Monday, April 18, 2011

New rules? Systemless books?

A recent discussion on the Tekumel email list was about what the next step for Tekumel should be. Some of the goals stated during this debate were (1) bring more people into the Tekumel tent, (2) have a steady set of rules and source materials professionally published in print and electronically, and (3) there is no goal #3.

Some people advocate creating a new set of rules based on Pathfinder or Savage Worlds or some other existing rule set. Some people think that system-less source materials should be published. Others think that one of the previous incarnations should be revamped into a modern form.

My take on this question goes this way. There are about 1000 Tekumel fans worldwide that are connected enough to know about Tita's House of Games. The Tekumel mailing list has about 700. Tita's customer list is about 1000. This number needs to at least double to sell enough books to make publishing commercially viable.

I also personally think we have enough rules for Tekumel. With four commercial systems (EPT, S&G, Gardasiyal, and T:EPT) and numerous fan systems, enough different styles of play are covered to appeal to most everyone. I've written several system conversions, as well as translations from one system to another. Why should we reinvent the wheel for yet another time? How many wheels do we really need? Also, the rules in all of these systems are not what keeps people in the Tekumel tent, it's the world. I've personally played using about a dozen different rule sets.

So, my proposal, and my challenge to you, is that the only way we are going to double the number of Tekumel players in the world is for us to play in Tekumel. If you are a Tekumel enthusiast, pick a set of rules that people you play with will play, read a novel or two and some beginning adventures, cajole, bribe, or shanghai your players into playing, and see what happens. Or start a game at your local game store (they still run games in local game stores, don't they?) If 20 percent of the 1000 each started a new game with 5 new players, we'd be very close to doubling our current numbers.

Now, to help facilitate this surge of new games, I'd like to see some of the old rules made available in electronic form. The only system in electronic form right now is Empire of the Petal Throne. The other official rules are available in print from Tita's, but stocks are low for T:EPT (if any are left at all -- Tita's site hasn't been updated since 2009). I'm not sure what happened to the electronic version of T:EPT that sold for awhile. I know that work is being done on a PDF of the Swords and Glory sourcebook, but that work has been ongoing for over a year, and that isn't the rules. I don't know if Gardasiyal can ever be made available electronically.

Or you might go with other unofficial rules. I wrote a set of GURPS Tekumel character rules. Sandy Peterson wrote RuneQuest/BRP rules. Dave Morris wrote Tirikelu, a custom set of rules. There are FUDGE, Torg, AD&D, D&D 3E, Talislanta, D6, Savage Worlds, and Fantasy Craft rules. If you want to look them over, you can go to The World of Tekumel Unofficial Rules page or my own RPG Rules for Tékumel page. Something should appeal to you.

So, let's get more campaigns going out there. Then we can worry about publishing something new.


  1. How about we get more folks running events at conventions & stop being intimidated by the existing rules set. Over & over I've heard how intimidating the sheer volume of history is for the Empire Of The Petal Throne. Tekumel is pretty user friendly these days.With the internet resources out there & such. Anyone can pretty much grab what's needed & run with it. The key here is that the world needs more air time. Empire of The Petal Throne doesn't belong in a museum, it belongs at someone's table being played & enjoy with all of its lethality. I'm just saying. Regards,Eric

  2. I agree that focusing on another set of rules is probably a dead end, although there is something appealing about the idea of a massive sourcebook that collects lots of monsters, spells, etc. and is rules minimal, maybe like the Professor's 1d100 rules lite approach. It would be a great resource for all the campaigns being run off the various other systems.

    Needles has a point also. I think its frustrating when people don't run or play EPT because they haven't earned a posy-graduate degree in Tékumel culture theory.

    I was initially inspired to work on Humanspace by a post at Netherwerks that noted how infrequently Tékumel oriented web resources were being updated. If nothing else, I hope Humanspace will play some small part in growing the fan base for EPT in all its incarnations.

  3. Conventions are another venue, but since there is nothing for players to buy to continue playing, it's a hard route to getting more players.

    There's really not that much you need to know to run a credible Tekumel adventure. It's less important to get every detail right than it is to get the exotic feeling right. That's what sticks with you long after the adventure is finished.

  4. I think a healthy combination of miniatures battle action (with Band Of Joyous or another existing ruleset) married with, as everyone has voiced above, actually getting out there and playing the game (again, use some nice looking miniatures for just showing player order and general locale on top of a dry erase board, or simple exchangeable terrain. You have to give it the appearance of 'new', even though it may be old. Anyhow, my 2 cents. And @Drune, I personally feel that Human Space may be the "bridge" to Tekumel that could bring many more people over to traditional Tekumel. I think you all are onto something VERY nice. It is much more approachable for new players, and those new players would eventually trickle over to traditional. Anyhow, THANK you for opening a single place to bring all Tekumel information together.

  5. I love having miniatures to visualize character actions during role playing. I hate miniature battles.

    I'm going to look at Humanspace, because I've wanted to play in that universe for some time. I think a high-intrigue empire vs. empire game would be great, similar to the politics of David Brin's Uplift universe.

  6. I'd like to see something old published:

    Prof. Barker's VAST dungeons under Jakalla. The sheer size and scope and age of these dungeons would, I think, get a lot of Old School Renaissance D&Ders to buy them. And I suspect a percentage of these purchasers would go on to explore further RPG products from the professor's pen.

  7. The Jakalla Tsuru'um would be fantastic. I got a copy many years ago that I've used for some great fun over the years. Though it needs a lot of work to bring it up publishable.

  8. The only point I would make about rules is: do any of the rule systems that have been published actually evoke the way magic works at Phil's table? It seems, from reading the novels at least that the answer is that they don't. If that's the case, then we could use one. Other than that, I don't think we need more rules.

  9. I think the S&G/Gardasiyal and T:EPT come closer than any others.

  10. I'm going to disagree. I think new rules are absolutely necessary. Here's why:

    1. It's not especially easy to get Tekumel rules. As was noted earlier, Tita's hasn't been updated in a couple of YEARS. Worse, I'm not aware of any decent entry-level material for Tekumel and I'm one of those obsessive pre-purchase researchers. There's lots and lots and LOTS of specific stuff, but nothing especially distilled or cohesive. I'm sure it's out there, but it's not easily found by someone willing to do 10-20hrs worth of research.

    2. Not putting out new rules completely ignores the lessons taught by Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Dark Dungeons, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Epees & Sorcellerie, Microlite 74, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, Myth and Magic, DCC, C&C and others. And that's JUST the straight D&D clones, there're at least a dozen others. There's also Mongoose's Traveller and Runequest lines, Stars w/o Number, ZeFRS, the aforementioned Humanspace, Mutant Future, and many, many others. What lessons are those? You need to get an OGL-based ruleset out, sooner rather than later. Follow up that ruleset with additional products and support.

    3. Seriously, if the current rulesets were both easy enough to acquire AND sufficiently targeted towards new people, then there would be a booming industry in Tekumel products. There isn't.

    Of all of that, it's the OGL part that's important. It's a strong signal that you're serious about contributing to the RPG community - and it successfully preserves the rules in a timeless way such that updates are needed, not rewrites - which is the problem you're facing now.

  11. Hey guys - nice one on the blog, Brett. Some rambling disconnected thoughts, possibly slightly controversial:

    When I started way back in '97 (wow, I was a fresh-faced and optimistic 31 year old!), after rediscovering Tékumel, I thought the solution to making Tékumel more mainstream was to move away from the esoteric RPG rulesets and try to put the emphasis on the setting, and in many ways I still believe that.

    There's a big audience for new fantasy worlds out there that are different from the old Lord of the Rings tropes, it's just that RPG games aren't reaching them because it's such a small and specialised audience. I always thought that what Tékumel needed were professional illustrators and designers to create works that were more mainstream - a graphic novel, a coffee-table art book, a video game, perhaps even a screenplay. Forget the new RPG rule systems and concentrate on the *world*.

    I tried to interest some illustrators to create new visions on, but I do feel as if some fans were stuck in the old David Sutherland-school of illustration (not disparaging his work, I love it, but it is very dated), and sometimes the Prof's vision of how things are can be a bit restrictive. The illustrations of a few creatures-like the swamp folk-done on my site I thought were finally bringing a fresh and modern look to Tékumel, but they didn't go down very well because they didn't perfectly match the 'old look'.

    Anyway, all that aside, obviously I've got tired of working on the site and it's been a little maudlin for a while now. Perhaps I'll get re-enthused at some stage to modernise it a bit, because parts of it certainly need it.

    I did get frustrated however, because obviously what Tékumel needs is investment, money, moolah. Again, that's not going to come in by selling RPG books.

    I have no solution, I'm afraid. I still think Tékumel is wonderful, but it needs fresh approach. It reminds me of the guys at Cyan doing the sequel to the old computer game Myst - if you look at their first designs, they were doing someting very similar to the first game. Then they hired Richard Vender Wende, who brought in an entirely new and fresh approach that was still Myst but was something completely new and different - Riven.

    IHMO, Tékumel needs new blood, basically!

    Cheers, Peter

  12. Hi,

    I don't know if anyone is going to read this (it's been sometime since the original post). Anyway, I haven't played any rpg for a very long time and I didn't know anything about Tékumel before yesterday. Link hopping from something completely unrelated I ended up in the yahoo groups conversation and then here.

    I just wanted to say that from the impression I have, the only newcomers to Tékumel right now would be groups that like to try whatever they find. Unfortunately, I doubt these groups would be very loyal and would probably drift to other things quickly (as far as I can tell it needs some patience to get into). You need something for people to buy, something that they can easily (and cheaply) order online, something that also looks new and interesting, something that has a future.

    So, in my opinion, first decide on a ruleset. Ideally something simple and not too incompatible with what is out there. Lower the barrier to entry. That would also allow focusing more on the setting and less on the rules like Peter suggested. As far as the money goes, try Kickstarter. It seems to me that the "Adventurer, Conqueror, King" people did everything right. They put it in Kickstarter with nice rewards (and bonuses), requested feedback, asked their backers to advertise it, went to GenCon and at the end they got 3 times as much money as they needed. They managed to get 250 people backing something they probably never heard before.

    The only thing that remains is for someone to take the initiative (and possibly sort it out with the foundation, which is a part that I didn't bother reading much about).

    Just my $0.02