The west of the northern continent is the most densely populated area on the planet, and ancient empires cover the land. The Empire of the Petal Throne, Tsolyánu, ruled by the Emperor in the Golden Tower in Avanthár; the land of Livyánu where the inhabitants worship the mysterious Shadow Gods; Mu’ugalavyá; Shényu, occupied by the reptilian Shén; the vast jungles of M’mórcha and the Great Desert of Galái; the tribes of Milumanayá; and Yán Kór, where the Baron Áld plans his revenge upon the Tsolyáni who betrayed him.
To the East lie vast lands, large areas of which are unexplored, or too dangerous to wander. The great empire of Salarvyá hugs the fertile southern coast, but much of the east is mountainous country occupied by tribes, and small nations with complex clan territories. The ancient land of Mihálli still slumbers, dreaming of the glory of the Engsvanyáli priestkings, and the Ssú carry on their endless war with the hardy warriors of Pecháno. Across the barren Plains of Glass the winds scour the barren land as they have done since the Time of Darkness.
There are dozens of smaller nations, tribal territories and principalities as well, and the alien races occupy their own lands: the Shén south of Livyánuin, the Pé Chói in the forests of Dó Cháka, the Hlutrgú in the Layóda Swamps, etc.
The southern continent is largely unmapped and unexplored.
paraphrased from Swords and Glory Volume 1, M.A.R. Barker; Adventures on Tékumel: Gardásiyal Deeds of Glory by M.A.R. Barker and Neil R. Cauley. Published 1994 by TOME (Theatre of the Mind Enterprises). Copyright ©1983 and 1994
Tsolyánu—the Empire of the Petal Throne and traditionally the starting point for adventurers on Tékumel.
The government of the Empire is a form of authoritarian bureaucracy. The power of the Emperor is absolute, served by the ever-vigilant eyes of the Omnipotent Azure Legion and its agents. As soon as a monarch dies all the royal heirs are summoned to Béy Sü for the Kólumejálim, the ‘Choosing of the Emperors’. There they undergo a traditional roster of tests designed to cover every facet of character thought to be needful for a ruler. The strongest contenders are taken at last within the sacred precincts of the Temple of Hnálla where the final selection is made according to ancient and secret ritual methods. Once an heir is chosen to ascend to the Petal Throne (reputedly a great seat of gray-green jade carved in the semblance of a delicate flower), he or she is immured in the Golden Tower at Avanthár for the rest of his or her life, unseen and unheard, but with the weight of divine authority behind every edict.
Tsolyanu - cities
Dó Cháka and Pán Cháka, to the west, changed back and forth in a long tug-of-war between Tsolyánu and Mu’ugalavyá, culminating in the Great War of 2,020 A.S. which ended in a stalemate. Much the same occurred in the east, where the Imperium vied with Salarvyá (and with the vicious Hlutrgú) for control of Káija, Kerunán and Chaigári. The Salarvyáni are too busy with their own interminable feuding, however, to offer much off a threat.
Tsolyanu - places
Tsolyáni males average 1.68m in height, and are generally of slender-wiry or medium builds. Complexions range from coppery brown to a golden tan; noses are aquiline or straight; hair is fine and straight, always a glossy black; and there is relatively little body hair. Muscular, square-jawed and hawk-featured is the Tsolyáni male preference. Women are 1.57m in height on average with rather voluptuous figures; the common standard of female beauty is Tanulé, one of the Aspects of Avánthe, who is depicted as a slim girl with long black hair, triangular and piquant features, a retrousse nose and wide cheekbones. Curly or brown-streaked hair is considered unbeautiful, and light-coloured eyes are thought to be a sign of dishonesty.
Tsolyanu - provinces
Tsolyáni have a predilection for elaborate ceremonial, visual display, and the security brought about by knowing exactly where one stands in the social order. The Tsolyáni pantheon is fully detailed in the Gods section.
The other four Empires join in describing the Tsolyáni as arrogant, officious, and overrefined, a nation always striving to live up to the unattainable standard of its Engsvanyáli ancestors.
Livyánu, the mysterious land of sorcery, lies across the sea to the southwest of Tsolyánu.
The society of Livyánu is completely dominated by the priesthoods of their Shadow Gods—civil, military and religious affairs are handled by functionaries detached from temple service. The details of their system are not revealed to outsiders, and many Circle memberships are deliberately concealed. As far as is known, the highest official is one Ásqar Gyardánaz, ‘Principal Staff of the Glory of Qame’él’, who presides over the central Council of the Priesthoods.
The Livyáni are tall and graceful: men average 1.70m inheight and women 1.63m. They are often of a boyishly slender build, dolichocephalic, with straight or retrousse noses, wavy black or dark brown hair, a golden copper complexion, and little body hair. Livyáni females are frequently high-breasted and narrow-hipped, and tend to remain in seclusion, only emerging masked in curious disguises representing beasts, demons and gods. Both men and women tattoo their faces with intricately tiny designs taken from their mythology.
Theocratic Livyánu has the most divergent pantheon in all of the Five Empires. Their Shadow Gods are kept shrouded in mystery, their attributes often deliberately misrepresented to foreigners, and their hierachies are only distantly polite to the priesthoods of other lands. It is certain however that interplanetary magic and the summoning of ‘Demons’ make up a large part of their rituals.
The Tsolyáni stereotype of them is of sophisticated, devious, smugly pious poseurs, aloof and full of airy conceits. The Livyáni religious secrecy doubtless reinforces this reputation. They are also considered law-abiding and cultured however.
To the west the Empire of Mu’ugalavyá stands as Tsolyánu’s greatest rival.
Mu’ugalavyá is ruled by four ‘Palaces’, each of which governs all aspects of life within a specified geographical area, or ‘Province’. The central government is an oligarchy based in Ssa’átis formed of the four ‘Princes’ (Dü’ümünish), representatives of the priesthoods, and certain senior clan-heads. Each of the Princes is in command of the Legions raised and posted in his region. The red-lacquered troops of the Four Palaces of the Square, as the government is called, stand guard upon their borders facing the blue-clad Tsolyáni legions on the summit of the opposing Sákbe Road, hoping to one day regain the lost Cháka Protectorates.
The Mu’ugalavyáni are 1.5-2cm shorter than Tsolyáni norms and more brachiocephalic; with rather flattened hook noses, wide features, and coarse, straight black hair. Their eyes are sometimes grey, and their colouration is lighter.
The religion of Mu’ugalavyá is similiar to that of Tsolyánu, though Vimúhla is prevalent amongst the Gods—his temples are wealthier, and his clergy receive preferences. The noble clans also venerate another divinity: the beast headed Hrsh, whose primary shrine lies on the forbidden island of Mu’ugallá. It is not known whether Hrsh is another great interdimensional being, or an amalgam of Vimúhla, Karakán, and possibly Ksárul.
The Tsolyáni see them as humourless blockheads, hopelessly stolid and unimaginative, set in their bureaucratic ways. However they are also known to be stiffly correct, honest, and ‘noble’.
Yán Kór to the north is a hardy land of forthright, sturdy men—and even stronger women, since matriarchy is the general rule—ruled by the Baron Áld, formerly a general of Tsolyánu.
Before the emergence of the charismatic Baron Áld as national leader, Yán Kór was little more than a loosely allied jumble of city-states, clan-matriarchies, and petty principalities. During his short reign the Baron has managed to impose a degree of uniformity; functionaries of the national government are now organised in ‘Circles’, as in Tsolyánu, and all areas now pay their taxes into the coffers of the central government in Yán Kór City.
The Yán Kóryani are 2-2.5cm shorter, on average, than their Tsolyáni neighbours to the south. They are stockier, heavier, and sometimes bow-legged.
The gods of the north are almost identical to those of the Tsolyáni pantheon, although their names and rituals do vary somewhat.
The Tsolyáni characterise the Yán Kóryani as rustic imitations of their southern betters, peripheral upstarts, and crude barbarians—though they do have a reputation for courage and loyalty.
Milumanayá is a desert and mountain land, inhabited by nomadic tribes practicing a simple form of popular democracy.
Milumanayá is in fact almost three separate nations. The Warlord of Pelesár, a one-time Mu’ugalavyáni renegade named Akurghá, rules the west through a wild and undisciplined ‘army’ of personal retainers. The east lies under the sway of Lord Firáz Zhavéndu, whose hatred for his son, Lord Firáz Mmulávu Zhavéndu, is fast becoming legendary. The third and largest region—though politically the least important—is the Desert of Sighs itself. The nomads who dwell there bring every branch of tribal custom to a vote of their entire band, with predictably anarchic results. There is thus only an illusion of a national government and a rather sketchy administration, army and civil service in and around Sunráya. The primary reason for Milumanayá’s continued independence is its usefulness as a buffer zone—and the uncongeniality of its windswept sandy deserts.
The nomads of Milumanayá display great tribal dignity and a fierce commitment to honour, but their predilection for ‘total democracy’ makes them the butt of many jests.
The surly, warlike, reptilian Shén are excellent warriors, but they are too involved in their intricate rituals and egg-group power struggles to take much interest in human affairs.
Shényu is divided into states, each organised around constellations of friendly or neutral egg-groups (Shényu and Mmátugual) or single egg-groups too divergent from the others for any form of cooperation (Gái, Rá, Qónu, etc). Their power structure is based upon the domination of the smaller, weaker egg-groups by the larger ones; best seen in meetings of the Hrg Ssa, the council of senior males which governs every Shén city.
Amongst their many deities, ‘the One of Eggs’ and ‘the One Who Rends’ are predominant, and can be identified with Stability and Change, respectively.
Shén dislike delicacy and overrefinement, valuing strength, violence and endurance instead. They are great traders, own slaves (often humans), maintain entourages of retainers, and display their standing in the community through personal adournment. For more details on the Shén race, see their entry in the Nonhumans Section.
Here are detailed some of the smaller nations and less populated lands of the western half of Tékumel’s northern continent.
The Great Deserts and Jungles
North of Livyánu and northwest of Mu’ugalávya lie vast stretches of land—the Great Desert of Gálai and the Jungles of M’mórcha and Nmartúsha. Among the jungle’s inhabitants are the squat, half-human tribes of Fungus-Eaters in northern M’mórcha and the almond-eyed dwellers in Lost Bayársha. The jungle tribes worship an archaic mother-goddess, but her role is largely passive, and supernatural action occurs through the agencies of the ancestor-spirits, certain ‘nature-deities’, and a variety of mythological figures. The Fungus-Eaters are fanatically devoted to the Mu’ugalavyáni cult-deity, Hrsh. The tribal peoples are unpredictable, fearful of strangers but dangerous when crossed, and curious about everything (sometimes to their own detriment).
Ghaton, N'luss, Great Desert, M'morcha
The N’lüss are tall and muscular, 2.3 to 2.15m in height. They compel the Mu’ugalavyáni to maintain large garrisons along their northern frontiers, and bands of these huge barbarians are welcome by both the armies of Yán Kór and Tsolyánu. Each band of N’lüss consists of several extended families of commoners, plus one or two ‘noble’ lineages, from which the hereditary chief (N’lüss: Sárq) is chosen. This applies even to towns such as N’lüssa and Malcháiran, but the lords of these places have had to employ foreign scribes, clerks, and functionaries to deal with the complexities of an incipient urban society. The old traditions still persist, however, and the wishes of the Sárq of Malcháiran carry all the force of an Imperial edict in Tsolyánu.
The N’lüss worship Vimúhla and Chiténg, being descendants of the Dragon Warriors. They distinguish between ‘nobles’ (ie. lineages from which chiefs are hereditarily selected) and ‘commoners’. Within each of these two groups wealth then plays a part. They are seen as rowdy, pugnacious, brutal, and honourable to a fault.
The Ghatóni dislike the ‘women-ruled’ Yán Kóryani but still grudgingly send a few contingents of troops and trained Serudla-beasts (which only the Ghatóni know how to domesticate). Their government consists of a loose confederacy of clan-chiefs (Ghatóni: Sá Sréq). The latter is responsible for the national army, customs and tax services, and the Sákbe Roads (which are nevertheless in very poor condition). There is clear hierarchy, however, and each clan keeps the peace within its domains, settles internal disputes, and watches over its larger interests. National cohesion seems to be based more upon fear of the Mu’ugalavyáni (and now the Yán Koryáni) than anything else, and the army receives the greatest share of the national income.
The Ghatóni have a host of ‘nature gods’ (eg. the wind, the rain, the sun etc.) which they sometimes identify with likely counterparts in the Tsolyáni pantheon.
PijenaPijéna, now occupied by Yán Kór, provides the Baron Áld with soldiers, and has a social structure similar to that nation. Previously the country was divided into several petty clan-based principalities, just as Yán Kór was before the emergence of the Baron. The Yán Koryáni have allowed the titular ruler to remain as a puppet. He is the Priest King of She Who Is Not Seen (a peculiar local aspect of Avanthé), whose ancient temple-palace is in Pijnár. The Yán Koryáni are attempting—with indiff erent success—to reform the administration, establish ‘Circles’ and persuade more Pijenáni to take an interest in a national government. By other nations, the people of Pijéna are seen as weaklings, greedy, and untruthful.
Tsoléi and its disunited, piratical sailors and fisherfolk is of interest politically only as a bone of contention between Livyánu and the Shén states. Each of the islands forms a weak city-state by itself, ruled by petty princelings in a system that is easygoing, vague, and chaotic. There is no system of taxation, no national army, and little cooperation between the various islands. Only the semi-annual raids on the coasts of Livyánu bring about a joint effort, but every ship is privately owned, and plunder is not shared with the other crews. They worship local spirits inherent in rocks, caves, odd-shaped stones, and the sea; they are also heavily missionised by Livyáni and Mu’ugalavyáni priests. Rule is by hereditary families (except for Llürúra Isle, where a ‘king’ is elected at the beginning of each year and then slain at the end of it as an offering to the sea), but social prestige in Tsoléi depends more upon one’s place of residence and one’s material possessions. The Tsoléi are carefree, amiable, hospitable and disorganised; they also are given to acts of brutal piracy.
HlussyalThe lonely islands of Hlüssyal and Ssrú Gátl are home to the insectoid Hlüss. It is believed that there is a supreme Hlüss-mother who governs all of the domains of this species from her capital at Hlüssyal. Each community and nest-ship has its own female regent, under whom the males and the neuter worker-fighters serve in various capacities. Parties are frequently accompanied by ‘scholars’ )for want of a better term) who utilise the magic of other-planar power.
The Hlüss faith (if any) is unknown. They are implacable enemies of Man but also exhibit a lively inquisitiveness, greed for power and possessions (particularly ancient devices and gems), and a love of bodily adornment. For more information, see their entry in the Nonhumans Section.
The fifth of the great empires, Salarvyyá, lies along the long southeastern coast.
Seven great feudal dynasties rule Salarvyyá, their land farmed by lesser clans in a complex system of feifs, feudal duties, and reciprocal responsibilities. Each of the seven families holds one or more monopoly: the Chruggilléshmu family of Tsatsayágga has charge of the sea and shipping along the southern coast and also holds the reins of the central government; the Hrüchcháqsha family of Chamé’el has a monopoly upon the Vrélq, the crustacean which produces the black dye used for clothing and dyeing armour; etc.
In theory the Salarvyáni hold to the divine right of kings, but in reality his authority is weak, and real power is held by the Council of Nobles, a body composed of senior members of the Chruggilléshmu family, delgations from the other major lineages, a few clergy, and representatives from other vassal clans. The present monarch, King Griggatsétsa, is quite mad, and his duties have been relegated to his clan-cousin, Prince Zhurrilúgga.
Salarvya - cities
The Salarvyáni are quite distinctive: of the same average height as the Tsolyáni, but with more sallow complexions of almost a pale yellowish tan, and they are generally more hirsute, with heavy body hair, curly or even kinky beards and sickleshaped noses. They tend towards obesity, especially after age 30. The Tsolyáni regard them as feudal hotheads, ‘greasy men with beards like woven rugs’, who have nothing better to do than squabble over trifles.
Salarvya - places
The Goddess Shiringgáyi dominates all others in Salarvyyá. She is apparently a combination of Avánthe and Dlamélish, and her temples are found all the way from Chame’él out to Mimoré on the eastern ocean. Shrines to Pavár’s other deities are indeed present in every town and city, and there are a few localised divinities as well: eg. Black Qárqa, a particularly repellent form of Sárku venerated by the lords of Tsa’avtúlgu. The priesthoods of Salarvyyá are powerful but perhaps not as all-pervasive and wealthy as those of the other four Empires. Only the Mreshshél-Átl family, the hereditary guardian of Shiringgáyi’s sanctuary on the shores of Lake Mrissútl, exhibit a fanaticism equal to that of the inhabitants of the City of Sárku or the Vríddi of Fasíltum.
The mountainous Kilalámmu and the central states of Jánnu, Chaigári, Ssuyál (with its ancient Ssú-haunted ruins of Ssuganár) and Pecháno.
The government of Pecháno is similar to Salarvyá, though their king (Pecháni: Chaegósh) is both sane and fully in control of his subjects. The Assembly of High Lords is dominated by two ruling houses, the Beneshchán lineage of Mechanéno and the Rekhmél family of Teshkóa, whose lands are divided into smaller and smaller fiefs amongst descending tiers of vassals.
Jánnu is ruled by a council of clan-elders called the Assembly of Spears, though tasks of governance are performed by local clans. The king (Jannuyáni: Sháú) is little more than a figurehead. The mountainous region of Kilalámmu has almost no formal apparatus of government: clans exercise supreme authority in their own territories.
The villagers of Jánnu and Kilalámmu make yearly pilgrimages to squat hilltop shrines (said to contain variants of the Engsvanyáli deities)—and refuse to speak to anyone they meet on the way, no matter how great the provocation. The Pecháni revere the Seven Deities of the Rising Peaks: Thúmis, Karakán-Vimúhla, Avánthe-Dlamélish, Ksárul, Sárku-Belkhánu, and two unidentified gods: Quóth the Many-Eyed, and the warrior-hero, Nyésset of the Pinacle. The faiths (if any) of the inimical Ssú are unknown.
The mountain folk of Jánnu and Kilalámmu are thought (at least by the Tsolyáni) to be rustic, naive, rather stupid, and easily excited. The Pecháni, similar to the Salarvyáni but grimly serious, powerful warriors, and dedicated to the eternal war against the Ssú.
Sa’á Allaqí and the far northeastern states of Chayákku, Péncha Nagál, Píltru Dasáru, Ssrá Áb Tsáya and Mudállu.
Sa’á Allaqí is a clan-based matriarchal society; its king (Saá Allaqiyáni: Ssáo) is always male, but is elected for life by the elder women of the major clans, and the post is not hereditary. There is a semi-annual High Court held at Saá Allaqiyár for clan delegations. A recent schism between the Priests of Light, who prefer the old ways, and new institutions rising up in imitation of the Yán Koryáni, may yet end in a religious war.
Chayákku has a similar system, but the monarch is a woman. The nation maintains a small national army and a few bodies of police, all supported by clan contributions and customs duties. Administration is simple, consisting of local clan-elders in the rural areas and a body of permanent officials at court at Pechná. Other governments of the northeast are founded upon warrior, priestly or plebian lineages; power passing from one lineage to another through lack of an heir, political intrigue, or even palace revolution.
The peoples of the northeast are similar to those descibed in Yán Kór, though bow-leggedness is a feature even more pronounced in these lands. Their ancient feuds are legendary: “Men act not because of themselves but because of some slight to their great-grandfather’s piss-pot”, the Tsolyáni say.
The faiths of the far northeast tend to be full of patriarchal father-gods, heroes, champions, and fertility goddesses—but these are underlaid with a darker, older, and more morbid strain which may date back to the pre-Engsvanyáli deities of Mihállu and the Plains of Glass. From Chayákku over through Nuru’ún one finds variants of the Two Brothers, Aridzó and Heshuél. These deities fought over their father’s patrimony, and one was killed. But here the traditions diverge: the people of Chayákku, Péncha Nagál, Píltu Dasáru, and Ssrá Áb Tsáya all hold that it was Aridzó, the brother who was faithful to his father’s commands, who died, while farther east it is Heshuél who was slain. This schism has resulted in much political and religious friction over the millenia. The inticracies of these and related myths tend to leave the Tsolyáni theologians quite confused.
Distant Nuru’ún, ancient Mihállu, Rannálu and the windblown and forlorn expanses of the Plains of Glass.
For the ancient realm of Mihállu the Empire of Éngsvan hlá Gánga never perished—the modern Mihálli still speak of their land as a Province of the Engsvanyáli Imperium. Reports are duly prepared but never forwarded to Gánga, sunk these many centuries beneath the distant seas. Mihállu exists as though frozen in time, and while the titles of the old nobility are flaunted, they have become meaningless.
The merchant princes of Háida Pakála, the gentle Nyémesel Isles and the Ayoggyá lands.
The king of Háida Pakála (Háida Pakálan: Híu) is recognised as the supreme suzerain, but in reality his power extends no further than the spears of his ruffians. Each town has its own Híu with his own scruffy troops, and there is little sense of ‘nation’—the system is founded upon wealth and not always enlightened self-interest. The nation’s merchants and sailors are known as ‘urban robbers’: sophisticated, decadent, unprincipled, avaricious and malicious.
Omnu TleHlektisÓnmu Tlé Hléktis is an autonomous state of Ahoggyá, a large and as yet unexplored region in the far southeast. For more information on the Ahoggyá, see their entry in the Nonhumans section.
The Nyémesel Isles exhibit a theocracy reminiscent of Livyánu, though neither so complex or so secretive. A small standing army of commoners is maintained to repel pirates from Háida Pakála. The Ahoggyá of Salarvyá and Háida Pakála have no administration higher than the village level, though in Ónmu Tlé Hléktis, there is a ‘king’ (called ‘The Loudest Grumbler’), though the details of his adminstration are vague.
Háida Pakála are of much the same racial type as Salarvyá, but the inhabitants of the Nyémesel Isles tend towards tallness (1.83 metres on the average, with females being 1.69 metres) and exaggerated slenderness. They suffer from premature baldness and have very little body hair. They are known as gentle and peaceful, committed to their Sea Goddess, and only violent when attecked.
The sailors and merchant princes of Háida Pakála raise obelisks to She Who Strides the Wind (a form of Avanthee-Dlamélish), and this same goddess is called Mrettén, the Goddess Who Walks Upon the Sea, in the Nyémesel Isles. The Ahoggyá are unique in that they seem to have no religion at all.