Empire of the Petal Throne

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For the game produced by Guardians of Order, see Tékumel: 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, which was published in 1975 by TSR, Inc. It was one of the first tabletop role-playing games, along with Dungeons & Dragons.


David M. Ewalt, in his book Of Dice and Men, described how University of Minnesota professor M. A. R. Barker "made his game-design debut at TSR. A scholar of ancient languages, Barker 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, and after Michael Mornard showed him Dungeons & Dragons, Barker wrote two games based in Tékumel: a role-playing game, Empire of the Petal Throne, and a combat-oriented board game, War of Wizards."[1] Barker first self-published his game in 1974, the same year that Dungeons & Dragons was published.[2] In 1975, Tactical Studies Rules, Inc., the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons, published Barker's roleplaying game and setting as a standalone game under the title of The Empire of the Petal Throne (a synonym for the Tsolyáni Empire), rather than as a "supplement" to the original D&D rules.[3] 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. It could be considered a qualitative reimagining, less heavily entrenched in the tactical mass-combat, wargaming roots of D&D. The game was the subject of articles in early issues of Dragon Magazine, but factors led to its decline in popularity, including inconsistent support from TSR. Over the subsequent thirty years, several new games were published based on the Tékumel setting, but 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.

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.

Empire of the Petal Throne was first published in 1975 as a boxed set by TSR, Inc. and reprinted later as a single book by Different Worlds Publications in 1987.[4]

Empire of the Petal Throne introduced the concept of critical hits.[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."[5]


  1. ^ Ewalt, David M. (2013). Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It. Scribner. p. 99-100. ISBN 978-1-4516-4052-6. 
  2. ^ https://www.wired.com/2012/03/lost-tolkien-m-a-r-barker/
  3. ^ "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04. Retrieved 2005-08-20. 
  4. ^ "Tékumel - The World of the Petal Throne". Tekumel.com. Retrieved 2012-03-16. 
  5. ^ M.A.R. Barker, Empire of the Petal Throne, p34.