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Friday, 10 March 2017

Videogames killed the radio star?

Crossing Tom Quad, deserted and sparkling in the December night, gave me the visual inspiration for the roleplaying scenario that eventually became Heart of Ice. The germ of the idea had already come from the briefest of references in Empire of the Petal Throne to “hex 6029: the walled ruins of the Mad City of Du’un”. And the story itself, as I’ve described elsewhere, was an adaptation of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, in the sense that only one person could have the ultimate prize but to reach it meant cooperating with others along the way.

The original Du’un adventure was pretty old school, as you’d expect for something written in the mid-70s, and in fact the first time I ran it really was at my old school, in the Eastgate block at the RGS, where the Guildford War Studies group used to meet. But I digress…At the end of an embrangling underworld filled with interdimensional pathways, the characters had to fight past an avatar of the god Hrsh to win through to the Chamber of the Heart. Alliances died at the door. Beyond that point it became a cathartic free-for-all.

Primitive though the scenario was, it became the one players talked about. I was persuaded to run it two or three times more for different gaming groups. Probably it was the theme of the scenario that made it really memorable. That heart of ice isn’t really the magic crystal McGuffin buried down deep in the catacombs, it’s the cold ruthlessness needed by the winner.

In the original 1976 scenario that gem of ultimate power was the Heart of Durritlamish, the Black Angel, Opener of Catacombs. In the gamebook it became the Heart of Volent, a cult god of the 22nd century. And in the 1990s radio play “The Heart of Hark’un” it transmogrified into this:
“The god Hark'un once ruled the heavens, but the young gods were jealous of his power and plotted to overthrow him. Defeated in a celestial war, Hark'un fell from the heavens, down through the black sky, until he struck the barren lifeless lands. But as he died, Hark'un’s blood brought the world to life. His spine formed the mountains of the world. His veins became the roots of living things. The body of Hark'un became the world of Harkuna. Every part of the slain god became the seed for new life – except for the heart of Hark'un. That remained whole. Untouched by decay, it still beats on. To touch the heart of the god Hark'un would be to destroy the world. But also to take on the power of a god.”
The play, by Jamie and his brother Peter Thomson, featured some characters based on (or at least named after) player-characters in our Tekumel campaign. Kadar was an older, more embittered version of Jamie’s character Qadarnai, while my own character Shazir became the villain – of course! Arcos I’m not sure about, but he may have been one of the PCs in Mark Smith’s Orb campaign.

The point of all this is to say that you can now listen to all six episodes of “The Heart of Harkun” (let’s leave the grocer's apostrophes out of it, eh?) over on the Spark Furnace website. And if you don’t have the patience for podcasts, the comic book version is still available: issue #1 and issue #2. Or there’s the Heart of Ice gamebook, of course. At some point I might even run the original Du’un scenario that started it all, if I can lay my hands on the underworld maps.


  1. Very enjoyable post, will definitely check out the podcast. It's always fascinating to get an insight into the thought process.

    1. I hope you'll read Heart of Ice first, though.

  2. It's cool to know that "Heart of Ice" was inspired by the oldest RpG ! I shall try to check that old issue of TĂ©kumel !

  3. Er... is the link to issue #1 supposed to take you to the RGS website?