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A Contrast of Fantasy Africana D&D Settings

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
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Hello everyone. I just recently completed a Let's Read of Nyambe: African Adventures here in this very forum. But it was not the only product of its kind that I reviewed. Last year I reviewed Southlands, and I first reviewed Spears of the Dawn nearly half a decade before that. When rereading Nyambe I could see how this book's elements went on to influence the other two, in addition to the existing myth and folklore of the inspired continent.


Review Link.
General Pitch: A Dungeons & Dragons continent modeled off of medieval African kingdoms with a healthy dose of Yoruba and Vodoun theology.
System: 3rd Edition D&D
Strengths: Has a novel religion and blends it well with the setting and mechanics, a neat alternate feat-based Rogue class, lots of new player-facing material, showcases alternative equipment common to the region
Weaknesses: Lacks an overarching foe of the other titles, has a "big-picture" focus on the setting which provides scant detail on the nitty-gritty, is relatively light on traditional "dungeons," 3.0 system has not aged well
Closest Video Game Equivalent: That old-school RPG which was novel and set precedent for future games of its ilk, but is clearly dated in the game mechanics department.


Review Link.
General Pitch: A high magic blend of Medieval Africa, Ancient Egypt, and Arabian Nights.
System: Pathfinder 1e & 5th Edition D&D (supplementary conversions)
Strengths: Uses the most popular tabletop systems on the market, has a great level of detail for countries and cities alike, a distinct high fantasy flair makes you feel like you're playing in a mythical setting
Weaknesses: Some elements, such as the Mharoti Empire's invasion, require the main Midgard sourcebook to understand. Is Pathfinder by default, so will need to buy the 5e conversion supplements and bestiaries to convert the mechanics.
Closest Video Game Equivalent: Early Final Fantasy or any JRPG with "collect the magic stone" MacGuffins


Review Link.
General Pitch: Fantasy Africa Monster Hunters fighting remnants of an undead kingdom and other threats.
System: Customized OSR/Stars Without Number hack
Strengths: Mechanics and setting were built from the ground up in a complementary fashion rather than one being bolted onto the other. Fighters get unique moves and talents unlike other OSR martials, there's a lot of material to ease the burden of sandbox GMing. A lot of the rules are minimalist and easy to reference.
Weaknesses: Although more intuitive than Thac0, the AC system is a bit novel for unfamiliar players. The Kingdom conflict mini-game is more complicated than it's worth and certain narrative options it creates don't make sense.
Closest Video Game Equivalent: Dragon Age Origins & the Witcher (thematically), Elder Scrolls (open world emphasis)


Each of these RPGs provide something different in both themes and mechanics. Spears' and Nyambe's Ancient Egyptian analogues are long-dead civilizations, but in Southlands they're thriving. Spears of the Dawn is perhaps the most down to Earth and 'gritty' given that the OSR system is bereft of the power-scaling of 3.X/Pathfinder and to a lesser extent 5th Edition.

I've also noticed some similarities among the three. All of them have a powerful rainforest kingdom, all of them authoritarian. Nyambe's is not exactly run by evil people (barring one adventure hook), whereas Southlands and Spears put them in the role of tyrannical magocracy. The association of spiritual possession and masks shows up in Nyambe and Spears of the Dawn as their own classification of magic items. All three have plains-dwelling warrior societies, each based upon a different culture. Nyambe's Shombe derive inspiration from the Masaai, Southlands' Narumbeki the Zulu, and the Kirsi the Songhai Empire (famed for their cavalry). The three settings also have regions or areas with unequal gender rules, in some cases explicit and others implied, although adventurers have the good fortune to break free of their society's expectations. Finally, Southlands' and Nyambe's continents have regular contact and trade with the rest of the world, both mostly from Fantasy counterpart Middle Eastern and Chinese/Japanese cultures. Spears of the Dawn's setting is surrounded by mountains and an ocean to the west, effectively isolating it.

Other D&D Africa Settings:

Here are ones I found but have not reviewed but noticed for being significant in some way. With the exception of Scarlet Brotherhood (which I have not read) I cannot recommend them as much on account that they do not match the breadth and respectfulness of the above three. Svimohzia breaks off from the "Darkest Africa" trope and details a setting not unlike the ones I reviewed, but it has so much problematic material that its bad points weigh down the rest of the setting.

Svimohzia: the Ancient Isle: Kingdoms of Kalamar's regional sourcebook for their Counterpart Sub-Saharan African kingdoms

Tomb of Annihilation: This 5th Edition megaventure details the environs of Chult, Faerun's "Darkest Africa" region.

The Scarlet Brotherhood: A 2nd Edition sourcebook, one of this book's chapters goes into detail on Hepmonaland, a hybrid South America/Africa continent of the Greyhawk setting.

Pathfinder: Heart of the Jungle: A Pathfinder RPG sourcebook detailing Golarion's "Darkest Africa" region.
 

PdO

Registered User
Validated User
I remember a book called Æsheba: Greek Africa, which rpg.net tells me was published in 1987. I don't remember much about it. I think it was about an Africa that had been colonized and adopted ancient greek culture.
 

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
What's wrong with the Svimozhia book?
A big Content Warning for discussion of sexual assault and pedophilia, among other things.

Quite a bit, actually. I should note that a good portion is inoffensive overviews of local history, customs, religions, and such. But the material that's bad kept popping up that they couldn't be brushed off as lone exceptions.

To start, we have a write-up of the major human ethnic groups and where the other races fit in (KoK is super humanocentric barring hobgoblins). Whereas the various human ethnicities are more or less neutral, we have the write-up of the Dejy, who I believe are a sort of pan-ethnic group representing all manner of nomadic and indigenous people from Bedouin Arabs to indigenous Americans. The Dejy of Svimohzia are quite literally savage jungle dwellers with all the negative Darkest Africa tropes. Some tribes are described as barely sapient, others believe that all spellcasters are evil, some practice cannibalism of outside intruders, and other things which would make it hard for them to join a typical adventuring PC party. You actually need special DM permission to play as one, unlike the other human ethnicities:

One Example Tribe said:
Simay: The Ahznoms believe these dark brown-skinned, easternmost tribes to be barbaric, if not cannibalistic, and they are not far from wrong. Left in their natural condition, they have sunk to the lowest depths and degrees of barbarism, dimly groping in a world of mental and moral obscurity. Strength is their most prized attribute, but without the honor prized by hobgoblins. What a Simay wants, he takes. Personal property is personal only so long as it can be defended. Even one's body is not their own, for the Simay feel no shame about eating the flesh of other humans. Perhaps their one redeeming feature is that they only eat humans when no other options are present.
The setting makes heavy use of sexual assault, particularly of women (an exception is called out when ogres rape "even some young men" in one raid). The various histories and characters feature rape as a backstory or setting background such as soldiers in occupied territories or abuse of slaves.

The first country Meznamish is pretty much a declining empire which was temporarily ruled by an evil theocracy, which caused it to adapt freedom of religion when the populace looked back and said "we're never having this happen again." The country is meant to simulate a realm which can and has risen to greatness, but many problems and the trearchery of merchants and nobles have worn it down. The historical and noble house entries have all the worst aspects of a Game of Thrones episode with all that entails. I've encountered at least 2 instances of mentally disabled noble scions who are described in...less than kind terms. This is not just a way of saying someone's stupid: they're given mannerisms which reflect genuine disability:

Merely thirteen years of age, Mozvin was a drooling incompetent who lacked the ability to rule the empire, even with the return of the legions (badly weakened by the ravages of jungle fighting). The houses, fearing a revolt from the duchies, elected Onsar to be the boy’s steward and chief advisor. Soon, Onsar eradicated all visible traces of the Church of the Endless Night, and reestablished order in the name of Miznoh’s last heir. Two years later, Mozvin "the Daft" succumbed to his crippling birth defects.
The firstborn of Warven II, Warven III (N aristocrat 1) is an idiot who passes his days half-aware and in blissful ignorance, having been born without the intellect or grace of his younger brother. To preserve the integrity of the family line, Warven II named his younger son heir, thereby passing over the elder for the far more competent younger child. Still, the king favors his eldest son and spends most of his free time with the fool. Warven III looks very much like a younger version of his father, though without his shrewd eyes and confidence. The young prince frequently moans and shudders, rocking back and forth, and uttering small yelping noises.

Warven III lives in Monam-Ahnozh with his elder brother and his father.
There's also a high priestess who while having dark skin, was born with blonde hair and blue eyes and thus the locals view her as having a divine bloodline/chosen by the gods/special mark due to this:

When Hava was born, over 40 years ago, it was clear she received the goddess’ blessing. Her head of beautiful blond curls and incredible blue eyes impelled her pious parents to immerse her in the Courts of Justice, where she could learn the catechism of their faith. It seemed her parents were not the only ones who believed there was a divine hand in her birth; the Courts of Justice lauded her as a living symbol of Svishozh the True’s blessing upon Meznamish.
The lord of the third country, the Kingdom of Ozhvinmish, is racist against elves and is passing all sorts of laws to make them as miserable as possible, up and even including hoping they flee the country or get killed off and has even stated as such publicly in order to help deal with an unrelated refugee crisis ("they can fill in the labor void of the elves"). And the reason for his bigotry?

Shahn’s hatred for elves stems from his adolescence, when he became obsessed with an elf maiden from the Svomawhom Forest. He pined for her, and when she and her family came to the capital to trade, he watched her from afar. Finally, when she reached age 13, he approached the girl, professed his love and demanded she consent to wed him. She rebuffed him publicly, unaware or uncaring of his station, to the derision of the onlookers. Shahn was mortified and fled to his home.

Since the rejection, he spends less and less time in Ashoshani, paranoid of the laughter of his people, even though no one recalls the occurrence. When he assumed the throne, his shame and self-loathing drove him to hate elves, though they had long been allies with the duchy and lived in harmony with them for the past three centuries. With each measure the king passes, the more estranged the elven people become, and they move to the outlying regions of the nation to escape the persecution of the king.
Although a teenager wanting to date a pre-teen is still creepy (inferred by her "finally" reaching age 13), I did a quick looksee in the Kingdoms of Kalamar Player's Guide to the Sovereign Lands (their main setting sourcebook for 3.5) to find out how different elves were in the setting. Looking at the age entry, they aged the same as in the 3.5 Player's Handbook. Meaning that 110 in elf years is 15 in human years.

The racist king wanted to fuck a toddler.

And get this: his listed alignment is Neutral Good.

I also saw one of their Prestige Classes, which is so lacking in self-awareness and respectability that it makes even WotC's Tomb of Annihilation look tasteful in comparison.



It's the Primal Warrior, where you have a special relationship with spirits to the point that your primary feature is to polymorph into various kinds of simians as you level up, from lemurs to Dire Apes...

...In a Fantasy Africa campaign setting.

The book read off as someone using edgelordy tropes to make things "realistic" which is one of KoK's selling points, but in several cases displayed a lack of self-awareness or respect in how the material could come off to readers from disenfranchised backgrounds. Besides the racist overtones of the Dejy and the Primal Warrior class, we have ableism in two NPC writes-up and Aryanesque eye and hair features viewed by the native Svimohzians as "divine."
 
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Davies

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It's the Primal Warrior, where you have a special relationship with spirits to the point that your primary feature is to polymorph into various kinds of simians as you level up, from lemurs to Dire Apes...
I've a hunch I know what they were going for here, but while it's not as "are you kidding" as you suggest, it's not all that good either -- it's a version of the DC comics hero Congorilla.
 

baakyocalder

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Yeah, the Vicelord stuff is super-creepy. It's part of a world that's pretty crapsack. . .

The Dejy of Svimozhia are indeed portrayed as more savage than other Dejy. The elves of the Vohven Jungle, the same jungle as the Dejy, aren't nice either. Of course, the Obasek Jungle near Kalamar isn't a nice place, either. There's just more humanoids and the usual sparse details on the Dejy for the Obasek.

Primal Warrior is much like the Animalist class in the Adventurer's Guide to Pixie-Fairies, though that book is broader in the animal options. Might be an attempt to emulate some aspects of Tarzan or other jungle lords.

This is based off memory (except for the pixie-fairie book since I have that in PDF), as my Svimozhia book was loaned out over a year ago when a player was making an Azhomani character and has not been returned.

So, a content warning is probably in order for the book.
 

VoidDrifter

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Frankly? This does not surprise me at all. Kingdoms of Kalamar literally sold itself on being the Darker and Edgier Greyhawk; just like the HackMaster ruleset it was ultimately built to support, it's basically an exaggeration and not-entirely-friendly parody of Gygax and AD&D 1st edition. That it has the "unfortunate implications" is, in all honesty, probably deliberate; it's the exact kind of edgy-yet-juvenile "humor" the entire setting has always sold itself on.

Honestly? I would be morbidly fascinated by a thread breaking down KoK's Unfortunate Implications as a whole, especially since TVTropes' stringent rules on the trope means it'll never be acknowledged there.

That said, I honestly suspect that the Primal Warrior is supposed to be an homage to Tarzan, and I think High Priestess Hava is actually a reference to Ororo Monroe, aka Storm of the X-Men.
 
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