Empire of the Petal Throne

Empire of the Petal Throne is a fantasy role-playing game designed by M. A. R. Barker, based on his Tékumel fictional universe. It 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, and was the first published RPG game setting. Over the subsequent thirty years, several new games were published based on the Tékumel setting; however, 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.

Empire of the Petal Throne
DesignersM. A. R. Barker
  • 1974 (self-published)
  • 1975 (TSR boxed set)
  • 1987 (reprint of 1975 edition)
  • 2005 (Guardians of Order edition)
GenresRole-playing game, fantasy, science fantasy, science fiction

History edit

Origin edit

University of Minnesota professor M. A. R. Barker, a scholar of ancient languages, had spent decades crafting a fantasy world called Tékumel, writing thousands of pages of histories, describing its culture, and even constructing its languages. He served as adviser to the university's wargaming club, where a club-mate and role-playing game player Michael Mornard showed him Dungeons & Dragons.[1] Barker first self-published 50 copies of his own role-playing game, Empire of the Petal Throne in 1974, the same year that Dungeons & Dragons was published.[2] This version is now referred to as "Manuscript edition".[3] "Empire of the Petal Throne" is a synonym for the Tsolyáni Empire in game.

Barker also wrote another game based in Tékumel: a combat-oriented board game, War of Wizards, in 1975.[1]

1975 TSR edition edit

Empire of the Petal Throne influenced Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, who were impressed with the game.[2] Barker made his commercial game-design debut at TSR, Inc., the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons, with Empire of the Petal Throne boxed set in 1975. TSR published Barker's game and setting as a standalone game, rather than as a "supplement" to the original D&D rules.[4]

The game brought a level of detail and quality to the concept of a campaign setting which had previously been unknown in the nascent RPG industry's publications.

The game was the subject of articles in early issues of Dragon magazine, but factors such as inconsistent support from TSR led to its decline in popularity.[citation needed] TSR was locked into a deal that made the financial end of the game unpalatable to them. They had agreed to pay a "finder's fee" on sales in addition to royalties as well as to certain expensive overrides. As a result, the product was more expensive and thus less profitable.

Nightmare Maze of Jigrésh edit

In 1981, Judges Guild acquired the license to publish an EPT adventure,[5]: 296  The Nightmare Maze of Jigrésh,[6] a 16-page booklet written by Michael E. Mayeau, with illustrations by Ken Simpson.[7] In Issue 42 of The Space Gamer, William A. Barton gave a favorable review, saying, "if you have character of at least level 5 in your EPT campaign, and the players aren't the sort who lose interest quickly, The Nightmare Maze of Jigresh may prove to be an interesting change of pace for your Tekumelian excursions."[6]

Later editions edit

Empire of the Petal Throne was reprinted later as a single book by Different Worlds Publications in 1987.[8]

In 2005, the Canadian publisher Guardians of Order produced Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne. The game uses a variation of the Tri-Stat dX system.

In 2015, James Maliszewski launched the fanzine The Excellent Travelling Volume for Empire of the Petal Throne.[9]

Genre edit

Empire of the Petal Throne's setting, Tékumel, used a mixture of fantasy, science fantasy and science fiction backgrounds.[10]

Game design edit

Empire of the Petal Throne introduced the concept of critical hits with a 20-sided die.[citation needed] Using these rules a player who rolls a 20 on a 20-sided die does double the normal damage, and a 20 followed by a 19 or 20 counts as a killing blow. According to M. A. R. Barker, "this simulates the 'lucky hit' on a vital organ".[11]

Reception edit

Rick Mataka reviewed Empire of the Petal Throne in The Space Gamer No. 4 (1976).[12] Mataka commented that "So, if you have enjoyed Dungeons and Dragons in the past, then this is the game of the future. Empire of the Petal Throne is the 'now' game for all fantasy gamers."[12]

In the 1980 book The Complete Book of Wargames, game designer Jon Freeman found that :"This game is incredibly detailed, well thought out, and self-consistent. Although it uses the same basic framework as Dungeons & Dragons, the framework is better presented and put together." Noting that the game was a creation of M.A.R. Barker, Freeman believed "That is both a strength and a weakness: an adventurer can experience something more novel and bizarre than is usually the case in the somewhat predictable fantasy version of the Middle Ages, but there is probably no one other than Barker who can adequately run a campaign." Freeman concluded by giving the game an Overall Evaluation of "Fair game but overpriced."[13]

In his 1990 book The Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games, game critic Rick Swan thought this game "has less value as a game than as a sourcebook ... As a generic fantasy setting, Empire is without peer, a richly developed, exhaustively detailed treatment of a truly alien setting." He also warned "Empire of the Petal Throne is not for beginners, and even experienced referees may have trouble negotiating Professor Barker's dense, scholarly text." Swan concluded by giving this game a rating of 3 out of 4, saying, "The role-playing rules don't amount to much, but the sourcebook material ranks among the hobby's best."[14]

In his 2023 book Monsters, Aliens, and Holes in the Ground, RPG historian Stu Horvath explicitly excluded this game from his timeline of RPG history due to the 2022 revelation regarding Barker's past, stating "I'm not interested in having the work of a neo-Nazi propagandist on my shelves, and I am certainly not going to give space to one in my book."[15]

Other reviews and commentary edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b Ewalt, David M. (2013). Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It. Scribner. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-1-4516-4052-6.
  2. ^ a b "Gamers Mourn "Lost Tolkien" M.A.R. Barker". WIRED. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  3. ^ "Empire of the Petal Throne (Original Manuscript) - M.A.R Barker's World of Tekumel". DriveThruRPG.com. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  4. ^ "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on September 24, 2008. Retrieved August 20, 2005.
  5. ^ Shannon Appelcline (2014). Designers & Dragons: The '70s. Evil Hat Productions. ISBN 978-1-61317-075-5.
  6. ^ a b Barton, William A. (August 1981). "Capsule Reviews". The Space Gamer (42). Steve Jackson Games: 34.
  7. ^ "Judges Guild". Guide du Rôliste Galactique (in French). May 8, 2009. Retrieved May 21, 2021.
  8. ^ "Tékumel - The World of the Petal Throne". Tekumel.com. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
  9. ^ https://www.blackgate.com/2015/03/29/james-maliszewski-launches-the-excellent-travelling-volume/
  10. ^ Appelcline, Shannon (2015). Designers & Dragons: The 70s. p. 295. ISBN 9781613170755.
  11. ^ M. A. R. Barker, Empire of the Petal Throne, p. 32. (1975 edition); p. 34. (1987 edition)
  12. ^ a b Mataka, Rick (1976). "Empire of the Petal Throne: A Review". The Space Gamer (4). Metagaming: 19–20.
  13. ^ Freeman, Jon (1980). The Complete Book of Wargames. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 254–255.
  14. ^ Swan, Rick (1990). The Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 77–78.
  15. ^ Horvath, Stu (2023). Monsters, Aliens, and Holes in the Ground. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. xiv. ISBN 9780262048224.
  16. ^ https://archive.org/details/Computer_and_Video_Games_Issue_0078/page/n89/mode/2up