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Sunday 21 June 2015

For Cultured Friends III

If James Maliszewski is no longer the leading—though much missed—proponent of the Old School Renaissance through his blog Grognardia, he is at least upholding the ‘Old School’ banner in an Old School fashion for an Old School RPG. That RPG is TSR Inc.’s Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel and that fashion is in the form of a fanzine, The Excellent Travelling Volume. The first and second issues of the fanzine have already sold out, finding favour with ‘Petalheads’ everywhere, providing likeable, accessible support for what is a niche gamer’s niche setting.

As with previous issues, The Excellent Travelling Volume #3 comes as a twenty-eight page, digest-sized booklet, illustrated with greyscale pictures. Its content amounts to just five sections, some of which are new, while others continue support seen in the previous two issues. The issue starts out though with an important statement of intent in its introduction, the groundwork for which was laid in issue #2 with the description of the location and date of the author’s campaign—Sokátis, the City of Roofs in the 2350s before the death of Emperor Hirkáne and Prince Dhich’uné’s subsequent coup. This is in contrast with the many other campaigns that take place during and after the resulting civil war, but what it allows the author to do is to take the campaign in a direction dictated by the actions of his players and thus not always in the direction of the late Professor M.A.R. Barker’s own Thursday night campaign. His point is that the future of Empire of the Petal Throne and thus your campaign does not have to follow that of official Tékumel and this can be seen in some of the non-canonical articles in this issue and likely will be seen in futures issues.

The first two of the articles in this issue have a bearing upon Sokátis, the City of Roofs and the author’s campaign. As in the previous issues, ‘Salarvyáni and Pecháni characters (additions and changes)’ is an article that expands upon the rules for character creation, in this providing details that will help flesh out Salarvyáni and Pecháni characters, including Alignment, gender, skills, Level Titles, gods, and both names and clan names. These work not just for player characters, but also for NPCs, more so for Sokátis, the City of Roofs, the closest Tsolyáni city to Salarvyá and Pecháno. The second article, ‘A Portion of the Underworld of Sokátis’ describes the other half of the ‘Tsuru’úm’ or underworld that lies beneath the city’s Foreigners’ Quarter first described in issue #2. Where the first half felt a little random and unfocused, this second half gives this section of ‘Tsuru’úm’ focus and to some extent, purpose. It has become home to a near heretical cult devoted to an ill thought of aspect of Dlamélish. Nevertheless, the Old School Renaissance mentality does mean that even together the two parts of  ‘A Portion of the Underworld of Sokátis’ come up a little short. A little more motivation in terms of the inhabitants of this Underworld might well have sharpened its the focus and purpose  as would suggestions as to what might bring the player characters into its antiquated tunnels.

The Temple of Ksárul holds no little sway and influence in  Sokátis, so the article on ‘Demons of Ksárul and Grugánu’—Grugánu being the cohort of Ksárul—gives ready support for any player character priest of either god as well as NPCs. Of the three creatures described here, that given for ‘The Dwellers in Shadow’ expands upon their description in Swords & Glory 2 under the Demonology spell, whilst that given for ‘Llyanmákchi, She of the Twisted Visage’ expands upon that given for her in the infamous Book of Ebon Bindings.* The third creature, the ‘Munggái’ appear to be new, but do  feel as if they could have been described in fascinatingly foul tome as they do  have a grotesqueness that nicely verges on the weird. This is the first in a series of articles that author promises will detail further demons and inhabitants of ‘the Planes Beyond’, including those that serve the  Tlomitlányal, the Gods of Stability. In all likelihood these will be of more service to player characters who adhere to those deities and their cohorts.

*I am indebted to the inestimable George S. Hammond for his welcome corrections upon this matter.

As in previous issues of The Excellent Travelling Volume, the best article in issue #3 is a collection of adventure ideas. In both of those issues these were presented as collections of patrons, but here they are presented as encounters. Specifically encounters ‘On the Road’, which all take place on the great three-tiered Sákbe roads that crisscross the Five Empires. There are fifteen here, ranging from Adventurers and Courtesans (Lowest) to Imperial Messengers and Lords (Highest) via Soldiers (Middle). Most of the encounters take place on the lowest and highest tiers, so they may always be of immediate in a campaign where the character only travel along one tier, but they all interesting and colourful and capture some of the flavour and feel of Tsolyánu.

Wrapping up this third issue is a short adventure, ‘The Tower of Wachánu’. It describes a long abandoned vessel of the Ancients which has in more recent times become the ‘resting place’ for a magician, much in the manner described—and here acknowledged as being—in The Tower of the Stargazer, the adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying. In comparison with that scenario, ‘The Tower of Wachánu’ lacks detail, but within its six pages it packs in detail enough. It is a simple enough affair, though the ramifications of its ‘re-discovery’ will probably bring out more of the cultural aspects of Empire of the Petal Throne than this scenario does. Perhaps worthy of a sequel?

Physically, The Excellent Travelling Volume #3 is clean and tidy with a light sprinkling of art. Its centre pages consist of a character sheet for use with TSR Inc.’s Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel. It looks nice and is just fussy enough hint at the baroque nature of the setting. Zhu Baje’s cover is excellent, though it suggests that the issue will cover Sárku, the Five-Headed Lord of Worms, rather than what it actually does cover.

In comparison to the previous issue, The Excellent Travelling Volume #3 is disparate in feel and not quite as focused. Nevertheless, this is an interesting collection of articles and there should be something in its pages for every ‘Petalhead’, whatever rules they are using—even if just using the encounters in ‘On the Road’. Solid support then for  Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel.

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