Written by M.A.R. Barker and Neil R. Cauley with Alan Musielewicz
Theatre of the Mind Enterprises, Inc., 1994
Depending on whether you count Swords & Glory as a complete game or not, Gardasiyal was either the second or third role playing game set on Tekumel. Empire of the Petal Throne was long obsolete; Swords & Glory was never completed. A few years after Swords & Glory, professor Barker tried a third time with Gardasiyal. The boxed set was not quite a stand alone product, although it was the main component of the Adventures on Tekumel system.
As designed, players would create their characters in the Adventures on Tekumel Part One book (Growing Up on Tekumel), and take these characters on one or more solo adventures in the Adventures on Tekumel Part Two books. After the characters had gained some experience and knowledge about the world, players would enter their characters into the Gardasiyal game, with the addition of the Tekumel Bestiary for descriptions of the creatures they would face. Unfortunately, this was not mentioned on the Gardasiyal box, which misleadingly stated on the back of the box, "What you now hold is a complete, complex...fantasy world." Only if players bought the rest of the Adventures on Tekumel materials would they have a complete game with setting information.
As in many role playing games, most experience points were earned by killing opponents. In Gardasiyal, only the person administering the killing blow (or, given the combat system, the incapacitating blow) got any experience. All other characters got nothing. Experience points earned were found on a table, cross-indexing the attacker's Height-Build-Strength score (HBS) to the defender's. Obviously, the more of a challenge the foe was, the more points he was worth. Experience points went directly into skills, typically the skill for the weapon used in the killing blow. Players could also arbitrarily assign experience points to a weapon her character was relatively unskilled with. A character who slew an opponent equivalent to herself could expect to earn one additional skill level in that weapon.
For sorcerers, the mechanic was the same, although the opponent needed to be killed by magic. Sorcerers could also earn a pittance of experience points by casting non-combat spells. Unlike weapon skills, sorcerers didn't improve individual spells: when they accumulated enough points, they went up a level and gained 25 spell purchasing points to buy new spells. Notice that "level" described a sorcerer's general degree of ability, while for warriors, levels referred to skills with individual weapons.
For non-combat skills or non-adventuring characters, players needed to refer to the Growing Up on Tekumel book, where there was a mechanism for earning skill points each year. Characters were limited to how many combat or magic skills they could buy if they were inactive.
Even with this simplified resolution mechanic, Gardasiyal advised referees to avoid die rolls unless needed, and when necessary, to simply make up lists of probabilities on the spur of the moment (the vicious zrne might not see you (20%), or consider you too small to bother with (15%), be attracted by the sound of larger prey (30%), or attack (35%). Roll the dice and see what happens!)
Gardasiyal had three combat systems. One was called the Quick Play system (QP), designed for fast resolution. The second was called the Hit Point system (HP), designed for situations where detail was desired. The third was the Mass Combat system, designed for battles between large groups.
The QP system was fairly basic. Characters rolled a d20 for initiative. Initiative rolls were modified by a number of factors, such as character dexterity, wound status, and weapon type. Weapons had special initiative modifiers on the first round of combat, where long weapons had a big advantage; after the first round, long weapons suffered equivalent disadvantages.
Characters acted in order from high initiative scores down. Attacker and defender HBS were cross-indexed on a table, with the result being the probability to hit, to be rolled on percentile dice. Evenly matched opponents had a 35% chance to hit. There was a full page of modifiers to the attack roll, including target speed, attacker and defender wound status, defender position (attacked from the rear, for example), and so on. Character HBS was raised by skill levels in the weapon used, and by soldier skills as well, although the relatively small improvements in HBS for each skill (5 points) and the large increments on the combat table (50 points) meant that skills had relatively little effect on combat until a character was extremely well-trained.
If a hit was successful, a d20 was rolled for damage. There were eight different damage tables (labeled A - H), and the type of weapon dictated the damage table used. Defender armor subtracted from the damage roll. The results of the roll were descriptive: no effect, minor wound, serious wound, critical wound, and kill/incapacitate. Instant death was rare: a critically wounded character was out of the fight. If not treated at the end of the battle, they would die. A kill/incapacitate result meant a second d20 roll, with a natural 19 or 20 meaning instant death, otherwise incapacitation.
Critical wounds were effectively an incapacitate result for humans. The reason why these were made separate results is that larger creatures required multiple critical wounds to be incapacitated. However, a hit from even the smallest weapon (a fist, dagger, or thrown rock) could get a kill/incapacitate result on a modified damage result of 20. This meant that even the most powerful fighter took a risk of being killed on a lucky shot by the most inexperienced opponent.
The HP system was an extension of the QP system. Players ran combat exactly as before, including the damage roll, but did not use the armor modifiers. Once damage was determined, a number of additional die rolls were needed. First, the defender got a "shield protection roll," if he had a shield. A successful roll meant the shield took the damage instead of the defender. Shields had a set number of hit points, and once these were exceeded, the shield was destroyed and the excess damage wounded the defender's shield arm.
Second, the QP wounds were converted to hit point damage. This was done by rolling a d10 on another table. A "no effect" hit might do 0 to 2 points of damage; a kill/incapacitate result did 16 - 20 points of damage. Once the number of hit points of damage were known, armor reduced the damage taken. Unlike shields, armor was not "used up" in combat. Finally, once the actual damage taken by the target was known, the attacker rolled d20 on a table to determine which body part was hit. As body parts had a percentage of the character's hit point total, even a relatively minor wound could be a serious inconvenience.
Missile attacks were done using the same two systems, using slightly different modifications to the to hit roll.
The mass combat system, the third system in the rules, was a simple system for intermediate-sized battles between small melees and army-sized engagements. All of the figures on each side rolled a single d10. If the roll was successful, the attacker scored a critical hit which was enough to drop a human-sized opponent (as in the QP system). The exact number needed to hit was based on the attacker's HBS, modified by weapon type, target speed, defender's armor type, and so forth. After a round of combat, the referee could test the morale of both sides, and combat might end or continue.
The QP system was fairly fast, requiring three die rolls: initiative, to hit, and damage. The HP system was slower, requiring five or six rolls. In play, there was little difference, as it generally only took two or three hits to bring a character down. What made combat drag was the relatively low probability of hitting in the first place. Combat usually was a flurry of misses until one side struck home.
On Tekumel, the walls between different realities are thin, and individuals with talent can "reach through" with their minds to access raw energy. With the proper mind set, the energy flows into the right pattern, and a spell is cast. If the caster makes the slightest error, the spell doesn't work, or worse, has an unexpected, and usually unpleasant outcome. Thus, sorcerers are rigorously trained professionals. And while magic is a metaphysical phenomenon unrelated to deities, it is only learned through the temples, which is where all academic subjects are taught. The temples are very jealous of their knowledge, and different temples possess knowledge of different spells.
Spells may have several variants of increasing power. Each spell may have anywhere from one to ten different levels, and as the spell increases in level, it may simply become stronger, or it may have a completely different effect. For example, the spell Light and Darkness, a basic universal spell, has three variants: produce a ball of dim light on one's fingertips (level one), produce a ball of bright light or pitch darkness that can be given to another or set down (level three), or a beam of light or darkness from the caster's hand (level five). Spells are thus identified by name, whether it is Universal, Generic, or Temple, and the level of the particular variant (Light and Darkness U1, U3, or U5).
Gardasiyal uses a spell point system. Sorcerers have a pool of Psychic Power Points, calculated by summing the character's Intelligence, Psychic Ability, and Psychic Reservoir scores. Players announce they are casting the spell, and mark off the proper number of psychic power points. There is a probability of spell failure based on the caster's level (not the spell's level).
Some, but not all spells permit a saving throw. The probability of shaking off a hostile spell is found on a table, cross indexing the caster's level with the defender's magical level. There are rows on the table for non-sorcerer defenders, who have no magical level: small animals have poor saving throws, while the undead have good chances to save.
There are many embellishments: individuals can always tell when they are the target of a spell, and they may choose to allow the spell to affect them (such as when they are expecting a healing spell) or they may oppose it. Opposed spells are less likely to succeed. Casters may require fewer psychic power points to cast a spell if they have a high psychic ability score, or if they are in a part of Tekumel where the energies are plentiful. Likewise, spells are more expensive or even impossible to cast in parts of Tekumel were the energies are scarce. Spell casters carrying metal are likely to spoil their spell and die in the process.
We also note the difference between psychic and ritual magics: in psychic magic, a sorcerer can set the pattern for the spell by thoughts alone, whereas in ritual magic, additional components are needed: spoken words, physical postures, esoteric substances. Psychic magic is slightly more expensive to cast (five more psychic power points), but ritual magic requires the caster to be physically unencumbered and to have a sorcerer's chest of materials which him for the various material necessities.
In play, magic tends to be decisive. Spells tend to be all-or-nothing affairs, with the instantaneous death of the target a common result. The average, non-sorcerer human has a 1/3 chance to resist a spell from a sorcerer of fifth level (the level where most player characters are expected to begin the game), and this probability drops as the attacker's level increases. Some spells have area effects, and these tend to not have saving throws; instead, the targets must attempt to leap out of the area of effect before the spell hits.
The Rest of the Game
Most of the rest of the game is a set of lists and tables. The Player's Guide includes a massive buying list of all sorts of goods and services, including meals, musical instruments, lodging and buildings, poisons, jewelry, and so forth. There are rules for naval combat, wages (player characters may have jobs that they get paid for when not adventuring), and what characters need to spend per month on living expenses, including taxes.
Finally, there are ten pages of suggestions on how to create scenarios for Tekumel. These are not quite adventure seeds, as they are rather generic, and serve more as advice than a set of suggestions for scenarios. There is one adventure seed, "The box in the cellar," where clan laborers have found a chest with the clan's markings on it while digging in the basement.
Gardasiyal may be fairly called the second edition of Swords & Glory. The game used the same mechanics, but with much of the complexity removed. Combat was simplified by the removal of many die modifiers, and the addition of the Quick Play combat system sped up combat further. Magic was simplified with the removal of some spells from the corpus, and much easier calculations for magical resistance rolls. Game play itself was simplified, deleting most of S&G's adventure rolls in place of Gardasiyal's single (and much more basic) mechanic. In doing so, Gardasiyal was far more accessible and playable than S&G was. Most importantly, Gardasiyal contained the materials missing from S&G: encounter tables, treasure lists, and creature statistics, if you included the Tekumel Bestiary.
It may have been a successful update, but it was not a successful game. By the 1990s, RPG design had moved on, and Gardasiyal looked like a throwback. Random encounter and treasure tables had mostly disappeared from games, replaced by referees carefully placing unique enounters and rewards. Gardasiyal was not going to win any new players for its mechanics, and the marvellous setting information that was Tekumel's true advantage was largely missing from the boxed set.
Many of the Tekumel fans were unimpressed as well. Criticism was savage, especially from fans in the UK, who had to pay astronomical prices for the boxed set because of the enclosed dice. (Taxes in the UKwere higher on games than for books; had TOME simply left out the dice, they could have saved British fans some money.) As noted elsewhere, Gardasiyal's biggest failure was that it was incomplete. At the minimum, one needed Adventures on Tekumel, Part One, and the Tekumel Bestiary to have a complete game, and even then, the set would be lacking precisely that feature that made Tekumel so desirable: the cultural and historical background information, requiring fans to buy the S&G sourcebook as well. Adding to people's unhappiness was the poor physical quality of the rulebooks in the Gardasiyal box, with flimsy, lightweight pages and covers that would not stand up to hard use. For all the fury of the criticism, there was little said about the game mechanics, which implies few people were willing to play the game. The criticisms were not helped by TOME's unfortunate bungling: their claim that the system was complete was disappointing, and it wasn't helped by their leaving out the introductory folder from the boxed set, having to mail it out under separate cover later. Gardasiyal had few defenders, aside from the praise for the nicely done map (although there was some criticism over errors on that, too.)
For our part, we feel Gardasiyal's biggest flaw was the price tag. It is true that the books were flimsy and the game design was hardly cutting edge. But it was a good revision of S&G, and the solo gamebooks were a welcome, if expensive, addition to a game world that is notoriously difficult to master from scratch. We are not knowledgeable about game production costs, but we suspect some of the cost came from the art: Gardasiyal had plenty of it, some of it quite attractive. Trevor Utz and Thomas Steininger's art does not strike us as very evocative of Tekumel (especially compared to Kathy Marschall's beautiful illustrations in Growing Up On Tekumel), but the humans looked alive and real in a way that most game art does not.
A Personal Note from the Curator
I've played Gardasiyal a few times. While it's not a terribly innovative system, it works well enough. I feel it did a good job of making Swords & Glory playable, and the fact that this system is complete is a big benefit. As a player who tries to simulate the "real world" of Tekumel, I appreciate that the magic system is Professor Barker's best attempt to codify how magic works in his world. I like the fact that combat is dangerous, that even the weakest opponent might get in a lucky shot. I also feel Gardasiyal and Swords & Glory complement one another: Swords & Glory shows more of how Professor Barker feels his world works, and Gardasiyal shows how to make it playable, as well as filling in the gaps caused by not having the Referee's Guide to Swords & Glory.