Sunday, November 18, 2012

Revising Empire Of The Petal Throne?

Excuse me, Lady Yilrana?
How do you like your stake?
As many of you know, I am an unapologetic Tékumel fanatic. Out of all of the various games set in the late Prof. Barker's science fantasy universe, the most approachable is the first: Empire of the Petal Throne. (Although Jeff Dee's Bethórm project looks very promising.) A variant of OD&D, the game's mechanics would be very familiar to any Old School aficionado. All they would have to do is leave their traditional, Eurocentric notions of "fantasy" behind for the ride of a lifetime!

However, that's not to say the game is perfect. After nearly 40 years of gaming development and the lessons thereof, many of its mechanics could stand to use some revision. EPT was eventually replaced by the far crunchier Swords & Glory, but I would really have liked to seen the original rules continue to evolve. (Of course, I would have loved to see Tékumel still have a home at TSR, been integrated as an "official" D&D setting like Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk, and receive the publicity and notoriety it richly deserved. However...)

Anyway, if I had the time and talent to write a hypothetical Empire of the Petal Throne: Second Edition, here is what I would add or modify:
  • Percentile-based task system: Since EPT Attributes are based upon straight percentiles rather than OD&D's 3d6, it makes rolling for various feats of strength or intelligence far easier. With the addition of some difficulty modifiers, it can be used as a functional task system.
  • Revise The Skill System: While "skills" are considered an anathema in OSR gaming, it should be pointed out that EPT was the first game to introduce them. However, I never really thought that the randomized nature of acquiring a PCs initial and how they gained additional skills made a lot of sense.
  • Non-human player options: While the original rules allowed you to play Shén, Pé Chói, Ahoggyá, etc., the game focused on human PCs. Borrowing a page from AD&D, we could easily come up with various racial modifiers and ability to differentiate them from those pesky humans.
  • Re-aligning Alignment: A minor quibble, but as Prof. Barker's fleshed out the setting, alignment evolved away from the original game's "Good" and "Evil" and became "Stability" and "Change." The new rules should take that into account.
  • PC from the Five Empires and Beyond: The basic premise of EPT is that the PCs are "barbarians" from Tékumel's shadowy "Southern Continent" come to seek their fortunes in Tsolyánu. While there is techincally nothing preventing the GM or Character from creating a Tsolyáni, Livyáni, Nlüss, or other character, it's not considered the norm. It ought to be, though.
  • Multi-Classing: Want to play a Warrior Priest of Ksárul? How about a powerful sorcerer who can wield the ritual spells of the Priest class AND the psychic spells of the magic users class? Well, now you can!
  • Updated Magic System/Spells: EPT used the "Vancian" magic system from OD&D with the addition of a change for failure. Swords & Glory and later rules vastly expanded the spell corpus into "ritual" spells and "psychic" spells along with "Universal," "Generic" and "Temple" spells as well as changed the nature of Tékumeyáni magic to a "power points" (i.e. "Pedhétl") system. I would like to see a somewhat "softened" system suitable for OSR sensibilities used here.
  • New artwork: You can't sell a RPG these days without having pretty, pretty pictures. A new edition would have more images of the settings awesome monsters, it's grand and exotic cites, and naked priestesses of Ladies Avánthe and Dlamélish... Oh wait. Did I just say that? 
Beyond that I wouldn't change much more than that. Keep the rest of the game simple and I'll be happy.

My! How you've grown, Mighty Prince!
The best example of how I think a new EPT should look like was Guardian of Order's short-lived Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne. While I was not enamored with the rules, it was intelligently laid out and lavishly illustrated. While it did not cover all of the nuances of the setting--only Swords & Glory Vol. 1 has that honor--it was a excellent introduction to Tékumel and gave the players just enough to work with to make the game their own. 

Of course, this is all just speculation and suggestion, but who knows? Perhaps, someday! Perhaps, someday...

2 comments:

  1. I can agree with most of the ideas above. I do like T:EPT, though, and am don't care about old school mechanics. I want a simple, elegant system. Currently using GURPS, but not sure it meets the simple requirement, when all is said and done.

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  2. All of your suggestions are sound. I'm working on an updated magic system that specifies some spells as restricted to a few or one temple.

    I really like T:EPT's system. It's a good point-based system, with some innovations, like Planning and Teamwork. The rules for creating special items are good too. It is very functional. And beautiful.

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