Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Tekumel and Me

Recently, I finally took the plunge and convinced several of my regular RPG friends to play a Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne campaign I would run. I sought a great deal of advice from a long-running Tekumel mailing list, and posted several accounts of my progress in building the campaign, ending with a brief summary of the first session of play. Several people expressed an interest in my continuing to report on this, and suggested a blog was a better way to do so.

Well, here it is- and this is the first time I've ever attempted to use a blog, so apologies in advance if I don't seem to be getting some things right.

I could start putting campaign stuff here, but when I sat down to write, I thought the first post should be about Tekumel in general, and how I came across it.

The fictional world of Tekumel is the creation of the late Professor MAR Barker. This man essentially did the same thing that the better-known JRR Tolkein did- spent his spare time building an imaginary world in such detail that it even has the languages described. Barker published several novels set on Tekumel, but the most famous (not that this is saying much) depiction of his world was as the setting for an RPG first published in 1974- the second game after Dungeons & Dragons, and the first to include a detailed setting.

Tekumel is based, not on the mythology and history of Europe as the works of Tolkein and Gygax are, but on a hybrid of India and Mesoamerica with several Sword & Sorcery pulp adventure tropes thrown in. The whole appeal is the setting- which was why I took so long to become a Tekumel fan.

I wanted to be a fan long before that- everything I'd heard about Tekumel sounded great to me. I was in my late teens when I first made an effort to seek it out, and bought the latest edition of a Tekumel RPG with my birthday money. Unfortunately, that product happened to be the Gardisiyal- and I can imagine Tekumel veterans cringing at the thought of this being a young gamer's first introduction to Tekumel. The game system was clunky and dated, and also incomplete- you were supplied a booklet of pre-generated characters, and needed to purchase another supplement to get the rules for creating your own. Worst of all, the setting of Tekumel, the whole point to playing there, was absent- just a four-page booklet with a brief overview, and then little hints throughout the rules with nothing concrete. Bitterly disappointed at this waste of my money, I stuck the box on a shelf to gather dust and gave up on Tekumel for most of a decade.

(In hindsight, I find myself thinking that the current obscurity of Tekumel can largely be blamed on Gardisiyal. The period in which it was released was a boom period for new RPGs, and a good Tekumel product would have introduced it to a whole new generation of potential fans. Instead, it was nothing but a waste of money.)

Then, in 2005, Guardians of Order published a new RPG- "Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne". A revised version of the company's Tri-Stat rules, T:EPT was a sleek modern system that captured the essence of the setting with simple die rolls. More importantly, it had details on the setting itself in the corebook- so two for two over Gardisiyal!

Alas, most gamers can tell you what happened to Guardians of Order. The company folded right after T:EPT was released, their financial difficulties finally getting the better of them. Worse, the book itself showed this. Whilst the physical production quality can't be faulted, the rules are clearly in need of a final round of editing, evidence it was rushed into production too quickly. A confusing ruleset and no further support- another seeming failure to release a Tekumel RPG.

I bought T:EPT when it came out. Over the next few years, I re-read it several times. Once I worked out where the rules actually were, and came up with house rules for the few things that were missing, it turned out to be a surprisingly good system. One that I'd even rate as better than Pendragon for low-tech combat. Also, by this time the older material from the 70s and 80s which accounted for the bulk of Tekumel's background was easy to find on the internet, instead of being restricted to the personal collections of Tekumel veterans from back in the day.

Finally, the time seemed right for me to be able to run a Tekumel campaign of my own. The hardest part proved to be selling it to my players- but now they've finally come around.

Details on my campaign to follow.

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