Saturday, February 8, 2014

An Essay On The Past; You Probably Won't Be Happy With It. (From the Yahoo Tekumel group; I'm the author of the thing.)

Who's that, skulking around in the underbrush?

I have to say that I've been hugely amused at the direction that this discussion [On the ranges and distances of magic users in naval warfare, on the Yahoo group - editor] has been going; it takes me back all those years to the early 1980s when quite a few gamers / Tekumel fans bombarded me with their complaints about "Qadardalikoi", and why it wasn't a "realistic" or "accurate" set of rules. And, for that matter, just why Prof. M. A. R. Barker really had no clue about how Tekumel really worked. Or should work. Or something.

Phil's mental concept about how warfare worked in his creation was very firmly rooted in his research into the wars of the Diodachi, modified by his research into both Meso-American warfare as well as that of the South Asian sub-continent. And yes, he was quite aware of the latest in thought in the wargaming world; he was a founder of The Society of Ancients, and kept up his subscription to their publication "Slingshot" from issue #1 onwards through the rest of his life. As many people are probably aware, 'our' Phil was a cousin of 'yes, that Phil' of WRG fame.

When we set out to create "Qadardalikoi", I wanted to address Phil's concerns about how the subject had been handled in both Gary's "Missum" (a WRG-style of rules) and Dave's "Legions" (which was a forerunner of the DBx style of rules); I needed a set of rules to publish, as we couldn't get publication rights to either set of rules for various reasons. The goal, according to Phil, was to be able to push lead around the table and have some fun within the broad lines he set for what he thought his world was like.

The ground scale, we thought, should be easy to remember and use - it had to work well in the type of 'campaign games' that we did here in the Twin Cities, back in those days, and it had to fit on the table and look reasonably good as a miniature 'picture'. We settled on a 1:1000 scale; 1mm on the table = 1 meter on the ground. From that, we went down to the basement and Phil's 5' x 9' ping-pong table, set up some little lead people, and had at it for something like three years.

Here's a practical experiment for you. Obtain a meter stick - you can still get these ancient artifacts of early gaming at Office Depot, the Internet tells me - and wave it over a game table. I use a standard 30" by 60" folding table in my game room, as the the three I have put side-by side as a 60" x 90" is a reasonable analogue to Phil's game table. (We found in practice that we never really used the foot or so at each end of his table - that space was always getting used for drinks, snacks, dice, rulers, and sets of rules.) That meter stick is one kilometer long, at our scale, and 133.333 of them make up one 100 tsan hex on the campaign maps for both the NW and NE Frontier sets.

Put some miniatures on the table. Wave your meter stick over them, and consider the distance that the meter stick represents. That's what Phil looked at when he gave me his views on how far things could move, shoot, fly, swim, or cast spells. I translated the little markers he put down on the table into numbers, and that's how we got the numbers. This was accompanied by all sorts of learned dissertation by the Professor, with quite a few of the rare and obscure books from his extensive library - over 2,500 books on Ancient Egypt alone, according to the inventory lists we did after he passed away - and with lots of quotations and references cited.

An example of this is the recondite issue of the range of the 'longbow'; in his 'correction' of "Qadardalikoi", "Warfare on Tekumel", Mr. Faulkner states that the range of the long bow Phil and I gave is complete nonsense and utter rubbish. Both Phil and I happen to agree, if we had been talking about the Terran version of the weapon, the classic single-stave weapon made from yew and used during the Terran Middle Ages to such deadly effect. Apparently, it's difficult for many historical gamers to make the jump from a favorite set of historical miniatures wargame rules based in the usual course of Western European history; Phil, while a very well-read historian of the Middle Ages (some 900 books in his personal library on the subject) ranged far and wide in his research. I would direct the curious reader to that wonderful work by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallway, "The Crossbow" - still available on, by the way - which has the author's observations of the actual weapons being discussed, as well as the results of actually using them. I treasure my original copy of the book; it's a fun read, especially when Sir Ralph tells us about when thing go wrong with his catapult replicas...

The Tekumelyani longbow, as used by a certain famous Mu'uglavyani legion of archers and others, is a long composite recurve bow; the prototype for it is currently held in the collection of the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul (Constantiople, to us Byzantines) and was one of the weapons test-fired by Sir Ralph back in the day when you could do that sort of thing with the right credentials. Sir Ralph made careful measurements of the results, and Phil based his numbers on those. In the second edition of my rules, I will be making this point - as well as many, many similar ones - obsessively clear, with lots of footnotes and reference citations.

In reference to the discussion on naval warfare, take the little soldiers off the table and replace them with your favorite little ships. I bought, back in the mists of antiquity, a set of the C-in-C  and Valiant 1/1200 ships for our naval games - I still use them - and wave your meter stick over them. That, according to Prof. Barker, was how far one's mighty spells can have an effect. Is that far enough? Phil felt that since it covered most of the table, and looked good with the little models, it was fine; he did not feel that battlefield magic was the Ultimate Weapon Of Decision on the battlefields and seas of his Tekumel. It provided tone and color, as well as lots of fun and excitement, but he held that it wasn't The Nuclear Option. In his version of Tekumel, anyway; he had no opinion - he felt that it wasn't his business to say anything - about what you do in your Tekumel.

So, there we are; a little 'backstory' and 'history' on a Saturday morning.

yours, chirine


  1. Replies
    1. And there you are - the practical approach. As I mentioned in reply to George in my reply to his comment, I enjoy rational and polite discussions. I've had very few of those in the past thirty-five years, and I enjoy your comments for that very reason - you are intelligent and articulate, and very clearly draw the line between your Tekumel and Phil's. Your work is excellent, and I think Phil would have loved it.


  2. I think you under-estimate the open-mindedness of Tekumel fans. There is a recurring theme in your posts of "you won't like this" that I don't understand. It doesn't jibe with the attitudes of the fans that I've met at U-Con and corresponded with online. I think for the vast majority of us, we're interested in knowing how Barker envisioned his world and think that's important. We're also pretty comfortable with the idea that sometimes we want to do things a bit differently in our version of Tekumel, because there are other things that are important to us too. Those two things are not mutually incompatible. We don't think Barker or you or anybody is a fool or an idiot for not agreeing with us when we decide to diverge in our own private Tekumel.

    We do enjoy trying to apply what we know (or think we know) about the real world to how things might work in Tekumel. Most of the time it's a way for us to get a better sense of the setting, and have some fun learning and/or showing off expertise. That doesn't mean we think Tekumel is "broken" or somehow fatally flawed.

    1. My 'theme' is based on some thirty-five years of letters and e-mails that I have gotten from people over that time. You don't get to see those communications from people; I've had to. Both Phil and I have indeed been called fools and idiots on a regular basis, and I have - frankly - gotten a little tired of it over the years. Both of us have been very discouraged at times - you should read Phil's letter files; they make for pretty depressing reading, over the years.

      Remeber the Kaika, and how it lost it's legs? A Tekumel fan wrote Phil and excoriated him for having beast with six legs and wings, as the fan had a degree in Biology and *knew* that six legs don't work. As time went on, Phil started throwing his hands up and walking away from his creation because of this sort of thing; it was sad to watch.

      Now, I do want to be very clear, I enjoy rational and intelligent discussions about Tekumel - so did Phil. Where I draw the line is the dogmatic approach that I've had to put up with from quite a few fans over the years; most of them haven't done the kind of research that you or I - or the Professor! - would do, and then talk about it in a civilized manner.

      You are, in my experience over all these years, one of the very few rational people interested in Tekumel; quite a few of the people I've had to deal with over that long time have not been so civilized and polite.

      Your posts are some of the very few that I copy and save to my archives; they are in the spirit that we had at the table, all those years ago, and I stay on the Yahoo group pretty much just for them...


    2. Dear Chirine, thanks for the kind words. I will try to keep posting useful things to the list.

      For what it's worth, don't let the bastards wear you down. I guess I am an optimist, but I do think there are lots and lots of us who think that kind of dogmatic rudeness isn't worth paying much attention to. I guess it is a side-effect of having fans. I think Tekumel is a work of art, not a work of science, and nobody should feel obliged to defend it on any other basis than as art.

    3. Yes; what you said. Your reply should be framed on the wall of our collective game room, sir!