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.


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