Knight in tarnished armor
Once upon a time, there was a guy named Kevin Crawford. He designed role-playing games of the old-school variety, namely Dungeons & Dragons retroclones and supplements. He was hanging out on an RPG message board when the topic of racial diversity in games came up, and he heard the familiar mantra "That doesn't sell!" repeated. "Gamers aren't interested in fantasy Africa, they just want European and Asian (namely Japanese) stuff!" This irked Crawford, a lot, and so he decided to hedge a $3,000 bet. He bet that not only could he design a cool Fantasy Counterpart Africa RPG drawing inspiration from authentic myths, folklore, and history, but that it would be popular. To that end he buried himself in several months worth of game design and research on the continent in medieval times, hired a bunch of talented artists (whose work he released into the public domain with their consent to provide inspiration to others), organized a Kickstarter for funding, all to make a superb RPG.
And he succeeded. Not only did Spears of the Dawn get a lot of rave reviews and managed to avoid the more racist and stereotypical "unga bunga land" portrayals earlier work engaged in, it became one of the hottest-selling D&D retroclones on Drive-Thru RPG last year. The whole "fantastic adventure in an untamed land" phrase is sort of unfortunate to me, as it conjures up specific imagery which is largely inaccurate of the setting inside. There are definitely lots of ruins to explore and tiny isolated villages, but there are also great nations inspired by the real-world empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai which built grand palaces and possess the knowledge of metallurgy, an order of Paladin-esque Sunriders who defend the common folk from evil humans and monsters, and mighty sorcerers and clerics who have the king's ear and can decide the fate of entire communities. The setting's about as "advanced" as most D&D settings are.
Spears of the Dawn derives its ruleset from Stars Without Number, another retroclone designed by Kevin Crawford, which in turn derives inspiration from the Frank Mentzer-written version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons. It adopts plenty of classic tropes, from the 6 ability scores to saving throws, although its classes, magic, weapons, monsters, and more take on the trappings of African folklore and legends. There are many varieties of sapient supernatural species, although only humans are a playable option (who in turn gain different starting skills based on their background).
As for the classes, there is the Griot (pronounced "GREE-oh"), bards and historians whose songs and orations are so good they might as well be magic; the Marabout (pronounced "MAHR-ah-boo"), priests who have a special connection with spirits and gods and can work their magic in this world by gaining their favor; the Nganga (pronounced "GAHN-gah"), people born with the ability to manipulate ashe, the fundamental potency of existence, which gives heat to fire, hardness to stone, and cunningness to the wise among other things; and the Warrior, those who do not rely upon magic or the griot's songs to perform feats of heroism. In addition to being the hardiest and most-skilled of the classes, warriors gain access to idahuns, or "replies," special abilities which the warrior has mastered to use against foes. Yes, fighters have class features nobody else gets or can easily replicate in Spears of the Dawn (and I'm not talking about piddly stuff like Weapon Specialization)!
The game also incorporates a skill system, unlike much of its fellow old-school brethren. It lies somewhere in between the complexity of 3rd Edition's fiddlyness and the "say what you want to do, DM sets the DC" minimalism of most OSR games.
In times long past the kingdom of Deshur warred against the Nyalan Empire. Out of sheer desperation, the Deshurite King turned to evil magic to turn the tide of war, and in turn doomed his own people to unending unlife. The Eternal, as they became known, were little more than undead monsters who cut an orgy of destruction across the Three Lands. Were it not for an alliance of the five major nations, they might have even been victorious, but mighty heroes with the help of the nation's armies organized resistance against them.
It has been forty years since the Eternal were driven back into the inhospitable black sands of the east, but remnants of their soldiers and sorcerers still lie in fortified underground strongholds and tombs, biding their time and striking out against those too foolish or unknowing that tread too closely. The past is forgotten as the five kingdoms remember old disputes and sever alliances, as border quarrels deniable incidents sprout up along their borders. Whether it's tyrannical nobles, bandits and monsters lurking in the wilderness, the troubles of the Three Lands seem beyond the reach of even its kings and queens.
It is a time of trouble, but there is still hope. In addition to wandering adventurers who slay monsters plaguing villages, spiritual leaders who call upon spirits to aid the sick, and sorcerers who break the curses of their evil brethren, there are the Spears of the Dawn. An organization formed by the last Nyalan emperor to fight the Eternal, these men and women come from all nations and walks of life to travel wherever they're most needed and wipe out the undead remnants. Today they are on hard times, no longer officially supported by any kingdom and often little more than wandering adventures. It is expected that the Player Characters number among the members of this heroic order.
Adventurers getting ready to explore an Eternal tomb.
It might be odd to end my first post on the introduction, but the first chapter of character creation covers a lot of ground which I believe is served better in its own section. Hopefully I've whet your appetite regarding this RPG to look forward to more updates!
Next time, Chapter One, Part One: Ability Scores, Homeland and Backgrounds, and Classes!