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.