I've known Victor Raymond for 22 years as we were friends on ISCABBS in the RPG forum where he was the forum moderator and he asked if I would be interested in writing a review of this reissue of the Empire of the Petal Throne book. I pointed out that I have zero experience with his writings or earlier game products. He thought it was a good idea to have some reviews from people with no past experience as well.
So there is my upfront disclaimer. I thought I would just go through the book by section and then just give an overall review at the end.
Part 1 -
100 Introduction: Foreword by Gary Gygax and Intros by Dave Arneson and MAR Barker do a good job of setting expectations. Gary and Dave in establishing MAR's credentials and Dave and MAR start getting your senses ready for the experience of the Petal Throne.
200 The World of Tékumel: Here we have the history of the world. MAR is clearly in love w/the accent mark, and I'm not sure if there is an external history book that all the bibliographical references spread throughout reference or not. For those with deep knowledge of the world, this might be kind of cool. For me it was honestly just a bit much, but whatever, it's fine. The history itself is interesting, as Tékumel is a world that was once high technology, but then it fell back into barbarism. The eventual decision of keeping the emperor completely sealed away from everyone is definitely a different method of ruling.
300 Character Types: Compared to many RPGs you are going to see a simplified character system. You are looking at Warriors, Priests and Magicians as character classes. Alignments are Good and Evil and they clarify that even evil never attack people within their own party, solving some issues that sometimes arise frompeople deciding to play evil characters and then wanting to kill literally everyone. Nice touch. There is a section of nonhuman alignment and how they relate to man and it mentions their characteristics are given later (startinng page 48).
400 Determination of Character: Character traits in Tékumel are Strength, Intelligence, Constitution, Psychic Ability, Dexterity, and Comeliness, recorded in percentile. You roll percentile and refer to the table for the bonuses or minuses. You are discouraged from just rerolling one, they want you to keep the set and if you don't like it, throw the whole thing back and re-roll it all. When you level, you have an opportunity to raise stats, which is cool. This section also covers original skills you had prior to becoming an adventurer and you can also gain more of those as you level.
Profession skills are covered in this section as well. Warriors, of course, learn many fighting skills. Priests can gain things like Telepathy or Cure Light Wounds or Remove Curse. Magic Users learn things like Telekinesis, Illusion, Necromancy, and The Grey Hand, which is an instant death power. Definitely something that conjures imagery in your head. Spells are typically usable once or twice a day and reset at 6AM. Yeah, roosters crow, spells reset. I dunno. There is also a chart with chances of a spell not working.
500 Bonus Spells: There is a chart for Priests and Magic Users to get extra spells possibly when they gain a level. The spells that show up on this list are in different groups and are different spells than from the spells found in the previous section. I did find it interesting that there is no separation between Priest and Magic User in this section and things that might normally feel like Priest spells in D&D could get picked up by Magic Users here. Interesting sounding spells like The Vapour of Death, The Demon, The Hands of Kra the Mighty are all found in this section.
600 Experience Levels & Points: Unlike early D&D, there is 1 experience point table that is shared. If a character has their primary stat at 81-95 (Strength for Warrior, Intelligence for Priest, Psychic Ability for Magic User), they gain a 5% XP bonus. If their primary stat is at 96-100, they gain a 10% bonus. If their Constitution is 96-100, they gain a 5% XP bonus. As you increase in levels you gain less XP to simulate the decreased pace.
700 Hit Dice, Combat & Damage: All characters are d6 hit dice based, and hit dice are completely re-rolled each level. You can't have less than you had the prior level of course, so you gain at least the minimum extra over your previous level. This is definitely different than what I am used to, as every other game with hit dice has been keep what you have and add. I could easily imagine gaining a level and having had several levels of bad rolls and then have one level with an amazing roll and all of a sudden have SO many more hit points. So, that wouldn't suck.
There are a couple of charts for men attacking men, and nonhumans and animals attacking men. Discussion about weapon types, damage (mostly d6), missile fire, battle order, the combat round, damage dice, double damage, instant death, and morale are all covered in here as well. I'm not entirely clear how initiative is determined for combat, altho there is a convoluted method given for capturing a surprised opponent.
800 The 'Hitilakte" Arenas: There are fighting arenas in Tékumel and there is a table given for wagers based on the fighter's level. This is another small section of the book that adds a nice touch of character to the world
Part 2 -
900 Starting the Game: "You all arrive in a small boat at the great Tsolyáni port city of Jakalla". I'm missing a couple of accent marks, but that's basically how the section starts. You have a bit of money and here we have the beginning of what many players really love, equipment lists and encumbrances.
1000 Nonplayer Characters: Nonplayer characters (including slave costs), hired henchmen, salaries, and NPC reactions are covered here.
1100 Encounters: Encounters in Jakalla, on the Sakbe Roads (the raised fortified highways that connect the empire), various other encounter tables. This is the section where we finally get to the non-human race descriptions mentioned in the character generation section earlier.
1200 The Underworld: Scattered around Tékumel are forgotten ruins dating back to prehuman ages. some of them are entrances to the "Underworld". Descriptions of the Underworld, encounters and some of the beings you will encounter here are included here. There is also a cheatsheet table of all the nonhumans and creatures of Tékumel found in this section.
Part 3 -
1300 The "Eyes": These are old high tech items that are usually discovered in the Underworld beneath the older cities. There are many abilities available on the eyes and some discussion of availability and price. Some of these are very interesting.
1400-1900 Magic Items: This is a pretty usual section for anyone who has ever bought a D&D book. Lots of magic items and prices.
2000 Saving Throws: Saving Throws are divided into Poison, Spells, Paralysis/Hypnosis, Eyes. Pretty straight forward.
2100 The Gods, Cohorts & Divine Intervention: There are 5 Good, and 5 Evil Gods in Tékumel. Each god is served by a cohort. Once per week there is a chance for Divine Intervention, via a percentile roll on a table. Chances are increased by making offerings. The Good gods accept magic items, but the evil ones accept human sacrifice.
2200 Treasure: When you adventure, you gotta get loot! Tables help determine how much
2300 Support, Salaries, Jobs, Fiefs, & Taxes: If you ever wondered how big the hexes on your map were and how much your fiefdom would generate, this is the section for you.
2400 Erecting & Buying Buildings: Goes along with the previous section. Once you start having piles of money and you want to spend it on building a castle or mansion, go here.
2500 Advertising: You need to advertise to sell your goods, here are some ideas to help you do that.
2600 Relatives & Requests: Discussion of wills, marriages, etc. Assuming this is for very long running campaigns or people running generational games.
2700 Time: General information about the passage of time in Tékumel, as well as the current year, 2354 AS (After the Seal of the Imperium).
2800 To Respective Referees: Just a quick aside to the someone thinking of running the setting, letting them know it's ok that things aren't like everything else and to enjoy the differences. There's also some guidance given for developing an Underworld and an example of a nicely detailed sample Underworld. Discussion of devloping a scenario, NPCs and other regions and cities are included as well.
2900 Appendix A: Pronunciation: Pretty straightforward.
3000 Appendix B: The Tsolyáni Script: Explanation of the written language of Tékumel, how things look in English and how they look in Tsolyáni, as well as a couple of sample documents.
3100 Appendix C: Key to the Map of Jakalla: What you expect a map key to be, explaining all the locations on a map
After the map you have a list of tables from earlier in the book as well as a couple of ads at the very back of the book. Overall you definitely have an old school gaming book that provides you with that feel. The art, the tables, some of the minutae, all definitely reminded me of the earlier days of gaming. The history section at the beginning of the book was interesting and I'm curious for more, but I don't know if any of my local friends have read any of the Petal Throne books. I may have to find some. If you are looking for something different in your old school gaming, I can give this a thumbs up.
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