Saturday, December 15, 2012

Interview with Jim Harland - Part Six of Nine

The game lounge again, at a different point in time.

Jim Harland publishes the "harlandski" blog [Link in the left column for you] from Central Asia, and contacted me last month to ask me some questions. I'm reprinting the conversation for your amusement, with his cooperation...

Jim's questions are in >italics, and my replies are in the plain text. In about a week, I'll save these posts as pages so they are available for you.

    If it's all right with you, I'll reply by quoting some of the conversation, so we don't lose our places... :)

>I found the Chakas on a Tekumel map where you described them. So is the
>language of the Chakas Tsolyani-with-an-accent, or was there also a
>separate Chakan language? This I couldn't find online, and there was no
 >reference to Chakan in the Tsolyani language book.

>>[My reply:]     There are local dialects and languages, but Tsolyani with an accent
>> is mostly what's spoken. You do get more people speaking Mu'ugalavyani
>> closer to the border, but that's to be expected; the border is fluid,
>> and does shift depending on who's got the most troops in the area at any
>> given time.

>That makes perfect sense linguistically, as I would expect from Prof Barker :-)

    I thought that it was a really usefu part of the games, but then I'd stop and *listen* to the locals when Phil would have them say something. saved us more then a few times in frontier areas where we'd accidentally gone over the border.

>>     Can I suggest a really excellent resource for the Chakas?

>Thank you - I've taken a look and it looks really interesting. I love
>resources which 'flesh out' a particular area of a world like this.

    It's a brilliant bit of work, and very typical of what Phil loved to see. The work is very detailed, but still has all the wry asides and obscure reference works that Phil used to love to sprinkle his own works with, and I really enjoyed adding Kim's book to my collection.

>What is the origin of calling good 'stablility' and evil 'change'? I've
>come across it in connection with T:EPT. Was it the Professor's idea? I
>find the statement in EPT that you have to be good or evil, but that
>doesn't necessarily mean what it means in our world enigmatic. Also Chirine
>can hardly be said to be 'evil' in any conventional sense. I seem to
>remember the Spiegel article talking about a lack of moral dualism in
>Tekumel, which surprised me considering the use of 'good' and 'evil' in
>EPT, and the statement that you've got to choose (at least in terms of
>which god/cohort you follow). How do you think Professor Barker conceived
>the whole good/evil thing, and (how) did it change over time?

    It was Gary Gygax. Gary thought that Phil's original 'stability / change' dichotomy was too 'grey' for the kind of 'black and white' 'good vs. evil' that he'd imparted to D & D. Gary thought that the 'stability / change' thing was too difficult a concept for the kind of people who bought D & D - Gary had a very low opinion of the mental abilities of the people who he was selling games to, sorry to say - and wanted to keep it as simple as possible so that the 'backstory' aspects of both D & D and Tekumel could be kept as simple as possible and not challenge gamers with too many new ideas.

    It really does need to be rememberd just how intellectually limited most people here in Middle America were at that thime, and to a great extent still are. Gary did not want people to think that he was promoting anything that might be 'bad', so D&D (and EPT, as a TSR publication) had to demonstrate the Middle Amercian moral and cultural values that prevailed locally in rural Wisconson. Gary and TSR actually had a 'Morals Policy" regarding D&D and RPGs that they enforced at Gen Con, and which we ran into on a regular basis. Tekumel failed the 'no nudity' and 'no excessive violence' clauses on a regular basis, and I had to fight the TSR managers regularly about this. Many of them hadn't known that EPT was even a TSR product, and I often had to ask Gary to 'educate' them.

    Both Dave and Gary loved to play in Phil's Tekumel, but had very grave reservations about how his non-western philosophy and non-western approach would 'sell' to gamers. Hence the changes that Gary insisted on, and which Phil dropped the moment that TSR stopped being his publisher. Phil does explain it in a number of places, and I've attached some files that may help you with this.

    By the by, according to both Dave and Gary, Chirine is a 'Lawful Good" character, and might even qualify as a Paladin. I laughed at that, as I pointed out that I tended to 'bend the rules' of both Tsolyani society and custom as needed to achieve my goals, and that my loyalty was to the Kolumel - the Seal Imperium. Once they'd actually played in Phil' Tekumel, they 'got it'.

>>     "Swords and Glory" was intended to be such a complicated rules set
>> that it would be impossible to 'rules-lawyer' it to death; and Phil did
>> (I have to say) succeed in this objective. He also made it effectively
>> unplayable - the combat summary is 16 pages long all by itself - and
>> it's best used as a 'parts mine' to see what Phil had in mind about his
>> world.

>Wow, that sounds like a far cry from the simplicity of EPT! I can see why
>Prof Barker would do that though from how you describe it.

    Yes, it's *** very *** complex; it's over 945 pages long in the (incomplete, it was never finished) manuscript copy that I have, of all three volumes. (Sourcebook, Players' Book, Referees' Guide) and I've never used it 'as is'. I tend to use EPT's combat system with S&G's magic system, as that seems to be the closest simulation of Phil's Tekumel that I can come up with. But I do not do the 'number-crunching' out 'in front of the curtain'; I tell the story, have players roll the dice, and I do the math in my head based on my experience. I don't like taking up my players' game time with calculations, and I prefer to keep the plot moving right along. Seems to work...

>>     When I founded the original Thursday Night Group, it was the stated
>> desire to not have this kind of thng, as what we wanted to do was
>> explore his world. Once he found he could trust us not to mess the place
>> up, we went entirely to the you roll / I roll system; I painted up the
>> miniatures, and he told the stories. Worked for us for over a decade.

>So *you* founded the Thursday night group, eh? That's really cool!

    Yep, that's me. There were about three of us who didn't like the 'power gaming' that was going on, so I suggested to Phil that those of us who wanted to explore and enjoy his world have our own game group. The original group met on Mondays and Tuesdays, and we met on Thursdays, hence the name that we got from people over the years.

>>     Phil was a huge fan of ERB; I've held in my hands the 1919 first
>> edition of "A Princess of mars" that he got from his parents when he was
>> a child, and it's a well-loved and well-read book. Phil's homage to ERB
>> and the "incomparable Dejah Thoris" is the Livayni courtesan Tsahul, and
>> the Livyani are his homage to the Red Martians. When you read his
>> description of the Livyani in the Sourcebook you'll see what I mean.
>> It's one of the reasons why I suggest that people see the recent "John
>> Carter" of Mars movie; it's so much like Phil's vision of his world, and
>> he would have loved the thing!

>I'm glad I chose "Princess of Mars" to start with then! I have to say I've
>come across some more surface similarities since then (two moons, arena
>combat), but it's good to know I'm not barking up the wrong tree! What book
>do you mean when you say 'the Sourcebook'?

    I'm sorry, I should have been more clear. The Sourcebook is the first volume of "Swords and Glory": it has no rules, but is instead a very detailed description of the world-setting.  What Phil did was put all of his notes and ideas about Tekumel into one book, and it's the fundimental volume in all the Teumel 'library'.

>>     I took it, read it, and said "Well, there you are; it you'd done
>> this two weeks ago we'd bave followed proper proceedure and been done
>> with all that." I then handed the warrant to Kathy Marshall, who played
>> Vrisa, and after she'd read it she gave me her very best come-hither
>> look while heaving her bosom (and Kathy was a dish / hot babe, trust me
>> on this) and said "Your tent or mine?" Phil was totally floored by this,
>> as Kathy was a very demure and proper lady, and he rolled to see what Si
>> N'te's (Chirine's NPC wife) reaction would be. He rolled, and literally
>> screamed "Aaaauuuggghhh!!!". He'd rolled a '00' for her reaction, and
>> the story is as you see it in the book. He was mad at me all night, and
>> we had a really great night of gaming. At the end of the game session,
>> he made everyone be quiet, then glared at me down the length of the
>> table and announced to everyone "Chirine, you've gone native." It got a
>> rousing cheer from the players, and Phil broke out in the biggest smile
>> I'd ever seen crease his face - I'd 'gotten it'.

>It's really excellent to get all this background, and to complete the
>circle with my first inquiry to you - *now* I understand about that
>document. That must have been a great feeling when Prof Barker told you
>you'd 'got' his setting.

    It was a really good night, and a really good compliment!
>>     When reading the book, keep in mind that this is in effect a replay
>> of all those old game sessions, with the boring parts of "Please pass
>> the crisps' and "Where's the root beer?" removed... :)

>I am aware of that, and it confirms a feeling I've had for a while about
>RPGs creating memorable stories, which reside in the memory very close to
>'things I've actually done'. I've finished the sample you sent me, and
>can't wait to read the finished product some day! (By the way, I noted a
>few typographical errors, including ones that a spellcheck wouldn't pick up
>as the words would be correct in other contexts. Let me know if it would be
>helpful for me to share them.)

    It would! My wonderful daughter Kerry, who lives with in Zurich, has kindly offered to be the editor and 'fixer-upper' of the book, so I will put you in touch with her.

    And I agree with you about RPGs and stories; for Phil, RPGs were both a way to tell and to create stories, and that's what I'm trying to get across to people.

    I'll keep typing away, shall I?  :)