Adventures on Tekumel Part Two
Solo book one cover Adventures on Tekumel, Part Two / Volume 1: Coming of Age in Tekumel. Solitaire Adventures. M. A. R. Barker, illustrations by Kathy Marschall and James Bailey. 1992. 94 pages, perfect bound.
Solo book 2 cover Adventures on Tekumel, Part Two / Volume 2: Beyond the Borders of Tsolyanu. Solitaire Adventures. M. A. R. Barker, illustrations by James Bailey and Giovanna Fregni. 1993. 78 pages, perfect bound.
Solo book 3 cover Adventures on Tekumel, Part Two / Volume 3: Beneath the Lands of Tsolyanu. Solitaire Adventures. M. A. R. Barker, illustrations by Giovanna Fregni. 1994. 50 pages, perfect bound.
 

In the 1980s, solo gamebooks became popular. Paragraphs would be numbered and randomly scattered throughout the book, and depending on what choice readers made at the end of their paragraph, they would be directed elsewhere in the book. Professor Barker's Adventures on Tekumel, Part Two imitated this format, but these books were not just standalone adventures.

First of all, they weren't standalone. Players needed the Adventures on Tekumel, Part One book to create a character to go on the adventures. Second, some of the adventures were open ended, with the narrative ending as the hero is urged to go elsewhere, such as to the city of Jakalla to complete a task, or to find a reputable authority to protect a land claim from being usurped. Thus, the solo gamebooks were gateways to the role playing game; characters entered the game not only grounded in the cultural background (thanks to the detailed character generation system) but also having some adventuring experience, connections, and yes, sometimes treasure and magical items.

Third, the adventures in these books presented the Tekumel setting to the players in small, easy to understand pieces. Rather than simply reading dry descriptions of how the world worked (as the Sourcebook presented the setting; see our review of Swords & Glory), readers got to interact with Tekumel as a player in one of Professor Barker's adventures. For referees, the solo gamebooks provided a view as to how parts of the Five Empires worked: how the upper class gave parties, purchased goods, or continued their educations. Readers got to see what necropolises and underworlds looked like, how the lower classes interact with the upper classes, and so on. As in Empire of the Petal Throne, great events occurred in the background, but in the solo gamebooks, players often got pulled into these events whether they wanted to or not. (Being of high clan meant being closer to the centers of political power.) Not only that, but players become vicarious observers to some of the current events in Professor Barker's world: an assassination attempt on Prince Eselne, the rescue of Prince Mirusiya after his magical entrapment by the Weapon Without Answer, the burial of Emperor Hirkane, and the political maneuvering of Emperor Dhich'une and his followers.

Each book contained a small number of adventures, each suitable for character development or for showing off a different feature of the Five Empires. Adventures within the same book did not connect to each other, and only a couple extended to other books. Players were not allowed to let the same character go on the same adventure more than once, although some adventures had subsections that could be repeated (for example, two shopping expeditions in Bey Su, or multiple caravan trips, but to different cities).

Some of the adventures put the character at little risk, but some were virtually guaranteed to cause the player character severe discomfort, including almost certain imprisonment or death.

Volume One: Coming of Age in Tekumel

Solo book one cover The blue book had three threads: one for soldiers (players get to join the Imperial army and go north to fight the Yan Koryani), one for priests (players join a temple and gain experience and possibly entrance into one of the secret societies), and one for anybody (players travel to Bey Su, capital city of the Tsolyani Empire, and indulge in a variety of experiences).

The Bey Su adventure offered plenty: a short trip into the Underworld, shopping for various goods, weapons training, and political intrigue. One thread pushed the participant to go to Jakalla in the role playing game, while others involved the participant in the dangerous political maelstrom surrounding Emperor Dhich'une's early days. Readers may meet important characters, including some mentioned in the first novel, The Man of Gold.

Further political entanglements can be found in the military adventures. The participant will become involved in the war with Yan Kor, and then with the beginnings of the civil war. Depending on the loyalties of their character, the reader may meet Imperial Princes and be "on the scene" for dramatic events. The third thread was relatively peaceful, but contained important rules for how to become promoted in the priesthood, and rules for sorcerer characters to climb from third level to fifth level before entering the full game. Volume one was a continuation of the character creation book, most importantly for priest characters, whether ritual, administrative, scholarly, or temple guards.

Volume Two: Beyond the Borders of Tsolyanu

Solo book 2 cover The orange book had four different adventures. The first was a sea voyage to the mysterious empire of Livyanu. The second was a hunting trip to a distant uncle's lodge. The third involved caravan travel: players could choose this adventure multiple times, as most of the outcomes were simple profit or loss results, although there were a number of short "special" adventures which took characters all over Tsolyanu. The fourth adventure was the trip to swampy Penom, which is a truly awful place to visit, although characters (and players) can gain important insights there.

Volume Three: Beneath the Lands of Tsolyanu

Solo book 3 cover The green book was by far the shortest of the three books, with only two adventures, one at a distant temple retreat and the other an archaeological expedition. These adventures tend to include very powerful figures, and the risks and rewards are quite high. Prospective players should be warned: adventures in volume three are very risky, although very interesting things can be learned.

 

There are a few threads that connect adventures. One adventure in the orange book leads back to the blue book, and one adventure in the blue book connects to the green book. These connections can be ignored, if players choose. An equally small number of adventures in these books give the players powerful items, or important connections. Again, these can be ignored, if players choose.

Because these books occasionally require combat, they all offered an abbreviated combat system, resolving conflicts with a single die roll. Players compared their HBS to their enemy's "type" ( a measure of both HBS and number of opponents) on a table, and tried to roll below a target number on percentile dice. Sorcery worked much the same way, using the sorcerer's level (number of spells known divided by five) instead of HBS. Opponents were rarely pushovers, and in some cases, choosing to fight meant almost certain death for the player. In some cases death meant the end of the character, but in most instances, defeated player characters may roll on a table to double-check the result of the defeat, and that reduces the chance of death to about one-third. A few adventures even allow for a Revivification spell that restores a dead character back to life: sometimes this means the character must end the solo adventure and go home to recuperate, and some thrust the character back into the adventure.

As mentioned above, the adventures served as a way to provide background information to players in a relatively painless way. Referees might have a harder time, as there are no indexes, and the format of the book requires that information be scattered around and hard to find. Happily, there are headings for each paragraph (where readers are often exposed to the professor's love of puns) which can help to locate specifics, and the numbered paragraphs are not thoroughly randomized, making it easier to track down a thread. In this regard, it may be more important for the referee to read the green book than it is for players to adventure in it.

While these gamebooks were not essential to the Adventures on Tekumel package, we believe they provided a good opportunity for introducing new players to the world, and we believe the blue book is a necessity, as it completes the character generation system for soldiers and sorcerers, the two main classes of characters likely to be created. These solo books might even be useful for other role playing games set on Tekumel, with some warnings: first, the combat system in the book will be difficult to use for any game not using Swords & Glory or Gardasiyal's HBS system. Second, the events in these books are a bit dated by current events in Tekumel: the civil war is over and settled. Third, there is a question of expense: three separate gamebooks plus the character generation system comes to a hefty price tag, and the buyer wouldn't even have the role playing game yet.

We admire the idea of presenting Tekumel through solo adventures, and we're sorry that it didn't seem to work.

—RAD
June 30, 2006

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