Welcome to The Hall of Blue Illumination, the podcast dedicated to the world of M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel. In this most-apposite of episodes, our hosts discuss sickness and disease on Tékumel. Can magic fix everything? No, it can’t. But first, Victor discusses his recent experience running games at GaryCon 2020, which had to be moved online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
[00:00:50] Running a virtual Tékumel game. Victor recently participated in GaryCon online, an experience he describes as “intense.” This year, the Con had to be cancelled because of “the recent unpleasantness” but Tabletop.Events helped to move it online using platforms like Discord and Roll20.
[00:02:08] Victor, who is relatively new to online gaming, ran two Tékumel events and two Traveller events via Discord. He played for a total of 18 hours. Everyone was able to participate, and Victor ultimately determined that he didn’t need a virtual play-space like Astral or Fantasy Grounds.
[00:03:53] As usual, Victor drew up the character sheets beforehand. He would have loved to use one of the EPT character sheets designed by Dyson Logos, but instead used his own text format.
[00:05:02] The first event he ran was “The Golden Disk”, an excuse to put the player characters in a tubeway car and visit different parts of the planet. His players made it to two destinations, then were able to persuade their host to allow them to return to Tsolyánu. One destination was the City of Red-Tiled Roofs, first mentioned in Dragon #4 (p.19)
[00:05:58] Victor’s hook for the adventure was that the PCs were chased into the car by the Ssú. More than one player commented that the adventure was evocative of the works of Jack Vance, a comment that would please Prof. Barker.
[00:07:09] Victor’s next event was “Khirgár, the Fortress of the North.” This was a fresh-off-the-boat premise, where the players were foreigners who had just arrived in Tsolyánu. They ended up turning down a Tinalíya who wanted them to explore an underworld, and also turned down a priest of Wurú who wanted to go hunting in the desert. Instead they went with a noblewoman who wanted to travel to the city of Hlíkku (a.k.a. the “City of the Mad Ones”) in Yán Kór. It turned out she was an agent of Tsolyánu on a secret mission.
[00:09:45] Victor had a great time. He used a Discord dice roller bot called Dice Maiden.
[00:10:42] One of the things Victor missed in the Discord experience was a simple mapping tool/white board without a steep learning curve. He considered Roll20, but because of the situation didn’t have very long to prepare to use that.
[00:12:15] James feels that most of the virtual play-spaces are geared towards games with more moving parts than EPT, and that they’re overkill. Of course, James also benefits from having a professional cartographer in his online group (the aforementioned Dyson Logos).
[00:13:45] Scott uses Discord plus a digital whiteboard like Awwboards.
[00:15:00] Mark Siefert also ran several Tékumel events.
[00:16:14] James has been running an online game for the past five years. James originally used Google Hangouts, before they moved to Discord. Discord has video, but James just uses the audio. He uses the text chat to upload images, and sometimes uses a digital whiteboard.
[00:18:27] James agrees that EPT isn’t really a tactical game, so a virtual play-space isn’t needed.
[00:19:14] The one major thing James points out he’s learned is that online play is a perfectly valid alternative to in-person play. For niche games like Tékumel, playing virtually can allow you to cast a wide net and find players you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
[00:21:25] One other thing Victor noticed was that four hours was an intense amount of time over voice chat.
[00:22:52] Has James’s style changed now that he’s refereeing online? Not really, but it’s easier for him to be a little lazy, and covertly prepare while other people are talking.
[00:24:42] Scott clarifies the difference between a virtual tabletop like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds which includes tactical elements, and Discord which is not a “virtual tabletop” because it doesn’t have those aspects.
[00:25:22] So how close are we to a virtual Tékumel event?
[00:25:40] Tabletop.Events had announced that they were going out of business because of COVID-19. But now that everyone is talking about going online for gaming, there’s a group of fans who is trying to keep them in business by setting up an online convention called “Con of Champions.”
[00:27:15] Health and Disease, a.k.a “The Plagues of Tékumel.” Scott quotes an excerpt from Swords & Glory Vol. 1 (§1.400, p. 21).
[00:28:10] Victor finds it interesting that the inhabitants of Tékumel have encountered plagues from other planets.
[00:28:55] Several plagues are mentioned, but no reference is given to how these arise. Victor speculates that the Ssú and the Hlǘss would be trying to come up with ways to use them against the other races.
[00:29:43] What are the limits of healing sorcery? Well, there’s magic specific to diseases, but healing magic doesn’t work on radiation damage (first mentioned in Q. 5 of the “Seal of the Imperium” column in Dragon #9). The universal spell Alleviation handles disease, poisons and toxins, but doesn’t work on alcohol.
[00:31:45] Access to healing magic is limited by social class and economics. One thing to consider is that if diseases are easily eradicated by magic, they have to be sufficiently virulent so as to continue to spread.
[00:33:00] Prof. Barker indicates that the Tèkumeláni don’t have germ theory of disease. (S&G v1, p. 22)
[00:33:54] There’s a fascinating discussion in the Sourcebook that microorganisms have mutated since the Time of Darkness so that previously-effective magical treatments might not affect them (S&G vol. 1, p. 22).
[00:35:40] In the list of Tsolyáni Emperors, the 60th, Mursún Dlekkúminè was said to have died of plague, but actually it was the effects of the drug Zu’úr (S&G1, §1.370, p. 15). Two more Emperors actually died of plague or disease, Héshqu Miúna (6th), and Métlunel III (44th). The circumstances of Nu’únka’s (29th) death are suspicious, to say the least.
[00:39:00] Some of the Engsvanyáli Priestkings have incredibly long reigns. With respect to Tsolyáni Emperors, the 56th, Gyésmu Dálisan lived for 125 years by extending his life with magic and drugs.
[00:41:12] This shows that disease and sickness affects both the rich and poor. It doesn’t get talked about much, but Prince Esélne himself died of dysentery during the civil war that followed the death of Emperor Hirkáne hiTlakotáni.
[00:41:58] In Lords of Tsámra, we see the effects of the (false) Plague of the White Hand.
[00:42:30] Both Scott and James have used plagues in their games. Scott used the Plague of the White Hand as the reason the foreign PCs left their starting location and entered the Imperium. In James’s campaign, his players are encountering refugees from Livyánu who are fleeing a plague in their homeland.
[00:43:28] In the penultimate chapter of Man of Gold, several people succumb to a strange disease at the end. Spoiler: it wasn’t a disease that did it.
[00:46:48] James cites Mitlányal (p. 24), which discusses the Tèkumeláni view of sickness and how that interacts with worship of the gods.
[00:49:02] Diseases have social, medical, historical, and economic effects. As revealed in the later novels, the Mu’ugalavyáni were able to invade Livyánu because the Livyáni were weakened by the (false) Plague of the White Hand.
Hosts: Scott Kellogg, James Maliszewski, and Victor J. Raymond.
Tékumel Products Referenced:
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.
You can find Dyson Logos at his website. In addition to publishing several fantastic maps every week, he’s designed several character sheets for EPT available here, and is also the cartographer for James’s long-running Tékumel campaign.
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.
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.
Lords of Tsámra, Prince of Skulls, and A Death of Kings are the last three of Prof. Barker’s Tékumel novels. They were originally published by Zottola Publishing between 2002 and 2003. They are currently out-of-print, and can only be obtained at significant cost from third-party resellers. The Tékumel Foundation plans to reissue them in print and electronic versions in the future.
Mitlányal 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.
Gary Con is an annual spring gaming convention held in Lake Geneva, WI to honor the memory of E. Gary Gygax.
Tabletop.Events is a company founded in 2015. Their platform helps customers to organize and find tabletop gaming conventions. The Con of Champions is a fundraiser and virtual convention created to help support Tabletop.Events whose business has been all but eliminated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Discord is an online service (with related applications) which allows for messaging, chat, and audio and video communication. It is primarily used by gamers.
Roll20 is a popular virtual tabletop service, which allows players to host and play a variety of tabletop games over the Internet. It was launched in 2012.
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.
Astral is another virtual tabletop service, backed by OneBookShelf, the company that owns DriveThruRPG and its sister sites.
Fantasy Grounds bills itself as the “most supported virtual tabletop” with more official licenses than any other. It was founded in 2009.
Jack Vance won multiple awards for his works of fiction, including sci-fi and fantasy. His “Dying Earth” and “Planet of Adventure” series will be of especial interest to Tékumel fans. He died in 2013 at age 96.
Dice Maiden is a dice rolling bot for Discord, designed with tabletop RPGs in mind.
AWW App is a collaborative online whiteboard.