Empire of the Petal Throne

TSR First Edition Empire of the Petal Throne


For me, and I suspect for many people, it was this game that launched a lifelong fascination with the world of Tékumel. I still remember the chill that ran up my spine when as a high school student I started to read the exotic and detailed Empire of the Petal Throne rulebook. The detailed languages, the references to imagined literature, and the complex religious iconography of the world of Tekumel were not only baroque and different, but also fully thought out and largely internally consistent.

In Borges’s story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” the narrator finds the eleventh volume of an encyclopedia describing an unknown country of Uqbar in an unknown world of Tlön. The existence of the 11th volume implied the existence of the entire encyclopedia, and, surely, the existence of Uqbar and Tlön. The detail of Tekumel gives the same frisson of seeing a veil pulled back from another reality. In the Borges story, in accord with idealist philosophy, the very idea of Uqbar leads to the reality and Uqbar artifacts begin to appear here and there. I await the discovery of a Llyáni inscription.

Self-published Edition (1974)


(Image taken from PDF version)

Though Barker said his first rules set simplified the Tékumel universe, the detailed Empire of the Petal Throne served as the foundation for later works. Barker had begun developing his world as a child, but the first detailed Tékumel gaming item is his self-published rules manuscript, which was distributed to members of his science fiction circle and “wargaming” group in Minneapolis.  (War of Wizards predated Empire of the Petal Throne but had just a few details of the world.)  According to one source, Barker produced only 50 physical copies of this first manuscript, which is now available in PDF.  One of Barker’s players later recollected that even fewer copies were made: “20 at most.” This green cover edition was produced in two stapled loose-leaf volumes with a total of 108 pages.  The hand-lettered Tsolyani on the front cover says “Kolumébabàr hiTirikéludàlidàlisa” (“The Empire of the Great and Powerful Petal Throne.”)

There has been some debate about when this edition was produced. Barker became acquainted with the Dungeons and Dragons system via Mike Mornard, who began to attend college at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in Fall 1973.  Mornard attended the Conflict Simulation Association, a student organization for which Barker was the faculty advisor.  Mornard ran a D&D game at the association and, according to one story, Barker once complained about an implausible storyline.  Mornard, according to this account, told Barker that if he didn’t like the current rules of Dungeons and Dragons, then Barker could develop his own game.  Supposedly Barker took the dare and quickly adapted the system to Tékumel after reading the Dungeons and Dragons rules. According to members of Barker’s gaming group, Barker later recalled writing the manuscript in “Spring” of 1974, but other sources have dated the document to August.


(Image from Tekumel Foundation blog)

One bit of internal evidence supports the Spring date: the Professor’s personal copy of Dungeons and Dragons is signed and dated February 19, 1974.  If he quickly produced the manuscript after getting Dungeons and Dragons, then that would have been in Spring. (One mystery is why Barker wrote “786” in Urdu above his signature.)


  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: Self-published.
  • Versions: Original only – later reproduced in PDF.
  • Date: In dispute as described above (sometime in 1974).
  • Artists: NA.
  • Stock number: NA.
  • Components: Two sequentially numbered volumes with a total of 108 pages. Stapled loose-leaf (Volume 1: 50 pages and Volume 2: 58 pages).
  • Size: 8.5″ x 11″.
  • Original Price: NA.
  • Number published. Uncertain: One unsubstantiated account says 50; another says <20.
  • Rarity: Extremely rare.
  • Value: No known recent sales.

Collecting Notes:  A true holy grail.  Given that the PDF version is available, I would want to document the provenance of any copy offered for sale.

Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) Edition (1975, 1977)

The TSR edition of Empire of the Petal Throne was the second commercially produced Tékumel product (War of Wizards slightly predated Empire of the Petal Throne). TSR Editor Gary Gygax wrote in the foreword that Empire of the Petal Throne was “the most beautifully done fantasy game ever created.” The TSR edition was printed in three printings. The first printing in 1975 had a blank box bottom and the inside back cover of the rulebook was blank. The first printing also included a sheet of text briefly explaining Tékumel. The second printing in 1977 had text and an illustration on the box bottom and the inside back cover includes a TSR product list.  A third printing is identical to the second except that the printing on the back of the box includes only text and no image. In the third printing, the one-page description sheet includes an image, however (as if the printer had reversed the back of the box and the summary sheet).  The first printing is slightly different in size from the second and third.  Anecdotally, my copies of the second printing are slightly different in color from the first printing: the colors in the box top are more saturated in the first edition and the background more brilliant white compared to the ivory of the second edition.

EPT Box Bottom 2

Second Printing Box Bottom


Long side of the Box


Short Side of the Box (1)


Short side of the Box (2) — Patch Press took over professional printing for TSR as the company grew out of Gary Gygax’s basement.


Rulebook Cover


Player Aid (first of four pages)


The supplementary sheet included with first printing.


Part of Jakálla Map


Part of Eastern Map


Part of Western Map

Though some sources list a 1976 printing date for the second printing, the TSR product list on the inside back cover advertises the Monster Manual, which was released in 1977.


  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: Tactical Studies Rules.
  • Versions: Three printings as described above.
  • Date: 1975 (first printing), 1977 (second and third printing).
  • Artists: M.A.R. Barker, Karen J. Englesen, David Sutherland.
  • Stock number: 1005.
  • Components: One spiral plastic bound rules booklet (i-v and 1-114), three full color maps, four-page player aid, and two percentile dice (not pictured — it’s very rare to find a copy with original dice). The first printing included a sheet with a short text description, which presumably could have been inserted on the bottom underneath any shrinkwrap applied at the shop (I remember my copy was not shrink wrapped though).
  • Size: First printing box size: 281mm x 229mm; Second and third printing box size 284mm x 233mm.
  • Original Price: $25.00 (TSR’s house journal Strategic Review also offered a $5.00 off coupon for the new product).
  • Number published. Not certain but some sources say that the usual print run for TSR for this type of product at this time would have been 1000 copies, which would mean 3000 copies were produced.
  • Rarity: Rare, but copies periodically turn up on eBay.
  • Value:
    • April 4, 2015: $214.49 (eBay) A beautiful 3rd printing with no split corners and everything looking immaculate.
    • January 15, 2015: $78.50 (eBay) looked to be a complete copy in good shape but the binding had been neatly removed from the rulebook.
    • Dec 10, 2014: $152.50 (eBay) Nice first printing with one split bottom box corner.
    • November 14, 2014:  $100.00 (eBay) with damaged box and some pencil writing in rulebook.

Collecting Notes: This version is now 40 years old and true VF+ copies are rare.  Split box corners are common.  Copies in great shape can command premium prices.  The two printings are similar but I’d say the first printing is (slightly) more valuable as a collectible item because the color seems better and it lacks the tacky TSR advertisement.  Note the version differences above; sometimes you’ll find components have been mixed and matched to fill out an incomplete copy.  I have seen copies advertised as “in shrink” but I do not believe the original was sold in shrink.  I have also been sold a copy with maps that were not original.  Compare the darker, less crisp graphics in the picture below.

Two Jakalla Maps

Two Jakálla Maps

GameScience Edition (1983)

GameScience Version

GameScience Version

Barker became dissatisfied with TSR’s support of the Tékumel world and starting in 1978 turned to other publishers. GameScience published a new edition of Empire of the Petal Throne in 1983. The claim on the cover that the new version was “the complete, unabridged original edition with no deletions or revisions” was false. Some of the illustrations by Donald Sutherland and Karen J. Englesen were deleted or reduced in size and some of the chapter dividers and blank pages in the TSR version were also deleted.

An inside page in the front matter plugs the Swords and Glory Sourcebook published by GameScience in 1983, and mentions the upcoming players’ handbook (published in 1984) and “referee book” (never published). Gary Gygax’s foreword is moved to the back cover and a list of Tékumel products available from The Tékumel Journal and Adventure Games is on the inside back cover. Finally, the copyright holder is now listed as M.A.R. Barker rather than TSR. The booklet came with a black and white reprint of the Jakálla map (only).


  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: GameScience.
  • Versions: One printing.
  • Date: 1983.
  • Artists: M.A.R. Barker, Karen J. Englesen, David Sutherland.
  • Stock number: GS 10331.
  • Components: One rulebook (unnumbered front matter and 1-96) and a black and white map of Jakálla (not pictured above).
  • Size: 273mm (10.75″) x 210mm (8.25”).
  • Original Price:
  • Number published. Unknown.
  • Rarity: Very rare (? see below).
  • Value: No recent sales.

Collecting Notes: I believe this version to be very rare. Few are now seen for sale. At the time, GameScience and Barker were focused on Swords and Glory rather than Empire of the Petal Throne, which might have limited the number produced, though this is just my speculation. However, the relatively unattractive production dampens the attractiveness to a collector.  In all copies I have seen, the glued cover has separated from the stapled interior pages..

Different Worlds Edition (1987)

Different Worlds Version

Different Worlds Version

I do not know the details of Barker’s relationship with Different Worlds, which published several Tékumel products. Dave Arneson wrote a new foreword for this version, though Gygax’s original foreword is also included. The content of the original is slightly reorganized as in the GameScience Edition.   A brown and black map of Jakálla is included as a two page insert. Two advertising inserts from Different Worlds are also included. The nice color cover includes the “M.A.R. Barker Seal of Approval” on the back.


  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: Different Worlds.
  • Versions: One printing.
  • Date: 1987.
  • Artists: M.A.R. Barker, Karen J. Englesen, David Sutherland.
  • Stock number: DWP-1000.
  • Components: One rulebook (1-112).
  • Size: 278mm x 215mm.
  • Original Price:
  • Number published: Unknown.
  • Rarity: Not very rare.
  • Value: Feb 18, 2015 $29.99 (eBay), Dec 22, 2014 $24.09 (eBay)

Collecting Notes: This item often turns up on eBay and it is easy to find one in nice condition.

Tita’s House of Games Edition (2000)


I don’t own this. A thumbnail of the color cover looks attractive. Carl Brodt published this from 2000-2012.  Interestingly, Carl sold his version for the same price as the original TSR version published 25 years earlier.


  • Author: M.A.R. Barker.
  • Publisher: Tita’s House of Games.
  • Versions: One printing.
  • Date: 2000.
  • Artists: M.A.R. Barker, Karen J. Englesen, David Sutherland.
  • Stock number: NA.
  • Components: One rulebook.
  • Size: ?
  • Original Price: $24.95.
  • Number published: Unknown.
  • Rarity: Not rare.
  • Value: $24.95.