I played the third session of Burning Hinterlands last night, the BW-via-Hangouts campaign I’m in with Rachel E.S. Walton, MadJay Brown, and Michael Miller. I had a lot of fun and managed to rack up a lot of tests — for some reason (i.e., Jay) my PC was at the center of a lot of rock-’em, sock-’em action. I also had two really nice tests where I spent artha and was rewarded for it, including one roll where a Fate point managed to get me four successes out of just three dice. Nice!

That said, I felt like I was a bit all over the place as a player. I’ll admit that I was tired; we play from 8pm to 10pm, which as a first-year father are pretty much the wee hours for me. Not to mention, I failed to make time to review the notes form last session. Heck, I even confronted an NPC about something I’d already confronted them about last session!

I also am still getting the hang of really embodying my BITs. I have one directly actionable belief that I tend to drive for pretty hard, to the unfortunate exclusion of the rest of my BITs. I felt like I tended to react to the pressure Jay was putting on me by simply thinking about what was expedient and not what was in my BITs that would drive artha rewards.

Granted, this attitude still resulted in some very juicy scenes, one in which I somehow managed to one-shot an assailant in a versus test — whipping a knife at their head and burying it in their throat. Very cool (I wasn’t even fully aware that was an option when I rolled, though I probably should have been; I’m whipping a knife at someone) but not at all the conception I had for the character at the outset.

But! The cool thing about BW, especially when playing 3 LP characters, is that you do a lot of bumbling around and getting into desperate situations. I wanted so bad to test a skill that wasn’t Beginner’s Luck that, in the above situation, I was pretty all “Fuck it, Throwing is one of my best skills, I’m gonna use it.”

So, now I’m looking to seriously re-think some of my PC’s beliefs. Maybe I mad the choices I did for a reason, and the character is not who I originally thought they were, and/or the events of the last two sessions have had a more profound impact on them than I thought.

I also find myself asking “WWRD?” I.e., “What would Rachel do?” Because, damn, she is a model BW player. Not that everyone in my group isn’t awesome, but I feel like Rachel has a real mastery of the player side of the game. She does such a great job of keeping not only her own PC’s BITs front-of-mind, but those of the other PCs as well. Seriously, in the second session she started doing all of this support work for goals other PCs were pursuing, stuff that hadn’t even crossed my mind.

So, yeah, I need to step up my game! I’m surrounded by heavy hitters! Hopefully I won’t be exhausted next session.

I finished reading M.A.R. Barker’s The Man of Gold during lunch today.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which is weird because I’ve had a paperback copy sitting, unread, on my shelf since 1984. At the time, it was one of many abortive attempts on my part to get into the setting of Tékumel, along with the Gamscience Swords & Glory RPG. At the time, the novel, like the S&G books, were totally impenetrable to me. I’d start, but soon would simply get lost.

Thankfully, the most excellent Tékumel Foundation recently released a Kindle edition of the book, which I promptly purchased and started reading whenever I had a spare moment.

This time around, I was enthralled. Maybe I have more patience now than I did back in ’84. My overall sentiments are similar to what James Maliszewski writes in his review of the book from 2010, though I am more impressed with Barker’s writing, I think.

The book follows Hårsan, a humble priest of the god Thúmis, as he becomes embroiled in the machinations of various powerful people as they search for a legendary artifact of the ancients which could transform the political map of Tékumel. We see our initially naive protagonist tour a good swath of Barker’s world, face its perils, and both find and lose love, all in the process of the frantic hunt for the titular artifact of the book.

A good portion of the novel is an extended dungeon-crawl through the many-layered Tékumelani (if I am using that correctly) underworld. Granted, I didn’t even realize it was a dungeon-crawl until a few chapters in. Maybe I’m slow on the uptake, but I felt like Barker very deftly weaves together what turns into a party of diverse backgrounds and talents searching their way through the buried remains of multiple civilizations. It is claustrophobic, stridently-paced, and eerie. Honestly, it’s probably one of the best depictions of a dungeon-crawl I’ve ever read; it never feels contrived, the fear of survival is constant.

The real star of the book, of course, is the setting. Barker pulls no punches throwing heaps of Tékumel’s alien languages at the reader, and never refrains from providing elaborate detail about his world’s objects, cultures, and philosophies.

Maliszewski puts it perfectly:

However, the world in which the novel takes place is brilliantly vibrant and well-presented. In many ways, it is the star of The Man of Gold and why I continued to read the novel even when its story might otherwise have failed to hold my attention. That’s why I consider The Man of Gold a rare example of a gaming novel that works: it makes me want to play in the world of Tékumel. Better still, it’s quite accessible even to people who’ve never read a single gaming product that described that alien planet and its strange races and cultures.

Ref: http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2010/12/pulp-fantasy-library-man-of-gold.html

Extra double-bonus is that, since this is Tékumel, all of the characters in the book are POC. The back-story of Tékumel is that it’s a planet terraformed by humans some 60,000 years from now, and those humans were all South American and Asian. This is a whole planet of people with brown eyes and brown skin. (And a bunch of weird aliens, too.)

The Man of Gold is a great entry point for anyone interested in Tékumel, and a solid read for anyone seeking a novel set in a unique science-fantasy setting and written in a classic SF/fantasy style.

Now I have to figure out what I’m going to do until the next novel is Kindle-ready (which sounds like soon). It may finally be time to tackle those Tékumel RPGs that have been sitting on my shelf for years and years.

The Man of Gold

Enjoying the Scenery

I’m reading M.A.R. Barker’s The Man of Gold right now — finally getting more than ankle-deep in Tékumel — and it’s reminding me of a few gaming experiences where, for me at least, the primary joy was simply basking in the setting. And by “primary joy”, I don’t mean “the only fun I managed to find”; I mean: “Holy crap, forget about my character and please tell me more about trollish dueling etiquette!”

The games I am thinking about are two Tékumel events, one at Forge Midwest using Barker’s homebrew rules, and one at GenCon 2005 using Guardians of Order’s T:EPT; the excellent Gloranthan HeroQuest event I played at GenCon 2014; and a short-lived Wilderlands game with my old 3e group. All of these games featured engaging characters and conflicts, but also me sitting in rapt attention as the world around us was described.

It’s probably an obvious point that, given I already had an interest in Tékumel and Glorantha, gaming in those settings was going to naturally lead to me happily sightseeing. The Wilderlands game is perhaps the exception that proves the rule, as I had no real investment in that setting, yet I was won over the more we explored.

This could be nothing more than Hey, that’s what floats your boat, Mark, which is fine. However, I have been in games where I really could have cared less about the scenery. No, I don’t wanna know more about the kind of mortar used in the bridge we’re crossing can we please get to the keep already now thank you. And lord knows that my patience for massive tomes and endless splats has worn extremely thin over the years (excepting Tékumel and Glorantha), much less games where half the core book is a lengthy info-dump that forms a clear divide between “here are some rules” and “here’s a bunch of setting” and ne’er the twain shall meet.

Nonetheless, there are times, when the stars align just right, that despite having a strong preference for games that address big ideas, and where we’re there to get shit done, that I like just being there and looking around.

I don’t really have a summary essay question attached to this bit of musing, but everyone is free to talk about their feels. Does just “soaking in it” spark joy in you?

Finally got a chance to watch the #Supergirl  premiere last night. I agree with opinions I’ve read that it was bumpy but shows promise. Melissa Benoit is a very likable lead, and I was happy to see David Harewood, who I really enjoyed in Robin Hood (though his American accent is a bit rough).

I also love that there are lots of women and POC in important roles, and that its really Mehcad Brooks who’s the eye-candy (my wife was a big Necessary Roughness fan, so she was happy to see him, for various reasons /cough pecs).

Not to mention, I give the show HUGE credit for quickly revealing Kara’s identity to most of the important characters. Seriously, Buffy did this, and it’s the best way to go for an ensemble superhero show. Dancing around secret identities is, for me, one the least interesting topics ever, at least among the primary cast (I’m looking at you, Smallville).

I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.