Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Shock and Betrayal

By now, I assume most anyone reading this will have heard the revelations about M.A.R. Barker. If you have not, I reproduce here a statement of the Tékumel Foundation on the matter:

The Tékumel Foundation Board of Directors wants to acknowledge that our research shows Professor M.A.R. Barker wrote Serpent’s Walk, an anti-Semitic novel that was published under a pseudonym in 1991. We have done our due diligence to ascertain the facts regarding Serpent’s Walk and Professor Barker’s affiliation with The Journal of Historical Review and we believe this needs to be recognized as part of Professor Barker’s past. While nobody today is responsible for the odious views Professor Barker presented in Serpent’s Walk, we are responsible for recognizing this book as part of his legacy.

That this acknowledgment was not done earlier was and is a mistake, and we apologize for that. We have been reaching out to several Jewish organizations to express our outrage over our findings and make our priority to work with them through this issue.

What Professor Barker did was wrong and forever tarnished his creative and academic legacy. As stewards of the world of Tékumel, we reject and repudiate Serpent’s Walk and everything it stands for and all other anti-Semitic activity Professor Barker was involved with.

The Tékumel Foundation has never been involved with or profited from the publication, distribution, or sale of Serpent’s Walk in any way, shape, or form. All of the proceeds from sales of Tékumel-related material have gone and will continue to go to the Foundation and its work, and not to any racist or anti-Semitic organizations or causes, in any way, shape, or form.

Before the public acknowledgment of this by the Tékumel Foundation, there'd been rumors that Barker had pseudonymously written a pro-Nazi novel. When I first heard them, I had no direct evidence of their truth and, honestly, I had no interest in looking into the matter, as it would have required my engaging with websites and ideas I find abhorrent. So I let all thought of it go, assuming that, if it were provably true, the truth would eventually come out – and so it has, along with much worse. Indeed, I now dread the possibility that even more might yet be revealed in the future.

These revelations are all the more crushing for me because, back in the 1990s, I was an email correspondent of Barker. Though we didn't exchange many messages, we kept in touch intermittently and he was always very kind and generous with his time. He patiently answered all my questions about Tékumel and encouraged me in my greater appreciation of the setting. In fact, he gave me some of the best advice I've ever received about how to understand a RPG setting, advice to which I still adhere to this day: "Why don't you go and take a look?" Squaring that man with the one responsible not just for a pro-Nazi novel but who also sat on the editorial board of a publication that advanced Holocaust denialism is difficult to say the least.That it is also indisputably true does not make it any easier to live with and yet live with it I must.

To say that I feel betrayed by these revelations is an understatement. Tékumel has been an important part of my gaming for many years now. My House of Worms campaign, based on Tékumel, has, for the last seven years, been the vehicle for some of the best roleplaying of my life. Through it, I have met many great people whom I am honored to call my friends. Now, a cloud hangs over it all, including The Excellent Travelling Volume, which has been the primary outlet for my creativity since 2014, when its first issue appeared. TETV has been well received by my fellow fans of Tékumel and has, I have been told, been instrumental in making the setting more accessible to newcomers who'd previously been put off by Tékumel's depth and complexity.

I do not regret the time I have devoted to Tékumel, a work of the imagination with few peers. Unlike some, I am not at all convinced that Tékumel itself is a crypto-Nazi work or indeed that it contains anything that advances such a vile cause. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel betrayed and more than a little conflicted. I have been struggling over the last week to decide just what to say about these revelations. In part, this is because I wasn't – and still am not – wholly sure of my own feelings. Even now, I vacillate between shock, anger, sadness, and despondency. My struggle is heightened, too, by the expectation that, no matter what I say, someone will deem my muddled feelings insufficient to the gravity of the matter at hand. 

I wish it were otherwise. I wish it were easier to disentangle my love for Tékumel from my revulsion at Barker's repugnant other interests. Consequently, I am in no position to judge anyone else's response to these revelations; each of us will have to grapple with it in our own way and on our own schedule. I know of long-time Tékumel fans who have simply decided to walk away from the setting entirely, just as I know others who do not feel that would be the right response, given how much genuine pleasure and joy the setting has brought them, despite the secret villainy of its creator. This latter group takes inspiration from Ted Johnstone, an early contributor to Alarums & Excursions, who famously wrote that "D&D is too important to leave to Gary Gygax." 

Perhaps the same could be true of Tékumel and M.A.R. Barker.

(I appreciate everyone who's taken the time to comment on this post. I am, however, closing comments, since it appears to me that the same points are being made again and again and not much new ground is being covered. Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts.)


  1. My heart breaks for you. May you find peace with your relationship to Tekumel and all the joy and belonging that it has helped you find.

  2. Yeah, this is really disappointing.

  3. I know this must have been really hard to write (it was really hard to read the stuff when it came out!), but it comes across as heartfelt, and it is a struggle to continue thinking about playing in Tekumel. In the end, I think we can do with EPT as people have done with Call of Cthulhu - despite the odious views of the authors, some people have subverted the racism and repellent views of the authors, and have created such things as Harlem Unbound, and the new version of Masks of Nyarlathotep. I think we can continue to do the same for Tekumel (as Jeff Dee seems to be doing) - emphasise the anti-colonial, the fight against tyranny, the struggle against racism - and rededicate our games in more progressive tropes.

    I'm also really looking forward to Sha-Artha now, something that I can use to tell the same stories as with Tekumel and EPT, but without the revulsion and disappointment that I feel when I pick up my copy of EPT. Thanks for writing this, James, it's helped me at least.

    1. "...and rededicate our games in more progressive tropes."


    2. Ah, Mommy's bestest little edgelord.

      I think the Dead Kennedys put it best:


    3. V.S., making an insincere statement about Barker on your blog just so you could turn it into a sales pitch for your crappy smut dungeon is pretty much the level of decorum and class so many have come to expect from you. Following it up by coming into other people's sincere blog posts to chastise displays of empathy is an appropriate follow-up. You really are too petty to take seriously.

    4. Calling or implying someone who disagrees with your wicked ways is a Nazi while an actual Nazi is being discussed is telling of your modus operandi.

    5. Hi Mr. Satan!

      You'll forgive us if we don't engage in an ethics debate with someone whose internet handle, and entire brand image, is a 13 year-old boy's idea of bad ass.

      Grow up already. You're embarrassing yourself and the hobby.

  4. James, I hope that you can process this constructively going forward. I am not familiar with the setting, but I have read a lot of your stuff on the topic and I did not get the impression that there was something inherently wrong with it.

    Ultimately, as you've written eloquently many times, the game is about the referee and the players. It's what you make of it collectively. The setting and really the rules don't really matter all that much if you're doing it right.

    Seems to me you're doing it right. I suspect the players in your campaigns would agree.

    I don't agree with all of the views of all of the writers, musicians and visual artists whose work I appreciate. The work can sometimes transcend the artist and there's no better example of that than your ongoing Tekumel campaign. I hope you and your players get through any grief this causes and keep it going.

  5. I hope you take into consideration something which is not fashionable in our current day, but which is true: people contain multitudes. A person can be both bad and good, hold reprehensible and noble opinions at the same time. We can admire Churchill for the defense of civilization against the Nazi, and deplore him for his treatment of Indians. TS Eliot was also a personal antisemite, but Burnt Norton et alia are works of genius. A last point, art is also separate from the artist in many cases. We know many of the greats describe their works as coming from outside them, a daimon or genius, or being already there, and they merely release it (Michaelangelo comes to mind). So perhaps it is with Tekumel. You do what you think best, but I urge you to continue your appreciation and enjoyment of the art, despite the stain on the artist.

    1. Partly agree on this. Im a big fan of the author Celine who was a nazicollaborator and insanely antisemitic during the wars. But, given that this is new info and not old and known, it sure gives room for afterthought and a reappraisal of the works.

  6. I'm still struggling to fully process the news myself. Tekumel hasn't been as important to me as some, but it's been there in the background for as long as I've been gaming and I don't think there's a setting I've delved into more even if my play time in it has been limited.

    In some ways I'm now glad I never met or interacted with Barker. This still feels like a betrayal but it's an impersonal betrayal, much like when I heard the news about Marion Zimmer Bradley. I walked away from Darkover after that and have never looked back. Not sure yet if I'll depart from Tekumel in the same way, or if I can (or even want to) separate the author from his work this time around.

  7. This really must be the utter worst for fans of Tékumel. It's bad enough when a favorite author turns out to be a bit of a prat, but in the RPG setting you feel like you've been walking around inside the mind of the author. I'm sure people in online fora will be debating and relitigating for years over whether Tékumel is "tainted" by its author's views. Just a sad situation all around.

  8. In 2020, I had to deal with Robert Bledsaw II's anti-Semitism and racism. Both as a licensee of the IP and a long-time fan of the setting. While it was his father who created the setting, he was the current sole owner of the IP.


    Since then, I have come to terms with the fact I will not be creating any new Wilderlands material professionally either for the original setting or for my variant, the Majestic Wilderlands.


    I have decided that instead, I will take what I learned and adapt it to a new setting, the Majestic Fantasy Realms. It is more work and in some ways not as satisfying. But creatively I feel it is the best work I have done. It merges all the things I like and enjoy about tabletop roleplaying into a seamless whole. And I am free to share it all under the terms I think best for the project.

    Hopefully, something similar creatively will work itself out for you. I think you will find that you will be able to salvage quite a bit of your work. And be able to repurpose it into something that is yours.

  9. I refuse to join in with an outrage mob of barbarians seeking to destroy all art and civilization.

    You do know that Amazon Prime was going to do a big budget Conan series like Lord of the Rings, but the original outline was deemed "too toxically male." Expect REH to end up on the Twitter bonfire by next week.

    1. "mob of barbarians seeking to destroy all art and civilization."

      Like... the Nazis?

  10. Yawn. So he held opinions most people now consider very wrong. That's it? Ok, then that's it. We shouldn't automatically reduce a person to their worst aspect. Especially if it's just a belief they held or opinion they expressed. Don't hide it in the closet, but don't burn your Tekumel books either. And don't participate in the online outrage cryfest. All these drama queens expressing shock & horror & deep grief contribute nothing. I much prefer a sober & balanced assessment after which we all move on, over another emo piece more about the person writing it than about the actual subject. There's no need for each and every Tekumel fan to make a public statement.

    1. Dude, he actively worked for a holocausr denying foundation. He was a actual member of the nazi party. If you think thats just fine, it says something about you, not us.

  11. As others have said, I think it is possible to separate the art from the artist...especially now that the artist is no longer around to profit from the purchase and promotion of his work.

  12. Seems a few of the "easily offended by those that get offended" crowd have barged in here acting like it's no big deal. Either they haven't actually read the news or they must hold some truly repellent views.

    Barker wrote a book for a white supremacist publisher about literal Nazis coming back and ridding America of the Jews and Democrats and creating ethno-enclaves around the world. The back of the book actually calls them the good guys. Also, on the editorial board for Holocaust denial. All this was in the 90's and 00's.

    Legitimate reason to feel upset and betrayed ffs.

  13. I can't believe there's already people in here trying to trivialize what Barker did. This is not someone who wrote a slightly homophobic tweet 10 years ago as a joke, this is someone who wrote a sincere Nazi novel that is still being used by neo-Nazis as an indoctrination tool today. Reducing the outrage to "woke drama" either means you don't know what you are talking about, or makes you a truly shitty person who should do some introspection.

    I agree that people have multitudes, though that can't be used as an excuse to write off this side of Barker. He was a Nazi, and that is going to color everything he did in a different light, even the good stuff, because now the motivations behind everything he published are suspect. It sucks, but unfortunately that's just how it is.

    While seperating the art from the artist is possible, I don't think that it is possible for Tékumel to be reclaimed in the way that the Lovecraft mythos has been.

    Lovecraft's mythos was open source, allowing other writers to make their contributions and over time enable deconstructions of the mythos by people from marginalized communities using the mythos as a vehicle for their own stories.

    Tékumel is not open source, you need to go through the Tékumel Foundation if you want to seriously publish anything in that world. The foundation consists of Barker's former friends and are people who care about his legacy.

    Even with the best of intentions, I think that the proper deconstruction work needed to have a chance of salvaging Tékumel is unlikely to happen with the foundation protecting the IP.

    And if people can't play around with the setting, and change what they need to change or build elements of the world back up from the ground, they're still to some extent going to play in a world that is fundamentally Barker's. Lovecraft's mythos goes beyond him, but I don't see a Tékumel beyond Barker.

    I hope everyone can find a way to deal with this situation that they are comfortable with. For me, I scrapped the Tékumel campaign I was planning on running before I heard the news. Instead, I'm going to try and find what drew me to Tékumel in the first place and do a homebrew setting instead.

    Hopefully this whole situation will lead to a wealth of new and interesting worlds with depth and culture, so that some good might still come of it all. But we'll have to see.

    1. "I can't believe there's already people in here trying to trivialize what Barker did."

      I can. Some people are terrible. Surely you'd noticed that?

      "Lovecraft's mythos goes beyond him, but I don't see a Tékumel beyond Barker."

      I think I disagree, but I'm not positive. The Foundation's a sticking point, granted, and I'm not sure there's a point to "deconstructing" the existing setting. But Tekumel is far more than Barker imagined. Here, let me quote from my post over on RPG.net:

      That said, Tekumel is a big planet. The area of its surface that Barker wrote about is relatively small - see the globe at this link. Other creators (including the owner of that blog) have expanded the map a bit in semi-canonical ways, but most of the world is a mystery. If someone wanted to do something with Tekumel that avoids the taint Barker has attached to it, picking another continent and building their own cultures to inhabit it would seem like the thing to do.

      The setting at its core is one we've seen elsewhere, particularly Traveller's endless "world still recovering from the Long Night" planets. Tekumel is a colony world of an interstellar civilization that was suddenly and catastrophically cut off from outside aid, suffered a near-complete technological regression, and has slowly rebuilt itself to a much lower but sustainable technological base with the odd "artifacts of the ancients" showing up. They've also suffered from contact with the "gods" (which are extradimensional entities with vast powers) who've managed to warp and slow the rebuilding progress, partly by intent and partly just through being prime examples of humanity's relative insignificance.

      The area around Tsolyanu grew into baroque and unpleasant cultures over the course of more than 30,000 years (so several times longer than the current span of human history, for perspective). There's no reason that resurgent societies from the other side of the planet need to resemble them in the least, and inhospitable conditions (due to faltering terraforming) make long-distance travel and exploration nigh-impossible even in that kind of time frame. You could even postulate a culture where the ssu or hluss are fellow citizens the same way the Pe Choi are in EPT. The much abused native species aren't monolithic cultures any more than humanity is, and supposedly even Barker didn't portray them as universally hostile in his home games.

      And that's not mentioning the possibilities of spaceflight (the rest of the star system is still out there, some of those other worlds had outposts on them pre-isolation, and there are still ships parked on the Plain of Towers and probably elsewhere) or alternate-timeline adventures. The latter are really common in the home campaigns I've seen, with exploring the "Tree of Time" being a big element of Tekumel for some folks. You could also leave Tekumel altogether and do a prequel game set in the starfaring era - Humanspace Empires took that idea and ran with it in a pulp space opera direction, but there are other ways you could go. A game where you're trying to find out what caused the disappearance of Tekumel and 722 other star systems could be pretty interesting - or you could build your own pocket dimension using one of those other lost systems.

  14. It's really awful, and I sympathize with your situation as a "name" in the fan-community. Well, in any case it has made me look forward all the more to get to know your world of Sha-Artha!

  15. I have found that I abhor the socio-political views of many of the heroes of my youth (mainly musicians, but other entertainers/actors as well).

    "Never meet your Heroes", right?

    Many of my family members were blatant racists. They grew up in another place and time. My Father dragged my Uncle out of a KKK hilltop cross burning back in the late 1940s (and managed to get out unscathed). I still love/d my Uncle with all my heart. He was like a second father to me- even though I didn't agree with his viewpoints about others. It's a tough thing to reconcile. He was who he was, and although I love/loved him, that doesn't mean I needed to be like him. He lived his life. I live mine.

    I'm not so invested in the game/man . I will continue to read my Tekumel products when I feel the desire (casual fan, don't play), but certainly I will always have that little thought in the back of my head as I read the books going forward.

  16. Just catching up on this now; what a disappointment.

  17. What makes Tekumel so special to some, and can that be reproduced in a new setting?

    1. Besides its historical importance to the hobby (the first RPG designed around a concrete setting) and nostalgia, its languages (Tolkienesque in detail) in a thoroughly non-European setting are the hardest part to reproduce.

    2. Beyond that, I find the setting suspends my disbelief more than many others, both in terms of the rich cultures so far removed from the present that extrapolation from current history is irrelevant and in terms of the old-school SF basis behind the fantasy. But these are more easily reproducible.

    3. It's also got really alien aliens that don't fall into the "man in a costume" trope or rely on shallow stereotypes, and its ancient technology is some of the best examples of Clarke's Law in gaming. There's also a sense of historical scale that you don't see in many settings - Tekumel's inhabitants have been rebuilding from their sudden isolation for more than 30,000 years, a span that's so vast it dwarfs real-world human civilization.

  18. I knew you from a pup, and I doubt you’ve fundamentally changed so my much that my assessment of the James I knew then would be far off the mark now. I can tell you with confidence that I know you understand and feel the gravity of this matter. Of course you’re conflicted: Just as you can see the broader significance of Barker’s anti-Semitism, it has altered a part of your personal world. You are absolutely allowed to feel both, and to write from your perspective and express your feelings (which, by the way, are why your readers are here).

    There’s a reason he published under a pseudonym, and the very fact of that secret SHOULD feel like a betrayal to those connected to him personally. Perhaps it might occasion some regret, but that seems pretty normal and valid to me.

    Be well.


  19. Re. the argument that Barker was just another example of people 'containing multitudes', I call BS. All of us draw lines between people we can interact with as flawed contributors to our personal slice of the world (say, a favorite movie director who is a dick that torments waiters) vs. people whose toxic sludge pollutes your experience of everything they create (say, contemplating the artistic merits of Hitler's puerile paintings). If Barker doesn't cross your line then you have a weird tolerance for right wing shit bags. He literally wrote a core text of modern neo-nazism and co-edited one of that movement's periodicals. And let's get serious about this supposedly world changing contributions: Tukumel is fine but Barker isn't a world striding genius whose creative works had broad, important impacts. I would say his ideas and writing in the realm of fantasy roleplaying games are certainly no more interesting and impactful than Stafford or Crossby or any of the dozens of authors who penned the more memorable modules and settings. This is a guy we should scrape off our shoe, and if you liked something he suggested about ancient alien backstories to your campaign world, then riff off it using your own creative thoughts.

  20. This whole situation has me feeling quite stunned still. I've been working through the whole thing in my head and come to no conclusions yet. For sure, it's not like it can be meaningfully compared to a current work like Myfarog, both because the neo-Nazi author of that work is still alive and also because the game is almost a parody of neo-Nazi ideas about "race" due to its hamfisted portrayal of the topic. It is perhaps more comparable to the works of Lovecraft, since (contra some claims above) it is a collaborative work involving a number of authors, even if it centers on the works of Barker. With both authors being deceased, the comparison is even closer. Still, as many have noted, Barker was someone with whom many of us interacted directly and now those who did are having to reevaluate those interactions. But all of this is the sort of thing any thinking person with an interest in the situation has already been stirring around in their own head. I don't know where I'm going to come out at the end of this weighing of various aspects. For sure, I've played more in Glorantha, and Hârn holds a similar position as a more "serious" world, but Tékumel has always been outstanding for being so very and consciously non-European.

    I don't know. It's frustrating.

    1. Now we know WHY it was so very and consciously non-European…

  21. I sympathize with those who were acquainted with him and have been disturbed by this unfortunate revelation. The more hateful parts of his worldview never really bled through in any of his Tekumel works however. I hope people continue to enjoy and be influenced by his Tekumel creative works and world building. With his life and passing being more recent than say, Richard Wagner, it may be more difficult for people to enjoy his positive contributions to gaming and world design but I hope they still come to do so nonetheless.

  22. Just echoing everyone above that this is...to say the very least...*deeply* upsetting to learn. And though I understand the analogies to other art that folks have made, I wonder to what extent role playing is different, if only because of its inter-connectivity and group dynamics. And...trust? I mean, it's one thing to listen to a symphony by an artist with repellent views, quite another to invite your friends to spend time in an imaginary world created by someone with those views. I'd be very interested to hear everyone's thoughts about that.

    1. I've been trying to analyze and compare my feelings about this compared to the revelations about Marion Zimmer Bradley, who was a fairly important author for me in my youth. Both cases felt like betrayals of the worst kind by a creator whose work had been with me for decades, but Barker's feels different. I'm not sure if it's worse, but despite not having played that much in Tekumel I've sunk a lot more time into the setting and interacting with its fans than I ever did with Darkover. The latter were just novels I read by myself, for myself - and a very strange boardgame, but that's secondary. Tekumel was something I actively signal boosted for for years, and enjoyed conversing with others about.

      I walked away from Darkover without a second thought. I'm not sure if I can do that with Tekumel, despite the idea of trying to salvage something from the ruin Barker's made of it feeling like a fool's errand.

    2. Thanks, man. I always find your thoughts interesting here. Obviously, this doesn't apply to James or anyone who Did Not Know (as few apparently did), but I'm not sure how you approach potential players going forward and in good faith explain this setting and its creator--and I think you absolutely have to explain it--and proceed with a campaign. Certainly, I would expect players to be *not pleased* if they found out later whose imaginary space they'd been spending time in.

      Also, MZB...what the hell?? A horror show. I did not know that before now. More things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, and little of it good

    3. I think the only way to approach new players is to do a full-disclosure explanation of what Barker did, and not put up a fight if players don't want anything to do with his work afterward. It makes Tekumel an even harder sell than it's always been, but that's the situation we find ourselves in. The Tekumel Foundation's attempt to cover this up shows what deceit or omission gets you.

      And yeah, MZB was horrifying, and made all the more tragic because she really had done a lot to encourage more diversity in the scifi writing community over her lifetime. That legacy's burned to ashes now.

    4. Somehow I missed the controversy with MZB. Read about it earlier today on Wikipedia. For me, I don't know if I've ever read any MZB other than maybe a short story somewhere.

    5. @Frank I took a number of scifi courses in college back in the 80s where she was mandatory reading and branched out from there. At the time MZB was pretty justifiably held up as a major example of a successful female scifi author who (along with others like Anne McCaffery, Andre Norton, Ursula LeGuin, Jo Clayton and CJ Cherryh) encouraged more women to try their hand in a field that had been very male-dominated. She was also a prominent feminist within the same community, which comes through pretty strongly in her work. She was quite the literary icon during her lifetime and many authors built on her work - she did a lot of collaborations, and contributed to the Thieves' World shared universe series (which was also a big deal in the 80s and early 90s).

      And for gamers, Eon Games (the original Cosmic Encounters publisher) made a Darkover boardgame based on her books. It wasn't very good, but it existed.

    6. @Dick McGee Given that you already have had a similar experience with MZB, I’ll be curious to know where you eventually end up with Tékumel.

    7. @Bonnacon You'll have to ask my future self. I'm still waffling between walking away, trying to partition author and work completely and carefully avoiding giving any money to the Foundation, or yanking the elements I like best and trying to do something with them that's divorced from the rest of the Barker canon.

    8. Ah, I had a feeling, but didn't remember, that MZB had contributed to Thieves World, so I have read her there (now that I think of it, was Lythande her character?). I never read any of the Darkover novels, and I don't think I've read any other of her novels. I've probably read a short story or two from anthologies if she has any.

  23. I continue to ponder this on an ongoing basis. But Tekumel is many things. It's not a neo-Nazi work. It is very much divorced from those aspects of Barker, or at least seems to be to me.

    The problem is how to feel about a work that is very much the product of a bad man. And that's a complicated question.

    1. There is some suggestion that Barker's father may have been a Nazi sympathizer or worse, if that's the case, one wonders if Barker had these thoughts all along. In that case, they may have colored his development of Tekumel which certainly does have some problematic elements.

      This whole thing is quite a mess and it will certainly make Tekumel less attractive, at least for some time.

    2. @Frank There's supposedly evidence that Loris Barker (his dad) was a member of the American Nazi Bund in the 30s but I haven't seen whatever documentation there is anywhere online. OTOH, Phil Barker supposedly hated his father and didn't want to be anything like him, but that's hearsay as well. It's really hard to pin down where some of these statements started, which is unsurprising given that much it is quite personal and all of it happened long ago.

    3. There may never be a firm connection there, but I do wonder if his father really was horrible, did he absorb some of that horribleness even if originally speaking against it, eventually embracing it, meanwhile possibly coloring his thoughts for Tekumel.

      I dunno.

      For me, the truth is I was reaching an understanding that it was unlikely I would ever run a campaign in Tekumel even without these revelations.

  24. For the time being, I'll keep my Tekumel books as I considerer them important in regard to world building but I never had plans of using it for a campaign, and now after what's come out, probably will never play a PC in someone's game, much less even recommend it. That said, I do want to hear what Barker's widow and inner circle have to say as it feels they're keeping other things quiet.

  25. James, I get why you feel conflicted. Antisemitism and Negationism are disgusting viewpoints and there's no excuse for someone promoting such bilge, even under a pseudonym. As a former Tekumel ref I understand the idea that you're sort of venturing into another person's brain, and while wandering around you've now found that you stepped in something (and it's not just mud).

    At the same time I repudiate any notion that this should be a springboard for bitter polemic against fellow gamers or a dissection of people's responses as insufficiently politically correct. Such sentiments belong in the same Hell as Commissars and Gestapo agents. It's not true that "some people are terrible"... rather, *everyone* is terrible. Don't stop reading. Every single human being, without frequent sacramental confession and the graces of the Mass / Divine Liturgy and the other sacraments, is on a greased slide to Hell. This episode is but another exhibition of human frailty. Indeed it's the reason that any political project to immanentize the eschaton, be it National Socialism or Marxism-Leninism or Maoism, is tantamount to Satanism and doomed to implode in genocide, misery and social disintegration. So Barker was a vicious, small-minded tribalist? That's man's natural state (c.f. "Original Sin"). There's no point in beating him up though. He's dead and gone, almost certainly to the same place as the vast majority of humanity, so why would anyone pile insult onto injury, unless to gain cheap political points? Pray for Mr. Barker, just as we ought to have done anyways. Ironically it's thanks to the Jews that any of us have any hope of making it out alive, and I'm sorry that Barker didn't appreciate that. He came up with a cracking good fantasy world though, and that's not nothing.

  26. Thank you, James for addressing this in your Blog. I have also bought, read, Game Mastered, written fiction for (personal pleasure), and played EPT since 1998.
    I am also an American Jew who has had to defend the right to be free of antisemitism from supervisors, co-workers, former friends, and others since 1977.
    I am deeply saddened about Barker's beliefs. I don't know if I would have been interested in EPT had I known them. I didn't know, and I became a big fan (I liked Flame Song over Man of Gold).
    I think the Tekumel Foundation was morally in error in not making this information available earlier. (Jeff Berry aka Chirine ba Kal recently informed us on his private forum that he had known for a decade, and I would guess that since he cataloged Barker's estate the Tekumel Foundation was made aware at that point).
    Past the sadness I feel, is just some indignation about a violation of trust on the part of all who stayed silent (silence in these instances a form of complicity).
    I have decided for myself to no longer own, purchase, read, Game Master, or play any of the material. I have left Jeff's forum as undramatically as possible (owing to Jeff's wishes).
    I know several young Jewish people who are comfortable with all of this. And I support their fun. As another player wrote, "Barker would spin in his grave if he knew a Jewish Trans man was GMing this."
    Barker is dead. The Tekumel Foundation owns the IP. Who cares about them.
    Have fun, play EPT or the Tekumel of your choice. Or not. Have fun.

    Love your Blog James,


    1. "Jeff Berry aka Chirine ba Kal recently informed us on his private forum that he had known for a decade, and I would guess that since he cataloged Barker's estate the Tekumel Foundation was made aware at that point"

      He made a public statement over on RPG.net that he told the entire board in 2012, FWIW. The Board has to address that, but I do feel like he's got some questions to answer too. He's known about this as long as they have and waited this long to speak up about it publicly because...?

      "Kudos for blowing the whistle, now why did you wait so long to do so?"

  27. It strikes me that these revelations about Barker are just another (and so far the worst I've heard) in a series of similar awful truths about the beliefs of early RPG pioneers. I have affection for Tekumel, but there is nothing in its legacy that I need to honor, even if as a foundational element of RPG design it exists and can be recognized, along with Barker's Neo-Nazi views. One doesn't need to take Barker's tainted ideology into oneself along with the uninfluenced creative aspect of his work.

    When I plunder what I like about Tekumel for my own games I will be more careful now to interrogate the setting for echos of Barker's malice, just as I am about B2, but I think that RPGs are a unique medium here. They allow each table to create its own world and to affirm or reject the designer's vision. One's Tekumel need not to be Barker's - a stable despotism with insular communities of sentients, it can be different, or it can be the same but its politics presented as a dystopia. It need not (and perhaps should not, if only to avoid the appearance of supporting Barker) even be Tekumel.

    It's understandable to feel disappointment, anger, or disgust. Afterwards, for me at least, I can now contentedly invent my own version of priest-ridden, science-fantasy jungle earth without feeling any need to venerate Tekumel - it's freeing in a way.

    I look forward to seeing Jame's, and every other betrayed petalhead's version of the same. To those that are emboldened and pleased about Barker's views - as always "¡No pasarán!"

  28. Thanks for posting this. I was unaware of any of this, not even rumors, until reading your blog today. I can imagine why you’d be stressed given your personal acquaintance with Barker and your work on Tékumel, but hope it hasn’t affected your relationships, especially with your players.

    I’m still pondering all of this.

    I don’t see the setting as reflecting the vile views he expressed elsewhere. I read a speculation about the Pygmy Folk being an anti-semitic trope but am not convinced. If someone noted this prior to recent events I would be interested to read that, but post-facto interpretation will be biased.

    Assuming Tékumel is not itself problematic, does playing in it or working with it somehow support Barker’s other views? I don’t think so, anymore than someone who listens to old LPs of Bill Cosby is supporting rape. But sadly there’s now a taint both for own interaction with the material and with how some others will regard our choice to interact with it. On the other hand if people like you abandon it then that might leave it to those jerks who would be attracted to it _because_ of Barker’s anti-Semitism.

    I won’t support the Tékumel Foundation in its current form. At best, they may have been hoping that what their archivist told them wasn’t true and didn’t want to look into it, but I don’t trust their intentions or stewardship at this point. (Actually, I’m curious why Jeff Berry didn’t make this public earlier if he knew.)

    I opened up EPT and Flamesong briefly (mostly looking up the portrayal of the Pygmy Folk) and wasn’t repulsed, but some of Barker’s responses in a Space Gamer interview now come across more questionably. I’m still interested in Tékumel and gaming in it but would be wary of recommending it to people not already interested, especially given the need to warn them of Barker’s other work. Where will this end up? Sigh.

  29. '"D&D is too important to leave to Gary Gygax."

    Perhaps the same could be true of Tékumel and M.A.R. Barker.'

    Nope. Gygax was a garden-variety boor, not a Nazi in the 1990s.

    Look, this isn't a new problem. New facts have been introduced that challenge your previously held opinions.

    When that happens, you can either alter the facts to suit your opinion (a popular choice these days). Or alter your opinions to suit the facts. (to paraphrase Chris Boucher)

    You should man up and walk away. Start a new campaign in a different world, uncontaminated by Nazi creators.

    1: Because it's the right thing to do.

    2: Because it's in your own self interest. Your sense of betrayal will linger over your campaign, poisoning the enjoyment it brings you. So will the cognitive dissonance you'll need in order to continue.

    You've been betrayed. Stop the tortured rationalizations already (my favorite is: but the Nazi was always nice to me, a straight, white, non-Jewish man!). Cut loose and move on.

    You have many great campaigns left in you, and many new realms to discover and create. Get going.

    1. “Stop the tortured rationalizations already (my favorite is: but the Nazi was always nice to me, a straight, white, non-Jewish man!)”

      I don’t think James or most of us are doing that. Barker is now clearly monstrous but he hid it well. His Tékumel writings didn’t give an inkling of this other side.

      The question is whether, like “Triumph of the Will” or “Birth of a Nation”, Tékumel cannot be enjoyed but only studied for technical or historical reasons. Unlike those films, though, Tékumel wasn’t obviously created for an abhorrent reason despite its original creator being so.

    2. "“Stop the tortured rationalizations already (my favorite is: but the Nazi was always nice to me, a straight, white, non-Jewish man!)”

      I don’t think James or most of us are doing that."

      Yes. He is. Here:

      "...he was always very kind and generous with his time. He patiently answered all my questions about Tékumel and encouraged me in my greater appreciation of the setting. In fact, he gave me some of the best advice I've ever received..."

      And here:

      ""D&D is too important to leave to Gary Gygax."

      Perhaps the same could be true of Tékumel and M.A.R. Barker."

      Grief is legit. But don't let it lead to illegitimate rationalizations. We know the truth now. It's not just a rumor anymore. So face facts and act accordingly.

      Or play in the Nazi's garden. But just don't fool yourself that it isn't what you're doing.

    3. It has been pointed out that the Pygmy Folk include some bits that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic or racist:

      - The name Pygmy Folk itself, used as a derogatory term for African peoples of smaller stature in our world.

      - They are rather rodent-like in appearance

      - They are great traders and travelers and enthusiastic bargainers (note the Tsolyani proverb "To bargain with the Pygmy Folk is to throw away one's purse.")

      In light of the revelations, this description is no longer quite so innocent, though it is rather offensive even without the revelations.

  30. well, the quest for purity continues.

    James, skip the drama. if it bothers you (or too much, I guess) Drop it. if it doesn't, then don't. No one owns your mind but you.

  31. The position that we should shrug and move on strikes me as straight-up nihilism. It's like arguing that, since all of us occasionally drive over the speed limit or roll through stop signs, law breaking is just a side of human nature that we should all come to accept and ignore unless it directly harms you. Sure, if someone breaks into your house you should obviously shoot them, but if you just witness someone robbing your neighbor that isn't your problem, you should blow it off, and just appreciate all the good things that robber might have done for you in the past.

    1. maybe keep it in perspective? on one side, crappy white supremecist fiction, on the other, WW3 with real actual nazis being supported by all the west. One of these is important, the other is sad.

  32. Tekumel has never been for me, but when I saw murmurings of this last week, I immediately wondered how you would address it. I can understand that something that you love and have invested a lot of time in has been tarnished and that any admiration you had for its creator is now gone. That probably creates a real sense of loss, so you have my sympathy.

    Like a lot of the other posters, regulars or passersby, I think that you can decide to salvage something from Tekumel. Through review and discussion of what has went on in your version of Tekumel you can decide whether there's anything that you want to jettison. From having played it for so long, the probability is that nearly all of the good memories were created by yourselves, with very little actual input from the original creator. I suspect that you'd find it difficult to continue playing straight away without this review.

    As for the Tekumel Foundation and whether they have a viable future, it depends on what they do next. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and what I think they should be doing is going over all of the materials with a fine tooth comb and deciding which parts of it are outright bad, which parts might be considered a problem if viewed in a certain way and which parts are okay. The materials can then be re-edited and re-issued, but crucially the foreword should contain a foreword which acknowledges the creator's unpalatable views and is up-front that certain materials have been removed or re-edited to reflect today's acceptable standards.

    As an aside, this is an example of one of the great philosophical questions that I often wonder about. Where is the tipping point from where a person's good deeds and accomplishments are outweighed by their bad deeds and sins? I don't know the answer but I think that it floats about.