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 discuss the term “the Five Empires.” Who coined this label? Is it a concept used by the Tèkumeláni, or is it merely gaming terminology?
Much of this analysis involves how Tsolyáni ideas of empire compare to the history of the government of Yán Kór. So it’s only natural that our hosts spend the last half of the episode discussing the career of Baron Áld.
[00:00:40] The Flamesong reprint looms! Even if you’ve already read it, the Foundation is making some additions to this new edition. James is writing an introduction, and the Tsolyáni script for “Flamesong” will also appear in the book. It’ll be out in .epub and .mobi formats, and available as print-on-demand on Amazon.
[00:03:00] The Five Empires. Who came up with that coinage? Victor and James don’t know. It seems a stretch to call Yán Kór an “empire”, especially before the arrival of Baron Áld.
[00:04:10] No reference to “Five Empires” appears in §200 of the original EPT, so it appears this terminology may develop later. It seems from the reference beginning “[t]he fourth great empire…” that really there are only four “empires” referenced in EPT; Yán Kór isn’t counted.
[00:06:04] The Source Book definitely uses the term “The Five Empires.” This supports the idea that it’s a very modern coinage, after the rise of Baron Áld.
[00:08:39] In The Ever-Glorious Empire: Éngsvan hlá Gánga, Yán Kór is referred to as the “Lost Provinces.”
[00:08:57] James notes that if the Source Book is written from a Tsolyáni perspective, we might conclude that the “Five Empires” label predates Baron Áld. If that’s the case, “empire” has to mean something more than a unified government. Perhaps it’s more of a cultural grouping? Victor notes that if so, it would match the extent of the Khíshan language groups; the languages of the Five Empires all descended from Engsvanyáli, while the other areas with non-Khíshan languages aren’t accorded the “empire” label.
[00:11:23] Salarvyá has a culture, history, and traditions that predate all of the other empires. They see themselves as the inheritors of a much more ancient Bednálljan tradition.
[00:12:17] It’s also interesting that the Tsolyáni, who claim to be the descendants of Engsvanyáli culture, have a calendar that’s based on the reign of the first Tsolyáni Emperor, while the other empires are in some way based on the Engsvanyáli calendar.
[00:13:41] It’s also possible the term is a “gaming artifact,” i.e., that it’s not actually used in the world, but is a short hand the Source Book uses to describe the setting. Unlike many other Tékumel sources, the Source Book isn’t written from the perspective of a fictional author, and so it can be difficult to tell how much it’s written from an out-of-game perspective.
[00:16:00] Is “The Five Empires” ever used in the novels? [GPD: ???]
[00:17:00] Do each of the empires strive to expand their dominance? They all have territorial ambitions. Livyánu is probably the most static.
[00:18:29] In the not-too-distant past, the Mu’ugalavyáni invaded Tsolyánu and actually made it as far as the capital. In fact, the Mu’ugalavyáni might be able to make a better claim than Tsolyánu to being an heir of the Engsvanyáli with respect to their military conquests.
[00:20:55] Only Tsolyáni and Mu’ugalavyá have military forces that would be capable of significantly extending their borders. Victor compares Salarvyá to Imperial Russia – the potential to marshal a large military force is always there, but the problem is that they’re disorganized and actual power is split up between seven feudal families.
[00:22:27] The Salarvyáni are much more interested in the islands and city-states to the south and south east.
[00:23:48] There’s a great deal that’s still unknown about the areas outside of the Five Empires. We’ve only seen about a quarter of Tékumel. That said, there’s probably not another large, organized “empire” on the continent, otherwise we’d know about it.
[00:25:25] Baron Áld. The man, the myth, the legend. A lot of the details are contradictory, or vague. Part of this is because when these materials were written, Prof. Barker was still working out exactly who he was. Áld has almost a player character history to him, and he was part of Prof. Barker’s development of Tékumel for a long time.
[00:27:45] Áld shows up in Man of Gold and Flamesong. He’s also an example of a fresh-off-the-boat character. He shows up in Tsolyánu and achieves great heights in their society.
[00:28:47] Baron Áld is a man in his fifties in 2354 AS, and there’s a reference that he was born in 2319 AS. He was a general in the armies of Tsolyánu before Emperor Hirkáne, and then went to Yán Kór and had to spend time consolidating it. As a result, Victor thinks that this timeline requires that he was born before 2319 AS.
[00:32:08] Áld begins as a minor tribal chieftain in the Jánnu Range of Saá Allaqí. He enters the Tsolyáni army as a mercenary and eventually becomes the general of the 19th Imperial Heavy Infantry, the “Legion of the Scarlet Plume.” You won’t find this legion in Armies of Tékumel or the Deeds of the Ever-Glorious.
[00:32:50] Áld’s brother was also a mercenary, and he wanted to overthrow the Ssáo of Saa Alliqui. Apparently, he either never attempted this, or failed.
[00:34:20] After becoming a general, he falls prey to imperial politics. He becomes a pun in the rivalry between the royalists and the pro-military factions. His unit was betrayed into an indefensible position at Srigásh Field in Yán Kór. Áld’s men were killed and he was taken captive, but we’re not sure by whom. They offered to hire him instead of executing him, and he agreed.
[00:36:55] He becomes the commander of the forces of Yán Kór city. Áld convinced the other minor city-states to join in an alliance, and created a nation. But we’re not precisely sure how this occurs. Another aspect of his rise involves his romantic association with Yilrána, daughter of the high clan of Ke’ér.
[00:38:39] If you look in the Armies of Yán Kór, you’ll find that each of the leaders of the Yán Koryáni cities have a different relationship with Baron Áld.
[00:39:12] The Baron’s title is a bit of a mystery too. It’s a low-ranking title in Tsolyánu, and there’s some indication he took it to appear to have humble aspirations. Does this mean anything to the Yán Koryáni? The Engsvanyáli Grammar doesn’t have an entry for “baron.”
[00:44:22] Áld’s mistress Yilrána was killed by the Tsolyáni Lord Bazhán, after she refused to surrender Ke’ér while Baron Áld was away. This refusal is depicted on the cover of EPT.
[00:44:50] Áld swore revenge and assumed his position of Baron. He also later took up with Yilrána’s clan-sister and fathered several children who appear in Flamesong. James points out an apparent contradiction in the potential future for Áld’s eldest son and daughter.
[00:48:32] Áld also has another mistress, the Princess of the North. This creates an instability with respect to political succession in Yán Kór. All of the Baron’s four children as of 2358 AS are under ten or twelve years of age.
[00:49:35] In Prof. Barker’s campaign, Baron Áld had an alliance with the usurper Dhich’uné (sp), but after this fell apart his fate is unclear, save that it involves “help from some unlikely sources.” But this is a topic for another time.
[00:50:41] Our hosts end by touching on the mysterious Fu Shi’i. There’s some pretty significant developments in Flamesong that would be interesting to follow up on.
Hosts: James Maliszewski and Victor J. Raymond.
Producer: Thomas Tiggleman
Tékumel Products Referenced:
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.
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 Ever-Glorious Empire: Éngsvan hlá Gánga was written by M.A.R. Barker and released as a netbook in 1996. It is available for purchase as a PDF at DriveThruRPG. It details the history of the Empire of the Priest-Kings of Gánga.
“The Almighty Gods of Yán Kór” is an article written by Prof. Barker. It discusses the beliefs of the Yán Kòryáni. It can be purchased as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.
The Armies of Tékumel books were published in six volumes by several companies over a twenty year span beginning in 1978. All are now out-of-print, and some are harder to acquire secondhand than others. In addition to miniature painting guides for the respective armies, these volumes detail military units, their equipment and commanders.
Deeds of the Ever-Glorious: Histories of the Tsolyáni Legions provides comprehensive histories of the legions of Tsolyánu. It was originally published in 1981 by Adventure Games. It is available as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.
The Grammar of Engsvanyáli is a companion to The Ever-Glorious Empire. It serves as an introduction to the language of Pavár and the Priest-Kings. It is available as a PDF at DriveThruRPG.