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Tékumel Thursday 5: Fresh Off the Boat

A photograph of the sea wall of Thessaloniki in the 1860s, a remnant of the Ottoman Empire from centuries earlier.

Probably the biggest issue that people have with running Tékumel is that the setting is an unknown and foreign land, and nobody is actually from there.  Original Dungeons & Dragons seemed to assume that the adventurers were on the edge of civilization, and beating back the forces of darkness.  Tékumel, by contrast, seems like you are starting on Ellis Island in the late 19th or early 20th Century, and you don’t speak the language or know the local customs.  It can be daunting!

I started my Tékumel campaign in April of 2017, so about seven years ago, with only two players – I added more later – and committed to using just the material in Empire of the Petal Throne as much as possible.  One of the player-characters decided to be an adherent of Ksárul, the Doomed Prince of the Blue Room, and the other decided to be a priest of Qón, the Guardian of the Gates of Hell Against Those Who Would Come Forth – so, a mixed alignment party.

I then turned to Section 1110 in Empire of the Petal Throne, Initial Encounters in Jakálla, and used that to generate possible patrons and missions.  I also decided to keep things closer to home – no adventures to Lost Bayársha quite yet! – and let the players figure out what they wanted to do.

They ended up not staying in the Tower of the Red Dome, the cheapest and most squalid hostel in the Foreigners’ Quarter, but the Hostel of Birrukú the Allaqiyáni, Resthouse for Foreigners and Visitors of Lower-Middle Status.  This meant I had to come up with who this “Birrukú the Allaqiyáni” actually was.  From the name, he came from a land far to the north between Tsolyánu and Yán Kór, and so was a foreigner who made good in Tsolyáni society.  This led to creating some of NPCs found there – both staff and other residents – which gave me some possibilities for relationships and adventuring leads.

One of the NPCs mentioned at the very end of Empire of the Petal Throne is “Lady Mnélla, the society-conscious, once wealthy, and not-so-young noblewoman, whose need for money has driven her to undertake adventures of her own in Jakálla’s Underworld, along with her tough and surly ‘boyfriend,’ Lord Hngáku the Livyáni ne’er-do-well.” I took advantage of this description to put together a trip to the Underworld, with Mnélla hiring the player-characters as her hirelings for the expedition.

In all of this, I wanted to take the time to “show off” Tsolyáni society and culture, but not to overwhelm my players with it.  One of the great aspects of Tékumel is that there is almost always a larger world to present to the players, and since they did not know much about the world, I wasn’t under any pressure to get everything perfectly right. I could let it grow and develop over time.

From that modest beginning, the rest of my campaign grew.  (More in future reports!)