campaigns · EPT · Tekumel

Tékumel Thursday 13: EPT Rules Updates-Combat Sequence

Okay, this blog post has been delayed for a day, due to taking my cat Dorian to the vet.  He’s doing much better now, so I can finish this post.  I have also decided to split this post into two posts, because there is just so much to talk about when it comes to combat and Empire of the Petal Throne. 

warriors fighting at night in a Temple courtyard

It is clear that Empire of the Petal Throne is based on Original Dungeons & Dragons.  Unfortunately, OD&D did not have a clear combat sequence.  What was referred to as the “Alternative Combat System” in Book One: Men and Magic was suggested for use if you did not have access to Chainmail — and even then, it was not fully explained.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that EPT’s combat sequence is also not clearly laid out.  Let’s look at this.

Starting with Section 720. Combat, we find this:

“Combat proceeds as follows: first it is determined whether a party has surprised the other or not (and vice versa); this will be further described below.”

But that element of surprise is described in Section 1123. Encounters on Other Types of Land Terrain:

“Surprise: When an encounter occurs, both the party and the being or beings encountered get to roll a 6 sided die (one roll per party). A 1 or 2 on this roll indicates that the other party has been surprised by the encounter. If both parties obtain a 1 or a 2, then neither party is surprised. The party which achieves surprise has the opportunity of acting first: a free ‘surprise blow,’ a chance to turn and flee, an opportunity to organise their ranks, etc., etc.”

What is interesting here is that this is a little different from OD&D, where each party rolls to see if they are surprised, not if they have surprised the other party.  Continuing, we can determine how far apart potential combatants are and how that affects movement out of doors:

“Under normal circumstances, parties sight each other at distances of 30 [to] 240 yards (10 yards = one inch outdoors). Beings which have surprised the party are sighted from 10 to 30 yards, and any being within 10 yards can attack on its next move-segment (i.e. at once).” (Sec. 1123)

…or indoors:

“The party will see creatures of the Underworld at a distance of 20-80 feet (determined by rolling a pair of 4 sided dice), unless they are surprised…. A roll of 1 or 2 indicates that the other has been surprised, which gives the advantage of a free move segment (to attack, run, cast a spell, etc.).” (Sec. 1210)

I will have to look more closely, but the “indoor” distance when surprise takes place is 10 to 30 feet, using Section 1123 as the point of reference.  But the effects of surprise are different from OD&D in another way:

“Once the actions of the surprise round are completed, the SAME party [the party who has surprised the other] has the right to act first on the first regular combat round; only after this is completed does the other party get to strike back.”

This could be very good or very bad for the adventurers who encounter this aspect of the combat system.  

Once the element of surprise has been resolved, then the combat sequence moves to determining initiative.  This is pretty much the same as in OD&D:

“Reaction Time: If there is no surprise (or if both parties surprise one another), then a 6-sided die is thrown by each party. In case of a tie, both parties roll again. The higher score then gets to act first: i.e. “has reaction time” over the other.” (Sec. 720)

What is interesting here is that there is not that much discussion of movement.  Initiative in Chainmail and OD&D allowed the winner to decide who moved first.  It seems to me that this was left as something that did not require further explanation or discussion in EPT.  But, as the preceding quotes have implied, having the initiative allowed for charging, moving, or fleeing, casting spells, etc.  

One place where EPT is different from OD&D involves when magic happens in a combat round, and that is because Tékumel is quite different from D&D in the conception of magic.  In Tékumel, “magic” is a set of mental disciplines which allow for the manipulation of otherplanar energy.  These disciplines became possible after Tékumel entered its pocket dimension, and the “skin of reality” became much thinner, as a result.  Put another way, “magic” in Tékumel is an imitation of how the devices of the Ancients, such as Eyes, operated.

How does this affect combat?  Magic operates instantly.  So the usual sequence found in many versions of D&D, of movement-missiles-magic-melee gets reversed: movement, then magic, then missiles, and then melee.

“If successful, a spell takes effect in the combat round in which it is cast. Thus, if a magic user has the best reaction time (see below) and casts a successful Control Person spell, this takes effect at once, and his opponent has no chance to act.” (Sec. 434)

Once magic use has been resolved, then missile fire takes place.  This is due to the delay time between when an arrow or slingshot is fired, and when it actually hits.  But distance between the attacker and target also plays a role:

“Hits made by bows, crossbows, thrown javelins, etc. are also required to use the tables in Sec. 720. For medium range, use the tables as given. For long range, go UP one level, since it is more difficult to hit a target at a greater distance. For close range, go DOWN one level.” (Sec. 722)

Having resolved surprise, magic, and missile fire, then melee combat can take place.  It is implied by the sections on combat that the winner of initiative conducts all of these actions, and afterwards, the loser conducts all of their actions.  This seems somewhat unwieldy; the initiative winner (“A”) may want to do things that actions of the loser (“B”) might inhibit, counter, or prevent. To me, it seems like conducting movement (A then B), magic (A then B), missiles (A then B), and then melee (A then B) would be a more clear combat sequence.

Once all of these steps have been resolved, the combat round is concluded, and initiative is rolled again for the next combat round.  It is pretty clear that this is similar to but not the same as the combat sequence in OD&D.  But we are not done: variable weapon damage, use of two weapons, dying blows, critical hits, and “instant kills” were also included in EPT, and we will examine them in the next Tékumel Thursday blog entry. 

4 thoughts on “Tékumel Thursday 13: EPT Rules Updates-Combat Sequence

  1. Your revised turn order seems sensible to me – though I probably wouldn’t use the EPT rules anyway. It’s interesting to do this sort of analysis though, because it should shed some light on Prof Barker’s intention of the feel of the setting.

    For instance: Magic becomes *much* more potent when it’s faster than melee and thrown weapons. Which seems reasonable; Tékumel is a higher-magic setting than D+D.

    Also, it appears to me that the D+D turn order came from (1970s) wargames rules, essentially generic medieval-European – and again relatively low magic. Tékumel does not.

    1. Sure – you should use whatever set of rules allows you to adventure in your Tékumel. And you are right – going through this analysis provides a better sense of what Prof. Barker intended for how the game and setting should feel. There is at least ONE specific rule related to combat that is something about which he felt very strongly (and I’ll get to that next week). I have a feeling that there are several rules in EPT which are written as “responses” (of a sort) to various discrepancies and lacunae in OD&D, as well.

  2. Going through the old rules to notice how Professor Barker expected it to be played is of interest. However I have not found folks to play EPT that have access to original D&D rules for the last thirty years. The go to rules have been AD&D since first edition came out in 1980. Or was that 1981? I forget. The big difference came when AD&D moved into personal initiative. I think that was in third edition or what is now called die 20., when a lot more players learned the system. After the surprise round initiative becomes individual. This has quite an impact on the order of melee verse magic. The characters who have the highest dexterity often act first because they get to add to the initiative role. It also means that a single character moves and finishes their action entirely before the next in initiative order does anything, like casting a spell. The amount of time taken for a turn decreased as well. We are expecting people to move less far and be able to accomplish less than the original rules did. The time of a turn is now 6 seconds, movement seldom exceeds 30 feet.

    1. The comparison with OD&D is mostly illustrative. However, the recent popularity of games like Old School Essentials and other retro-clones shows that there are many people who like older styles of play, and who would appreciate the analysis. There’s no one right way to play; play the rules you prefer.

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