Sunday, November 23, 2014

Vimuhla Baby Armor?

This armor was recently discovered in ancient ruins far to the north in Yan Kor. When brought back to the Empire, it was quickly if somewhat irreverently dubbed the "Vimuhla Baby Armor". Soon enough, representatives of the Temple of Vimuhla showed up to claim the suit of armor as an ancient Bednalljan relic of their temple. They claimed it was the armor of a princeling from Fasiltum, one who joined his Vriddi clanmates on a storied invasion of the cities to the north.

But several scholars have argued that there are much more likely origins for this suit of armor. The fact that the armor is charged with energies attuned to the Temples of Change does not necessarily mean that it was forged for the use of a follower of Lord Vimuhla. In fact, a scholar-priest of Sarku from the Ito clan claims (quite persuasively in the eyes of scholars from a number of different temples on both sides of the Stability-Change divide) that the use of copper strips suggests that this armor was commissioned by a noble follower of Lord Sarku - or even possibly the kit of a child-jajgi. (In which case it might still have a "living" claimant.)

The location in which the armor was discovered casts still further doubt on the identity of its intended wearer. A priest of Lord Thumis has dared to suggest - with all sincerity - that the armor is of approximately the right size for use by a Pygmy Folk adult. Since the ruins where the relic was discovered are also quite close to the remains of an underground city of the Pygmy Folk, this priest argues that the only real question is who took the armor from the Pygmy Folk - and why?

Affable Blights

I had a wonderful time running Fate of Tekumel and playing in other people's Tekumel games at U-Con last weekend. I came home on Monday, returned to work on Tuesday, and began to get sick on Wednesday. I became so sick that I took Thursday and most of Friday off.

I'm still not 100%.

So I guess "con crud" is real, and not just an excuse for delayed Kickstarters.

About the only thing I've been able to do in the last several days besides sleep, blow my nose, and cough is read about half of M.A.R. Barker's Lords of Tsamra.  It holds together a lot better than A Death of Kings, and is somewhat appropriate reading at the moment, as it deals with a plague.

Flying across Livyanu by aircar towards the independent city-state of Dlash, our heroes have landed in a remote mountain village where the locals speak "Dlashi, a tongue not related to the languages of the Five Empires, but - very distantly - to another ancient stock named Sunuz".

Interesting to say the least.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Zones of Thraya

Zone map rendering by Rachel Kronick.
This is a small taste of how a Thraya zone map might look for a game of Fate. Rachel Kronick and I started the design work this weekend, but it will take a while to render Thraya completely. As you can see, we're overlaying it on Professor Barker's original map of Thraya (see yesterday's post) as we build the city's aspects out district-by-district.

We'll see what additional details get added to the map as a result of our game at U-Con on Saturday!

Zone map image is copyright John Everett Till. 

Original Thraya map is the work of Professor Barker.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Vision of Thraya

Fate of Tekumel products will be based in Thraya and the rural areas around that great city. This weekend, my friend Rachel Kronick, the author of the Blade & Crown RPG, started helping with the design of a Fate zone map for the city of Thraya, with city aspects for the different points of interest.

We are building the design based on Professor Barker's hand drawn original map of the city. At Rachel's suggestion, I used color pencils to fill in the Rananga River, noting the city walls, marking the ways to the nearby Sakbe roads, and calling out several of the most prominent temples in the city.

It was a good suggestion.

The photo above shows the map before lamination. I'll be bringing several to U-Con for my game there!

Oh, and the temple of Thumis is filled-in using grey, but rest assured: it is not a fortification!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Save vs. Soul-Stealing?

We've been translating the spells from Swords & Glory over to Fate, using Fate Freeport Companion as a guide.  My eyes are blurry and my mind has begun to drift into the null, grey spaces beyond. Should I leave this "no-save vs. death" spell as-is for its conversion to Fate? Based on its description in S&G, I don't see non-magicians as getting anything resembling a save.

The Silver Halo of Soul-Stealing (Generic/Ritual, Cost, Instant, Per Day, Range: 3 Zones, Belkhanu/Hru'u): A glittering circlet of energy is sent spinning through the air to strike a target. The caster rolls WIS+2 vs. the target's highest skill. If the caster succeeds, the Spirit-Soul of the spell's target is borne away forever into the Unending Grey, leaving them a mindless automaton whose every action must be specifically commanded. Only a spell of Revivification or Re-embodiment can restore the target's Spirit-Soul. Any physical defense or cover is useless, and Disenchantment cannot help someone affected by this spell. But the spell can be deflected with a Warding spell, The Seal Upon the Powers, the Muniments of Excellence, and various temple spells that obstruct ritual magic. The spell affects all living beings, but not androids, automatons, undead, creatures produced by magic, and demons.


The above description contains direct quotations as well as paraphrasing of the original spell from Swords & Glory Vol. 2.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Night Magic in Thraya

It's called the Spell Corpus, even though Latin is not spoken on Tekumel. This week I converted 25 spells from Swords & Glory Vol 2 for use in Fate of Tekumel. The approach I took with the conversions was inspired by the Fate Freeport Companion, an implementation of Fate that enables the creation of discrete, specific magical spells. My focus in the last few days was on converting Tekumel's "universal" spells to Fate. Universal spells are the 25 most common spells that anyone in the Five Empires - regardless of temple - could be expected to learn.

My next step will be to convert Swords & Glory's "generic" spells: those specific spells shared by a group of temples with common thematic interests (e.g., both the temple of Vimuhla and the temple of Karakan have an interest on spells that wreak destruction on an enemy). The last step will be converting "temple" spells: those spells which are the proprietary secrets of one specific temple.    

Now of course with all these great spell conversions, we needed to do another Fate of Tekumel playtest. So we did one on Thursday night, set in the city of Thraya. Each of the PCs chose to create a sorcerer-priest so we could test the magic system. 

But who were the PCs? Well, Lord Máyu hiTunkesh of the Blue Shadow Clan is the Governor of Thraya. He's a Wuru worshiper in a city dedicated to Lord Belkhanu and the other Lords of Stability. His family has controlled the city for hundreds of years. And the clan's not getting any smaller: Lord Máyu has 510 children, 32 wives, and 251 concubines.

Our players decided to create the siblings of one of the Governor's high status concubines. The PCs had been summoned back to the clanhouse Governor's Palace for unknown reasons. But they soon learned that they had been summoned there because their mother had recently died.

Soon the PCs were in the midst of a murder investigation involving poisons derived from Underworld creatures, and following the trail of fungal bread crumbs that led to the ritual festivities being carried out by followers of Hru'u at a wealthy clanhouse in the city. Everyone had some spells to cast, and the finale was both... terrifying and out-of-this-world!

Literally: Phantasms, Terrorization, and The Labyrinth of Elongated Shadows all cast simultaneously at the group of Hru'u worshipers summoning a demon.

Because of some of my custom game aids, the joke name for this session was "Laminations of the Flame Princess."

We'll be continuing to playtest these magic rules at U-Con next week! 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Despondent Chlen

Let's face it: The Despondent Chlen would be a great name for a guest house in the Foreigner's Quarter of any Tsolyani city, wouldn't it?  It would probably be a really fleabag sort of establishment, suitable only for those sufficiently desperate to hire themselves out to any patron. Of course, those desperate guests would need look no further than The Despondent Chlen's owner to find those jobs, right?

More seriously, we spent a lot of time this weekend in the Clanhouse working on our scenario for U-Con, The U-Con scenario will be the second playtest for our first forthcoming published Approved for Tekumel scenario. It was a productive weekend, with lots of creative juices flowing and some new ideas for how to make Tekumel really come alive for Fate players and GMs.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bethorm is Out!

Jeff Dee's Bethorm: the Plane of Tekumel is now out and available for PDF purchase on DriveThruRPG here.  I think this is the first game I have seen with random tables* for generating your character's sexual orientation and gender identity, and a sub-table for generating your specific gender expression when it is not the same as the gender your character as assigned at birth. I believe this is another "first" for Tekumel (if not for RPGs as a whole), so thanks to Jeff Dee for taking this bold step.

*Of course you also have the option of selecting the specific identities your character will embody.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Grammar of Sunuz

There are four major published works for Tekumel that deal with magic:
  • Mitlanyal, Vols. 1-2 - A series of essays describing Pavar's pantheon including the five Gods of Stability, the five Gods of Change, and their respective Cohorts and demons. Mitlanyal also includes information on the Planes, Tsolyani astrology and descriptions of specific spells used by the priests of the various gods.
  • Swords & Glory, Vol. 2 - The ultimate simulationist spell-list for magic in Tekumel. This is the most comprehensive spell corpus for modern Tsolyanu.
  • The Book of Ebon Bindings - Tekumel's notorious book of demonology; since demons come from elsewhere and must be summoned, this book also discusses magic and the Planes.
  • The Tongue of Those Who Journey Beyond: Sunuz (also known as The Grammar of Sunuz) - This text describes what is perhaps the oldest language still spoken on Tekumel: Sunuz, the language of the worshipers of the Pariah Deities. The very script of this language (which includes letters and numbers) is magical, and an understanding of this language and its script still influences magical practice on Tekumel today.      
I've read most of the Mitlanyal, and this weekend I read The Grammar of Sunuz. The Grammar sheds light on many aspects of magic on Tekumel. The text begins strangely enough with an essay on scrying. Its core argument bears a family resemblance to Mao's 1963 essay "Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?" in the sense that it attempts to outline different sources of knowledge. It's an odd introduction, but its placement is important since Sunuz is the language used by worshipers of the three Pariah Deities: She Who is Not To be Named (the Goddess of the Pale Bone), the One Who Is, and the One Other. 

Whereas Tekumel's gods are manifest and imminent, the Pariah Deities dwell in the Planes Beyond. They seek to consume this and other Planes. In this sense their interests and orientations are quite alien to those of the deities of Tekumel, who for the most part are involved in the affairs of this Plane and arguably "care" to greater and lesser degrees about what happens to their worshipers. None of this is the case with the Pariah Deities, however much they reward their worshipers. 

One has to look far (i.e., far into the Planes Beyond) in order to reach, see, and communicate with these inimical deities. The letters and numbers of the script of Sunuz give you the tools for doing that, as well as for protecting oneself from the Pariah Deities' deadly influence. Just ask the tattooed Livyani.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rananga River Pirates!

In a few short months it will be time again for U-Con 2014 in Ann Arbor, MI from November 14-16!

U-Con is a great gaming convention with a superb Tekumel event track.

I'll be running a Fate of Tekumel game there. Here's the description:

Rananga River Pirates 

West of Thraya the river is starting to have pirate problems. 


Right now it's just the occasional trade barge… but piracy always has a way of getting worse and worse. 

A Fate of Tekumel game set in the very heart of Tsolyanu. 

No Fate rules or Tekumel world experience necessary.

Looking forward to making the pilgrimage back to Ann Arbor. It seems appropriate since Thraya is a pilgrimage city for Lord Belkhanu, and that is where my scenario is set.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Beautiful New Edition of A Princess of Mars

It's my understanding that Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars was a favorite of Professor M.A.R. Barker, and one of the early inspirations for Tekumel. IDW has just released a lovely oversized edition of the book, with wonderful illustrations by Michael Wm. Kaluta.

Here is the sky galleon from the endpapers:

And here is a fight scene:

I was very impressed at how reasonably priced this book is at $30. Kaluta's art was a good choice for this book. His style is pretty, and very reminiscent of the colorful and willowy character designs on the covers of earlier generations' Barsoom books.

Art by Frank E. Schoonover (1917)

If you are a Barsoom fan, you will want to pick this up.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Converting Empire of the Petal Throne's Magical Skills to Fate

Over the last two days, I have converted the EPT priest and magic user "skills" to Fate, using the Fate Freeport Companion as a guide. A few of the items on the skills list are indeed skills, such as the skills that confer the ability to knows 2 ancient languages or knows 2 modern languages, and the astrology skill. Those I am rendering as simple stunts. Here's an example of Astrology as a stunt:

Astrology: Take a +2 to WIS to Create an Advantage while observing the influence of the sun, the four planets, and Tekumel's two moons. This stunt provides insights into the influences and motivations surrounding a person or situation, uncovering a hidden Aspect.

So much for skills that are skills.

Here is an example of a skill that is a spell.

Telekinesis (Cost, Per Scene): Roll CHA to use your mind to move a solid object through air or water, but not through walls, etc. Weapons or missiles may not be moved this way, but the spell itself can be used to do harm. Target defends with DEX to get out of the way of the spell.

Some of the text in both these skills quotes the description in EPT. Neither is an exact replication of the EPT mechanics, however; Fate works differently as a system than EPT. For example, the description of Telekinesis in EPT says you can use it twice per day. We've described it for Fate as a Per Scene spell, meaning it can be used once per scene; the next level up is Per Session, meaning the spell could be used once per game session; the next level up from that is Per Scenario, meaning that the spell could be used once per scenario.

I'm thinking that people creating characters will be able to purchase three spells for one point of Refresh. Starting spells are selected at this cost from either/both of the priest and magic user skills lists. This is the cost for the first seven "skills" on each list. If you want some of the skills that are higher on the lists than the first seven on each list, the Refresh cost will be higher.

Hopefully we'll have the chance to test out some of these conversions today at CONvergence!  We may also do some conversions from the actual EPT spell list (as opposed to skill list) while we create characters.

Time for Lord Qon, Time for Fireworks

I spent the afternoon at CONvergence. When I left for the con, I felt sad leaving home. It had been a beautiful, cool morning, and the family had spent a pleasant morning on the couch.

It was parallel play.

The Anubian Ambassador was sitting in Carlos' lap, while he watched the World Cup and Wimbledon. For my part, I sat next to them reading about the mysteries of Lord Belkhanu and his faithful Cohort, Lord Qon. (And we might add that Lord Qon and the Ambassador have a bit in common).

But back to the Con we went. 

It was a nice respite from people complaining online about inclusion in gaming. Imagine that! I was with 7,000 people for an entire afternoon, and nobody complained about that one paragraph in Basic D&D supposedly being "unnecessary"!

In the afternoon, Rachel Kronick of the Blade & Crown blog was part of a great panel on how to have a game and - a life - as you get older. Really, the panel was all about how to make sure you can persist in gaming as life gets more complex, which it invariably does as you age. I know that when my dad passed away, I stopped gaming for almost a year, and that's just one kind of complication that gamers face in later life.  

I can't say I walked away from the panel with any magic bullets, other than a greater awareness of the importance of:
  • Making explicit agreements at the table about the schedule, frequency, and length of gaming sessions;
  • Taking turns running things, so no one feels stressed or overwhelmed;
  • Carefully considering the style and format of games we choose to play:
    • Are there workarounds or shortcuts that reduce GM preparation or facilitate greater improvisation?
    • Are there games - Apocalypse World with its playsheets, and Technoir with its city templates - whose design makes it easier for both the players and the GM to get a game going"
So that was good, as was the wonderful moderation of Beth Kinderman. Yes, a CONvergence panel in which the moderator actually moderated. Beth engaged the panelists and audience in a way that enriched the discussion. No huge digressions, no audience talking over the panelists!

I came home and had dinner with the family. Later the three of us went to see the fireworks. Before and after the fireworks, I set out to convert Empire of the Petal Throne's priest and magic user "skills" into spells for Fate of Tekumel.  I was surprised to discover (re-discover?) that some of the original EPT "skills" were quite powerful - especially items 8 and up on each list!  

We'll be testing these conversions at the table tomorrow!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fate of Tekumel Playtest

On Saturday, July 5, from 3-5 PM, we'll be doing a little Fate of Tekumel gaming at CONvergence in Minneapolis. The action is on the 22nd floor of the hotel, in the open gaming room. Feel free to stop by and game with us if you are either a Tekumel or Fate fan, or curious about either - or both.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Other Chariots, Other Gods

I've been reading Nathalie Henneberg's The Green Gods (1961), a French SF novel that was translated by C.J. Cherryh and published as part of the DAW SF imprint in 1980. The front of the book text on the DAW book identified N.C. Henneberg* as "The 'A. Merrit' of France", but don't let that fool you: the prose is good and the text isn't particularly racist. For sure though, it's a Lost World SF novel with strong planetary romance themes. It's evocative, dreamy, and surreal. And there is a strong Mesoamerican feel as in so much pulp Lost World literature inspired by the late 19th Century Atlantology of Ignatius Donnelly.

Imagine a human world that has fallen to a Cataclysm. It is cut off from other human worlds from millennia. Brave explorers from the human interstellar empire have tried to reach it and recover their lost world, but the world is trapped behind an impenetrable barrier.

Meanwhile on that lost fallen world, humanity has fallen. We are no longer on the top of the food chain. Intelligent insects rise from their hive-like mound cities, as well as from the ruins of our ancient cities, now abandoned or fallen to them. These creatures besiege humanity, and there are even more subtle threats that like among us as well. Human society has been engineered into a static caste system. In the city of A-Atlan, the various strata of humanity huddle within Mesoamerican-style step pyramids and stone courts. These great and crumbling structures hide the underworld ruins where ancient devices like "flamers" lie scattered among the human bones of those who succumbed to the Cataclysm and the horrors of later times.

Of course, the Lost World we're talking about here is Earth, not Tekumel. The Secret Masters aren't the Temple hierarchies, the Gods, the OAL, secret societies, the wielders of Mind-Bar spells, or the Blasphemous Accelerators. No, the Secret Masters are intelligent plants, in particular the mind-manipulating peyote plants and their spiny cactus soldiers.

While I couldn't find any references to the book on the Blue Room listserv search engine, I wonder if the book was an influence on M.A.R. Barker. I am sure it must have been an influence on more than a few contemporary SF&F authors including:
  • M. John Harrison - The Green Gods has human warriors wearing insect armors here that resemble those of the better known Viriconium
  • Michael Moorcock - Elric's drugged, decadent Dreaming City of Imyrryr is reminiscent of Henneberg's A-Atlan
  • Jeff VanderMeer - Henneberg has drug-producing plant overlords rather than the drug producing fungal overlords of VanderMeer's Finch
  • China Mieville - The Green Gods has an intelligent spiny cactus race that may have inspired those in Mieville's Bas-Lag
  • Tanith Lee - Less the details or trappings of lost words and pulp SF than the dreamy decadence and romanticism; I had to keep reminding myself that C.J. Cherryh was the translator of The Green Gods, and not Tanith Lee
Of course, many of the above elements were just in the "soup" of adventure literature and occult movements of the late 19th/early 20th Century.

I'm sure there are other influences too. I wish more of Henneberg's work were available in English. Thankfully, The Green Gods is still available in English courtesy of the Black Coat Press. Interestingly, the Cherryh byline in the Black Coat Press edition says "adapted by"; that edition also includes four additional Henneberg stories translated by Damon Knight and  a new introduction by French SF scholar Charles Moreau.

This week at FATE SF we're doing some posts inspired by Henneberg's novel. Stop by and check them out.

*It's important to note that much of Nathalie Henneberg's output was intermixed with that of her husband, Charles Henneberg. He passed away in 1959, two years before Nathalie Henneberg's The Green Gods was first published in French.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

War of Wizards

There was some interest in the last week on the Tekumel Yahoo list in my forthcoming Fate of Tekumel products. A couple of folks asked me questions offlist about how Fate can handle spells. What I shared is that I am looking at the excellent Fate Freeport Companion as a toolkit for crafting spells for Tekumel.

If you are interested in what individual spells (as opposed to broad magical abilities) can look like in Fate, feel free to check out the Galactic Grimoire of SFnal spells over at our sister blog, FATE SF.

Taking a bit of inspiration from our friend Brett Slocum, we're reading MA.R. Barker's classic  boardgame War of Wizards and taking a look at how spells are constructed there. Check back on the weekend for some conversions of War of Wizards-type spells, converted to Fate.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Fate of Tekumel Playtest

Saturday I ran a small playtest for Fate of Tekumel, this time using a variant of the character generation and magic rules from the Fate Freeport Companion. They worked pretty well!

I had two players, Marc and Rob, and Chirine ba Kal as an observer. Chirine wrote a blog post about the session here. Marc and Rob created characters who belong to the same clan and lineage. While they share the same heritage, they have embarked on very different walks of life.

Marc created Tlamal, a spy with experience in the Legions; his character is a master of disguise, and always has a knife handy when he needs it. Rob chose to play Niko, a priest of Qon. For this playtest, he selected six spells from Guardians of Order's Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne, and I translated them into Fate Freeport Companion's spell mechanics. This was really great, because I really wanted to start testing out spell mechanics.

As a brief aside, during the character generation process Chirine showed us Professor Barker's own illustration of a priest of Lord Qon, a Stability deity and the Cohort of Lord Belkhanu, Lord of the Excellent Dead. Qon's priests wear a beast mask; the mask has a long toothy snout and is similar in appearance to that of a jackal. Think Anubis and you have an idea where Professor Barker was coming from with the regalia of Lord Qon's priests.

The adventure had the two PCs heading from the city out to the countryside to collect past due rent from a set of villages that were part of the clan's fiefdom. The tribute had not been paid for several years, so our PCs hired some enforcers. They also hired a guide. This is particularly important since maps are not that common in Tsolyanu. Experience and local know-how really matter if you are trying to get somewhere.

After paying the requisite bribes to the Captain of a Sakbe road guard tower, they headed for the distant forest. On the other side of that small forest were the villages that owed them tribute. The PCs and their retinue made camp just before reaching the forest. They set a watch, but in the morning they discovered their cash box was missing. A number of the guards were also missing various shiny items.

The PCs could hear giggling from the edge of the Seyukh Forest. Our heroes realized that they had been victimized by one or more of the creatures known as Kuruku, "The Small Giggler"! Marc's character Tlamal gave chase with a few men-at-arms. They entered the forest, hot on the trail of the creatures. Soon they heard other, more chilling sounds: the whooping laughter of a pack of the spiny-backed Hyahyu'u beasts, who soon had them surrounded.

Tlamal parkoured up a tree; his troops tried to do the same, but lacked his athleticism. They settled for using their spears to hold back the Huahyu'u. A bit later Tlamal took a one-two action: he feinted and distracted a beast by dropping a spiky Durian-like fruit down near it, and then dispatched the distracted beast with a carefully hurled knife.

Seeing the battle from afar, priest Niko cast the spell Acceleration on himself and raced into the forest. His retainers struggled to catch up. After a few moments, Niko was on the scene, and cast Hands of Kra the Mighty, crushing the windpipe of another beast.  The third turned tail and ran.


I learned a few things from the playtest:

  • Rob, who was new to Fate, got a handle on the system very quickly - although I completely forgot to introduce the concept of declarations
  • Marc made use of the Succeed at a Cost rule - the first time ever that someone has in one of my Fate Core games
  • Rob chose to take a shift of Mental Stress rather than spend FPs to cast his spells. That was a prudent expenditure and he was still very effective in the fight - even though he took a bunch of stress in the combat
  • Marc underscored the importance of creating text boxes in the eventual published game to explain various aspects of Tsolyani culture. One quick example of this is the importance and ubiquity of discrete bribes to make things happen. The social game in Tekumel.
  • The spells in T:EPT worked well enough, but we'll be going back to War of Wizards, and Swords & Glory, Vol. 2 before the next game. I want to try building some spells based on the descriptions in those two games.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Scene Mapping in Tekumel Games

Juan Ochoa's beautiful image up above on the blog masthead is an action scene, and action scenes in games are always begging to be mapped - aren't they?

Fate handles mapping more abstractly than games that use miniatures. A scene is diagrammed in terms of zones. If you are in the same zone, you are in knife/fist range of opponents; if one zone away, swords and other melee weapons are very useful; at two or more zones, we are talking polearms and ranged weapons.

I thought it would be a fun exercise to diagram the scene above in terms of Fate zones, using the Zone Map side of the Jadepunk RPG's playmat. Over at FATE SF, I wrote a two part review of the playmat last week, first looking at the City Map side of the playmat, and then the Zone Map side. Ryan Danks has created a great video on how to use the playmat, you can check that out here.

On to our scene.

If a picture tells a story, we can assume this is a jungle or swamp area somewhere in Tekumel. Our curious and alert Feshenga lurks in the foreground, with purplish Food of the Ssu adjacent to it. Behind both, there is a ruin. We also see a river. We can - and will for the sake of this exercise - readily imagine a party wading down the river (from upper center-left toward the lower center-right, walking toward the ruins). They may (hopefully) be a wary party, but the Feshenga is already aware of their approach, and the party has no idea that Food of the Ssu is nearby.

The PC party are represented by the clear bead. River zone barriers that present no unusual obstacle to movement are represented by the dotted line. I also labelled the river zones, A-D.

Let's assume the PC party are a patrol from the local Temple of Ksarul. They get dispatched down the river towards the ruins when the Temple gets a "signal" that someone or something has arrived in the Underworld near the ruins. They're experienced temple guards, with a scout in the lead. The scout is wary, and due to a decent Skill roll, will get a 1x boost due to being careful.

The river is passable, but the bottom is muddy. That's an aspect that either the GM or the players might Invoke/Compel. The river banks are dense with vegetation, which means that if the PCs try to get up onto the ground, they may face a slight barrier. The vegetation could also be put to good use as defensive cover.

Except that the Feshenga (the white bead) in Zone D has already seen the PCs coming; so the Feshenga gets a free Invoke on the aspect Alert & Hungry Feshenga. It will attack first. (Of course, if the PCs brought bait, they might be able to Compel this aspect, too.)

In Zone D, a second nasty surprise awaits the party. The poisonous purplish vegetation, the Food of the Ssu, is new growth. If the PCs survive their encounter with the Feshenga, they will still need to deal with all that deadly vegetation near the portal to the Underworld below.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hari Ragat Playtest

Yesterday for International Tabletop Day, a total of seven players participated in the first U.S. playtest of Dariel Quiogue's Hari Ragat RPG. The game is set in an archipelago based on the ancient, pre-Hispanic Philippines, only it is a much larger island chain. Imagine tattooed, island-hopping Vikings in the tropics, raiding and trading on catamarans.  Monster and spirit-infested jungles. Wealthy trade cities on the northern islands, with a scribal caste experimenting with something new called "credit". That's Hari Ragat.

GM Marc Reyes shows off the vast archipelago of the Jangalan Isles

Legends of Anglerre co-author Marc Reyes was our GM, and ran the Hari Ragat setting using Dariel Quiogue's Vivid System. Hari Ragat is being published for both Vivid and Fate; I intend to buy both when they become available. One version of Vivid is already available as Dariel's Gods of Gondwane RPG. Anyone who is a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Mike Grell's The Warlord should check that game out!

The version of Vivid we played yesterday is really optimized for play in an ancient Philippines-inspired setting. You can see my PC's character sheet above. Liwanag was a Babaylan, or shamaness. Her primary skill is just that, Babaylan; her secondary skill is Orang Dakila which is the warrior/noble class who have proven themselves in battle (or through other mighty deeds) and therefore get to wear the red. So she has two Roles or skills: her profession, and her caste/social class. Any actions which are not shamanic in nature (i.e., diving for pearls, fighting, reciting poetry) need to be done with the caste skill. Your rating in a Role is the base for how many dice you get to use in roll.

GM Marc Reyes shows off a still featuring Orang Dakila type heroes from Amaya
Skills get boosted with additional dice through Aces and Traits. Aces are spendable attributes, and include things like Bala (physical prowess and endurance) and Dulohan ("posse" or followers), as well as Wealth (non-unique disposable forms of wealth), and Bahandi (wealth in the form of displayable heirlooms which boost one's status).

Using Aces requires a point expenditure, just like skills do in Gumshoe. Heroes who had a lot of Bala were spending that and taking part in the action directly; heroes who had a lot of followers were often making Dulohan spends, and had the option of either taking action through their followers, or taking action themselves, or both. So there is a nice range of choices with respect to resource management. These can get even more interesting in the social arena - should one spend Wealth on an action, or cash in an heirloom to really close a political or trade deal?

Traits usually work by providing boosts in the form of additional dice; these don't get spent down, but only add a die to an action when their use is appropriate to the scene. For example, my Babylan has a crysknife that detects witchcraft. I could conceivably invoke it in combat to add a die to a roll in a contest against a witch.

So, a rich setting, and an interesting wager/resource management system in Vivid. The game mechanics could easily be adaptable to social systems like those in Tekumel, in which social status, honor/renown, followers, and wealth - especially the displayable kind - really matter,and define the social terrain of the game environment.

I look forward to playing Hari Ragat again!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sourcebook: Hokun Trouble

Tekumel has no shortage of insects, arthropods, and intelligent bug races. Some are indigenous to to Tekumel; others are interlopers there, just as the humans are. The Hokun - "The Glass-Monsters" - are one of this latter type.

The Tekumel Bestiary says that the Hokun "resemble eight-foot-tall sculptures of cloudy green-grey glass." They have six limbs, the front two of which are used for manipulation of tools, while the middle set can be used for "heavy work, grasping, and balance." Their exoskeleton ranges from transparent to translucent. Many participate in a group-mind.

I've seen a couple of illustrations of the Hokun in Tekumel products; they look like a combination of a Grey alien and an ant. Sinister ant-taurs, perhaps. If you've seen ghost ants, you'll get the general idea. 

The Hokun inhabit Southern islands as well as areas of the Northern continent on the opposite side of the planet; I have read on the Blue Room archive that the Urunen of the far south are at war with some Hokun groups, while having friendly relations with others. Professor Barker also indicated that they are not particularly gifted with other-planar abilities, and have only maintained a little of the technology from their starfaring period.

Here's what the Tekumel Source Book tells us quite early on: 
  • The Hokun were starfarers from the Markab star system
  • During the catastrophic Time of Darkness, when Tekumel was cast into a pocket universe or Bethorm, "The translucent, insect-like Hokun pretended to cooperate with mankind for a time, warred with him, enslaved him, ruled him as gods, and were eventually defeated by him. Sulking and filled with hate, the Hokun retreated to their great island in the southern seas, and no man (or any other of his allies) dares now to land upon those shores."  
This is suggestive. They once ruled men as gods. According to The Tekumel Bestiary, they still hunt men for food in some places, while enslaving them and ruling them in others. The Bestiary says they "are perhaps the greatest threat to human hegemony over Tekumel."

It's easy to imagine ways that characters might stumble upon the Hokun in an adventure. While the Hokun are likely to be found only in very small numbers throughout the Five Empires, one might readily imagine them emerging from a tubecar station in a remote rural area of Tsolyanu (or another  of the Five Empires). 

The Hokun are living in long-forgotten ruins adjacent to a living village; they live off the meat-sacrifices of the human villagers who now worship them as gods. Perhaps the PCs were dispatched to this remote village by an absentee landlord in Jakalla. The landlord seeks to squeeze a bit more surplus out of their long-neglected peasants.

In Fate Core terms, you'd have a scenario issue something like this:

A remote village behind on tribute 

Possibly there'd also be the hidden aspect:

Tubecars bring trouble

The latter is almost a permanent aspect for tubecar systems on Tekumel.

Of course, the Hokun are also perfect for the kind of tubecar hexcrawl scenarios that Brett Slocum has run, such as the adventure "Where in Sarku's cold wormy hell are we?"  The PCs might emerge from a tubecar system almost anywhere on the planet. They might arrive in the middle of one of the Hokun states: perhaps one in which humans are hunted for food, or one where humans continue to worship the Hokun as gods.

Even more unsettling, the PCs might discover a symbiotic human-Hokun culture in which both species share a group mind. Maybe the Hokun have begun breeding experiments with humans, producing a number of specialized types - or strange genetic hybrids, such as humans with exoskeletons, humans with translucent skin, etc.

The possibilities seem endless.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Sourcebook

One of the feature series we'll be running at Fate of Tekumel is called Sourcebook. Usually referred to by Tekumel fans simply as "The Sourcebook," its proper name is actually Swords & Glory Volume 1: Tekumel Source Book. At 135 pages of text, by contemporary standards the Sourcebook is a very lean presentation of a game setting. But the Sourcebook is still the most complete summary of Tekumel as a setting, and I am constantly discovering new things every time I open it.

In posts with the Label "Sourcebook", I will highlight some of my own discoveries and speculations about Tekumel, inspired by this source. We'll be reading it cover to cover, but posts may jump around a bit through the Sourcebook's content. Stay tuned for the first post which will be headed your way shortly.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Building Reed Boats

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, here's a photo essay on how to build reed boats. Apparently, they are VERY sturdy. They're bouyant enough to transport 10 ton boulders.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Nyemesel Nights

To celebrate the Tsolyani New Year yesterday, Jeff Berry held a party and a mini-Braunstein miniatures event. The game was set in the remote Nyemesel Isles, and involved five factions: the citizens of the port town being raided, the local naval forces, and three groups of Salarvyani mercenaries.

The battle occurred at night, and the lights in Jeff's game room were down except for miniature tea lights used to represent torches and lanterns. You had to have miniatures carrying one of these or a group would be wandering in the dark. In at least one case, a faction attacked its own troops due to the lack of a lantern. Jeff's staging did a good job simulating fog of battle conditions; it also added a lot of atmosphere for the players.

I also really liked the reed boats that Jeff had on the table. They are miniatures of Lake Titicaca boats such as the one below that I photographed at the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.:

I can definitely see this kind of technology getting use in Tekumel, especially in areas with the wetlands and shorelines with an ample supply of reeds for making these boats. One advantage they may confer over bark canoes and small boats made from planks is the thickness of the reed boat's "hull". The boat isn't hollow. You are siting on a reed sofa of sorts as you go out into the water. Sea beasts biting from below would have a bit more to chew through to get to the passengers. That won't confer much protection against the truly big sea beasties on Tekumel, but it might just slow down the small and medium sized predators enough to save a few fishermen's lives.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Jeff Dee's Kickstarter for the Bethorm RPG went live today; check it out here. Bethorm is the Tsolyani word for "pocket universe" - a fitting name for an RPG set in the world of Tekumel.

It's great to see a new Tekumel game under development.

Monday, March 17, 2014

First Tekumel

Good poets borrow...
What was your first Tekumel? My first contact with the world of Tekumel was in a capsule review of Empire of the Petal Throne in a gaming magazine. My recollection was that the review was in Strategy & Tactics magazine. But in recent years, people have told me there was never a capsule review of EPT there. So I am not sure where that review occurred.

The reviewer was quite amused by the clever names and fanciful (dare we say Vancian?) titles that Professor M.A.R. Barker gave to the creatures of Tekumel. If memory serves, the Dnelu, "the Concealed Leaper", the Kuruku, "the Small Giggler", were cited as examples, but I have no idea why the reviewer didn't mention other worthies, such as the Hli'ir, "the Beast with the Unendurable Face" of whom we are told: "These mad creatures are hideous to look upon, and anyone who does may go insane" (EPT p.67). 

Medusans, anyone?

With that little review, I was bitten by the Tekumel bug. Not too long after then, I think, Dragon 4 came out. That was a much bigger dose of Tekumel for me, and sharpened my interest in getting the game.

But it would be a few years yet, before I could afford to buy a copy of EPT. At $25. the EPT boxed set was a serious expenditure for a high school kid. Back then, Whitebox D&D was only about $12. But when I did buy it, EPT proved to be worth every penny.

And those maps!

So what was your first Tekumel? An advertisement, an article in a gaming magazine, the boxed set appearing in your game store, someone playing EPT in a local game store?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Empire of the Petal Throne

Where did all these tusks come from?

Saturday afternoon at Jeff Berry's house was once again devoted to GM Rob Leduc's EPT campaign. It had been a couple of months since I was last able to play; it was great to get back in the game.

In Rob's campaign, our party are fresh-off-the-boat tribal islanders who arrived in Penom, and shortly thereafter signed up en masse with the marines. Several sessions ago, we completed our basic training, and began our two week survival stint on the desert island that the marines' use for recruits' capstone "do or die" field experience. We say "desert island," but it was anything but deserted. Wildlife was plentiful; we even had an encounter with a Serudla some time ago. We also discovered the presence of other humans on the island. These humans are indigenous non-Tsolyani, most of whom the marines had relocated off of the island long before we arrived.

The clues were there from the beginning. Mysteriously large and fecund frog populations. We'd been feasting on them for days. Some of the party were quite paranoid about the frogs, but, hell: they were edible, and unlike going out on the water in fishing boats, gigging frogs didn't put our lives at risk from predation by Tekumel's abundance of carnivorous sea creatures.

So I have to admit that a bunch of noisy and edible frogs didn't concern my two mage characters, Akho-Akho (the 1 HPer) and Tsuralnali (6 HPs), very much. But Saturday afternoon's explorations of the tusked giant frog god's underground shrine complex (apparently - at least in part - built by the non-Tsolyani islanders): these explorations brought everything together, resulting in both a rude surprise and a revelation.

The complex was located inside the largest mountain on the island. Near the first shrines adjacent to the entrance, a passageway split into two directions. We took one of them. Our party discovered several successive levels of shrines to the tusked frog god, as well as archways flanked by giant tusks. Up and down we went through tunnels and shafts. We checked out a number of chambers and shrines, and far below found pulpy, stringy vegetative life forms with odd saccules. Creeped out a bit, we decided to retrace our steps and walk back towards the original fork in passageways near the entrance to the complex. We walked past an underground lake.

Just as we were about to clear the lake, a giant tusked frog leaped out of the water to attack the party. One of the shamans cast a "Talk to Animals" spell, and spoke with the giant frog, who demanded large quantities of meat. The shaman told the giant frog that we'd be back with plenty. But that wasn't good enough for the frog, which extended its large tongue and snapped up a member of our party. We fought back, cutting off the frog's tongue, and then we beat a fast retreat (as did the frog). We went upwards towards the original fork in passages near the entrance of the complex.  .

When we reached the fork, we decided to explore further. We headed in the opposite direction from our original explorations, and soon found ourselves in an ancient chamber with a large multifaceted crystal in the center of the room.  On the smaller of the two mountains on the island we had discovered a Lightning Bringer emplacement; so this was intriguing, to say the least!

In the chamber, there was also a strange altar with all sorts of slots (i.e., a control panel with many broken knobs and buttons).

Akho-Akno began fiddling with them.  He may have even licked them. (Did I mention Akho-Akho came out-of-the-box with 1 HP? Such people by definition live life close to the edge.)

The giant crystal shuddered into motion, and turned.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Newt's Blue Room Archive Searcher

Newt's Blue Room Archive Searcher puts the archives of the original Tekumel listserv at your fingertips. Professor Barker participated in the Blue Room discussions. It's a useful tool for learning more about Tekumel, especially for researching obscure references and topics that were discussed on the listserv back in the day. We've put a link to the Searcher on our Important Links page for ready reference.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Callisto Game Set on Tekumel?

Cover art by Juan Ochoa
Callisto is a new RPG by Brad Murray inspired by the Braunsteins: large scale, multiplayer tabletop miniatures games in which players control a signature character and a unit. These kind of miniatures games have roleplaying elements, as well as political ones.

Jon Peterson's massive Playing at the World has described the influence that Braunsteins played in the early history and development of RPGs. I was fortunate to experience one for myself in June 2013. It was GMed by Jeff Berry at the Fantasy Flight Game Center.

Jeff Berry GM's the June 8, 2013 Tekumel Braunstein
Callisto isn't a miniatures rules set. It's a brief 16-page set of rules for running an email-based RPG in which the players 1) run a character with specific goals and objectives to accomplish in the world, and 2) each has a Power as a player (not a character): a particular sphere of narrative authority in which they can make declarations about outcomes. For example, I am currently playing an engineer in a space-station based game run by author Brad Murray; my unique domain as a player is that I can declare things to have been fixed. Other players might have a Power to decide:
  • Background details of the political scene
  • The outcome of naval battles
  • The outcome of land battles
  • Whether magic is real and the outcome of magical events
You play by writing in-character letters to other characters that your PC knows; these are delivered as an email to the other PC, with a CC to the GM. Moves (of PC, ships, military units) are made through direct private communication to the GM; rules inquiries are made in the same way. 

The GM's role is primarily facilitative. They draw a map of the world/setting where the game will be played. GMs also develop an event that will be the basis for the opening moves of the game. They are privy to all PC moves and communications, as well as to player declarations with respect to the players' individual domains of narrative authority. The GM creates "news" updates based on PC communications, actions, and events, and may insert new developments that advance the story in certain ways.

The default mode of play is email communication, with some kind of central message board where the GM can communicate in-world news and game system rulings. But I am wondering if you could use this game at a convention, particularly one like U-Con, where there is a Tekumel track of gaming over a few days time. It seems like you could use physical letters, posted onto a physical bulletin board along with in-world news and rulings from the GM. The pace might be 1-2 player letters/moves per 4 hour convention event cycle, with letters and news only being posted during the breaks between scheduled tabletop game sessions. I could see this kind of Tekumel Callisto adventure happening at the scale of events and characters in a particular village, temple, clanhouse, or town. 

Something to think about for U-Con this fall...

Monday, March 3, 2014

Does Tekumel Have A Fate?

Over the last three years, I have run Tekumel games using three different systems:
  • The Tri-Stat system from Guardians of Order's Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne RPG; 
  • The crunchy 1D6-1D6 version of Fate from the Legends of Anglerre RPG; and 
  • Standard Fate Core, the most recent universal implementation of Fate.  
All three systems worked well in the games I have run. All three created fun, immersive games. All three systems worked well for long-time Tekumel fans, as well as for people who were new to Tekumel.

For the Fate of Tekumel blog, I am planning to use a different implementation of the new Fate Core system: Brian Engard and Clark Valentine's Fate Freeport Companion. 

While I tried for aesthetic reasons to boil this list down to three reasons, there are at least four different reasons that this particular implementation of Fate Core is good for Tekumel:
  1. Character Generation and the Magic System in Fate Freeport Companion are Open Gaming License (OGL). The book was written in the spirit of Fate Core itself, with very generous licensing terms. I appreciate how much the authors included in their OGL; it's an invitation to take their system and adapt it for use with other things, which I recently did with Trey Causey's Weird Adventures pulp setting.
  2. Skills Based on D&D Attributes Build A Bridge. Taking a bit of inspiration from Fate Accelerated Edition's six Approaches, Fate Freeport Companion uses D&D's six Attributes. Those attributes have about 40 years' equity now in terms of what they mean to players. Using them makes it easier for experienced gamers who are newcomers to Fate to grasp how the Fate Skills/Approaches can be put into action.
  3. Fate Freeport Companion has mechanics for discrete spells. Anyone who is familiar with Tekumel expects a game system for that setting to come with specific, discrete spells with predictable effects. Spells like Doomkill tell you you're on Tekumel. Now, Legends of Anglerre gets you really close to discrete spells. But Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Edition moved in the opposite direction, toward broad brush, looser magical effects. Fate Freeport Companion takes me right where I want to go for magic in Tekumel: discrete spells, predictable effects, with plenty of room for signature spells for specific temples.
  4. I want both a Physical and a Mental Stress Track.  We like the simplicity of Fate Accelerated Edition's (FAE) six Approaches. But Tekumel is a world in which magic is tiring and where humans definitely NOT on the top of the food chain. Fate Freeport Edition strikes a good balance between the two new implementations of Fate. It keeps simplicity where that helps the game emulate traditional D&D-style character mechanics, but allows for distinctions between different types of stress - for example, between the results of physical combat and constant spellcasting - using both Physical and Mental Stress Tracks.
In short, we'll be giving Fate Freeport Companion a test drive as the backbone for the Fate of Tekumel blog. We'll see where this exploration takes us.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Welcome to Fate of Tekumel!

Welcome to Fate of Tekumel, our blog devoted to explorations and adventure on Tekumel powered by Fate! This blog will be the home for my fan content for Tekumel, as well as for discussions about the world, and information about my forthcoming line of "Approved for Tekumel" products authorized by the Tekumel Foundation.

We're pleased to feature the wonderful art of Juan Ochoa as the banner of Fate of Tekumel. To our knowledge, his is the first attempt to depict the Food of the Ssu, as the flora of pre-human Tekumel are collectively known.  Scroll to the right for a full view of the Food of the Ssu.

We feel that this piece, which also depicts one of the fearsome and swift Feshenga, captures the mystery of Tekumel. We hope to feature more of Juan's art in the near future.