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Tékumel Thursday 9: Starting My Campaign

Lined paper reading: "April 20th, 2017.  Osuluel & Turisu, House of Birruku"

Tékumel is very well suited to the long-form tabletop roleplaying campaign.  It has cultural, social, and historical depth, it covers a vast area, and has tremendous detail to it.  It is also incomplete, which invites further participation by game masters wanting to contribute their own ideas to the game.  So it should not be surprising that James Maliszewski and I both have long-running Tékumel campaigns.  James’ campaign is now about nine years old, and my campaign has just finished its seventh year.

What I have learned from playing for that long a period of time cannot be easily summed up in a single blog post.  However, I can talk about some “first things learned” from the start of the campaign.

Start small

In the snapshot above, you can see when I first started taking notes for my campaign — I think we had been playing for a couple of weeks at that point.  I started with two players and their two characters.  I wasn’t concerned about the number of players – I figured that we would slowly add players as time progressed, and that happened.  Since April 2017, I have had up to three separate groups in my campaign – one group in Tsolyanu, another group in Yan Kor, and a solo player in the lands to the Northeast, past Lake Parunal.

But starting with two players and their two characters was not really a problem.  I could focus more on each character, and go into more detail about what they were interested in.  It also meant that I was expected to come up with NPCs for the players to interact with, including their potential patrons and companions.  Generating characters helped me understand Tékumel better.

Meet regularly, in-person or online

My campaign originally started off meeting in person, but COVID caused us to move to Discord, and now we are meeting again in person.  The player in the solo adventure arc in the Northeast has always met with me online.  James’ campaign has been online from the start.  At different times, I have made use of Owlbear Rodeo as a VTT, but it hasn’t been absolutely necessary.  Do what works for you.

More importantly, meet on a regular basis.  At the beginning of the campaign, we played on a weekly basis.  It ensured we were able to follow what was going on, and helped maintain adventure continuity.  Using a calendar and keeping track of notes formed the basis of a campaign chronicle, which has been exciting to revisit.

Keep Things Manageable

I think many Tékumel game masters are concerned that the game will “get away from them.” That is, the sheer amount of material to track can be overwhelming.  That is an understandable concern, but two things helped overcome this possibility in my campaign: our game sessions tended to be short – about 2-3 hours, and the focus of the game was around the city of Jakalla.  Shorter game sessions meant that the players had to be pretty intentional about their adventuring activities, and keeping things around Jakalla at the beginning meant I didn’t have to come up with everything all at once.

Provide meaningful choices 

I mentioned earlier that I had to come up with the NPC patrons for the adventurers.  This is based in Section 1110. Initial Encounters in Jakalla, in Empire of the Petal Throne. That was actually rather fun, because each patron had their own agenda and resources, which helped me figure out the immediate context for the campaign.  Since each patron — in this case, Lady Mnella and others — had their own tasks and missions for the adventurers, the choices the players made affected who they met, who liked their characters, and so on.  It also mattered what opportunities the adventurers may have missed.  You didn’t sign on to the mission for the Temple of Karakan?  That might get remembered in the future.

Why do it this way?

The biggest benefit from playing Tékumel is that you find out more about the world.  This is something that you just do not get from reading the source material.  It is the difference between reading travel guides and actually going somewhere.  Tékumel becomes more real from playing the game.  From the beginning, my players have helped me understand Tékumel far better than if I tried reading about it on my own. This experience also matches my own experience from the original campaign.

I hope my reflections here are helpful for other Tékumel enthusiasts in creating their own games.  Don’t worry about making it perfect, go and discover Tékumel, instead. Mrokem!

2 thoughts on “Tékumel Thursday 9: Starting My Campaign

  1. These are fun reads. I am about to restart my campaign. I have been setting my campaigns recently in the Kurt Hills area and using Manada’s Kurt Hills Atlas and maps.

    I ran a military campaign where players were soldiers in the Legion of the Clan of the Inverted Hand. That lasted for quite a while until I just could not really keep up with running it online during COVID.

    My last one, rather short lived, was Thúmis priests exploring a newly uncovered portion of the underworld beneath Jakálla.

    This next one will, I think, be clan based. All the characters members of the same clan, but they can be any religion or occupation. So, one of those clans without strong Temple affiliation. The local clan elders will serve as the patrons, sending the junior clan members off to perform various tasks for the clan.

    1. Starting a campaign where the adventurers are all members of the same clan can very definitely work. If I recall correctly, James Maliszewski has suggested starting this way with a middle-ranked clan. That way, the adventurers know who to show deference to (the folk of upper-status clans), and who to direct to get things done (the folk of lower-status clans). Perhaps most importantly, this allows players unfamiliar with Tekumel to have an idea about how to act in different social situations. Having their clan elders serve as patrons, or can introduce them to patrons, also makes things easier for the referee.
      Keep me posted about how it goes!

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