Monday, November 15, 2010

Tékumel in Miniature: Jeff Berry Interview Part III

We reach the last part of our interview today. What's amazing is there is a good deal more on the cutting room floor. A big thank you to Jeff for helping us explore this nook of our hobby. I will be attempting to sweet talk other old heads over the next few months, so look forward to more inside scoops.

All photos in today's interview are from Jeff's candy store of a Photobucket page.

A busy week ahead for the Hill Cantons with reviews of Clovis Cithog's Red Planet RPG and Michael Curtis' new Stonehell Supplement in the hopper. Plus we'll have more older-edition new classes, Holmes Expert set musings, news on the Pulp Fantasy Society, and more.

Hill Cantons: You said that you always considered yourself a modeler first, let's talk about those minis. I love the photos of minis of the original PCs and NPCs (noticed lots of Tom Meier-era Ral Partha and some Heritage minis--my own first figures!). Did miniatures play a big role in the campaign? How often were they used in play?

Jeff Berry: I had gotten started in historical miniatures gaming in the early 1970's, and had seen the Tekumel figures when they came out in 1975. I started painting them, collecting everything I could about Tekumel in order to do a good job on them, and as a result got invited out to Phil's to paint figures for him.

He'd buy bulk packs of the Tekumel figures, and I'd paint them up for him. The deal was that he'd keep half and I'd get the other half of the batch as payment for the work. That was the start of my collection, which is now owned by the Aethervox Gamers. There's something like 4,600 figures in the collection, as well as ships, buildings, scenery, and terrain.

The second night I was out at Phil's, the party was trying to find out what had happened to the garrison of a small fort in one of the player's fief. It was full of 'wild' Pe Choi, as it turned out, and the party started to debate (as players will) what to do about it.

Phil had just gotten a pretty good shipment of the Pe Choi figures in and done, so I suggested that we get out his little modular castle and fight out the assault that the players wanted to do in miniature. Phil loved the idea, we got everything out, and fought the battle.

We had to fake up the player-characters from what were mostly the military figures that we had, and I came back the next week with some individual player figures that I'd converted and painted up to represent everyone. Phil and the group really liked that, and it started the tradition of everyone having their own personal figure.

I kept that up for years, doing new figures as needed to reflect the changes in status and wealth of each player, and I still do it today for the Aethervox players.

Prior to that, about the only time the miniatures came out was to fight big battles or other military actions; at that time, that's what “fantasy wargaming” was. After I did the PC figures, we'd use them on a pretty regular basis.

When we went off on our first voyage to the Southern Continent, I drew up the deck plans of Dave's /Harchar's ship and we placed the figures on the plan to indicate where people were at any given moment.

Gary Gygax gave me one of the TSR RPGA miniatures cases at a Gen Con, and I used that for years to bring the figures out to Phil's every Thrusday night. They got used all the time as a sort of “tactical display”, and it did make combats much easier to run.

I had to do a lot of conversions because, back then, there was a much smaller number of figures available, from very few companies. There were some Hyborean and other fantasy figures I used, but until Tom Meier revolutionized the sculpting process by using epoxy putty the figures weren't all that great. I used some Garrison, Minifigs, and Heritage figures as well the Bill Murray Tekumel figures at first, but used mostly Ral Partha figures as ther ranges expanded. There's also a few Grenadier figures as well, but it mostly became Ral Partha as the figures of choice because there were so many options.

I would do everyone's PC, and their NPC servants and such, so we could put everyone on the table for game situations.

As for how often we'd use them, well, it got to be every game session. If there was a melee, of course, but they would also get used in social situations like parties and feasts so that we could all keep track of who was where. It was why we had sets of servants with platters of food, slave girls with fans, musicians, etc., as well as furniture and other stuff.

I'd be asked to do up room plans and drawings from Phil's quick sketches, and we'd play on these plans. I also had gotten some of Gary Rudolph's "Netherworld" sets, and we'd use either these or my collection of wooden blocks for underworld situations.

We still do this, and I've continued to build what amounts to the “scenery” and “props” for our games. I treat them as little stage productions, and it's always huge amounts of fun to watch a new generation of players peer at some detail and wonder what will happen to them next. Phil used to do this all the time, and I'm happy to be able to continue the tradition.

HC:It sounds like you are still running a campaign in Tekumel. How's that going?

JB:Pretty well, I think: I run two groups, on alternate Saturdays, and we have something like twenty players between the two groups.

I manage to keep them amused, and they seem to have a lot of fun exploring Tekumel. Several are really gifted artists, and have published their Tekumel work. Several more are equally gifted sculptors, and are doing masters for Tekumel miniatures.

We're in the process of becoming a formal organization, too; when we pooled all of our individual Tekumel collections, as you can see from the photos of the game room I've posted, we found we had a huge resource of books, documents, costumes, miniatures, and artifacts.

The collections keep growing, and we've working to set up a trust to maintain them for people to enjoy. There's over thirty years of history there, and we're hoping that other folks will enjoy the collections and Tekumel as much as we have.

HC: You said you were working on a book, tell us about that project.

JB: To Serve The Petal Throne will be a book, which I'm going to send through the approvals process that the Tekumel Foundation is putting together. It's a series of short stories taken directly from our adventures in Phil's games. I took notes every night our at Phil's for over a decade, and about all I'm doing is making the prose a little more readable. I'm just reporting what happened, really.

The first part of the book will cover the adventures of Anka'a, who started playing EPT the very first night they had a game: August 24th, 1974 [read her account of that night here]. Her adventures dovetailed with Chirine's as she came to play in our group and explored a lot of Tekumel with us. We'll see, we have a long way to go. 


  1. Please, sir, can I have some more? Brilliant interview, so inspirational - Mr Berry is a great raconteur and can't wait to read his book.

    These interviews make me want to rush off and grab graph paper, dice and pens and get gaming. Thank you so much.

  2. Interesting. I'll be looking forward to the Tekumel book.

  3. I've read part of To Serve the Petal Throne, and it is not only very evocative, but well-turned and enjoyable reading in tone and pacing. I'm still going through the chapters I have.

  4. Agree with Timeshadows I think it will be worth the wait. I hope that the Tekumel Foundation let's it past the post.

  5. @Acrobatic Flea
    More gruel?! Yes well we shall connive a way to get some more of that material out on here.