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 welcome special guest John Till to talk about his adaptation of the Fate system to Tékumel.
But first, Victor gives us an update on the publication of Flamesong, and the hosts discuss their encounters with “Alternate Tékumels.”
[00:00:40] Flamesong update!
[00:01:11] “Alternate Tékumels” – different branches on the Tree of Time.
[00:02:03] James’s group has had several brushes with alternate Tékumels, including one where the party went through a nexus point and one of the PCs was replaced by a counterpart from another timeline.
[00:03:15] Some of the players became a little obsessed with this idea. In fact, the players are currently on an alternate Tékumel where the Bednálljan Empire never fell, and the Gods of Stability were never contacted. Only the Gods of Change are known.
[00:05:01] It’s an opportunity for a referee to present a world that is familiar, but a little different. In James’s alternate Tékumel, the sákbe roads exist, but they only have two levels (not three). This seems wrong to the world-hopping PCs, who aren’t used to persons of all levels of status mingling together.
[00:06:10] From time to time in Prof. Barker’s campaigns, the players would encounter other Tékumels, as well as other planes. Victor notes the infamous “Plane of the Buffalo”, which is filled with tall grasses and destructive herds of these herbivores.
[00:06:54] Sometimes they also encountered planes that were so far removed from Tékumel and the Tree of Time that they were actually fragmentary. The people there were not aware that their world was unusual. Victor gives an example of a plane where they found the edge of reality. In another, one of the player character’s counterparts was the Emperor.
[00:08:45] Tékumel is unusual, in that the creator ran a decades-long campaign in the setting, so that people were always concerned about what was happening there. But because the idea of alternative Tékumels was baked into the setting, it allowed other versions to be legitimate as well.
[00:10:15] Several times, Prof. Barker’s groups ended up at the College at the End of Time, usually battling the Goddess of the Pale Bone.
[00:10:25] The Greater Globe of Distant Discernment could be found in the lower portions of Avanthár, operated by an old Pé Chói that was probably more than he seemed. Characters could use this globe to focus in on other branches of the Tree of Time, see alternate times and places, and then travel there.
[00:11:37] There was always the suggestion that at some point, the branches came together in the version of Tékumel that had the College at the End of Time. Some branches that were probabilistically unviable would branch off and never rejoin, others would cluster together to show that they were more likely. There was a moment where the wizard Eylóa discovered how to return Tékumel to humanspace.
[00:13:20] Sometimes Victor’s group encountered alternative versions of player characters, but this was rare. They also had numerous encounters with the Undying Wizards. He’s also sure they encountered a group from the future, or at least a future.
[00:15:30] One of the more disturbing Tékumels was one in which Prince Mirusíya was Emperor, and the Tsolyáni Empire only controlled the land around Béy Sü. The rest had been conquered by the other empires.
[00:16:45] In Victor’s own campaign, his players went through a nexus point and ended up in an alternate Tékumel where Emperor Mursún Dlekkúminè was still emperor, and the Tsolyáni had lost territory to their surrounding enemies. The players concluded that they might not get back to their home timeline, and were prepared to set up shop and try to help the alternate Tsolyani. But they eventually ended up back in their home Tékumel.
[00:20:40] The fact that many players will see the consequences of “messing up” an alternate Tékumel as less significant can give them an opportunity to do or try things they wouldn’t in their home timeline. This reveals the mindset of some of the Undying Wizards.
[00:22:42] Another example from Prof. Barker’s campaign. The party was traveling with Keith Dalluhn’s character Sanjésh hiKirisáya (for more on Keith and Sanjésh, see HOBI Ep. 35). They emerged into a timeline, possibly the future, where the worship of The One Other was predominant.
[00:25:40] Victor speculates that there’s a version of Tékumel where the Engsvanyáli Priestkings still reign. This would mean that the attempt to trap the Hero of the Age did not succeed.
[00:27:52] “It’s always better to see Spock with a beard.” The appeal of alternate timelines is the “funhouse mirror effect.” It’s more interesting when it’s similar, but not too different.
[00:28:32] Victor notes that if things were too different, it would often be difficult to determine whether they had ended up in a different place or time, or a different reality altogether.
[00:29:04] We don’t have the time in this podcast to discuss the multi-dimensional nature of nexus points, including the additional directions.
[00:29:45] Sometimes nexus points to other realities are created by sorcerers. Other times they might manifest based on the prevalence of magic and lines of force that are present on Tékumel.
[00:30:39] Thénu Thendráya Peak is one of the places where it’s possible to cross planes or travel time.
[00:31:00] There’s the haunted sákbe road outside of Haumá that goes to another plane as well. (First mentioned in HOBI ep. 28, but see HOBI ep. 29 at 01:01:10 for more information.)
[00:31:20] The Thursday Night Group speculated that the Three Light Drive that allowed interstellar travel was essentially identical to a nexus point.
[00:32:52] Special Guest: John Till, creator of the Fate of Tékumel. John has been working on adapting the Fate system to Tékumel.
[00:33:53] Instead of normal Fate’s six Approaches, John’s Fate of Tékumel uses five, after the five parts of the Tèkumeláni self.
[00:34:36] John has loved Tékumel since he read Dragon #4 in 7th Grade.
[00:35:03] Exploring Tékumel through a story-game like Fate is an unusual approach, given that Tékumel is usually experienced through “crunchier” rulesets.
[00:37:25] The five parts of the Tsolyáni self are discussed. These are the body (bákte), the mind (hlákme), the spirit (balétl), the shadow-self (chusétl) and “the Enemy” (pedhétl).
[00:39:34] John uses these as the character’s main attributes. Bákte represents the character’s fighting skills and athleticism, chusétl for psychic abilities and stealth, hlákme for intellectual abilities, pedhétl for initiative and powering “blast” spells, then balétl as the social self.
[00:41:38] A couple of competencies supplement this, as well as stunts. Spellcasting and purchase of spells are treated as stunts as well.
[00:42:00] John has been playtesting this system for four years. He describes his last game as “magical tax farming” where the players shook down various Change-oriented clans for the magical goods they possessed.
[00:42:50] He’s also run adventures in the Underworld and the wilderness.
[00:45:45] Currently, John is trying to work out mechanics for noble and ignoble actions. John describes how this system works by apportioning points in balétl between noble and ignoble actions. This score can also change over time based on how a character acts.
[00:50:23] Victor gives an example of a character which generally acts nobly, but has an aspect of his personality where he might be seen as acting as less noble. General Kutumé of the Legion of the Storm of Fire. He was known for someone who paid attention to the costs of things, to the extent that he would deduct lost crossbow quarrels from a soldier’s pay. For a worshiper of Vimúhla, this attention to finances could be seen as ignoble.
[00:52:18] John discusses using his Fate adaption for Underworld adventures. In Fate, it’s hard for characters to die. John has written rules to introduce more adversity to underworld and wilderness adventures. He wants to give a more lethal option for groups.
[00:53:45] John is also trying out “Saturday Night Special” creatures, i.e., creatures that are a little different from their standard incarnations, to give players a more interesting challenge.
[00:56:39] Regarding Saturday Night Specials, James cites the “Example of Play” section in EPT (EPT § 2810, pp. 100-102). James and Victor mention several of the examples given on p. 100, each of them interesting on their own.
[01:00:00] John has a full-time job (Lord Ksárul forfend!) and so development can be slow. One of the ways he playtests is by running Fate of Tékumel at gaming conventions like Con of the North and GameHole Con.
[01:02:05] Thomas asks a question about the Fate system: some attributes in a normal Fate game have scores that are zero or very low, and those often don’t get used. What about in Fate of Tékumel? John tends to see most attributes come up in most games, with pedhétl being used with the least frequency outside of combat. With Fate, even a low number can give you a chance of success. One of the issues with Fate Accelerated is that the attributes can become “very same-y” during play, but by focusing on the distinctions of the quinquepartite self, Fate of Tékumel helps to differentiate them.
[01:05:00] John also allows his players to create their own aspects. He gives a detailed example from his campaign.
[01:08:23] John closes out the episode with a plug for Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun. Like Tékumel, it’s inspired by the cultures of pre-Columbian America
Special Guest: John Till
Hosts: James Maliszewski and Victor J. Raymond.
Producer: Thomas Tiggleman
John Till’s Fate of Tékumel was first mentioned on HOBI ep. 8, and discussed again in ep. 36. It’s an adaptation of the Fate system to the world of Tékumel. 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.
Tékumel Products Referenced:
Flamesong, Professor Barker’s second novel remains out-of-print, but the Tékumel Foundation is incredibly close to making it available again, both in print and electronic versions.
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.
The Tongue of Those Who Journey Beyond: Sunúz was originally published in 1994 by Prof. Barker. You can purchase the PDF from DriveThruRPG.
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. 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.
Tékumel, But Not Appearing in this Episode:
Issue 13 of the Excellent Travelling Volume is also now available.
Non-Tékumel Things Referenced:
Capt. Kirk met Commander Spock’s Mirror Universe counterpart in Season Two, Episode 10 of TV’s Star Trek. Frankly, it’s bizarre that this is the third reference our hosts have made to this obscure science fiction franchise. Good luck finding any information on it online, like anyone remembers it nowadays.
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.
Metamorphosis Alpha is a sci-fi roleplaying game created by James M. Ward and first published by TSR in 1976. You can learn more about it here. It has seen several editions over the years, and can be considered an antecedent to Ward and Jaquet’s Gamma World, which was published by TSR two years later.
Heirs to the Lost World is a roleplaying game set in an alternate Seventeenth Century, where the Aztec Empire uses sorcery to fend off the Spanish. It is designed by Chad Davidson and published by Obsidian Serpent Games.
Houses of the Blooded, designed by John Wick, was first published in 2008. A roleplaying game, it is based on the Fate system and focus on games of romance, intrigue and betrayal.
Con of the North is an annual gaming convention based in Plymouth, Minnesota. This year, it was a virtual con, and took place in February. They are currently in the planning stages for 2022.
GameHole Con is the largest annual tabletop gaming convention in the upper Midwest. This year, it’s being held from Oct. 21 through 24 in Madison, WI. Tékumel-relevant activities during GameHole Con 2019 were discussed on HOBI ep. 36.
U-Con is an annual gaming convention held in Southeast Michigan. Currently it is scheduled for November 19-21, with the location TBD.
ConFABulous is an annual LGBTQ+ gaming “relaxacon” held in Bloomington, MN since 2017. It was last held virtually in October of 2020.
Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun is an epic fantasy novel inspired by the cultures of pre-Columbian America. It has received several nominations for the best novel of 2021, including the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards.