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Much of the material in this post is drawn from the various Tekumel RPG products and the amazing archive of discussions from the Blue Room discussion group. Throughout this article you will run across diacritical marks on many words – with only one exception, these do not modify the sound of the letter itself, but instead indicate where to place emphasis when saying the word in question.

“There is no need for ‘your’ Tékumel to be identical with ‘mine’. Introduce other characters, different animals, further races … change the social structures, throw out or ignore features which do not appeal to you.”

Swords & Glory Volume 1

One of my two #Dungeon23 projects is The Tumíssan Underworld – a set of adventure / dungeon locations underneath the city of Tumíssa in Western Tsolyánu. I’ll be posting the full write-up of the first zone of this dungeon early next week, but thought I should give some general information on the city above as it strongly impacts both the design and the themes of the underworld.

Map of Tumíssa by M.A.R. Barker
– Map of Tumíssa by M.A.R. Barker from the Blue Room archives.

Pardon the quality of the map – it was drawn in the early era of Macintosh graphics seen in the classic Cyberpunk 2013 RPG, for instance. The GIF file is stored at the Tekumel Foundation’s Blue Room archives and is linked to here with their kind permission.

Tumíssa is one of the more important cities in Western Tsolyánu (the Empire of the Petal Throne, one of the five major human empires of known Tekumel). It sits on the shores of what appears to be a volcanic crater lake (Néttu Tlakán) (which will be central to at least one of the levels of this project). The city is pretty much defined by the edges of this crater, providing excellent defence against invading armies which helps the city remain independent even during the current wars – Mu’ugalavyáni troops demanded the surrender of the city, but didn’t really put much effort into besieging it because of the great city walls perched atop the steep crater cliffs (and then the intervention of the Pé Chói).

The city’s walls, temples, and palaces are primarily constructed of reddish sandstone (dragged in from beyond the crater edge), reinforced by the much harder igneous and metamorphic rock of the crater proper. The fire-red temple of Vimúhla dominates the southern ridge of the city, and the followers of the fire god dominate the society and politics.

Between the red sandstone and black igneous rock, and the overwhelming presence of Vimúhla (whose priests & priestesses favour flame-orange robes, kilts, skirts, and headdresses), the entire city seems to be generally red and black in palette – extending even to the pottery styles which are generally shorter types of jugs and pots with three legs each made to look like three legs (to produce the three threes, for Vimúhla’s number is nine) with a rusty red or ochre coloration, often with paler red or ochre slip. This makes worshippers of other deities stand out in a crowd (and in society in general). Vimúhla’s worshippers aren’t the majority of the populace, but they are the largest single portion of it.

Vimúhla the Lord of Fire, Power of Destruction and Red Ruin, the Maker of Thunders, the All-Consuming One. Vimúhla is, in traditional D&D terms, an “evil” deity of fire and destruction – he seeks to bring about the great conflagration that consumes the world bringing about the final joy of unification through annihilation. His cohort, Chiténg, the Lord of Red Spouting Flame, Drinker of Blood and Reaper of Cities is easier to follow and leads people into the worship of the Lord of Fire as he is the patron of the armies of change.

Since Tekumel has been inhabited for truly ridiculous lengths of time, cities go through a “renewal” process called ditlána. Traditionally, one razes existing buildings to their foundations and then rebuilds them atop the pile in the same general style – this also allows for temples and clans to move about the city as their fortunes wax and wane – so a clan or temple that has fallen out of favour will find their clan house moved to a less desirable part of the city to make way for those who have risen from their shadows. This also allows for new sewers and similar infrastructure to be built, often repurposing the basements of buildings that no longer exist because of the ditlána. These substructures extend down and down beneath the city, each layer older than the last. While the layer directly below the city is mostly basements and sewers, beneath that we run into the older basements, ancient temples, and at the deepest levels under some cities we run into remnants of civilizations from long before the time of the five empires.

It is worth noting in any discussion about Empire of the Petal Throne and Tekumel that it recently came to light that Prof. M.A.R. Barker (creator of Tekumel) held anti-Semitic and racist beliefs, which he expressed under pseudonyms in a novel and on the board of a holocaust denial organization. Like playing Call of Cthulhu, it is important to go into Tekumel aware of this background so you can watch for its influence and purposefully reject it when you do run into it. Also like H.P. Lovecraft, Professor Barker is deceased, so we are not contributing to his hate and horrible beliefs – in fact, the Tekumel Foundation (who sells the full back catalog of EPT and Tekumel-based RPG material except for the most recent Bethorn RPG from Jeff Dee) is donating a portion of all sales to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, and to Holocaust education charities.