Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Júmre's Ladder

The Átkolel Heights in north-western Tsolyánu are right on the border with Yán Kór. When the war started the Yán Koryáni seized the heights and advanced south around them on either flank only to be halted by hastily raised Tsolyáni forces. A stalemate occurred as both sides gathered their forces. When the Tsolyáni counter-attacked they found it necessary to take the heights to prevent the Yán Koryáni leaving a sizeable force in their rear.

The Átkolel Heights are the eroded cone of an ancient volcano of massive proportions. The caldera is a wooded area with a large lake surrounded by peaks that were the eroded sides of the volcano. The heights are easily accessible from the north, but from the east, south and west are surrounded by steep cliffs. The only access is a feature known as Júmre's Ladder; this is a narrow cleft about ten paces wide that ascends the cliffs from the south. The "ladder" is a series of rough terraces that resemble giant steps; each is about fifty paces deep and five or six feet high. The sides of the cleft are steep cliffs. The climb is long and arduous, made more difficult by the fact that the Yán Koryáni controlled the top third of the "ladder". Several attempts to force the passage failed before the heights were finally recaptured.

I is for Infantry

On Tékumel that is pretty much all they have if you discount the Hláka scouts. At least in the area of the planet occupied by the Five Empires we are familiar with. There is no cavalry, as few riding beasts were brought by Lords of Humanspace when the planet was terraformed and colonized. There are horses (and other riding beasts) on the planet - just not in the same hemisphere.

So warfare on Tékumel is an all-infantry affair, made a little more exotic by the inclusion of non-human legions made up of Ahoggyá, Páchi Léi, Pé Chói, Shén, the aforementioned Hláka, and Pygmy Folk. The infantry comprise a variety of troop types: the main forces consist of well armed and armoured heavy infantry - pikes and spears for the most part, but not exclusively so. These are supported by well armed but somewhat lighter armoured medium infantry, often spearmen or armed with halberds or two-handed swords. Missile support is provided by crossbowmen and archers. Light infantry skirmishers armed with bows, slings or javelins harass the enemy and provide blank security. War machines firing darts or stones are used in the field on occasion, or in siege warfare.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

H is for Hrúgga

The personification of a Hero of the Age, Hrúgga is the epic hero of Tsolyáni legends. His legendary deeds are a model for modern Tsolyáni in many aspects of life...

In Tsolyánu the ideal gambler is polished and urbane; he has courage but is not foolhardy; he is generous but not ostentatious; and he is neither a “poor loser” nor a “poor winner.” “Noble” action is the keynote. The model is the epic hero, Hrúgga, who “won the world, the two moons, and half as much again” from the Goddess Avánthe – yet graciously continued to stake everything he had on each play until he had lost it all back again ‘because it is not seemly for a mere mortal to overmaster the everliving Gods.”

M.A.R. Barker, The Tékumel Source Book

G is for Grey Hand

The Grey Hand (tathyánikh in Tsolyáni) is a powerful and much feared spell known only to the higher ranking priests of Wurú, cohort of Hrü’ü - one of the Lords of Change in the Tsolyáni pantheon of twenty Gods and Goddesses.

It is rightly feared as one of the few spells that will utterly destroy a being, body and soul.

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for Fasíltum

Fasíltum, the City of the Chiming Skulls, lies in the northeastern corner of the Tsolyánu. Seat of the Vimúhla worshipping Vríddi clan, it earned it's sobriquet

"because of the grisly custom of hanging the heads of executed felons from silver chains from the ramparts, where they dance together in the arid breezes with wind-bells of glass and metal, a funereal and wistful music in which the city’s hawk-faced Vríddi overlords take much pride."

M.A.R. Barker, The Tékumel Source Book

Fasíltum is a desert city with a daytime high in the summer reaching 48 degrees C and averaging 15 cm rain annually.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Eye

"Eyes" are spherical techno-magical devices about the size of the human eye, with an aperture on one side - it is because they so resemble an actual eye that gives them their name. These devices of the Ancients were created to perform a variety of tasks, each creating a spell-like effect when the stud on it's side is activated. Some emit energy beams, others will put a target into a form of stasis, still others emit light or sound. They are powered by inter-planar energy and each use reduces the Eye's "charge". Some have counters that show how many charges are remaining. Many have inscriptions giving the name of the Eye; there are many standard types, and some are still relatively common. Eyes can be recharged and there are even Eyes that serve that purpose! Tinkering with Eyes is dangerous, but there are reputed to be some scholars who still have the skill.

In A Band of Joyous Heroes each Eye would have a rating that would be assigned either by the GM, if there is one, or randomly otherwise - when a character obtains one. Each time it was used the dice would be rolled and any rolls of '6' would be noted and the rating reduced by that amount. When the pool of dice was reduced to zero then the Eye would cease to function, having run out of charges. Under this system the character would never know the exact number of charges left. YTMV, of course.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Desert

The Desert of Sighs lies to the north of Tsolyánu. Most of it is part of Milumanayá, a squalid desert kingdom whose people are mostly desert nomads and with little in the way of a central government. What government there is is restricted to the cities; in the west, one faction supports Yán Kór and in the east, the other Tsolyánu; the nomads themselves are fiercely democratic and support no one but themselves.*

In ages past the region was the site of a shallow sea, but the land rose up and now the coast is many hundreds of tsán to the north. The sifting sands occasionally uncover the ruined quays and warehouses of lost port cities and the ruins of an ancient Sákbe road that once followed it's shore snakes across the wastes. The nomads know all the wells and other hidden places but they share their secrets with no one.

* While this description may sound strangely familiar, remember that Professor Barker wrote this background several decades ago...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Cartography

In Tsolyánu, High Cartograhy is an Art. Stones are fashioned so that by size, colour and minute details of shape they provide information that one skilled in the art can "read" the stone and learn details of population, taxes, etc.

Here is a passage from A Man of Gold, by the late MAR Barker:

Prior Haringgáshte pulled himself to his feet and extracted a worn leathern case of map-symbols from the litter of documents on his work table.

From this he took out a small pyramid of blue lapis lazuli. Tiny knobs and loops of gold had been affixed here and there upon its surface, and flecks of other minerals glinted from within. This, Hársan knew, symbolised the Empire of Tsolyánu, and each protuberance, curve, subtle shading, and texture told its tale of cities, roads and distances, populations, products, villages and towns, and other data, readable only by those skilled in High Cartography. Next emerged an oblong of sand-yellow jasper: the desert lands of Milumanayá to the north of Tsolyánu. Beyond this he set out a faceted rhomboid of smooth green serpentine; this stood for the hostile lands of Baron Áld of Yán Kór. Above this a tablet of wavy blue slate was placed to indicate the crag-coasted northern sea, each serration, curve, and change of texture marking a harbour, a cove, an island, a distant settlement-even reefs and tides. Three smaller polyhedrons of carnelian,agate, and red porphyry were arranged to the left of this to represent the little northern states of Pijéna, Ghatón, and N’lüss. The Prior then brought forth a cloudy wine-red dodecahedron of bloodstone which stood for the sprawling empire of Mu’ugalavyá, Tsolyánu’s sometimes hostile western neighbour beyond the Cháka Range. Below this he added a curiously twisted moon-shaped symbol of rippling fire opal: the far-off land of Livyánu. A final plaque of wavy slate to the right of the symbol for Livyánu and beneath that of Tsolyánu signified the southern ocean, the Deeps of Chanayága. The rest of the symbols he left in the case.

“Can you read these, then, priest Hársan?”

“Only the rudiments, my Lord. I am more comfortable with the maps drawn upon paper by merchants – not with these of the High Cartography.”

The Prior’s lips sketched a thin smile. “These tell much more. To see, to touch, to feel – so much more than flat lines upon a page. Come, show me where the Empire of Llyán of Tsámra once lay.”

Wondering, Hársan put forth a tentative finger and touched the empty space between the symbols for Mu’ugalavyá and Livyánu. “Here, my Lord.”

The Prior reached into the welter of materials on the table, picked up a small casket of dun-red metal, and extracted another map symbol. With the air of a mother setting a morsel of sugary Dmí-root before a child, he laid this in the space marked by Hársan’s finger. “This was found in a tomb of the Bednálljan Dynasty near our city of Úrmish. The casket is Fulát – steel – alas, now one of the rarest metals on Tékumel and one of the most costly therefore. Go ahead, examine it.”

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Band of Joyous Heroes

A Band of Joyous Heroes is the name of a set of rules for tabletop gaming in the world of Tékumel that I have been working on - on and off - for a year or so now. Most recent progress can be found here. The rules are based upon the Two Hour Wargames family of rules.
Actually that isn't the most recent stuff: I've been thrashing out ideas on how I want combat to work, I just haven't finalized it yet. Yes, I'm waffling! :-(

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for Aridáni

The term Aridáni is used in Tsolyánu to describe independent women (it literally means "independent" in Tsolyáni); it is a status that any free woman can claim, and doing so sets them apart from the "good clan-girls" that represent most of the female population. By making the declaration before witnesses the woman gains all the rights and obligations of a Tsolyáni male in society - she becomes “a person in the eyes of the law.”

Only about 10-15% of Tsolyáni women make this choice, the majority preferring the security of the life of the "good clan-girl". As a clan-girl women are protected by their clans, receive an education, housing, clothing and food, but at the same time giving up many freedoms such as the choice of whom to marry - as this will be arranged by the clan elders.

As an Aridáni, a women has more control over her destiny, but also shares the risks. She can participate in business, join the temples or the military - anything her male counterparts do. And , as with them, her clan will support her in many instances but ultimately she is responsible for her own debts and actions. A clan will only support someone so far - if they become a liability a clan may be forced to cut it's losses.