Friday, 11 January 2013

Thoughts on running an Empire of the Petal Throne Campaign

I thought I'd share a couple of things I've found useful when handling the complex and Byzantine society of Tsolyanu in my campaign.

The first of these is the Ettiquette skill. These skills would, on the face of things, be some of the most valuable in the ritualised world of Tekumel- as vital as Horse Riding to a Mongol. But really, how often would these be rolled? You buy the skill, assume it's there, and then actual social interactions are made with social skills liek Charm or through roleplaying. So in many campaigns these skills will just sit there and never be used. So what to do with them?

I found the answer to this in mid-game, when one of my PCs said something that was very insulting and grounds for a duel or Shamtla to an NPC of equal status. Clearly this was a problem- either I explain where he went wrong, give a "take back", and do it again; or, the session takes a detour as it suddenly becomes about how this PC has just caused a Matter of Honour.

So I said- "Roll Ettiquette. If you succeed, then you said basically the same thing but phrased it in such a way that the NPC can't take offense."

And just like that, the Ettiquette skill became the "Saving throw vs. Insult". Whenver my players, who are Tekumel newbies, do something that would cause offence, an Ettiquette roll lets them do it without giving a legitimate cause for grievance. Provided it can be spun that way, of course- physically assaulting someone is going to be impossible to justify by any roll. But it keeps things moving in a fun way, and teaches the players about Tsolyani society without making them afraid to act for fear of giving offence.


The second thing I've found to work is a way to cover up the mistakes that I myself make. Tekumel is a very complex setting, and this is my first time running it. So inevitably, there's things that slip through the cracks. I decide on something, then several weeks later- when it's established canon in the player's minds- I realised, this should never have happened that way.

Take the size of the PCs escort, for instance. It seemed perfectly reasonable when I started planning the campaign, but as the importance of Kemuel increased (see my Magic notes earlier on this blog) it occurred to me that he should have an escort from the Temple of Dlamelish or the White Stone Clan sent for him. So why wasn't this happening? Obviously it should have happened. But it hadn't- and now I had to retcon a reason why.

It was clearly some sort of conspiracy.

Tsolyanu is rife with scheming and intrigue at all levels, but it's far too much hard work for a GM to cosntantly plot out all these factions and agendas. However, a GM is going to make mistakes, or forget things- so when this happens, between sessions he works out whose doing that is. Work out what should have happened, compare it to what did happen, and then invent a conspiracy that explains the disparity.

In the case of my campaign, the High Priestess of Urmish was another loose end. She was the one who'd identified Kemuel's potential, but I didn't want such a powerful ally for the PCs in Urmish. So she had to go. No escort, no High Priestess- there's a war of assassins going on!

Both the High Priestess in Urmish and the Priestess sent from Sokatis to escort Kemuel have been done away with by the warring factions within Dlamelish's Temple. The Heretics had an agent passing through Urmish who uncovered the truth about Tsodlan and sabotaged the High Priestess' youth-restoring magics. Suddenly aged and senile, she was ritually slain by the Priestesses and a replacement- who hadn't been told of Kemuel- appointed. The agent of the Heretics went back to Sokatis to report, then was returning to escort Kemuel when agents of the Temple in Jakalla captured her. She didn't reveal the existence of Kemuel before the Temple finished with questioning her and used her as a demon sacrifice.

So, my mistake has suddenly turned into a dangerous game of intrigue and espionage which the PCs are walking blindly into. This, I feel, is good advice for any Tekumel GM- if you realise you've made a mistake, then invent a plot that's responsible. It doesn't have to be a far-reaching as this- it could be just a few low-level officials or guards extorting a handful of Kaitars. But when a mistake is made, try to put it aside until the end of the session, and then work out why this really happened!


  1. Excellent use of Etiquette. It keeps things moving, it subtly instructs the players, and they still might fail the roll, providing more concrete instruction.

    I *love* your idea for filling in the GM's missing knowledge by creating conspiracies when you discover you've made a mistake. And it's completely wonderful to create conspiracies within conspiracies in Tsolyani society.

    I don't have the lack of knowledge, but I'm still going to use this technique to up the conspiracy in my campaign. Between-session analysis of what's gone on.

  2. Agreed on the Etiquette. Nice. I will steal that.