Friday, November 27, 2015

Tekumel Games Played at U-Con

Brett Slocum GM's Heroic Age of Tekumel
Last weekend was U-Con, a high quality, well-organized, very friendly gaming convention based in Ypslanti, Michigan. I travelled there with my Minnesota road buddies Brett Slocum and Howard Hendrickson. It's a long trek through the Midwest to and from the con, but you have a lot of time for Tekumel-talk on a 12 hour road trip!

Here's a brief report on the games in which I was a player:

  • Hlaka 2: The Way Home - T:EPT author Patrick Brady is know for his high quality military scenarios, and this one was a diceless adventure of a Hlaka mercenary flight that ended up on the losing side of the Civil War. Patrick spent a lot of time working out both the flight mechanics and social behaviors of these three-eyed, six-limbed, mammalian flyers. They flew using patagia, with behaviors and flight dynamics similar to those of bats. I played a Hlaka archer. Hlaka don't try to use bows while in flight; they're an intelligent species. Instead, you find a tree, land, and shoot from there. As always, Patrick's game was funny as hell, and provoked deeper thinking about how things work in Tekumel.
  • Bethorm: A Night's Entertainment - Krista Donnelly ran two sessions using the new Bethorm ruleset. The adventure carried over a character (and storyline) from last year, and involved an Emerald Circlet (a very low clan) group of entertainers who had been summoned to a very remote island estate of the very high status Azure Cloak of Gems clan. This was a rather sinister scenario with a lot of strange things happening in and around the clanhouse. I've had a copy of Bethorm for a while, and found the system easy to learn and use.
  • Heroic Age: Fresh Off The Boat - Our next game as a classic fresh-off-the-boat scenario in which a group of demon-worshipping islanders began new lives in Jakalla. We ended up taking a patronage offer from a member of a middle-clan with scholarly interests; this led to a rather deadly expedition into the Jakallan Underworld. I wouldn't be surprised at all if this demon-worshipping tribe becomes a recurrent "character" in future Foreigners' Quarter games set in Jakalla. Brett's Heroic Age of Tekumel is a retroclone of EPT. I've played it a number of times now, and I think it does a good job as an old school Tekumel game. The Heroic Age of Tekumel quickstart is a free download on RPGNow. 
  • Warriors of the Red Planet: Princess Zira & the Jungle Ruins - I have run Warriors of the Red Planet a number of times; it is an old school swords & planet RPG that is very faithful to it's primary source material, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom. A Princess of Mars was one of Professor Barker's favorite books, and in many ways the world of Tekumel is a sister planet of Barsoom. WotRP perfect for Tekumel games set in periods such as the Latter Times, long before the low-tech, highly stratified Tekumel-as-we-know-it came into being. I played a member of the Mentalist Guild of Omel. The action involved the intrigues of a sinister cult in a very distant city. Great game!
  • Bethorm: A Guard's Life - Krista's second Bethorm scenario featured a group of Sakbe road guards who had to deal with a BIG situation (50+ escaped slaves) way beyond their pay grade. This game was a challenging mystery in which we narrowly avoided killing or capturing the innocent. I played a guard who had been kicked out of the Temple of Sarku for failing to learn the prayers. However I had learned a few useful spells, which caught my fellow guards by surprise! Nobody expects a Sakbe road guard to cast Web of Kryag!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ahoggya Ark - 12th Plane Encounters

The 12th Plane is a jungle level. The primary denizens are Ahoggya, Shen, Platform Builders, and Tribal humans and mutants. And other mutants.

The jungle is dense. Crossing 1 mile of jungle on foot takes four hours. If travelling by water (canoe, raft, boat), it takes 1 hour to cross a mile of jungle. Roll 1D6 per mile of jungle crossed. On a roll of 5 or 6 there is an encounter.

Consult the On Land and On or Near Water tables below as appropriate.  Standard mutant descriptions and number appearing notes start on p. 17 of MA. Distribution of Monsters (Mutations) and Treasure rules and tables are on p. 20-22. Standard encounter tables by terrain type are on p. 22.

On Land Table
  1. Ahoggya party
  2. Platform Builder party (1)
  3. Shen party
  4. Tribal party
  5. Mutated human
  6. Mutated animal (2)
  7. Mutated plant
  8. Mutated Ahoggya
  9. Cyber-Ahoggya
  10. Gachaya (dragon-like 10 M long lizard from Shen worlds)
  11. Thief Beast (p.17)
  12. Hyehoon
(1) If at night time, substitute Qol, who often emerge from the sublevel below 12.
(2) Common forms include Atlun (spiders), Nyar or Tsi'il or Chlen, Feshenga, Hu, Giant Dri (ants), Syusyu (small Shen lizards, 4-6 cm, many edible, some poisonous), Sezhme (snakes, some segmented, some not; many poisonous).

On or Near Water Table
  1. Hlu'un
  2. Ghar
  3. Sezhme (snakes)
  4. Ahoggya party (waders)
  5. Ahoggya party (raft)
  6. Shen fisherfolk
  7. Hisser (p.17)
  8. Fern Bush (p.18)
  9. Dart Weed (p.18)
  10. Winged Biter (p. 17)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ahoggya Ark

My head is exploding! Is it a mental attack? If so, I'll just have to tick one mark off for a successfully resisted attack and get on with things!

This week, I'll be running my Metamorphosis Alpha scenario, Ahoggya Ark at U-Con in Ypslanti, Michigan. The event is cross-listed on both the Tekumel and OSR theme tracks, and happens on Friday, November 20, from 10 AM-2 PM. It looks like there is still a ticket left for the event if you want to play!

We're in High Convention Prep Mode here, and I spent the day with the Anubian Ambassador at my side, reading the rules to Metamorphosis Alpha. It was quite a trip back in time, to a day when RPGs sometimes had a dizzying array of subsystems packed into a very small shell. I have to say that Goodman Games has done a great job bringing this classic SF RPG back into broader circulation with a series of deluxe editions and new supplements and art!

+B. Portly has done a great job in designing a new GM screen for the game, and his character sheet designs support the GM and players in not forgetting some of the nuances in the rules, such as the little ticks for Mental Attacks resisted.

My generation ship scenario is something of a crossover between Metamorphosis Alpha and Tekumel/Humanspace Empires universe. It will be accessible to people who know nothing about either setting - so there's no barrier to entry!

Come join us for an adventure on the 12th Plane!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Happy Sourcebook Day!

One of the challenges with diabetes and astigmatism is that you can't always tell from a PDF whether text and images are sharp. My hard copy of the republication of the Tekumel Source Book arrived today, and I am happy to report that The Tekumel Foundation's new edition reproduces the sharp, small text of the original. It is very readable. 

The original edition of the Sourcebook came out in 1983, the year I graduated from College. It is the most important text for understanding the world of Tekumel. It is a source of constant inspiration for me. In fact, as I travelled this summer, I marked up a spiral bound photocopy of the Sourcebook with all sorts of notes about possible adventure ideas I might run. Even a couple of sentences in the Sourcebook can plant those seeds; Professor Barker's writing is just that good.

In a few weeks, I will be running one of those adventures at U-Con in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Just scroll down in the Tekumel Track for the Sunday, 9 AM event!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Falling Leaves

A place close to the heart 10-27-13
Yesterday, Google Photos was kind enough to send me a reminder of this beautiful day near the home of a loved one. All the talk today of the Ssu reminded me of the Monastery of Falling Leaves in the mountain passes of Eastern Tsolyanu. A monastery dedicated to the Horokaingai, those dedicated followers of Lord Vimuhla that the Lord of Flames assigned as standard bearers for Lord Ksarul at the Battle of Dormoron Plain.

When all others, including Lord Vimuhla, betrayed our Lord Ksarul, these warriors stayed true. We remember them today.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Search for Stark!

Players T-Roy and Lisa show off the map of Leigh Brackett's Mars

Saturday was my third time running Warriors of the Red Planet. This weekend was Diversicon 23, one of the best small literary SF&F cons in Minnesota.

It's my tradition at this con to run roleplaying event that incorporates the work of our guests of honor (living and posthumous). This year's game was focused on three of our posthumous guests:
  • Leigh Brackett, the author of numerous planetary romance short stories set on Mars and Venus, as well as the Skaith trilogy featuring her anti-hero Eric John Stark
  • Gene L. Coon, who wrote a number of the best Star Trek episodes, including "Devil in the Dark"
  • Sun Ra, the inventive jazz musician who Guest of Honor Ytasha Womack (author of Afrofuturism) and many others see as the one of the pioneers of Afrofuturism
My Warriors of the Red Planet game was set on Leigh Brackett's Mars. The players were charged with finding Eric John Stark. The PCs started in the adventure in a sleazy cantina in the Martian city-state of Kahora, adjacent to the Terran starport. After agreeing to take a large sum from a mystery woman (Terran? Martian?) to locate Stark, the PCs headed for the last location where he had been found, in the even more ancient city-state of Jekkara (a city "half as old as the world"). After recruiting a Martian scientist/gadgeteer in an even sleazier establishment, they headed south in a jury rigged flyer, exploring a mining site and polar ice tunnels leading to the lost city of Sun Ark.

The PCs survived an encounter with a new creature, a Temporal Displacer Beast, which is something of a cross between a Horta, a Displacer Deast, and a Beholder (oddly enough at the Diversicon 23 auction later that evening, we saw a reproduction of the magazine featuring A.E Van Vogt's short story "The Black Destroyer", the inspiration for the Displacer Beast!).

I had four players, all women, all great players, including my friend Rachel Kronick (author of the Blade & Crown RPG). Rachel is the most consistent player in my Diversicon RPGs. Like a fair number of GMs, I am sure, I often get performance anxiety right before RPG events, and an inner voice tells me not to run my game. Rachel is usually the friend who talks me off the ledge, and nudges me to run the game.

Another player was very new to roleplaying. This was her second game ever, but she's clearly a natural and I have no doubt that she will go on to game A LOT after this adventure! Another of the players who made a quick cameo was Phyllis Ann Karr, the author of one of my favorite fantasies from the 80s, Wildraith's Last Battle. I didn't even know she was a roleplayer, but that makes sense given her collaboration with Greg Stafford as the author of the King Arthur Companion.

Once I began the game, of course, all the anxiety went away. It always does, especially when you have a group of players who have good energy with each other. 

I'm not sure yet who the guests of honor will be for next year, but I'm so glad I ran the game this year that I am sure I'll be back for more. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Princess Determination Table 1: Leigh Brackett's Solar System

Use the tables below to generate a space princess character for a game set on Leigh Brackett's Mars or Venus. 

Step One: Determine Planet of Origin

Roll 1d6:
1-2: Venus
3-5 Mars
6: It's complicated*

*Might involve transmigration of souls, such as occurs in temporal, planar, and transworld intrusions.  Might be an Earth agent in disguise. Think something up.

Step Two: Determine Region

If Mars:**
Roll 1d12:
1: Polar City
2: Polar hill tribe
3: Northern Drylands/High Desert well-tribe
4: Northern Drylands/High Desert nomadic tribe
5: Northern Drylands/High Desert city
6: Kahora or adjacent spaceport (equatorial region).
7. Other equatorial city-state (there are many)
8: Equatorial well-tribe
9: Equatorial nomadic tribe
10: Old Ocean Bed/Eastern drylands well-tribe
11: Old Ocean Bed/Eastern drylands nomadic tribe
12: Old Ocean Bed/Jekkara-Valkis-Barrakesh region (pick one city)

**Based on the map provided in The Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories by Leigh Brackett, Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks #46.

If Venus***
Roll 1d10:
1: Mountain city
2: Lowland city
3: Lake Village (may be built onto lake)
4: Lake City (may be built onto lake)
5: Lost city (no doubt beyond the Mountains of White Cloud)
6: Marsh tribe
7: Wetland tribe
8: Jungle tribe
9: Jungle city
10: Seaborne fleet-clan
11. Polar city
12. Undercity (under the surface of Venus or under one of its odd gaseous seas, such as the Red Sea)

***I haven't seen a map of Brackett's Venus, but many of the location types here make sense for her version of the world. and examples of several are found in her short stories.

Step Three: Determine Livelihood

Roll 1d8: 
1: Clan wealth
2: Banditry/piracy
3: Rulership of a tribe, clan, or city-state
4: Religious or cult leadership (mesmerism is a common skill)
5: Trade
6: Influence peddling
7: Guild leadership (assassin's guild, thieves' guild, etc.)
8. Knowledge (ancient secrets, favorable trade routes, etc>)

Step Four: Prized Possession

Roll 1d12:
1: Devoted and obedient slave or retainer
2: Ancestral weapon or other artifact
3: Ancient technological artifact
4: Empathic animal companion
5: Map of lost or legendary city-state or well
6: Letter of passage/carte blanche from a powerful sovereign (might be a clever forgery)
7: Personal flyer OR full plate armor
8: Animal mount (on Mars these are bipedal lizards)
9: Crown, signet ring, mace or other symbol of office
10: Legendary or rare ancient text
11: Gems or other treasures
12: Terran technological device

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Warriors of the Red Planet - This Weekend!

This weekend is Diversicon, where Leigh Brackett will be one of our posthumous guests of honor along with Gene L. Coon and Sun Ra. Our living guests of honor include Dr. Ytasha Womack, author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, and Minneapolis writer and performance artist Rob Callahan.

I'll be on the Leigh Brackett panel at the con, along with Eric Heideman and Eleanor Arnason. While I am not a Brackett scholar, I have spent the last 3-4 months reading short fiction by Leigh Brackett. By this weekend, I should have read 650 pages of her short stories.

I plan to run a pulp SF RPG scenario there called Princesses of Mars; Or, the Search for Stark. I'll be running the adventure using Warriors of the Red Planet, an old-school RPG with very easly to learn rules. I had a good experience running a Barsoom-based WOTRP scenario in April and May with my regular Thursday night game group.

All the PCs will be female characters, each with a potential connection to Stark. I'm working on some clever scene titles for the scenario, including:
  • A Game of Starks
  • Devils in the Dark
  • Mothership  
The game will run from 4-6 PM on Saturday in elevated "train station" area just past the hotel lobby. Please stop by to play the game or kibbitz a bit if you're interested in the pulp SF Mars and Venus of Leigh Brackett.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Warriors of the Red Planet

This weekend I'll be running a game of +trey causey's Strange Stars SF setting using my Fate Core rules for the setting.  Because of the potential for a surge of players looking for games to play, I have been asked to have a back-up game ready to goon Saturday. The back-up game is going to be Al Krombach's Warriors of the Red Planet, a very crisp 1st edition style planetary romance RPG. The book has beautiful art by Thomas Denmark, which really reinforces the tone of the game.

The game will be set on a version of Barsoon, a world that Professor Barker's Tsolyani PC parties periodically visited. It's an inspiring setting with a number of commonalities with Tekumel. This scenario may have some Tekumel crossover too, but the PCs will be natives of the Red Planet (Mars, not Kashi). They will be charged with investigating strange signals emerging from sand-lost ruins deep in the desert beyond their city-state.

Should be a fun game - and certainly the first old school game I have run since the late 70s.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tekumel Systems I've Played - Updated 3/6/17

During my drive into work today, I was thinking of the various game systems that I have either played or GMed for Tekumel games. With GMs shown in parenthesis, systems played in the order in which I first played them include the following games:

  • Barker's light narrativist d100 system (Berry, Kaiser)
  • Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne (Till)
  • The Fantasy Trip Tekumel retroclone (Slocum)
  • Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne Lite (Brady, Donnelly)
  • Legends of Anglerre FATE (Till)
  • GURPS Lite Tekumel (Slocum)
  • Empire of the Petal Throne (Leduc)
  • Fate of Tekumel for Fate Core (Till)
  • Entirely diceless (Brady)
  • Heroic Age: Tekumel, an EPT retroclone (Slocum)
  • Warriors of the Red Planet (Slocum)
  • Bethorm (Donnelly)
  • The Petal Hack (Slocum)
This is a pretty comprehensive list of what I have played in the last 6 8 years or so (which is the entirety of my life experience playing and GMing (as opposed to reading) Tekumel. Not bad for a start. There is quite a range of systems too, from very narrativist (Barker's light d100, Fate, and entirely diceless), to light simulationist (such as T:EPT Lite and TFT) to simulationist (GURPS Lite, T:EPT) to light historical legacy systems such as EPT and Heroic Age: Tekumel. 

There's no wrong road to gaming in Tekumel. Each of the above systems has its own strengths and weaknesses, but I can tell you that they all created the "real Tekumel experience". Since this is the 40th anniversary of EPT's publication, and therefore The Year of Tekumel, why not pick a system you like and give Tekumel a try?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Con of the North's Tekumel Track

Ahoggya under watchful human eyes

For the second year in a row, Brett Slocum organized a Tekumel track at Con of the North, one of the largest gaming conventions in the Upper Midwest. This year's track featured 40 hours of Tekumel programming! I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in 16 hours of that programming: two RPG scenarios, and a mini-Braunstein by Howard Hendrickson.

Don Kaiser, a Tekumel veteran who played with Professor Barker, ran the two RPG scenarios. The first was called Tekumel: Intercalary Intrigue, and took place (not surprisingly) during the intercalary days in the Tsolyani calendar. Set in the city of Thraya at a moment of numerous festivals, the PCs were tasked with investigating the murder of a family member. We played members of the very high status Golden Bough clan, and I have to say: life doesn't get much better than playing members of a clan inspired by the work of Sir James Frazier!

I played a Karakan-worshiping veteran of the Omnipotent Azure Legion. That intelligence background proved useful, as it allowed me to make use of player knowledge. The scenario dealt with some unorthodox interpretations of Tekumelani history (to say the least), and my recent reading of M.A.R. Barker's The Lords of Tsamra turned out to be particularly useful.

Don's second scenario, Tekumel: Tsuru'um Adventure featured the same characters. This adventure was my first time playing a Pe Choi. I was a member of the Golden Bough clan, a veteran of the legions, and a worshiper of Vimuhla. The party was charged with some treasure-seeking in the Underworld under the Golden Bough clan's extensive (and expansive) clanhouse. After a couple of encounters with Underworld creatures, we discovered a nexus point.

Of course, we went through it!

The second half of the scenario was spent exploring our destination: an ancient high tech installation of the Humanspace Empire, located on Tekumel's rust red moon of Kashi! Many discoveries and much looting occurred. A sorcerer also started to cast a spell on a metal floor, but at the last moment cam to their wits and averted catastrophe. (On Tekumel, casting a spell while in direct contact with metal (or who having metal on one's person) causes explosions.)

Thanks to Don for offering us a very enjoyable and immersive roleplaying experience!

Howard Hendrickson's wonderful Tumissa Nights mini-Braunstein pitted the players against each other in a palanquin race. I played a young Aridani woman who raced to earn the income to enter the seminary of the Temple of Dilinala. Here is my gracile palanquin:

In addition to our palanquins, we also controlled a group of guards, and two runners (one of mine is pictured just below the blue cube). The job of runners was to rush to stores in the market place and see what goods were for sale. The goal of the race was to purchase as many quality items as possible, as well as "tokens" of esteem from various people we met while racing our palanquins around the city.

One of my guards had a memorable encounter with a towering female N'lyss gladiator who uses a ru'un (robot) arm as a club! At first my Aridani guard tried to earn a token using flattery and romance; that worked. Later, she tried combat.

That was a mistake.

Congratulations to Howard for a wonderful miniatures gaming experience. It takes a lot of time and effort to transport all of the materials, props, and miniatures to make a Tsolyani city come alive on tabletop. He created a great game environment for us!