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Tékumel Thursday 11: Trolls in the Woods

The need to convey news about what was happening elsewhere in the Empire presented a challenge to Prof. Barker in the original campaign – or player-characters were along with Prince Eselné when this encounter took place:

“…Know ye, O Omnipotent Eye Which Sees the World, that your excellent son, Lord Eselné, has travelled to Chéne Hó to visit his patron, Lord Kéttukal. What this bodes is not yet apparent, for the latter continues to prostrate himself before the Petal Throne and declare his loyalty. Lord Eselné’s party was beset with Sérudla near Átkolel Heights, but Hnálla smiled upon his fortunes, and he escaped harm, slaying three beasts. Such an incursion of these creatures upon the Sákbe Road is almost unheard of; troops were sent but found nothing amiss. Lord Eselné and Lord Kéttukal continue to meet in apparent openness and loyalty, but they are watched closely. The affair is further muddied by the capture of a Mu’ugalavyáni officer near Chéne Hó; this person slew himself before he could be put to the question, and some device was used which prevented our priests from revivifying his body. Whether or not these occurrences are connected is as yet known only to the Gods… What action may be contemplated?” [There follows a glyph denoting “observe and report”: Translator.]

So what’s going on here?  This is part of the narrative presented in the Campaign Notes, and later incorporated into the published Empire of the Petal Throne:

“In spite of this, [Kéttukal] has been exiled to Chéne Hó in Dó Cháka because of the machinations of the Royalists, who fear his power. This was done through a series of delicately staged intrigues which gave the Imperium reason to believe that Kéttukal was interested in power of his own — nothing so major as an intrigue against the Petal Throne itself, but perhaps some takeover of the Cháka Protectorates which would amount to semi-independence.”

Just to be clear, Kéttukal’s exile to Chéne Hó is a way to “frame” the political conflicts between the Military, Priestly, Imperialist, and Royalist “Parties” — really just loose political factions — and thus suggest ways to involve recently-arrived adventurers in the politics of their new homeland.  For that, it could work quite well.  For the referee, you would need to “stat out” the factional leaders named in EPT, and then think about their minions and henchmen.  Who are the various lieutenants, underpriests, lay scholars, merchants and others serving this or that Prince, high priest, or general?

To be honest, though, I have always wondered about this as a starting point for a more politically-oriented campaign – what very roughly corresponds to the “domain game” of OD&D.  General Kéttukal is presented as a loyal soldier to the Petal Throne, but the political intrigue around him is left without an actual answer: is he loyal? Are there other motivations? This is where the decision about Kéttukal’s ultimate ambitions is left for the referee to decide.  In later Tékumel material, we discover more evidence that Kéttukal is a loyal soldier and by reputation an excellent general, but there is still a question hanging over him in the initial portrayal in EPT.

Reading the dispatch, it seems likely there were player-character adventurers accompanying Prince Eselné, and therefore involved in some way with the Military Party — probably warriors and like-minded priests and magic-users. It is also likely that these adventurers had acquired some experience and reputation, to be included in the entourage of the Prince.  One element of the original campaign was that Imperial princes and princesses – Eselné, Rereshqála, Ma’ín – all developed an interest in some player-characters.  (We will revisit this later.)

What is not clear are the exact circumstances of the encounter.  Looking at the encounter tables for Sákbe-roads, it is not usually possible to encounter Sérudla.  So there might be something special about this: “[s]uch an incursion of these creatures upon the Sákbe Road is almost unheard of….” – another opportunity for the referee to decide if this was just very unusual, or if there was some sort of deeper machination afoot.

  • Did one of Prince Eselné’s Imperial rivals find a way to provoke the attack by the Sérudla?
  • Did Baron Ald find a way to encourage or command Sérudla to make the attack? 
  • Is the dead Mu’ugalavyáni officer involved in some way? 
  • Might there be some sort of alliance of non-human creatures seeking to shake off the yoke of humans and their non-human allies?
  • …or possibly something else entirely? 

It is also possible that something off the road drew the attention of the Prince and his followers.  Just to make this simple, let’s assume the latter, and see how this might have come about.

Here we get to use the encounter tables (see mimeo EPT, Section 828)

Encounter table for different terrain types, including clear, Forest-Jungle, Desert, Mountains, Swamp, and All Other

In most terrain, then, there is a 1-in-8 chance of encountering Sérudla(!) – and this is maintained in the published EPT.  This may or may not be the actual chance of encountering such a terrifying creature, depending on the level of Tékumel “realism” you want in your game.  In this encounter, Prince Eselné and his party encountered three Sérudla (which is possible given the rules), and defeated them.  It isn’t clear if this encounter took place before or after the Prince met with General Kéttukal in Chéne Hó, although it appears that the battle with Sérudla probably took place before Eselné arrived in Chéne Hó.

There is also the issue of the Mu’ugalavyáni officer, and the magic used to prevent him from being revivified and questioned.  This is made more relevant by the tense relationship between Tsolyánu and Mu’ugalavyá, and the Mu’ugalavyáni interest in seeing Kéttukal discredited.  Regardless of what happened in the original campaign, this could provide player-characters in your campaign with at least one mission: to discover what the mission of the Mu’ugalavyáni officer was, and what that mission was intended to accomplish.

For use in your own campaign, the adventure behind this dispatch provides an opportunity to get more involved in Imperial politics.  It isn’t an adventure for newly-arrived characters, but ones who have been around long enough to be noticed by either a political faction or by an Imperial prince — in this case, Prince Eselné.  So, probably 3rd or 4th level, possibly higher. 

Mission: accompany Prince Eselné to see his patron, General Kéttukal, in Chéne Hó. Make sure Prince Eselné arrives safely, and thwart any attempts to harm or discredit either of them. A referee would have to determine what threats did exist – including, but not limited to, Sérudla, as well as other NPCs accompanying Prince Eselné and around General Kéttukal. This would be a longer adventure, since the entourage of an Imperial Prince will be very large, and move fairly slowly. There are several elements of Tékumel which could be explored through this adventure:

  • The rivalry between the different “parties” seeking political power, and how they seek to undermine each other.
  • The relationship between Prince Eselné and General Kéttukal, and how that might affect the imminent conflict between Tsolyánu and Yan Kor.
  • The role of outside actors in espionage and related activities, in this case the Company of the Mourners in Sable (the Mu’ugalavyáni equivalent of the Omnipotent Azure Legion in Tsolyánu).
  • The very real possibility that there might be some sort of alliance of the various “semi-intelligent” creatures of Tékumel, with their own recondite goals and objectives.

All of these are foreshadowing future events, specifically future conflicts.  This provides significant opportunities for Tékumel referees to consider in their own campaigns.

5 thoughts on “Tékumel Thursday 11: Trolls in the Woods

  1. (Originally posted in the Tékumel Facebook group):
    I wouldn’t bother to “stat out” the various factional leaders, really. It’s the factions themselves which need describing and statting out – strength of support (weighted by the importance of various supporters), responsiveness, resistance to misfortune, political astuteness. This certainly runs from the personality of the leader but advisers are at least as important – if they are heeded, at least.
    If the PCs will be interacting with the leaders then descriptions will be needed (“willowy”, “squat and powerful”, “squeamish”…) but stats are only really needed for fighting.

    1. As I mentioned on FB, I would tend to agree with you, but I think there is room for stats for important NPCs; those stats can assist in decision-making for the referee, as well as proving useful when, say for example, there is a battle with some Serudla. But it is definitely a choice for the referee about what and how much to do when coming up with NPCs.

  2. (Originally posted in the Tékumel Facebook group):
    My personal approach would be much lower level.
    Firstly, the despatch provides colour and rumours, rather than canon. As such, it’s up to the referee how much truth (if any) is presented – which obviously should be affected by the status of the presenter.
    In turn, this rather assumes that the PCs are much, much lower level than the faction leaders and advisers. I’d want to be looking at the unexpected and/or uncertain opportunities this dramatic event opens up. The opportunities for corruption… the scope for spies and other operators to play factions against each other… the PCs blundering into the ensuing web of traps and other hazards… their understandable but oh-so-disloyal desire not to become anonymous draftees – and the ways this could be exploited to put pressure on them… (possibly long after the event 😀 )

    1. That’s a perfectly valid approach – much like the Traveller News Service from the Journal of the Travellers Aid Society. One interesting aspect of the Imperial Dispatches is that they can be quickly known across the Empire, due to the telepathic relay network which exists. Of course, there is the issue of bandwidth (similar to the issues faced by telegraph operators in the 19th and 20th Centuries), but you could easily include “summary” notes available from the Palace of the Realm (and now you have an adventure about who know what and when, and how much do you have to pay to get access to it…).
      As for spies, corruption, and intrigue – oh, assuredly so! This means that some thought should be given to those layers of operators and who is in-between the bottom and top rungs of those networks.

  3. Hlusschrau hiTlakotani has a few dispatches as she wends her way toward R’y trying to get deals on supplies and recruits. Later in 1986 Phil shortened her name to Hlucha but though I don’t remember much today she did a report on possible politics vs Salarvya.

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