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Friday, 13 March 2015

For Cultured Friends II

Following on from the near sellout success of The Excellent Travelling Volume #1, James Maliszewski publishes the second issue of this fanzine that provides direct support for Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel, TSR Inc.’s second RPG published, as well as indirect support for any RPG set on Tékumel, including the very latest, UNIgames’ Béthorm: Tabletop Role-Playing on the Plane of Tékumel. Despite it being just twenty-eight pages in length, there was a lot to like about The Excellent Travelling Volume #1, in particular its patron descriptions and the included adventure. The good news is that The Excellent Travelling Volume #2 is equally as likeable and provides even better support for ‘Petalheads’ as Maliszewski terms them in his introduction to this issue.

Again, The Excellent Travelling Volume #2 comes as a twenty-eight page, digest-sized booklet, illustrated with greyscale pictures. Inside are just seven sections. All but two of them focus on a single location—Sokátis, the City of Roofs, the Tsolyáni city close to Salarvyá and Pecháno in the far east of Tsolyánu. We are given a detailed history and description of the city, a list of its notable clans and temples, plus customs and features. Of course, the most obvious of the latter is the fact that the city is virtually roofed over, resembling a Salarvyáni city rather than a Tsolyáni one, but in addition, the city possesses extensive ‘Tsuru’úm’ or underworlds beneath the city and is located near a valley said to house one of the keys to the prison that holds Ksárul, Ancient Lord of Secrets, Doomed Prince of the Blue Room, Master of Magic and Sorcery. This makes the city important to worshippers of Ksárul, but it is important to worshippers of Sárku, the Five-Headed Lord of Worms, Master of the Undead, Guide into Darkness, the Demon-Lord of Decay. This is important because of when The Excellent Travelling Volume is set. This is firmly in the 2350s before the death of Emperor Hirkáne and Prince Dhich’uné’s coup and so the relationships that the various clans and temples have with both Sárku and Prince Dhich’uné colour the description of the city.

A decent map of Sokátis is given, along with a key, whilst a second map details part of the underworld under the city. Simon Forster’s maps possess an old fashioned quality, rough enough to impart a sense of the city having grown rather than been designed. The map and description of the underworld is only a snapshot, so it does feel somewhat lacking in focus. Further support for Sokátis comes in the form of more Patrons—arguably one of the best features in The Excellent Travelling Volume #1—and there are another five given here. As before, they  are done so in the format of Patrons a la Traveller, that is, an NPC and four to five options as what might be really going on. The five NPCs are very different, what they want is very different, and each of these Patrons is essentially the outline of a mini-scenario that the GM needs to develop. Any one of the five will tie the player characters into events in and around Sokátis and they are easily adapted to the Tékumel RPG of the GM’s choice and it is good to see their being retained for this issue.

The scenario in The Excellent Travelling Volume #2  is ‘Lost and Found’. It is more of a situation that the player characters—who might be foreigners or nakomé—can stumble into and perhaps come out not smelling of chlén dung. The problem with this detailed situation is that there perhaps too much potential for the player characters to wander in and then wander out of the scenario, missing parts of the scenario in the process. The GM may well need to nudge his players back on track more than is necessary. Nevertheless, this is decent support for the setting of Sokátis, if not quite an actual scenario.

Rounding out The Excellent Travelling Volume #2 are two articles that bookmark the Sokátis content. The first of these is ‘The Adventurer’, a new character Class that has been adapted from an article that appeared in The Dragon #31. Written by Victor Raymond, well-known ‘Petalhead’ and the first contributor to the fanzine, it describes what is essentially a non-specialist who can know a little bit of everything, from Courtesan/Don Juan and Alchemist to swordsman and a little magic, but never master anything. Essentially, it is a catchall type of character, though it has the potential to become an ‘agent’ for one faction or another. The second is a simple set of tables for ‘Random Tsolyáni Faction Names’, which is essentially a filler article, but it is just a page and it does add flavour.

Physically, The Excellent Travelling Volume #2 is better than the first issue. The writing is more focussed and the physical presentation is cleaner and clearer. If there is a physical issue with the issue, it is that the cover is not as interesting or flavoursome as that of the first issue.

The Excellent Travelling Volume #2 is a better issue than The Excellent Travelling Volume #1. There is more flavour and more detail in its pages, though if you have no interest in Sokátis, then this issue is not for you. If you are interested in Sokátis, then this issue is excellent, though annoyingly, some of the material does send the characters away from the city, leaving the GM to develop the surrounding area himself—more details on the surrounds in the next issue perhaps? It is perhaps let down by a slightly weak scenario, but the attention to Sokátis is good and hopefully, it will become the house setting for The Excellent Travelling Volume.