Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tekumeláni Naval Warfare: Some Progress

So next year will be the 40th anniversary of the original publication of Empire of the Petal Throne, and 2015 has been proclaimed "The Year of Tékumel!"

Given my patchy attention to this blog over the past year, I probably shouldn't commit to producing anything to mark the occasion, but certainly, I would like to produce something Tekumeláni in 2015. More to the point, I would like to finish something Tekumeláni in 2015!

To that end, I have decided to return to my naval treatise, probably the most finishable of my personal Tékumel projects.

And I have made some progress!

Until recently, the draft document focused on individual vessel tactics; fleet and flotilla deployments got short shrift. Now though, I have blocked out all of the principal naval formations and evolutions employed in the Five Empires. These are to be illustrated by discussing three fairly large historical naval actions: First Penóm in 2,019 A.S. (the Mu'uglavyáni invasion), Second Penóm in 2,020 A.S. (between the Tsolyáni relieving fleet and the Mu'ugalavyáni rear guard), and a more obscure action near Keruná in Háida Pakála, in 2,293 A.S., between Pakalayáni pirates and a Salarvyáni punitive expedition.

I have blocked out the stories for each of these battles. Otherwise, progress on the battles is mixed; I have a complete series of maps for the action near Keruná, a partial series for First Penóm, and no maps yet for Second Penóm.

Certainly, the maps are slowing me down. Originally I had planned to do very simple black and white maps, with simple ellipses for the shipses, and no over-elaborate Tekumeláni design hoo-hah. If I had stuck with that plan, I might be well on my way to finishing. Unfortunately, but perhaps predictably, I just couldn't leave well enough alone. I just had to Tékumelize the maps. Evidently, I am all about the elaborate Tekumeláni design hoo-hah.

So now, it will be a bit of a slog, but I have to make my battle maps look more like this:

(This particular map shows the opening dispositions at First Penóm. The Mu'ugalavyáni to the left are just "shaking out" from their convoy columns, the Tsolyáni blocking force is deployed to the right)

One depressing thing about putting a lot of work into Tékumelizing maps is that niggling feeling that it is only a waste of time. After all, we all know that Tekumeláni don't really make maps, not in the sense that we make maps. Yes they make "picture maps" but a picture map really wouldn't serve my purpose here. So here I am, trying to add Tékumel flavour to maps that perhaps could never exist on Tékumel.

On the other hand, we do know that Tekumeláni do make specialized military maps, showing blocks of troops, movement arrows etc. I don't know what those maps look like, but they sound similar to Terran battle maps. So maybe, just maybe, these Tékumel-styled naval maps are something a Tsolyáni Changkérdukoi (Admiral) might recognize...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On Returning in the Fall

Well, it is Fall once again. Another field season over, another chance to relax, however briefly, and return to Tekumel for a bit. And another chance to reflect on the decline in my blog contributions this year! Good lord, worse than last year by far. Ah well. I think this year I shall keep mum about my Tekumel ambitions and just hope for the best. In the meantime, I have some catching up to do. I expect lots has happened on Chirine's workbench over the last few months. There will be news on the F/fate of Tekumel. And more, much more! And, quite exciting, it appears that there is a new blog out there about Tekumelani foodways and how to mimic them on earth. And best of all, by an author whose Tekumel stuff I have always enjoyed tremendously! I am seriously looking forward to this! Oh yes, and I see I have a couple of very interesting emails to return, too. No idea how long my nexus point to Tekumel will remain open this time, but I will try to make the most of it!

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Apparently my refusal to sign up for Google+ means that I can no longer post comments on some of the blogs I like to pay attention to. Oh well. Even if I can no longer respond, at least I can still read them (until Google+ decides to forbid that too!).

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Prospect and Retrospect

Apparently the new year is the time to reflect on the past and the future of one's blog. So, two weeks in, here goes:


Ten posts in 2013. Now I am never going to be posting every day, or even every week, but surely I can manage once a month or better. I hereby resolve to do so. At least as an average (the summer months may be quiet for the foreseeable future).


I originally intended this blog to be quite narrowly-focused on the ethnography of the Tsandali Clan. Secondarily perhaps on Tekumelani naval warfare. I guess I have kept to that mandate fairly well. But I do suffer from distractibility: new ideas that get ahold of me and push away older projects. The Tsandali monograph is a prime example, relegating my naval warfare piece to long-term draftdom.

More recently, the map of the First Imperium, an idea that has been lurking for about six months and took over this fall. Actually, I had intended to work up a whole gamers guide to the First Imperium, pulling together what little we know about cities, clans, deities, history, architecture etc. and fleshing out the rest with unofficial fluff from my own imagination. The map was only supposed to be a part of that. But I really don't want to add any major projects until I have finished something. So for now, I am going to stop with the map. Maybe a gamers guide one day. Maybe not.

The art element has been fun. I like learning more and more about how to draw, and the blog has forced me to tinker more. Although, according to my countryman at the Tao of D&D what I derive from it is likely classified as "satisfaction" rather than "fun." Perhaps he is right. It is satisfying, not so much because I am ever satisfied with the result, but because each time I finish a map or a picture I learn something that opens up new possibilities for the next one.


I really have to update my links. Some sites, some yahoo groups, have disappeared over the last year.

Most notably and most recently, itself!!! WTF?

There are also some part-time Tekumel blogs I have discovered, and I should add those to my list.

On a related note, you may notice that I am not listed as "following" any blogs. That is because following/joining seems to require Friend Connect or Google+ and I am not yet convinced I really want to go there. But make no mistake, if you have a Tekumel related blog and I know about it, I am following you!

I follow some non-Tekumel gaming-related blogs as well, just because they have some quality of coolness. Maybe at some point I will post about the ones I follow and why.


Okay, so here are my Tekumel-related plans for the coming year, more-or-less in order of priority:

1) Get back into some sculpting. I am determined to complete a portrait figure for a certain warrior-priest of Vimuhla. I expect I will do it in polymer clay, since it is a material I have at hand, and understand. But I would rather experiment with kneadatite, if I can find it somewhere I can just go to the store and pick it up.

2) Complete the environmental setting for Tenkare Prefecture. The complex tropical forest ecosystem of the Kikertla Hills still needs to be finalized. I have reduced my remaining art ambitions for this section to one cross-section of the valley, and one wildlife illustration. I do have a sketch of two little creatures chattering in the trees, but I haven't really tried to draw Tekumelani animals before, so it is a challenge finishing this.

3) Getting back to the Naval essay. I have no further artwork ambitions other than some simple maps of sea battles, so it is all about text, but still. Ever since I started on the Tsandali, I am afraid they (the Tsandali) have priority.

4) Project X. Something much more directly game-oriented than anything else I have even considered producing (I have not been an active gamer for 30 years). But I don't even want to think about this until I have some closure on my other more fluff-focused interests. So enough about that. Probably not this year.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Minor Milestone

Well, I managed to forget the anniversary, but I just realized that this blog turned 1 year old a couple of days ago. There is still a lot of poop to clean up and many diaper changes to come, but it has learned to stand up by itself, and even walk a little. And it sleeps through the night, which is a blessing. Aren't they adorable at this age?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

An Odd little Tekumelani Map


I have recently come into possession of a rather curious document, a map showing the world of the First Imperium. The piece measures 58.5 x 41.25 cm, and is drawn in (faded) inks and pigments on (age-darkened) silk, possibly güdru. The script is Bednálljan Salarvyáni.

Mind you, I am not so naive as to believe that this is an authentic Bednálljan document. The chart appears to be "old," but it is inconceivable that a First Imperium textile could survive in this condition for tens of millenia. On the other hand, the apparent age of the piece may tell us nothing about its authenticity. When we consider that it charts the landscape of an alien world in an alien plane 100,000 years in our "future," perhaps its "age" is simply indescribable (and the story of how it came to rest in 21st-century Earth must be fascinating indeed!). Most telling, though, is the fact that its meticulous and scaled representation of coastlines and topography is at odds with  all (known) Tekumeláni map-making traditions and capabilities.

As a result, I can only guess that this map was drawn by some alien visitor, rather than a resident, in Tékumel's bethorm. And yet, I am inclined to believe that this unknown visitor may have been a particularly well-informed observer, and that this map may be an accurate representation of the world of the First Imperium. Let's have a closer look shall we?



The map is enclosed in a simple banded border, scaled (whether deliberately or fortuitously) in increments of approximately 400 modern Tsolyáni tsányal. The ordinal points at the corners of the map are overseen by the masks of four unidentified sharétlyal ("demons").

The principal ornament is a rather interesting escutcheon. It depicts the goddess Tyalméya (who corresponds to the modern Dlamélish, but in Bednálljan times, was appparently an Aspect of Chótl "The Blinding Sun") seated on a divan, serenely countering, and ultimately overcoming, the bluff and bluster of the warring deities Jráka and Vaomáhl. This is, of course, the "Tyalméya and the Warring Deities" motif seen occasionally on coins of the early First Imperium. Although the theological reference is obscure, I am confident that the mythic content is secondary to its significance as political allegory. The viewer is expected to identify the goddess Tyalméya with the queen Nayári, founder of the First Imperium (an identification made quite explicit in the Bednálljan inscription on this document). The image of Tyalméya and the Warring Deities is thus a metaphor for Nayári's ruthless conquest of the rump states of the Dragon Warriors and the Fisherman Kings, and for her skillful manipulation of the sectarian strife between their temples: the Red Robes of Vaomáhl and the Black Robes of Jráka.


The outlines of the continents are carefully drawn, and in general, reflect the coastlines we would expect to see in the region prior to the great cataclysm that marked the fall of Gánga. For example, a shallow sea covers the area that is now the Desert of Sighs and the central plain of Yán Kór, and the northern cities of Yán Kór are shown as city-states in an east-west-oriented archipelago (Pelesár is also one of these island city-states). The southern ocean is less radically transformed,  but we can see that Gánga appears to have been a little larger than it is today, while the Flats of Tsechélnu and the Layóda Swamps were both present, but less extensive than in modern times.

All of these are more-or-less what we would expect to see. But these expected configurations also reveal truths that are a little unexpected, or were to me. For example, it becomes clear that when the Desert of Sighs was ocean, the Swamps of Ksárul around Púrdimal were originally a coastal lowland or swampy rivermouth delta. It makes perfect sense, really. Also, we can see that when the plains of Yán Kór were ocean, not only was Sunráya a seaport, but so was Grái in Saá Allaqí. In fact, Saá Allaqí, which we think of now as a land of deserts and mountains, was during the First Imperium, a broad and likely fertile river valley reaching to the sea.

There are a few other features of note. First, the forests which form the northern boundary of Salarvyá were once contiguous with the forests of Gilráya (again, not entirely unexpected), and appear to have extended south from modern Pecháno to join with the forests around Lake Mrissútl. Second, the terrain north of Salarvyá appears to have formed a more marked and extensive east-west band of desert terrain than we see today, reaching from the Sleeping Desert in the east (largely off the map), through modern Kilalámmu and into northeastern Tsolyánu , where it becomes the Desert of Eyági.

For me, this desert region is the most interesting part of this map; the landscape that it reveals resolves a number of ambiguities and inconsistencies found in our documentary sources. 

For example, we are told that Nayári belonged to a "desert tribe" from the Dry Bay of Sú'um, and yet we are also told that prior to the Cataclysm, the Dry Bay of Sú'um was a large inland sea called "Lake Aridzó." This map resolves this puzzling inconsistency, clearly delineating Lake Aridzó but showing it surrounded by what appears to be desert terrain. We may infer that Lake Aridzo in the Bednálljan and Engsvanyáli periods was a desert lake perhaps analogous to the (much smaller) Ounianga Lakes of Earth.

Similar inconsistencies are found in First Imperium descriptions of the Desert of Eyági. We are told that this region, including the city of Fasiltúm, was once a fertile land, named "The Vales of Ninár." And yet, we also read of campaigns against the desert peoples of the region, who found refuge in desert lands.

Was it fertile, or was it desert?

Again, this map appears to reconcile these conflicting descriptions. The Desert of Eyági is clearly shown, as extensive, or more so, than it is in modern Tsolyánu. But it is bisected by the narrow fertile valley of a river which flows, Nile-like, through the desert hills from Lake Aridzó down into the Tsolyáni central plain to debouch into the Mssúma near what I believe to be the city of Purdánim, downstream of Béy Sü. I speculate that this river was named the Ninár River, and its valley was the legendary "Vale of Ninár." The city of Fa'ásal (Fasiltúm) is shown at the head of navigation, most likely a gateway city, tributary to Purdánim, a caravanserai on an ancient trade route between the peoples of the Mssúma and the desert nomads of what is now northeastern Tsolyánu. In this context, the Nayári myth makes perfect sense. Nomads moving into Tsolyánu from the Lake Aridzó region would naturally follow the Ninár to Fa'ásal, and thence, the next obvious destination for Nayári would obviously be further downstream at fabled Purdánim, at the confluence with the Mssúma River. Here, at Purdánim, the young Nayári would climb to power, and ultimately, found an empire.


The map indicates the principal cities of the First Imperium and surrounding lands with small truncated-pyramid symbols. Unfortunately, the original Bednálljan names for these cities were inscribed in a fugitive sepia-toned ink which has now almost entirely faded into obscurity. Because I regard this map as a curiosity rather than an authentic Bednálljan document, I have taken the liberty of over-writing the Bednálljan glyphs with Roman toponyms, to assist the Earthly reader. Have I thereby defaced an important historical document? I hope not. History will be my judge.

Not that I have been able to identify every city. While studying this map it became apparent to me how few First Imperium toponyms we really know. In fact, the only authentic Bednálljan toponym I am aware of is Béy Síy (Béy Sü), the "Soul of the World." What we do have, particularly for the key cities of central Tsolyánu and, to a lesser extent, the city-states of Hekkhé (Yán Kór), is a series of toponyms dating to the last millenium of the First Imperium, through the end of the Tarishánde Dynasty. We do not know if these names were strictly "Bednálljan" in origin, or if they were "Proto-Engsvanyáli," but perhaps it doesn't matter. We can be confident that they were in current use in at least the latter days of the First Imperium, and probably much earlier. For the area of Mu'aghátl (modern Mu'ugalavyá) we have an additional series of "Early Engsvanyáli" toponyms that were again, likely in current use through the late First Imperium. Finally, we have another series of "Middle Engsvanyáli" toponyms that were likely similar to those of the First Imperium, but not identical. I have largely avoided using these on this map, but I have inserted a few, where no alternatives are known. These pertain principally to the land of Tsavrátl (modern Salarvyá) and include Liü Sánmu (Tsa'avtúlgu), Mmélökh (Mmillaká), and Chgáth (Jéggeth). Jekáral (Jaikalór) is the only instance in which I have used a Middle Engsvanyáli toponym for a city within modern Tsolyánu.

There are additionally some topoynms which are not known for certain to be Bednálljan or Proto-Engsvanyáli, but which may well be. Examples include Gánga (which is not shown and in any case would have been inconsequential until the final years of the First Imperium) and Hmakuyál (also not shown, but presumably important, even in that era). Another example, of course, is storied, lost Purdánim itself. Since Purdánim fell into ruin after the First Imperium, we can guess that the name we know it by is original, but it may be a more recent Tsolyáni rendering of an earlier toponym. We simply do not know. Of course, the real mystery of Purdánim that has engaged scholars for millenia is not its name but its location. As is so often the case, the evidence is vague. We are variously told that it was situated northwest of Thráya, east of Usenánu, and north of Sétnakh (one source says 100 tsányal north of Sétnakh; we may discount this, since 100 tsányal is not far enough north of Setnakh to place it northwest of Thráya and east of Usenánu). If we triangulate betwen Thráya, Usenánu and Sétnakh, we reach a point on the Mssúma downstream of Béy Sü, where a major city-symbol is shown at the confluence of the Mssúma and the river I believe to be the Ninár. I believe that this strategic former river-confluence location, now buried beneath the silt of a river that has not flowed since the Cataclysm, is the site of lost Purdánim itself.


The map does not indicate the borders of the First Imperium, a pity since if it did, we might be able to guess the specific period it purports to depict. The borders varied enormously over time, but in general terms, we know the First Imperium extended to encompass all of modern Tsolyánu, much of Hekkhé (Yán Kór) and Milumanayá, probably some or all of Ssédh Eléq (Saá Allaqí), southern Tsavrátl (Salarvyá) at least as far east as Tsatsayágga, and southeastern Mu'aghátl (Mu'ugalavyá); Llurusé (Livyanu), eastern Tsavrátl and N'lüss remained independent.


Meta-fluff aside, I hope anyone considering gaming in this era of Tekumel's history may find this map useful.

The First Imperium would certainly make for a dramatic game setting: a brutal and somewhat chaotic age, when the Concordat did not exist, and religious strife was far more prevalent and overt than in modern Tsolyánu. Even when Imperial control was strongest, cities and regions were perhaps more autonomous than today, and more parochial. Travel from one city to another, from one cult-center to another, was more likely to be a risky and even scary journey into places unknown or poorly-understood. The ancient ruins of the day would be those of the Dragon Warriors, the Three States of the Triangle, the empire of Llyán, and even the Latter Times.

(I do have a higher-resolution "untextured" editable copy of this map, so if anyone knows any toponyms I have missed, please let me know!)