Monday, April 20, 2020

Quest: The Underworld of Tekumel boardgame

Image Source: Paul Stormberg and Bill Hoyt via The OSR Grimoire blog

For a time in the 1970s, TSR considered publishing a boardgame that was a sequel their popular DUNGEON! boardgame but based on the setting (Tekumel) of Empire of the Petal Throne, their second RPG. Publicly this went as far as a mention in the fifth Strategic Review (the magazine that later became The Dragon) in late 1975, where Tim Kask wrote:
"Also a little in the future is an EPT-based game on the order of DUNGEON!. However, the similarity is merely superficial. It is a really promising game in its own right, played on a beautiful board" (h/t to the OSR Grimoire).

Kask doesn't name the game or its designer, but Jon Peterson reported in 2015 that it was created by Bill Hoyt, a member of both Dave Arneson's and M.A.R. Barker's game groups and a publisher of game products under the "WAW Productions" imprint. Hoyt played in Tekumel and facilitated the publication of the Empire of the Petal Throne by TSR, who gave him a finder's fee and a "Presented in Association" credit for WAW. TSR also reprinted several WAW titles (see Jon's post for details), and then considered publishing the Tekumel boardgame, which Hoyt proposed calling "Quest", whereas Gygax favored "Catacombs". More recently Jon wrote on ODD74 that:
"TSR held on to Quest for like three years, from 1975 to 1978, and then opted not to publish it. Doing board games was expensive, and in 1978 anyway, Dungeon! sales weren't growing anything like core D&D sales, so from a strategic investment perspective, TSR wanted to put their money elsewhere. Gygax did offer to try to radically simplify the game, to make it something even less complicated than Dungeon!, but Hoyt didn't seem amenable to that. Gygax assumed Hoyt would take it to the Tekumel people after they rejected it; I don't know what if anything came of that. 
I just think it's neat that Bill was able to get it published in the form shown at the top of this [post]..."

Chirine Ba Kal, another member of Barker's group, provides more context in a Q&A thread:
"[That is] Bill Hoyt's wonderful game, "Quest", that he created with [creator of Dungeon] Dave Megarry's help; it's a Tekumel version of "Dungeon", and it's a lot of fun to play. Bill made six prototype copies of the game, and was kind enough to give me one for my archives. 
Bill goes way back; he's the "William Hoyt of W.A.W." mentioned in the TSR editions of EPT, and was one of the people - along with Gronan [Mike Mornard] - who persuaded Phil [aka MAR Barker] to publish in the first place."

While the game has never been published for general release, for the past few years Bill Hoyt has been running the game using his prototypes at Gary Con as part of Paul Stormberg's Legends of Wargaming series; here is the description from the Gary Con XII listing:
"Legends of Wargaming event! 
This is your chance to play Quest! the unpublished Empire of the Petal Throne board game designed by original Blackmoor player, Bill Hoyt! A variant of the Dungeon! board game, players will instead face the mysteries, magic, and monsters of Tekumel! 
After a brief introduction on the history of the game’s design, Bill will lead up to 12 players into the Tekumel Underworld! 
Empire of the Petal Throne by Professor MAR Barker is one of the most lavishly conceived fantasy worlds of all time! When TSR published Empire of the Petal Throne in 1975 and it was a natural success. 
TSR followed this up with a line of miniatures and a set of wargame rules, Legions of the Petal Throne by Dave Sutherland III. 
At the same time, Dave Megarry's Dungeon! was TSR's most popular board game. Indeed it was one of Gary's favorites. 
Bill Hoyt sought to capitalize on these popular products by creating a game that tapped into both: Quest! 
Designed in the mid-1970s, this game was one of the many games considered for publication by TSR. Fortunately for us Bill still has a few demo copies on which participants can play."

At these games, Hoyt shows off the fantastic cover of the game, which is the image that appears at the top of this post, and can also be seen in this Facebook post. The same OSR Grimoire post linked above also has a photo of Hoyt running the game for several players, and others can be spotted on Facebook

The cover depicts a battle in the Underworld between two groups. The warriors to the right presumably represent the players of the game, including two humans - one an archer - and (I think) a "slender, stick-like" six-limbed Pe Choi, "often found in human armies". On the ground is a fallen Shen, "dragon-like" and with "gleaming black scales", presumably a member of the same group based on the color of its armor. The opponents to the left include two reptilian Sro, having "long, dragon-like heads" with "jagged-toothed beaks and six-limbs including "a pair of small arms" that "can wield a broadsword in each hand". They are led by a sinister figure that is likely a "Skull-Priest of Sarku", a deity known also as "the Five-Headed Lord of Worms, Master of the Undead, the Demon of Decay", and whose "minions paint their faces to resemble skulls". (All quotes in this paragraph are from TSR's Empire of the Petal Throne, 1975).

I'm not sure who the cover artist is; there appears to a signature in the lower left corner but is not readable at the current resolution. I will update this post if I learn more.

8 comments:

  1. Is there any hope to publish it now perhaps?

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  2. The cover artist was John Goodier, who also worked on:

    https://rpggeek.com/rpgitem/114095/deeds-ever-glorious

    You can see some black and white pictures from that here:

    http://fabledlands.blogspot.com/2010/11/tekumel.html

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for letting us know! I checked out the links - what a fantastic illustrator

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    2. Yes, thank you, Jon, and I agree, paleologos. With that talent I'm sort of flabbergasted he didn't do any other fantasy illustration.

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  3. Very intriguing! Never heard about this post-EPT boardgame.

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