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 interview special guest Bill Hoyt. Bill has been involved with roleplaying games since the early 1970s, and was integral in getting TSR to publish Empire of the Petal Throne. He played in Prof. Barker’s early campaigns, and among several fascinating anecdotes, finally explains what happened on that mysterious road out of Úrmish.
[00:00:27] Our featured guest is one of Prof. Barker’s first players, a longtime wargamer and avid roleplayer, Bill Hoyt.
[00:01:20] How did Bill meet Prof. Barker. Bill was in a Twin Cities group with Dave Arneson and Dave Wesley that played wargames. Bill was already teaching at the time, but several members of the group were going to the University of Minnesota. These members had started a wargaming group, which Prof. Barker participated in. When D&D got printed, Dave Arneson went to work in Lake Geneva with TSR, and Bill heard that “this professor” was running his own adventure game, and had even written it up. Bill went over to meet him, and received a mimeographed copy of Barker’s original EPT rules.
[00:03:50] As a result of his academic background, Prof. Barker knew how to organize and present information. Just about every RPG that came into existence after EPT followed Barker’s general formatting and presentation of his rules (instead of the way that the original D&D rules were formatted).
[00:03:56] Bill knew Gary Gygax and Arneson, and offered to try to get EPT printed. Prof. Barker gave him permission, and Bill took the copy to TSR, where they started to work on what became the original published version. In the meantime, Bill began to game with Prof. Barker, which was the “best part of the whole thing”
[00:04:53] D&D came out in 1974, so this was around 1975.
[00:05:11] Prior to Bill’s involvement, Mike Mornard had played with Gary Gygax in Lake Geneva, but started to play EPT with Prof. Barker when he began to attend the University of Minnesota. Bill found out that Mike had previously tried to introduce Prof. Barker’s rules to Gygax, but he had ignored them. Of course, at the time, Mike was only a college freshman, and so he can’t be faulted.
[00:06:40] What was it like playing with Prof. Barker? Bill and his group would go over to Prof. Barker’s house every other Sunday and started playing at Prof. Barker’s dining room table.
[00:07:23] Bill became so entranced with EPT that he started keeping track of his EPT characters.
[00:07:55] The only thing Bill ever played with Prof. Barker was EPT. He jumped straight in to it. Bill considers Prof. Barker the best DM/GM/referee he’s ever played with.
[00:08:30] Bill started off in a fresh-off-the-boat campaign with the player characters being shipwrecked and arriving in Jakálla. The group could sell the possessions they had for equipment, and began at the Palace of Foreign Persons. They really knew nothing about the setting, and waited for patrons to show up and give them something to do.
[00:09:15] Their first patron was a priest in blue armor, who asked if they would be interested in going to the Underworld. Later, they realized the significance of this connection: this man was a member of the Emperor’s own Omnipotent Azure Legion.
[00:09:50] At one point, Bill’s group found itself in the Jakállan Underworld near the Temple of Vimúlha – or as one of the other players nicknamed it, “the nice, safe castle.” Keep in mind, it’s surrounded by a moat of molten lava, with a very thin bridge. They didn’t go in.
[00:10:39] They wandered on through the catacombs, and a strange guy shows up to help them with the battle. Afterwards, he tells them that they can find treasure in the Temple, so the group goes to rob it. They get a bunch of loot, and get ready to head across the narrow bridge when they see a mass of people with torches approaching from the other end. They tried to hide (which didn’t work) but they made it out.
[00:12:30] Prof. Barker was always rolling for wandering monsters. They finally got over the bridge and into the cavern, then two sró confronted them. Bill tries to take them on and gets squashed. So they have to drag him out. The session lasted until close to 4:00 AM, because the players didn’t want to leave their characters without escaping.
[00:14:10] Bill never played any miniatures games with Prof. Barker. His group bought figures and painted them up, and ended up playing Tékumel games with others. He found a group of college students in River Falls, and made a model of a sákbe road for Con of the North, which is now in the Tékumel Foundation.
[00:15:38] The next year at GenCon, Prof. Barker and Gary Rudolph brought a model of the Temple of Vimúlha in Katalál.
[00:15:55] This same Temple of Vimúlha was carted around to various cons, and Scott actually played a con game at 14 where it was the centerpiece.
[00:16:24] Bob Alberti has the Temple now. It’s a museum piece, and Bill thinks it should be on display somewhere. Victor is interested in working out the particulars.
[00:17:51] Bill never played a game that used the Temple, but others must have. It comes apart, and has miniatures in it.
[00:18:20] Bill started his own company called WAW Productions which published rules for wargames. He used this as a way to get Gygax to pay attention to EPT. Bill never expected to get anything from it, because it was Prof. Barker’s work, but Gygax gave Bill royalties off of the sales of EPT as well. This is why EPT says “Presented in Association with William J. Hoyt of WAW Productions.”
[00:20:20] Bill had an opportunity to be with Prof. Barker and Gary Gygax at the same time. When the first run of EPT was delivered to Gygax’s house, Prof. Barker and Bill, along with the illustrators and Dave Arneson, went over and saw them opened. Bill got the first copy, and had everyone sign it on the title page. It was so fresh that the ink was still slightly wet, and Arneson actually smudged it on the back of Bill’s copy.
[00:23:02] The year that EPT came out Bill attended a banquet at the Playboy Club. The guests were Fritz Leiber and Harry Smith, along with Prof. Barker and Gardner Fox. Bill knew who Gardner Fox was, and was overawed.
[00:24:30] Bill also got to know Fritz Leiber, and had an opportunity to play Lankhmar.
[00:25:30] Bill knew the group of gamers that included Dave Wesley, Ross Maker and Dave Arneson, as well as Dave Megarry. They played Megarry’s game of Dungeon! over and over, so that when EPT came out, Bill had the idea to do the same thing. This product became known as Quest, but TSR passed on it. Bill ended up investing some money in Quest and made copies of it. He’s shared it with the Tékumel Foundation, who might follow up on it.
[00:27:20] Bill offers an anecdote about going to find a Lightning Bringer for the Omnipotent Azure Legion and running across a “guest” of Nyélmu, who had been frozen by an Excellent Ruby Eye for so long that his armor had rusted.
[00:29:30] Bill played every other Sunday with Prof. Barker for two years, before work and marriage took him away. He called him from time to time, but never got to play with him.
[00:30:00] A lot of players have the idea that when their characters die, they just roll another. But for Bill and several of his group, they felt like the characters were “them” and that they couldn’t just reset.
[00:30:38] Bill’s one character in Prof. Barker’s campaign (a priest of Keténgku) achieved immortality by getting gobbled up by demons and enlisted in an eternal war. The initial part of this event made it into an Imperial Dispatch (see Dragon #4, p. 7). Any attempt to summarize the next six minutes would do it an injustice.
[00:36:58] During Bill’s time at Prof. Barker’s table, the rules were still nebulous. At one point, they received an Eye of Advancing Through Portals. After Prof. Barker described its effect as a “battering ram,” one player started using it to smash opponents, so they rechristened it the “Eye of Advancing People Through Portals.” Later on, Bill learned that Gary Rudolph ended up in a maze and took out the Eye to blow holes through the walls to bypass the maze. After that, the Eye didn’t work the same. You can still find the passage in the Jakállan dungeon where these holes have been punched in the walls to bypass the maze.
[00:40:11] Playing with Prof. Barker was so fantastic, Bill’s groups joked about searching his house for the portal to actual Tékumel that Prof. Barker must be using.
[00:40:50] Bill explains the origins of the War of Wizards. It started with a short discussion of the climax of the novel Deryni Rising, and how that would be great to play. About a month later, Prof. Barker handed Bill a copy of War of Wizards.
[00:41:49] War of Wizards was produced to offer to other people, but the original mimeographed EPT was not intended for sale. Bill owns two copies of the mimeographed EPT.
[00:42:24] Prof. Barker loved movies, and Bill and he watched the Three Musketeers (1973), and its sequel, The Four Musketeers together.
[00:43:15] Prof. Barker loved Vance’s “Dying Earth”, and “Planet of Adventure” series, as well as the works of Abraham Merritt, E.E “Doc” Smith’s Lensman Series, The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison. He also especially enjoyed The Man Who Would be King (1975), which featured an Indian actor saying his lines in his native Urdu, and Moroccan extras answering in Arabic.
Hosts: Scott Kellogg, James Maliszewski, and Victor J. Raymond.
Special Guest: Bill Hoyt
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.
Quest: The Underworld of Tekumel was a Dungeon!-inspired game designed by Bill Hoyt. TSR considered publishing it in the mid-1970s, and even publically advertised it for a time. Unfortunately, it never saw the light of day, but Bill Hoyt has run several games using his prototypes. Zach Howard at the Zenopus Archives has a detailed blog post on the history of Quest.
WAW Productions (short for “World At War”) was founded by Bill Hoyt in 1974. Several of TSR’s early products mention WAW Production in their credits, and, as related in this episode, Bill’s was so instrumental in facilitating the agreement with TSR to publish Empire of the Petal Throne that he received credit and a royalty from its sales.
Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World is a thorough discussion of the origins of wargaming and roleplaying games. It is available from Amazon. Jon’s blog is here, and his post on WAW Productions is here.
Firtz Leiber was an author of speculative fiction, and actually coined the term “Sword and Sorcery.” He received multiple Hugo Awards during his career. His most well-known work is the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser cycle of stories, which center around the two eponymous protagonists who live in the city of Lankhmar.
In 1976, TSR published a board wargame titled Lankhmar set in the same world, to which Leiber himself contributed. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, TSR also published AD&D supplements detailing the world of Lankhmar.
Gardner Fox wrote several novels and multiple pieces of short fiction, but he’s best known as a comic book writer. Writing for DC Comics, he co-created the original Flash, Hawkman, and Sandman, as well as the Justice Society of America. He also introduced the concept of a multiverse to DC Comics in The Flash #123 (Sept. 1961). [GPD: Bill makes an error in this episode, the Golden Age Green Lantern (Alan Scott) is credited to Mart Dellon (an early penname of Martin Nodell), while the better-known Silver Age Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) is the creation of Julius Schwartz.]
Dungeon! was first released by TSR in 1975, and has seen several rereleases. It is a board game that shares many qualities with Dungeons & Dragons. Wizards of the Coast published the most recent edition in 2014, and it remains in print. The official rulebook for this edition is available here.
Flash Gordon & the Warriors of Mongo was a game system and ruleset designed by Lin Carter and Scott Bizar. It was based on the popular science fiction property, and published by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1977.
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.
War of Wizards was the first commercially marketed Tékumel product. It is a standalone board game that involves two wizards engaged in a magical duel. TSR began selling the original self-published version in 1975, but started selling a printed version later that year. It was released with more components in 1977.
Deryni Rising is a historical fantasy novel by Katherine Kurtz. It was originally published in 1970 by Ballantine Books.
The Three Musketeers and its sequel and The Four Musketeers premiered in 1973 and 1974 respectively. They were both directed by Richard Lester and featured Oliver Reed, Charlton Heston, Raquel Welch, and Richard Chamberlain, among others.
Jack Vance was a prolific author who 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.
A. Merritt was born in 1884 and was a magazine editor and author of science fiction. He was a major influence among better known authors of the 20th Century, and popular with roleplaying game forefathers like Prof. Barker and Gary Gygax.
E.E “Doc” Smith was an early author of speculative fiction, best known for his Lensman and Skylark series. Aspects of the Lensman series will be familiar to anyone who’s read Green Lantern, and might have served as an inspiration to the creator of Silver Age Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and subsequent writers who worked on the character.
The Worm Ouroboros is a lengthy fantasy novel written by E. R. Eddison and first published in 1922. A tale of war between two nations populated by various fantasy creatures, it prefigures many aspects of the fantasy settings that would become popular in early roleplaying games.
The Man Who Would be King is a 1975 adaption of Rudyard Kipling’s novella. It details the exploits of two former soldiers in the British Army who decide to leave their posting in India to become adventures in a remote area of modern-day Afghanistan. Spoiler, things don’t exactly turn out how they expected.