Vintage Treasures: The Man of Gold by M.A.R. Barker

Vintage Treasures: The Man of Gold by M.A.R. Barker

The Man of Gold-smallI 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.

Lords of Tsamra, slef-published first edition (photo by Joseph Hoopman)
Lords of Tsamra, slef-published first edition (photo by Joseph Hoopman)

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.

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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I remember reading the Man of Gold many years ago and loving it. For those looking for a new edition, although used copies of the DAW one are available from time to time on Ebay, the Tekumel Foundation ( recently re-published it and as an e-book, as well.

You can find both new editions on Amazon.

They have also promised to get the rest of the good professor’s books back in print soon-ish.

Joe H.

One of my favorite books of all time, and I was ecstatic to see it coming back into print. Amongst other things, it has some of the best dungeon crawls I’ve ever read.

(I do kind of regret losing the Whelan cover, even though it had almost no relation to what was in the book.)


Whelan claims he reads through the books he’s commission to do, but I think he might have skimmed through on this one. 🙂

Eugene R.

I first connected with Black Gate on-line due to the M.A.R. Barker obituary. Of his fiction, I have only read the two commercially published works, and I liked Flamesong a bit more. But then, I gamed in Tekumel more for the politics than for the exotic critters, so that is my bias.

Joe H.

Oh, and again at the risk of being That Guy, Lords of Tsamra was the third novel and Prince of Skulls was the fourth. Lords of Tsamra was the book he was stuck on for, well, close to 15 years after he finished Flamesong. He originally self-published Lords of Tsamra back in the late 1990s? 2000? something like that — in an 8.5×11 spiral-bound version. Then, when it became possible to self-publish in more professional-looking editions, Joe Zottola one of his players, set up an imprint to publish the new novels the professor was writing. They started with Prince of Skulls because it was the newest, then went back and reprinted Lords of Tsamra in a nicer edition than the original.

And I do look forward to having all five books available again.


>You mean other fiction? I’m not familiar with his non-Tekumel fiction… is there any?

John – AFAIK, the professor didn’t write any non-Tekumel fiction (though he is he author of several scholarly treatises on linguistics). I was referring to his other four Tekumel novels, as Flamesong, Lords of Tsamra, etc are out of print.

>Lords of Tsamra was the book he was stuck on for, well, close to 15 years after he finished Flamesong.

Indeed he was. I had the pleasure of meeting the professor and spent the day at his home talking about Tekumel. He hadn’t yet finished the Lords of Tsamra and was considering doing a full rewrite because he didn’t “like” the main protagonist, a priest of Ksarul.

I’m not sure if the original manuscript was what saw the light of day or if he started over from scratch. I did note that the priest of Ksarul became ONE of the main characters, but not the sole one. He didn’t let me read the original unfinished draft, so I don’t know if the others characters were there or not. Professor Barker did say that it was the most difficult and complex story he’d written up to that point.

Joe H.

OK, I dug out my spiral-bound copy of Lords of Tsamra (John — let me know if you want a picture) and it does show a copyright date of 2001 on the cover. I think it’s essentially the same text as the Zotpub version — at least, when I read the trade paperback I didn’t notice any glaring differences from the original version.

Eugene R.

Mr. Henry,

Well, mark me down as envious! I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the Thursday Night Group, but never the Professor himself.

And the essential outsider look at Tekumel comes from an academic publication, Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds by Gary Alan Fine, a sociologist interested in role-playing in the 1980s, who was also at University of Minnesota and was introduced to You Know Who.

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