Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year in Review - Year-end Round-up

Caroline Munro, from the 1974 film "The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad";
Tom Baker of "Dr. Who" fame appears as the Wizard Nyelmu.

(Yes, Phil did suggest this movie as a fun romp;
we later faced the enchanted statue of the Goddess Kali in the Jakalla Underworld,
no thanks to Ray Harryhousen's work in this film. It was bad; six attacks per round!
)
Here we are at the bitter end of 2012,  at the change of the new year and of the Mayan Long Count. I thought that it might be useful to have a look at we've been and where I hope to go in the coming year, assuming my health holds up.

The year began very, very badly. My little family and I were very involved with Phil's health care during his past illness, and we were not helped at all by some folks that thought that they were smarter then us, better then us, and thought that they could do whatever they damn well wanted because they just wanted to. Regrettably, I wasted a lot of 2012 on them, and they are now the reason why I now run a full criminal background check on anyone who says they're a "real Tekumel fan" and want to visit me. Sadly, two of my oldest friends turned out to be two of my greediest ex-friends, and it cost me a pile of money in legal fees to get clear of all of them. I've been asked to 'name and shame' the culprits, but I won't; when somebody really screwed up in the good old days in Ancient Egypt, the stonemasons took chisels to the inscriptions and carved out the names of the guilty. (Presumably, the crocodiles also had a nice lunch. One hopes so, anyway.) I'm of the same mind; too bad, but the jackhammers already came out on the obelisks. ( I think I hear the crocodiles burping, too.)

Good things did happen; Phil and I had a chance to reconnect, and settled some very old and very bitter disputes. I am back to doing what I had wanted to do for him, back in the day, and he was happy with that. I am archiving everything I can about Tekumel, preserving everything that I learned from him as well as many of the things we did for him like the various costumes we made. It's a long process, as I have limited energy these days, but it's something I enjoy doing. In the coming year, I'll be doing a long series of posts telling you about Phil's Tekumel, and what he wrote about it.

One of the things I should point out is that despite being Phil's archivist and publisher for many years, I and most of the people in our original Thursday Group out at Phil's were never 'real gamers'. We were, in effect, Phil's 'sounding board' for things, and occasionally we rolled dice so we could pretend we were doing some 'gaming'. What we were doing was more or less participatory theater, and I made the props and scenery to back up Phil's stories. So, fair warning: If you are expecting a 'gaming blog' when you visit here, you may be very disappointed; all I'm doing is telling Phil's stories, and giving you a synopsis of the play. Yes, I do run game sessions, and yes, we do use various rules sets. However, like Phil, I don't let the number-crunching get in the way of the plot.

As the year went on, I fulfilled one of my long-term objectives. I finally had access to all of Phil's files relating to Tekumel, and as I read 2,000 words a minute with a measured 95% comprehension and retention (I have what's referred to as an eidetic memory, whatever that might be) I now have a huge store of trivia to baffle players with. The most important thing was that I got to see the whole enchilada at once, and was able to see the full sweep of what Phil had in mind over the sixty years he thought about his creation.

Another point that I think I need to make is that I work to a very different time scale and for very different goals then most people. It's a very common assumption that I am a 'gamer', and I think in terms of 'gamer' goals and objectives; it's a mistaken one, and one which people have been making about me for over thirty years. I've been on the edges of F / SF fandom and 'mainstream gaming' for most of that time, but not really part of it; gamers and fans tend to work for immediate goals, and for personal politics. I don't have a problem with that, but it's not the arena where I choose to compete. Our original Thursday Night Group was never in the 'mainstream' of Tekumel fandom or gaming, back in the day, even though we were the people who did most of the 'grunt work' in publishing Phil's vision. We thought that doing costumes, for example, was a really fun thing to do; nobody in 'real' Tekumel fandom thought so, and so we were thought of as being 'too far out there'.

(Well, we had fun, and from the photos of Phil taken at the time, he seemed to be amused. Can't ask for more then that.)

By the end of this past year, I had been forced into being the business manager, chief cook and bottle washer, and general factotum for Tekumel yet again. I had warned folks that I wasn't interested in doing this all over again, but I got blown off. "Mission creep", or "Jeff will do it!" became the norm, and I wound up being extremely unhappy and finally in the hospital. I have a very long memory, and the people pushing me to fix their problems for them seemed to forget that they were the ones who had made a large part of my time as Phil's publisher utterly miserable. Ya know, now that they are in the hot seat, I'm not going to return the favor; I have better things to do with my time and energy, and I am just not interested in the publishing and business side of the thing. Been there, done that. All these folks wanted the job, so I think they can have it. "Good luck with that," as one of them once said to me, and I do wish them all the good luck in the world.

So, where are we, going forward into this year?

First, I am not beholden to anyone anymore; I have no connections to the 'business' side of the house, and I dare say I have no real connections to 'mainstream' Tekumel fandom - whatever that may or may not be. I am where I was some thirty years ago, in my own little pocket dimension, doing my thing, and vistors are always welcome. What you take away from here is your own; I can advise and suggest, but I do not command.

Second, this will be a 'build year'. I have some projects that got side-tracked in this past year by other peoples' problems, and I'll be working on things like "To Serve The Petal Throne" and "Qadardalikoi: Advance Standards". I also have several scenery projects, like the 'big' Sakbe road model, to finish; I also have all of the wonderful new miniatures that Howard Fielding and The Tekumel Project are doing to pain as they arrive.

Third, I will be supporting people like John Till and Brett Slocum as they run games this year; more news on this as I get it, and I'm looking forward to it.

Fourth, I will be doing a long series of posts about Phil's work for his creation, and how you might be able to use it in your games. It's what we all did around the table on those Thursday Nights back in the late 1970s and in the 1980s, and I'm inviting you to take a trip back there with me. Along the way, I hope to have some fun, and we'll be glad for your company.

Welcome aboard; fasten your seat belts, as it's going to be a wild ride...

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Sunday Update - December 30th, 2012

The wonderful card from Howard Fielding of The Tekumel Project;
the photo I'll use to warn you that another boring update on my condition follows...

It's been, and still is, a great holiday weekend. I've had a good medical visit Friday, where I was told that aside from the high blood pressure I am basically healthy as the proverbial horse. We're working on getting my blood pressure number into the range that normal people have, which will be actually lower then my normal set of higher-pressure readings. (Yes, I'm a freak. I simply live faster and harder then most people, which is why I get things done faster. I'm also both dyslexic and ambidextrous, and I have ten identical fingerprints according to the government.) I can't have anything salty to eat, limited caffeine, or anything else that might get my blood pressure up; annoying, but there we are.

**********

I have been cleaning up and rebuilding the game room, in preparation for this year's season of gaming, and I've been enjoying myself immensely. I have been weeding out all of the figures I've stocked up over the past decade and never used, or even painted. There's going to be over a decade of old reaper figures appearing in the Scrapyard, as well as assorted items that just never took fire with anyone. I'll post announcements as I can.

**********

I will most likely not be on-line during my work week of Sunday night thru Friday morning, due to my work schedule and sleep / wake cycle. I will try to process e-mails as soon as I can, but please don't be alarmed or annoyed if I don't reply to you right away. I am finding that I'm simply too tired to type after I get home in the morning, and there just isn't the time during the launch cycle in the evenings when I get up for my over-night shift. My medical appointments are normally on Friday afternoons, and my Satuday afternoons and evenings devoted to the game group, so I'll be doing posts and e-mails on those two days as I can. I do have tomorrow off as a holiday, so I'll have more posts and e-mails done then.

**********

"To Serve The Petal Throne" is now up to roughly 56,000 words in the raw manuscript. If you'd like to look at a copy, let me know.

**********

I am restarting work on "Qadardalikoi: Advance Standards!", and I'll have more on this as well.

**********

I hope, health permitting, to get back to work on a lot of projects that stalled out / got sidetracked over the past year:

The 'good' Sakbe road sections: six road sections, one large tower section, and two smaller towers;

The collection of buildings as well as new ones showing how Ken Fletcher used to make them;

Sorting and organizing the miniatures collection;

Prepping and organizing the 'show support' collection of pre-built game tables, including cutting doen the old large scenery 'tiles' into much more useful 'universal' modular tiles.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Charting The River Of Time, or, More Heresies from the Ancient Apostate!!!

This is the photo that I will be using to warn you that I am about to indulge in more pontification,
and can probably be ignored.

(Pictures of hot elf chicks will resume as soon as possible,
and ladies, please do feel free to suggest photos of hot studs that I can post for you;
I am an equal-opportunity purveyor of eye candy, and I am also interested in hearing about what the GLBT community would like to see; we aim to please, after all.)


This post is a reprise of the dialog I have been having with regular reader and friend Kokigami; I think what he's been saying is important and needs to be both reposted and answered:


>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".


>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.

I think you have it, here; I play it much as you do, with the possible caveat that I over do the connections to clan and temple as a way of making my games 'different' from the 'usual D & D' games. And I agree about knowing more then I've absorbed; I am still learning about Phil's Tekumel from learning from other people, and I think it's an ongoing process.

And in the end, you have to graduate the campaign setting to what your players are willing to play. I include as mich worls-setting detail as I can, but some things I put on the shelf as not being currently relevant to what the players are doing. I run my games as basically a geographically-based campaign; if the players aren't in the area, it's irrelevant, unless they hear about something as a rumor being mentioned in passing by the NPCs. I am following the timeline I've come up with for Phil's games, and reestablishing the meta-game that he was running with his NPCs, but it's background detail; the players don't have to interact with it unless they really need to.

>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.

 I agree with this completely, which is why I started this blog in the first place, and why I am so glad you are asking these questions. I want to be in the role of the old pilot who knows the river and can tell you where the shoals and snags are, and not the managing director of the shipping line (the role I was being forced into for the past year.) The former is something I do very well, and the latter is something I simply hate being and don't want to be doing. (After all, I did do the same job for Phil between 1978 and 1988, and I never ever want to have to do it again.) It's a job, and a responsibility, that rightfully belongs to other people and I'm more then delighted to let them have the opportunity to do their jobs.

What I can do, and am planning on doing so this coming year, is doing my best to chart the river for you; I can tell you what I know about all the various publications that have come out over the years and how they are practically useful in a game setting, I can tell you about all the lovely miniatures and other items that have come out, and I can tell you about things we did to have fun with Phil's world setting. I can also tell you about what items didn't really work, and in some cases why, and help you choose what you want to use in your games.

 It's what I'm here for, and what I love doing.

>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..

I don't think you're favoring one over the other; I've seen your games, and I know better. What you're doing is making the decisions that we did all those years ago about how we wanted to balance 'purity' over 'fun' in the game sessions. As an example, Phil would have loved to have all of us become fluent in Tsolyani; it would have been really pure Tekumel, but really crummy game sessions. So, we struck a balance; I had, in Phil's wonderful phrase, "a fine scribal hand", and Phil got on with the adventure.

I love Humanspace Empires, too. I'm working on Ahoggya spacesuits, in odd moments...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Update - The Christmas Holiday

Origins, in Dallas, early 1980s;
photo by Dave Arneson, in my collection.
(The convention where I traded Dave for these three dancing girls.)

Time for the Sunday Update!

First off, a very Happy Holiday to everyone!!!


**********

Health news: I am now way down from the blood pressure I had in the middle of the week, 193 over 111, and which landed me in the hospital for the night. CT scan was clear, blood tests were good, and I now have lots of new medications to remember to take. I generally feel a lot better after a forced week of rest, and a wonderful day yesterday. No salty food anymore, limited caffeine from now on, and lots of 'down time'. Which means I get to paint miniatures per the doctors' orders! The new regime has stabilized me at 160 over 100, and we'll keep dropping the pressure from there.

I have the next two nights off work for the holiday, three nights on, and then another four nights off for the next holiday; I am planning on painting and resting as much as I can, but I can be reached by e-mail as always...

**********

Hot news from Howard Fielding of The Tekumel Project:

http://www.indiegogo.com/egyptianharem?c=home

Howard has told us about what looks like a very interesting fundraiser, which can be found at this link:


The idea is to produce a line of Ancient Egyptian 'Court' miniatures, and these three ladies are the beginning of the line. I will be getting in on this, as I think, along with Howard, that these ladies are perfect for Tekumel miniatures gaming - especially for our style of gaming here at the Workbench, where we tend to game out things like parties and days out at the arena in miniature.

I do like the greens; the sculpting may not be 'perfect', but the figures have what for me is an even more important attribute: charm. The girls have an attitude, and I like them a lot. And yes, I will paint them to match the girls from the 1980s, too.

**********

Because I have the extra days here over the holiday, I will be doing a batch of posts tomorrow that might be of interest to folks I will try to 'color code' the posts with photos to give an idea of what they're about.

**********

Jim Harland has done a very interesting post on his blog that folks might find interesting, too.

**********

Off for now; more later, as I get caught up on e-mails! Happy Holidays!!!


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Happy B'ak'tun Day! It's the 14th!

The 'get-well' card I got from Howard Fielding of
The Tekumel Project after my brain surgery;
he commissioned the artwork specially for this card,
and this is print number one of a limited edition of one. (!!!)
Did I mention that Howard is a very classy guy?

(And the artist even got my nose right!)
If I may be permitted a personal observation in these pages, I'd like to say that today's little soiree went very well, and I've had one of the very best days I've ever had in my long, lively, and misspent life. A bunch of the folks from the game group came over, The Missus cooked a Kaika, and a wonderful time was had by all. Not a lot of gaming got done, but great conversations and lots of laughter. And that, I think, is what the holidays are all about...

Happy Holidays, everyone, and thank you for reading my little blog!

yours, Chirine ba Kal

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.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Sunday Morning Report

Works in progress; Prince Eselne hi Tlakotani and the puppetmaster set,
all from The Tekumel Project

Works in progress; Sea Priest of Dagon, Maraid,
all from Reaper Miniatures
It's been a great weekend here on the Workbench, with a lot of entertainment and just plain fun. I managed to get the set of posts from the e-mails back and forth with Jim Harland up, and managed to get a few figures photographed. (See above, please.) This week's goal is to clear the game room for Saturday, and I'll keep you all posted...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Intereview with Jim Harland - Part Nine of Nine

The game lounge, during the Tsolyani New Year's party.
Note the tasteful flaming skull; nothing but the best, around here.


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.


>It's hard for me to imagine the taboo nature of fantasy literature as you
>describe it, though it is also something I've picked up from Peterson, from
>Burroughs calling himself "Normal Bean" through to half-apologetic adverts
>for Chainmail's fantasy supplements. I suppose Tolkien did a lot to make
>fantasy literature more respectable, as you suggest.

    Yes, he did, and both "Star Wars" and "Star Trek The Motion Picture" did a lot to 'mainstream' the genre. You just didn't mention reading F/SF, as it was really and truly considered 'that weird stuff' and very socially unacceptable. The so-called 'men's adventure magazines', those cheap pulps with scantily-clad ladies being menaced by various Evil Villians on the lurid covers, were much more respectable because reading them indicated to on-lookers that one was at least 'normal'. 'Naughty', maybe, but 'normal'.

    Have a look at the furor over the 'peplum' genre of sword and sandal movies, and you can get an idea of what those times were like.

>What you say about Barker, Arneson and Gygax "making things up" also makes
>a lot of sense. After all, fantasy is about imagination, and as I
>understand it what was revolutionary about OD&D and EPT was the possibility
>of exploring worlds of the imagination in a new way. I am also interested
>in the clamour you get from fans who want to know the "canonical" Tekumel
>universe according to its Creator, and their discomfiture when they
>discover that at least in part things were made up as you went along. I
>suppose this is a universal human flaw, to search for certainties amidst
>complex processes. I am glad that you are able to provide a richer picture
>of how things worked!

    I don't know if it's a human flaw, as you say; I think it has a lot more to do with the 'vertical integration' of the game industry. The model that TSR, Games Workshop, and a number of other companies adopted was that the gamer had to buy only the 'official' material from the 'official' outlets in order to be an 'official' player of the 'official' game and win the Big Prizes at the 'official' tournaments. TSR's Role-Playing Game Association led the way on this, and I think it got worse as the game hobby got more and more fragmented.

    The 'canonistas' frankly drive me crazy. I've had people tell me that something that Prof. Barker did in the 1970s 'isn't canon' because he wrote something in 1982 that doesn't match the 1974 object. I keep repeating over and over again that Phil wrote source materials as he needed them, and like any author who worked for over sixty years one has to 'average' the published materials and use what works in one's own games with one's own game group. I do it all the time, and I haven't had any problems over the past decade in my game group because I do a reasonably good job of presenting Phil's world as Phil saw it.

    And what really drives me nuts is that these people need to have to have An Expert tell them what to think or do, or otherwise they'll get it wrong. I've had running fights with a lot of these people for years, and with a lot of the OSR folks over how Gary and Dave ran their games; it amazes me to get the constant reaction of "What! They made it up?!? NOOOOO!!! Tell me that's not true!!!" from people who have come into RPG gaming since the 1990s and totally flip out when they find out about the very free-form and open-architecture natuere of gaming in the RPG and 'skirmish' genres in the middle-to-late 1970s and early 1980s. It reminds me of the way the 'grognard' miniatures gamers had to exactly replicate the actual historical conditions for a particular battle, and then play it out on the table exactly how the actual battle went.

    'Skirmish' miniatures games, which is where a lot of the RPG people came from in the early days (see the Braunsteins that Dave Wesley ran, for example) encouraged thinking and imagination, as well as creativity. That seems to have gotten lost, as most gamers these days rely on the manufacturers' 'fluff' to tell them what to do. It's amazing; I once saw one of the local gamers accused of cheating in a miniatures game because he refused a flank (later called locally The Tactic) and won the game. I keep hammering away on the notion that one can use their imagination, and 'make it up'.

    Heck, I 'fake it' all the time, and I can do it because I'm literate and know the material. I do all the number crunching for the rules in my head, and I don't take up table time with it and bore my players. They seem to like it, and enjoy the games. There may be hope yet...

>I've just started the last chapter of Playing at the World, and am enjoying
>every section and every footnote - thanks again for the recommendation (via
>your blog), it is *just* the book I was looking for!

    It *is* fun, isn't it? As I said on my blog, he's got it exactly, and there's something in the book to offend everyone! :)

>I'm also hoping to blog about my recent 'sources of D&D / Tekumel' reading
>today.

    Cool! I'll look forward to that!

[And I should note that Jim has this up on his blog; link to there over in the left-hand column, under 'harlandski'.]

Interview with Jim Harland - Part Eight of Nine

Yes, it's 'pulp; and it's 'sword and planet', too.


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.


>Thank you for drawing my attention to Gygax's Barsoom game. I was surprised
>to discover from Peterson that OD&D had a terrain type Desert (Mars) with
>Burrough's creatures to encounter - clearly Gygax couldn't quite let it
>drop!

    Nobody can; it's just too good for games. There are several companies that make not-Barsoom figures, and I regularly run 'pulp' scenarios with them.

>That makes sense. So would you say that OD&D was *really* influenced by
>Tolkien, but then Gygax brought in Conan and so on more or less for
>marketing purposes? Or do you think that the influence of pulp fantasy was
>real?

    Back in the day, there wasn't much of a distinction between 'serious' fantasy / science fiction and 'pulp'. It was all one big lump of stuff that you got in the main in plain brown paper wrappers and didn't tell anyone about. 'Naughty' magazines with grainy pictures of half-clad women were *** much *** more *** respectable then things like "Amazing" and "Thrilling Wonder Stories".

    Everybody started out with Tolkein; it went mass media in the US while I was in high school, and became respectable because it was a) British and b) written by a real Professor of English Literature. Everyything else was a 'niche' work, and so far under the radar as to be invisible. Middle-earth kicked open the door, and Conan and Cthullu soon followed - they have also now become a mass market genre and 'socially acceptable'.

    I do think the 'pulp' media was a real influence on RPGs as well as miniatures; heck, some guy named George told me back in 1976 that his movie was based entirely on the pulps, and it seemed to do quite well when it came out in 1977. Some space opera thing, as I recall, that looked like Kurusawa's "Hidden Fortress" with rayguns instead of katanas. Alec Guiness as Toshiro Mufune, too, which was nice... :) :) :)

> I've been enjoying educating myself over the past few weeks in some of the
>literature which may have influenced Gygax and Arneson, and have enjoyed
>reading Peterson's analysis of this. I'd be really interested to hear your
>opinion on the matter. One particular question I have is about whether
>Gygax and Arneson intended the information in the OD&D books to be used
>selectively (in the same way that the historical part of Chainmail must
>have been intended - you wouldn't field all the different historical types
>in one battle), or if they had some idea of creating a separate D&D
>'world'. It seems to me that over time D&D has developed its own world,
>being an amalgam of what has gone before, and frankly making little sense
>'as is'. I wonder if Gygax and Arneson instead intended people to use their
>books to create their own more logically consistent fantasy worlds, only
>taking what they needed to do that? Or am I over analysing? Having read
>something about the original Blackmoor campaign it seems to me that it was
>pretty light-hearted and people didn't worry too much about plausibility.

    Yes, they intended GMs to use the material as needed, and no, there was not any real intention of doing a 'D & D world'. The concept did exist until after the first few Gen Cons, when Gary and the TSR staff got hit with complaints about 'lack of consistency' in the various GM's worlds.

    Dave's Blackmoor canmpaign was indeed very light-hearted, and not at all serious. Gary's Greyhawk was more serious, as befitted somebody who took history seriously, and then of course you have Phil's Tekumel. The idea was that people were getting together, having fun, and socializing over the game table. One was, it was assumed, going to make up their own world or adapt something from the literature.

    The fundimetal assumption behind OD&D was that the GM was *literate*, was familiar with the fantsay genres of sword-and-planet, sword-and-sorcery, and 'pulp' adventures, and had an imagination. Sadly, TSR, as well as all of us individual GMs from that time and place, found out that none of the above was true in the gaming population (with exeptions, of course.) and to a great extent is still true. I've had a huge problem with gamers on my blog who don't understand that Gary, Dave, and Phil all 'made stuff up' as they went; gamers seem to think that all Great Game Authors arrived on the scene with everything thought out and pre-planned, and that all they have to do is get a copy of the One True Rules to be able to be the same as Gary or Dave.

    No. One has to do what you are doing, read the 'source material' like you are doing, and have fun. Phil originally intended to use 'real' Tekumel as a backdrop for telling stories about his world ala Robert E. Howard, and for him 'game' Tekumel was something he did on 'poker night with the boys' in his basement. Later Tekumel gamers have really freaked out over this, and I keep getting bombarded with questions about 'official Tekumel'. There is no such thing; there's Phil's novels, and his publications, all of which have a lot of input from his gamers, and that was *** Phil's Tekumel ***. (He encourgaed people to create their oen Tekumels, and a lot of gamers these days seem to have an issue with that.) What we had was a 'shared world' concept, where everyone in his basement contributed to the published product. The D&D world-settings evolved the same way, but give the larger number of people who were writing, you get something like five world settings in AD&D and the later editions.

    The original idea was to "make something up and have fun."

Interview with Jim Harland - Part Seven of Nine

Who are all these wackos, anyway?
From 1987


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.


>What you say about Gygax's low view of his consumers' intellectual capacity
>is also interesting in terms of another thing I've come to through
>Peterson's book, that is the link Gygax makes between 'pulp' fantasy
>fiction and D&D, leaving out explicit mention of Tolkien in his preface to
>OD&D (though Tolkien's characters were still very much in evidence in the
>text itself). I wonder if this slight shift was motivated in part by an
>attempt to avoid 'highbrow' (and in this I would included Tolkien)
>connotations of the game, preferring to root it in 'lowbrow' pulp fiction?
>This would seem to go against the earlier statements of Gygax (in Chainmail
>but also in the fanzines quoted by Peterson) that what he was interested in
>was producing Tolkien gaming.

    Gary's big problem was being sued by Prof. Tolkein. Back in those days, copyright and IP issues were generally ignored in favor of making a quick buck. Gary ran afoul ot the Burroughs Estate (ERB. Inc.) for coming out with a Barsoom-based game, as did Heritage Miniatures for making the miniatures. Gary had used a lot of Tolkein stuff in "Chainmail" for the 'fantasy flavor', and was really annoyed when most gamers hadn't even heard of Tolkein and then the Professor's lawyers got their grips on him. At that time, American publishers tried to exploit a supposed loophole in US copyright law that they said allowed them to publish books from the UK without bothering to get the author's permission (see also Don Wohlheim and Ace Publishing doing the first 'bootleg' copies of "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings", and then getting their tails sued off); SPI, for example, produced a massive board game based in Middle-earth and simulating the Battle of the Five Armies, but they also got caught and had to release the thing as the PRESTAGS series of board games.

    *** ALL *** so-called 'fantasy gaming' (really historical miniatures with 'funny hats on') back in those piratical times was based either in Middle-earth or Hyborea, and both miniatures companies and rules-writers worked very hard to cash in on the fantasy craze before the bubble burst. It did, and very quickly, as everybody in the industry found that they had really over-estimated the consumers, and really under-estimated the lawyers. Hence the shift in Gary's position over time; he wasn't stupid, and he found out the hard way that dumbing down the product sold more copies. And with him having four kids to feed, I don't blame him; he was really, really poor.

    OD&D works really well if one is as well-read and imaginative as Dave and Gary were. If one isn't, it's a hopeless mess. I still run into this, even today; I make a very strong effort to educate my players (and others) about the F/SF fiction that Phil read and enjoyed, and which inspired him to write his own fiction and create the game aspects of the world. I used to watch both Dave and Gary get very fustrated at the lack on literacy in the people that they ran games for at conventions, and both Phil and I ran into the very same problem in our games. I think everyone in the business would agree, in private of course, that nobody ever made any money in the game industry trying to sell 'highbrow' materials to people. "Lowbrow", on the other hand, sold like the proverbial hotcakes and this is still true today.

>I sincerely hope you do continue to write "To Serve the Petal Throne" -
>great stuff! Please find attached the typos I found, together with some
>places where I found repetitions of words distracting, and you might want
>to consider using synonyms or paraphrase. Please could you send this on to
>your daughter and/or put us in touch as you see fit.

    I am planning on continuing the project. And your comments and corections are very welcome, too, as what you are seeing is the absolute raw text as it comes off my fingers at the computer. I don't even pretend to be a very good typist, what with being both dyslexic and ambidexterous, so any help is welcome! I'll pass this along to Kerry, of course.

    Thanks!!!

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?  :)

Interview with Jim Harland - Part Five of Nine

The game lounge, attached to the game room.


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.


>Thank you for your detailed response - as ever lots of clear and useful
>information.

    You are very welcome; it's what I'm here for.

>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.

    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.

    Can I suggest a really excellent resource for the Chakas? Kim Kuroda, a linguist and long-time Tekumel fan, created this:


[which redirects to:]


It's a great resource, and I use it all the time in my games!

>I'm interested to hear about Prof. Barker's aversion even to his own rules
>and preference for storytelling. I have to say that this is my general
>approach to roleplaying, ie roleplaying rather than ruleplaying.

    Phil just hated rules in general, as he felt that gamers more expert then himself were always 'swotting up' on the rules and exploiting them to get the better of him. He hated 'rules-lawyers', which we certainly had a surplus of back in those days in the miniatures games we played the local shop [The Little Tin Soldier Shoppe] and he had an entire group of people who came from this 'tradition' who did this kind of thing to him in his original games. They were real 'power gamers' who worked very hard to wreck the rules by exploiting any ambiguities, and didn't care much for the detailed world-setting Phil was trying to present to them. A classic case of this was Tim Cox [one of the original players] zapping Princess Ma'in hi Tlakotani with an 'Eye" that changed her alignment from 'good/stability' (she was originally a fanatic devotee of Avanthe) to 'evil/change' (an equally fanatic devotee of Dlamelish), which not only flew in the face of custom and tradtion but also really messed with Phil's story arcs and plotlines that he had wanted to develop.

    "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.

    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.

>Very interested to hear about Prof. Barker's contact with Vance. Do you
>know if anyone has attempted to write about Prof. Barker's influences? I am
>enjoying chapter two of "Playing at the World" (again, thanks for that
>recommendation on your blog), and am happily exploring the pulp literature
>which may have influenced D&D in addition to Tolkien. I've just started
>listening to a recording of Burroughs' "Princess of Mars" and see at least
>some passing similarity to Tekumel (absence of hoofed beings, many beings
>having more than 4 limbs), so wonder if there might be any connection there.

    Nothing yet; Phil was always very private, and what's now known is what I've read in his letters and in various 1950s fanzines.

    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 also continuing to enjoy 'To Serve the Petal Throne'. I have just got
>to the bit where Vrisa's "guards" check her "manacles" and fill in the
>pointless bureaucratic form. Again it reminds me of Soviet approaches to
>things, where during the five year plans everything was OK on paper, but in
>reality...

    Ha! Glad you like it! The scene where Vrisa gets 'arrested' is actualy told almost verbatim from the game sessions. Some Vriddi git showed up on the doorstep and told me to clap Vrisa in irons (she was acting on behalf of Prince Mridobu hi Tlakotani, in an attempt to end the invasion of her homeland of Saa Alliqi) as the other group thought that it would stop the peace mission. I sneered at the young lordling, and told him to come back with written orders or get stuffed. (Politely, but to get stuffed anyway.) Phil went right through the roof of the game room, and got very angry. I held my ground, and cited Imperial Precedent from a very similar incident he wrote about in "Deeds of the Ever-Glorious". He was forced to admit that I had made my case, and went off and pouted and sulked for two full weeks. At the next game session, three weeks later, he thrust a rolled-up parchement at me; that was the very image that you had asked about; that's the actual arrest warrant, and he'd spent two weeks doing it up just for the next game session.

    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'.

    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... :)

Interview with Jim Harland - Part Four of Nine

My game room. Cosy, ain't it?



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.


>I've now surfaced after my D&D game at the weekend (I try to give the
>players genuine options, which means we end up playing about 30% of what I
>prepare, but I enjoy the prep as much as the playing so that's OK). Thank
>you once again for your detailed answers! I had to laugh at the idea of
>people taking such an interest in the type of dice Arneson used!

    Yes, that's one of the most-asked questions, along wiht what 'brand' of dice he and Gary used, like it makes any difference. It was, in those far-off days, all about something called 'imagination'; that seems to have gotten lost, somehow.

    Agreed about only about 30% of the material getting used, too. Save the rest; it'll be useful later! :)

>Also good to see that you're blogging and setting some targets post
>'dying'. I'm impressed by your tenacity - it seems that will and ability to
>survive is something that you and Chirine ba Kal share!

    I'll be like that until they carry me away, I think; my dad was the same, and he survived the best that the Imperial Japanese Army could throw at him.

>What you say about magic makes a lot of sense, and is helpful in connecting
>the functioning of spells and 'eyes' with one underlying logic. Do you know
>what (if any) literature might have influenced Barker in this understanding
>of magic? (In the way that Jack Vance's Dying Earth series is said to have
>influenced Gygax). Or was it more or less his own creation?

    Phil was involved in SF fandom in the 1950s, and knew Jack Vance quite well. He drew a map of the Dying Earth for Jack in 1952 or so, and they wrote back and forth to each other quite a lot. I'd guess that Vance influenced Barker, and Barker influenced Gygax, if the letters I've seen are any indication.

    With Phil's 'technic' magic, as long as one can keep the spell 'circuits' juggled in one's head, (based on INT, DEX, and STA stats) then one can have as many spells ready as possible. Of course, the chance of 'dropping the ball' with Very Bad Results increases... :)

>Also useful to have the explanation about Chirine ba Kal's particular
>magic. I had got the impression from To Serve the Petal Throne that there
>was something unique going on, beyond his specially adjusted armour.

    Yep. I'm unique. I can do a very few things that normal magic users do, but then there's things like The Lens Of Power which is very rare. The armor is a tool for focusing the energies, and acts like a wearable printed circuit board to help get things focused and running.

>Thanks also for the linguistic information about Chirine ba Kal's name. I
>just bought 'The Tsolyani Language' from DriveThruRPG, and look forward to
>getting deeper into the linguistics! I also need to work out where "Chakan"
>fits into it, but I can probably do that myself with reference to EPT or
>Professor Google.

    Ah! The 'Chakas' are the two forested frontier provences / protectorates that lie between Tsolyanu and Mu'ugalvya. They get fought over all the time, and also act as major barriors to any sort of large-scale invasion in either direction. Accroding to Phil, I spoke Tsolyani with a Chakan accent. he's flip back and forth between a Jakallan and a Bey Su / Bey Sy accent, and I should see about sending you a copy of the Tsolyani language pronunciation tape he made for me back about 1982. I have it as a .wmv file, I think. Chirine is a native of the Chakas, and was educated at the First Temple of Vimuhla in the southern portion of the area.

>I'm interested in the switch you made from EPT to 'Swords and Glory'. How
>was that? I see that 'Swords and Glory' is available in print from Tita's
>House of Games, but it seems that there is no electronic version on sale,
>which is a shame for me as I am pretty much dependent on electronic
>versions of English-language books out here in Kazakhstan. What Tekumel
>game(s) do you still play today? From your miniatures I see you play
>Qadardalikoi (which you co-designed, right?), but what for roleplaying?

    The switch was actually pretty easy. Phil never really liked any of the rules, even the ones he'd written, as he felt that they cramped his story-telling style. W always used the EPT stats and combat system, with the much nicer S&G spell system grafted on. It worked just fine. These days, I have PCs rolled up in all three games (EPT, S&G / Gardasiyal, and T:EPT) and I just do the conversions in my head because I know how *relatively* powerful each of the PCs is in each system.

    So, the answer is that I use Phil's house rules (we both roll dice, and the high roller's view of reality prevails), modifed as needed by all three published rules sets.

    We also use this for small-scale miniatures combats as part of the RPG sessions, and my rules get used for The Big Battles, which is what they were written for. I designed "Qadardalikoi", with lots of input from Phil to make sure that the rules reflected the way he wanted battles to play on in his world. Dyed-in-the-woad 'Ancients' Players *** hate *** the rules, as they want a Terran 'Ancients' rules set 'with funny hats on' for Tekumel.

Interview with Jim Harland - Part Three of Nine

Me, too, back in the day and on the table, with the deck chair
I used on all the voyages with Dave / Harchar.



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.


>Thank you for taking the time to describe things in such detail! The videos
>(apart from their intrinsic humour and/or excitement) are useful 'pegs' to
>hang the different styles you describe. So I take it you took part in games
>refereed by Gygax and Arneson as well as by Barker? I think I now
>understand much better about the caller as well, and am tempted to suggest
>we introduce something like it in the two D&D games I'm involved in at the
>moment, at least as an option in certain situations. I can really see the
>benefit for a team acting cohesively and effectively in an emergency
>situation, and also in terms of moving the action on without getting bogged
>down in each player's own cogitations.

    Yes, I had the chance to play in games with all three. I spent just about all of my time in Phil's games, with only occasional sessions with Dave and sessions with Gary on visits to Lake Geneva.

    Yes, our game group played very cooperatively, and it was much easier for the group to have one voice in a crisis situation. People lived longer that way! And yes, it also moved play along quite smartly; people could cogitate all they wanted, but they weren't 'on-line' while they did it.

>You asked if I had any more questions :-) I have a few concerning things in
>'To Serve the Petal Throne.' (By the way I am really enjoying it, the
>different aspects of the world you bring out, including the politics and
>bribery - reminds me of a certain country I've become familiar with in
>recent years! I look forward to the chance to read the whole thing one day
>- I find the gaps between chapters tantalizing. It's really 'fleshing out'
>Tekumel for me, and making it ever more likely that I will actually referee
>a game...) Anyway, to my questions:

    I'm glad you like it; it's my intention to give people the 'flavor' of what Phil's world was like as Phil saw it.

>- Is all magic in Tekumel considered to be power derived from another
>plane? I seem to remember from my reading of the history at the beginning
>of EPT that the 'gods' of Tekumel are other-planar beings who the denizens
>of Tekumel managed to make contact with. So is all magic (wizard and
>cleric) ultimately derived from them?

    No. The 'Gods" are immensely powerful other-panar beings, who regard Tekumel and the other 772 pocket universes as snadboxes to play in for their amusement. Magic is basically technology; all 'magic' is really using other-planar power to make things happen. The spells we use are the same as the technic objects called 'Eyes', and work the same way. One 'completes the circuit' using the wetware in one's head to get the desired effect, and if done too much will really reduce one's stamina.

>- What was the game mechanic behind Chirine ba Kal's 'battle magic' when
>you played? Was it part of the standard rules or did you add extra cool
>stuff?

    I was unique. I was the last PC created using EPT in Phil's games, and the first PC to use the expanded spell lists from "Swords and Glory" in Phil's games. I was also unique in that I was a military magic user, the only one *ever* in Phil's games, so I had a special spell corpora in the 'M' series (M for Military) that was later written up as "The Art of Tactical Sorcery" by John Tiehen. I'm going to try to show the difference between Chirine and other magic-users in the book, too.

>- Why are spells divided into skills and bonus spells?

    No idea. I'll look in the play-test copy of EPT for you that I have to see what Phil had in mind. I think that the idea was to codify the basic spells that a priest in one of the Temples would learn as the skills, and the bonus spells were there to create more individual characters. I should note that all magic-users are priests or shamans in Tekumel, but may not be part of a Temple staff. On the other hand, not all priests are magic-users. there are lots of temple administrators and scholars who have never cast spells. It's a cultural thing that I don't think came through very well in EPT.

>- Where is the stress (accent) in Chirine? As a linguist I'd like to get it
>right as I read :-)

    I think I'd write it as CHi-ri-ne, with three syllables and and hard CH at the front. The 'ba' is a Chakan prefix, the same as the central Tsolyani 'hi' or the Vrayani 'vu'. "Kal" is the very obscure Chakan lineage.

>OK, I'd better go. Also a forewarning of radio silence as I need to prepare
>for my D&D game at the weekend, and so emails are going to go on the back
>burner until Sunday (or possibly Monday). So feel free to take your time in
>replying!

Interview with Jim harland - Part Two of Nine

Still me. Still have the armor, too.


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.


>Actually I have a question about how Tekumel was played in the early days
>(*nothing* to do with GNS theory or anything like that!) which I'd like to
>ask you - would that be OK?

   You are very welcome! I had to look up what "GNS"  theory is; I'm such 
a dinosaur I had no idea


>Ah sorry. You talk about "narrative" and "gamist" in your 'house rules' so
>I thought you knew.


    
.


    The GNS terms are on my blog because one of the people I e-mail back and forth with desscribed my games in those terms, and they seem to be used all the time in RPG marketing from Certain Large Companies. I used to post a lot more on this on the old version of my blog, and a lot of current RPG players would get very angry that early RPG games back in the late 1970's and early 1980's just didn't fit into the GNS Theory categories, and was a lot wilder and chaotic then a lot of them seemed to be comfortable with.


    Anyway, I still game like we did in those far-off days, and I've had quite a few people come and play in my games because of this. I run my miniatures games the same way as Dave Wesley and Dave Arneson ran their "Braunstein" games, and people seem to enjoy them as well.


    Getting more to the point, Gary's style of game play was pretty 'linear'; there was a sort of natural flow to his games that was based on his very careful use of the rules sets to make sure that game play was enjoyable and consistent. Both Gary and dave preferred to have one player be the spokesperson of the gamer-group, as it made things much easier for them to run the game and makesure that things happened in such a way to give everyone something to do. If I may, I'd like to cite this video clip as a good example of the way Gary's games would run:


Gary's "Greyhawk" was full of wacky NPCs (most of whom should have been confined in homes for the terminally goofy) and funny goings-on, but there was a definite story arc to the adventure and he was very good about sticking to the rules and rules mechanics pretty much all of the time of the time. He was 'consistent', but not predictatble.

Dave, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. The rules and rules meechanics were, for him, the framework to hang the game plot / story arc off of, and one never new wat was going to happen. A video clip that perfectly encapsulates Dave's style of play is at:


His games would start out very 'normally' and much of the same style as Gary's, but as the players got deeper into that particular adventure things would get completely surreal. You had to be very fast, very quick, and very inventive or else you'd get very dead.

Phil's games, on the other hand, were very much in the same style as Gary's in the first couple of years; my first year in them wsn't not very fun, as the majority of the group were 'power gamers' who were very interested in how badly they could mess around with the game mechanics and frankly not all that interested in the Tekumel world-setting. Phil played the rules very tightly as written, and there was a lot more 'game mechanics' then there was Tekumel that first year. After that first year, I and several other players split off into the first 'Thursday Night Group', and we were much more interested in simply exploring the world, having adventures, and as much 'derring-do' and swashbuckling as we could manage. We believed in 'Action! Adventure! Romance!', and once Phil realised that we werent going to 'rules-lawyer' him to death he lightened up considerably and did a lot more 'story-telling' then 'dice rolling'. These times are what lead to my book, "To Serve The Petal Throne", and I could also use this video cip, as it mimics the kind of adventures we had pretty well:


Phil loved to give us lots and lots of details about his world, and provided us with lots of interesting people to meet and interact with. Some of the more powerful would come up with 'missions' and 'odd jobs' for us to do, and that was the excuse to get us around his world and explore it. Phil would be very 'rules-light', and we'd go much more by common-sense and consensus then by printed rules sets. Mind you, he would brook no contradiction about cultural stuff, but then we all understood that he'd created the world and probably knew something about the place. As the years went by, he did much more 'story-telling' for which we'd be the supporting cast of actors, and we'd provide local color and comic bits to amuse the 'real people' of his world.

>In any case I wasn't originally expecting a full description of how you
>used to play, and if it's too much trouble, please don't worry about it. I
>would be grateful for a reply about whether and how you used a 'caller',
>but there's no hurry. I was grateful for your quick replies whilst I was
>preparing my blog, but can wait for these matters of my own curiosity.

    We also used dice and then miniatures to represent our characters on the table, and dice or other figures for whatever we were fighting. Besides giving Phil and I a reason to paint figures (Phil had something like 2,000 Tekumel figures, of which I painted about a third; I have about 4,800 figures, al of which I painted) and make things like buildings and scenery, having a 'visual tactical display' really sped up game play as it was instantly obvious what was happening from the miniatures. Normally, when we had a 'spokesperson / caller' being the interface with Phil, a second perdon would be in charge of updating the tactical display and moving the figures to suit the actions of the players. Normally, the 'spokesperson / caller' would be in charge if the party during the action, or emergency, and tended to both be the interface with Phil and to be the party's leader, giving orders as needed.

    That role would also shift amongst the players, as whoever was considered by the party to be the most skilled in any particular situation would be 'volunteered' to lead the party and be the 'caller' in that situation. We always told Phil quite explicitly when we 'shifted the flag' and we had a new 'commander', so that there would be no confusion as to who was supposed to be doing the talking. I should also make it clear that all of the players would defer to the lead player, and would tell him what they were doing unless Phil specifically started the 'around the table, one at a time' procedure. The lead player would still be in command of the party, but Phil would run the event based on the individual actions.

    I tended to be the lead in military situations, and others would take the lead in other kinds of situations. It was all terribly informal, with nothing written down, but it seemed to work well for us for a decade of gaming.