Professor Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman (MAR) Barker, retired University of Minnesota Professor, author, linguist, and Tékumel creator died March 16 at the age of 83. He was also a popular science fiction author who helped inspire the creators of Dungeons and Dragons.
His creation of the world of Tékumel over the course of 70 years,has been compared to Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’ in its sophistication and complexity. Barker was a Professor of Urdu and South Asian Studies at the University of Minnesota during the period when Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax were developing Tactical Studies Rules’ (TSR) first role-playing games in the Twin Cities and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
In 1975 Barker’s game Empire of the Petal Throne was the first role playing game published by TSR, Inc. following the release of Dungeons and Dragons.
Role playing games set in Tékumel, have been published every decade since the 1970’s, including the 1983 Swords and Glory, 1994’s Gardásiyal, and 2005’s Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne.
Beginning with Man of Gold in 1985 Barker published five novels, several game supplements, and a number of short stories set in Tékumel.
[Based on the press release. Thanks to Dan Goodman for the story.]
Any comparison to Tolkien is probably spurious. M.A.R. Barker created what may be the most original and non-European fantasy setting of the late 20th Century, but he had little of Professor Tolkien’s gifts for characterization or narrative — in print. Like the great storytellers of the ancienr traditions that he revered, Professor Barker’s real genius was in the spoken word. In the 1970s and 1980s, Barker’s own games were legendary among Midwest Fans and Gamers. He made the world which he had created come to life in a way that was understandably impossible for anyone else to duplicate. Never having had the pleasure of receiving his intruction, my own efforts to penetrate the mysteries of the Empire of the Petal Throne were sporadic and short-lived. The great Empire of Tsolyanu, the likely home base of most adventurers, was as cruel as the Triple Alliance of the Aztecs, and as arcane as ancient Elam or the Egyptian Middle Kingdom. The investment required to simply understand what was happening to your character was beyond most players’ ambition. Barker’s work is sublimely inventive, but it’s also remarkably little-known, even among hard-core rpg fanatics.
Do you know Tolkien’s name is misspelled in this story?
Thanks for catching that.
Jo Walton’s obit about Barker is followed by some highly illuminating comments.