The Origin of T’suul
T’suul is a fanciful game of skill and chance that exists in Alandar, the setting of The Saga of the Redeemed. It is played either between two or four players (though some variants allow for three people and some with five) and uses a table or board (sometimes with an orthogonal grid printed on it, but this is not essential) and a set of thirty-six square tiles. It is a gambling game popular from the Kalsaari Empire to the West and is said to have originated in Illin, where they take their t’suul playing more seriously than most and it is less a game for gambling money than it is a game of honor and, occasionally, used in lieu of a duel.
The inspiration for t’suul is dominoes, but with more of a poker feel and a certain gritty viciousness that dominoes tends to lack (or, at least around where I live). I wanted it to be something exotic and a little racy while keeping it close to something people could understand.
T’suul has existed in my world here for a long time, but I hadn’t drawn rules up for it. At least not until now, anyway. I find myself, however, writing a scene in which t’suul is being played and the game needs to be at least partially explained. I do not know if this would actually work as a game in the real world (perhaps I’ll get around to play-testing it at some point), but in brief it sort-of works like this:
- The set contains 36 tiles–seven red, seven blue, seven black, seven white, and eight gray. They are distributed to the players in “clutches” of five.
- Gameplay begins with four tiles in “the heart” – one blue, one white, one black, one red – and arranged so that the opposing tiles do not touch. If gambling, the ante for the round is placed atop one of each of the tiles.
- Players take turns placing tiles (again, if gambling, coins are placed atop the tiles). A good t’suul player will slap the tiles down with a certain machismo, called dailiki in Illin. This is a very important part of the game in Illin, but merely considered good form elsewhere.
- Red opposes Blue, White opposes Black, and Gray is inert. If two opposing tiles are placed beside one another, they “duel” and are removed from play into the player’s clutch (collection of tiles) held in a sakkidio, or “wallet.” They also pocket the money.
- A player immediately to the left of a player who initiates a duel may “stack” by placing another tile of the same color atop the one placed by the initiator of the duel. If gambling, they must place a higher bid atop the tile they place. The next player may do the same, assuming they have the same color tile. And so on. If all players fail to stack a duel, whoever has the highest tile wins the duel, the tiles, and all coinage.
- “Burning a Stack” is when, instead of stacking, they player opts to duel the other tile (the unstacked one) and claim it, thus invalidating the stack’s claim. This leaves a lot of money on the table for challenge, but it can be a way to prevent your opponents from claiming it if you are unable to match their bets. This pisses people off and can be a good way to get stabbed.
- Gray tiles cannot be duels, but duels can be fought across them. So, a blue tile adjacent to a gray which has a red placed adjacent to *it* will be claimed as the duel is fought across it.
- A round ends when either one player controls all the tiles or a player “makes the serpent,” which involves completing a chain of all four color tiles without any dueling any of the others. A player who makes the serpent claims all tiles on the board (along with all the money). A serpent cannot be stacked or burned.
Why Do This?
I mean, obviously apart from the reason that it’s lots of fun, this works as a way to help me with world-building which, in turn, helps me with character. Part of the trick of t’suul involves knowing what tiles your opponent has based upon their moves and the tiles they collect in duels. To be a good t’suul player, you need to be observant and also gutsy. It’s part strategy, part luck, and part smoking tooka in a dimly lit Undercity tavern in Illin, watching your back as you slap down a blue and make the serpent while some Ihynish creep is trying to slip a dagger between your ribs. It sets a mood. It creates a system by which behavior is modified and dictated. For me, I want to know more about that.
Now, unfortunately, I’m not really a game designer, so I don’t know if that framework up there would work as a fun game. I think it might. I might need to get myself a set of multicolored tiles, though, to try it out.