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Monday, 4 January 2021

For Cultured Friends XII: The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 12

For devotees of TSR Inc.’s Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel, 2020 is notable for the release of not one, two issues of The Excellent Travelling Volume, James Maliszewski’s fanzine dedicated to Professor M.A.R. Barker’s baroque creation. The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 11 was published in April, 2020—available direct from the author or the Melsonian Arts Council—and continues his exploration of one of oldest of roleplaying settings heavily influenced by the campaigns he has been running, the primary being his House of Worms campaign, originally based in, around, and under Sokátis, the City of Roofs before travelling across the southern ocean to ‘Linyaró, Outpost of the Petal Throne’, a small city located on the Achgé Peninsula, as detailed in The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 8.

As per usual, The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 12 opens an editorial from James Maliszewski. This highlights the gap between this issue and The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 11–or rather the lack of a gap, one facilitated by the periods of enforced isolation that beset many of us in 2020, as well as the continuing influence of the author’s ongoing House of Worms campaign. That can be seen in the first entry in the issue, part of the ‘Additions and Changes’ series which examines the various non-human races on Tékumel and makes them playable. ‘Hláka Characters’ adds the three-eyed, bewinged, and sharp-tailed species capable of actual flight. Like many non-human races, they do not acknowledge the Gods of Stability and Change, but when living amongst human civilisations, may adopt one or more faiths to fit in! However, they make for poor worshippers at any temple. Notably, they have a reputation for being skittish and cowardly, but this does not stop the militaries of the Five Empires recruiting them as scouts and even into legions, many of which are listed, solely comprised of Hláka and occasionally as aerial artillery. In terms of Profession, there is no limit in terms of their options, but they make better Warriors than they do Magic-Users or Priests. Alongside notes on Hláka names and homelands, the article includes discussion of Hláka clans—there are none. That is, except for the Blue Clouds of Joy Clan in Béy Sü, an extremely notable exception. Rounding out the article are rules for Hláka flight. This is another fine addition to the series, which with the inclusion of names, makes them both reasonably playable.

The second entry in the ‘Additions and Changes’ series is ‘Psychic Ability and Spells (Additions and Changes) which presents an adjusted table for rolling the Psychic Ability, and discusses the dangers of wearing metal—almost any metal, when casting spells and gives a table of results should a Magic-User attempt to cast a spell whilst wearing metal. Having discussed and presented the dangers of combining metal and magic, the article is rounded off with a discussion of what a sorcerer might actually wear instead of metal, pleasingly adding some colour.

‘The Warrior (Proposal)’ is the author’s suggestion to develop and add context to the Warrior Profession in Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel. It does this by dividing the skills in General and Soldier skills, so Spearman and Bowman are General skills and Drills and Logistics are Soldier skills. The aim here is to have General skills that any Warrior can learn, whilst the Soldier skills can only be learned by serving in the legions. Accompanied by the definitions of various skills, it nicely serves to individualise the Warrior Profession and a Player Character’s previous history.

The centre piece in The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 12 is ‘Sa’á Allaqiyár, the Many-Towered City’, a detailed description of the capital of the northern empire of Sa’á Allaqi. It is accompanied by an excellent map, and covers the history of the city, an examination of its major clans—several of which have been adopted from the other four members of the Five Empires, and its notable features. These range from a sizeable Foreigners’ Quarter and an extensive number of brothels to the Pyramid of Néngetl, the long looted tomb of the first Engsvanyáli governor and the Ancient Sealed Gate, the former entry to the city on its eastern wall which was bricked up upon the advice of the priests of the One of Light, who stated that it would bring their god’s blessing and ensure that ‘Sa’á Allaqiyár would never fall. Of course, this is not canon, but this is another excellent article, one which is more than serviceable until such times as there is an official version of the city.

‘The Roads of Avanthár (Part 2)’ completes the short story by David A. Lemire begun in The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 11. The story describes the discovery of a great book and the efforts by members of the military faction to get it to the emperor in Avanthár, and their own rivalries. Ultimately, the concluding part leaves questions unanswered and adds mysteries of its own, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

‘The Hollows of Gyánu’ is the adventure location given in The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 12, the hideout for a group of Kilalammuyáni bandits in the mountains of Tsolyánu’s Chaigári Protectorate, who have been raiding local caravans. The local governor has posted a reward for their capture or their demise, but unfortunately, something already has happened to them by the time the Player Characters arrive to investigate their cave hideout. There are riches to be found in the caves and the sinkhole they are clustered around, but also terrible secrets of the Five Empires’ religious past. It is a nicely done encounter, a mixture of horror and exploration, which is easily transferred to a location of Referee’s choice.

The third entry in the ‘Additions’ series is ‘Bestiary (Addition)’ and presents two creatures as an accompaniment to ‘The Hollows of Gyánu’. The two creatures are the Achayá, ‘The Blood of Gyánu’ and the Chagrúo, ‘The Frozen Dead’, two nasty monsters emanating from the Expanse of the Cold Dark, also detailed here. Rounding out The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 12 is ‘Initial Encounters (Additions and Changes)’, the third entry in the issue’s ‘Additions and Changes’, which presents a replacement table of visitors who might be encountered in the city of Jakálla and the nature of their task in hand. Again, both tables are easy to adapt to other civilised settings and so have a wider use.

Physically, The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 12 is nicely produced, a sturdy little booklet in a thick card cover, pleasingly illustrated and tidily presented throughout. Both the illustrations and the maps are good too.

The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 12 continues the author’s excellent support for Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel. It is a solid issue, packed with content and background that the Referee can readily bring to her campaign.

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