Imagine it’s 1975, and you tell some friend of yours how excited you are to be playing this game called Dungeons and Dragons. You get to be an elf!
“Cool!” she says, “tell me about the syntax of the local languages. What do people eat and how do they dress? What happened 60,000 years ago? Can you play weird stuff? My character is a radially symmetric four legged garbage can called an Ahoggyá!”
She is playing Empire of the Petal Throne, the life-long fever dream of a South Asia Studies professor and his rabid fans, and it is, perhaps, the strangest and coolest thing to ever hit a roleplaying table. The elegance and complexity of its setting make D&D seem pretty bland - its closest comparison is the suffocating edifice that is Glorantha, but Glorantha doesn’t read like the acid ramblings of someone who teaches Urdu for a living and is really, really into Mesoamerica, conlangs and Weird Tales magazine. I have never played Empire of the Petal Throne and never will, but I definitely admire the depth of world-building and sheer audacity of it.
If you are curious about it, there’s a great Bundle of Holding that will set you up.