993 by Theatre of the Mind Enterprises.
Prof. Barker’s “Imperial Dispatches” appeared both in the Strategic Review and in the early issues of Dragon.
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.
The Tongue of Those Who Journey Beyond: Sunúz was originally published in 1994 by Prof. Barker. You can purchase the PDF from DriveThruRPG.
Keith’s comedy troupe is Fearless Comedy Productions in Minneapolis. They do a bunch of local shows, and an annual 50-hour marathon.