If there is such a thing as a Renaissance Man, I am inclined to believe
that Professor Barker amply fills the qualifications on all counts.
-- Gary Gygax
It is with sorrow that your humble host has learned of the passing of M.A.R. Barker earlier today. Barker was gifted with a multitude of talents and he accomplished something that few could achieve. He created a world.
Tékumel is a rich, detailed world for which Barker crafted elaborate histories, cultures, theologies, geographies and more. Being a linguist, Barker also fashioned entire languages for Tékumel's denizens. Like it says on tekumel.com, “Tékumel is one of the most extensively developed fantasy milieus of all time.” Believe it.
The deep and intricate nature of Tékumel prompts (and perhaps necessitates) a comparison to the legendarium of Middle-earth. Barker started imagining Tékumel when he was a child and his world was well-formed by the time The Lord of the Rings was published. While Middle-earth was strongly influenced by European mythologies, Barker drew upon the cultures and mythologies of the Middle East, Central America, and India.
Unlike Tolkien, Barker devised means of allowing people to interact with his world beyond reading stories. Barker was a wargame enthusiast; supposedly, in high school, he designed rules for representing battles by using toy soldiers. In 1974, when he was a professor at the University of Minnesota, Barker came into contact with Dungeons & Dragons. Then Barker spent six weeks creating a draft of his own rules for role-playing in Tékumel. Arneson enthusiastically played in Barker's campaign, spoke to Gygax about it and, in 1975, TSR published Empire of the Petal Throne. In the decades since, a handful of Tékumel role-playing games have been published.
Given Barker's involvement at the dawn of RPGs, the wonderful depth of his world, and the esteem of such luminaries as Gygax and Arneson, it would seem natural that Tékumel would be a prominent setting among gamers. Alas, this has not been the case. The intricate and exotic nature of Tékumel seems to intimidate those who might otherwise venture into a new world. Regardless, the world is there; if we do not partake in it, at least we can admire it.