Monday, December 17, 2012

Oh, My God! - How Can He Say These Horrible Things!?! - Or, The Tenth Part

Look at that face; the face of an apostate!!!! The Brute!!!

The e-mail reaction to the set of nine posts I recently did based on the long conversation with Jim Harland has been fascinating. I've gotten much the same reaction that His Holiness Pope Benedict XIV would expect to get if and when he announced his eldest son's Bar Mitzvah, and I thought that I should round out the series with a tenth post detailing why I hold the opinions that I do.

I think a big part of the reaction is because I've been associated with Prof. Barker and his creation since 1976, and in theory I am some sort of 'guru' of Tekumel gaming. Or some sort of 'expert', or something.

I do hate to ruin your dreams, but I don't think I'm any such thing. What I am is a guy who used to do miniatures in Phil's basement on Thursday Nights while listening to him tell stories about his creation. Mind you, I still do miniatures, but now it's in my basement and other people listen to me tell stories.

(If I may digress for a momentOccasionally, we do roll dice, but this is to give a faint gloss of truth to the fiction that what we're doing is RPG gaming and not the biweekly showcase of Chirine's latest batch of miniatures. In short, it's pretty much what we used to do on all those Thursday Nights for all those years, except the model-building and miniatures-painting was aided and abetted by that wicked co-conspirator, one Prof. M. A. R. Barker. We'd whip stuff up, have fun, and Phil would tell very tall tales about his world.)

And. please keep in mind that Phil did this in his basement from 1974-ish through 2008-ish. In addition, he dreamed about, thought about, wrote about, and did drawings about Tekumel for some sixty years. That created a lot of material, and I've been quoting the statistics as often as I can:

10,000 pages in non-digital paper;
10,000 pages of digital work;
15,000 pages of maps and other items.

"But! But! Isn't that OFFICIAL TEKUMEL???" I hear you cry...

Nope. And it ain't 'canon' Tekumel. either.

I hate the words 'canon' and 'official'. They remind me of TSR, back in the Bad Old Days, and I never did like the idea of the two being applied to the massive body of work that Phil created. Let me give you an analogy that might help covey what I'm trying to say...

Imagine a wide, flowing river. The Mississippi will do, although I prefer the Nile in deference to Phil's passion for Ancient Egypt.

Down the middle of the river is the deep-water channel, where most of the water flows. Off to either side of that channel is the navigable part of the river, on which boats can sail freely about. Further off to either side are the shallows, where boats are careful and take soundings; even further off to each side are still and eerie backwaters, where boats may enter but need to be very careful.

Still with me? Not perished of boredom yet? Onward, then...

Think of Phil's body of work for his creation as that river. Think of us as being in a boat on that river, and occasionally we dip a hand into the river and come up with some water.

Running down the center of this river, in the deep water channel, we have The One True Tekumel; the Tekumel of Phil's novels. Sorry, gamers, Phil did not create Tekumel as a setting for an RPG; he created it as a place to write stories about, the way Robert E. Howard created Hyborea. Phil's novels, all eight or nine of them (published and unpublished, finished and unfinished), were written to tell you about his world in his own voice.

Sailing along on either side of the deep-water channel we find 'game' Tekumel, first with EPT and on through T:EPT. This is the Tekumel I lived in; the world that we fooled around in for years, and where we rolled a lot of dice, drank a lot of root beer, and went through a lot of munchies. Please do keep in mind that we were not in The One True Tekumel; we'd occasionally get to see what was going on in the deep-water channel, and sometimes get to sail around a bit in the deep water, but we stayed in the navigable portion of the river and made what contributions we could to the main channel.

Puttering around in these navigable waters, we had Phil's two game groups and my two game groups, as well as others that Phil regularly brought into play; Phil was running a MMRPG / Meta Game by mail and by phone, and this was the biggest and most visible part of the river.

Off in the shallows, we would see people doing very odd (to us) things; in the backwaters, even odder things would be happening, and in general the 'marsh people' who lived in those parts of the river didn't have much to do with us. We left them along, they left us alone, and we all pretty much got along because we all wanted to stay afloat.

"So, what has this got to do with Tekumel and gaming, anyway?"

If I may quote Phil himself, in EPT, "... here's my Tekumel, now make it yours."

Folks, Phil gave all of us an unimaginable gift; he gave us a world setting, and told us to go and have fun with it. He generated all this material to create this 'thought river' and handed us the rudder of the boat. He's got his own boat, out in the deep-water channel, but YOU are the one driving your own boat  / running your own game. Phil was right up front about saying you can use as much or as little of all the verbiage about Tekumel as you want; the important thing is to get out there and play.

"But, but, what about..."

Here. let me give you examples of what I'm trying to say...

1) Phil wrote a book called "Deeds of the Ever-Glorious", all about the Legions in the Tsolyani Army. He wrote it, and it's a superb reference book to his Tekumel; it's out there in the deep-water channel along with his novels. If anything might be able to be called "official Tekumel", then this is it.

2) I, on the other hand, am in the throes of writing a book which is about gaming with Phil, and the misadventures of my player-character, Chirine ba Kal: "To Serve The Petal Throne". I'm taking my notes and my recordings of game sessions, and writing them up as a 'biography' of poor old Chirine. It's more or less an anthology of Phil's own stories, linked together with the unifying element of Chirine and his adventures. My book is not (and can never be) "official Tekumel", because it is told from my own point of view; it's a very personal memoir, based on my very personal observations, and all I'm trying to do is give the flavor and feel of what gaming with Phil was like. I would hope you'll enjoy the thing, and that it'll inspire you to join us out on the broad reaches of the river where we've all been floating around gaming and having fun.

3) Bob Alberti, on the other other hand, has written a two volume book called "Mitlanyanl". This is one hell of a good reference work about what's going on out in the deep water channel, because Bob did the research in Phil's own files. (It would have been nice if Phil had shared all of his files with Bob, but that's what second editions are for.) Bob wrote some little stories to close out each chapter in the book, and these truly give the flavor of Phil's world.

 In my own campaign, I run my games using a lot of material; most of it comes from the deep-water channel, as I like staying as close to Phil's idea as possible, but I also use other materials that help move the game along and advance the plot / story arc.

Let me hit you with this thought: "Official Tekumel" is what you use to run your Tekumel campaign with, whatever materials from Phil's vast output or our own tiny contributions you use; it's YOUR game.

Roll some dice. Phil said you could.

7 comments:

  1. An awesome -- and important -- post. Thanks!

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  2. This hits the nail on the head! It is something we all need to remember when we run or play in any setting, we are making it our version! Thanks for the reminder!

    Mark

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  3. Great post. We've all been saying these things for years. We keep saying them till we're blue in the face. And people blithely ignore us.

    I play like Jeff, trying to pull as much as possible from the deep water channel. But information isn't perfect and neither is memory, so sometimes I just make it up.

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  5. all well and good, I say. But the fact is, most people want to stay in the navigation lanes, and fear running off into the swamp. A lot could be done to mark the channel, and map the hazards. Those kinds of navigational charts would have an audience, though I am not sure if they would pay enough to justify the costs.. (which is why I advocate a crowd sourced model for getting the data together and organized..).

    I haven't caught up on the flurry of post that have appeared here of late, hope to soon. I understand that I will never get to sail the river with the Professor. But I don't want to one day discover I beached my craft on high ground in a festering swamp. So, figuring out as much about the river as possible, before the channel inevitably erodes, and changes, is still important to me..

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    1. Wonderful comment!!! If I may, here a short reply...

      Thank you for your really superb comment!!! You have said in much better words what I've been trying to say.

      >kokigami has left a new comment on your post "Oh, My God! - How Can He Say
      >These Horrible Things...":
      >
      >all well and good, I say. But the fact is, most people want to stay in the
      >navigation lanes, and fear running off into the swamp. A lot could be done
      >to mark the channel, and map the hazards. Those kinds of navigational
      >charts would have an audience, though I am not sure if they would pay
      >enough to justify the costs.. (which is why I advocate a crowd sourced
      >model for getting the data together and organized..).

      I could not agree more. I'm going to be working on a series of posts here that do just what you are asking for, and if you wanted to grab them and post them elsewhere you'd be welcome to. I'm going to work my way down the publications list that Brett Slocum's compliled, with a Guide To Everything.

      >I haven't caught up on the flurry of post that have appeared here of late,
      >hope to soon. I understand that I will never get to sail the river with the
      >Professor. But I don't want to one day discover I beached my craft on high
      >ground in a festering swamp. So, figuring out as much about the river as
      >possible, before the channel inevitably erodes, and changes, is still
      >important to me..

      And that, if you want my opinion, sums up the Way Ahead. I think you 'get it'; learn as much as you can, then go ahead and run something. Your game reports have been right in the same sprit as Phil's games were; I think he'd be very proud of you and your players, and say that "you get it".

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    2. Honestly, I doctor them a bit. My largest weakness when running is my generally egalitarian mindset. I have a very hard time keeping the structured hierarchy of class and clan in the day to day role play. I expected this, which is why I set my characters in the middle clans. There are things I "know" but things I haven't yet absorbed.

      This is, I think, the crux of the demand for more "Canon" material. It helps to internalize the culture, so as to slow the erosion that comes from all those little "errors".. Can my Tekumel have pigs? Yes, perhaps, it is mine, but at what point does it cease to be Tekumel? Where does the river become the swamp? And, without "Canon", how do we know? Sure, a little brakish swamp water won't foul the channel, but the accumulation eventually will. Tables and rules can substitute for understanding, at some level. The professor knew who was on the Sakbe roads and why, but I, if I want to stay close to the channel, need a chart that tells me who is likely to be there, on any given sarunra.

      But, swamp sludge can be fun too.. I don't want to make the impression that I am more interested in purity than fun. (Even if I am... damnit). I mean, I would love to play a bit of the Humanspace Empires, but I don't need yet another distraction. May fit it into my campaign, if we can ever coordinate a schedule for gaming..

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