If you don’t know who Jeff Dee is, you probably don’t go that far back in the gaming hobby. Jeff was one of the earliest illustrators of the fledgling Dungeons and Dragons hobby, when he was a teenager, back in the gaming heyday of the late 70s and early 80s. His illustrations have graced a lot of lore over the years. Rulebooks, Monster Manuals, Deities and Demigods. If this drawing stirs a pang of memory, you know who Jeff Dee is.
Anyway, Jeff worked on D&D as his primary gig, but there was another contender for early roleplaying game back in the day, namely EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE, set on the very strange planet of Tekumel. If that’s familiar, that’s the game I’ve been playing courtesy of Rich McKee, for at little over a year now, on Monday nights. Jeff Dee also did many illustrations for that game back when it was being published by TSR, and afterward:
Jeff has been tinkering with the Empire of The Petal Throne universe since its inception and has his own rule set, Bethorm. Bethorm has been described as a more straightforward, streamlined version of Empire of the Petal Throne– with a greater emphasis on Clan and Temple, and perhaps it is. We played a game online last Sunday from 4 to approximately 8PM. Much of that time was spent introducing concepts and going over character creation. It seemed harder to create a Bethorm character than an EPT one, but I don’t do it every day of the week, either. Jeff Dee was very efficient in how he managed new players, and drove the character generation with a very complex Google Sheet:
Characters are heavily invested in Clan Rank and Status, to the point where it will impact game play (and isn’t just sort of window dressing for roleplay). Skills are built with points, they can be influenced by bonuses and faults.. I had a gigantism feature feature which gave Visargya lots of strength and hit points, but I had to pay for them in faults. So I made my guy have a terrible temper and a speech impediment.
After all this character gen, we had to complete a mission for a certain Duke of Katalal. He is disturbed about the predations of a group of tomb robbers desecrating tombs all over Katalal. Our mission was simple. Find these guys and exterminate them. And here we go…
We were running late by the time we ended up actually getting into combat to actually test the mechanics of combat. It went pretty well. I made a few bad rolls but we went into overdrive once we got into the big room. I killed two with an assist. We called it right after the last bandit was mercy killed.
Reactions? I really liked it.. not because I truly believe it’s more streamlined than the original game of Empire of the Petal Throne that we play every Monday. However, I did really enjoy the character building process– it seemed far more in depth than the original rules. It gave me the bones of a narrative to work with, because each game is essentially a story being told, bit by bit. I was impressed enough to purchase a copy of Bethorm from DriveThruRPG.
I enjoyed it very much and hope to play it again.