Monday, February 7, 2011

Synthetic 75


Imagine an Underworld where the monsters are undead mutated space aliens with nearly unpronounceable, heavily accented names, where unfortunate magicians can accidentally encyst themselves nearly 50 miles underground, where the priests of terrible inter-dimensional demons wear weird Klytus-like metal masks, and where you're still sort of playing D & D…

This is my VISION for Synthetic 75 Science Fantasy Retro Roleplaying, a mash up of (what I consider) the best from the hottest RPGs of 1975, Dungeons & Dragons (with maybe a dash of Greyhawk and a pinch of Blackmoor…they were both out in 1975) and Prof. M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne. Certainly none of those tired demons or whack psionics from Supplement III -we can do better than that (...and Eldritch Wizardry wasn't released until '76 so it doesn't exist anyway). As we are reminded by the minds behind Zalchis, Rob “Bat in the Attic” Conley said it best, "… the Old School Renaissance is not about playing a particular set of rules in a particular way, the dungeon crawl. It about going back to the roots of our hobby and see what we could do differently. What avenues were not explored because of the commercial and personal interests of the game designers of the time."

I'm not intending to write Synthetic 75, at least not now, but it's at the core of HUMANSPACE EMPIRES, the Dying Earth Retro RPG and AOS (all of which I am actually working on…believe it or not).

Clearly the ghost of EPT 1975 is haunting the OSR blogosphere. Mike D. of Sword +1 recently released Swords of Abandon a draft player's handbook of rules for for 1975 Empire of the Petal Throne without the references to EPT, essentially a clone of the EPT rules. The most recent version can be found here. Reading Mike’s excellent treatment of EPT minus Tekumel reminded me of what I already knew.

I don't want to play 1975 EPT without Tekumel and it's not just that I'd terribly miss Tekumel (although I would)…no…in any 1975 setting I want the best bits of EPT mixed into my D & D.

What’s that? Someone is not familiar with Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne?

EPT was, as far as I know, the second copyrighted role playing game, released one year after the publication of D & D in 1975. Mechanically, the games were very similar, Professor Barker, creator of the exotic and intricate pulp science fantasy world of Tekumel, grafted his creation onto the [headless] body of Dungeons & Dragons. The greatest difference between the EPT and D & D was that EPT was designed for play in a specific, incredible world, Tekumel.

…but, for now, we are interested in the system.

EPT retained the concepts of random generation of attributes for characters; however a few of the attributes differed from those in D & D and the attributes were generated with d100. EPT retained character classes and levels; the three classes were Warrior, Magician, and Priest. EPT included the first iteration of a skills system and characters were randomly allotted various background skills often suggestive of their trade, avocations or occupations in their youth (e.g. hunter, sailor, slaver or poet). Professional skills were allotted on the basis of the character's class, weapons and military skills for Warriors, spells for Magicians and languages and spells for Priests. 

The magic system in EPT, while essentially Vancian and not too far removed from D & D, included a chance of spell failure, greater access to spells by lower level magic-users, and the option to attempt casting relatively powerful spells at low level with a greater chance of failure, sometimes with terrible results. The EPT skills system was very understated, many skills included no real resolution mechanics, others required rolling on the spell failure table.

Much of EPT was virtually indistinguishable from D & D; the combat mechanics, experience system, monster stats, encounter tables, treasure tables, etc.. The combat system did include several revolutionary advances for the time, perhaps the most significant being critical damage.

I may go into greater detail in subsequent posts about the similarities and differences between EPT and D & D and which parts of each game will roll into the Synthetic 75 system.  Briefly I don't really like using percentile dice for character generation and prefer the 3d6 in order method. I do prefer the EPT attributes; although this is a minor change. I certainly want the EPT skill and magic systems in Synthetic 75 (although again I would prefer these to not be percentile based).

This last heresy may; however, result in Synthetic 75 lacking very close compatibility with D & D and the most popular retro-clones, although the greatest differences would be limited to the spell casters.

I have no idea if anyone else would ever want to play using the Synthetic 75 system, but if I can pull it together by April I'll inflict it on some players, most likely on Planet Aos.


  1. This compare/contrast D&D and EPT thing is a great idea and something I'd like to read about. Synthetic 75 sounds like something I'd be totally down with as well.

  2. Remind me to send you some working notes on converting EPT to a more OD&D footing. I converted the percentiles for instance to a 3-18 range.

  3. I am interested in seeing what you come up with too.

  4. Ooooooh, sounds cool. As much as I like O-EPT, I realize that introducing it to those familiar with D&D would be difficult. Synthetic 75 might be the means to introduce Tekumel to "new" players who play OD&D, but with not as much of a re-learning curve.

  5. Off-topic, could I ask you to check the most recent comments under the D1 post at the Expanse? It's going wiki and we'd like to copy your comment across.

  6. A Holy Grail of captchas!


  7. @ GGmilk I had considered doing a series of posts going through EPT 75 cover to cover but more in depth comparison of the games might be more edifying. Thanks for the interest.

    @ ckutalik I'd be interested in seeing these notes...

    @ Mike D. Thanks for the interest too. Swords of Abandon has actually made this project easier btw so thanks for putting that together.

    @ Schoolmaster I never thought of using this for classic Tekumel play; though it seems so obvious...very interesting.

    @ Porky...I've looked at the most recent comments on the d1 and the wiki seems like a great idea to me.

  8. Great. Are you happy for your comment to be used and credited? It was absolutely key of course, a cornerstone for what came later.

  9. Synthetic 75 might be a great way to address those other 700+ worlds that got dropped into their own pocket universes...

  10. @ Porky Ha ha...yes I'm fine with the comment. Seriously, the original post left me wondering for hours. I would have participated more but I have limited capacity for deep philosophizing. I think I burned out those brain cells reading too much Foucault and Baudrillard back in the 90s...

    @ Netherworks Excellent observation. I've long been curious about those 700 odd worlds.

  11. I always thought that the Professor may have been wrong to not just issue EPT as a series of special D&D supplements - that way a lot more people would have bought them and the setting might have reached the critical mass level of interest which it never came close of attaining in any of its subsequent iterations.

    Having said this the one thing I can't imagine not having is the weird and wonderful spell list from Swords and Glory and Gardasiyal (where every spell name is pure distilled Tekumel) - and every attempt I've ever made to adapt the game to another rule system (Pendragon, RuneQuest, Warhammer FRP, HeroQuest) has always foundered on precisely that point.


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