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Monday, 27 August 2018

For Cultured Friends VIII

There has been a disappointing wait of a year between the publication of The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 7 and the arrival of The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 8, but not just in terms of the content for the content is not as promised. For on the back cover of The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 7, the author and publisher promised the reader a complete ‘campaign starter’ which of course will be set in Sokátis, the location for the author’s House of Worms campaign. It would have included maps, locations, NPCs, adventures, pre-generated player characters, and more. When the ‘Just Off the Boat’ remains the roleplaying game’s default starting point, there remains the need for a starting point involving the player characters who are already Tsolyáni citizens and clan members rather than clanless, nakome scum. There was every chance that The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 8 would provide such a starting point.

Unfortunately, this is not something that The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 8 provides. Now this is disappointing, but the author at least takes the time to explain why. The primary reason being because the author’s campaign has very much moved on from Sokátis, its starting base, and so he is focused on another region of TSR Inc.’s Empire of the PetalThrone: The World of Tékumel. Consequently, his attention has moved on and he is no longer as interested in writing about Sokátis, whereas he is interested in writing about the current state of his campaign. This understandable, but again disappointing. On the other hand, The Excellent Travelling Volume is the author’s fanzine rather than ours and he is well within his rights to write and direct the content as he sees fit. This of course, leaves the reader and the Tékumeli fanbase wanting the perfect campaign starter, the perfect step from rules into the rich setting of Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel, but in the meantime, there is still The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 8.

The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 8 opens with ‘Linyaró, Outpost of the Petal Throne’, a small city located on the Achgé Peninsula. This describes how a few centuries ago an expedition lead by the temples of Ksárul and Vimúhla sailed south for some six months to the southern continent where they founded the city of Linyaró. Over the years, the city prospered and forged strong trade-relationships with the neighbouring Násqui city-states. More recently Prince Mrid
óbu has taken a strong interest in the colony and appointed a member of the House of Worms clan its governor. The clans important to the city are listed, as are the temples and various NPCs. What is interesting here is that the historical lack of interest in the colony by the high clans means that various medium clans dominate Linyaró and their hold various positions of power and influence. In effect, this gives player characters—certainly those of a medium status clan as found in many a campaign—the room to grow and gain authority and the Game Master to reward them as such. Even if the Game Master does not use Linyaró specifically, then she can at least use it as inspiration or a model for her own campaign on the frontier.

The regular department, the ‘Bestiary’, adds four creatures native and non-native to the region, including the Cheshchá, essentially an ornery version of the Hmá; the vermin the Híkkutu; the Hlingá, a tiny lizard which can get into any box or crevice and is known for the slime it oozes which is painful to the touch; and the Rukétra, the large river beast with a rancid bite. None of these beasts are particularly aggressive and most amount to nuisances more than anything else. This points towards adventures in and around Linyaró rather than necessarily out on the frontier. Presumably, future issues of The Excellent Travelling Volume will describe new creatures and so support adventures beyond the confines of the colony.

The setting is further supported a good map of Linyaró and a separate hex map of on the Achgé Peninsula, as well as by five patrons and a description of the region. The ‘Patrons’ column has been a persistently good feature in the fanzine and its inclusion in The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 8 is no exception. They include a Shén mercenary looking for missing members of his company; a priest of Hnálla wanting aid and protection for a journey to a ruined temple; a local street urchin who fears for his life; the captain of the governor’s palace guard who fears that the palace has beset by a rash of thefts; and a merchant who might have an agenda other than just shipping goods. All are fully stated up and each of set-ups comes with several possible solutions ready for the Game Master to develop further. Perhaps it would have good to have included at least one patron who was native to the region, but otherwise this is a solid quintet. Accompanying this piece is a table of random encounters in the city.

‘The Achgé Peninsula’ explores the region beyond Linyaró in greater detail. It provides a history as known and a description of the region. More interesting though is the write-up of the native peoples and their culture—the Naqsái. There are some lovely details included about them, such as the fact that they wear parasols, loose clothing, and pigmented ointments painted in blocks on the skin to protect against the bright sun and high temperatures on the peninsula. As expected, attention is paid to their social structures, notably the lack of clans and the reliance on lodges, primarily professional bodies. Throughout the issue, there are illustrations of the Naqsái which although a little cartoon-like, have a slight Mesoamerican feel which do a terrific job of capturing the difference between Tsyolanu characters and the local inhabitants. Each is given a short description too, enabling the Game Master to develop them as NPCs. It would be interesting to see some guidelines in futures on creating and playing both Naqsái player characters and NPCs.

Now as interesting as the material in The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 8 on Linyaró, the Achgé Peninsula, and the Naqsái is, none of it is official. This is no surprise given how little official information there is on the region, but then it leaves it wide open for a Game Master—and in this case—author to develop their own information. This does not mean that the material here is any less interesting or gameable and so can be used by other Game Masters for their campaigns.

Physically, The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 8 is up to the standards set by previous issues. The writing is engaging, the illustrations excellent, and it feels professional. Overall, The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 8 might not be what was promised, but it continues to showcase the love that the author and his artists have for Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel.

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