Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Swords & Glory, Vol. 2: Tekumel Player's Handbook

Hello, 14 year-old me...
I stumbled across this post on the Tekumel Foundation blog early this last week, on Facebook (I think I traced that back correctly...) This version of Tekumel, published by Gamescience back in 1984, was my introduction to The Good Professor's astounding vision so, needless to say, I was giddy as a novitiate of Dilinala, and eager to get my hands on it.

When I expressed my joy on Facebook, Victor Raymond, one of the, well, founders, I guess, of the Tekumel Foundation pinged me and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing it if he sent me a copy. I've known Victor for five or six years now, and even played in a con game he ran, poking about in the Underworld of Jakalla, so I was more than happy to help him out. Plus, you know, BOOK.

I was 14 in 1984, and a friend of mine mentioned seeing this crazy game--I think a store employee gave him the low-down on the world. Somehow I had some money, birthday maybe, so I ran out and picked it up, opened the box and whole new horizons opened up in my brain.

So, back to the actual book. Physically, it's beautiful--a gorgeous full-color cover and a nice, clean scan. DTRPG's POD services have gotten quite good. The binding is tight is flexible, and the paper good quality. There aren't a whole lot of illustrations (not unusual back then), but the art that is there is excellent--clear line drawings, some by The Good Professor himself.

Before taking a quick look at the game-system itself, it's important to point out this particular volume is vol. 2; the first volume is an almost inexhaustible sourcebook. A third Referee's Guide was advertised but, tragically, never materialized. Maybe the Foundation has notes buried away somewhere...

The rules allowing you to step into Tsolyanu are, well, plentiful. Numerous as the official epithets for the Emperor of the Petal Throne. Is that a bad thing? Not at all--I certainly liked that kind of density when I was 14. Not so much now, but such is age. We did play it back then, a number of times, and my memory is of the system flowing along smoothly. And maybe that's it--there are potential rules for almost anything you can think of, though they're mostly in the form of modifiers. The core mechanic can be summed up as "cross-referencing": You have a number on one axis of a table; you cross-reference it with a number on the other axis, and you arrive at a percentage chance for success. That consistency makes the density bearable. And, of course, you could most likely jettison a lot of it if you wanted to without harming anything.

However, here's the other thing about the rules, something I don't think I quite grokked when I was 14: they add another whole layer of Tekumel, above and beyond the previous sourcebook. Not to wander off into game theory, but there's the idea that some games are built for Simulation, formally defined as facilitating the experience of actually being in a given milieu (this is not the same thing as theoretical Immersion). I bring this up only because easing into these rules (first and foremost the process of character creation) will soon find you on a sakbe road, heading north from Bey Su to Avanthar, hearing the bellowing of chlen, the chatter of merchants, the cursing of soldiers, the chanting of priests, the singing of children, knowing in your heart of hearts that you are destined for greatness, your deeds recorded forever in azure ink on pages of paper-thin gold.

Many thanks to the Scribe of Bey Su...

In the Scribe's own hand...


4 comments:

  1. Dang....now I'm going to have to dig out my Tekumel novels and re-read those. All two of them.... Good memories.

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  2. I did that myself just a few months ago! The Tekumel Foundation just released (well, maybe six months ago?) a beautiful reprint of Man of Gold...

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