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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Would M.A.R. Barker Have Loved Arrows of Indra, Even as the Fanboys Who Govern Tekumel Today Snub the OSR?

According to someone who actually played with him, yes.

In a blog entry from a couple of days ago, in the comments section, one of the good Professor's players had a few choice words to say about Arrows of Indra:

"AoI may be the best set of rules for Tekumel, as I think it may be the best yet reflection of how Phil actually played in his game sessions... :)"

He also agreed with my general position about what's wrong with Tekumel, the fault of every fan-driven 'revival' of Tekumel (and there sure have been a lot of these) after the original, gonzo and fairly cool Empire of the Petal Throne. 



The latter bears little resemblance to how any of its successors look, wherein they replaced a focus on adventuring with a focus on obsessive-compulsive attention to the minute details of Tekumel's language and culture, with pseudo-anthropology and pseudo-linguistics (things, I'll note, that help make a game cooler in VERY SMALL DOSES) being overloaded to the point of becoming an entry-barrier to any new potential fans.

The same blog comment from an actual player at Barker's table pointed out:

"The multitude of published Tekumel RPGs, with the probable exception of EPT itself, do not give anybody a good basic introduction to Tekumel - and they certainly do not reflect the Professor's own style of play."

Naturally, AoI does have a certain resemblance to the Tekumel setting, because Barker borrowed a lot of stuff from Epic India, the same source I used for AoI. However, I tried as much as humanly possible to make AoI totally accessible to a standard D&D-fan who has no prior knowledge of indian myth, culture, anthropology, or linguistics, and who doesn't want to bother with those things and just have a cool place to adventure in. That was the goal.

Unfortunately, it's not a goal that the people managing Tekumel have shared, not for years.
I just found out that someone has recently published yet another Tekumel RPG, and (insanely) the new edition is not going to be OSR, which one would think of as a colossal mis-step if it wasn't for the fact that it's likely pre-meditated. For all their talk, most Tekumel fans WANT their setting to be obscure and under-appreciated, so that:
a) they can complain about that
b) they can feel like part of a special exclusive club of the people who 'get it'
c) they can feel superior

It's fucking sad. There was nothing to prevent a reintroduction of an adventure-focused, weird-science-fantasy focused Tekumel with rules compatible to the most popular RPG in history.  With the huge popularity of the OSR, this was the moment to do it.  Shit, they could even have used Arrows of Indra s their model, since everything about AoI's rules are free for use.  

The fact that they didn't even bother pretty much proves that the Tekumel hardcore have no interest in appealing to a wider audience.
 

I'll end by noting that I'm sure Barker himself was an amazing dude, given the scope of what he created. I'm sure he and I could have had a lot of things to talk about.  It's a pity that his intricate and interesting setting, inspired by the very same cultural and mythological sources that inspired me to write Arrows of Indra, are being left to languish in the hands of a tiny group with no interest in, and active interests working against, bringing that work to the widest possible audience.

P.S.: A promotional note: Because of RPGNow's "Halloween Sale", you can now get Arrows of Indra on PDF for only $3.34!

RPGPundit

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13 comments:

  1. "In a blog entry from a couple of days ago..." Could you provide a link to this blog entry please. I would like to read it.

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    1. therpgpundit.blogspot.com/2014/10/arrows-of-indra-understanding-clan.html

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  2. You know, you can mention me by name; I have no issues with it. And I agree with your post - I've been fighting this 'closed shop' attitude for about thirty years.

    From what I've seen so far, AoI is a very good solid game - and one that has the same flavor as Phil's own play style. More on this later, if you like. Thanks again!

    - chirine

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    1. Fair enough; thank you for your comments, and I certainly would like to hear more about your impressions of AoI!

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  3. At 3,50 USD even I couldn't resist. It will serve me well as a guide to pseudo-Indian subcontinent campaigning.

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    1. Yup, that is one of its useful roles!

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  4. While the new Tekumel game "Bethorm" is not OSR (if that means D&D based), it looks pretty Old School to me (Old School including Traveller, Runequest, Villains & Vigilantes). And Jeff Dee certainly has some Old School street cred, at least in my eyes. I believe Brett Slocum is working on a D&D leaning Tekumel rules set, and he already wrote a TFT-Tekumel game.

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    1. I've bought and skimmed through it. Overlaps with Arrows of Indra are quickly to be found (e.g. clans).

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    2. Again, that overlap is principally due to the fact that Prof. Barker was very influenced by classical India as a setting reference in creating Tekumel.

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    3. I'd agree with you about this - the Professor got his first degree in Anthopology - specializing in Meso-America -, his doctorate for his work with the Klamath nation (they still use his books to teach their own language), and his post-doc work was in Urdu while on a Fulbright scholarship in South Asia; he was a leading figure in the Islamic Center at McGill in Toronto, and then head of South Asian Studied at the University of Minnesota. He spoke some 47 languages, mostly South Asian and Middle Eastern. He could talk to people in multiple languages at the same time - and provide me with a running translation as well!

      - chirine

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    4. Okay; I've now read through AoI, and I like what I see; it's got the 'flavor' of EPT, and feels like it would play the same way. Good solid game mechanics, good setting information, and I think somebody could pick it up and run a game with a little preparation. "Bethorm" reads like "Swords and Glory"; lots of information about the setting, but the game itself is a little hard to tease out from the data. I'd consider it a more 'advanced-level' game; an experienced GM would get more out of it then a less-experienced one.

      I have been told that "Bethorm" is specifically aimed at the OSR market, but I don't know enough about what the OSR is and is not to be able to offer any sort of informed opinion on that aspect of the game.

      If I were going to start a Tekumel campaign (do folks still call inter-connected game sessions that?) from scratch, I'd get "Bethorm" for the world-setting data and AoI to play the games with. It just feels 'right' to somebody of my ancient age and underpinnings; I like the flavor of the thing, as it feels like something Phil would have played. I do need to make the provision that once he'd played it for several years, he'd probably go back to his 'you roll, I'll roll' very-rules-lite style of play. AoI just feels like 1976 to 1982 with Phil.

      A lot of the world-setting material in AoI does sound like Phil talking - the section on clans, for example, is very 'Phil' to my ear.

      - chirine

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    5. If Bethorm had really been aimed at the OSR market, you'd think they'd have made an OSR rule-set.

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    6. For the sake of clarity, can you provide a brief definition of what you define as an "OSR rule-set".

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