The pampas of ennui

Being Leonardo Boiko's online Journal, featuring Long & Very Sporadic Essays on any Subject.

Empire of the Petal Throne

04 April 2012

Is a tabletop RPG that’s 1) a classic (no “balanced” WoW 4E crap for me, ’offa my lawn!); 2) set in a full-featured world including a set of conlangs in various stages of completeness, and 3) all that being not eurocentric!!!‼‼ Why didn’t anyone show me this, like, earlier?

Empire of the Petal Throne page; Wikipedia on Tékumel, the campaign setting; omniglot has a list of writing systems; the FAQ has a good, concise in-setting history.

The game’s creator, Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker, was born Philip Barker, which already says a lot. He was an Urdu+South Asian Studies professor, and the main conlang, Tsolyáni, is inspired by Urdu, Pushtu, and Mayan—the main recipe for the Tékumel world was to mix South Asia with Meso-American empires, Egypt and the Middle East. There’s no way this is can not be awesome! Coming from the same cultural environment as Gygax, Barker also died recently—about two weeks ago, in fact, just a few days before I first ever heard of his work. He was described as “the forgotten Tolkien”, for the level of detail and care in the history and sociology of his world-building, which, like Tolkien’s, was used to support his languages—except no one knows Barker, because, you know, RPGs are fringe stuff.

The world is of the kind where an advanced civilization falls to medieval level, giving a fantasy world with sci-fi roots. Due to various historical developments, human empires in the “present” generally are theocratic monarchies or oligarchies making using of magic, worship, and largely ignoring the science and technology of the Ancients. The culture is mostly splendorous, grandiose, pompous and somewhat stale. I found it hard to find on the Internet much information about the conlangs (which ones are well-developed, which are only listed by name, what are their in-game relationships, and what are their natlang influences):

  • The Empire of the Petal Throne, Tsolyánu, speaking the Tsolyáni described above. They’re inheritors of the Engsvanyáli culture, whose classical language is the ancestor of Tsolyáni as well as various others current vernaculars.
  • Mu’ugalavyá, their rivals, an hierarchical society, even more bureaucratic than the norm for this world. Language: Mu’ugalavyáni.
  • Livyánu, a mysterious empire of shadowy sorcery. Speaks Livyáni.
  • Yán Kór, a matriarchal society of warriors; speaks Yán Koryáni.
  • Milumanayá, communal desert nomads. Language: Milumanayáni, in various dialects.
  • Shényu: violent reptile beings, mostly occupied in internal struggles among “egg-groups”. They speak Shén, “a language of hisses and growls and gargles to human ears”.
  • Salarvyyá, a feudal realm; Salarvyáni is said (in-game) to be particularly difficult to learn.
  • Sunúz is a dead, obscure language used for sorcery and pacts with demons (actually cosmic, extradimensional lifeforms).

This just scratches the surface; there are many other peoples and an intricate history. It seems there is published linguistic material on Engsvanyáli, Tsolyáni, Livyáni, Yán Koryáni and Sunúz (and on the writing systems of some other ares); given the similar suffix, I’m guessing all but Sunúz must be Engsvanyáli languages.

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