TEKUMEL! I have to confess: I am an old school paper and pencil RPG player. Yes. Sort of sad, but in a retro cool kind of way.
Therefore: Welcome to a world as complex and fascinating as our own, but unlike anything you have ever experienced. Tékumel, created by Professor M.A.R. Barker over the last 26 years and extended by dozens of dedicated games players, is now an incredibly detailed science fantasy world that, to my thinking, is easily the match of the creations of J.R.R. Tolkein, Frank Herbert or Stephen Donaldson. However, in comparison, Tékumel remains largely unknown and unexplored by the general public. The sheer beauty of Tékumel is unrivalled by any other fantasy environment: if you mixed the landscapes, architecture and clothing of the heydays of the Mayans, Incans, Polynesians, Arabic World, Kampuchea, China and Tibet you would only be half way to the glory of Tékumel. Tékumel is unrivalled in terms of the sheer completeness of the fantasy environment. Tens of thousands of years of history, dozens of epic tales and thousands of individuals are all fully developed and “known”. Tékumel has its own languages, music and art forms. Tékumel has magic, technology and sheer human endeavour on a scale unlike any other world.
Tékumel is undergoing a renaissance at present; fuelled by the interest in the web site and the discussion groups, it has also benefited from a generation that is rediscovering deep fantasy and has clear preferences for complete worlds to immerse themselves in.
Tékumel exists some 60,000 years into our future. Mankind has spread across the galaxy, meeting alien beings (some friendly, some utterly implacable) and has settled a thousand, thousand worlds. Tékumel was one of the very nicest. Then the stars went out, all contact between Tékumel and the birthplace of humanity was lost, and 30,000 years of terror and darkness destroyed almost everything.
Tékumel now span in a starless night sky around its sun, Tuleng, cast out of the mundane universe by an unimaginable cataclysm into a Universe of magic and wonder. Civilisations rose and fell. Technology was lost, found and replaced by magic energies drawn from other dimensions and harnessed by the mind alone. The gods made their appearances, interfered and little and then settled into millennia of co-existence with man and with each other.
The people of Tékumel would be able to trace their ancestry back to humans from the Pacific rim, Asia, South America and the far Northern lands of Earth. They cannot, sadly, remember Earth at all. The lands of Tékumel are colourful: like a riot of enamel, feathers, tiles, paintings and carvings from Siberia, Mayan culture, Arabic geometric design, Asian shadow play and pagoda roofs.
The people of Tékumel share the huge hot planet with at least a dozen alien races (some friendly other implacable foes) and carefully worship their twenty gods: gods who are not only real but have been known to come to supper. Men have access to the last fragments of an unimaginably powerful technology as well as access to true magic powered by carefully trained minds.
The world of Tékumel is powerfully alien to Western consumers, yet hugely attractive and engrossing. The game will strongly deliver a feeling of being deeply involved in a life changing challenge, where one must master the ultimate military and martial arts, folklore, myth and magic to succeed.
Each game quickly begins to differ from “canon” Tekumel. In my game it is working like this:
Empires of men have been rising and falling out of the ashes of the star spanning civilisation that left them here for over thirty millennia. Throughout that time, people have told stories of how the world came to be, and of how their have always been those Heroes of the Age who have fought to keep the World together.
Now one such Empire of man, Tsolyánu has reached a turning point. The Emperor Hirkané “The Stone Upon Whom the Universe Rests” is dead. His sons and daughters must take the ultimate challenge: the kolumejalim, literally the “choosing of the Emperors”. The huge armies stand in serried ranks outside the massive cities, waiting to swear allegiance to the new ruler when he or she emerges from the hirulakte arena. The priests and politicians are in ferment, as old alliances fly apart and clan and religious feuds boil to the surface. Around the Empire of Tsolyánu, the Empires of its ancient enemies: cold Yán Kór, mystical Livyanu, the merchant princes of Salarvya and the seasoned troops of Mu’uglarvyáitch to take back some territory and prizes.
One son, Dhich’uné, immediately steals the throne and dares any to challenge him.
Two official sons of Hirkané have immediately declared their interest in challenging for the Petal Throne, knowing that the price of defeat in the kolmejalim is always death. The Empire waits with baited breath to hear whether the other known sons and daughters will rise to the challenge or will decline their royal heritage forever.
Then, from out of the searing heat of the South comes news that a hidden challenger is coming forth. Their birthright now revealed and the marks clearly proving their membership of the royal clan of Tlakotani, they march with a small group of loyal retainers to the Imperial Capital of Avanthar.
Prince or Princess, the news is unclear, but everyone knows that they will face a dozen or more incredible challenges before they can even reach the blue and white enamelled gates of the arena. On the way they must learn what it means to sit on the 3,000 year old Petal Throne, how best to serve their chosen god and the true meaning of honourable conduct. The high walled sákbe road waits, its white stones leading to the heart of the Empire.
Having been bought up in a relatively modest clan, you are shocked and amazed when a troop of the Omnipotent Azure Legion marches up the sákbe road to the doors of the clan house and calls you forth to meet your destiny. They place a seal on a chain around your neck and offer you a dazzling blue cloak.
You are revealed as the scion of the dead Emperor. The eternal Servitors of Silence have hidden your ancestry from public gaze for 21 years, and have now pushed you forward to claim the throne. Like a white counter suddenly turning black on the game board, you have thrown the Empire into ferment. Everyone will have a strong view on your future: some will help, others will try to put you to the sword.
The Empire itself is in turmoil. Your father, whom you met but once and then unknowingly, Hirkané The Stone Upon Whom The Universe Rests, is dead. Most suspect treachery. Prince Dhich’uné, worshipper of Sárku Demon Lord of Decay has rigged the outcome of a hasty kolumejalim and has installed himself into the Golden Tower at Avanthar. Some suspect fell magic, others merely smile at his coup.
Step up onto the stage.
You might win the world.
You might die.
You might cast down your people into the maw of the unnameable pariah gods. But you will not shrink from the blinding sun. This is your world. Tékumel awaits you. There is no time to be lost! You must quickly find allies and seek out those secrets and resources that will tip the Empire into your hands.
Your Enemies and Allies
Sides are already being taken for the great battle to come, and forces are converging on the capital from all across the Empire:
• Prince Mirusíya, the heroic but coldly aloof military expert has decamped from the city of Tleku Miriya with his expert legions and highly regarded general Karin Missum (“The Red Death”).
• Prince Eselné, younger but known as the “Chlen in Blue Robes”, is marching back from the Northern Borders, accompanied by the powerful General Kéttukal hi Mraktiné. Rumour has it that he carries terrible wounds but is driven by his worship of Lord Karakán and deep black hatred of everything Dhich’uné stands for.
• Prince Rereshqala is nearer the capital, but is inexperienced and better suited to finance or academia than war. He still commands troops, though, and is thought to have some very interesting antiques.
• Prince Taksuru is a well-regarded Thúmis worshipping priest and scholar, with little stomach for swordplay. His magical troops will do his bidding and could be pledged to a powerful ally if they saw one as noble and worthy. He is a fine diplomat and honest statesman
• The fantastically beautiful Princess Ma’in (her very name “Krüthai” means “exquisite”) has the loyalty of some amazon legions and is quite politically powerful in the South, where she now lives. She may fight, she may not, but she will always know what it going on.
• The Princess Arimala, the mystic and sculptress, has no troops, but can teach one how to expand the chusetl and would be able to bring nightmares upon any warriors or their troops to whom she takes a dislike.
• Prince Mridobu is said to be ill – and ill omens surround his sudden sickness. If he could be healed by his priests of Ksárul and made sane again, perhaps he could be of some use, even if only to loan his magical troops to you?
• Another Imperial prince-ling has been revealed and declared in the homelands of the Empire: Surandano. You know little about him.
Outside the Tsolyáni Empire the scavengers are gathering – other Empires are testing their strength and seeking to reclaim old lands or new territory:
• The Salarvyáni are feared to be about to make an attempt to take Kerunan and the Kaija Protectorate. They may strike as deep as Jaikalor and Hundranu Rise. The Gilraya Forests have practically belonged to the Salarvyáni government of Koyluga (and allied cities) for some time, although Tsolyánu claims them and fierce guerrilla war is to be expected in those valuable forests.
• The Mu'ugalavyáni may be jokingly referred to as “Red Hats”, but you are well aware of the threat they pose. They have a powerful army and might quickly occupy Pan Chaka and performed another massacre of the forest dwelling aliens called Pachi Lei, whom they hate. They have been trying for years to subvert the city of Butrus and neighbouring hamlets and agricultural regions.
You will have to cut a swathe across the Empire, defeat internal and external forces, gather allies and cut-off the allies of your enemies.
You will face treachery and illusion in dark places as well as the noise and dust of enormous battles in the full heat of the sun. You will fight at various levels, from individual qadarni battles – hero against hero – to squad level engagements to huge sprawling battles between the arrayed forces of several legions (complete with infantry, missile troops, engineers and battle magicians.)
The intermediate levels of the campaign will not be linear, but will depend to a large extent on your choices of career and the focus you place on each of the five elements of your soul. The campaign will range over the entire Empire, travelling along the huge, elevated sákbe roads of the Empire and one will meet incredible alien races as well as humans. Whether they be friend of foe is up to you, your behaviour and the gods themselves!
Learning from these challenges is an essential prelude to reaching the painted gates of Imperial Avanthar. All campaigns will end at the gates of the Imperial City of Avanthar. One final battle will stand between you and the restoration of a noble imperial lineage and tradition.