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.