Sunday, February 14, 2021

Con of the North: Mostly Great! But Some Improvements Needed!

 

Legion of the Lord of Wisdom

This weekend was virtual Con of the North. I ran three, three-hour RPGs:
  • "No Small Favor", an all-Klingon Star Trek Adventures scenario using the brand new Klingon Core Book for the RPG line. The story was set during the TNG episode "Unification II", and explored what a Klingon Bird-of-Prey was really doing while Picard and Data were visiting Spock on Romulus. The PCs were an Imperial Intelligence team on special assignment for this mission. We had three Imperial Klingons (to use John M. Ford's terminology), as well as a Klingon-Romulan Fusion (another tip of the hat to Mike Ford); and one of the Imperial Klingons was one of the freaky-looking Discovery-era Klingons. The PCs decided that to complete their mission, they had to assassinate Captain K'Vada. That's what happens when you don't take Imperial Intelligence agents seriously when they "urge" you to do something important for the Empire! And so an alternate Trek universe is born! 
  • "Lex Arcana: A Simple Mission for the Emperor" was my first time running a scenario for the brand new English edition of Italy's most popular homegrown RPG. This is an alternate history RPG set in 476 AD. The Empire has not fallen due to the vigilance of the Cohors Auxiliaria Arcana, Christianity is a tolerated faith but not the established state religion. The PCs are members of the Cohors Auxiliaria Arcana, a special unit of the Praetorian Guard charged with investigating and dealing with supernatural threats, magic, and monsters. A lot of the character sheet is in Latin and the game is very immersive. The mechanics make combat high stakes and quite unpredictable.  The entire game is a labor of love.
  • "Servants of the Divine Daughter" was a Tekumel RPG using my own forthcoming Fate of Tekumel RPG. The PCs were members of a mostly Stability-oriented party armed with an Imperial Writ* to conduct a shakedown of Change-affiliated clans in Thraya during the reign of the Stability fanatic Empress Shaira Su. This was a really fun game to run!
I was also able to play in David Lemire's scenario "The College of the Hand of Hrugga" an EPT-based scenario in which youthful wizards in training took advantage of the absence of their teachers to do some archaeological exploration of their own to the east of Bey Su. We encountered Chnélh, and discovered a temple-tomb with a humanoid incarnation of the demon "The Beast With No Tail."

The Good Things About Con of the North 2021:
  • I had great players in all my games - and that makes all the difference!
  • While my scenarios are typically very player-driven, I do considerable prep in the days immediately before a convention (at least 15 hours per 3 hour game, usually for 3-4 days). That means I take PTO from work. After running the games, that really felt like that was PTO time well-spent.
  • I'm getting more of the hang of using Discord. I ran all three games using that platform, and had a good experience with it. The sound quality was excellent in all but one of the four games that I GMed/played-in.
  • In two of my games, I had players from across the United States! This is one of the great aspects of virtual play.
  • At least one friend whom I see - and often get to game with - every year at Con of the North (and only there!) popped in to say hello right before my game. It was great to see him. 
  • The technical support during game days was just great!
The Bad Things About Con of the North 2021:
  • Communications by the convention organizers were too late and too infrequent.  
  • Communications about the convention were not focused on the core activities of the convention experience. There were way more Facebook posts about signature characters/artwork being used to promote the convention than there were communications about what GMs or players should expect in terms of the play platform. We were all pretty much left guessing how things might happen until just a day or two before the convention started. This is no way to treat your GMs, Con of the North; we are the people who will make or break the experience, so please, please, please - tell us what's going on, and what to expect! GMs especially need clear and recurrent guidance about the technology to be used. Players want that too. People need to know where the convention server is, how the server will be organized, and how to find their games. I do get that the convention platform borrowed heavily from Gamehole Con's successful virtual game convention last Fall, but no one should have to have attended virtual Gamehole Con to have a guess at what and how things might happen at virtual Con of the North.
  • The COVID-19 themed official convention dice were truly tasteless. Gamers should recognize that there is far more to life than gaming, and that having to play in a virtual convention in order to continue enjoying our hobby really has nothing to do with "rolling all 1's". That is a perfect example of why "Geek Culture" is such a First World, narcissistic turn off at times. Seriously, concom, please recognize that many people are experiencing losses and making real sacrifices. Don't trivialize that with tasteless dice jokes.
  • Finally, I really miss being able to play in-person with some of my regular Con of the North buddies, as well as the special in-person things like the conversations that happen in the food vendor lines, in the dealer's room, or over meals. Hopefully that will be possible again in the next couple of years.

*I am not sure any of my players noticed that the Imperial Writ included a direct quote from Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, but there you go. The document was an entertaining project for the GM.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

#StayAtHome: "The Revenge of the Rose"


I don't know whether Professor Barker read and enjoyed Michael Moorcock, but in spite of Phil frequently being called "the other Tolkien", there are aspects of his work that resonate more with the multiverse of Michael Moorcock.

Now don't get me wrong: Moorcock has never shown much interest in the kind of anthropological realism and sociological nuance that the Professor has built into Tekumel. One often gets the impression that the Young Kingdoms and most other settings in Moorcock's novels are just set pieces or backdrops where an Eternal Champion can have adventures and mishaps.

But a couple commonalities - at least on an aesthetic/thematic level - include science fantasy, interplanar travel, demons, and the weird. Oh, and Chaos. Or Change.

Both authors were also quite fond of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

As I started reading the second of the "late" Elric novels, The Revenge of the Rose (1991), I kept thinking of Tekumel from time-to-time. I read the novel in about a week. Like past Elric novels, there is plenty of the weird, and plenty of interplanar travel. There are also more female characters with agency than in the early Elric novels, including the Rose, who may be an incarnation of the Eternal Champion herself, and a creepy but beautiful young seeress named Charion Phatt, herself a distant descendant of Corum, an incarnation of the Eternal Champion from ancient Cornwall.

None of the women are Elric's love interest, nor do they show any interest in him. The women do scheme and work effectively with each other. In fact, Elric doesn't even fully understand the Rose's motivations, which really have nothing to do with him (he is just the Rose's instrument), until the last few pages of the novel.

The Revenge of the Rose is disjointed, and has some borrowings or parallels with The Dragon in the Sword (1987), an Erekose novel. The latter is a much more coherent novel, although Revenge has one of the most chilling examples of willful self-destruction and mass suicide that I have ever read. It is perfect reading for the pandemic.

Since finishing Revenge, I have started on the first of the late Elric novels, The Fortress of the Pearl (1989). I am about 60 pages in and it is a much more coherent, tighter narrative. I am looking forward to continuing with the Pearl before I tackle some of the LONG late Elric novels.

There are at least three more of those.

Monday, June 29, 2020

There Are Few Absolutes


On Tekumel, we see something better than "evil" races. The inimical races are classified as such (by some humans, and some non-humans) because they were either brutally displaced by humanity - and had the gall to resist - when "mankind" came to Tekumel, or had in the past contended with humanity for dominance among the stars.
There is nothing inherently evil or inherently inimical about them; the classification is entirely materialist and sociological-political rather than metaphysical.
Most or all of these aliens can be understood rationally and even negotiated with from time to time. In some places on the planet, humans even live in peace with them. All of this is possible, of course, because Tekumel was envisioned by someone who was familiar with other cultures, and traveled a bit. It also helps that Tekumel is science fictional at its roots.
So the friendly-neutral-inimical axis is not even a true alignment system; it's more of an historical anthropology.
Scholars and priests of the Five Empires however DO recognize two alignments: Stability and Change. These exist at the intersection of religious and other social institutions, and are frameworks for understanding the great interplanar intelligences that are recognized as the Gods and their Cohorts, and associated demons.
People tend to have an affinity for either Stability or Change, based on what deities are important to them personally, or to their clan or nation.
Also, anyone who studies the Aspects of the Gods, or the demons associated with particular gods, is aware that certain Aspects of a God or demon associated with Stability may have very specific characteristics associated with Change - and vice versa. Any theologian worth their salt understands that Stability and Change interpenetrate. There are few absolutes.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Tekumel at Gamehole Con

Adventurer Party from Jeff Dee's Bethorm

This weekend I attended Gamehole Con in Madison, WI, where The Tekumel Foundation sponsored at Tekumel RPG theme track. The GMs included Victor Raymond, Mark Seifert, Amanda Dee, Scott Kellogg, Jeff Dee, and myself. I was able to run three games, and play in another four games by other GMs. It was also really nice to GM for and game alongside Mark Eggert, a Tekumel veteran whom I haven't seen since my early years playing Tekumel!

Games I GMed included a two-part Fate of Tekumel RPG adventure set in the time of the Pe Choi Revolt (yes, there was one!), with Part I called (surprise, surprise): "The Pe Choi Revolt" and Part II called "The Time of No Emperor" (and this is NOT the same thing as the "Time of No Kings"!). The players represented an expedition/delegation sent by the ruling Temples of Change to enter into negotiations in the Chakas with a newly independent/separatist Pe Choi state. The PCs defeated Feshengas in the deep jungle, discovered an ancient Bednalljan Sarku shrine guarded by a Pe Choi Jagji, and eventually arrived at the Pe Choi village at the center of the new nation. I was pretty stunned to have a full table of 6 players ready to go for Part II at 8 AM on Saturday! Gamehole is a convention that draws about 5,000 players, and people are ready to game!

If you're interested in Fate of Tekumel or this adventure, be sure to come to Con of the North in February. At that convention, I  am going to pick up where Part II of the adventure left off, in an adventure titled "Tekumel: The Time of No Emperor."

I also ran a Barsoom-Tekumel crossover adventure, "Red Moon, Red Planet" using the 2d20 John Carter of Mars RPG from Modiphius Entertainment.

My fearless Barsoomians

Players started on Barsoom, and had landed in Katalal by the end of the adventure. But the player right in the center of the photo remarked that by the end of the game, his PC had lived in three different worlds!  He played Joseph Stands Alone, an American Indian spy from the Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico, who had previously been transplanted from Jasoom (i.e., Earth) to Barsoom! The players picked up the system very quickly, and play was evocative and fun!

Amanda Dee ran a great Bethorm RPG game called "Maidens of the Mist". The PCs played priestesses-in-training in the Temple of Dilinala who had been sent on a spooky mission to a spooky, spooky place in the Kurt Hills. That was a great game for Halloween night!

Scott Kellogg ran an EPT-Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel in the underworld of Penom. His scenario, "The Rising Tide of Darkness" was a real hoot, with a lot of surprises for both Tekumel veterans as well as players new-to-Tekumel.

Jeff Dee ran "A Little Bit of Ice", another great Bethorm RPG game that became a TPK. You'd think that would have been the EPT-DCC game - which did have causalties - but no. Tune in to an upcoming Hall of Blue Illumination podcast for more about what happened in the story.

Finally, I also played in Scott Kellogg's Saturday night EPT game, "Hirilakte Hijinx", in which the PCs played a Stability-oriented gladiatorial team ("Red Rage"), that ended up with hijinx in the Underworld.

Gamehole Con was a great convention, and I plan to be back next year for more Tekumel gaming!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Clans for Characters Starting in Thráya



One of the challenging aspects of character generation at the game table, is having a list of clans that is easy to visually scan and from which players can select a clan that "feels right" for their character concept and that does interesting things. The Sourcebook has the definitive list of best-known clans on Tékumel, but the Professor was also clear in the text that there are many other local clans. We know that players at the Professor's table also worked with him to create new clans, such as Ensorcelled Goblet, a Drá-focused clan. The challenge is how to carry on that tradition in a way that is respectful of the source material and continues to build the world in ways that are respectful, natural, and interesting to players.

It has been a busy few weeks for the Fate of Tékumel RPG, as I have been developing a new document, "Clans for Campaigns Starting in Thráya". The focus of the document is a resource to help players choose clans at character generation. My focus is on clans that are based-in or have a presence in the city of Thráya and its immediate surrounds, since Thráya the area of the Empire that I am developing for the RPG.

The list includes traditional, canonical clans as well as some new local and regional clans. The clan list is currently at 4,500 words (about 10 pages), but will grow a bit as I add a few more clans.

Oh, and every clan has Aspects now.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Tékumel Sourcebook Chiaroscuro


I just completed a read-through of Swords & Glory Volume 1: The Tékumel Sourcebook.  This reading spanned several years, from before my mom's passing through to breakfast this morning. I read intermittently, sometimes taking a break for several months. Quite a bit of the reading was done during travel - either by air, or as the dachshund-tending passenger on a road trip.

This is not the first time that I have read the Sourcebook, but it IS the first time I have read the entire Sourcebook.  I believe in the past I had read both volumes of the Sourcebook that saw print in the very readable Different Worlds imprint, and I know I read chunks of its original Gamescience edition.

In fact, I was about to read the Sourcebook in its entirety when the binding on my Gamescience edition suddenly failed! We are very fortunate to have this book now available from DriveThru in both POD and PDF formats, with the wonderful, ever-so detailed index and glossary prepared by Krista Donnelly. They are quite remarkable, and improve the usability of the product quite significantly.

As I noted above, I had previously read parts of the Gamescience edition, as well as the Different Worlds editions cover-to-cover. But the last third or so of the Sourcebook was never published in the Different Worlds edition. This was the first time I had read the final Sourcebook sections on arms and armor, military units, assassins' weapons and the assassins' clans, and the arts and sciences. There is a LOT of great content packed into the last third of the Sourcebook; that's for sure!

A friend once said that Tékumel is the only world he needs for gaming, and there is a lot of truth to that.

So what's next? I really need to read Swords & Glory Vol. 2. But I need to wait until I have a sturdy POD edition of that in-hand. In the meantime, I am going to read this one cover to cover, as preparation for running Empire of the Petal Throne at Con of the North in February. I have played
EPT several times, and I have certainly used it as a reference for Fate of Tékumel, but this will be my first time running it!


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tubecar Discs

© 2017 Tangletown Games

There are many forms of wealth on Tékumel, but a satchel of tubecar discs, like the image above by Juan Ochoa, are a sure way to put a price on your head.

Imagine all the places these discs could take a party!

Where have you been on Tékumel?