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Tékumel Thursdays 12: Alignment in my Tékumel campaign

Front view of a priest of Ksarul

One of the biggest issues I had to deal with in starting my Tékumel campaign had to do with alignment.  Tékumel’s alignment system is different from the various alignment systems in D&D, and is more grounded in the setting, which is helpful.  My experience in the original campaign was that the player-characters worshiped different gods, but the alignment “divide” was largely imposed from outside forces, often the expectations of less-informed fellow believers.  Since we were often dealing with larger cosmic forces, e.g. opposing the machinations of the Goddess of the Pale Bone, differences between Ksárul and Avánthe seemed…smaller, somehow.  The only real difference was that Prince Dhich’uné was on his own side, and we were in opposition to him.  This did not prevent us from collaborating when necessary with his trusted subordinate, Jayárgo.  Jayárgo was of real help, when we were temporarily on the same side (his only failing was a regrettable tendency to cheat at Dén-dén).

So when it came to my own campaign, I was not interested in imposing a strict alignment division (although notes from the original campaign suggest that this did happen in the beginning, with some parties being aligned with “Good” and others with “Evil”).  I was quite aware that there were more differences within various faiths, than between them.  “Fanatics” of any faith were usually more extreme than the “moderates” or “time-servers” and I wanted to make sure my players understood that.

As a GM, I joked with my players, noting that in the original campaign I had tended to play Change worshippers (Wurú, Hrü’ü, Dlamélish), but that they were perfectly free to choose whatever faith and alignment made sense for their characters.  I suppose I should not have been surprised when they went ahead and did just that!  My three original players had a very diverse range of characters:

  • A somewhat over-confident but very talented spell-caster who worshiped Ksárul
  • A devout young warrior who had partnered-up with a magical sword aligned with Avánthe
  • A very smart priest of Qon, but who later ended up marrying a NPC priestess of Hriháyal (!),

Players who joined the campaign later tended to stick with Stability for their characters, although there were some Change-worshiping characters, as well.

The result of all this was interesting.  Having a variety of faiths and alignments represented made some things easier.  I could present different perspectives and potential goals, and the players could decide which ones they wanted to pursue.  I could reveal that there were sources of information which were reliable or unreliable, in different ways and to different degrees.  I could also introduce some tension in the form of expectations on the part of various patrons and superiors, especially if those patrons and superiors were “fanatics.”  My players understood all this, and worked to incorporate this into their cultural understanding of Tékumel.

Eventually, the main party of adventurers aligned themselves politically with Princess Ma’ín.  This was due to the fact that in my Tékumel, Ma’ín has remained a worshiper of Avánthe, rather than having been forcibly converted to the worship of Dlamélish, by player-character subterfuge in the original campaign. In turn, my campaign has continued to shift slowly away from the “official” timeline, which is all to the good.  As far as I can tell, they are hoping that the current emperor, Hirkáne, stays alive and well long enough to provide Ma’ín with enough time to develop the maturity and resources necessary to be a contender in the Kolumejálim.  This might happen — only time will tell!

What does this mean for your own Tékumel?  In the space between “real” Tékumel and “game” Tékumel, there is a lot of room for interpretation.  If you want to be very close to “real” Tékumel, you can do that.  Player-characters will likely be from the same clan and faith, or closely allied faiths.  This creates a dynamic where the social tension between faiths and alignments can become a significant issue.

You can also “relax” some of the strictures of Tsolyáni society, and have a party composed of members of different clans and faiths.  This was certainly the case in the original campaign — if it was alright with the Thursday Night Group, then that is certainly Tékumel! 

I will note, however, that it is easier in some ways to have all of your adventurers on one side or the other of the alignment “divide.”  That does not in any way preclude competition and/or conflict between adventurers, even those worshiping the same deity! (Just think of competing secret societies…)  Conversely, some alliances transcend alignment: the war gods and the goddesses are just two examples of this.  Like so many things involving Tékumel, there is no one single “right” answer to these questions.

8 thoughts on “Tékumel Thursdays 12: Alignment in my Tékumel campaign

  1. My players are usually agents of Princess Ma’in as well. I imagine her as the heir able to bring together at least three of four of her half-siblings. Like you, Ma’in worships Stability in my EPT. Dhich’une openly worships Sarku. Mridobu very secretly worships Change (but not the death gods). In my EPT, the Tsolyani in the main worship Stability, giving offerings as the occasion warrants. Men mostly worship Karakan. Women worship Avanthe. When sickness strikes the priests of Ketengku are sought. Funerals are presided over by Belkhanu. Burials by Qon.
    Tsolyani from the power centers of the First Imperium (Fasiltum, Purdimal etc.) proudly worship Vimuhla. Both men and women. Few worship the other Masters of the Shadow. Fewer still the death gods. In my EPT there’s no need for the Pariah Gods. Hry’y seeks to return the cosmos to the “Nullity that was before Time”.

    1. I hear all that! It is worth noting that different cities in Tsolyanu have different dominant faiths, e.g. Thraya is a major stronghold of the worship of Belkhanu. What was interesting to discover in the original campaign was that this differentiation was apparently more pronounced in part of the Engsvanyali Era. (The Thursday Night Group found this out when they had traveled back in time.)

  2. A disparate party is *odd* by Tekumel standards, which the referee might translate into poor reactions to them by the hierarchic society around them.

    1. Sure. But there is considerable social variation across Tsolyani society. It might range from “that bunch of time servers – no need to take them seriously” to “well, THAT’s weird! Wonder what’s going on?” Probably also worth noting that the members of the Thursday Night Group was definitely “odd” by that standard, but had achieved positions of considerable power and influence, so a possible third response might be, “wonder what has gotten THEM together!?”
      As a sociologist, I’m constantly reminded that there is almost always a WIDE range of social responses to behavior that might be considered “deviant.” Yes, some reactions may be poor – but not all of them, by any means.

      1. Oh definitely, I’d never expect it to be entirely monolithic. Though this is a society which puts a *lot* of weight on hierarchy.
        Maybe the more useful method would be to run a semi-permanent party split, with more than one PC per player; have the high-ranking ones do the high-ranking interactions, then task the PBI with actually going out and getting it done. Everyone wins – everyone gets access to exotic training and knowledge they’d never be able to obtain through clan. Structurally very Tekumel, IMO (it’s not an accident that this mirrors the political structure of the Empire!), and startlingly effective – while you can keep the connection quiet.

      2. Not unlike Ars Magica troupe play. That could certainly work, except that for new players, unfamiliar with Tekumel, playing high-ranking characters can be more difficult. Not impossible, but a bit of a steep learning curve. Might be tricky for the referee – but definitely doable. Hmmm.

  3. Thanks for these posts Victor. They’re very enlightening and inspiring to read. I enjoy how complexity that can emerge out of the interaction between just a few characters in a deep setting.

    1. I’m glad they help. After having played Tekumel for a very long time, I have found a lot (and I mean a LOT) of debates about D&D alignment to be…overly simplistic. It is interesting to read Gary’s own take on how alignments work, at least as he saw them:
      “While there are some areas where nearly all creatures encountered will be of like alignment, most places will contain a mixture of alignments, good and neutral, evil and neutral, or all of the varying alignments.
      A case in point for the latter mixture is the “Free City of Greyhawk”. This walled town was the area trade center and seat of feudal power, then began to decline when the overlordship transferred from a suzerain to the city itself, but is now undergoing a boom due to the activities of adventurers and the particular world system events (a new struggle between lawful good and chaotic evil, with the latter on the upswing). The oligarchs of the city are neutral in outlook, if not in alignment, viewing anything which benefits their city as desirable. Therefore, all sorts of creatures inhabit the city, commerce is free, persons of lawful alignment rub elbows with chaotics, evil and good co-exist on equitable terms. Any preeminence of alignment is carefully thwarted by the rulers of the place, for it would tend to be detrimental to the city trade. There are movements and plots aplenty, but they are merely a part of the mosaic of city intrigue, and player characters can seldom find personal advantage in them, let alone assume a commanding position in municipal affairs.” (from “Varied Player Character and Non-Player Character Alignment in the Dungeons & Dragons Campaign”, The Dragon #9, September 1977)
      This has a lot more nuance to it than most of the discussions I’ve seen, but maybe I’m not that well-read!

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