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Friday 24 October 2014

Arrows of Indra: Understanding Clan

We’ve talked here before about Caste, and people make a big deal about it, but in a way, in the game, I think that Clan may be at least as important, and maybe more difficult to get one’s head around.

The Clan is not just your “family”, you can have people from the same Clan as yours who live in entirely different kingdoms and may even have less in common with you in terms of bloodline than your next door neighbour (who is nonetheless from a different clan).  Its also not quite a tribe either.  In european terms, the closest comparisons may be to the Scottish Clans, or, even more so, to the Polish herbu of the aristocracy, where polish nobles with different last names and from different regions nevertheless shared the same heraldic shield (rather than the more typical european system where every noble family had its own shield).
In Arrows of Indra, Clan affects a great deal of the background elements of your character.  The clan served as a kind of social network and welfare system, it handled many (though not all) of the things that we’re used to government handling.  Local disputes, marriage, trade, and many other everyday affairs.  If you wanted to get married, you needed the approval of your clan chief (and your potential spouses’, of course) and often these chiefs would actually handle everything for you (up to and including picking your bride/husband). If you were traveling and wanted a place to stay, the clan would provide it. Need a loan? Your clan was good for that too, only make sure you paid, because they could also sell you into slavery!
They could also expel you; and being clanless is a bad thing because it means basically that you are outside of society; it may not be quite as bad as being casteless (though the two often go hand in hand) but it makes for huge dishonor and a complete inability to participate in some of the most basic aspects of Bharata society.

In an AoI campaign, the GM can decide whether to pick his player’s clan or to let them pick one; its recommended that clan be chosen only after background skills are determined, since some clans tend to be tied to certain specific professions.  After that, the GM needs to figure out just how he wants to go about using Clans.  He has a few options:

1. He could just ignore the whole thing.  Make clan unimportant; if all you want to do with AoI is wilderness and dungeon crawling, then you don’t need to worry too much about clan politics and you probably don’t want to busy your players with clan affairs.

2. He could take an intermediate position; and decide that in his version of Jagat, clan matters, just not a lot. The clan can help the PCs, provide support, places to stay, loans, etc. but it doesn’t get to run their lives. PCs can choose to help their clan or interact with it a lot, or very little, to their tastes, without major consequences.

3. The most accurate position, from the historical point of view: Clan is hugely important in your game.  Here, the PCs would need to understand that they are bound to obey the elders of their clan. If the PCs want to go out and adventure, they’ll need to have the blessings of their clan. If the clan wants them to do something, they need to go do it. And if the PCs start to become well known as heroic adventurers, the local clan heads will probably want to use that fame for their advantage; possibly, if they have any sense in their heads, trying to offer the PC more influence in the clan, maybe even by marriage (dare I say cousin-marriage to the clan-chief’s daughter?) or other situations of responsibility that the PC might not actually want (but will then have to figure out how to wriggle out of without offending their clan head).

In other words, if you want it to, the clan system can offer an astounding wealth of RP opportunities. And if you don’t want it, then by all means just gloss it over. Its your game.


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Image Latakia

(originally posted July 5, 2013; on the old blog)


  1. Wonderful post! And you say you can't get your head around Tekumel? You sound just like Phil used to when he described how clans worked in his world-setting. :)

    Excellent comments - I'll be getting a copy of the game, based on your observations.

    - chirine

  2. I didn't say I couldn't get my head around tekumel; I said that the way tekumel is presented in its published versions is intentionally over-complicated to appeal to anthro- or linguistic- fanboys and dissuade mere dungeon crawlers. Which to me is a shitty and Swinish attitude. Tekumel fans talk big talk about wanting the setting to appeal to everyone, but instead they go out of their way to make it hard to get into, so that they can feel smarter than the "great unwashed" for liking their "unappreciated" setting.

    Anyways, of course AoI has 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.

    1. "tekumel is presented in its published versions is intentionally over-complicated to appeal to anthro- or linguistic- fanboys"
      I resemble that remark.
      Also, see Glorantha: The Comparative Mythology Roleplaying Game.

  3. But thank you for the compliment in complementary comparison; and I trust you will enjoy the game.

  4. Right; understood. Try not to have the vapors over this, but speaking as one of the Professor's long-time gamers and Chief Fanboi, I agree with you entirely. 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. Phil was very much a story-teller; we, as players, had very free agency in the games, but we always knew that there was an over-arcing 'meta-game' / 'story arc' going on inside Phil's head. He's started writing his novel's in the 1950s, and I think that's where he always really wanted to be - a writer, not a gamesmaster.

    And, yes, I do agree with you about quite a few of Tekumel's fans; I am not considered a 'mainstream Tekumel fan' by quite a few of them. Our rules-lite / setting heavy play style back in our day is just too alien for them. We had a lot of fun doing dungeon crawls - Phil was diabolical! - as well as all sorts of ERB-esque adventures.

    Sit down, fasten your safety belt, be brave, and break out the smelling salts - 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... :)

    Seriously. I'm looking forward to getting a copy.

    - chirine

    1. That's quite the statement. I had heard that someone has recently published yet another Tekumel RPG, and I am assuming that 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

      Its fucking sad. But seriously, if the new Tekumel rules aren't OSR, then this pretty much proves that the Tekumal hardcore have no interest in appealing to a wider audience.

      I certainly appreciate what you say. 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.

    2. I got my copy of AoI this morning, and I'm liking what I see; I'll have more on this tomorrow, most likely. I am also still slogging through the 240 pages of the new "Bethorm", too.

      I agree with you on your observations; I ran into this issue as far back as when I was working for Dave Arneson as the 'Vice President for Tekumel Affairs' at his company, Adventure Games. I am in the very small minority of 'populist', 'open-architecture' Tekumel fans; most of 'mainstream' Tekumel fandom is not, and I think that Tekumel as a world-setting has suffered greatly as a result.

      Phil was certainly amazing, but you have much better taste in tobacco then he did. :)

      - chirine

    3. Thanks for that. It's a pleasure to meet a Tekumel fan who acknowledges this, particularly one who has credentials of having played with its creator.

    4. Well, you're welcome; it's been a nasty trend over the years, and I felt that I was bashing my head against a brick wall in trying to change it. There's a few - a very few! - of out there; if I had a dime for every person who's discovered Tekumel over the years and contacted me with "I wish I'd met you first - you make Tekumel fun!", I'd be long retired.

      Sigh. You would not believe the nasty letters and e-mails Phil would get from 'fans' telling him that "he was doing it all wrong". (!)

      - chirine

  5. Everytime I see AoI I read it as AOL.

    Great post, excellent game.

    1. Plus it inspired me to read the Mahabharata and Ramayana. So there are added benefits to making a game accessible to one with very little prior knowledge of the setting.