Sunday, February 23, 2014

Spellcasting in Empire of the Petal Throne

IN ARCHIMAGO'S CELL – The evil dream (by H. J. Ford)

In a previous post, I briefly discussed spellcasting in Empire of the Petal Throne ; however, I think that a more thorough explanation is warranted in order to address certain misconceptions.

Jon Peterson's Playing at the World is an exhaustive volume chronicling the evolution of role-playing games.  However, nothing is perfect.  Commenting on Empire of the Petal Throne, Peterson states on page 521:
The magic system, in contrast to Dungeons & Dragons, allows casters to select from a flat list of spells – spells do not have tiers like in Dungeons & Dragons, and thus a first-level priest can just as easily select “Cure Light Wounds” as they could “Revivify”...
The accuracy of this statement is wanting.

There are two sources of spells:  'Professional Skills' and 'Bonus Spells'.

Each of the three classes has a distinct list of professional skills.  For warriors, the professional skills regard weapon use (e.g., slinger, bowman, spearman, et al.).  Most of the 'skills' in the priest and magic user lists are actually spells.  In fact, 'cure light wounds' and 'revivify' both appear on the priest list.  However, first-level characters do not have access to all of their profession's list of skills.  Percentile dice are rolled to determine how many professional skills any given first-level character may have.  A roll of 1-20 means, “Choose any 2 skills from the first 3.” A roll of 96-100 means, “Choose 5 from the first 7.”  'Revivify' is the eleventh 'skill' on the priest list; therefore, it is not available at first level.  The list is not flat.

Upon advancing to a higher level, a character obtains a new 'skill' from the appropriate list “with the least advanced skill being mandatorily chosen first.”  So, a character with the 'Choose 5 from the first 7' result gets five professional skills at first level.  When that character advances to second level, she gets the 'earliest' skill on the list among those she does not possess.  Such a character cannot get the eighth skill on the list until she has all of the preceding seven skills.  Seventh is the earliest level at which a priest may gain 'revivify', and that would only be for the 5% who have a '5 from 7' result.  Characters with the '2 from 3' result would have to wait until tenth level.

Aside from professional skills, priests and magic users have access to bonus spells which “are divided into three Groups of increasing importance.”  (I posit that “groups of increasing importance” could be referred to as “tiers” without undue strain upon the definition of “tier.”)  The 43 Bonus spells are the same for priests and magic users.  Thus the professional skills serve to provide specific abilities to priests and magic users of certain amounts of accomplishment while bonus spells allow for a diverse repertoire among individual spellcasters.  For instance, 'The Grey Hand' may only be cast by high-level magic users, but 'Door Control' may be cast by priests or magic users as early as second level.

When a priest or magic users attains a new level of experience, there is a chance that the character will learn one or more bonus spells.  There is a 'Level of Experience and Percentile Dice Score Needed' table with five rows:
  • One spell of Group I
  • One spell of Group II
  • One Group I and one Group II spell
  • One spell of Group III
  • One Group II and one Group III spell
The indexed columns represent experience levels.  The second level column shows 'One spell of Group I' at 80% and 'One spell of Group II' at 90%.  The rules state that per level, “A person rolls only ONCE for this privilege [of gaining a bonus spell].”  So, upon reaching second level, does a character choose to attempt getting either the Group I spell or the Group II spell?  Or, instead, is there an 80% chance of gaining a Group I spell as well as a 90% chance of getting a Group II spell?  If the latter, it's possible for a fifth level character to gain as many as three spells from Group II and two spells each from Groups I and III.  Of course, it's also possible that the character won't get any bonus spells at a given level.  Regardless, the chances change as the experience level increases.  At 10th level, the chance of 'One spell of Group I' is 5% and 'One spell of Group III' is 30%.

If a character gains a spell from a group, any spell from that group may be chosen.  Each bonus spell can be used once per day; however, it is possible to take the same spell multiple times, thereby permitting multiple castings.

Spellcasting is not automatically successful.  For a 1st level spellcaster, there is only a 40% chance that any given spell will be successfully cast.  Starting at level nine, there is no chance of failure.  A greater than average Psychic Ability affords bonuses to the chance of success.

Among the Group I spells is 'The Hands of Krá the Mighty':  “This spell grapples and squeezes its victim.”  Was this the inspiration for the Bigby spells?


  1. I think you're right that I need to amend that example, actually, and in this case I suspect I genuinely mistook how the system works (perhaps because the pre-pub edition text I studied in Section 430 is a bit less clear than the published version). You can't literally choose Revivify as a starting character, agreed. So, the list in not flat.

    However, having read your text above and squinted at both the pre-pub and TSR editions of EPT, I'm less convinced that these constraints in EPT constitute "tiers like in Dungeons & Dragons." D&D sorts spells into quantified buckets, and even the "Groups" of the bonus spells (which I wasn't referring to there) don't strike me as analogous. But there's probably a way I could phrase that sentence which won't call the question, as it were.

    By the by, I think this is really the first time since the book came out that someone else has pointed out something I'd consider a substantive error on a point of system (a few other people have found typos, say). So, kudos. It'll go on my fix list for the 3rd printing.

    1. Your work is commendable and a single error does not mar your accomplishment.

      Although you were not referring to ‘bonus spells’ in the quote I posted, those spells represent a significant part of Barker’s magic system. I realize that an extensive analysis of the game is impractical for your book, but if you are to mention the magic system at all, I feel that the bonus spells should not be overlooked. Neither the bonus spells nor the ‘professional skills’ have tiers “like in Dungeons & Dragons,” but there is a progression – more powerful spells are reserved for higher experience levels. In my opinion, the distinction is meager and may not be worth noting (as opposed to other differences between the two games).

      BTW, I don’t know much about publishing, but I think that 20 gp for your book is rather excessive.

  2. Somebody has developed a big head over their book. Dude, one error in your whole book, and you go all, "Well, looking at it, it is not that big of an error." Admit it rather than trying to rationalize/minimalize it. Or else Perdy will taunt you a second time.


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