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Monday, 27 May 2019

For Cultured Friends X: The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 10

With the release of The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 10, the fanzine reaches a milestone that showcases the dedication of both publisher and readers in their desire to keep it an ongoing publication—it reaches double figures. Subtitled ‘A fanzine of M.A.R. Barker’s World of Tékumel’ and written for use with TSR Inc.’s Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel, the issue heralds two changes. The first is that the fanzine is available internationally, being now on sale via Melsonian Arts Council , the publisher best known for its own fanzine, The Undercroft. The second is that the back issues are now available as PDF titles, which ensures that those devotees of Tékumel who on their immediate release did not purchase them upon can do so now. Hopefully, this will ensure the wider availability of future issues as well as the past issues.

Over those past nine issues, the author has expanded the hobby’s first great roleplaying setting, both in and around the familiarity of the Five Empires on the northern continent as well as regions far away. Much of it based around the campaigns that he has run, most notably his House of Worms campaign, based in, around, and under Sokátis, the City of Roofs. In The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 8, he took both campaign and fanzine in a very different direction,  far across the southern ocean to ‘Linyaró, Outpost of the Petal Throne’, a small city located on the Achgé Peninsula. This explored—unofficially—a region not visited within Tékumel canon, as well as showcasing the possibilities of opening up regions well away from the familiarity of the Five Empires on the northern continent. The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 9 returned to the northern continent, but not necessarily the Five Empires, but some elements of the author’s Dust of Gold campaign. The latest issue, The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 10, combines elements of both—the very far away and the relatively near on the northern continent.

Following an editorial reflecting the author’s time spent on The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue, the issue opens with ‘Finding Tékumel’, really an extension of the issue’s editorial and a reflection upon this and the previous two issues and their content. Here the author examines an aspect of his interaction with Professor M.A.R. Barker, which encouraged him to visit places on Tékumel that the professor had not yet been to. What he meant was that the author—and indeed any Game Master running a Tékumel campaign—should be developing these unvisited areas themselves for their own game and that they need not wait for the professor to present something that was canon. Of course, this runs counter to the gamer’s tendency when playing in a setting—especially a setting that is the creation of one man—to want to not break canon, in this instance to play on Tékumel as Professor M.A.R. Barker envisioned it. The Excellent Travelling Volume is very much a rebuttal to that tendency, especially in recent issues, and this first article in The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 10 is both something of a manifesto and memoir of the author’s interactions with Professor Barker.

The first actual gaming content in The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 10 is another ‘Additions and Changes’ examining the various non-human races on Tékumel. This time it is ‘Tinalíya & Urunén’. The former are the short, four-legged humanoids with three sexes, who are notoriously curious and literal-minded, who make good Warriors and Magicians, but consider being a Priest a poor vocation. They are also adept with the devices of the ancients. Found primarily in and around Livyánu, they are allowed their own legions to fight against the Mu’ugalavyáni, whom they consider to be woefully officious. The latter are not as well known, being from the subpolar regions around the South Pole and contact having only been made with the Five Empires. They are tall humanoids covered in light fur with both a tail and a combination of bovine and serpentine features and much like the Tinalíya, disdain being a Priest instead of a Warrior or Magician. 

The article details the Alignment, Choice of Sex—the have three as opposed to the two of the Urunén, Profession—both prefer to be Warriors or Magicians, Hit Dice, their unique racial abilities, and what gods and their cohorts they worship. There are also notes on possible names, their homelands, and what legions they might serve in. Together this draws a great deal of playable information about both races that can be used to help create player characters or NPCs. Of course, the humanocentric outlook of the Five Empire means that there is some social stigma to playing either, but the Urunén would be very much an oddity, if not an object of curiosity.

The Urunén are further detailed in ‘The Urunén – The Cold Dwellers’. This goes into further depth about their culture and society as well as presenting stats for them as monsters or NPCs rather than as player characters. This nicely expands upon the information presented in the previous article and enables this relatively unknown species to be better portrayed by Game Master and player alike.

‘Ureshyésha, the Tiered City’ continues the fanzine’s recent exploration of the Plain of Towers to the west of Mu’ugalavyá, previously seen in ‘The Ni’ikmá Valley’ and its companion articles in The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 9. This details the city which occupies a mountain pass through the Qelqái Range. The city is currently ruled by the Shúr Ésh, a tall humanoid species with pale complexions, flat noses, and grey or blue eyes(!), who are said to be the artificial creations of the city’s founders, the Old Ones. The Shúr Ésh are psychically gifted and adept in the operation of the devices of the ancients, and although they allow foreigners to reside in the outer city beyond the city’s wall, they restrict access to many parts of the city and so getting through Ureshyésha requires some negotiation. The description of Ureshyésha is quite detailed, including locations and several NPCs, but it is not quite obvious how to use it and this is not fully explored in the article. There is political tension in the city, the growing size of the general population versus the limited number of Shúr Ésh in Ureshyésha and the demand for devices of the ancients to be found in the ruins of the City of the Old Ones and the extensive Tsuru’úm below the city despite the custom of Ditlána not being practised, and these present potential hooks as well as the negotiations needed to get through the city. Perhaps, a future issue will return with an adventure or two set here?

Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel treats magical armour and shield in a limited fashion, restricting them to simple +1, +2, or +3 bonuses. ‘Magical Shields’ provides the means to create shields with magical powers and abilities beyond those bonuses and gives four unique examples. For example, Dhimitlár’s Bulwark protects against all non-magical ranged weapons when held. All four are nice detailed and come complete with histories as well as their abilities. These are nice additions to Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel and should serve as fine examples for the Game Master’s own game.

Lastly, ‘The Treasure Vaults’ expands upon a volume given in Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel. This is Chánisayal hiHayá—‘Powerful Maps of Glory’—a book of between one and six treasure maps. Here just the single location is detailed, a treasure vault of a disgraced sorcerer. Consisting of just sixteen locations, this is actually a nicely detailed mini-dungeon which should provide a session or two’s worth of play. The article shows how much the author is still taking inspiration from the pages of Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel. Hopefully there will be more of these in future issues, or perhaps, a whole mini-supplement could be published detailing all six locations to be found in the pages of Chánisayal hiHayá? That would be amazing.

Physically, The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 10 adheres to the same standards as the previous issues. It does lack the card cover of the previous issues and so has a slightly less substantial feel to it, so does not quite feel as good or professional in the hand. Otherwise, as expected, the writing is engaging, the illustrations excellent, the cartography is good, and it feels professional. 

One obvious issue with The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 10 is that not all of its content supports campaigns set around the Five Empires where most campaigns are set. What it is means is that some of the content, whilst interesting, will not be of immediate interest or use to a Game Master. This is not a complaint and nor should it be, since the author is writing based on his campaigns and is still writing about Tékumel. The Excellent Travelling Volume Issue No. 10 further expands what we know of Tékumel, and not only is that to be welcomed, it adheres to the author’s remit right from the very first article.


Melsonian Arts Council will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 1st and June 3rd, 2018 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.

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