Saturday, March 24, 2012

And life goes on

I had planned to finish the project of catching up our timeline, when I learned of the death of  M. A. R. Barker, Professor of Linguistics and creator of Tekumel (in all it depth, breadth, and glory), I felt that a period of silence was in order, as those who knew him personally had time to grieve. I knew little that I could add to the discussion, save my personal feelings.

I never met the Professor, though I long wished to do so. It bothered me that this man, who had such a strong influence on the pattern of my life, lived only 2 hours away, in a city I visited frequently, and I had no reasonable hope of meeting him. It was EPT that got me "hooked" on RPG games in about 1979. It was the first one I played. My session.. including character creation, lasted all of 15 minutes.

In high school a friend convinced me to join AV (audio visual) in order to gain access to some reasonable quality audio equipment for dubbing our own cassette tapes. (Oh, you young'uns... google it...). What I found was a lair of gamers, people who had learned to play RPGs from people who had gone to school in Minneapolis and played with Gygax, Arneson, and Barker. They brought the drug, like Zu'ur, to the northland. They were Seniors, I was a soph. They ignored me. But I watched and listened to them. I learned later they were playing Chivalry and Sorcery.. and they had a sophisticated campaign.  When he was alone, the Alchemist would spend the hour in AV just rolling dice, and cackling under his breath, as he processed formulae trying to find an elixir that would help him breed a better war horse.. The game was, during those moments, entirely in his head, though he would occasionally explain what he was doing, I suspect more because the nature of RPG is the shared experience than because I asked.

I spent free time trying to reverse engineer the game from what I had seen. I was a huge fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Barsoom, at the time, and I tried to create my own game for that. I did not have access to the fancy dice, and my game experience to that date was pretty limited, mostly Milton Bradley and such, so I had no sense of sophistication for game mechanics, and no sense of balance. I did force myself to learn something of probability theory.. mostly by creating charts of possible outcomes - I was a poor math student.

Eventually, I managed to pester them enough to get them to let me try a game. They had switched campaigns, or perhaps they were simply rotating, at any rate, the game they had out that day was the TSR version of EPT. They had to explain the stats a bit, and how to use the dice. It was the standard barbarian on the boat scenario.

Now, I had seen them playing Chivalry and Sorcery, and probably Metamorphosis Alpha, and perhaps D&D, and I had seen plenty of rogue behaviour, which, of course, was all well and good in those setting. I followed suit.  After selling my boat, I tried to pick a pocket. I was unsuccessful, and quickly nabbed by a guard. I had no weapons, I could barely speak Tsolyani, I was handed to the AOL, and impaled. I always figured I was being discouraged from another attempt, but I was hooked. The bell rang... I was off to another class. My grades never recovered.

Having at least the vague notion of how a game was structured, I re applied myself to Barsoom, but I began to listen to their EPT campaign. Tekumel was like Barsoom on Acid. Ahoggya, Vimuhla, Sarku, and my adolescent favourite Hrihayel - whore of five worlds.

I did manage to get one more game of EPT in during AV a few weeks later. One of the players was a Junior, perhaps more sympathetic to my position, and he ran me solo. This time I fared a bit better, and I began to really understand the concept of RPG. My character was a Magic User and I  had a high comliness, so I took Courtesan/ Gigolo as a skill. I don't recall how, but I know I was thrown into the jails of Jakalla, probably as a minor apology for having been impaled on my first gaming session. There aren't many offences that earn jail time, I believe. I spent most of the hour trying to figure a way to pick the locks. What I eventually did was use a spell to cause two guards to fight. Fortunately, they both died. Unfortunately, they were out of reach. When the watch changed they asked what had happened, I stared in horror, and lied about a plague from my home that drove men to homicidal madness. The watch fled.. and they elected to burn the cell block clean... But I stayed low, and the fire weakened the chlen hide doors, and I managed to escape. I disappeared into the foreign quarter, working as a cheap date.

Late in the school year, or early summer, I ended up in a theatre group (outside school) and one of those seniors was a member. I got to know him, and he did me the favour of buying my first RPG when he made a trip to the cities. I had forced my folks to make a side trip to the "Little Tin Soldier Shop" (gone now) when we had been down, and bought dice - and depleted my budget a bit  - sometime before this, I think.. I had seen EPT on the shelf, but it was outside my price range. (I did buy a few EPT miniatures, my first miniatures as well).  I had about 10  bucks, and sent it with him. He brought back Traveller. I also got to know other gamers in the area.. and made life long friends, some I haven't seen in years. I got to play EPT on occasion, with people who knew the setting fairly well, but my Barsoom experience tended to make me a ref, often with worlds I built based upon other works that I understood more readily. Most of the EPT crowd moved away.. this was a sour time for the local economy.

 It would be a couple years before I could buy EPT. A few months before I tried to run it. I was overwhelmed, and decided to focus on simpler fare for a bit. I loaned my copy to a friend.. who had a small child.. (it wasn't destroyed.. but it was damaged). I tucked it away for safety. At some point I loaned the maps to a theatre production that wanted fanciful maps on the set. They were never returned..

But I never lost my love of the setting. Years later there was a local campaign based upon real life and an alternative future (inspired by the book Ariel) in which all the players played themselves. I started the campaign, after pestering from a friend, and then went to Basic and he carried it on. I never had a chance to spin the story in that campaign that I really dreamed of running: A trip to the U of M campus, and the Professors old office, and a gate into Tekumel.

It wasn't until I saw an advert at the Source for a Tekumel Minitures event, just a few years ago, that I found the impetus to get back into Tekumel. It was being sponsored by the Aethervox Gamers and I met Chirene. He has been a tremendous help to me, and I am pleased to call him a friend. I had met Victor Raymond a few times, briefly, over the years, in Fandom, but didn't know he was close to the Professor. I got to know him a bit better a few years back at U-con. Through the power of the net I have met or followed others who either knew the Professor, of simply love his work. I think of them all as friends.

I never met him, but I miss him. My sympathies to all who knew him, and to those who love him..

And life goes on.. richer for those who have gone before.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Emperor Hirkáne, ‘the Stone on which the Universe rests' is Dead

This was the news that met them when they returned to Camp. All of Tsolyanu was in morning, and they closed down all non essential operations at the cave and returned to Butrus to aid their temples and clans in showing their respects, and anguish, and engage in any political posturing necessary. Suni volunteered in her temples public rituals of mourning, Mriga in recitations of the accomplishments of the great emperor, and Sanjesh, and the temple of the Green Lady, did what they can be expected to do in times of uncertainty. This continued for an appropriate time, and then things returned to "normal", save the increased interest in imperial politics, and concerns about the now leaderless nation at war, with enemies on all sides.

However, the tree of time grows despite the desire of men to take a moment to sort things out. With Mis  Ritual of the the 32nd unspeakable act closing in, the group decided to make another trip to Tumissa, and do a bit more business for Mrigas clan. They loaded up slaves with 10,000 K worth of paper and similar products, and headed out again on the Sakbe Roads. Mriga hired himself a personal body guard,  an clan Cousin who has a deep desire to join the 1st Imperial Legion. And Sanjesh had his Temple Guard and Suni her Pachi Lei interpreter slave. Mriga was also tasked with bringing a package back to Butrus, which he should pick up at his clan house in Tumissa.

 At the half way point, they stopped to rest, and encountered a Pachi Lei merchant, with a Chlen Cart worth of arrows, quarrels, bows, and spears, heading for Tumissa. Along with that came news that Moog legions, not skirmishers, but full legions, had been seen coming through the Chakas en route, apparently, to Tumissa. Through the interpreter slave they spoke with the merchant, who was interested in buying their slaves, and any others they could obtain. They wished to transfer as much of their cargo to slaves, to move it to Tumissa and the Legion of Tangled Root Eaters, before a major confrontation could take place, and the Chlen were proving to be too slow. They negotiated a deal, where in the Pachi Lei could rent their slaves,  for the next few days, for an outrageous sum, and the group would load their own cargo onto the cart. The also leased the use of the interpreter for the night.

In this way, the Pachi Lei acquired a small army of slaves, and the party found itself traveling at Chlen pace, along with several others who had made similar arrangements with the Pachi Merchants. There was a  couple from a high clan (purveyors in recreational powders, filters and other consumables), a Lower clan Carpet peddler, a Tinilaya lock and trap-smith, and a few others of little note. They also traded in a bit under one days travel for just over two.

The next day travel was slow, and they were passed by many travelers unburdened by the pace of the Chlen. The High Clan couple left the operations to their agent, and traveled well ahead of the rest of the party, and the smell of the Chlen. Suni took a position with her interpreter, also a bit ahead, not far behind the couples Palanquin. By afternoon, she and her slave had picked up a notable contact high from fumes wafting off the palanquin, but, other than some unintentional Public Displays of Affection between the two, there appeared to be no serious consequences. Until morning, when the Slave was found dead, apparently from a bad reaction.

There was immediate talk of Shmatla, which was reported by the Couples Agent to the couple. He was authorized to negotiate a simple settlement. However, mistaking the PDAs from the night before for a more long standing relationship between Suni and the Slave, he ended up seriously over estimating the slaves worth. Suni, who comes from a Merchant Clan, took every advantage, and played up her price, so that she cleared perhaps 5 times the slaves cost. The slave was dutifully buried just off the Sakbe  roads, in a manner fitting for such a skilled slave.

They also briefly encountered the Priest of Qon they had met earlier. He had, apparently, left the roads after their last encounter, and now returned, again crawling, and salting his wounds, and still trying to reach Tumissa. He had heard of the movements of the Moogs, but was not concerned. If he did not reach Tumissa before the conflict, he would have to simply wait for it to resolve. His preparation rituals were more important. So, they left him behind (even at a chlens pace, they were leaving him in the dust).

Upon arriving in the City, they split up. Sanjesh and the Tiny went off to locate the Pachi Lei in the foreign quarter, discussing Tiny Culture along the way.  Suni reported to her temple and Mriga hired local porters to bring his cargo of fine paper to this clan house. And there he met the Package.  The Clan placed him in charge of delivering their most talented young scribe, a girl of maybe 13, as a gift to the new emperor, as soon as one is chosen, after the Kólumejálim. This was, he was told, a prestigious honor for both the Girl, and the bearer of the gift. He and his Cousin had been chosen for the honor, and though they could turn it down, (and expect considerable loss of status in the clan) they would at least be expected to deliver the girl to Butrus, and pass her along to another who would take the job. 


Instructions.. Mouse over this text.. from here to the word end. The text is in white, so I think this will work..

Well, that is what he told the rest of the party. In fact, what he was told was that his girl was and Imperial Heir, far to young to compete in the Kólumejálim, it had been decided that, none the less, it would be very prestigious for the clan to bring her forth and reveal her in Bey Su, or Avanthar at the contest. It was also a concern that some agents in the competition might wish to eliminate her prior to her revealing, and that, during this time between emperors, she was most at risk.  As a result, they advised him to take an indirect route to the games. It was decided they would travel south to Jakalla.