I remember exactly where I was when I learned M.A.R. Barker had died. I was at the games auction at Gary Con IV on Saturday, March 24th, 2012, when Luke Gygax solemnly paid tribute to the industry giants we’d lost that last year — and he announced that M.A.R. Barker, the brilliant creator of the world of Tékumel, had passed away at the age of 82. When I got home that night, the first thing I did was write an obituary for Black Gate, honoring the man who’d done so much for the hobby.
Tékumel was a unique creation in fantasy gaming. It was home to one of the earliest RPGs ever written, Empire of the Petal Throne, published by TSR in 1975, and later a series of well-received fantasy novels by Barker, beginning with The Man of Gold, published by DAW with a marvelous cover by Michael Whelan in 1984.
Tékumel is a distant world populated by both humans and aliens, who have built a vast and intricate civilization over thousands of years. Ruled by the upper clans of the land, the planet’s culture is based upon the teachings of gods and demons, upon the ways and wiles of alien races, and upon the layered traditions of monarchs ancient and current. Tékumel is an exquisitely detailed world where surprise and adventure are as natural as night and day.
The Man of Gold is the first novel based on the Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne RPG. Follow the quest of Harsan, acolyte of the temple of Thumis, as he ventures forth to seek a forgotten empire’s super weapon known only as the Man of Gold.
Tékumel has been revisited many times by talented game creators over the decades, and is now the setting for multiple game systems.
As James Maliszewski put it in his recent review of the 124,000-word solo adventure game Choice of the Petal Throne:
In my opinion, the hobby of roleplaying has only ever produced two fantasy settings to rival Middle-earth in terms of depth and creativity: Greg Stafford’s Glorantha and M.A.R. Barker‘s Tékumel.
James later launched a magazine, The Excellent Travelling Volume, dedicated to Empire of the Petal Throne and the world of Tékumel.
Barker followed his first novel with the sequel Flamesong, published by DAW in 1985. Many readers are unaware he wrote three additional Tékumel novels, beginning with Lords of Tsámra, which he self-published in 2001, and then two additional novels published in 2002 and 2003 by Zottola Publishing, a press set up by fan Joe Zottola exclusively to publish Mr. Barker’s fiction. Zottola eventually re-published Lords of Tsámra in a matching edition in 2003.
Lords of Tsámra (2001)
Prince of Skulls (2002)
A Death Of Kings (2003)
The Man of Gold was published by DAW in July 1984; it is 367 pages, priced at $3.50. It has been reprinted many times, and is currently in print in trade paperback and digital format from the Tekumel Foundation.
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