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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

For Cultured Friends VI

The sixth issue of The Excellent Travelling Volume continues James Maliszewski’s support for TSR Inc.’s Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel, only the third RPG to be published and the first to come with its own background. It also marks his continued involvement in the ‘Old School Renaissance’, though one more ‘cultured’ and not as prominent or as public as its once leading light via his blog, Grognardia. That return is notable this year for his redevelopment and presentation anew of The Cursed Chateau, his funhouse adventure for the Old School Renaissance for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and that in addition to the release of the inaugural issue of Imperio, the fanzine dedicated to the author’s RPG of Imperial Science Fiction, Thousand Suns. Previous issues—one, two, three, four, and five—of The Excellent Travelling Volume have all showcased his campaign, House of Worms, about the doings of members of a clan based in the roofed city of Sokátis, but this the sixth issue, derives more readily from the now nearly two-year old campaign. Further, this issue also draws from the author’s second campaign, this one set in and around the Mu’ugalavyáni city of Gashchné.

Which is why the first article in The Excellent Travelling Volume, Issue No. 6 is devoted to the creation of ‘Livyáni and Tsoléini Characters’. Essentially, as provided in previous editions of the fanzine, this article provides changes and additions to the character creation rules in Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel, as well as presenting the differences in terms of religion, society, clan structure, and so on in comparison to Tsolyánu characters. There are some cultural differences covered too, for example, the institution of Aridáni in Livyánu and amongst the Tsoléini. The article is drawn from material previously presented in Swords & Glory, Volume 1: Tékumel Sourcebook to which the author has added elements of his own invention. These are all excellent additions, useful for NPCs as well as player characters. Given that the Tsoléini come from a distant archipelago, that of Tsoléi, one interesting use for them might be as player characters in the classic ‘Straight off the Boat’ beginning campaign.

The next addition is ‘Spells of the Inimical Races’, which examines the spells used by the Hlúss, the Ssú, and the Shunned Ones, the latter in particular. This includes spells known to, and used by, mankind, but which these other races have their own variants. So these include Create food and drink, Charm creature, and The vapour of the death. To these are added new spells, such as Comminution, which reduces metal items to dust, and Deliquesence, which reduces the target to a puddle of protoplasmic goo, both of which are cast by the Ssú. 

The Dry Bay of Ssu’úm is described in two articles. The first, the ‘Bestiary’, gives three new creatures to be found in the region, such as the Ajináthu or ‘The Creaker’ and Mrígako or ‘The Brain Plant’, whilst the second, ‘The Dry Bay of Ssu’úm’, is a gazetteer of the region. This a frontier region, caught between the various empires, and sometimes different factions within the empires, even as some local leaders agitate and campaign for unification of the region. The gazetteer also comes with a map and the description includes some pointers towards running adventures in the region, though perhaps the author will revisit the region with adventure ideas or the well done patrons—as seen in previous editions of the fanzine.

‘The Village of Kumashkékkur’ describes a location in more detail. Closer to the author’s campaign base of Sokátis, the village is nicely mapped, its clans and notables nicely detailed, but in sense it is not the ‘actual’ village as per the author’s campaign. This is because there are still secrets to be revealed about Kumashkékkur—secrets that have not come to light in the campaign—and because some of the information in the description is intentionally false. This information may become important to the author’s House of Worms campaign in due course, but more importantly, what it means is that the article has not been written with the wider fanbase in mind, but rather with the players of the campaign in mind. It is difficult not to feel a little short changed by this given that it is written for a few rather than the wider, paying fanbase. 

Accompanying ‘The Village of Kumashkékkur’ is ‘The Forest Ruins’, a description of another location near the village. There are secrets here that will be of interest to any religious scholar—especially if they are of a worshipper of Ksárul—though the GM will need to devise reasons for the player characters to investigate the location. Otherwise, the description of the ruins feels a little underwritten, but is a decent above ground ‘dungeon’.

The Excellent Travelling Volume, Issue No. 6 feels underwhelming in comparison to earlier issues. The problem is twofold. First is the intentional lack of given information about Kumashkékkur, but second is the lack of remedy to that. Ideally, a good set of patrons or encounters or simply, adventure ideas, could have helped the GM make the village his own—without having to rely on secrets that have not been divulged in the issue—and given reason for the adventurers to perhaps look for, and explore, ‘The Forest Ruins’. Similarly, patrons for use with ‘The Dry Bay of Ssu’úm’ would also have useful

Physically, The Excellent Travelling Volume, Issue No. 6 is solidly presented. Both its artwork and its cartography continue to be excellent. That said, another edit would not have gone amiss, but there is a solidly assured feel to this issue.

Like previous issues, The Excellent Travelling Volume, Issue No. 6 is worth having on the shelf if you are a ‘petalhead’, a fan of Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne. It is not though, up to the standards of previous issues, not because it lacks interesting content or a mix of interesting content, but rather because it lacks the application of previous content. The Excellent Travelling Volume, Issue No. 6 is definitely one for the fans—just not necessarily the casual ones.