Tekumel thoughts

My introduction to the unique sword & planet/sword & sorcery world of Tekumel came in 1998.  In the library at UCSB (where I studied and worked as an undergrad) I stumbled across what is still one of my favorite books about RPGs: Shared Fantasy, a fascinating snapshot of the RPG subculture in late-1970s Minneapolis by sociologist Gary Alan Fine.  The study focuses on players and play experiences of four locally-played RPGs: D&D, Chivalry & Sorcery, Traveller, and Empire of the Petal Throne.  I had never heard of EPT, and was surprised to learn it was actually the first post-OD&D roleplaying product published by TSR (1975).  Over the course of the book, Fine shared some details about the setting and its creation as well as his experiences playing the game with Tekumel’s creator, Professor M.A.R. Barker.  My curiosity grew with each nugget of information about this exotic setting, so I vowed to track down a copy of the rules for myself.  Some internet research in the library directed me to Tita’s House of Games in Berkeley.  With some of my library student-assistant earnings I ordered a reprint of the EPT rulebook and the Tekumel Sourcebook (Swords & Glory vol. 1, Gamescience), which came with a map and separate index (!).

The books were really cool, and it took me a while to digest them.  I wasn’t in a mental place to really appreciate the EPT book’s rules variants at the time, but it had some pretty cool monsters and weird artifacts (Eyes and such) that I dropped into my AD&D game.  The Sourcebook was a dense read, full of rich detail that was pretty overwhelming.  My players had little interest in stepping away from our vanilla-fantasy AD&D game to try this strange new flavor, and frankly I didn’t feel like I was capable as DM of presenting Tekumel in all its glory.  At one point I sent the D&D party through a portal to retrieve an object from a dungeon on Tekumel, but there was little exposure to the cultural elements of the setting.

Even if I wasn’t ready to run a Tekumel game, I was still keen on the setting — it was seriously like studying some alien culture.  On a jazz band trip to Berkeley the following year I walked 2 miles to Tita’s House of Games to pick up a couple items in person; it was pretty cool to meet Carl, who I had corresponded with a bit, and walk out with a copy of The Book of Ebon Bindings, Adventures on Tekumel (Gardasiyal v.1) and the disappointing Nightmare Maze of Jigresh.  It was around this time that I subscribed to the Tekumel listserv and was overwhelmed by the scholarly attitude which characterized much of the discussion.  It was all interesting stuff which for a while I devoured with relish, but gradually my enthusiasm cooled as I felt more and more convinced that I would never be able to “properly” referee Tekumel “as it should be experienced” with all minutiae intact (a feeling I would experience again two years later when struck with Glorantha fever.)  I ended up selling most of my Tekumel stuff several years later when weeding my RPG collection, and only kept my Tekumel Sourcebook, index and map.

Ten years later, chatter over at Original D&D Discussion brought EPT back into my consciousness.  Reading about the world and the game was a different experience, since I was now more familiar with the pulp fantasy inspirations of the setting and the OD&D rules on which its system was based.  It would be a blast to play EPT with a referee who was intimately familiar with the setting, but that seems pretty unlikely.  For now, I’m content just going back and revisiting the rules and setting info in the original rulebook, playing in Migellito’s play-by-blog experiment over at Grumpy Old Troll, and contemplating a nexus point in my current dungeon that connects to the Jakallan underworld…

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