Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blood and Tinkering Under the City Half as Old as the World

The last session of the Jakalla underworld Tuesday Night group was a hoot of a finale.

A garbled case of Tekumelyani “telephone” between Zak S's forked-tongue medium and dead members of the previous ill-fated party boiled over with two players suddenly throwing it down and reaching for their nasty barbed blades. In a flash of a die roll, one killed the other in a mighty chop.

To be sure, there was an in-game context: to get beyond a sealed door they had to commit to a blood sacrifice on the nearby altar of one of Sarku's major aspects, Ku'un the Corpse Lord. And the game rolled on all the same; successfully even with the party (finally) managing a short ten minutes later to pry the steel chime macguffin out of the cold, dead fingers of their predecessors and return to the blisteringly hot sunlight above.

Hopefully you will soon be able to check out the sordid details of that session and others on the upcoming blog clearinghouse of session reports, campaign news, and adventure hooks that co-ref Jeremy Duncan and I are working (more on that later).

Switching gears, much as I love the rules of Empire of the Petal Throne I can't seem to leave well enough alone. I've been trying to think through some house rules that may help smooth over some of the rough edges of our explorations—and, well, my own tastes too.

Experience Points
Experience points for opponents killed are equally shared between surviving characters (not by the character who landed the killing blow as EPT states) at the end of each session no matter the ending point. Characters may only advance in level between sessions however.

Characters will not suffer experience point penalties at higher levels as stated in the rules.

Priests and Magic Users may use any weapon deemed “noble” to their religion by the referee. A battle axe for a priest of Chegárra, for instance, would be wholly appropriate. However due to their lack of combat training, Priests can only inflict 1d6 damage and Magic Users 1d4 damage maximum with any particular weapon.

Warriors may use any weapons. They receive a +1 to hit with any weapon they have a professional skill in.

Character Inheritance
Since starting characters in the campaign are assumed to be high-caste refugees from the same island-nation of the South, Ma'arb, it is entirely possible, nay probable, that replacement PCs would be relatives of the deceased.

Further given the tight, honor-laden proscriptions of that distant land, surviving party members are duty-bound to provide a “fair inheritance” to the new character. What constitutes “fair” is entirely up to the survivors of the previous adventurers, though an amount lower than 30 kaitars times the level of the deceased character is considered to be ill-omened.

Swords & Glory Equipment List
The high crunch of EPT's successor did have some highly useful things including a nice long expanded list of equipment and other things to spend your hard-earned kaitars. I am thinking of adopting this—minus the annoying variable costs and fitted to the lower price range of EPT—for use in the campaign.

Certainly not wed to the above variants—they don't (yet) constitute “Jakalla Sub-Protocol Azure”—but I am interested in hearing what Petal Throne grogs and the players/refs of our little shared pocket universe think. Do these seem workable? What else should we fiddle with, if anything? And for the sake of conversation, what quirky variants have others used in their own EPT campaigns? 


  1. I for one would love to see (and Brett Slocum recommended this to me recently) the spells of S&G and Gard ported over. The Universal could be integrated into "Group One" spells, the Generic could be integrated into "Group Two" spells, and the Temple could be integrated into the "Group Three" spells. Also, this might call for a re-write of the primary skills of a priest or magic user to include "One of Group 1", or "One of Group 1 and One of Group 2" as selections, instead of a short listing of spells you are forced to learn one after another; which still does not sit very well with me as a GM (or a player). But, as you stated as well, "when do I stop tinkering" with O:EPT. I hear that Jeremy Duncan, whom you mention above in other veins, is working (or will very soon be) on a LotFP port of Tekumel. I'd be very keen to see how and if we may include spell listings from the later rule sets back into the basic format of the original, in a cleaned up format. I need to read the above a few more times over before adding anything else... I've jabbered enough.

  2. And after reviewing everything above, yes yes yes and yes :)

  3. @Peter
    Totally agree that a deity-specific list of magic would make for a useful supplement to EPT. It would need some simplification to fit, but it seems possible if a bit labor-intensive.

    (I remember talking to Jeff Dee at NTRPG Con about the headaches he and Manda were having porting it over to their Pocket Universe campaign.)

  4. Yes I totally houseruled EPT, to the point where I contemplated writing an 'Advanced EPT', the game that Swords and Glory might have been had they kept the crunchiness quotient no higher than AD&D's. Not that I've read the rulesy bits of S&G, Gardasiyal, the supposedly cut down version, was enough to put me off.

    My website - has my chief innovation - the OEPT caste skill system, and bits of this related to alien races have appeared in Fight On! Though I never finished all the intended skill tables and some of the ones I did do need rejigging.

    Other things I do is change the combat table so that there is a little progression in hit chance every level rather than a whopping one every three. I also used the Gardasiyal price list, with the prices unchanged so as to make the PCs relatively poorer and hungrier, and on an ad hoc basis I allowed Gardasiyal spells instead of the OEPT bonus spells and messed with the weapons allowable to Priests along the same lines as you did. The weapon limits for priests in OEPT came from D&D and make no sense for most of the Tekumel deities many of which revel in bloodshed.

    I also had a chart explaining damage for magicians who cast while carrying metals, not that anyone was dumb enough to put it to the test.

  5. Regarding - "(I remember talking to Jeff Dee at NTRPG Con about the headaches he and Manda were having porting it over to their Pocket Universe campaign.)". What I ended up doing with an OpenD6 [based on West End Games D6 OGL based open rules] port of Tekumel, was to just assign a base difficulty target number to each level of spells found in S&G / Gard for Universal, Generic or Temple spells. Then, as needed, I just adjusted it behind the scenes on a spell by spell basis if one of them seemed a little too powerful to have only X target. Also I did allow for "levels of effect" similar to the U4, U6, etcetera ratings of varied levels of effect from S&G and Gard. It was strictly on the fly, I would assign levels of a spell based upon the D6 number of DICE you had in the associated magic skill. For example, if you have 4D in Apportation, you would get a certain level of effect for Spell X. Then if you reached a level of 6D, you might get additional effects. Anyhow, I digress... :)

  6. I'm down with all those tweaks with reservations regarding the exp rule. Greyhawk, if I recall correctly, brought in the split xp amoung all surviors rule. The trouble there is you could have a group of ten or 20 people enter a dungeon and only 1 survivor come out. So that survivor would get all the xp and no doubt level up. But if that survivor was just the lucky bloke who really didn't do a whole lot, they probably wouldn't have gotten so many xp if the rest of the group had somehow survived. Anyway, I've been dividing XP earned from killing monsters by all participants in the fight, not just the survivors.

  7. @Barry
    Thanks for the link. Thumbs up on the skill list and I am so going to call you Ksarul's Other Consort from here forward.

    I also used the Gardasiyal price list, with the prices unchanged so as to make the PCs relatively poorer and hungrier.

    Yowsers, there was some serious inflation going in Tsolyanu if you take the successive rules editions as a guide. The price of a dagger in Gard is three times as much as EPT and that seems on the lower end.

  8. Our EPT sessions (I'm a theoretical player in Pete's game) haven't gotten off the ground yet, but my thoughts are that overall I like it.

    On exp, it's all about the playstyle you want to reward. Exp-to-survivors promotes that OD&D, nigh-cowardly, you-go-hit-it-because-I-have-2-hit-points behavior early on.

    OEPT's exp-to-killing-blows promotes warriors rushing in to get that final strike (for glory and fame!) Not that they'll do that, cause low levels is dangerous, man. But the incentive is there.

    I do think that the original approach is particularly fitting from what I know of Tékumel's logic, but I'm cool with either approach.

  9. @DH
    The trouble there is you could have a group of ten or 20 people enter a dungeon and only 1 survivor come out.

    Good point and I may amend it to be something like your scheme. Zak's character was the only starting character to make it through the whole run (Matt's second tagging along for this last session) so not a hypothetical.

    The problem is softened a bit by having the awards done by session rather than adventure (a headache with all the dropping in and out) as I am proposing to do.

  10. @Antion
    you-go-hit-it-because-I-have-2-hit-points behavior
    Umm...right there would be the above-mentioned character of Zak who stands to clean house exp-wise. Though truth be told thanks to telekinesis and flaming oil had a number of killing "blows".

    OEPT's exp-to-killing-blows promotes warriors rushing in to get that final strike.

    I hadn't thought of it in that way.

    I was thinking that the rule felt too rife with potential meta-game abuse. Perhaps there is a better case to made for the rush for glory read on it.

  11. I picture drugged up warriors lounging in the most expensive pleasure houses their recently garnered loot can afford, sneering at each other from across the room over technicalities of who slew which beasts while tittering slave-girls flock to one or the other.

    But then, my Tékumel-fu is pretty weak, so it may not fit. Maybe for higher levels.

  12. I used the D&D convention on XP in EPT as well, but now you point it out, the killing blow bit has its plus points. Bushido used the killing blow rule as it encouraged suitably gung ho Samurai like behaviour, but then Bushido also had different XP gains for magic users and priests who didn't get their hands dirty in combat.

    Depends on your view of Tekumel's warrior culture. Certainly very like samurai in the accent on personal honour, but also with a strong phalanx all in it together Thin Red Line infantry tradition as well.

    Up to the GM how he dishes out XP, personally I give bonuses out for good play whenever I feel the urge, and a Vimuhla worshipping warrior priest charging into a horde of Ssu with his armour on fire is worth a few extras.

  13. @Antion
    Love it, I would go with that--though their present reality is more like trading barbs over rock-hard sleeping pallets in a stench-laden flophouse. But things may be looking up after this current haul.

  14. I started typing a response earlier, but had to get back to work. Anyway, I heartily approve of your houserules and will incorporate them into my own games. As far as the XP award for killing blows, I'd just as soon keep these things abstract, as magic users and priests aren't nearly as likely to jump into the fray (molotov cocktails notwithstanding).

    Re: Magic. So far, that's proving to be the biggest headache. What spells to include? Which to leave out? Go with the model presented in EPT or work out temple-specific lists?

  15. [Second try at this, first attempt got eaten by Chrome or Blogger, or both. Grr.]

    Here are some of my thoughts about what you've presented. Generally speaking, what you've done is very similar to what I've been doing in my Tuesday Night Group here in Madison. Some specifics:

    - Experience points: I've been doing pretty much the same thing you have been doing. That "killing blow" issue might lead to better role-playing, but that's not certain.
    - Weapons: I do much the same as what you have outlined here. I haven't used the different damage done by class, but it makes sense and I will think about using it in my game.
    - Character inheritance: this also makes sense. I don't follow the "Southern Continent barbarians" script closely; characters can be from some distant land, usually unimportant or minor power. But what you've outlined is interesting - you ought to think about writing Ma'arb up as it's own place. There might be material in Deeds of the Ever-Glorious you could use, specifically from the write-up of the Legion of Chulin the Foreigner. Think about it.
    - Equipment lists: I've also been using items from S&G in my game. However, the prices given in EPT are, for all intents and purposes, D&D-ified, and the ones in S&G are averages and approximations at best. The players in my game understand that prices on Tekumel are highly variable, and depend on your relative status and power. How much is the item? Depends - how wealthy are you, and what power do you have? The real problem here is that as Westerners, we're used to fixed prices and fair dealing, which isn't very Tekumelani, at all. Prices really depend on a variety of factors, including your ability to haggle. I don't always game this out, but my players are used to this idea.

    As for spells and the like, I am working on a short adaptation of S&G magic to EPT without having to add much more than the spells themselves.

    Have fun!