Monday, January 23, 2012

Delving in the Underworld

(n.b. This was originally written before the holidays, but then I got laid off and it has laid fallow since then. Thus the holiday poem at the beginning.)

I'm going to uncover delectable morsels hidden in my website to showcase for you. Some are my own, some are hosted for others. I hope you'll find something you like. Interspersed with these I'm trying my hand at color copy. I've never written fiction in Tekumel, so bear with me.

Juresh walked silently to the top of the stairway that led into the darkness. The treads of the stone stairs were smooth with wear and rather rounded, almost slippery. The slight smell of moldy decay wafted up from below. Many tales from his childhood told of the dangers and rewards of the deeps. His uncle, Karjan, had brought back the death mask of Queen Nayari's second husband's mother, dead these 19 millennia, or so the story is told. 

My first delectable morsel is a seasonally-apt poem by Bob Alberti, 'Twas the Night Before Chitlásha. I think this needs no more introduction. Enjoy.

And also the tale of his grandfather, also named Juresh, who died with Sagun fungus growing in his lungs and out his mouth, and was left as a macabre new ornament in a dank tomb below ground. The life of a tomb robber was a hazardous life, sometimes cut short. Juresh steeled his nerves and stepped on the first step. Two slaves took tremulous steps behind him, their hands shaking on the torches they carried. His two clan cousins, trained warriors both, brought up the rear. They were to protect Juresh on this rite of passage to becoming a full-fledged tomb robber. 

I found a useful document written by Erick-Noel Bouchard titled Nonhuman Species of Tekumel. This gives the EPT rules to roll up nonhuman characters in Empire of the Petal Throne. In this time of the EPT revival, this will help for those who want to play nonhumans. It even includes the Urunen. If you have critiques of his designs, send them to me. Perhaps I'll rewrite them.

As they approached the bottom of the well-worn stairs, the torchlight made long shadows into the space that opened out. Juresh waved a hand to stop everyone as he gazed into the room that had once been part of the thriving city above. This entrance to the Tsu'urum was only accessible from the Nighted Tower clanhouse, so Juresh knew that it was unlikely that he would encounter anyone not of his clan, and that the frequency that his people passed through here would keep the worst denizens of the underworld in places with easier pickings. Still the nervousness would not leave his belly, piquing his paranoia. He opened the kayi's-eye lantern shutter, projecting a brighter beam into the room. A few rats fled the illumination, but otherwise the room was empty. Juresh stepped in first, and the others kept close behind.

The next stop on this mini-tour is Justin Grabowski's conversions of Tekumelani nonhumans and creatures to The Fantasy Trip (TFT), a wonderful set of roleplaying rules that includes one of the best tactical combat systems in any RPG. It is very well-suited to the dungeon/underworld style of gaming, as well as having plenty to occupy those above ground. I have used TFT for Tekumel in the 80s, and I'm currently writing a complete set of character rules, including spell conversions and new talents, for TFT Tekumel. These nonhuman and creature stats will be a part of that effort.

The room at the bottom of the stairs was empty, but Juresh checked each wall for hidden passages, like his father had taught him, by tapping and listening for hollowness. Nothing seemed more than it was -- solid stone and mortar. Juresh headed down the only hallway available. The other four followed. As he walked, Juresh noted the smoothness of the walls, which were all stone and mortar. Perhaps it was the ancient walls of the clanhouse from millennia past, thick rock to keep the oppressive heat out. As he walked, he rapped on the left wall, sounding for a change in echo. He found nothing. The corridor took a sharp right turn, so Juresh paid particular attention to the walls at the corner, since often, secret doors were hidden there. When he rapped on the wall straight ahead, he thought her heard a slight difference in the timbre of the echoes.

The bus now stops at another roadside attraction. Years ago, I came across a script by Christopher Pound that took a list of sample words and constructed new words based on the repetition of patterns through the word list. It was called the Language Confluxer and randomly created the best set of Tsolyani sounding words I had ever run across -- better than Barker's Tsolyani Names Without Tears algorithm. I took it and jiggered things a bit. Thus was born the Tsolyani Word Generator. With this tool, new GMs and players no longer need struggle to come up with new names. Just generate some and pick good ones. As an example of the names generated, here are the first five I randomly generated:

  • Hr hiLo’ochilash
  • Chiruku hiKaru
  • Mrishesha hiMashik
  • Tetkumas hiHitam
  • Tsoggashte hiNly

See? Not that bad. Perhaps, switch some things around. Take a lineage name from one and make one of the first names into a lineage name. Mashik hiTsoggashte, for instance. I used this tool to create 'Juresh'.

Juresh held his breath for a few seconds in anticipation. "Take the slaves a dozen dhaiba back so I can see with just this light," he instructed his escort. He also didn't want anyone to see his technique. They nodded and took the slaves each by the arms. Once their lights were gone, he reached for one of the many pouches at his belt. He opened it and took a large pinch of the contents -- feathery ash from the cooking fires. With his lantern opened to a medium-sized beam, he threw the ash in the air near the wall. He observed the dust as it floated in the air. Then he noticed a small area where something was blowing the ash away from the wall. Juresh smiled because he had found a hidden door. He noted where the disturbance was. Now he just needed to figure out the unlocking trick. He called to his companions.
A final tidbit for your enjoyment. A series of maps of Tekumel. The first map is a photo of the globe made by the Professor and his close associates. Unfortunately it only shows one side of the planet, but it does give you a sense of how much of the planet the northern continent takes up. The second map is a projection made from this globe, uncurling the rounded map into a flat map. The next three maps show three cities: Tumissa -- metropolis of western Tsolyanu, Sirsum -- a small town in Kilalammu, and Setnakh, a small town situated about halfway between Jakalla and Thraya on the Rananga River. More details of Setnakh appear in Seal of the Imperium #1 in an article by Zane Healy and Professor Barker.

Juresh could tell that the slaves were spooked to be below ground. He was sure they had heard tales of the dangers. Their eyes darted nervously from side to side. But their torches were essential to the next stage, finding the trigger. In the increased light, Juresh examined the wall. It was stone blocks with mortar between them. But with the light he could just barely make out the hair-thin outline of the door. He used his lantern to illuminate the area he was inspecting. The pace was painstakingly slow, but Juresh had a sharp eye and patience, things his father said would serve him well.

The others got a little restless as Juresh proceeded. After ten minutes of looking, the pattern of the stone popped out in his sight. He went back over the areas of the hidden doorway and found the anomaly. He pushed the tiny out of place bit of rock and it moved and clicked. A gasp of suction came from the wall and the door swung open.

To Be Continued