How To Play Tékumel
by Bob Alberti
What You Need:
1) a game map
2) two ten sided dice
3) the novels
4) any sort of game book - from Adventures in Tékumel to the original Sourcebooks - in order to get lists of the Temples and their spells, and maybe the names of some of the most important people just in case you need to rescue them from certain doom.
5) a lick of common sense
All the other crap - character stats, encumbrances, combat rules, etc., are the tools of the rules-lawyer, and not worth the attention of dignified persons.
How to play:
Read any printed material you have - the novels, gamebooks, etc. - to get the basics of the game understood. To wit, you're playing characters in a Highly-Stratified, Very Class-Conscious Society. The fact that the Gods are demonstrably real, combined with a recorded history some ten times lengthier than our own, has given the humans on this planet a unique world-view. They don't think that they're God's Chosen to Rule the Universe. They don't believe that the goal of the individual is to Strive Eternally for Power, Wealth and Glory. Instead, they are very conscious of the importance of fulfilling one's role and one's place. To the Tsolyáni, Horatio Alger is a crass social climber.
Part of one's role may be unpleasant. For instance, it is considered crass for Really High Nobles to know the minutiae of their daily lives. How many slaves do they own? Enough. How far is it to this other city? Depends on my mood, maybe its far or close. Other examples: if you're a priest of Karakán or Ksárul, you may be called upon to conduct a sacrifice. This sacrifice may not always be of a grim warrior marching nobly to the end his role demands: it may be a screaming, kicking four-year-old peasant girl crying, "Help, Mommy! Please, mighty lord, don't kill me! I don't want to die!" Pick up the knife... If you don't fulfill your role, you can lose your job and be shunned by all who know you for your ignoble behavior.
Good and evil are relative here - if you fulfill your role, you're 'good'. Noble. If you fail, you're "bad", ignoble. Killing that little peasant girl is what society, your family, and your god expect of you. Fulfill your role.
These nations have Rigid and Conservative societies. Any innovation your players might come up with as 'inventions' (i.e. "Hey! Let's invent gunpowder!") will threaten the already-emplaced element of society which fulfills that functional role (i.e. The Vimúhla Military Priests, the agricultural clans responsible for stump-clearing, etc.).
The Secret Police are everywhere. The Livyáni have the Vru'uneb, the Mu'ugalavyáni have the Mourners in Sable, the Tsolyáni have the Omnipotent Azure Legion, and the Temples all have their own agents. Spies are everywhere. Your players may themselves be assigned to spy on the party by their superiors. Because of this high degree of monitoring, overt violence (especially temple vs. temple violence which would violate the Concordat, the non-conflict agreement between the temples and enforced by the Empire) is Caught and Punished. Unless your clan is rich, punishment is usually Impalement. If your rich clan saves your hide, they may not be very happy with you. However, the Concordat does not hold in the wilderness or underground, so watch your back in those places.
Clan is everything. Clans are your family. Families raise the children mutually in a shared living-space or clanhouse. You can visit other cities and stay with your clansmen there, even if they've never heard of you. As long as your papers show you're a clanmember in good standing you will be housed in the dormitories or private rooms (if you're important), fed, and protected to some degree. But if you piss off your clan they can withdraw their support - if they kick you out of the clan, you're "Nakomé", clanless. If that happens, forget it. Someone could find you in a dark alley, slit your throat, and nobody would care.
Your loyalty is usually to your immediate family (spouse and kids), clan, temple and nation, but these can all vary.
The Emperor owns everything. If a representative of the Omnipotent Azure Legion (OAL) says "Give me that, in the name of the Empire", you better give it and smile. Later you can get your clan or temple to register a complaint and take things 'through channels', but when it's you versus the OAL, the OAL wins.
Okay, so you have a map, so you know where you are. You have dice to resolve any questions (01-10 good, 90-00 bad, use common sense). You know that you operate within a web of interdependent forces - you want THIS, but your wife wants THAT, but your clan wants THIS OTHER THING and your temple wants SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY. Meanwhile the Empire has made it clear that nobody should even try ANY OF THAT. Your Temple comes to you and says "We want SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY. If you go get it for us, we'll promote you, reward you, and give you title to some land over here. If you don't, well, there's a position in the Swamps of Purdimal waiting to be filled..."
What do you do next?