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Tabletop Game / Empire of the Petal Throne

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A highly non-Standard fantasy game created by M. A. R.note  Barker. It was first officially published in 1975, making it one of the earliest Tabletop Roleplaying Games — and exceptionally unconventional for its time. However, the rules are clearly based on early versions of Dungeons & Dragons; it’s the setting that is so unusual.

The setting in question is the Science Fantasy world of Tékumel, home of the Tsolyani Empire and several other civilizations, both human and not. Incidentally, one or two other games have been set there in the time since EPT was published, and Professor Barker set a few novels there.


This work contains examples of:

  • After the End: Multiple ends actually, including the "Latter Times" (sometime after the "Time of Darkness" when Tékumel dropped into a pocket dimension nearly 50,000 years ago), to the more current (5,000 or so years ago) collapse of the worldwide empire of Engsvan Hla Ganga.
  • Aliens Never Invented the Wheel: Actually, humans forgot about the wheel for the most part, in their decline from technological civilization to agrarian culture. They have the wheel, but they have nothing like a horse for wheeled vehicles, and lost the idea for the bicycle.
  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Only because the ancient settlers made Tékumel that way, installing gravity generators, suppressing the native life forms, and cultivating various reserves. The reserves later mingled, after a great disaster, averting the Single-Biome Planet.
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  • Apocalypse How: Tékumel has survived unorthodox planetary destruction (dropped into a pocket dimension) and multiple societal collapses.
  • Barbarian Tribe: The N’lüss people of the far north.
  • Beard of Barbarism: The N’lüss are noteworthy for their beards.
  • Bizarre Alien Sexes: All over the place. Shén, Tinalíya, and Pygmy Folk have three genders, while the Hlüss and Ssú have hive-like arrangements. The Ahoggyá are rumored to have eight genders, and nobody knows how they reproduce.
  • Blind Seer: Arsála hiChagotlékka, one of Prince Mirusíya's advisors, deliberately blinded herself to enhance her ability to perceive magical energies.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The aliens have, well, alien morality systems, and the humans have various group-oriented moral systems that are not at all modern Western.
  • Born Under the Sail: The Chíma and the Nóm.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Technological civilization on Tekumel collapsed tens of thousands of years before the "present" of the game world and the novels, yet it's not unusual for ancient artifacts to still be operational (this includes equipment which has been in continuous use, such as a few "aircars" and the planet-spanning subterranean transportation system).
  • Child Eater: The Shén eat their weakest offspring.
  • Civil War: Fratricidal warfare breaks out within the Imperium after Emperor Hirkáne Tlakotáni dies and his son Prince Dhich'uné illegitimately seizes the throne.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Most magic artifacts (called "Eyes") actually are objects of highly advanced technology, of which all memories have been lost in a cataclysm.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The Tsolyáni like displaying of social status and affiliation visually, and each of the gods in their pantheon is associated with a color, or combination of colors. Likewise, each of the Five Empires has its own heraldic color (the Tsolyáni Imperium uses blue, Yán Kór uses green, Mu’ugalavyá uses red, etc.)
  • Conlang: This universe has some of the first examples, the most developed by far being Tsolyáni, the others being Yán Koryáni, Livyáni, Engsvanyáli and Sunúz. There are grammar books for all of them, and Tsolyáni even has a dictionary and a pronunciation guide. Barker developed Tékumel for basically the same reasons Tolkien did: to build a language around. The results (there are several) are a combination of conversion and original.
    • Eternal English: Completely averted. English is the dead language of a long-dead culture.
    • Language Drift: The setting has changed over tens of thousands of years, and drift applies.
    • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Tsolyani, at least, tends to flowery language and titles, including 27 forms of the pronoun "you".
  • The Conqueror: Baron Áld united the city-states and petty principalities of Yán Kór.
  • Culture Chop Suey: See Mayincatec below.
  • Deal with the Devil: Prince Dhich’uné makes a pact with the Goddess of the Pale Bone, one of the "Pariah Deities"
  • Deep Cover Agent: The minions of the Goddess of the Pale Bone
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: This setting was built on averting contemporary western fantasy's distorted outlook on history and the wider world. So much so, that the customs and traditions expressed, while based on real-world examples, are so seldom found it most works of modern fantasy, it comes off as alien to new players.
  • The Emperor: Tsolyanu is a hereditary monarchy, ruled over by an emperor (or empress). By ancient tradition, however, the emperor lives in near-absolute seclusion in the Golden Tower of Avanthar, accompanied only by his wives and a special group of deaf-mute servants/guards, the Servitors of Silence.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: Marriages and family structure gets complicated to new players. Each kingdom differs, but for the most part, the clans follow a polygamous Iroquois kinship in which one's paternal uncles and maternal aunts, and all of their spouses, are treated as your parents (including calling them "Father" or "Mother"), and all their children are also your siblings. Despite how complicated this all sounds, everyone knows who one's biological mother is, and usually one's father. As clans are highly communal and massive, responsibility for raising children fall on the whole clan, and as such, vary few people grow-up unwanted and unloved.
  • Family Honor: The Clan means everything in the Five Kingdoms. So much so, that implying that someone on is "clanless" would get you killed and it would be seen as justified. The clan is your home, your family, your community, your workplace, your connection, your security, and your boss. Being cast out of one's clan is seen as a fate worse than death — you are lower than a slave in the eyes of society.
  • Fantasy Contraception: Women who do not wish to conceive chew "Lisutl root"
  • Fantasy World Map: (Subverted) The inhabitants of the Tsolyani Imperium and the rest of the Five Empires do not use maps. Geographic regions as represented with three-dimensional objects called "map-stones," sculpted according to the conventions of the science known as "High Cartography."
  • Festering Fungus: Fungi (and fungal infections) are definitely a problem in the steamy swamp-encircled city of Penóm, on Tsolyánu's southern coast.
  • Friendly Zombie: Many of the worshippers of Sarku are reanimated as slow-moving dimly-conscious zombie-like beings called "M'rur." Most "live" peacefully in the catacombs underneath Sarku's temples, emerging now and then during religious ceremonies to visit the living, particularly their descendants.
  • Formal Full Array of Cutlery: Dining at the governor's palace in the distant land of Mihállu is nightmarishly complicated.
  • Gender Is No Object: Normally, women in the Tsolyani Imperium are restricted to playing domestic roles, but they are free to declare themselves "Aridani," thus becoming legally male, with all the rights and liabilities associated with that status (they can own property, hold public office, and join the military, but they also can become indebted, can be taken to court, and are fully subject to the Imperium's unforgiving legal system).
  • Hidden Backup Prince: In every generation, some of the princes and princesses of the prolific Tsolyani royal family are given to high-status clans and important temples to be raised (sometimes they know about their royal heritage, but sometimes it's kept secret). Succession is determined through a ritualized, but still quite lethal, "tournament," and this tradition is thought to prevent the royal family from degenerating through isolation and complacency, and to ensure a strong capable heir will always win the throne.
  • Hive Caste System: The insect-like Hlüss, one of Tékumel's native intelligent species
  • Holy City: There are several such places in the Five Empires. The best example is probably the City of Sárku, within the Tsolyani Imperium.
  • Horse of a Different Color: Averted, as there are no riding animals. There are draft animals, the chlen, and small pack animals, the hma, though.
  • Hostile Terraforming: The native races of the planet still bear an understandable grudge over what humanity did to the place.
  • Human Resources: The nomadic tribes of Milumanayá's Desert of Signs are so impoverished that they put every part of a human body to good use (the flesh is eaten, the skin tanned, the hair is spun into cord, the bones are made into tools, and so forth). Under extreme circumstances, a tribesman many even volunteer to be put to death to ensure the rest of the group has the materials it needs (such as a volunteer is called "one who serves").
  • I Know Your True Name: Supplement The Book of Ebon Bindings. Each sapient being (including humans, deities and demons) has a secret Name of Power. It is possible to gain control over any such being except one of the gods using its Name of Power. Lesser beings use their Name of Power to petition their deity and enter into pacts with beings more powerful than themselves. Calling out a being's Name of Power draws its attention, and doing so with a demon's Name of Power can allow it to leave its place in the Planes Beyond and enter Tékumel.
  • Illegal Religion: Religious toleration is the norm in the Tsolyani Imperium, but the worship of the three "Pariah Deities" (the Goddess of the Pale Bone, the One Other, and the One Who Is) is strictly forbidden.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Impalement is the standard form of capital punishment in the Tsolyani Imperium (and there are many, many capital crimes).
  • Literal-Minded: The Tinalíya
  • Lizard Folk: The Shén
  • Lost Technology: Tékumel is riddled with devices from the Time of Darkness and the Latter Times that are just barely comprehensible to modern Tékumelani, including an underground antigravity car system.
  • Mayincatec: The whole setting is a blend of Mesoamerican, Indian, Mogul, Chinese, and certain African cultures.
  • Metal-Poor Planet: Metal is rare. See Organic Technology, below.
  • Mighty Whitey: (Subverted) The setting goes out of its way to keep players form braking the setting with "white savior" characters so common in pulp fantasy. Anyone with fair skin would be looked upon like an Albino, who are seen as freaks of nature. Anyone with oddly-colored hair or eyes would be seen as wicked, untrustworthy, and "cursed by the gods." The views of western civilization are so alien to the people of Tékumel, that such a person would be dismissed as insane, or killed outright for being an affront for the natural order of things.
  • Multicultural Alien Planet: Multicultural and multiple alien species, although humans are generally dominant.
  • National Geographic Nudity: Modesty is not a thing on Tékumel, nor is nudity in any way affiliated with sex. Clothing is more of a costume that denotes your clan and social status, as well as job, rank, religious or political affiliation, and so on, that you wear outside of one's clan house, otherwise people are home nudists.
  • Noble Fugitive: Prince Nakkulan, Emperor Hirkáne Tlakotáni's brother, fled from Tsolyánu and ended up living incognito among the nomadic inhabitants of the Desert of Signs, in Mu’ugalavyá.
  • Nom de Guerre: General Moicha hiTlea, the Vimuhla-worshiping commander of the Legion of the Lord of Red Devastation, goes by "Karin Missum," which means "Red Death."
  • Order Versus Chaos: Or, in this case, Stability and Change, with attendant parallel pantheons, and not necessarily at odds.
  • Organic Technology: Of a sort. Metal is rare, but the chlen sheds its skin regularly, and the skin can then be chemically processed and shaped into a leather as hard as bronze, including armor and hand weapons.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: Some of the creatures on Tékumel are Expies of standard fantasy role-play monsters, but they are distinctly different from your average D&D hack-ups.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: The monsters and other creatures are a hash chili of Earth creatures, genetically engineered Earth animals, alien creatures, native species, and possibly extradimensional creatures, all to some extent evolved over tens of thousands of years of history and adaptation. Some are friendly, some are neutral, some are hostile, some are animals, others intelligent, and most are exotic. No elves, dwarves, gnomes, goblins, trolls, or other standard Western fantasy creatures.
  • Our Wights Are Different: Those worshippers of Sarku who distinguish themselves in life (particularly soldiers and magicians) may be reanimated as undead beings called "Shedra." Although obviously withered, they retain most of the strength, intelligence, speed, and coordination they had when they were alive (unlike the slower zombie-like "M'rur"). They can heal injuries by consuming fresh human flesh.
  • Pocket Dimension: The whole solar system dropped into a pocket dimension eons ago.
  • Psychic Powers: How magic is justified. The psychic powers of humans are juiced by contact or near proximity of superpowerful beings from Another Dimension.
  • The Right of a Superior Species: Humans are the ones who did this when they invaded Tékumel. The native Ssu and Hluss were living together in peace, and had about the kind of technology that we have now in Real Life. Humans had developed far a more advanced starfaring civilization, so "obviously" the Tékumelani species were inferior. Humans had no problem allying peacefully with other advanced starfaring species, but they terraformed the hell out of Tékumel, rearranged its orbit and even gravity, and tried their best to genocide the "primitive" natives. It's even noted that the other starfaring races wouldn't have bothered invading at all, if humans hadn't spearheaded the project.
  • Sacred Language: Most of the temples of Tsolyánu have languages for liturgy and/or religious scholarship. The worshippers of the "Pariah Gods," likewise, have secret languages of their own.
  • Science Fantasy: The combination of a far-future setting, lashings of Clarke's Third Law, Psychic Powers labelled as magic, actual gods, and general weirdness makes this a non-standard fantasy setting with some Science Fiction underpinnings.
  • Secret Police: Tsolyanu has the Omnipotent Azure Legion. Livyanu (a compulsively secretive and totalitarian theocracy) has the dreaded Vru'uneb. Mu’ugalavya has the Company of Mourners in Sable.
  • Sex Is Good: The people of Tékumel have a sex-positive outlook on life. They do not bats an eye towards adultery, nor teenagers running back and forth between the boy's and girl's dorms. Much of this is due to the wide use of herbal contraceptives.
  • Speak of the Devil: Supplement Book of Ebon Bindings. Calling out a being's Name of Power (I Know Your True Name) draws its attention. Doing so with a demon's Name of Power can allow it to leave its place in the Planes Beyond and enter the world of Tékumel.
  • Super Weapon: Baron Áld's "Weapon Without Answer"
  • Tentacled Terror: Blue-water ocean voyaging is discouraged by (among other things) the existence of huge tentacled predators called "Akho" (otherwise known as "Embracers of Ships").
  • The Stars Are Going Out: Actually, the stars went out thousands of years ago. There were stars, but now only the local sun and the planets, because the system fell into a pocket universe.
  • Terraform: Humanity made some (relatively minor) adjustments to the planet to make it habitable for themselves. The locals naturally took this as a Hostile act.
  • The Theocracy: Livyánu is completely controlled by the priesthoods of the Shadow Gods. The temples of the Tsolyáni Imperium itself also wield considerable political power, but they are constrained by the aristocratic clans, the Imperial bureaucracy, and the military.
  • The Undead: The worshipers of Sarku ("The Five-Headed Lord of Worms") are rewarded for their piety and devoted service with eternal "life" as undead beings. While most Tsolyani people consider the worship of Sarku strange and unpleasant, his cult is well-known, widespread, and legal.
  • Uplifted Animal: The Ancients genetically engineered dogs to create bipedal creatures called "Renyu" with opposable thumbs, near-human intelligence, and the ability to speak.
  • Vast Bureaucracy: Tsolyánu, Mu’ugalavyá and Livyánu are (in differing ways) all quite bureaucratic. Salarvyyá's bureaucracy is limited by chronic feudal Balkanization. Yán Kór is much too young and de-centralized to have a large bureaucracy, but Baron Áld is actively fostering its development.
  • War God: The Tsolyani are an unrepentantly warlike people, so there are several such gods in the Imperium's pantheon: Karakan ("The Lord of War, the Master of Heroes") and Chegarra ("The Hero-King, the Swordsman of Glory") play this role for "stability" side of the pantheon, while Vimuhla ("The Lord of Fire, the Power of Destruction and Red Ruin") and Chiteng ("The Lord of Red-Spouting Flame, the Drinker of Blood and the Reaper of Cities") play this role for its "change" side. Almost all of the Tsolyani deities, however, have martial aspects.
  • Warrior Prince: Princes Eselné and Mirusíya.
  • When Dimensions Collide: The Pocket Dimension of the setting collided with another universe, with otherdimensional beings, resulting in some humans gaining Psychic Powers, and religions based on limited human understanding of the more powerful creatures.

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