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 use of languages in Tékumel games, before answering a question concerning the placement of Prof. Barker’s novels within the “game” and “real” Tékumel distinction.
[00:00:37]. Upcoming Events: Victor will be presenting a paper at the annual conference of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, and also at GaryCon, where he’ll run several Tékumel games using EPT.
[00:01:41] Victor also reveals that he’s working on a project titled “The Egg of the World: the Guide to Running Games in Tékumel” which is his attempt to unpack the setting. He hopes to be done with it by June and publish it later this year.
[00:02:43] Languages in Tékumel. Languages are at the forefront of Tékumel, but in many other roleplaying game settings linguistic differences fade into the background.
[00:05:40] Victor notices that players over time tend to adopt what they thing is the “cadence” of Tsolyáni. James has noticed the same thing in his game.
[00:07:09] James finds it interesting how often this issue of language comes up. His players’ characters have gone so far as to hire tutors to learn other languages.
[00:08:39] There is no universal language or lingua franca in Tékumel. Victor finds that players in his campaigns tend to think of Engsvanyáli as a language of last resort, probably because they’ve intuited that the Engsvanyáli Priest Kings were the largest empire in the history of the continent. It’s not always worked, but many scholars will know Engsvanyáli.
[00:11:44] Tékumel also has secret languages and argots, like the Tongue of the Priests of Ksárul.
[00:13:02] James finds it interesting how often his players actually research the languages in-game. The languages (and their mysteries when players encounter an unknown one) can help to draw players into the history of Tékumel.
[00:17:15] Sometimes there’s a perception that the players’ ignorance of Tékumel’s languages will limit their enjoyment of the setting. But there’s many things characters do in RPGs that their players don’t understand, such as riding a horse.
[00:18:22] In the novels, Prof. Barker mentions how languages sound in comparison to one another. Victor highlights a passage from Flamesong.
[00:22:43] In Victor’s campaign, his players spent time in Sa’á Allaqí, and one of them decided to stay there. For his game, Victor generated a document written in a certain script, which he’s going to give to the player to puzzle out.
[00:24:50] As Victor’s campaign progresses, he focuses on elements that have interested players. Like so many of the supposedly “impenetrable” aspects of Tékumel, you don’t throw them at the players all at once.
[00:25:40] There’s a great deal of information about military matters in the Sourcebook, but a lot of players just blow past it.
[00:28:49] Victor introduces words here and there to show how people talk. He gives an example of the Tsolyáni kíren, which is a unit of time equivalent to about half an hour.
[00:30:15] Where do the novels fit with respect to the real/game Tékumel divide? [GPD: “Real” Tékumel versus “Game” Tékumel has been discussed before on HOBI, most notably Ep. 13.]. James clarifies the question, this is about the presentation, not about the canonicity of the events depicted therein. The storyline is the same between “real”, “game”, and “novel” Tékumel.
[00:32:30] Prof. Barker wasn’t exactly clear why he made the distinction. It could have been in part because he was surprised by what players did when they encountered the world he created.
[00:33:01] Even reading the Sourcebook, there’s not a lot of room for adventurers wandering around doing amazing things. It’s presented in a very dry, academic tone.
[00:34:40] James confesses that he’s not really that interested in “real” Tékumel. Both Victor and James agree that it’s hard for “real” Tékumel to exist after the death of Prof. Barker, since it was purely a personal conception within his own mind.
[00:36:30] Victor uses Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber to illustrate what he’s trying to articulate.
[00:40:07] How much do we know about “Real” Tékumel? It is mentioned in EPT, but it really comes out in Dragon #9. But otherwise we never will find it.
[00:41:10] Prof. Barker suggested that you discover Tékumel by playing it. Of course, your games will differ, and you make it your own.
[00:43:53] There is a distinction that should be made though: “Game” Tékumel is more “full of goodies.” There’s more magic, more ancient technology. Things are more extraordinary, less mundane.
[00:46:05] Back to the original question, Victor feels that the novels are their own Tékumel. James feels that they occupy a “middle space” between game and real Tékumel.
[00:48:07] Victor often gets asked if Harsán was a player character. He really wasn’t, and the only true player characters who show up in the novels appear in the background and are heavily adapted. Victor gives a few examples, including his own Mt’tk.
[00:49:51] Victor finds Prof. Barker’s depiction of Mt’tk as “eerie.” “Prof. Barker was observing far more closely how I played that character than I realized.”
[00:51:10] Prof. Barker would listen to what other people were doing in their Tékumel games, and validate it. There’s a recursive aspect.
[00:52:24] Prof. Barker also seems to imply that “real” Tékumel is kind of boring. This is analogous to actual history versus entertainment media and games set in a historical context.
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 “Sourcebook”) 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.
Dragon Magazine was originally published by TSR, and titled The Dragon until 1980 with issue #39. The Dragon #9 was cover-dated September 1977.
The International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA) was founded in 1982 “to promote and recognize achievement in the study of the fantastic.” This year it was held in Orlando FL from March 16 to March 20.
Gary Con is an annual spring gaming convention held in Lake Geneva, WI to honor the memory of E. Gary Gygax.
The Chronicles of Amber is a series of fantasy novels written by Roger Zelazny.
The Cadfael Chronicles are a series of murder mysteries written by Edith Pargeter under the pen name Ellis Peters. In these novels, Cadfael is a Benedictine monk, living in England during the succession crisis called “the Anarchy” (1138 to 1153).
Lindsey Davis wrote a series of crime novels set in ancient Rome staring Marcus Didius Falco.