Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Professor Barker's Solution

 As everyone reading this no doubt knows, Empire of the Petal Throne is one of the oldest roleplaying games in existence, appearing about a year and half after the publication of OD&D in 1974. Perhaps unsurprisingly, EPT draws heavily on the rules of Dungeons & Dragons, to the point where one might not unreasonably call it a variant. There are differences, however, some of which bear further examination, particularly in light of OD&D's perceived mechanical shortcomings.

A good case in point is EPT's treatment of the warrior class, which is obviously modeled on OD&D's fighting man. As yesterday's post makes clear, there's long been the sense that the fighting man (and his descendants) is underpowered when it comes to damage dealing. Various solutions have been proposed over the years, from AD&D's extra attacks against opponents of less than one hit die to 3e's combat feats, and all have merit. In Empire of the Petal Throne, Professor Barker offers his own solution, one that seems to draw, at least in part, from the OD&D FAQ printed in the Summer 1975 issue of The Strategic Review (itself a worthy topic for discussion).

In section 730 of EPT, this appears:

As you can see, as warriors progress in level, they deal greater damage against opponents of lower hit dice than themselves. This begins at Level IV, when warriors rolls twice damage dice against opponents of one hit die. As the warriors gains additional levels, these bonus damage dice not only increase but expand to include ever more powerful opponents. Thus, a Level VI warrior – of which there is one in my ongoing House of Worms campaign – deals three damage dice against one hit die opponents, as well as two dice against 1+1, 2, and 3 hit dice opponents. From experience, I can tell you that's not insignificant and has played a key role in many combats. 

However, Professor Barker doesn't end there. He also includes a "cleave" rule (or perhaps it's an evolution of Dave Arneson's famous "chop 'til you drop" rule), in which damage above that which successfully killed an opponent "spills over" to other opponents of similar sort in range. Again, I've used this rule in play over the course of the last five and a half years and it's been, if not exactly a game changer, a welcome boost to the warrior's effectiveness. Mind you, the lower overall hit point totals of Empire of the Petal Throne – in keeping with pre-Supplement I OD&D – play a role too, making the warrior significantly more durable than either the priest or the magic-user.

Section 730 includes another wrinkle, however, namely:
Thus, both priests and magic-users benefit from the additional damage dice, just not at the same rate as warriors. Given that those two classes also have poorer combat probabilities – identical to their counterparts in OD&D – their likelihood of landing any blow is less than that of a warrior. Even so, they do deal greater damage in combat as they gain levels, just as a warrior does, which somewhat undermines the warrior's battle prowess. I have been tempted to remove this rule in my own campaign, but it's come up so rarely that it hasn't been an issue (the priest and magic-user characters rarely participate in melee, preferring to hang back and employ spells or magic items safely from a distance instead).

Notice, too, that monsters use the bonus damage dice and do so as if they were warriors. This had a greater impact in the early days of the campaign, when the characters were much more likely to encounter creatures of much higher hit dice than themselves (such as the Nshé the ran into while in Salarvyá). Now, with most of the characters fifth or sixth level, it's a rarer occurrence, though still possible, as Tékumel is home to a great many nasty, high hit dice creatures, some of which can be found on the Achgé Peninsula they currently call home. 


  1. I'd forgotten about this- it's been so long since I red through EPT.

    I like the idea of the table, but I could see my "casual" players forgetting this table, and/or causing slowdowns during combat as I remind them all the time to use it, and what the monsters HD are. I like to keep Combat as fast as possible, and tables are usually detrimental.

    One system I forgot to mention in the Lowly Fighter discussion was the system from Exemplars & Eidolons (Sine Nominee), where all classes have a "fray die" they roll each round when confronting minor/minion opponents (and is in addition to their main attack roll) They do that amount of HD , not HP, in damage. I.E. Roll 1d8, gets a 6, The Fighter just took out 6HD worth of opponents who are less HD than their own Experience level. In E&E, you are playing at the level of Demi-Gods, or John Carter in power- but the system is fast and super fun.

    I've thought about doing something similar in a typical O/TSR D&D game- Fighters have a die that determines either a (lower than E&E) amount of HD of damage to spread among foes in Melee, or the number of HP of damage each foe receives (e,g, That rolled 6, means all foes within melee range take 6 Hit POINTS worth of damage).

    1. Agreed that referencing into an extra table seems fiddly. I like ACKS' solution; fighters get a bonus to damage against all opponents that rises as they level, and they can cleave up to once per round per level (so if they kill a foe, they can make a free attack against another foe). These two things combine to let high level fighters tear through groups of weak foes very easily without need of a table (and increases their killing power against high-HD foes only a little).

    2. I will have to check that system out. I see it mentioned a lot in OSR-dom

  2. What is the difference between a 1+1 HD opponent and a 2 HD one?

    1. It's simply another hit die category, one of very long standing, going all the way back to OD&D but ultimately derived from Chainmail, I believe.