Welcome to The Hall of Blue Illumination, the podcast dedicated to the world of M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel. After a hiatus, we’re back! But wait, does anyone else smell cinnamon? This episode is devoted to a discussion of the Ssú, one of the aboriginal races of Tékumel. These strange beings are clever, dangerous foes, who are inimical to humans and other human-friendly races.
Our hosts close out the episode by pronouncing the names of the major non-human races of Tékumel.
[00:00:24] In a world that’s defined by languages, the Ssú are distinct. Their language isn’t understood by humans. Other basic facts about the Ssú. They speak vocally, a “high, sweet chiming sound.” [EPT §1127, p. 51) They also smell like musty cinnamon.
[00:01:11] Other unconfirmed theories about the Ssú-speech: that some of their sounds are beyond the human range of hearing, and that their language may have a scent component related to their distinct odor.
[00:01:44] EPT also notes that Ssú can speak the tongues of men, and learn other non-human languages as well. This means that we can communicate with them, though it’s not often explored.
[00:02:12] The Ssú (along with the Hlǘss) are two of the intelligent races who were present on Tékumel when humans showed up. Prof. Barker explicitly stated that they were native to Tékumel. They eat native vegetation called “the Food of the Ssú,” (Ts. Ssúmani or mánikh hiSsúyal) which is poisonous to all non-aboriginal races.
[00:02:53] They’re some of the last remnants of pre-terraforming Tékumel, and always positioned as enemies of humankind.
[00:03:23] There are two well-known varieties of Ssú, and possibly more. Most frequently encountered are the Gray Ssú, who reside north of Salarvyá near Pecháno. The Black Ssú are found far to the west, on an island off the coast of the Tané.
[00:04:10] Green, red, and blue Ssú have been rumored. But there’s no authoritative source on them. James brings up the discussion because the Gray and Black varieties are often presented as inscrutable, although the Black Ssú seem to be more sophisticated. James suggests that these other colors of Ssú might be found on the far east archipelago that the obscure human race the Nóm who use it as a base. He cites an article in the Imperial Courier on the Nóm by Neil Cauley. [Vol. 2, No. 1, 1985]
[00:07:03] There might be other locales where trade relations with groups of Ssú have been established. Victor suggests they might be “over the north pole” (i.e., the other side of the planet). Victor relates two Thursday Night Group encounters with the Ssú. The first occurred over the pole, where they came to a large golden city and encountered a friendly Black Ssú.
[00:09:05] The second was in the infamous Valley of Kashkomái. This is where the “house of the First Founder” is located, which is reputed to be the earliest human habitation on Tékumel. It’s a place of mystery. In short, the Salarvyáni were threatening to take over the valley, and the PCs made an appeal for help to the House of the First Founder. They were greeted by two Ssú. After sharing the information about the Salarvyáni with them, the two Ssú asked the PCs to stay the night inside the house. In the morning, all of the Salarvyáni were gone.
[00:11:09] James returns to the surprising information that Ssú can learn human languages. Has an enterprising Priest of Thúmis ever set out to try to learn more about them?
[00:11:59] We know very little about the social structure of the Ssú, besides the fact that the Black Ssú have a “king.” But we’re also told this might not truly be a “king” as we understand it. The only account that we have is by someone who claims to have been a slave of the Black Ssú.
[00:13:54] Victor notes that there are rules for generating both Gray and Black Ssú PCs in the Swords & Glory Player’s Handbook. Notable details are that while they can see relatively well in the dark, the Ssú prefer a dim blue light. The Gray Ssú are also excellent sorcerers and can hypnotize members of other races, with the exception of the Ahoggyá, the Swamp Folk, and the Tinalíya. Members of the Gray Ssú require a male leader to direct the party. [S&G Vol. 2, §2.223, p. 17]
[00:15:07] Black Ssú wear armor, and aren’t as adept at hypnosis as their Gray cousins. [S&G Vol. 2, §2.223, p. 18]
[00:16:52] The Ssú and the Hlǘss flourished after the advent of the Time of Darkness.
[00:17:25] Technologically, the Ssú had technology when humans showed up, and they had rudimentary space travel technology and energy weapons. [S&G Vol. 1, §1.200, p. 3] There’s a theme that shows up in Tékumel that most of the other races aren’t what they once were, in that they lost something over the centuries. There’s also the (heretical!) suggestion of certain undying wizards that the gods are deliberately retarding mortals’ progress.
[00:20:25] James revises an earlier statement regarding the pre-human contact Ssú, and discovers a comment about energy weapons. Victor relates an example of a “Ssú Landmine.”
[00:21:30] The Ssú are adept at using the tubeway car system. In fact, if you look at the “Memo EPT” (the unpublished, unreleased playtest rules), it’s missing a sentence from the published TSR version. [Beginning: “Their ability to pass human borders…” EPT §1127, p. 52] This contains the single reference to the tubeway car system in the published EPT.
[00:23:23] Some of the stereotypes of the Ssú which might warrant more nuance are: that they’re implacably hostile; that they’re unknowable; that they have no interest in contact with humans. This might be fostered by the Pecháni – part of their national character is that they oppose the Ssú and defend humanity from them.
[00:24:47] The current Ssú capital is Ssúyal. Their ancient capital is Ssuganár, which is now located in Pecháno. Several of Prof. Barker’s early campaigns explored Ssuganár, and at least one encountered symbols that might have been Ssú writing.
[00:25:38] Do the Ssú have religious beliefs? Prof. Barker was asked about this, and indicated that they’re so alien as to be incomprehensible to humans or human-friendly species. Despite what may be indicated elsewhere, they’re not as a race aligned with the Pariah Gods.
[00:27:50] Tactics and Weaponry of the Ssú. Victor reads several excerpts from Flamesong, describing the Ssú and the way they fight. [Flamesong, Ch. 8, pp. 123-124 in the DAW Edition].
[00:30:31] There’s some speculation about where the Ssú get their weapons. They either make them, steal them, or have some other source. The Gray Ssú don’t wear armor. James notes that in illustrations, Ssú appear to be using weapons that aren’t made for humans, so he always assumed they manufactured them.
[00:31:42] The Ssú generally don’t mass large groups of soldiers, and instead fight in small groups at night, or underground. You can find them everywhere, because of their access to the tubeway car network.
[00:34:22] Pronunciations of the Names of the Non-human Species. Victor reads them, and suggests paying especial attention to the stress mark. Also, always pronounce every letter.
[00:37:48] Victor and James pay special attention to the pronunciation of “Hlǘss.” That / ü / is generally confusing for English-speakers. [GPD: Every time I type the / ǘ / character, I have to precisely perform an evocation of Ey’ún, the Knower of Skills, one of the 62 aspects of The Doomed Prince of the Blue Room.] Our new producer Thomas gives our hosts an assist. Victor also makes a passing reference to the / y / that Prof. Barker originally used for transliterations in earlier editions of Tékumel products, before settling on / ü /.
[00:38:58] The Pygmy Folk have both a Tsolyáni name (Ninínyal) and a Yán Koryáni name (Nyénu). For the most part, Pygmy Folk communities are located in Yán Kór. But they’re notable for their mercantile proficiency, and can be found in most cities. Victor demonstrates his knowledge of Tsolyáni grammar.
[00:40:26] These names are just translations of human terms for these races. In most cases, we don’t know very much about non-human languages. The only example of a human knowing a non-human language is Harsán in Man of Gold, who speaks Pé Chói.
[00:42:11] Victor and James continue to speculate on the Tsolyáni components of “Ninínyal”. [GPD: See the entry for “ninínkoi” in The Tsolyáni Language, p. 104: “probably somehow from /ni-/ little?”]
[00:42:14] The Shunned Ones. The Tsolyáni is Vléshgayal, and the Yán Koryáni is Bláshagh. The / bl / in Yán Koryáni is related to the / vl / in Tsolyáni.
[00:44:37] The Swamp Folk. Here we have a Tsolyáni name (Hegléthyal) and a Mu’ugalavyáni name (A’láthish). The word for “swamp” in Tsolyáni seems unrelated.
[00:46:15] A few more species are mentioned. Are the Hokún merely a subdivision of a larger racial group? They’re also called the Sáàkü, which are both Tsolyáni names as far as we can tell.
[00:47:56] James is interested in discussing the Shunned Ones in depth next time. They’ve appeared in his House of Worms campaign.
[00:48:38] Thomas asks a question about the Tsolyáni / r /. Is it rolled, and if so, from where? The Sourcebook indicates that / r / is a “voiced dental single tap vibrant” while / rr / is trilled. [S&G Vol. 1, §1.100, p. 128]
[00:49:40] Even Victor is doing his best, and admits he’s not a linguist. Many of these names are frequently mispronounced, but the important thing is that you do your best.
Hosts: James Maliszewski and Victor J. Raymond.
Producer: Thomas Tiggleman
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.
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 Imperial Courier was a Tékumel-focused periodical published by Tékumel Games from 1984 to 1985. Neil R. Cauley’s article on the Nóm appeared in Vol. 2, issue 1 (1985). All issues are out-of-print.
Swords & Glory Vol. 2 (a.k.a. the “Player’s Handbook”) was first published by Gamescience in 1984. It provides an intricately-detailed ruleset for creating characters and gaming on Tékumel. You can purchase it as a print-on-demand book, or as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.
There were several supplements for the Gardásiyal ruleset in the Adventures on Tékumel line. They were published between 1992 and 1994 by Theatre of the Mind Enterprises and are now out-of-print.
Flamesong, Professor Barker’s second novel remains out-of-print, but is easily acquired through online used booksellers. The Tékumel Foundation plans to reissue it in print and electronic versions in the near future.
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.