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Monday, 27 July 2020

Brittle as Glass

Pillars of Glass is an adventure for Béthorm: The Plane of Tékumel, the most recent roleplaying game to explore the world of Tékumel, the linguistic and cultural setting developed by Professor M.A.R. Barker. Published by UniGames, it is designed to be played between four and six players with moderate;y experienced characters, but can easily be adjusted should there be more. It is set just south of the Kúrt Hills—a region detailed by the publisher’s The Kúrt Hills Atlas—and a few Tsán east of the city of Katalál. What it details is an ancient site which possibly dates as far back as the Bednálljan period, part of the Underworld known to lie below the surface of Tékumel. Consisting of a circle of natural crystalline spires around an opening into the Underworld, there are rumours that site might be connected to the Pariah God known as the One Other.

Like High and Dry, Pillars of Glass presents several introductions, each one depending upon the role and duties of the Player Characters. So if the Player Characters are in the region conducting a trade negotiation on behalf of their clan, they are asked to investigate some wild animal attacks by the other negotiator; if they are on temple business, they are asked to investigate the Pillars of Glass site because the records the temple has are incomplete; if on legion or military business, they have stationed nearby to police the area and are ordered to investigate the animal attacks; if they are adventurers, they have heard of the animal attacks and know it would be heroic to investigate and put a stop to them; and if they are ‘Heroes of the Age’, then they are drawn to the site by a vision. As in High and Dry, these are a very welcome feature.

What lies beneath the Pillars of Glass is a maze-like complex of ten rooms and nine encounters. There is a significant flame and heat theme running throughout the complex of odd rooms, which often seem to be designed to do no more than subject the occupants to particular temperatures and forms of heat. Player Characters who have studied a particular ancient language or civilisation, or who are worshippers of either Vimúhla or Chiténg, will have advantages when exploring the complex, but as they work their way around the maze, they may come to feel that they are being tested. There is a little treasure to be found, including a rather nifty artefact for anyone who visits the Underworld regularly—though by its nature, the temple of Vimúhla or Chiténg would very likely want it, or would pay out a reward for obtaining it.

The encounters are all with seemingly random creatures. However, none of them are identified as being responsible for the animal attacks which form the hook to get most groups involved in investigating the site. Consequently, the Game Master will need to do this, simply reading the descriptions of the creatures that appear in the scenario in Béthorm: The Plane of Tékumel, and selecting the most appropriate.

Physically, Pillars of Glass is a black and white with colour cover, ten-page, 6.93 MB PDF. The cover is eye-catching for its simplicity, the PDF is decently illustrated and written.

As a dungeon—or portion of the UnderworldPillars of Glass does feel a bit random, and although there is a theme to it, it my feel that way to the players. Consisting of  just ten locations and a few encounters means that it should provide two sessions worth of play, though there is scope for further exploration—though for far more experienced Player Characters and with something that the Game Master would have had to have designed herself. Although it is disappointing that the Game Master will need to develop the hook of the animal attacks herself for use with other groups, perhaps the best way of presenting the adventure is as an archaeological or temple-based expedition, sent to the Pillars of Glass in order to explore what lies beyond the opening into the ground, and then return with an interesting report.

Pillars of Glass is an adequate adventure. It needs a bit of effort upon the part of the Game Master and her players to work effectively—primarily in terms of motivation and supporting that motivation, but it casts a spotlight on the ‘dungeoneering’ or Underworld aspect of Tékumel before hinting that there is more below. The ‘dungeoneering’ aspect means that Pillars of Glass is also easier to read and understand, and play than the ‘mind your manners’ aspect of High and Dry, but the story itself is not as strong or as well developed.

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