Saturday, December 15, 2012

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

    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

    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... :)

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