Welcome to The Hall of Blue Illumination, the podcast dedicated to the world of M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel. This episode was recorded on November 2, 2019 at GameHole Con in Madison, Wisconsin. Special guests Jeff Dee, Karen Knight and John Till join regular hosts Scott and Victor to discuss their experiences at the con, and how they’re currently gaming on Tékumel.
In the middle of the episode, our hosts put out the call for “Dispatches from the Tree of Time.” Listeners are encouraged to report back with their experiences gaming on Tékumel, either through a write-up, or through an audio recording which might be included in a future segment.
[00:00:45] Right before this recording, James was kidnapped by a marauding band of Salarvyáni hairdressers, so Victor and Scott have invited Jeff Dee, John Till and Karen Knight to fill his shoes.
[00:01:20] John Till recaps his con experience. As of recording, he’s played in six Tékumel games, ran his Fate of Tékumel game twice, and ran a John Carter of Mars/Tékumel crossover using Modiphius’ 2d20 system.
[00:01:50] John describes Fate of Tékumel. It’s a new Tékumel ruleset he’s developing under license from the Tékumel Foundation using a “Tékumelized” Fate System. Among other things its grounded in the Tèkumeláni conception of the quinquepartite soul, and uses spells based on EPT. The most notable roleplaying event John’s had during the con was an encounter with a Feshénga that didn’t last long.
[00:03:37] Karen Knight describes her experiences. She jokes that she’s learned a lot about Tékumel while sitting at a merch. table. Her most memorable experience was playing in one of Scott’s Tékumel games. She also got some sweet loot.
[00:04:36] Jeff Dee has a table in the artist section, where he’s been doing sketches while pushing Béthorm and his other RPGs and prints. He also had a chance to run the first of two Béthorm events, which ended in a total party kill. He feels awkward about it, but everyone had a good time. The session started with a demon blowing up the White Kestrel Clanhouse in Katalál.
[00:06:06] Victor’s had a great weekend helping to pull together GameHole Con’s Tékumel track. He’s run two classic Traveller events and one Tékumel event. Victor’s Tékumel game, “Fortress of the North” started in Khirgár and then moved to other places. It resulted in a near TPK, but two PCs ran away and survived! (GPD: The best you can hope for when dealing with minions of She Who Must Not Be Named?)
[00:08:01] Scott ran his first Tékumel event at a convention called “The Rising Tide of Darkness” set in Penóm. In this game, priests of Hrü’ü kidnapped the PCs and tossed them into an underworld to appease the demons of the dark. This was an EPT/Dungeon Crawl Classics mashup. For the record, one-third of his party survived. To quote John Till, “one of the most fun Tékumel games I’ve ever played in.”
[00:10:25] Jeff realizes that he’s omitted explaining what his adventure was about. His players were low-ranking officers in the Omnipotent Azure Legion who were dispatched to investigate low-level explosions in the aforementioned White Kestrel Clanhouse. The clan elders are secretive, but they finally take the PCs into their warehouse where they discover a nexus portal to a plane of cold and ice. The clan uses this portal to ship refrigerated products, but for some reason some of these have been exploding. The PCs investigate, venture into the plane, and encounter extra-planar entities, including the demon ruler. Hijinks ensue, and the punchline (i.e., the player behind the main PC in this anecdote) is revealed around 18:00.
[00:19:04] While at dinner the night before recording, Victor had an idea, “Dispatches from the Tree of Time.” The basis for this is Prof. Barker’s suggestion that your Tékumel and his will differ. Listeners of HOBI are therefore encouraged to report their gaming experiences in Tékumel to us, either via an audio recording or a written write-up. Everybody’s game can be better if we know what others are doing with Tékumel.
[00:21:52] John shares that he builds campaigns based on the Emperor lists (Sourcebook §1.370, pp. 13-15. One of his campaigns started with the reign of Trákonel I, “the Blazing Light” who battled the cult of The One Other. After Trákonel I, Héshqu Miúna I reigned for less than a year because he succumbed to the Plague of the White Spots. John connects these two events. He also has one that starts with the reign of Hehejállu “the Dark Moon” and carries forward to the Time of No Emperor (816-830 A.S.). He does this because he’s always felt intimidated by the timeline of events following the death of Emperor Hirkáne hiTlakotáni. John is also developing the city of Thráya in the eastern empire, even though he often runs games elsewhere.
[00:24:35] Not only can you create campaigns in other places, you can create them in other times during the history of Tékumel.
[00:26:12] The “Tree of Time” notion dodges canonicity. Jeff took the same approach with the default setting of his V&V 3.0 Mighty Protectors game.
[00:28:19] Jeff notes that Manda is currently running two Béthorm campaigns, one involving a group of Stability-oriented characters, and another one with Change-oriented PCs. Both storylines take place in the same world, set in the Kúrt Hills region after the civil war.
[00:29:06] The name Béthorm is relevant to this discussion. “Béthorm” is the Tsolyáni term for a pocket universe, such as the one in which Tékumel exists. Jeff choose this in part because his system (which predated Béthorm) was called “Pocket Universe.”
[00:30:04] Each branch on the tree of time represents a different range of potentialities. The way Prof. Barker thought of it was that so long as Tékumel exists in a béthorm, it exists on the tree of time.
[00:30:45] Where does John want to take his Tékumel? Running Fate of Tékumel at cons has allowed him to see how players outside of his local group approach the rules, and this is very useful to him. Can you use the plague spell in all places and settings? People said the same thing about the eyes that change people’s genders.
[00:32:02] John’s Fate of Tékumel rules aren’t available online, but he’s shared them with people who have expressed an interest in playtesting.
[00:33:20] Scott wants to start doing something Tékumel at his local game store monthly.
[00:34:54] Victor’s regular game is two years and running, but uses his con games to experiment with things he might incorporate into it in the future. He’s also hoping this will help him on revisions to EPT.
[00:36:00] Jeff is playing a caravan guard who wants to be a merchant in Manda’s stability campaign. This reminds Victor of an anecdote from Prof. Barker’s campaign about one of Steven Hearn’s characters who was a lowly ship’s cook who decided to become a chef after a visitation from Lady Avánthe.
[00:38:28] In Manda’s Stability campaign, the PC’s all discovered that they were secret offspring of the usurper Dhich’uné. Jeff’s character became the nominal leader of the group, but retired him after he became too paranoid to advance the game. He’s now playing a Mu’ugalavyáni bodyguard who’s with one of the red clans in Katalál. He’s submissive and likes to get hurt, and Jeff is having fun playing him.
Hosts: Scott Kellogg and Victor J. Raymond.
Special Guests: Jeff Dee, Karen Knight and John Till
Tékumel Products Referenced:
John Till’s Fate of Tékumel was first mentioned on HOBI Ep. 8. It’s an adaptation of the Fate system. As discussed in this episode, there’s no official release yet, but John is interested in hearing from enthusiastic playtesters. His blog associated with Fate of Tékumel is here. His post describing his experiences at GameHole Con 2019 is here.
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.
Jeff Dee has previously appeared on HOBI episodes 4, 29, and 30, where he discussed his Béthorm product line in depth. Béthorm is his rules set for gaming on Tékumel, published by UNIgames. It’s available both in PDF and in print, and boasts a growing number of authorized supplements and adventures, including the Kúrt Hills Atlas, a complete campaign setting for the Kúrt Hills region.
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 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.]
Kaor! John Carter’s adventures on Barsoom (that’s “Mars” to us Jarsoomians) were detailed by Edgar Rice Burroughs over ten and a half novels. They’re wonderful and have inspired a number of roleplaying games set on Barsoom, including Modiphuis’s recent John Carter of Mars line.
The venerable science fiction RPG Traveller entered print in 1977 and has seen repeated revisions and overhauls. Virtually all of the previous editions are available in PDF. The current rule sets are Traveller5 and Mongoose Publishing’s Traveller 2nd Edition.
Dungeon Crawl Classics started out as a series of OGL modules constructed with the rules of 3.5 D&D in mind. Its publisher, Goodman Games, has expanded its line to include a core rulebook, which is an attempt at a “streamlined version” of 3rd Edition D&D. DCC books attempt to replicate the look and feel of early 1st Edition D&D material.
Purple Sorcerer’s 0-Level Party & Tourney Generator allows a GM to create a party of DCC characters within seconds.
Villains and Vigilantes is a superhero-themed roleplaying game created by Jeff Dee and Jack Herman and first published in 1979. In 2016, their company Monkey House Games successfully kickstarted a third edition of the game, which is marketed under the name Mighty Protectors. You can purchase both these new products, as well as rules and supplements for the two previous editions in electronic PDF format on DriveThruRPG, or as print-on-demand products from their Lulu storefront.