Tékumel fans have been making a lot of noise recently around a perennial subject: how best to revive M.A.R. Barker's almost-famous setting. The rarefied, usually-quiet Tékumel list is a-thrum with exchanges over what product vehicle would best spark said revival.
Most seem to be advocating for a switch to a modern, bigger-tent game system (d20, Pathfinder, or Savage Worlds), others pushing for a system-neutral re-release of source material or a sprucing up of the primal game system Empire of the Petal Throne.
While my sympathies lean to the latter camp, I find myself wondering if any of these noteworthy projects are enough. Could any of them on their own weight deliver this lovingly baroque, sword-and-planet world to a broader audience?
I am certainly no expert myself on rpg product development—and it's really a very foolish person who looks to me for my unsolicited armchair advice—but I keep thinking that Tékumel needs something broader and more ambitious if it wants to widen its niche. To be exact, I keep hoping that Tékumel took some cues from the recent history of its distant cousin, Glorantha.
Tékumel and Glorantha share a good deal in common on the face of it.
Both settings sprung Pallas Athena-like from the heads of brilliantly creative--and detail obsessed—single creators (Barker and Greg Stafford) years before a game could give them expression. Both evolved in the 1970s variant game systems out of the OD&D mothership (EPT and Runequest)—and both posited (and delivered) themselves as much deeper explorations of fantasy worlds than vanilla D&D. Both of them also wandered in the wilderness for a while intellectual property tangles after their respective heydays-- EPT after being cut loose from TSR and Runequest after the Avalon Hill debacle.
But for all those similarities Glorantha fared better.
While its public profile is still pretty modest even by the diminished standards of the tabletop rpg hobby today, Glorantha does have some kick to it. It has, for starters, not just one living game, but two. Instead of detracting from each the two game lines seem to complement each other by satisfying two different fan niches: Mongoose's confusingly-titled Runequest II for the lovers of the game system proper and Heroquest for the hardcore, narrativist lovers of Third Age Glorantha. Tellingly both games are pumping out a stream of attractive new products.
Meanwhile on the side you have an almost-bewildering array of clone projects giving other living game platforms for people interested in gaming that world: the streamlined RQ-lite systems of Openquest and now Doomquest (thanks to the Stafford-dedicated recent issue of old school zine Fight On!) ; the high crunch of Steve Perrin's SPQR, or the abstracted new edition of BRP.
On top of all that you have the (perhaps soon) re-release of one the best introductions to Glorantha ever devised, the computer strategy game King of Dragon Pass. By virtue of being a computer game—and a smart-phone app to boot—its highly likely that it will help bring audiences back around the setting than any tabletop game, no matter its success in this period, could ever muster.
Thinking of all those things I find myself dreaming about a similar revival for EPT. Something like...something like...
[Now you have to imagine here a dreamy harp playing and the camera lens shaking around to signify a Gilligan's Island-like dream sequence.]
...Something like if you took all the stirrings of the current contemporary Tékumel corners and yoked them to revamped historical legacy projects for a full-court press aimed at the returning tabletoppers of the rpg “Baby Boom” of the 80s.
Let's parse out that mouthful.
Let's parse out that mouthful.
What if you started with two new-old living games. Say on one level for the old system-lovers you took the old EPT rules cleaned them up, reformatted them, and added in some new art here and there. It's not an audience of the thousands that some seem to have stars in the eyes for, but an attractive OD&D variant game is highly likely to attract an audience in the hundreds (yes, let's be real). And hell the rules are already written.
Now if you really wanted to be ambitious with that audience you could start to release a few high-profile supplements I believe guaranteed to have as much appeal as the rule set above: the much-coveted Jakallan underworld, the lengthy and excellent Swords & Glory sourcebooks; perhaps even a porting of the deep, interesting Temple-based magic of S&G.
On the second level you could have another living game for the hardcore based on an even-simpler system: the super-lite, almost rule-less story-focused mechanics that Barker himself used for a time. (Ironically of which I first read in the program book of a Runequest convention.)
And now here's the other pillar that I think is as just as necessary as the products above—or more—an explosion of creative hobbyist energies canonical and not around the setting.
Here we can already see the seeds: the creative, consistent play and preservation efforts of the Aethervox Gamers up in the tundra; the Tekumel Project's excellent, drop-dead gorgeous range of figures; Victor Raymond's runnings of Jakallan underworld games at recent conventions; The Drune's efforts to expand the space opera pre-history of EPT into a fully fledged game of its own with Humanspace Empires; and the list goes on (and my typing hand tires).
Idle, pointless dreams perhaps, but hope does spring eternal.