Sunday, December 1, 2013

More Fun with Tsolyáni Calligrams

Perhaps "fun" isn't the right word. I actually found this one rather difficult to draw.

And I had to tinker with the Tsolyáni script so much, I am not even certain it is legible anymore.

Anybody care to take a stab at what it is supposed to say, and what it is supposed to represent?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Back from the Field....

..where I have been almost continuously since May. It's been a great season, but it's good to be home. The last few days I have been trying to catch up a little on what's new on Tékumel. I was really quite taken by the doodle over on the Tékumel Project blog:

It clearly consists of Tsolyáni letters, although I can't quite assemble them into Tsolyani words. Nevertheless, it did get me thinking about Tsolyáni calligrams.

Do the Tsolyáni use calligrams? I decided they probably do. The compass rose on the EPT box cover certainly looks like it might be one (incidentally, I have always assumed that that element on the EPT box-top is supposed to be a representation of the Seal of the Imperium....does that make sense?).

Anyway, so I thought it might be fun to try my hand at a Tsolyáni calligram or two. And the obvious place to experiment is with deity names. So first, Dlamélish. Here's the name of the Deity wrapped clockwise around a central point. Special emphasis on the "-sh" consonant, since its double loops recall the "Twin Orbs of Ecstasy" from Jamie Thomson's superb analysis of the BoEB demon glyphs.

I am quite happy with it as is, but it rather fails as a calligram, since there is no particular visual image. So why don't we elongate the "-sh" even more to give the whole thing something of a lingam effect?

I think the Goddess would approve. Especially rendered in a nice Dlamélish-compliant silver on emerald green. So voila. The name "Dlamélish" in the form of a stylized barbed phallus.

The next one I tried was Sárku. I was aiming to set the name in a pentagonal form, with a worm emerging from each corner. I even added the General Attitude Suffix "-dali" so I would have five consonants. Well, I kind of succeeded, but the results kind of sucked. I don't think you can impose a visual image on the word from the outset, you have to let it emerge from the characters.

So then I decided to try something easier: Qón. Only two consonants. Should be easy, right? Well, it turns out it is. Qón is ridiculously easy to make calligrams with. Flip the letter "n" and the name "Qón" instantly turns into a stylized mace, the symbol of the Deity.

Write the name "Qón" as usual, but add a flourish to the vowel to turn it into an ear, move the double loops of the letter "n" forward to make nostrils and add a fanged element inside, and there you have the name "Qón" rendered as a canine beast-head. Sort of a demonic Snoopy-face. It was rather startling to see how easy that was!

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Tsandáli Update

Still plugging away when I can at the natural setting chapter for the Tsandáli monograph. The overview of regional (i.e. Káijan) geology / geomorphology / hydrology  is long since done.

Zeroing in on the biotic zones of Tenkaré Prefecture,  the Ranánga-Equnoyel Interfluvial Upland Zone is done (the upland combination of intensive Dná monoculture and Hmá husbandry makes for a pretty simple -  and essentially anthropogenic - ecosystem, really).

The Equnoyel Valley Bottomland Zone (rather more complex but still a monocrop system, here based on Yáfa) is also done.

The Kikértla Hills Zone (ecologically the most complex of the three with its multi-layered moist tropical forest) still needs more work.

Part of the reason for the slowed pace is that returning to online Tekumel after some time away, I keep finding new (or new to me) unofficial Tékumel setting materials that may contain flora and fauna references.

Most of these don't discuss wild plants and (non-monstrous) animals as such. Probably the most extensive treatment is in the Butrus Gazetteer. But some other fan contributions make passing reference to food plants, technological plants, flowers used in offerings etc. that may suggest plants present in the forests of southern Tsolyánu.

And I do believe in supporting other people's original fan setting ideas for Tékumel by adopting them into my own Tékumel (properly credited of course), if they feel right (and in this case, if they are plausible specifically for Káija).

For example, a characteristic tree of the Chákas is the "soaring" Ebzál, which in the Butrus Gazetteer is identified with the ceiba tree. I don't know that this is "official" Tékumel, but who cares. I really like this identification. A lot. So as far as I am concerned it is true, and the Ebzályal of southern Tékumel, down in the Tsandáli neck of the woods, are ceibas too. Some other "unofficial" trees from Pan Cháka will be showing up in my Káijan forests as well.

Picture Time

Once again, a couple of pictures that aren't really related to the text. These are three figures I did quite a while ago using Sculpey III. Not the greatest material in the universe for a couple of reasons, but it has some properties that make it great for your first efforts if you are just starting out sculpting. I posted these over on the Tékumel Yahoo group...when?...almost a decade ago! Where does the time go? I wouldn't say my work has improved in the least since then, but I don't sweat that too much. It's fun just doing it.

Actually, these figures are not totally unrelated to the subject, especially the two guards on the bottom. You'll notice the the male and female guard figures each have an agnathic demon face on their belts. In addition, the male guard wears a tabard with a sinuous, worm-like design which descends from the demon face almost like a tongue. The agnathic face,  often fanged,  is  a design element particularly associated with Chavín art, and it's one I really like working with (notice I gave the Dlamélish priestess in a previous post an agnathic-face-and-tabard garment too!)

Anyway, back when I was working on these figures I realized the motifs I was using on their clothing seemed to be a real mix of Sárku and Dlamélish elements. That got me pondering: what kind of social group in Tsolyanu would have people wearing this combination of Sárku and Dlamélish symbols?

The Tsandáli Clan began as my attempt to answer that question. So in a way, these figures gave rise to the whole clan. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Some Miscellany

Okay, some Tsandali-related miscellany.

One thing I have noticed looking at the traffic here is that people are more likely to read a post if there is a picture attached, so I'll try to make sure I always have one to post. It might not always relate to the text however

This week a little vignette from the House of Perfect Poise in the Cloister of Aládh, a courtyard in the Monastery of the Third Crescentine Aspect at Ngáye'èshu. This monastery of Hriháyal perched on a ridgetop overlooking the Eqúnoyel River is an important institution in Tenkare Prefecture, particularly for the Tsandáli. Narrative dance is highly esteemed in the clanhouses of the largely illiterate Tsandáli, and many youths and maidens from the higher-ranking lineages of the clan are sent to Ngáye'èshu to study the arts of Aládh. Here we see a student assuming one of the Eighty-Seven Poses  in the Twelfth Mode of the Lesser Epics, under the watchful eye of her instructor.

 Moving right along, I am kind of happy to see that no one seems to have strong feelings about the precise location of the northern border of Kaija Province. Right now I am going through source materials, canon and non-canon alike, to see if I have missed any plants or animals that should be present in Kaija. Once that review is complete, I will be able to post the chapter on the environment and ecology of Tenkare Prefecture.

Looking ahead to the chapter on Tsandali agriculture, I have just posted a list of Tsandali agricultural terms over on the Tsolyani Language Yahoo Group. Criticism and comment are welcome.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

More Tsandali - A couple of maps

Back to the Tsandali Clan. In the original monograph I go directly from the introduction to  a review of the historic and mythic origins of the clan. The geographic setting then follows. It is tempting to do the same here, if only because outlining the Tsandali origin myth will at least explain what the "Dual Dais" is all about.

On the other hand, I think it is important to anchor the Tsandali in space, as well as in mythic and historic time, so I think I'll start now with a couple of maps, and post the origin myth later.

So here's a map showing the location of Tenkare Prefecture, where 90% of the Tsandali clansmen live, in the eastern end of Kaija Province, at the north-central edge of Kaija Protectorate (the Protectorate is outlined in a bold white dashed line). The non-canon topographical features I have added are a "Gilraya Uplands"  in the northern part of Gilraya Forest, extending west from Hrundano Rise east of Sokatis. I think it makes topographic/hydrological sense, forming a southern boundary for the Rananga watershed. Also, the "Kikertla Hills" separating the Equnoyel drainage from the Layoda swamps. They are essentially an extension of the Gilraya Uplands, and again I think they are kind of necessary for the hydrology to work.

I know the map style is a weird hybrid between the "computery" and the calligraphic, certainly not something a native Tsolyani would generate, or even necessarily comprehend.

But there's something else here that is potentially controversial, and that is the northern boundary of Kaija Protectorate. There was a bit of a Blue Room exchange about this back in the 90s that never really seemed to get resolved. I won't get into it just now. Suffice to say, what I've decided to do here is to run the northern boundary of Kaija along the interfluvial upland between the Equnoyel and the Rananga. Kind of splitting the difference between the two opposing positions.

But that can be changed. No big deal. Comments?

This second map is a hex, specifically #2817. Very "gamey" I know. This map shows Tenkare town and its environs. I distinguish 16 Duretl-Tsandali villages in the hills, but in the Equnoyel bottomlands I only show the major towns. This is part of the rural hinterland that feeds the voracious appetites of Jakalla. That makes it one of those "breadbasket of the Empire" hexes, so hundreds of thousands of people live here, mostly along the alluvial bottomland. It isn't practical to show all the lesser towns, villages and hamlets, there are just too many of them.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tsolyani Ships

As I mentioned in my first post I have been working on a little treatise on Tekumelani naval warfare. I haven't decided yet how to post it, since it doesn't break down very naturally into blog posts.

I guess I'll find a way.

In the meantime, I was very interested to read over at The Pewter-Pixel Wars ( about the challenges in wrestling with the problem of representing Tekumelani warships with earthly Hellenistic/Roman-style miniatures. It looks like pretty fiddly work at that scale, I look forward to seeing how it turns out.

The question of what Tekumelani warships really look like is one that has always interested me. Yes we have text from a number of canon sources indicating that certain vessel types might be "like" pentekonters, others are "like" triremes etc. But more than the text descriptions, I am personally rather influenced by the little ships portrayed on the original EPT box cover. These have an over-the-top Tekumel design sensibility that sometimes looks a little improbable but surely must be right for the "look and feel" of Tekumelani ships.

My own take on Tekumelani ships, at least in the Five Empires, is that like most material culture they have elaborate ornamentation: superstructural decoration that may look impractical, but is considered essential. Not a frill. In fact, if chlen-hide panels are used for some of this ornament it might even be vaguely functional since it would be somewhat armoured and would especially protect against flaming missiles.  

Here are a couple of screen-grabs from the working copy of my naval piece to show what I mean. Both of these vessels are supposed to be Tsolyani.  I am not totally happy with the way my zoomorphic elements look like I just glommed them onto streamlined hulls (though that is more or less what I did!); ideally I think the hulls and the superstructures should have a more unitary look, but still, I think it is an approach that has possibilities.... and it may be one way we can make historical models look more Tekumelani.

Incidentally, I understand that Qadardalikoi has illustrations of Tekumelani warships.  Unfortunately, I don't have a copy. One day I will track one down. Or... did I see somewhere that a new edition may be published? Either way, if I can find a copy it will fill a major gap in my library.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gaming at a Certain Age

Okay, so I have been tinkering with the Tsandali some more; just finished constructing a series of terms in Equnoyelani-dialect Tsolyani to describe the various stages of a Duretl-Tsandali slash-and-burn horticultural plot. Some of them are fun. There is a real purpose to this exercise: folk terminology and classification schemes like this really help illustrate how horticultural activities are perceived in religious terms (particularly in terms of the binary opposition between Sarku and Dlamelish), how individual Tsandali clansmen may attempt to "game" the social (i.e. clan) context within which all planting occurs, and it also helps illustrate the cultural ecology of Duretl-Tsandali upland horticulture. Hrayetl-Tsandali rice cultivation in the valley bottomlands is another issue entirely, but equally interesting.

I have also been pondering Tsolyani naval architecture a little, and some of the illustrations I did up for the naval treatise, because I do want to start posting about where I have gotten to on naval and maritime matters.

But most of all, I have to confess, I have been having a ball leaping around the blogosphere lately, following Tekumel- and peri-Tekumel links, kind of rediscovering the whole gaming aspect of it all. Brings back a lot of memories.

You see, I have another confession to make: I haven't played in an RPG since ... 1984. That's right, nearly 30 years ago, back when I was in high school, and, after that, an undergraduate in university. It was grad school that split up my group, we dispersed to grad schools on different parts of different continents, and ultimately to very different lives.

Of course Tekumel still has its hooks in me (obviously), though these days my interests are more solitary and pseudo-scholarly.

Anyway, don't want to get all maudlin, let's just say I have been enjoying a little vicarious lurking, and I am curious to know, especially from people of my own ahem "vintage,"

How does your gaming now, at your current age (whatever that might be), compare to gaming back when you were in your teens or twenties?

Would you say your games have more/less energy? More/less humour? More/less sophistication? More/less complexity?

What's different now? What's the same? What's better now? What's not so good?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A little more of the Tsandáli

As I hope will become clear in future posts, the Tsandáli Clan  have some cult beliefs which, though arguably "Pavarian," are nevertheless rather distinctive and quite interesting.

One way I enjoy exploring these beliefs is through iconography. I am by no means a proper artist, but I do find  that now and then I get inspired enough to produce results that are at least, well, workmanlike. One great thing  about rendering iconography, monuments, bas-reliefs etc. is that you never have to produce lively, animated scenes  (something I am not capable of). Static, wooden depictions are good enough.  It also allows you to play around  with Tsolyáni script. Use a graphics program, and you can come up with something like this one I did a couple of years ago: the grave-marker of a Tsandáli priestess of Dlamélish.

Commemorative stela marking the burial cyst of a Rashángtorà (Chief Ritual Priestess) of Dlamélish at Tsán Tsán.  In a piece of uniquely Tsandáli symbolism masquerading as orthodox Dlamélish iconography, the deceased is shown raising a silver dish to receive a droplet of Precious Jade, the fruit of a celestial Tík-tree in liquid form. Sandstone bas-relief from the Tsán Tsán Ceremonial Precinct, Tenkaré Prefecture, Káija Protectorate.

The main inscription  includes titles the deceased held in life, a brief eulogy, and two "eternal" titles she retains in the afterlife. The script may be difficult to make out at this resolution, though you are welcome to try. If you can't, perhaps it is just as well, since I know I have made at least one grammatical error, and I have used some noun-stems and compound forms that may or may not be correct Tsolyáni usage.

However, you may be able to make out the text at the top, “Sha’íya hiQorisú,” the name of the deceased, enclosed in the mouth of (i.e. uttered by) a fanged ape-like demon.

You can almost certainly decipher the larger words in the bottom register. Here, beneath the roots of the celestial Tíkyal, two of her epithets from the main inscription are echoed by kneeling figures, representing the many sacrifices she has consigned to the Demons of the Myriad Planes. “Dhálin!” cries one figure at the moment of his death, “Ssünáin!” the other, the words emanating from their mouths via speech/blood scrolls.

An Introduction to the Tsandáli Clan

The following is actually the introduction to my monograph, and it serves to introduce three of the principal themes. There are footnotes, which I have appended to the end of this post. I make no apologies for the pedantic tone. This is deliberate. From the start I set out to create a study with the look and feel of a rather old-fashioned ethnography.


The Tsandáli are a prosperous agricultural clan of middling status restricted to Tenkaré Prefecture on the middle reaches of the Eqúnoyel Valley in Káija Province, southern Tsolyánu.1 At first glance, they might appear unremarkable, a typical minor, localized rural clan group of the sort common throughout the Empire and hardly a subject of historical or ethnographic interest.

On closer inspection, however, the Tsandáli do not seem so typical at all. First, although Tsolyáni clans are normally endogamous and "clannish," the Tsandáli are fiercely so. The Tsandáli interact with their outclan neighbours in the normal manner of Tsolyáni clans of course, but unusually strong social boundaries isolate them from their neighbours, who in turn regard the Tsandáli as socially and culturally distinct from "other clans." One of the features which sets them apart is their religious affiliation. In a district where the sects of Hnálla, Avánthe and Belkhánu predominate, the Tsandáli worship instead Dlamélish and Sárku and their cohorts. Moreover, the Tsandáli are hardly “orthodox” followers of Dlamélish or Sárku; instead, there has evolved among the Tsandáli a distinctive local belief system which merges these two very different sects into one. Tsandáli theology is unorthodox enough that it is fair to refer to a "Tsandáli Cult," based on the worship of Dlamélish and Sárku,2 but notably different from conventional Dlamélish or Sárku worship as it is known elsewhere in the Empire.

A second distinctive feature of the clan is an unusual system of land tenure whereby much of the clan’s land and standing crop are dedicated to, if not owned outright by, the dead (more specifically, by a particular elite subgroup of Tsandáli ancestors: the Chállunikéltishèjaràiyal, or “Honoured Dead”). As we will see, when the dead retain a perpetual ownership of, and an active interest in, their estates, there can be a significant effect on the economic opportunities available to the  living.

A third distinctive characteristic of the Tsandáli Clan is its binary structure, not typical of Tsolyáni clans. The lineages of the Tsandáli Clan are divided between a pair of matrimonial moieties (or inter-marrying subclans). Each of these moieties, the Hráyetl-Tsandáli of the Eqúnoyel valley bottomland, and the Dúretl-Tsandáli of the Kikértla Hills to the south, has its own geographic territories, unique agricultural practices, mythic ancestry, and distinctive religious and symbolic place within the shared Tsandáli Cult.

The Tsandáli are thus clearly unusual enough to be of scholarly interest.  But are they so unique that a study of their ways sheds no light on the Tsolyáni clan system in general? I believe not. We are wont to use the term "clan" as a shorthand for the various occupational/religious/fictive-kin-based groupings that are the building blocks of Tsolyáni society, and the term "clan system" as a shorthand for the various ways these groups interact, as if by design. But we must never forget that there is no design, and these terms are merely shorthand; the "clan system" is characterized as much by its enormous variability as by its uniformity. Despite the many generalizations that can be made about Tsolyáni clans and the Tsolyáni clan system, the fact is, that on closer inspection, each Tsolyáni clan is unique. Each clan is far more than a clan symbol, a trade, and a dormitory.  Each is a more-or-less self-contained little society within the greater Imperium, and each has its peculiar characteristics that set it apart from all others. And so it must be, for if Tsolyáni clans were nothing but bland trade and status organizations, devoid of the cultural quirks which bind people together and set them apart from outsiders, it is doubtful that the clan system would have survived as long as it has. It is hoped that this monograph will not only highlight the fascinating characteristics that make the Tsandáli unique, but will also convey some of the variability in social, economic and religious structures which is possible within the otherwise rather homogeneous-sounding "clan system" of Tsolyánu.3

But first a word on nomenclature. It is a common convention in writings about Tékumel to render clan names in English (e.g. Red Flower, Emerald Circlet, Flat Peak, etc.), except in those relatively rare instances in which clan is virtually synonymous with lineage (e.g. Tlakotáni, Vríddi, Íto). However, in the case of the Tsandáli, such translation would be difficult. The tsán is, of course, a Tsolyáni imperial unit of linear measurement equivalent to 1.33 earthly kilometers, while –dali is a Tsolyáni suffix indicating largeness or greatness. Many Tsolyáni, (were they ever to encounter this minor clan) would thus likely interpret Dlánmükoi hiTsandáli to mean something like the “Big Mile Clan.” The imperial Tsán is known and used in the Eqúnoyel valley of course,4  but in that region it has additional and perhaps older folk meanings. Most commonly, the term tsán is used locally to refer to a cultivated field, normally either a yáfa paddy or a swidden plot. We could therefore render Tsandáli in English as as the “Big Field” Clan. This would certainly be closer to the indigenous meaning. Yet more broadly, tsán may also be employed, usually rhetorically or metaphorically, to refer to any physically- or conceptually-bounded space for human activity: not only a field, but also a a battlefield,5 a clanhouse, a village, a market, a ceremonial precinct,6  or even a tomb. Should we then call the Tsandáli the “Great Enclosure Clan?”  Perhaps. But such a translation would be vague, uninformative and frankly unattractive. And since no other translation will convey the multi-layered meanings, I have opted to retain their own indigenous name: Tsandáli.


1    Tenkaré Prefecture, home to the Tsandáli Clan, broadly corresponds to Hex #2817 on both the colour map boxed with Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) and the colour map boxed with the Swords and Glory Sourcebook (1982).

2   The Tsandáli priesthoods could be considered “orders” or “factions” within their respective temples. But because Tsandáli cultus extends beyond the temples to encompass the laity, I prefer the term “Tsandáli Cult” rather than “Tsandáli Order” or “Tsandáli Faction.”

3    I cannot claim that my position is unique or even original. Others writing about individual Tsolyáni clans have highlighted one or more distinctive clan cultural practices and/or unusual internal clan subdivisions. As examples I may cite Mark Wigoder-Daniels’ 1992 “The Clan of the Iron Plume” (The Eye of All-Seeing Wonder 1), Belinda Kelly’s 2004 “The Jewelled Pommel Clan” (The Book of the Visitations of Glory 7), and other examples in Kim Kuroda’s 2004 (2nd Ed.) Butrús Gazetteer (

4    Confusingly, when the Tsandáli use the term tsán as a unit of measurement, they use it casually and interchangeably both in its imperial sense (1.33 kilometers) and in its local sense (a field). Thus, a Tsandáli informant might say that such and such a place is “five tsányal down the road” without specifying whether he means five (imperial) tsányal away or only five fields away (an imprecise distance but one certain to be much less than five imperial tsányal). Locals will know from context which sense is meant but outsiders may be greatly inconvenienced if they are unaware of the possible ambiguity. For example, it is said that during the Salarvyáni incursions into Káija Protectorate in the 2340s A.S, a young Kási leading his Tsurúm in a forced march up the Eqúnoyel Valley enquired of local Tsandáli peasants the whereabouts of the Salarvyáni forces in the area. On hearing that the enemy was many tsányal away, he allowed his exhausted troops to make camp and rest on the spot, without the usual scouts, pickets, and defensive earthworks. Alas, the Salarvyáni were much closer than he believed and their army stumbled into his camp in the night, making such great slaughter that only the young Kási escaped alive. The Imperium saw fit to reward his negligence by finding him a new posting: immured in one of the Chalices of Silence at the Tólek Kána pits in Béy Sü. We may imagine this unenviable circumstance now affords him a unique perspective (and ample opportunity) to contemplate the proper measurement of time and space.

5    Thus a Tsandáli clansman might well refer to the site of a great battle as a Qadártsan, or “battlefield,” in a manner not unlike the English usage.

6    This is almost certainly the origin of the name for the great Tsandáli ceremonial center at Tsán Tsán, described in more detail below. The doubling, like the –dali suffix, indicates “greatness” and the name Tsán Tsán therefore has the meaning “Great [Ceremonial] Precinct.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


This blog is dedicated to the late Prof. M.A.R. Barker's magnificent world of Tékumel, and specifically, to a couple of personal Tékumel "fanon" projects that I have been working on, intermittently, for quite a few years now.

One is a treatise on Tékumelani naval warfare, the other an ethnographic monograph on the Tsandáli, an agricultural clan found on the middle reaches of the Eqúnoyel River, in Káija Protectorate.

I alternate between the two, and though the naval treatise is the one I started first, the ethnographic study keeps nagging for my attention: possibly ensuring that neither is ever finished!

So, expect to see subsections and illustrations from either or both of these projects appearing here from time to time. And who knows, perhaps also my personal reflections, both on the world of Tékumel, and on the world of Tékumel fandom.