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Tékumel Thursday 2: My World of Tékumel

My World of Tékumel

Having played in the world of Tékumel for over 25 years in the original campaign, I never fully understood what Prof. Barker meant by his statement in the Tékumel Sourcebook, “…we cannot keep your Tékumel from drifting away from mine. This is as it should be. You have just bought MY Tékumel. Now make it YOUR Tékumel.” That is, until I began to run my own Tékumel campaign just over six years ago, in February 2017.

When I started my campaign, I knew I was going to do things differently, but I did not initially appreciate what that would entail.  I started with the realization that there were certain player-character actions that had major outcomes in Prof. Barker’s campaign, e.g. Tim Cox’s character Dutlór, a priest of Dlamélish, using an Eye of Changing Alignment on Princess Ma’ín, or Dave Hautala’s character Qútmu hiTziséna calling for Divine Intervention and inadvertently starting the war with Yán Kór.  I knew I didn’t want to have these things happen, so I decided to start my campaign in 2354 A.S. just as laid out in Empire of the Petal Throne. It would be a clean slate and a fresh start.

I then started looking at the “Dispatches to the Petal Throne” which appeared in The Strategic Review and The Dragon #4.  At first, I was looking to see what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to discard.  “Canon” in terms of campaign history didn’t really matter: what I wanted was some freedom to create my own Tékumel history.  Once I started that process, it became clear to me that – rather than assuming there were a few things that needed to go – what I should do is simply jettison the majority of actions of Prof. Barker’s player characters (including my own characters), and their results, to make room for my own campaign’s players and their characters.  It would be their Tékumel, and I trusted myself to be able to handle whatever they came up with to challenge me.

After six years, all I can say is that it has been a wild success.  My players are steeped in Tékumelani lore, and have gone almost completely native.  Further, rather than “reading ahead” to figure out what’s going to happen, they are faced with the challenge of not knowing where this Tékumel might end up – and I have had the challenge of figuring out my own understanding of what was going on.  It has been exhilarating to experience Tékumel this way, and I am very glad that it has turned out so well.

Additionally, my players have helped me understand Tékumel in some unexpected and different ways.  My female players Catie and Fiona have pointed out that The Man of Gold and (to a lesser extent) Flamesong are not quite the same Tékumel as they read about in The Tékumel Sourcebook.  Most notably, Prof. Barker’s prose in the novels reflected the stories which inspired him when he was younger, and unfortunately that revealed some unexamined sexism which didn’t square with what was in the Sourcebook.  So I decided that Prof. Barker’s “ethnographic” take on Tékumel, as found in the Sourcebook, would have more weight than the “fictive” take found in the novels.  Writers of fanfic probably understand this intuitively, but it took me a little while to figure out the implications.  This has been a process of balancing out the various sources of material, to discern the nature of this Tékumel.  The result has been a world subtly different from that found in later Tékumel game materials and novels.   As far as the world is concerned, the history of events is much the same as found in Empire of the Petal Throne, as of 2354 A.S.  Anything after that cannot be assumed, however.  Some differences which have arisen since the campaign began:

  • Generally speaking, the characters named in “Dispatches to the Petal Throne” do not exist – or may not be the same as the player characters in the original campaign.
  • Princess Ma’ín remains a loyal worshipper of Lady Avánthe; no Eye of Changing Alignment has been used on her. Additionally, she has begun to understand her position in Imperial politics – interestingly enough aided by several player-characters who are her ardent supporters.
  • Additionally, the recently appointed High Princeps of the Temple of Thúmis, one Gámalu hiBeshyéne, died after his ship was caught in a tremendous storm at sea in the Deeps of Chanayága.  A meeting was been called to appoint a new High Princeps, Lady Nátluna hiVaisúra.
  • Interestingly, the small land of Pijéna has been able to avoid being occupied by the armies of Baron Áld, using some adroit diplomatic maneuvers to remain nominally neutral.  Only time will tell if this strategy proves to be successful in the long run.
  • The war with Yán Kór has started – but not when and where it had in the original campaign.  Baron Áld still seethes with rage at the loss of Yilrána, and is taking steps to use all of his powers to strike back at Tsolyánu.

Some starting assumptions for the mechanics of game play include the following:

  • The base rules are Empire of the Petal Throne, using the Swords & Glory spell corpora.  This has meant rewriting those spells, making them less complicated but also easier to use.
    • Psychic Ability also indicates your Pedhétl, or psychic reservoir.  Casting spells depletes this reservoir, and rest allows for the accumulation of new spell points.
    • Universal spells require the expenditure of 2 dice of spell points, Generic spells use 4 dice, and Temple spells use 6 dice.
    • In an area where magic energy is relatively “fertile”, 3 dice of spell points are regenerated each night.  A “barren” area might allow for only 1 die of spell points, or – in the case of the Tsolei Isles – none at all!
  • There have been some modifications to character generation:
    • Re-purposing the Original Skills roll as a “Heritage” score, indicating your relative social rank in the society where you were from.
    • Re-purposing the averaging of Strength, Intelligence, and Dexterity mechanic in Sec. 725 as a “Prowess” score, to be used as a general purpose characteristic for accomplishing complex or difficult tasks.
    • Professional Skill charts have also been modified, with the addition of the Adventurer and the Shaman character classes to the original Warrior, Priest and Lay-Priest character classes.