Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tékumel's Other Underworlds and Pre-TSR Rules: Jeff Berry Encore

The best interviews are like great conversations they start before the first published question sees the published light of day—and often continue after with the popping of neurons stimulated in the follow-up.

Since some of you asked all polite like, I couldn't resist sharing a little more of said follow-up with Jeff Berry, so we have a short encore from our Twin Cities friend today. Jeff has some recent news to share on his own blog about the launch of a second public foundation to preserve the historical legacy of decades of EPT gaming. Check it out here.

I won't let the cat out of the bag, but later today I start the interview process with another great early (and time/energy generous) pioneer. I think readers will be in for a treat when we put the thing to bed later this week.

Hill Cantons: Looks like people are hungry for more detail on the underworlds. Any other interesting details to add? Did y'all spend time exploring other underworlds? How did these compare to Jakalla?

Jeff Berry: I could go on for pages and pages about Jakalla's underworld; there was that much stuff. I don't want to do the book here, but several of the areas do stick out.

One is the big Temple of Vimuhla up in one corner of the map; it's surrounded by a deep moat, with is full of other- planar flame, and you have to cross a wide esplanade to get to the front gate. Needless to say, the temple guards can see you coming, and it's very hard to get in there. The Temple of Hry'y has a big stone head that you can get into and deliver 'divine speeches' to the worshipers below - provided that the temple priests don't catch you at it! The Temple of Chiteng has a small prison, with a few important people in the cells who are worth rescuing, but the guards and guardians are thick as flies on a melon.

There's a section of tombs where the loot is very good, but the devices that protect the entrances require a lot of puzzle-solving. Beyond those, the tomb guardians themselves are no push-overs and can wipe out a party if one isn't really careful. Lower levels are more challenging; the Garden of the Weeping Snows is in a class by itself, between the pale Legion's armored troopers and the recondite powers of the Undying Wizard Nyelmu. Jakalla's underworld is right up there at the top of the heap, danger- and reward-wise.

We also explored the underworlds in Tu'umnra, Fasiltum, Bey Sy, Chochi, Dlash, Hekellu, and one or two other places. Tu'umnra and Hekellu are the best documented, but Fasiltum was the most interesting. Bey Su was a major plot line of Phil's, so I don't want to say too much about that one...

HC: What were the pre-TSR publication rules like? They were pretty close, if not identical, to the original D&D rules or were there major quirks already?

JB: EPT, both in the published and manuscript versions, was in effect an edited and play-tested version of the original D & D. Both Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were very impressed with Phil's rules, as in a lot of ways they were cleaner and easier to use then the three-book set was.

The mimeographed manuscript of EPT was much heavier on the information about the world-setting, and if published today would be squarely in the “sword and planet” genre rather then the 'swords and sorcery' genre.

There was a bit more 'hard science' there, which Phil edited for various reasons in the published version. Gary Gygax also asked Phil to modify some of the terms and game mechanics to make EPT more compatible with D&D, as there was a concern at TSR that gamers might not be able to handle having different game mechanics like percentile dice rolls vs. lots of polyhedral dice rolls.

I also think Gary was the reason why EPT used the “good/evil” dichotomy instead of Phil's preferred “stability/change”. Both Dave and Gary were big fans of the “keep it simple, stupid” principle, and I got the impression from both of them when I talked with them that they thought that most gamers wouldn't be able to appreciate the finer points of the “greyscale” of Phil's “change/stability”, and would be better of with their own black and white concept of “good/evil”.