Technically speaking Empire of the Petal Throne by M.A.R. Barker is a current game in print due to the machinations of the Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne Foundation. The set of rules that I'm going to be talking about today is the original Dungeons & Dragons Style rules set. If you wanna use Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne setting elements in your favorite rpg table top rules set then The Tekumel Sourcebook - Swords & Glory Vol. 1 for the classic material is the route to go.
The world of the five empires is a complex cultural painting completely different from the high fantasy worlds of Dungeons & Dragons. Tékumel is a setting created from within the fertile imagination of MAR Barker. Its vastly different from the original Dungeons & Dragons settings of Greyhawk & Blackmoor. How this is a quasi Middle Eastern, Indian, Mayan settings & locations with ancient science fantasy overtones. The whole setting makes it clear that at any moment your player's PC's could be sacrificed, murdered, etc. in terrifying different realms of dungeons & ruins. Even though this game uses the familiar character generation, classes, etc. as original Dungeons & Dragons, EMP is vastly different because of its language, principles, & don't get me started on the cultures of the game. M.A.R. Barker was a brilliant weaver of tales, creator of setting, & definer of his world. Those who get invested are in for a ride.
For original Dungeons & Dragons players & DM's the trade cities provide a fertile place where you can plunk down your player's PCs. Adventuring means citizenship with lots of minor advantages. Within moments of plunking down in town PC's might wander into trouble or vast ruins that make the Undermount look like a pile of rubble. EMP is a mix of urban & dungeon crawl with lots of monsters not seen by the average Dungeons & Dragons players. They will learn to fear the smell of cinnamon there are vast numbers of alien races, weird creatures, robotic lifeforms & other strangeness left over in the depths of the underworld. Their waiting to say hi & murder your adventurers.
The Empire of The Petal Throne Rpg review on Drivethrurpg by Brit B. brings up a very important point with reference to the monsters;"Simple but striking black & white illustrations are frequent, which is good since I’m pretty sure you don’t know what a Pé Chói is, but you will soon. Each monster has about a paragraph of description for inspiration and a basic stat block. There’s a hex map of the main country along with ungridded maps of the main city, Jakálla, and the five empires to get you started. It is old school in my favorite sense, they give you the basics and let you run with it."
Its the sense of flavor that melts like candied Middle Eastern wax of imagination from the annals of Empire of the Petal Throne. Jakálla has such setting flavor for me as a trade city that it reeks of spices, intrigue, incense, & adventure oozing through the cracks of its flag stones. Sorcerers & priests around every corner with their own sinister agendas.
A word on combat, this is a 1975 game & the combat is a lethal affair with players expecting a high mortality rate. The game is more tool kit then actual whole cloth game that modern gamers might not be used to. Expect to die in unexpected & sinister ways of mayhem with monsters & NPC 's involved. Everything you need is contained within this book, so get those character sheets ready! Jakálla or one of the many other trade cities await your PC's! Do I think that Empire of the Petal Throne is fantastic? Yes I do but this is the rules set that I grew up with & so there's a bit of nostalgia on my part. Is it perfect? Not by a long chalk folks but for me & many others its a fantastic entry & exit point for the world, setting, & game of the Petal Throne.
So why haven't I reviewed Jeff Dee's Bethorm: the Plane of Tekumel RPG from Uni games? Well that's a separate review completely coming up.