A Reminiscence of Tékumel

I came to Tékumel late. When I started roleplaying in the very early 80s Empire of the Petal Throne had already assumed the status of a legendary artifact from the earliest days of RPGs. When I started collecting a diverse array of RPGs in the early 90s the only thing in print was the Different Worlds semi-reprint of the original game. I’m not sure when I picked that up but it must have been in the period around 1993, give or take a couple of years — I do remember the long-dead store I bought it from. I found it instantly compelling, and started accreting what would become a substantial collection, at great difficulty and often great expense.

I have sold off a lot of RPG products over the years, but my Tékumel stuff is and will remain on my “from my cold dead fingers” list. I never did meet Professor Barker, nor did I have any significant contact with him on the Tékumel mailing lists on which he was sometimes active, nor did I ever make it to U-Con for the Tékumel track there, much to my regret. Nevertheless, Tékumel remains one of my greatest influences — Barker’s elaborate depiction of Tsolyáni among other languages are why my own invented language of Draványa exists as it does, and why I ended up taking a Linguistics class a few quarters ago, and why I found it easy — because I had already done a lot of reading on my own in the field, inspired by Barker.

The Ytherra of earlier epochs showed Barker’s influence very clearly. The current one not so much unless you know where to look, but it’s still there, in the languages, in the deep history and the naturalistic cosmology and the unknowable terrors that gnaw at the roots of the world of men, and in the races much more alien than one finds in traditional fantasy. This will someday, I hope, see print, and if it does I’ll acknowledge the debt it owes him.

Barker’s death was not unexpected, I’m afraid — he had been unwell for some years. He did, however, create before his passing the Tékumel Foundation to carry on the work of Tékumel, and to preserve his copious notes and artifacts for a new generation of fans. It’s remarkable not that Barker has died, but that he was with us for so long, still creating until near the end.

It’s been said that hardly anyone listened to Velvet Underground albums, but everyone who did started their own band. I think Tékumel is like that — so brilliant, so ahead of its time — that it spurred others to embark on creative journeys of their own. It did for me. It’s still ahead of us today, in many ways, a work as challenging as it is inventive.

So Farewell, O Ye of Wide Journeyings. You left us a great legacy that we’ll be struggling to live up to for decades to come.


Farewell, Gary Gygax

This morning Gary Gygax, creator of Dunegons & Dragons, passed away. He was 69.

It’s safe to say that none us us would be here right now, doing this, if it weren’t for him. He was a titan of gaming, and if a man’s worth is measured by the number of people’s lives he made happier, then he stands among the giants of the 20th Century.

I met him in person a couple of times and corresponded with him a bit back in the 90s. A lot of people felt that he was “The Man” that they wanted to rail against, but I always thought he was a heck of a nice guy, warm, open and friendly. I for one am deeply saddened by his passing, and as has sagely been pointed out elsewhere, no memorial is really neccessary; the entire community and industry of roleplaying – tabletop, computer, LARP or whatever, is his memorial.

The good news is that there’s one blockbuster of a dungeon crawl scheduled next week in Heaven.

Goodbye, Gary Gygax. I will raise a horn in your name.