Empire of the Petal Throne: Observations about the Setting Material Within the Book

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Following up on the new print-on-demand version of Empire of the Petal Throne, here’s a link to a post Dyson Logos made about the game on his blog two and a half years ago after he bought the PDF, printed it, had it bound, and began reading it…

I’m also struck by the whole “too weird and detailed to be playable” thing. The material in the EPT book is definitely no weirder than anything Jodo has written (and there’s an RPG of that), and definitely less detailed than anything published for the Forgotten Realms. It feels incredibly accessible to me, and the very familiar yet slightly weird mechanics just make it more appealing.

I think the fear of its weirdness is an artifact of the era of its release. When it was released the common frame of reference was Conan and Middle Earth and everyone was fairly comfortable with the tech level and cultural framework of those settings and all you had to do was infer various things and the rest was handled by the mass knowledge base. This setting was different. And different is scary.

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Today, we have tons of “different” settings and games out there. If we can embrace transhumanist themes in our sci-fi and play games that cross over into lucid dreaming and fairy tales on a regular basis, we can definitely cope with a bit of alien detail like Tékumel.

The presentation in the 1975 EPT is far from dense. It lays out a foundation sketch of the setting that is way less dense than say the descriptions of the various nations and regions in the Forgotten Realms 3e hardcover.

If anything, it’s this sketchiness that I like. It (like the best settings I’ve read) gives you enough information to run on and to make up your own games from without burying you in data.

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The significance of this for this blog is that the Empire of the Petal Throne gives a Referee and players an entry point into a strange and exotic world… but doesn’t bury them under a ton of material as if they’re getting their Ph. D. in the study of some nonexistent world.

Instead, there is enough to inspire the Referee and Players, to send them off in an unexpected direction that they never would have come up with on their own, not to master the fictional details of the world but to expand them from their own imagination and invention.

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Empire of the Petal Throne is Back in Print

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For those of you interested in Old School gaming, the Tékumel Foundation just announced the release of new new hardcover and softcover editions of Empire of the Petal Throne(Here is the link directly to the the books on DriveThruRPG.)

From Wikipedia:

Empire of the Petal Throne is a fantasy role-playing game designed by M. A. R. Barker, based on his Tékumel fictional universe, which was self-published in 1974, then published by TSR, Inc. in 1975. It was one of the first tabletop role-playing games, along with Dungeons & Dragons. Over the subsequent thirty years, several new games were published based on the Tékumel setting, but to date none have met with commercial success. While published as fantasy, the game is sometimes classified as science fantasy or, debatably, as science fiction.

James Maliszewski posted about Empire of the Petal Throne on his Grognardia blog:

Of course, very few gamers love Tékumel for its rules. It’s the fabulous pulp fantasy world that makes this game stand head and shoulders above its contemporaries…

I never ever saw a copy of the original rules until the late 90s. I knew of the setting, naturally, at least in broad outline — a colony world in the far future gets mysteriously shunted into its own pocket dimension where magic works. That the setting’s creator, M.A.R. Barker, was a professor of linguistics with firsthand experience of India and Pakistan, as well as a lifelong love for the pulp greats, Egyptology, and ancient American civilizations pretty much ensure that it’d be like nothing anyone had ever seen — and it is.

Tékumel is amazingly cool: a brilliant cross between a sword-and-planet and dying earth setting that evokes writers like Burroughs, Howard, Smith, and Vance without being a pastiche of any one of them. Far moreso than OD&D, Empire of the Petal Throne is a game that wears its pulp fantasy roots on its sleeve, provided you’re willing to look beneath its baroque surface. Like many things about Tékumel, its literary origins are hidden, sometimes in plain sight. It’s also the only game I’ve ever encountered that includes culturally sophisticated rationales for dungeon crawling that enables expeditions into the Underworld to serve as the axis around which a larger campaign could be structured. But then this is an old school RPG of the first rank, so this should come as no surprise.

Both the hardcover and softcover versions have the following:

  • The full text of the original TSR edition of Empire of the Petal Throne as published in a boxed set in 1975
  • Errata for the original TSR edition
  • A Citizenship Document and translation
  • A map of Jakálla – The City Half As Old As the World
  • A B&W map of the Five Empires
  • Reference Charts from the original TSR boxed set

$19.95 for the softcover and $24.95 for the hardcover version.  The Foundation has also updated the PDF version of the rules; it is still a picture scan of the rules, but it is precisely the same as the text included with the print-on-demand edition.  They intend to make a text-searchable version available free to customers who have bought the PDF, as they move ahead with other projects.