Sunday, January 26, 2014

Creatures of Tékumel

Vringálu vs human (art by Sutherland)

Being an alien world, Tékumel is populated with alien creatures.  Many (or most) of these are indigenous; however, some were brought to Tékumel by outworlders long ago.  It is natural to suppose that humans would have brought various animals with them – livestock, pets, and (inevitably) vermin.  However, there are few mentions of terrestrial fauna in Empire of the Petal Throne.  I am aware of only two:  the Chnélh (not to be confused with Chlén – see below) and “a descendant of the ancient earth cow.”  Whatever other Earth species – if any – that became integrated with the Tékumel ecosystem are not significant enough for inclusion in the rules.  The absence of known animals only serves to accentuate the alien nature of the setting.

Barker lets us know there are “no riding beasts available” on Tékumel.  Most travel is on foot; the only exception being “slow-moving carts pulled by domesticated Chlén.”  These six-legged beasts-of-burden have another use.  As mentioned previously, Chlén hide – when properly processed – serves as a substitute for metal in arms and armor.  Don't worry, integument is taken from a living Chlén “and it then takes two weeks for the animal to regenerate it, much like a human grows back a fingernail.”  It would seem that the procedure is much like shearing wool from a sheep.

The animal depicted above is a Vringálu.  Leather goods are made from its wings.  A tanner will pay 100 Káitars per wing.  (The Imperial Káitar – a gold coin – is the Tsolyani unit of currency; one hundred Káitars can buy a Chlén beast.)  The Vringálu is dangerous.  It does not check morale when attacking and its teeth exude a contact poison “which produces a hideous rotting gangrene.”  Exposure to the poison is fatal within three turns unless a 'Cure Disease' spell is used or Tsúral buds are applied.  According to page 67, Tsúral buds are an aphrodisiac.  They are commonly available for purchase at a mere two Káitars.  Ask for them by name!

The 'intelligent' races of Tékumel were listed in an earlier post; however, there are a variety of creatures that are semi-intelligent.  Excluding undead, automatons, and androids, these species are:
  • Chnélh – These beings are “Ape-Mutants.”  Although they are untrainable, they are semi-intelligent and fight with spears and clubs.
  • Dzór – Known as “Forest Giants,” Dzór “are shambling, hairy giants...[with] a beak of horny substance and three round eyes with nictitating lids.”  They cannot speak and they prefer using maces and clubs (as opposed to edged weapons).
  • Khéshchal – These birds are valued for their plumage, which is used for decorative purposes and can fetch up to 2,000 Káitars.  A subdued specimen can be worth twice as much.
  • Kýni – Another bird of “limited intelligence,” the Kýni can be trained to speak as well as spy.  They can be captured by luring them with Tsúral buds.
  • Marashyálu – “These supernatural creatures of the ancients are set to guard treasure.”  They are capable of hypnosis and casting illusions.
  • Mnór – This so-called “Shaggy Insect Creature” can use “heavy clubs in semi-intelligent fashion.”
  • Ngóro – Otherwise known as “the Whelk,” this creature is reminiscent of the trapper.  Lying flat, “it appears much like the rough stone flooring of the Underworld.”  A Ngóro can hold miniature weapons with its “millions of tiny cilia.”
  • Qól –“The Serpent-Headed Ones” were originally human but have mutated so that they have “a slender reptilian neck and a flat, diamond-shaped serpent head.”
  • Rényu – Although they do not meet the qualifications of 'intelligence', these man-like humanoids can be trained to speak as well as use equipment (including weapons).
  • Sérudla – Commonly called “the Pale Murderer,” a Sérudla “is semi-intelligent and fights with ordinary weapons.”  Although Sérudla are “not invariably hostile,” it is advisable to avoid their spit; a failed saving throw could cause up to 12d6 damage.
  • Sró – These six-legged “mutants from some ancient reptilian stock are able to wield huge broadswords.”
  • Tsú'uru – These creatures are related to the Marashyálu and serve a similar function.  They have the ability “to determine what the party is most likely to believe” and project an appropriate illusion.  A Tsú'uru “is totally immune to spells, and no form of ESP, clairvoyance, telepathy, etc. will reveal its true identity.”  Only death will reveal its natural form – “a bundle of ropy, lumpy tentacles with a central brain ganglion.”


  1. So far, from what i have been able to glean from your posts, the creativity and originality behind EoPT was nothing short of amazing, especially considering the time it was published in. It is baffling the game has not grown to be more popular(i read it did have several later editions but has always remained a niche product).

    Keep em coming,

    1. You glean correctly. Unfortunately, Barker's creativity and originality resulted in a setting so successfully alien as to be intimidating.

      From fairy tales (if nothing else), people know about castles and knights and dragons and dwarves. In this respect, D&D was much more approachable. Also, Bakshi's Lord of the Rings (1978) brought 'fantasy' in an easily palatable form to a wide audience. People could find out about hobbits and Tolkienian elves without opening a book. At first, D&D didn't have a setting and when it did, it was hardly integral to the game.

      Contrast this to Empire of the Petal Throne, which Barker admitted was “an intensely personal creation.” Participating in this world as a player – learning as one goes – would be enjoyable for many people, but the referee has to absorb this intricate setting. In his introduction, Barker claims, “any obstacle to pleasurable gaming will disappear after a few readings.” Barker may have been optimistic, but he was certainly biased; at least he acknowledged an obstacle. Being a referee is difficult enough without knowing the meanings of “Zrné,” “Tsáqw,” and “Hnálla” (or even how to pronounce them).

  2. I've always frowned upon fantasy novels and campaign settings that use nonsense words as crutch for conveying novelty and exoticism(it's not a wizard it's a N'plakk'do!), though i have been guilty of it myself at times, but in this case(as in Tolkien's) it might be warranted because the language is borderline functional and actually helps to convey the exotic milieu. Still, playing with a Tsolyani Dictionairy on the table might be a barrier to even the bravest, manliest GM.

    I guess your statement holds true in the Golden Age(OD&D era, if you will permit me a Malewinskism), when people supposedly made their own campaigns and standardisation was almost unheard of, but in the Silver Age( or is that the Bronze Age, the 2e Era, the time when people made a lot of fucking campaign settings), when there was an increasing demand for versimilitude, intricate campaign settings and 'realism', i should think EoPT would have stood heads and tails above the others(while retaining enough of D&D's DNA to remain at least somewhat accesible).

    Of course by that time it would have been outdated and probably no longer published by TSR. The alienness of the setting would probably, at that time, not have been as much as a problem, with TSR experimenting with less standard settings(Spelljammer, Dark sun). Still, i cannot help but weep a single bitter game-master tear at the fact people are willing to slog through and absorb 50 books and play a Forgotten Realms Campaign but have probably never heard of Empire of the Petal Throne.