Thursday, October 1, 2020

Arneson on Tékumel

Illustration by Luigi Castellani
Though Dave Arneson is most well known for his co-creation of Dungeons & Dragons, he was, of course, an avid player of many games, including other roleplaying games. One of those RPGs was Professor M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne. I suspect that Arneson first made Barker's acquaintance through the Conflict Simulations Association at the University of Minnesota. Barker was the wargames club's faculty advisor and the club served as Ground Zero for the published TSR version of Dungeons & Dragons in the Twin Cities. 

Regardless of the specifics, Arneson started his adventures on Tékumel very early – in 1974, according to the introduction to the Different Worlds Publications edition of EPT (1987). From that introduction, it's clear that Arneson thought exceptionally highly of both Tékumel and Barker's skills as a referee. He also talks at some length about his character, Hárchar hiVárshu, captain of the sailing vessel, Henggánikh hiMítlanyal ("Splendor of the Gods"):
Many a misadventure has befallen my Captain Hárchar characterm 'The Sword Master.' I will not go into the well-deserved heights that Hárchar has attained nor depths to which his foes have sought to cast the noble Captain. I will say that there has rarely been a dull moment. Looking back on it now, all those adventures would have made one heck of a book. Oh well, that dumb Akhó would have eaten my notes along with my ship.

Hárchar never did get a book written about his exploits, but Professor Barker did include him as a character in his novels of Tékumel, most notably 2003's A Death of Kings, where he ferries the protagonists along the coast of Salarvyá. Hárchar is a fun character – a lovable rogue of a sea captain who sometimes behaves in most un-Tsolyáni ways. I can only imagine the trouble he caused in Professor Barker's campaign. 

We tend to remember many of the founders of our hobby as referees and understandably so. Dave Arneson's association with the Blackmoor setting and campaign is one of his (many) enduring claims to fame. However, he was also a player and an enthusiastic one at that. I think we would do well to remember that when we think of him and his role in the early days of the hobby.


  1. The fact that I apparently still remember enough Tsolyani to have known what the ship's name translated to without assistance is a little worrying. Why do I remember a fictional language better than my high school Spanish or college German? :)

  2. Captain Hárchar is my role model. I never tire of hearing about him and his exploits. Cheers Dave!