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Tékumel

Tékumel

by Monday 10 June 2019
In June 2019 we presented the Tékumel Bundle, featuring the astonishing science fantasy campaign setting Tékumel created by Prof. M.A.R. Barker. In the roleplaying hobby, home to the Forgotten Realms, Hârn, Glorantha, Jorune, and other detailed settings (to say nothing of Middle-earth), Tékumel has no parallel. Tékumel is the tabletop peer of computer games like Dwarf Fortress and EVE Online — not so much a pastime as a field of study, a lifestyle. Its lore beggars comparison. An entire room in the late Professor Barker’s house holds the filing cabinets stuffed with setting minutiae he diligently compiled starting at age nine. For 70 years Barker mixed influences from Mesoamerica, Moghul India, Egypt, China, and Arab cultures to create a setting that is exotic, bizarre, intensely flavored, and incomparably intricate.

The prehistory of Tékumel, its ancient unrecorded past, starts 60 millennia in our future, when human explorers discovered the planet, conquered the native Tékumelani (the subterranean Ssú and the insectoid Hlüss), terraformed the world, and colonized it alongside a dozen alien species. But when Tékumel’s entire star system fell through a spacetime warp into a pocket dimension, technological civilization collapsed. After several titanic wars, each species withdrew into enclaves.

Following a Time of Darkness lasting some 30,000 years, new empires made contact with enigmatic, amoral planar beings: the Tlokiriqáluyal, the Five Lords of Change. These powerful entities infused some of Tékumel’s races with magic-like psychic powers. For 1,500 years the Lords of Change supported princelings in countless petty wars that culminated in the 3,000-year rule of the splendid First Imperium.

When a lone human accidentally contacted a new pantheon of beings — the Tlomitlányal, the Five Lords of Stability — a wave of religious schisms swept aside the First Imperium, and a new caste of Priestkings established Éngsvan hla Gánga, “the Kingdom of the Gods.” After ten thousand years, this flourishing empire perished suddenly in a planetary cataclysm. A worldwide interregnum, the Time of No Kings, spawned legendary figures: Subadím the Sorceror, great Thómar the Ever-Living, fumbling Turshánmu the Summoner of Demons, and many more.

Modern history begins between six and ten millennia later with the Second Imperium, the glorious Empire of the Petal Throne that rules the continent of Tsolyánu. The first Emperor wielded an ancient technological device, the Seal of the Imperium. The modern calendar dates from his succession, “After the Seal” (A.S.). In the present year, 2,369 A.S., a many-sided civil war has just ended. The continent of Tsolyánu seethes with intrigue and factional politics. Emperor Mirusíya, “the Flame Everlasting,” faces the monumental task of repulsing invaders and restoring the Empire of the Petal Throne.

If this epochal history made your eyes glaze over, you’re not alone. Though universally respected, Tékumel has always been a tough sell. There have been five different official Tékumel RPGs, all short-lived and rather haphazard. It’s hard to communicate the setting’s signal virtues. Many of its most devoted fans are the players privileged to participate first-hand in Barker’s own long-running Thursday Night Group. And believe it, these fans are devout. They write monographs about Barker’s pantheons and constructed languages; they build scale models of Tsolyáni temples; and they’ve set up the nonprofit Tékumel Foundation to protect Barker’s works.

The Foundation kindly approved this offer that gathered .PDF image scans of the Empire of the Petal Throne RPG (TSR, 1975), its successor Swords & Glory (Gamescience, 1983-84), plus maps, histories, and treatises for a bargain price. This thorough introduction to Barker’s world showcased its attractions. And if you fall in love with Tékumel, as so many already have, a lifetime of exploration awaits you.

Any gathering of published Tékumel material, no matter how comprehensive, is perforce a “starter collection.” There were six titles in this particular Starter Collection (retail value $37) as DRM-free .PDF image scans, including the complete Empire of the Petal Throne RPG (TSR, 1975), plus the maps of the Five Empires and the Jakálla map; two lengthy histories, The Ever-Glorious Empire and Deeds of the Ever-Glorious; and a short compilation of lore from Barker’s own long-running campaign, Notes From the Thursday Night Group.

Those who paid more than the threshold (average) price also got our entire Bonus Collection with five more titles worth an additional $50, including the complete two-volume Gamescience RPG, Swords & Glory v1 (1983) and S&G v2 (1984), as well as the Combat and Sorcery Summary; two linguistic treatises, The Tsolyáni Language and Tsolyáni Primer; and Tékumel Journal #1 and Journal #2.

Most of these files are .PDF image scans of the original 1970s and ’80s hardcopies. (This is most obvious in Empire of the Petal Throne and Swords & Glory, where Barker went through the printed pages and manually added accent marks.) The text is crisp and readable, but no optical character recognition has been applied.

Ten percent of each payment (after gateway fees) went to this offer’s designated charity, the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Tékumel resources