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.