Tuesday, 20 March 2012

20 Questions: Tekumel

Jeff Rients asked 20 questions about your campaign setting. Tekumel isn't my setting, but these are the answers for the campaign I'm currently running

1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?

There are 20 Gods in the standard Tsolyani pantheon and the Temples that worship them are huge wealthy institutions controlling large tracts of land. Each god has dozens of 'aspects' covering a part of the gods area of competence, and shrines can be found in every home. The gods are real. You sacrifice and they do you favours, annoy them and bad things will happen to you; every temple has volumes of attested interventions direct and indirect by their chosen deity and everyone has felt or can point to a relative who has felt the touch of the gods in some way. People are not slaves to their gods though, and many of their clergy are just in it for the salary or the education that might get them a place in the civil service. Theologians jabber at great length about the nature of the gods, but their true nature is beyond the ken of man.

The temples teach magic. Not as a gift from their god directly, but because the Temples are large institutions full of libraries and scholars, and there is no secular university that could equal the thoroughness and reliability of their teaching. Magic is very hazardous, deviating from the age old and well tested syllabuses of the Temples is a huge risk.

There are gods outside the Pavarian 20. The Livyani Shadow Gods, Hrsh, Shiringgayi, and dozens more, but their worship is discouraged in Tsolaynu and most foreigners join a local temple that includes aspects close to their own deities nature.

2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

There are many shops and bazaars all over the city of Jakalla selling almost anything imaginable from sandals to slaves. But some items are only available at certain places, such as some of the more exotic drugs from the bazaar outside the Temple of Dlamelish, and it is often a good idea to go to the clanhouse of the craftsmen who make a given item and get something specially made.

3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

Any armourer worth his salt could make you something suitable, if you had the money and the social status to make it worth his while. The social status bit is important. The best armourers have 'luxury brand' cachet that they don't want to lose by being seen to deal with lowlifes like most adventurers, or doing something crazy like making an outfit for a Ssu, the hated enemy of all mankind.

4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

The Undying Wizards are a body of wizards so august and mighty that they allegedly range throughout the many universes and times as easily as ordinary mortals might stroll down to the cloth market for a fresh sleeping mat. They only appear very occasionally on our mundane plane though, and when they do it is usually because there is serious trouble afoot that may lead to the end of the world.

The wizard you are most likely to meet in Jakalla, or at least glimpse far off sitting on a palanquin surrounded by a small army of bodyguards when he emerges from his tower, is Ruvadis the Wearer of Eyes, though Akhone hiVarashmek, Badragu (High Adept of the Powers) of the Temple of Gruganu ranks him only fourth in the city after himself at third. He won't say who numbers one and two are, he just taps on the ground with his staff, softly.

5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

The Emperor himself of course! Didn't he personally lead a successful invasion of Saa Allaqi, then turn his army round and win the Civil War? Of course the Emperor never leaves Avanthar these days, but Karim Missum, though getting on, is still a pretty good swordsman and a great general.

6. Who is the richest person in the land?

The Emperor owns everything and everybody, we are merely his slaves and those things we dare to call our own are just lent to us for the duration of our paltry lives by his grace and generosity.

Locally to Jakalla, Prince Rereshqala has a good few million kaitars and very pretty palace down by the sea, and the Jade Diadem own a good chunk of the land the city is built on.

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?

The temple of your own deity will be able to do a few things, but if you get seriously bashed about then the Temple of Ketengku, God of Medicine, has the best spells.

8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?

Any temple can deal with poison, most diseases and curses, and can even raise you from the dead. Persuading them that you are a worthy case and finding the necessary fees are another matter. In practice forget resurrection, you need to be someone of very great importance to be considered; curses can always be worked off by grovelling to the cursing deity or demon, or by sufficiently large sacrifices to ones own deity.

9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

All magicians are part of a temple, they will teach you what you need to know. A few 'freelance' wizards will tell you they can teach you outside the temple system, but they are almost invariably charlatans and if they are not the Temples will catch up with them sooner or later and make them suffer.

10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?

Alchemists can be found in any market place, but bear in mind that alchemy in Tekumel is not an inherently magical occupation - their products are mundane drugs and antispetics, dyestuffs and essential oils. Magic potions? Maybe some of the higher ups in some of the spookier temples like Ksarul and Hru'u could get you strange ingredients from the Demon Planes, but you would have be part of one of their strange secret societies to get access to them.

Sages are available at any temple, bit each specialises in its own area of knowledge. Experts in warfare, arms and armour you would find at the Temple of Karakan, natural history at Avanthe and so on. Best general knowledge resources are the temples of Thumis and Ksarul.

Other experts can be found among the clans; architects, engineers, lawyers etc.

11. Where can I hire mercenaries?

Go down to the Foreign Quarter and hang about for a kiren (half an hour), offer the first lowlife who tried to cut your throat double what's in you purse to become your bodyguard against the second and there you have it. Usually people are a bit more organised about it - you can put posters up on the front wall of the temple of Karakan for a fee, and there are always a few toughs hanging round the Armourers shops in the Foreign Quarter. If you want N'luss, and you probably will, them being a foot taller than everyone else and hard as nails, go ask Vaghba at the Little Mountain boarding house if any of her 'clan' will join you, Pakalans can be had cheap if you are willing to take the risk of them absconding with your loot before the job's done, more expensive but very reliable ex-legionaries can often be found at the Palace of Glorious War and if you are willing to hire any hobo who can carry a pointy stick go to the Tower of the Red Dome.

12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?

Tsolyanu is a police state. Every government department has its own police, every government building has a busy office devoted to handling information from and payments to police informers, there are cops of every kind from the village headsman's kid brother who wanders around at night with a big stick, through to the secret police of the Omnipotent Azure Legion who make the KGB look like neighbourhood watch. Nowhere actually outlaws the carrying of arms or the use of magic outright all the time, but if you are in the least bit tempted to use these things to cause trouble or acquire stuff that ain't yours through violence or menaces please bear in mind that you are never more than twenty feet from a cop, and ten from a snitch.

Then there are the civil penalties. You do not commit misdeeds against an individual, you commit it against his clan, and they will engage lawyers who will demand shamtla, damages. If you can't pay your clan will pay for you, but then they might sell you as a slave to make up the loss. If you won't pay we get into clan feud territory, and assassin clans might get involved, and it just all gets nasty.

13. Which way to the nearest tavern?

There are no taverns. No Tsolyani would want to run the risk of eating and drinking in the same place and at the same time as persons below them on the social scale. Groups of persons may, and often do, buy kegs of beer or amphorae of wine and get drunk together in a room but only when all know each other or know people who can vouch for their drinking buddies bona fides. You will find groups of drunks lounging near the wine sellers stalls in the grottier Foreign Quarter bazaars, but these people are Nakome with no honour. Better sorts might hire a room in a winemaker's clanhouse for a private party, but no taverns.

14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

In the area of Jakalla you can always earn a bounty for the heads of Hluturgu, the Swamp Frogs, ugly little beasts that surge out of the Layoda Swamps every few years in mass migrations/invasions laying waste to all in their path. The seagoing Hluss are also always a problem and Ssu and Stinking Ones are rumoured to appear in the Tsuru'um (underworld) beneath the city every once in a while.

15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

There is a rebellion going on in the Chaigari Protectorate, and the Salarvyani are always 
threatening to take back Ru. If they were to do so the Palace of Glorious War would call up auxiliaries to support the legions. If you do join a legion watch out for the Qadarnikoi, the 'little wars' that are fought as a kind of team sport or duel between rival nations military units.

16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

The Hirilakte arenas are always looking for gladiators, and great fame and wealth are available for some. Many fights in the arenas are in fact duels, fought out in public, and have no cash prize. Less lethal games include wrestling, martolan (a kind of four sided football), archery and javelin throwing, but the money isn't so good.

17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

Dozens, possibly hundreds. Each state has its own secret police and spy organisations, all the temples have political factions and secret, fanatical and/or militant sects, Dhichune the Usurper is allegedly still alive and wants the throne back, illegal drug (usually Zu'ur) smuggling operations are nearly as ruthless and vicious as the OAL units devoted to suppressing them, and then there are the sects of the Pariah Gods, and the less said about them the better lest their awful minions suddenly appear next to you and suck out your very soul. If you are not in a secret society you are just not trying hard enough.

Ones well worth keeping an eye on are the Ndalu Society, the political wing of the Temple of Ksarul. Ksarul is the sinister god of secrets who had to be imprisoned by the other nine gods with help from one of the despised Pariah gods to stop him taking over the entire multiverse, so ambitious isn't the word for these people. Best mates with numerous species of demon as well. Another dangerous crowd are the Scroll of the Blaze Revealed, an extreme Vimuhla sect who live in secret monasteries and kill any who find them. They allegedly also sally forth to slay innocent civilians and hasten the consumption of the world as if a mere dust mote in the mighty and infinitely incandescent flame of Vimuhla's fire, but who can say.

18. What is there to eat around here?

Tekumel has the detritus of at least 14 different planetary ecosystems, and has a wide variety of foods, few of which are known today. Dna, a red colored starchy grain, is a staple, but barbecued snakes, boiled wasps and reconstructed dodos are also on the menu.

19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

Lots. The one everyone wants is the Chariot of the Gods, a flying car, but the Alluring Maiden of Nga, an android assassin that doesn't give up until it has taken out its programmed target and the Hra Tank, wherin the Priests of Ksarul allegedly clone horrific monsters from lumps of dead flesh, are also well worth having. 

If you really want to cause trouble find the ten keys to the magical walls imprisoning Ksarul and let him go.

20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

Deep down in the underworlds there are great treasures to be had. If you make into the Bednjallan layer there is allegedly the Tomb of Mnekshetra, lesbian lover of the infamous Nyari of the Silken Thighs, and the Temples all have secret shrines to the more unhinged aspects of their deities that you might try and loot.


  1. Great stuff! I really liked it.

    About #4, Ruvádis the Wearer of Eyes is briefly described in the Blue Room Archives as a mysterious Bednalljan Wizard that nobody ever sees, even the authorities of the EPT do not dare to disturb his ruined tower. That character you see on a palanquin may be an usurper! But YTMV (Your Tsolyanu May Vary). :)

  2. Hadn't seen that. I did howver come across a note that one of the wizard's towers was occupied by a bloke with the same name and title as an ancient Bednjallan wizard, and that the Imperium were after him for 20,000 years back property taxes. However 'freelance' wizards have a habit of taking up the names and titles of their long dead predecessors, and the current 'Ruvadis' may or may not be the original, and may be a genuine spooky recluse or may be hiding from the taxman.

    Kudos to the clerk of the Palace of the Realm who has the guts to go and knock on his door with the tax bill.