M. A. R. Barker bigraphy, stories - Linguist, scholar, author and game designer.

M. A. R. Barker : biography

03 November 1929 - 16 March 2012

Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker (born Phillip Barker, November 3, 1929 – March 16, 2012), was a professor of Urdu and South Asian Studies who created one of the first roleplaying games, Empire of the Petal Throne, and wrote several fantasy/science fantasy novels based in his associated world setting of Tékumel.

Later academic studies and career

Barker attended the University of California, Berkeley for graduate studies, writing a dissertation on Klamath language, collecting traditional myths, legends, tales, and oral histories and later publishing a grammar and dictionary on the language. (21 Klamath myths collected in 1955-1957)

He taught at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University from around 1958/9 until 1972 and became active in the development of Urdu and Baluchi instruction materials for English-speaking students following a period of two years from 1960 when he was attached to Panjab University. Some of these are still recommended university course study materials as of 2010. From 1972 he moved to teach at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he chaired the Department of South Asian studies until his retirement in the early 1990s, a few years after that department was disbanded due to reduced funding.

"The forgotten Tolkien"

Whilst at Berkeley, Barker had not set aside his world creation project. Indeed, despite stepping back somewhat from an active role in the published science fiction/fantasy fandom, he had commenced "proto-gaming" with a group of like-minded science fiction fans including fellow linguist Bill Shipley and Victor Golla, producing elaborate documents to support the exploration of that shared world.

Having watched the Dungeons & Dragons games started by Mike Mornard, one of the original testers for D&D, when he moved to Minneapolis from Lake Geneva, Barker resolved to create his own ruleset based on his own created world and the game mechanics from D&D. After six weeks, this was self-published in August 1974 as Empire of the Petal Throne and play commenced forthwith, including such occasional members as Dave Arneson - who singled out Barker and Tekumel as being his favorite GM and roleplaying game, respectively - from early days.

Once Gary Gygax's attention had been drawn to Barker's work, it was decided that TSR would publish a revised version of the game mechanics along with a condensed version of his campaign setting. In a Dragon Magazine editorial from December, 1976, editor Tim Kask drew comparisons between the world of Tékumel and J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth not in terms of literature created, nor that his work was derivative of Tolkien's (being well-advanced by the time The Lord of the Rings was released), but rather regarding the in-depth detail in the setting, mythos and linguistic backgrounds and concluded that "In terms of development of detail, I think EPT [Empire of the Petal Throne] has it over Middle Earth in the matters that most concern gamers" since it had been developed by a "wargamer", whereas Tolkien had no such background and having died prior to the release of D&D was thus unable to address this new pastime personally.

Despite having had a head start on other in-depth campaign settings and seeing his game released no less than four times with various supplements and magazine articles, many which he contributed to, and having authored five books using the same setting, Barker's Tékumel in both roleplaying and literary domains is still well known to only a relatively small audience, leading German magazine Der Spiegel in 2009 to publish an article on Barker's life entitled "Der vergessene Tolkien" ("The forgotten Tolkien"). The article quotes friends and acquaintances who posit that this may be, at least in part, due to the unfamiliarity of the setting compared with Western society, echoing Fine's observations from 1983, and possibly even that Tékumel was released to the gaming world too early on, when players had only just started to experiment with their own invented worlds rather than fitting their play into pre-configured, non-literary domains with novel backgrounds.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine