Breaking Up with TSR: The Imperium Publishing Company and the Tékumel Journals


(The Tsolyáni reads “Korúnkoi hiGardásisasayal” = “Book of Heroic and Powerful Deeds”)

Following the 1975 release of Empire of the Petal Throne (EPT), Tékumel rode triumphant.  The sumptuous EPT introduced a few innovations and a depth of background that made D&D look ugly and simplistic. In 1975, EPT won the award at GenCon 9 for best new game. Despite a high price, EPT went into a second printing in 1976 and then a third in 1977.  At roughly the same time, War of Wizards, a board game with Tékumel color, was released in a Ziploc version and then reprinted in a boxed version. In 1977, TSR did a large run of a well-illustrated set of miniature rules for Tékumel to be used with a new line of Tékumel miniatures produced by a leading company (and later acquired and expanded by another leading company).  EPT had a large following. EPT articles were a staple of TSR’s house magazine, The Dragon ,and many players listed in the directories printed in The Dragon listed EPT as a game they wanted to play. Meanwhile, Barker was at work on a Tékumel novel, for which he had a deal with a leading science fiction publisher.

Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last.

 

Barker’s relationship with TSR soured by 1978. According to one source, TSR construed its rights to Tékumel broadly while Barker believed TSR owned only the specific rights to the RPG game Empire of the Petal Throne, leading to disputes over royalties. Barker was naturally protective of the world he had dreamed about since childhood and had ambitious plans to elaborate the Tékumel mythos in products not always directly related to gaming. TSR Founder Gary Gygax, from his perspective, sneered at other role-playing games as derivative of his brainchild D&D and became increasingly defensive.  (See, for example, Gygax’s bizarre editorial in the December 1977 issue of The Dragon, where he likens TSR to a lion defending its kill and does not include EPT as one of the RPG games of which he approves.) Starting in 1978, references to EPT began to disappear from the Dragon. TSR continued to advertise Legions of the Petal Throne (to dump the inventory), but announced no expansions or follow-on products, while trumpeting the upcoming AD&D and publishing other D&D booklets. Finally, in May 1980, TSR announced in The Dragon that it had sold the EPT rights to Lou Zocchi’s Gamescience.

The worsening relationship with TSR led Barker to channel Tékumel content into the new Imperium Publishing Company, a publisher founded by one of Barker’s EPT players, Gary Rudolph, in late 1977. The company eventually published two issues of the Tékumel Journal, the Book of Ebon Bindings, a two-volume book on the Tsolyáni Language, a set of more detailed miniature rules entitled “Míssum!” (Death!), and the first army booklet, which listed statistics for the legions of of Tsolyánu. The company also produced a wargame named Timbuktu that was not related to Tékumel and a cool-looking but expensive (for the time) play aid called Netherworld that allowed players to construct miniature dungeons to use when playing RPGs.

We will discuss the Tékumel Journals (and later reproductions and collations) in this post.  The other Imperium Tékumel products will be discussed in future posts.

The Tékumel Journal #1

I was a full-blown Petal Head by age 15 and can still remember when Tékumel Journal #1 arrived in the mail at my home in upstate New York in the Fall of 1977. While Dungeons and Dragons offered a generic world half ripped off from Tolkien, the Tékumel Journal, like EPT itself, gave the feeling of peeking into a universe that existed and progressed independently from the game.

The art and the writing, much of which was by Barker himself, was first-rate.  The magazine had glossy pages with a nice cover drawing of a Pe Choi and the articles elaborated on material that was only hinted at in EPT (e.g. Shényu).

Here is the full article list:
“Journal Notes” by Gary Rudolph
“The Temple of Thumis Sage of the Gods — An Overview of Tsolyáni temples” by M.A.R. Barker
“Selected Biographies” by Gary Rudolph
“On Customs: The Méshqu” by Gary Rudolph
“The Splendor of Shényu” by M.A.R. Barker

Journal #1 also lists some articles to be printed in future journals, including:

“The Imperial Provinces” (this might have been the basis for the brown map that appeared in the Different Worlds Reprint of Swords & Glory);
“The War of 2020” (not clear how this material was later published); and
“Lands Beyond the Empires” (not clear how this material was later published).

Summary Tékumel Journal #1
Publisher: The Imperium Publishing Company
Date: Late 1977.
Artists: Craig James Smith and Jason Mitchell
Size: 8.5″ x 11″ — 24 pages.
Original Price: $2.00.
Number published: 300-500
Rarity: Rare.
Value: $40-$70
Collecting Notes: Copies of the Tékumel Journal that were mailed to customers have the address written directly onto the back cover.  Most of the copies now sold on Ebay, however, show that space blank and were unsold copies later sold by the successor companies that inherited Imperium’s inventory. The thick glossy paper of the journal has held up well over the years and those on the market are usually in good shape.  There is almost always at least one copy of the Tékumel Journal available on Ebay, though sometimes the asking price is absurd.

The Tekumel Journal #2

Tékumel Journal #2 followed in February, 1978.  Unlike #1, only the cover of #2 was glossy.  Still, production values were again high and the writing and new material good.  Issue #2 broke the news of the discovery of a mounted animal (the Denebian Bazháq), which was a major story arc in Barker’s group at the time, though it later paled beside plot lines like The Egg of the World and Dhich’uné’s succession.

Here is the full article list:
“Journal Notes” by Gary Rudolph
“Dispatches in the Imperium” by David Cheney, Gary Rudolph, and M.A.R. Barker (this contains the news about the discovvery of the Bazháq)
“The Chyrstálli” by Craig Smith
“Ksárul, Doomed Prince of the Blue Room” by M.A.R. Barker

In Journal #2, Rudolph wrote that an article titled “The Foreigner’s (sic) Quarters of Jakálla” had been pushed back to Issue #3 and that #3 would likely also include “one of three pieces Prof. Barker has written … on Tekumeláni scripts and languages” and “another article on nonhumans.” There never was an Issue #3 and as far as I can tell no article on the Foreigners’ Quarter was ever published.  The pieces on languages and non-humans appeared in later fanzines.

Summary Tékumel Journal #2
Publisher: The Imperium Publishing Company
Date: February 1978.
Artists: Craig James Smith and Jason Mitchell
Size: 8.5″ x 11″ — 24 pages.
Original Price: $2.00.
Number published: 300-500
Rarity: Rare.
Value: $40-$70
Collecting Notes: Issue #2 does not seem any more or less rare than Issue #1 and I suspect the same number were printed.  The same issue of blank or filled address box pertains to #2.  Values on Ebay are similar.

Jeff Dee Art?
Jeff Dee recently said on the Tekumel Podcast that some of his earliest art had appeared in the Tékumel Journals.  I believe he may be misremembering. I couldn’t find any art signed by him or that looked like his in either Journal.  I hope he’ll chime in below in the comments …

Best of the Journals #1
The Journals were never reprinted in toto but much of the content within them was later reprinted in 1986 in three separate volumes of “The Best of the Journals,” edited by Jeff Berry. In these three volumes, Berry reprinted much of the material in the two earlier journals as well as many articles from the Dragon Magazine and later fanzine publications like The Journal of Tékumel Affairs and the The Imperial Military Journal.

Here is the full article list:
“Seal of the Imperium” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in The Dragon Vol. 2, No. 5 (#11), December 1977)
“Seal of the Imperium” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in The Dragon Vol. 2, No. 3 (#9), September 1977)
“Military Formations of the Nations of the Universe” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in The Dragon Vol. 2, No.1 (#7), June 1977)
“Percentile Roll to Obtain an ‘Eye’ as Treasure in the Empire of the Petal Throne” by [no author listed] (originally appeared in The Dragon Vol. I, No. 4 (#4), December 1976)
“Jakálla Encounters” by Steve Klein (originally appeared in The Dragon Vol. I, No. 4 (#4), December 1976)
“Legions of the Petal Throne Painting Guide” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in The Dragon Vol. I, No. 6 (#6), April 1977)
“Creature Features” by [no author listed] (originally appeared in The Dragon Vol. I, No. 4 (#4), December 1976)
“The Battle of the Temple of Chanís” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in The Dragon Vol. I, No. 4 (#4), December 1976)
“The Temple of Thúmis Sage of the Gods” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in The Tékumel Journal #1)
“Selected Biographies” by Gary Rudolph (originally appeared in The Tékumel Journal #1)
“On Customs: The Méshqu” by Gary Rudolph (originally appeared in The Tékumel Journal #1)

Summary Best of the Journals #1
Publisher: Tékumel Games
Date: 1986
Artists: M.A.R. Barker, Craig James Smith and Jason Mitchell
Size: 8.5″x11″ 50 pages.
Original Price: ?
Number published: ?
Rarity: Rare.
Value: $40-$50
Collecting Notes: The Best of the Journals #1 is a little rarer than the two Tékumel Journals and has a lot of Tékumel content packed into one volume.

The Best of the Journals #2
Here’s the article list:
“Tsolyáni Names Without Tears” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in The Strategic Review Vol. 1, No. 4, Winter 1975)
“Mu’ugalavyáni” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs, Vol. III, No. 4, January 1983)
“Classical Tsolyáni” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared as “The Script of Classical Tsolyáni” in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs, Vol. III, No. 3, December 1982)
“The Kazhra ve Ngakome” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared as “The Kazhra ve Ngakome Script” in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol III, No. 2 September 1982)
“Llyáni” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared as “Ancient Llyáni” in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 5, February 1983)
“The Temple of Ksárul” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in The Tékumel Journal #2)
“The Temple of Vimúhla” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs, Vol. III, No. 3 December 1982)
“The Temple of Karakán” by M.A.R. Barker [I have not identified where this was previously published; perhaps it was an original piece?]
“Seal of the Imperium” [Not sure which of several previous pieces with this title this was]
“The Splendor of Shényu” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in The Tékumel Journal #1)
The Chyrstálli by Craig Smith (originally appeared in The Tékumel Journal #2)
The Pe Choi by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol III, No. 1, January 1982)
“The Tinalíya” by Curtis Scott (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs, Vol. III, No. 4, January 1983)
“A Thousand Flowers” by Mark Pettigrew (originally appeared as “Tauknelin Zu’áryal: A Thousand Flowers” in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs, Vol. III, No. 7, June 1983)

Summary Best of the Journals #2
Publisher: Tékumel Games
Date: 1986
Artists: ?
Size: 8.5″x11″ 70 pages.
Original Price: ?
Number published: 300-500
Rarity: Very Rare.
Value: No recent sales.
Collecting Notes: The Best of the Journals #2 and #3 are rarer than #1 and like #1 have a lot of Tékumel content.

The Best of the Journals #3
Very similar to preceding volumes.  Here’s the article list:
“The Battle of Ry” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in Wargamer’s Digest Vol. 3, No. 5, March 1976)
“The Clan of Crimson Ivory” by John Tiehen (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 6, April 1983)
“Swords and Glory – Errata” by [no author listed] (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 8, August 1983)
“A Merchant’s Tale” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 1, January 1982)
“Kévuk – A dice game” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared as “Kévuk” in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, January 1982)
“Coinage of Tekumel” by Jeff Berry (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. No. III, No. 5, February 1983)
“The Tsolyáni Week” by M.A.R. Barker (originally appeared in the Imperial Military Journal Vol II, No. 4, September 1982)
“A Visit to the Armourers'” by M.A.R. Barker [I have not identified where this was previously published; perhaps it was an original piece?]
“Marching with the Ever-Glorious” by Mark Pettigrew (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 7, June 1983)
“Selected Biographical Information: The Clan of the Utter Dark” by M.A.R. Barker [I have not identified where this was previously published; perhaps it was an original piece?]
“The High Seas of Tekumel” by Mark Pettigrew (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 7, June 1983)
“The Underworld” by Mark Pettigrew (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 6, April 1983)
“New Magical Items for EPT” by Mark Pettigrew [I have not identified where this was previously published; perhaps it was an original piece?]
“The Hirilákte Arena” by Mark Pettigrew (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 8, August 1983)
“Staffs of Power” by George Spelvin (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 5, February 1983)
“Encounters in the Empire” by Wes Posthlewaite (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 5, February 1983)
“NPC Personalities in EPT” by Mark Pettigrew (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 8, August 1983)
“Index to all three volumes of The Best of the Journals”

Summary Best of the Journals #3
Publisher: Tékumel Games
Date: 1986
Artists: ?
Size: 8.5″x11″ 54 pages.
Original Price: ?
Number published: 300-500
Rarity: Very Rare.
Value: No recent sales.
Collecting Notes: The Best of the Journals #2 and #3 are rarer than #1 and like #1 have a lot of Tékumel content.

Best of the Journal: The Pettigrew Collections
In 1999, Carl Brodt continued the “Best of the Journals” series with his “Best of the Journal (sic): The Pettigrew Selections.” Pettigrew was one of the better scenario writers of the time and wrote a scenario booklet called A Jakallan Intrigue” along with many shorter articles and adventure seeds. Carl still has this volume available.

Here is the article list:
“Introduction” by Carl Brodt
“Tauknélin Zu’áryal: A Thousand Flowers” (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs, Vol. III, No. 7, June 1983)
“Marching with the Ever-Glorious” (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 7, June 1983)
“The High Seas” (originally appeared as “The High Seas of Tékumel” in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 7, June 1983)
“The Underworlds” (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 6, April 1983)
“New Magical Items for EPT” (previously appeared in the Best of the Journals III 1986)
“The Hirilákte Arena” (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 8, August 1983)
“NPC Personalities in EPT” (originally appeared in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III, No. 8, August 1983)

Summary Best of the Journal: The Pettigrew Collections
Publisher: Tita’s House of Games
Date: 1999
Artists: Ken Fletcher, Lynelle, and other artists
Size: 8.5″x11″ 50 pages.
Original Price: $7.95
Number published: ?
Rarity: Still available
Value: $7.95
Collecting Notes: I believe Carl still has these in his inventory.

Overall, the Journals were a solid addition to the corpus of Tékumel writing, well worth collecting.  While the original Journals are a bit pricey, they are far more accessible and attractive than the later fanzines, which were done on white paper and can be difficult to find.  The Best of Series, if you can find them, are a great compilation of a lot of Tékumel canon writing.

3 thoughts on “Breaking Up with TSR: The Imperium Publishing Company and the Tékumel Journals

  1. I would love to see Goodman Games give EPT the same treatment it gave Metamorphosis Alpha and Judges Guild. Giving the rest of us the chance to experience the original EPT in dead tree format. Also letting collectors keep their originals pristine while getting to play with them. This was something I missed as I started in 1983.

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