Gauging by chatter in the rarefied pockets of the gaming ether I tend to visit, there has been a noticeable surge in the past few months of interest in one of my own pet obsessions, Empire of the Petal Throne.
Curiously, that uptick seems less a creature of the traditional hardcore fan-base of M.A.R. Barker's work—the big-tent Tekumel yahoo group remains relatively low volume and seemingly unconcerned with the activity percolating outside it—but by a number of people involved in trying to get back to the “sword-and-planets”, classic-play fun of the original game.
This “radical” exploration (as in the literal meaning of the word: getting back to the roots) of EPT has come on a few fronts. On one-hand you have the somewhat conventional, yet utterly impressive tabletop play evident in our Minnesota friends who recently sponsored an exciting-sounding two-day mini-con of their own.
On the other, you have people exploring whole new dimensions of the setting and rules such as Ix's march toward a Tékumel pre-history space opera mentioned the other day. (Speaking of said blog there is a highly-amusing account of The Drune's own foray into our domain game experiment up today worth checking out.)
Even more radically, you have a number of people posing the question: can I run EPT as a game system minus Barker's planet completely? Some discussion has focused on providing an interesting and appropriate set of rules for a planetary romance homebrew setting that catches many of the same highlights of massive ancient ruins, elaborate exotic cultures, weird alien creatures etc. Indeed one enterprising soul, Mike D. over at Sword+1 blog has already gone as far as to edit down the original rules set into a Tekumel-less system.
While personally I think EPT play would miss a vital spark without that metal-poor, tradition-heavy hothouse of a planet—if running it I would prefer some gonzo tweaks of my own as opposed to canning it altogether—I think they are valuable explorations.
Why? Because as a variant OD&D system that old dinosaur of a game has some simply great rules to futz with as house rules in their own right:
- A magnificent, old-school skill system (that we are using in the worldgame) for both run-of-the-mill vocations and strangely quirky magical, psychic ones for the adventuring classes. (Who doesn't want to play a magic-user that can at first level use a super-yogi skill to hold their breath for hours on end or contort their body in weird ways?)
- An attribute system that replaces some of the character-over-player skill attributes: Wisdom and Charisma.
- Interesting--and deadly--combat mechanics such as the option to choose to have a critical hit simply do double damage or go for broke with some exploding dice action. The damage-by-hit dice system and to-hit modifiers based for high scores in non-traditional, but logical attributes such as Intelligence.
- Domain rules for running fiefs in a non-medieval feudal campaign setting (a weakness of virtually every set of such rules D&D and it's imitators has produced).
- Wonderful guidelines for creating vast Underworlds with “Saturday Night Specials”.
And that is just my annotated list...