Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Your Own Private Tékumel

Near the beginning of the first volume of Swords & Glory, there's a section that details the history of the world of Tékumel. In that section, you'll find the following:
Thus it remained until the Time of Darkness. No records exist of this catastrophic age. The few fragments of folk memory which do exist lament in mythic terms of a time when the hills rose up, the seas walked the land, flame spouted from the brazen mouths of the mountains, and the stars went out forever. This last is most significant: it must be assumed that Tékumel and its solar system fell -- or were thrust -- through a warp in the fabric of space-time itself, a "hole in the sky," into a pocket dimension in which no other matter existed. The reasons for this terrible calamity can only be guessed: natural forces, stresses created by the incessant use of the Three-Light Drive, the actions of a hostile race, interference from mighty interdimensional beings far beyond man and his allies on the evolutionary scale, the vengeance of God upon His arrogant and overweening Creation -- ? No one knows. It may only be noted in passing that this same fate befell 772 other worlds of Humanspace within a century after the disappearance of Tékumel and its system.
Take careful note of the last sentence I quoted. According to Professor Barker, 772 worlds besides Tékumel were plucked out of normal space and found themselves inside empty pocket dimensions, dimensions that we know, from other sources, have the same physical and metaphysical laws as Tékumel, such as the weakening of the "skin" of reality to such a degree that both magic and interaction with interdimensional beings (commonly called "gods" and "demons") are possible. What are these other worlds like?

I spent several hours chatting with Victor Raymond today and this topic was one of several that took up a goodly portion of our conversation. We both agreed that it might be an interesting exercise to imagine another what colony world of Humanspace would be like after tens of thousands of years of isolation. Such a world might have some commonalities with Tékumel -- the presence of certain alien races, for example -- but it might not, indeed probably would not have others, such as the lack of riding animals or large quantities of workable metals. Done right, the world might have a similar feel to Tékumel, but would be largely its own thing.

One of the knocks against Tékumel is that it's too intensely personal a creation for anyone but Professor Barker to enter into it. I'm thoroughly convinced that's untrue, but it's a common enough rap that it's attained a wide currency and many gamers are afraid to give Tékumel a whirl. So, I began to wonder what might happen if a referee took the basic principles behind Barker's setting and applied them a new planet. Would it seem less intimidating? I have no idea, but I'm going to continue to think about this over the coming weeks, corresponding and chatting with Victor to see where it leads us. If nothing else, it'll be a fun and imaginative diversion.


  1. I would try to stay as close to main canon as possible, but I know that my own touches would taint it a bit. I'm running a Knights of the Old Republic campaign right now (Star Wars Galaxy 4000 years in the past) and I'm sure either I or the players will end up doing something that changes some canon. And if I were to do, say, a Middle Earth game I would put my own corrupting touches upon that. Maybe Strider would end up marrying the human chick because the elf girl got killed by a PC assassin, or maybe Sauron would win, heh heh.

    Having said that, I'm pretty sure I will never get into Tekumel. I held on to my original copy of the EOTPT I got as a kid at the local hobby shop (where a certain amount of play was going on, but Runequest and Traveller were the order of the day there over Tekumel) for decades without ever running it or even studying it. I Ebayed it a few years ago. Overall it sounded very interesting, but I just could not get myself excited enough to GM sessions of it. I may well have been intimidated by it's uniqueness. But mostly I had so many other things I wanted to run. Ah well.

  2. From my own perspective, this is exactly how I would approach EPT. Steal enough of what I like about Tékumel but then postulate my own version. That way no one (especially me) could argue that what I and my players do conflict with anything Barker (or anyone who is a Tékumel expert) did/wrote/thought. The bonus: I could even argue that it's canon based on the sentence you highlight.

  3. Well, so what does that give you? Some alien races (besides the natives of Tekumel) & wands that are shaped like little spheres? Hell, without Pavár you end up with all new gods.

    I'm not saying it is a BAD idea-- it is a GREAT idea-- but I guess I'm saying...any world could be one of the 772.

  4. Well, so what does that give you? Some alien races (besides the natives of Tekumel) & wands that are shaped like little spheres? Hell, without Pavár you end up with all new gods.

    That's part of the point really: to use what we know of the the world before the Time of Darkness as a jumping off point to create an original alien world on which to adventure. It's not really EPT -- though I'd probably use a modified version of the rules -- but it could be a lot of fun.

  5. Items such as those below were created to help acclimate new players to the rich background of Tekumel.

    "Gateway to Tekumel" is a short introduction to acquaint players quickly with Tékumel. It contains sections describing the Five Empires and small nations, the history of the world clans, the gods of Tékumel, weapons, and guidelines for the play-by-mail role-playing game for which the booklet was originally written.

    -28 Pages

    "An Introduction to Tekumel." Originally compiled by Don Kaiser from Prof. Barker’s works for Gencon 1989. Although only 12 pages, this booklet provides both game masters and players alike with a wonderfully simple and straightforward introduction to the world of Tékumel. The booklet includes the update page below

    "An Introduction to Tékumel" contains a list of people, places and things which is time specific in the history of the world.

    -12 Pages

    I think exposure to the real thing, with the help of dedicated players and GM, is far more valuable. It is said that direct exposure to a Foreign Language with a kindly mentor/guide accelerates and strengthens the learning process.

  6. I've been fascinated with the same question after picking up on it with the Drune's Humanspace Empires http://hillcantons.blogspot.com/2011/03/what-happened-to-other-tekumels.html.

    It does create a whole lot of latitude when coming up with an EPT-inflected sword and planet setting, you can mix and match elements to your hearts desire.

  7. Anathematician, I hate to point this out, but absent any claims to divinity on the part of Professor Barker (which would be unlikely) or that Tekumel is some kind of Platonic ideal, all games are equally real and unreal.

    The whole point of roleplaying games is that my game, your game, and Uncle Josie's game are all bound to be different. You can say, "I don't think your Empire of the Pocket Dimensions concept sounds as fun as a traditional Tekumel game," but that's about as far as it goes.

    It's great to have a lot of background material. But the point is that the player shouldn't have to know anything coming in, much less study up. The only people who should need to know anything about the setting is the gamemaster, and not much of that.

  8. James, I thought where this essay was going to point was to the power and poetry of the paragraph of S&G that you quote. I'm fine with where the blog went, which is something I've been contemplating myself thanks to HSE, but I wanted to underscore the how much Barker's text inspires me to want to play and GM Tekumel.

  9. I disagree. I can be a sophist as well. What you assert as "the player should not have to know anything comming in" works well and fine for some players and GMs but not others, and to assert that claim means you are omniscient or wrong. I will go with the later.

  10. I think Feist and the rest of the Midkemia folks took that description to heart in creating their campaign world.

  11. For what it's worth, I think that James' original premise is being missed by some of you. Where our conversation went was more of a thought exercise about what could be done if you follow the same basic premises for the origin of Tekumel, but with a different world and a different set of local conditions. Tekumel was originally a "garden world" - terraformed almost completely, and with biological imports from a dozen or more other worlds, all shaped to fit the local ecology. What if another world - one of those 772 - wasn't like that? What if there was a different set of interdimensional beings than Pavar's pantheon who were contacted? The Book of Ebon Bindings provides some interesting possibilities - and those are only some of the "demons" known. Further possibilities are easily imagined.

    Anathematician - while I appreciate the mention of different introductory materials for Tekumel, such things are not really relevant to this discussion. In a very real way, all that James is suggesting is that the basic premises can be used to generate entirely new ideas that are still connected to the larger background from which Tekumel originally sprung.

    Rob Conley - I notice you've mentioned Ray Feist's work again. Actually, I will have to disagree with you. What Feist and his gaming group did was to take Tekumel itself and play with it to match something they wanted in their original game play - and such "kit-bashing" is relatively common in gaming. But that's really not at all like what James is suggesting here.

    I am surprised to the extent that people here - and elsewhere can seemingly misapprehend some fairly basic inquiry about Tekumel and Empire of the Petal. If I'm wrong about this, I apologize, but it does look that way to me.

  12. Only tangential related, but I think the coolest thing about that globe is how little of it is detailed.

  13. > So, I began to wonder what might happen if a referee took the basic principles behind Barker's setting and applied them a new planet. Would it seem less intimidating?

    Before or after Vance's influence?
    Worlds change in real time as well, remember: just as Greyhawk 1973 ain't the same as Greyhawk 1980 (folio).
    The concept of *anything* being "too personal a creation for others to play in it" doesn't wash, agreed - just as those of us playing in Greyhawk 1980 still had a good time despite not gaming in Greyhawk 1973. It's not as though Tékumel didn't change either - gaming from that as-it-was in 1950, complemented by some later resources, has rather opened the scope which was, perhaps, somewhat /too/ tightly timeframed for /expected/ gaming in EPT as presented.

  14. @ Victor

    M.A.R. Barker himself embraces and encourages making Tekumel your own. So power to the players and all that jazz. The conversation hinted at a reluctance or hesitance to play Tekumel based on some steep learning curve. It appeared to be suggested that to avoid this steep learning curve one could simply create a new setting which was Tekumel lite - a vehicle for new players who may feel intimidated.

    I wanted to point out there there are specific items created to help ease new players into the specific canon of the game world.

    In addition, I would like to point out that the TOME solo adventures are fantastic for this purpose. I think they offer the best introduction to Tekumel to date and highly suggest folks who wish to get a glimpse through Professor Barker's eyes to purchase and utilize them.

    I was not trying to step on any creative toes, but wanted to show that the learning curve can be tackled, even with new, trepidatious players,if mentored by those who care to help armed with the appropriate tools.

  15. @Victor, Midkemia is part of a multiverse connected to other worlds via rifts. It not just the Tekumal analogue that involved with Midkemia.

  16. I think this is a great idea, I would love to see another world developed using some of the basic framework laid out by M.A.R. Barker.

    A world with horses (or some form of cavalry) and abundant iron. Yet still had access to some alien races (but still no common fantasy tropes of dwarves, elves, and halflings, etc.)

    Would be cool to see.

  17. "A world with horses"

    Of course, Tekumel does have horses. You just need to find them :)

  18. True, I had forgotten that part. :)

  19. Simple Enough:

    1. Random up a world: you do this by taking a 1d20 and 'flatten' it out to become a world map made of triangles with 4000 mile long sides.
    Allocate a chance of a given geographic type for each triangle being dominant: 1-10 Ocean, 11-13 Mountain, 14 Desert,... and roll for each region.

    Then you divide these triangles down via 4000/2000/1000/500/250/125 mile scale triangles. This means you can map a very small region that might be a kingdom.

    Its pretty easy to generate random worlds...and build the DUNGEON MASTER'S EYES ONLY version of the Map. Then throw together an idea as to what the PCs think is just over that hill even if it is words 'Here be Dragons'. How people map things was fatally flawed compared to how it really looked...but then again they were probably lying to keep secret all the things you dont know.

  20. Anathematician - I understand better now what you were suggesting. However, there is a different between creating a different world using the same basic assumptions as Tekumel, and what might be called "Tekumel lite" - neither James nor myself feel there's any need for changes to Tekumel itself to make it "easier" to understand. It may seem like a subtle or unclear distinction, but it is there. As James points out above, "One of the knocks against Tékumel is that it's too intensely personal a creation for anyone but Professor Barker to enter into it. I'm thoroughly convinced that's untrue..." If anything, what's being suggested is a further completion of the myriad pocket dimensions of which Tekumel inhabits but one.

    Rob Conley - thanks for that clarification; by the way, it's TekumEl, not Tekumal. That Feist stuff might be affecting your memory... ;)

    Nagora - true, that. :) They are just hard to find and far away. Even if you did find them, who would know how to ride them? Ah, these things have never stopped player-characters from trying....

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  22. it sounds like a fun idea, but it also sounds slightly unnecessary to me. If you like Tekumel well enough, play it - with your own modifications (or not). I never understood the concern about 'canon', whether in Tekumel or Greyhawk. When I ran a Tekumel campaign for 2 years in the 1990s I took what I could get from the sourcebooks, and then did what I wanted. BTW in my campaign, despite the PCs' heroics (and due to some unlucky dice), Dhich'une crushed Eselne and all comers. Isn't that what gaming is about - making a setting your own? On the other hand, if you have enough problems with Tekumel that you either don't want to play it or don't want to modify it, play something else (or make up your own). I guess I'm not saying that I'm against what James is proposing, but I don't really see the point except as a scholarly endeavor.

  23. I think a game of Gamma-World set in the aftermath of Time of Darkness would be cool. Maybe very limited or no mutations, but all of the alien races and some sorcery starting to develop. Ready access to "eyes". Might have to think about that one some. Perhaps using Human Space Empires for classes...

  24. Strangely enough I had a dream last night about, wait for it..., a Tékumel themed amusement park. It featured funky architecture, costumed attendants and themed restaurants. Unfortunately it ended before I could try any of the rides.

    EPT also features planar and time travel, so in addition to the 700+ worlds mentioned by MAR, there is no limit to the worlds one could create and theoretically connect to Tékumel.

  25. I'm currently reading "Daughter of the Empire". Talk about a pseudo-Tekumel! I love it!

  26. That passage stayed with me for quite a while as well. I thought many of the "demon planes" contactable from Tekumel would be actually these fellow lost solar systems, unrecognizable to the traveller and changed by other gods or overcome by an immensely powerful local wizard (a demon risen to power?).

    The Humanspace civilization already contained most of the Tamil-Mayan-Arabic flavor of Tekumel so the surviving worlds (that remain recognizable) should be Tekumel-like, as opposed to the European fantasy standard.

    (btw, I've enjoyed James' and Victor's memories in this Tekumel celebration week.)

  27. What are these other worlds like?


  28. Interesting yes and a way to put Wilderlands or Jorune or your own brew into a Tekumel multiverse. I do think it'd be another way to ease into the Tekumel 'verse.

    Tho they also can work fine as either the other side of Tekumel, the inner (or outer if "Tekumel" is inside the planet) continent inside the planet or the place the PCs get sucked to Tekumel from.

    Humanspace Empires already explores a lot of this (other "Tekumels") IMO. It and the supporting blog (Ix?) is well worth taking a look at. The heavy use of mostly colour graphics is a plus IMO because Tekumel benefits from rich visuals to overset the often dense texts. Like anything Tekumel the exact ruleset used (if any) really is up to you. EPT is fine but it does predate some of the bits I enjoy about the setting, such as better clarification on alignment, the gods, the spells and the clans. And stuff like the orbiting defense/weather satellites (at least in published form).

    As for using Tekumel itself Barker himself comes right out and says make your own Tekumel (and by extension multiverse). Also that any Tekumel campaign can be viewed in 'verse as a separate branch of the Tree of Life, with Barker's Tekumel (and 'verse) as an Ur Tree or branch. So if you want to give Tekumel a try, go ahead and have fun, & don't worry about canon (cos it's all jumpoints for your imagination anyway). To me most of Barker's detail comes off as campaign notes or just riffing on a theme. Make your riff. If the Tree/branch stuff sounds rather Dr. Who, well that's how I run it, with the College at the End of Time very very Timelordish and Tekumel being in essentially E-Space.

    FWIW, my For the Love of Golden Sapphire (FLOGS) campaign notes, transcripts and such are at http://www.guildportal.com/Guild.aspx?GuildID=43297

    I did go with a party all in the same clan, starting inside the clanhouse and slowly moving outwards + assuming people can perform their basic duties and such without having to say so route.

  29. Yep, Tekumel has all sorts of travel. Read where Barker had a party go back in time two ages then wind up in early 20th c. Mexico. Nothing to stop creating other lost (or even some still in the regular universe) planets or starting out from there.

    A potential problem with this would be some might feel they need to create detail in depth and at the least a GM would not be able to use as much existing goodies, or not as many without at least some modification.

    Now if there were perhaps some handy dandy random charts, modifier (as in things to easily modify existing creatures, environments and treasures) tables and perhaps a sample planet/locale/adventure or two? ^__^

    There would be some commonalities, the starfaring culture was the same, human base stock was genefixed to a baseline then perhaps modified for various environments and the space plexiglass dinosaur chlen are well chlen (grunt).

    And I still point people to Feist's initial series as well as the Daughter of Empire trilogy if folks have difficulty getting into the setting. They are readable if nothing else. Most in my experience however ease into the setting after some play or reading one of Barker's first two novels.