Monday, August 1, 2011

Introducing Tékumel

Having thought about just how useful the first two Tékumel novels are in giving a sense of what characters might do in this famously complex and alien setting, I found myself (once again) reminded of the set-up provided in the original Empire of the Petal Throne.
For convenience's sake, it is assumed that all player characters arrive in a small boat at the great Tsolyáni port city of Jakálla. It is also assumed that everyone speaks understandable, though non-native, Tsolyáni and can read the modern form of this language.
The rulebook goes on to explain that, as foreign refugees, the PCs may not travel about the Empire freely until they have reached level 3. In the meantime, to travel and earn money for their upkeep, they need to acquire Tsolyáni patron, who can assist them in these matters. In this way, EPT provides a perfect rationale for adventuring, particularly since, given the nature of Tsolyáni society, there are activities that the natives might wish done but would not wish to do themselves. Enter the player characters.

I honestly think this set-up is the best way to introduce newcomers to Tékumel. This structure makes no demands on the players except that they understand that they're strangers in a strange land, looking for work. That they no little or nothing about the complexities of Tsolyáni culture is, frankly, a plus, since their characters wouldn't know much either. Furthermore, EPT even includes rules for determining whether the characters make some social faux pas that results in trouble -- perfect fodder for yet more adventures! Also, such occasions allow the referee to introduce unfamiliar elements of Tsolyáni society to the PCs (and, through them, to their players), thereby slowly initiating them in the complexities of the setting.

Now, this set-up isn't needed for campaigns after the first, if you have a steady group of players. Indeed, they might well bore of the "fish out of water" approach EPT advocates. But, for first time players, I think it's a brilliant way to begin a campaign, so brilliant in fact that I frequently find myself wanting to start up an EPT campaign with total newbies to see how well it works in play. Maybe that's something to consider in the weeks to come (assuming I can find both the time and the players) ...

19 comments:

  1. Google+?

    Also, have you thought about using kickstarter for you petty gods book?

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  2. I frequently find myself wanting to start up an EPT campaign with total newbies to see how well it works in play<

    This is how I feel about springing some old school Gloranthan Runequest on my players, who are completly unfamiliar with RQ.

    EOTPT was becoming popular at the local game shop when I was a kid and Runequest was the most played game. I never did attend an of those Tekumel sessions. From what I saw of it (I even had a copy, without the box, that I had forever before Ebaying it a few years ago), it seemed interesting and different, but not enough to drag me into it. It would be interesting to have another look as an adult.

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  3. Great minds, same gutter, as they say. I've started a thread over on the ODD74 board entitled "You, Too, CAN Run Empire of the Petal Throne!"

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  4. I agree completely, and I'd leap at the chance to play EPT. Come to think of it, I might take a shot at running it on Google +.

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  5. @UWS
    I had been thinking about running on Google Plus OEPT pick up game myself. Now if someone else was running one...

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  6. If I felt more comfortable with Google+, I might consider such a possibility. Heck, I might start up an online Dwimmermount campaign this way too, but I have to admit that I'm way out of my element when it comes to doing anything real time online.

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  7. Oh, this is much better than trying to play a totally alien-culture character right off. Because obviously once you've played a while in the universe and know how X kind of people in Y clan and religion and Z profession act, you'd be more qualified to start playing as a native member of the culture.

    Especially since so many of the EPT cultures are exotic and interesting, but not particularly sympathetic. With a native character, you're pretty much stuck playing somebody whose ethics and morals are likely to be repulsive to you-the-player in one way or another.

    We're a bit more inured to realistic ethical disconnects between you and the character in more familiar settings. In one that's strange to people, players are more likely to take ethical discomfort as just being repulsed by the entire world, lock, stock, and barrel.

    "Us against the cold, cruel, but beautiful and impressive world" is a lot easier way to begin. (And this goes for most "gritty" settings. It's a lot more fun if you can at least trust your party members and do some heroic deeds, rather than everybody in the world being totally nihilistic and unsympathetic, and all your hard work always going for nothing.)

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  8. @suburbanbanshee

    Well, from looking at your profile, i'm no too surprised that you would be against anything with dark or adult themes, but that's' your opinion and one that I not only don't agree with, but am quite glade I don't as your ideologies and beliefs to what makes a good and proper RPG are utterly
    f-----g boring to me.

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  9. I also prefer EPT's "fresh off the boat" approach for newcomers in an Oriental-themed campaign. For example, unless a player is very comfortable with the sociological complexities of medieval Asian culture, I generally encourage newbies to play "barbarians" who just arrived along the Silk Road. In fact, my current weird fantasy Tang Dynasty campaign is centered around the Silk Road specifically because that area was the "Wild West" of its day, where various ethnic groups mingled and traded and fought. As barbarians, the players can choose and imagine just about any culture, race or backstory they want for their character (e.g. Arab human, Sogdian halfling, Persian elf, Visigoth dwarf) since I haven't really detailed the societies beyond The Great Tang. Besides, from the Tang POV, they're all "barbarians" anyway. :-)

    I'll have to check out EPT's rules for making some social faux pas that gets the PCs in trouble. Any round-eyed, big-nose "foreign devil" who has spent time in Asia should be all-too-familiar with such pitfalls!

    James wrote:
    Google+... I might start up an online Dwimmermount campaign this way too

    Oh please do! I'd jump at the chance to get in on that game! Gaming with Google+ seems pretty intuitive once you get the hang of it.

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  10. >>crowking

    Oh look, the troll has returned...

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  11. And what do you call your friend who comes in and trashes Tekumel and the people who like it because it's goes against their ethics? A moral majority troll? A bible thumping troll? Better yet what should we call you? I think megatroll has a nice ring to it as you like to crawl out from under your bridge to name call someone, but I'll just cut to the chase and simply call you an a--hole.

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  12. @crowking:

    At what point did suburbanbanshee "trash Tekumel?" or "the people who like it?" I'm sorry, but I can't find anything of the sort. The post was nuanced and thoughtful, and there's nothing in it denigrating the setting or its fans.

    As far as the setting "going against their ethics", are we to assume that you're wholly supportive of slavery, human sacrifice, etc., in real life? That would be an unfair and ungenerous assumption to make, wouldn't it? I'm not a Christian, I find the idea of the "divine right of kings" ridiculous, and I certainly don't want to live in a feudal society. But I don't let any of that get in the way when I'm enjoying a game of Pendragon. That's something we all have to do, to some extent, when we play individuals with cultures, religions, worldviews, etc., different from our own. There's nothing "Moral Majority" about it.

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  14. I don't entirely disagree with crowking nor do I think he's a troll. In recent years (Hell, in recent WEEKS) we've all had to bare witness to the hand-wringing moralizing of some in the OSR community over the issues of Zak S's blog/vlog, "sexist art" (or "any image of a female that might give someone an erection"), Carcossa's spell list, the art and theme's in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and the so-called "nihilism" of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.

    Personally, I'm surprised that EPT has remained untouched for so long. However I suppose it's only a matter of time until some OSR scold accuses Prof. Barker is accused of "breaking the social contract of the gaming community" and that Tekumel fans are "living in a box" along with furries and people who get their rocks off during "Friday the 13th" movies.

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  15. The comments here have taken a very strange turn for the worse. I don't mind if anyone wants to continue discussing the unusual moral structure of Tsolyáni culture and its potential difficulties for roleplayers unused to it, but do let's try to keep the hyperbole and ad hominem attacks out of it. By my lights, Suburbanbanshee said nothing untoward about Tékumel, its system of ethics, or Professor Barker. Far from being a scold or a prude, he was supportive of both playing in Tékumel and the original set-up of EPT as an entry point to the setting, which might otherwise seem too exotic to some players.

    Seriously, I don't get what the problem is.

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  16. Not to avoid the topic aroused, but I clicked to comment on the 'PCs as travelers (travellers?)' conceit.

    It's a good one I've used in many occasion. It relieves the players of reading that extensive background novel that the DM has written and the expectation (and inevitable disappointment) that the DM will have regarding his/her opus.

    Then those mysteries (if they are mysterious - and the onus is on the DM to make them at least interesting) are revealed in play; as they should be.

    I like to use this conceit even when I'm not coming up with something anywhere near as alien as Tekumel.

    As a bonus, it also lets the players define where their characters come from and gives them some freedom of expression.

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  17. I'm sorry. Tekumel is my favorite setting and, as a result, I can be pretty defensive about it.

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  18. "By my lights, suburbanbanshee said nothing untoward about Tékumel, its system of ethics, or Professor Barker. Far from being a scold or a prude, he was supportive of both playing in Tékumel and the original set-up of EPT as an entry point to the setting, which might otherwise seem too exotic to some players."

    Seconded. But...


    "In recent years (Hell, in recent WEEKS) we've all had to bear witness to the hand-wringing moralizing of some in the OSR community over the issues of Zak S's blog/vlog, ‘sexist art’ (or ‘any image of a female that might give someone an erection’), Carcosa's spell list, the art and themes in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and the so-called ‘nihilism’ of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. Personally, I'm surprised that EPT has remained untouched for so long. However I suppose it's only a matter of time until some OSR scold accuses Prof. Barker of ‘breaking the social contract of the gaming community’ and Tékumel fans of ‘living in a box’ along with furries and people who get their rocks off during ‘Friday the 13th’ movies."

    Also seconded.


    There’s been so much knee-jerk conservative overreaction against so many things in the OSR that there’s now reciprocal knee-jerk liberal overreaction against even rational, non-critical stuff like suburbanbanshee wrote.

    It’s even more annoying than one-true-way fan(atic)s of literary works railing against film adaptations merely for being different from their literary sources.


    Now, on to the actual topic of the original post...

    I agree with Red that the ‘PCs as newcomers’ conceit is good one that’s useful in many situations for all the reasons s/he said.

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  19. I think "Oh, X is much better than Y... [problem, problem, problem]", is rather easy to mistakenly read as sarcasm. As opposed to say, "I agree that Y has some problems that X fixes..."

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