[Let's Read] Spears of the Dawn

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
Chapter Seven: A Bestiary of the Three Lands


This is the section of the book detailing not just sample monsters, but rules to create your own adversaries and creatures for campaigns. Like many OSR games, monsters and NPCs abide by different rules than PCs. While they share common traits such as hit points and hit dice, Armor Class, and attack and damage modifiers, they have a more simplified way of doing things. All NPCs and monsters roll d8 for hit dice (the lack of bonus hit points for Consitution is balanced out by the d8); they have a singular Save category which applies to all saving throw-related effects instead of 5 different ones. They have a skill single modifier (ranging from +1 to +4) which applies to things the creature would be skilled at. Finally, we have a Morale ranging from 5-12. A 2d6 is rolled whenever the monster suffers fear effects, the tide of battle turns against them, or similar things; a lower result than the score causes the monster to flee or rout. Naturally, some monsters have Morale 12 (fearless fanatics, mindless creatues, etc) and fight to the death.

And finally, monsters and NPCs might have unique abilities, or limited or even full spellcasting potential.

For example, here's a stat block for the Eloko:

1 Eloko: AC 6, Move 20’, HD 3, Atk +5/1d6x2 claws, Save 14+,
Morale 8, Skill +2, bells chime as a Nkisi of the Deadened Mind
Short, sweet, simple.

The following page has three sample tables for creating new creatures. The first table divides game stats into rows based upon the monster's role: a Fast Chaser might have a 60' movement (twice as fast as a normal human)and 4 Hit Dice, while a Brutish Meat Slab might have only 20' but 7 Hit Dice. The second and third tables determine typical behavior in combat (loves false retreats, panicked by fire or magic, etc) and special abilities (Leadership grants +2 to attack and morale to allies, etc), both determined by a d20 roll. Of course, you can choose an appropriate feature instead (and the book tells you this).

I really like this monster creation method; the math values for hit dice, saves, etc is in line with the rest of the manual, so it should be consistent.

Creatures of the Three Lands


There are 26 separate entries for monsters and human NPCs in this section, not including variants under the same general entry (such as vipers and pythons which have their own stat blocks under "Snake"). In addition to mundane animals, the bestiary borrows heavily from African folklore instead of rehashing common D&D creatures.

As there are so many creatures, I'm going to give one or sentences for descriptions instead of repeating all their stuff.

Buffalo are strong herd animals of the Yellow Lands. They are incredibly aggressive and will work together to rescue injured and captured herdmates.

Crocodiles hunt among the rivers of the Three Lands. Although known to gather in groups, they rarely work together to bring down prey.

Eloko are 3-feet tall cannibal dwarves with a burning hatred for humanity and love to feast on the flesh of women. They wear bells around their necks which can mesmerize victims with their ringing. Grass grows from their bodies instead of hair, and their nails are long and sharp.



Eternal are the undead survivors of the Sixth Kingdom of Deshur, although they turned many others to an undead state with the spread of their atrocities. The majority of Eternals are but Dreamers barely aware of the world around them, commanded by Nobles and Lords who retain all the skills and intelligence they had in life. It's easy enough to create a Dreamer, but turning a corpse into a Noble or Lord requires very expensive rituals of occult knowledge and relics (10,000 for a Noble, 25,000-50,000 for a Lord and ranks in Occult).

Fanged Apes appear much like their peaceful gorilla counterparts, except with an oversized set of sharp teeth and an eagerness to use clubs and thrown stones as weapons. They love to hunt humans and their favored targets are children, and are most common in the jungles of Lokossa; a few hill-based variants lair in the crags of Kirsi.

Ghosts are incorporeal spirits and undead who are tethered to a limited area in the material world. They are usually the result of a poorly-planned burial or an extreme unwillingness to accept death.

Giants are the tall inhabitants of the Mountains of the Sun. They were fashioned at the dawn of the world before the spirits created humanity; each of them is a unique creation, and their uniqueness combined with their age makes them both arrogant and skilled in many arts, from craftsmanship to war and even the art of ashe. However, they are bitter towards the gods and spirits and can never be marabout. Giants tend to either slumber deep beneath the ground or rule over mountain fortresses, with a retinue of weaker humans and monsters as servants.



Horses are a common feature in the northern Three Lands. Nyala's army makes use of horse-zebra hybrids, scouts for Sokone merchant caravans ride them, and the Kirsi's cavalry are the best in the land. Although horses largely share the same stats, different breeds have unique features: the sturdy hill barbs ignore movement penalty on hill terrain and roll twice per hit die, taking the best result; pit ponies are bred for mine work and never panic underground and nimble enough to go wherever a human can go; Imperial zebras are the pride of the Nyalan Empire and gain +2 hit points per hit die and attack rolls.

Humans of the Three Lands come in all walks of life and occupations, and thus don't have a typical stat block. Instead there are six common types the PCs are likely to meet or fight; commoners, bandits, soldiers, elite soldiers, nobles, and merchants. None of them are impressive stat-wise, with only the noble going above 2 hit dice, and their effectiveness in combat is largely determined by available weapons and armor.



Hyenas are pack scavengers fond of stealing prize kills from larger predators. Humans see this as being against the natural order and view sightings of such animals as an ill omen. In Spears of the Dawn, all Dire animals are spirit versions of their normal counterparts. In the case of Dire hyenas, they're possessed of a wicked intelligence and fond of feasting on human leaders and nobles.

Ilomba, the Witch-Snakes are serpentine servants of the Gods Below. They seek out suitably talented cultist leaders and occult scholars, offering them power in exchange for a symbiotic bond. When a bond is formed, the serpent can take the form of the human and grant them immunity to non-magic weapons and minor spellcasting ability. However, if either the human or Ilomba dies, then both die.

Kishi, also known as the Two-Faced Ones, are evil spirits who take the forms of handsome and beautiful humans with thick braids of hair. They seduce people to accompany them to an isolated location alone, whereupon their head turns around to reveal their second hyena-like maw to eat their new victims! They operate in both rural regions and urban centers, carefully planning their attacks to avoid detection and choosing prey who are unlikely to be found or missed.



Leopards are cunning predators found and feared throughout the Three Lands. They are wary of humans in groups, although they've been known to hunt and eat them in desperate times. They are swift runners and fast climbers, easily able to evade the reach of common hunters and soldiers. Leopard-skin cloaks are viewed as status symbols, and the pelt of the mighty Dire leopard can fetch a high price on the marketplace.

Leopard Cultists are humans who pledge allegiance to malevolent and bestial spirits in exchange for gaining the powers of a leopard. They form secret societies, kidnapping folk to sacrifice to their patrons in exchange for gaining these special abilities. Most cultists are normal humans, but a few adepts blessed by the spirits can transform into leopards or a hybrid form.

Lions are noble felines of the savanna. They hunt wildebeests and zebras, and are even known to take prey claimed by leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas. Statwise they're a lot like leopards except slower, stronger, and tougher. Dire lions are arrogant creatures which seek to become rulers of the land that they survey, and any human settlements falling under their gaze are forced to worship them with human sacrifice or be slaughtered.

Moatia, known as the Dwarf Sorcerers, are short limping folk with a foul disposition. They are famous for their mastery of herbal lore and the magical arts; people seek out their huts deep in the forest to heal some incurable disease or end a plague. Moatia are easily offended and hateful to all living creatures (especially their own kind), and are fond of casting curses at those who don't show them the proper respect.

The Night Men are humanoids who live south of the Akpara River at Lakossa's border. They are hairless and bear all manner of ugly scars and deformities, and crippled Lokossans take to growing their hair extra-long to not be mistaken for a Night Man scout. Night Men live in the ruined cities of the southern jungles, subsisting on strange crops and pend most of their lives fighting each other. Every so often a particularly skilled warchief or priest unites the Night Men to lead a large horde against the Lokossans, embroiling the entire country in prolonged jungle warfare. Nobody knows why they do this or their origins.

Ningiri are reptilian beasts with the body of a crocodile and a long sinuous neck. They often hide their 30 foot long bodies behind cover while their head quickly snatches any surprised prey. They are of animal intelligence, but very cunning and dangerous.

Obia are hulking, jackal-like spirit-beasts who are hired by witches to serve as household guards and to kidnap women for wives (no respectable father will allow his children to marry a witch). Their grip is so sure that a successful attack grapples and immobilizes a target.

Rhinos are tough-as-nails beasts of the savannas and grassland, fond of charging anything they consider a threat (which includes a great many things). A sick or injured bull rhino can be devastating to a village, viciously fighting to the bitter end heedless of its survival.

Humans often call the rodent-like Rompo "singing jackals," even though it bears little resemblance to such a creature. They haunt graveyards and tombs, surviving off of the rotting flesh of humans as it sings sweetly and softly. They're intelligent as a human, and often hide bodies of murdered folk to feast upon later. In groups they might even adopt the use of tools and weapons and wear clothing obtained from corpses, and their united melodies can mesmerize those who listen to them.

Sasabonsam are winged people who lair in jungles and high mountain peaks. They nimbly snatch traveling humans off the ground to carry back to their lairs to sacrifice to their bat-like gods. Those few survivors tell that their cavernous aeries are home to evil nganga working with them, and a few are certain that the Moatia are their leaders. Sasabonsam can wield objects and weapons in their talonlike feet, and can be motivated to work with evil humans with sufficient promise of reward.



The Three Lands contain countless breeds of snakes, but the ones detailed in the Bestiary are regarded the most dangerous to humans. Giant vipers can grow as big as a man and their poison can bring down an adult buffalo. The black python, which can grow up to 20 feet in length, crushes its prey with mighty constrictions. The assassin snake possesses an alien intellect, and accepts blood sacrifices from worshipers of the Gods Below to sneak into a hated foes' houses to poison and kill them.

The Umthali are a race of humanoid serpent folk descended from Gods Below-worshiping mortals whose blood mingled with that of snakes. They constructed many grand and terrible cities while humanity was freshly created, and in the days of recorded history only one city remained. This city went to war with Sokone's ancestors and lost, and now the remaining Umthali live in scattered cells. A few Umthali are accomplished nganga or marabout, and those who can pass for human often worm their way into human centers of power.

Walking Corpses are possessed by angered souls unable to escape, lashing out at their inability to depart to the spirit world. Like ghosts, they're often created as the result of improper burials and linger around the places of their death. Fun fact: the concept of the zombie originated in African folklore.

Witches are humans who possess the potential for working ashe, but are either unaware of it or did not receive the proper training to become a nganga. They are both male and female and can be found wherever humans gather. Witches are capable of casting minor spells and rituals, but are oftentimes uncontrolled and manifest from unconscious desires. Due to this, villages and towns make an effort to recruit ngangas to properly train witches so that they don't inadvertently harm their neighbors and family.

Witches are capable of being self-taught, the most infamous rivaling the powers of learned nganga. The temptation to use one's powers is great, for it takes only a moment's thought to inflict a harmful spell with a wrathful thought, and most witches hide their powers out of fear and shame. It's possible for a nganga to "cure" a witch of their powers with a curse-removal spell, although said witch must genuinely want to be rid of the burden.

Libertad's Thoughts: The bestiary is both well-sized and diverse, and should provide GMs with plenty of adversarial fodder and a useful system to create their own creatures and NPCs.

Next time Chapter 8: Treasures and their uses!
 

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
Chapter 7 Continuation: Spirits and Spirit-Beasts

I forgot one last table in the bestiary: generating stat blocks for spirits! It's a lot like the chapter's initial table of making new monsters, although the roles and abilities are slightly different. You've got sample stat blocks of Restless Ancestors who fight with a manufactured weapon, Raging Spirit-Beasts who have natural attacks, a Spirit of Dark Lore who can cast marabout spells, and the might False God with 12 Hit Dice and can attack twice in a round!

Humanoid and Spirit-Beast traits are divided into 2 separate tables and include things like being invisible save in reflections, possessing bronze talons or obsidian claws and the like, covered in a cloud of miasma or flames, etc. Qualities include things like being able to teleport between plants, can raise the dead as Walking Corpses, can discern someone's worst crimes by scent, breath weapons, and other cool stuff. It's a great way to show off the sheer variety of spirits.

Chapter 8: Treasures and Their Uses


This chapter mainly describes magic items, but it also discusses other things such as buying land and building houses, hiring minions, and types of treasure troves. As Spears of the Dawn does not abide by a wealth-by-level or "treasure by CR" format, types of treasure to be found in dungeons, monster hordes, and the personal possessions of NPCs is determined by a general guideline chart.

A peasant family's saving might include a mere 1d6 x 10 silver ingots plus some spare clothes and cheap jewelry as a wedding dowry, while a powerful bandit leader would have 1d6 x 1,000 silver ingots, some expensive gems and percentage chances for magic items. The trove types are very all-encompassing, covering everything from a village tax treasury to a Giant's ruined palace. We then have some tables for generating plunder, or the value and qualities of clothing, gems, furniture and the like. And of course a table for determining what magic items adventuring Spears might find!

Magical Item Descriptions


Now this is what I'm talking about! Like many other things, Spears of the Dawn's magic item system is a feature apart from the other retro-clones on the market. Basically, magic items are split into two categories: greater and lesser.

Lesser items are minor trinkets crafted by nganga, potions brewed by herbalists, and other objects of minor power. Even then such items are quite expensive for the average commoner, but even an occult scholar or village shaman might possess the means to fashion an amulet of warding against curses or a healing potion. In game terms, they're limited-use items.

Greater items are objects of legend. They are fashioned by mighty sorcerers and marabouts, infused with power after some mighty deed, and other powerful objects of lasting utility. The bound spirits of the items are semi-aware and take great offense when people try to trade them for mere gold or other banal favors, refusing to function for those who disrespected them. Greater items still have a cost, but this is only for the purposes of crafting. In game mechanics, they include weapons, armor, and other permanent items.

There are rules for crafting magic items. Basically the creator needs to pay the cost and labor for 1 day per 500 gold pieces. I think that this might be an error, as silver ingots are the universal standard elsewhere in the book. Generally speaking the crafter must be of a minimum listed level and a nganga, but it is possible for other people to craft items if they possess knowledge of an appropriate spell or possess certain skill levels (experience levels are still universal). For example, anybody of at least 2nd level and 1 rank in Occult and Healing can craft a healing potion, whereas someone of at least 4th level and a Blacksmithing level of 3 can craft a +1 weapon or armor. Overall I like this: it's a great thematic way for things like legendary artisans crafting fabled blades, or a skilled hunter concocting a potent brew with rainforest plants.

Potions are single-use lesser magic items which are typically stored in a calabash gourd stopped with clay or a glass vial. Brewers in cities must buy ingredients, but those in rural regions and the wilderness can once per year gather 1,000 silver ingots worth of material product; this is because many small villages rely upon local flora which blooms at the right time to craft their goods. There are 12 potions listed, which include classic staples such as healing injuries and sickness, shapechanging into an animal for limited periods, breathe underwater, make someone fall in love with you, and even ones which can allow you to fly (as spirits carry you) or turn invisible!

Spirit Tokens lesser magic items, usually taking the form of small amulets of inked leather or bundles of ingredients. They can be crafted by only nganga and marabout, and either represent a special appeal to patron spirits or concentrated ashe. They contain one use of a stored spell which can be released on command by a proper trigger command determined by the crafter (which can be determined by those who don't know with a successful Occult roll). Nganga and marabout can only imbue spells they have access to in spirit tokens.

Scrolls, basically.

Fetish Sticks are lesser items which are rods as long as an adult's forearm. They are usually decorated with carvings, feathers, woven cords or bones in rural regions, and wrought bronze, gems, and precious metals in urban areas. Fetish sticks each have a singular power, but can use it as many as 50 times before it crumbles away to dust. The more charges which are expended, the more battered and decayed the fetish stick becomes. The powers of a fetish stick can be activated by a command word chosen by the creator (who can only be ngangas). There are eight fetish sticks and none of them are keyed off of existing spells: they include powers such as the ability to mentally command a flock of birds, forcing a target to experience the pain of driven nails into their flesh like the ones adorning the stick, forcing a shapeshifter to return to their normal form, and even shooting out a beam of fire!

And that's it for lesser items.

It's getting late now, so I'm going to cover the rest of Chapter Eight tomorrow.

Next time, Greater Magic Items, the Converting and Spending of Treasure, and more!
 

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
Chapter 8 Continuation

Now we're getting to the meat of Greater Items.

Normal masks are components of many rituals, imbuing wearers with the depicted qualities and the strength of the spirits and ancestors. Masks of Power are greater items a league above, carrying such power that even folk ignorant of the subtler rituals can use them. Nganga expecially prize such treasures, making it easier for them to wield ashe. Anybody may make use of a mask, although some of their powers are useless to some classes. Masks of power are limited in that a wearer must either consecutively wear it for several hours to make use of its powers, or can only be worn a few hours per day due to the stress of the wearer's body supporting two spirits at once. Only nganga can craft masks of power, and they must be at least seventh level to do so. Sample masks include the ability to perceive magical items, effects, and curses; the ability to tell if a statement is deliberately false; the ability to prepare additional spells per day; the ability to harm, speak, and see spirits; and the ability to impersonate a single human.

Magical Arms and Armor are greater items imbued with powerful spirits. They are honored objects who take offense to disrespect and can cease to function until appeased by a nganga's arts. Using them as workman's tools, trading it for gold or land, or even complaining of its inferiority to another weapon or armor can earn the spirit's wrath. All magic weapons and armor have a bonus ranging from +1 to +3; weapons' enhancement bonus adds to attack and damage rolls (thrown weapons automatically return to the wielder's hand), while armor subtracts from the wearer's armor class (lower is good); there are no magic shields in existence.

Some weapons and armor have special properties in addition to enhancement bonuses, which is dependent upon the connection to a certain greater spirit dedicated to a particularly mighty god. In short, there are 6 qualities for every major spirit-deity, 3 intended for armor and 3 intended for weapons. For example, arms and armor of Aganyu (spirit-deity of fire and wrath) include properties such as fire immunity, inflicting fire damage on enemies, extinguishing fires, and the like. A lot of these qualities have some interesting out-of-combat applications as well; for instance, the Raining property of Olakun (spirit-deity of water, rivers, and wisdom) can pour out 20 gallons of fresh water per day, while the Slowfalling property of Oya (spirit-deity of storms, winds, and travelers) grants immunity to falling damage.

Finally we end this section with Miscellaneous Magic Items, all the items which do not fit into any earlier categories. As usual, permanent or continuous use items are greater, single-use are lesser. They include such things as the Golden Fruit which releases flesh-eating swarms of insects onto enemies; the Igbako of Plenty, a food scoop which can create enough food for 12 people daily, but food created must be provided freely or its powers cease to function; a Plot-Revealing Whistle which can create copies of verbal schemes uttered against the wielder by others when blown; a Serpent-Warding Ring which grants immunity to the venom of reptiles; a Talisman of Virtue etched with text and pictures of a particular good deed/taboo (chastity, pacifism, etc) which grants a bonus to one's Charisma modifer if they adhere to said virtue; and other interesting items.

The section ends with advice on designing new magic items, specifically common guidelines to ensure that such things are not unbalanced. Basically, armor class bonuses should be unlimited to prevent PCs from becoming unhittable in combat; damage bonuses should range no more than 1d6 or 1d10 (the latter which can affect only a very limited set of enemies); skill bonuses should be capped at +1, +2 for the mightiest artifacts; and those which replicate the effects of spells should be no more than a 1/day power. Additionally, the GM must consider if the item's power can trivialize too many common encounters or challenges, or can break the premise of the game.

At times the PCs might want to create a magic item which can add to the splendor of the world or help people, but is generally not useful for adventuring. They might want to fashion a magic well to sustain a desert village, a bridle which allows a horse to travel from one point of a nation to another in a day's time. The author says to go along with it, in that it can be a good way to encourage PCs to act selflessly, find good ways to spend their treasure and money, and it's balanced by forcing them to spend one of their five lifetime uses of greater item creation.

I like this compromise regarding magic items and the economy: instead of low-magic campaigns where healing potions are the stuff of legends, there are minor charms and trinkets for sale but quite out of range of most people. And the five-per-person cap of greater magic items and their spirits' unwillingness to be treated like common trade goods (rewards for great quests and acts of heroism are okay) provide in-setting reasons for why spellcasters haven't revolutionized the world.

Converting and Spending Treasure

This section talks about what happens once the PCs haul their plundered treasure back to civilization. As is to be expected, it's a lot more common than heading to the nearest marketplace and simply selling everything. Generally speaking, small villages can buy up to 500 silver ingots' worth of goods before they run out of liquidity. Market towns and major cities can buy up to 10,000 and 100,000 silver ingots worth of stuff respectively before the laws of supply and demand kick in and render the rest of the PCs' valuables cheap. The settlements of Sokone can handle double these values, while the nomadic Meru have little need to coins and gems which are 90% less. There are no banks in the Three Lands, and goldsmiths and moneylenders can be persuaded to hold onto the PCs' treasure for a time with a 1% of the loot per week (although they might not have the facilities to keep them truly safe and might be tempted to skim off the top).

Adventurers find it wise to make friendships and ties to the local communities, who will be more trustworthy to guard their valuables in exchange for their good deeds. Or invest it in building strongholds and buying land, which are harder for thieves to steal. As the book says, "golden ingots can be stolen and gems can
be squandered, but land and stout walls are harder to lose. Wealth put into the bellies of hungry peasants can buy the kind of service that market-hired minions would never give."

The Hiring of Magical Aid

There comes a time in an adventurer's life where they might need the services of a spellcaster; perhaps they lack the knowledge required to exorcise a vengeful spirit from a house, or maybe the dropped ceremonial knife at the murder scene can be divined to gain insight to the killer's whereabouts. Generally speaking, minor practitioners can be found in villages and towns, although simply walking up to them and forking over some coin is rarely so convenient. Truly powerful marabouts and ngangas are rarely, if ever, present in cities amid the teeming masses; they usually live deep in the wilderness, presiding among ancient temples of great spiritual significance or plumbing the ruins for occult lore. In the case of Lokossa, the greatest spellcasters are too busy running the government with tight-fisted cruelty to bother with the immediate concerns of adventurers.

Spellcasters who are part of a community and exchange their magical talent for goods are generally 1st to 5th level, and can be approached by adventurers amid a long waiting queue of commoners beseeching them for their individual needs and woes. Such spellcasters expect to be rewarded with "gifts" and "tokens of respect," usually amounting to 50 silver ingots for a 1st level spell, 250 for a 2nd-level spell, or 1,000 for a 3rd-level spell. Others will be eager to utilize the services of a skilled band of adventurers and ask them to perform minor quests and favors in addition to or in lieu or hard coin and trade goods.

Spellcasters of 6th and 7th level in civilization are renowned for their power, and can afford only to listen to chiefs, obas, and other leaders, their eyes on the big picture for tasks best solved by adventurers. 4th level spells can cost as much as 4,000 silver ingots and leaving behind occult connections with the caster to help ensure that they don't go back on their pledges.

Hirelings and Servants

Adventurers can hire people, whether to accompany them on adventures or to help perform some task. They include such common roles as artisans, guardsmen (who have Commoner stats but have leather armor and hand weapons), guides, porters, priests (no spellcasting), sages, and other occupations. Their cost is calculated based on a per-day basis or "permanent hire" with is a single flat cost to represent hiring them indefinitely. Hirelings are assume to have Level 1 in related skill of their profession, while Level 2 costs ten times as much. Those with Level 3 in a skill are the best in the kingdom, and their services are rarely bought with mere silver.

Guards and soldiers can be expected to tolerate ordinary dangers, but will blanch at going into Eternal tombhouses or fighting particularly vicious and powerful monsters. In that case, a PC with a good Leadership and Charisma might be necessary to ensure the loyalty of minions.

Henchmen and Retainers


There are times when mere hirelings and servants are not enough. The PCs need assistance beyond their immediate numbers and find some talented help to fight a mighty beast or thwart an evil mastermind. In this case, there are Henchmen and Retainers.

The PCs must spend several days searching the local community of the best candidates, and even a single village might house 1d6 such souls after the rest are winnowed out. Henchmen are NPCs who have levels in classes; the majority of them are 1st level Warriors, but a certain result on a 2d6 roll might produce a griot (4), a marabout (11), or nganga (12). Henchmen require a specific employer, and might expected to be paid in advance with surety money to go to their family in case they never return (some of which might be given back to the PCs upon their safe return). Players can be in direct control of one henchman and control their actions much like their own PC, but they don't have the steel-hard resolve and courage Spears have, and if they face a near-death experience the PC must succeed on a Leadership roll to convince them to keep adventuring with the PCs. One too many close shaves will eventually result in automatic failure, as they'll come to the conclusion that the adventuring life isn't for them.

Retainers, on the other hand, are different. They are NPCs whose respect and loyalty has been earned for past favors and shared dangers. They include villagers whose people have been saved from monsters, whose family was saved from a sorcerer's curse, and other such things. It is up to the GM when an NPC becomes potential retainer material, but can generally be expected to perform more dangerous and responsible tasks than even henchmen. They are not necessarily servants for life, and gifts of 100 to 1,000 silver ingots would not be inappropriate for particularly important favors for an old friend. For those whose services are called on only occasionally, a lot will be willing to perform work out of gratitude for such great heroes.

Buildings and Real Estate


The most successful adventures soon find that a life on the road is no longer practical. They are too exposed and too well-known to the enemies they have made. Acquiring land for permanent dwellings and fortresses is how the ancestors of great heroes and nobles established themselves, after all.

Acquiring property in villages is more complicated than just buying it. Villages are a tight-knit collection of mutual aid; people must be able to trust their neighbors and rely upon them to set aside personal quarrels in the face of external danger. Those wishing to settle down on a long-term basis must prove that their addition to society will be a positive one. Newcomers are expected to participate in village rituals, share tribute and service dues, and respect local customs. The financial aspects are trivial enough that they're not worth recording for PCs.

Town life is simpler in that there are enough landowners and mercantile clans to sell space within the walls at a premium price, and new owners are expected to do nothing but pay taxes and avoid the oba's displeasure. Although they can be finer than a humble village dwelling, they are less secure in some ways. A band of foreign assassins can pass through a metropolis amid the throng of travelers, but in a remote rural setting they'll stick out like a sore thumb.

Building costs are abstracted in that the PC draws a rough outline of the kind of structure they want, and pays a price related to the size of the structure and the materials (per 10' cube). A simple ten foot hut of unadorned wood and thatch would cost 50 silver ingots, while a 100 foot square stone build with three floors would cost an expensive 30,000. Building material which is scarce in the region (such as wood in the savannah or stone in the rainforest) can double or even triple the base price. Buildings with ornate designs, statues, and the trappings of wealth cost twice as much as plainer, more practical structures. The interior of the building can be arranged as the PC wants.

Additionally there are some sample buildings listed along with price, so that the GM can abstract for similar structures. A village compound is 500 silver and 30 square feet, usually a main house and home to the richer and more important family clans. Town compounds are 7,000 silver, 50 square feet with a surrounding stone wall. Country estates and border forts are 30,000 silver, while an urban palace (built and renovated over generations and home to great obas and merchant-princes) are 75,000.

The way the building costs are set up is that the PCs might not expect to have huge, sprawling buildings, but an expensive source to spend money on and typically only feasible at higher levels. Interestingly, the sample house prices are in line, and cheaper than, the costs of crafting some of the most powerful greater magic items. I like this touch. Finally we have a table with rules for breaking down walls and doors; basically such structures have a hit point value, and the attacking weapon must be suitable for dealing damage or else nothing's accomplished (spears won't break a stone wall, no matter no many times you hit them). Magical weapons take great offense at being used this way (unless they have the Shattering property), and attacking structures is very noisy when performed in enclosed spaces and dungeons.

And so ends the chapter.

Libertad's Notes: This is another strong chapter. I like how Crawford handles the magic item economy by making such things rare and mysterious, but still allowing PCs of a certain skill level able to craft them. I do like how in comparison to traditional D&D the PCs aren't expected to save up money for essential magic items while living like vagabonds. The use of reaction and loyalty checks regarding minions and hired help makes Charisma a particularly useful stat.

Next time, Chapter 9: Gamemaster Resources (also the final chapter)!
 

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
Gamemaster Resources

This chapter is mostly filled with miscellaneous stuff intended to help GMs plan for and set up games. Although quite a bit of them are charts and tables, there's maps, sample NPC statistics, and more!

Quick Adventure Elements is a D20 table where you roll 5 times and put the results together. We have a MacGuffin, a Location, a Patron, an Antagonist, and Fighting Over column. It's not enough to make a detailed plot, but it combines some primary elements to turn into something greater. The following page has a table of Conflict Elements, which works similar but you roll for the type (Social/Military/Economic/Religious), what one side of the conflict wants/does, and things important to the conflict.

Quick Names is a series of five tables for common personal names and surnames for each culture (with the Deshurite and Meru people sharing the same one). It's a particularly great resource for new players who will be unfamiliar with African names. Crawford has some useful advice for ensuring that names are easily remembered:

The people of the Three Lands often add additional names in acknowledgement of important events or notable deeds. As Afia grows, she might distinguish herself as Afia Goodluck Mafi after surviving a dangerous childbed fever, or Afia Breaks Them All after she manages to kill a trio of night-time robbers with her father’s hammer. A person may adopt a new name at any time, but it is its use by the community that confers legitimacy on it.

When creating NPCs for a new campaign, a GM is well-advised to use names with epithets. Many of the names of the Three Lands are novel to players, and they can have a hard time pronouncing them or making them “stick” in memory without some familiar anchor as a mnemonic. “General Mantled-In-Glory” and “Lord Abazu the Unsmiling” are both much easier for them to remember than “General Mitri Menkare” or “Lord Abazu Ezekuna”. In the same fashion, new players might be hesitant or confused about giving names to their PCs that they have a hard time pronouncing. You can refer to the pronunciation guide in the foreword of the book, or just let them pick suitable epithets.
Quick Culture Generation is intended to be used for minor states and remote tribes, with tables to generate cultural qualities (culture might love to build great edifices or admire truthfulness in all things), sources of wealth, potential societal ills and curses (like a wrathful spirit plaguing the land or a large segment of society is banned from learning), and jobs they might have for adventurers.

Quick NPC Stats provides sample statistics for NPCs with class levels, separated into odd-numbered levels. The Level 1s serve well as hand-outs for new players. Quick NPC Generation is intended for personality and miscellaneous traits, such as the role they have in their family to their greatest ambitions and problems.

Quick Nganga Magic is a 1-page list of all the spells and rituals for the nganga class, as well as spells per day by level. It is useful due to the sheer size of spells available to this versatile class (the marabout and griot are more limited and thus easier to manage).

Quick Cult Flavor provides hooks and traits of secret organizations dedicated to evil entities. It includes cool stuff like a table for their secret lair (crumbled estate, slum compound, grove in the wilderness, etc), their strongest asset (strong warriors, a powerful magic item, popular support), why they are awful (enslaved by evil spirits, plotting schemes of tyrannical theocracy, desire genocide, etc).

Quick Bestiary Reference compiles the stat blocks of all the bestiary entries into one page! I can't overstate how useful and convenient this is. By looking at it I notice some peculiar things: 1, only 4 monsters total are immune to non-magic weapons. 2, there's not too much overlap in special abilities (only snakes are poisonous, only the Sasabonsam can fly, only Eternal and Walking Corpses take minimum damage from piercing weapons, etc). 3, a lot of Armor Class values range from 4 to 7. Only 3 monsters have an AC of 3, the lowest one there is (dire lion and rhinocerous and the ghost). This is interesting in that a heavily-armored PC or one with the Blessed and Graced Warrior Idahun can match them, and that magic weapons while cool are not a necessity at higher levels.

The final entry includes several pages of Quick Location Maps with a fast resource for floorplans and maps. They are sparse in detail so that GMs can scrawl in their own details. I'll show off a few of them:







Then we have a two-page printable character sheet to end things off.

Libertad's Thoughts: Although many charts and tables can often become extraneous, the resources provided here are all very useful and relevant. My favorite is the one-page bestiary reprint of stat blocks. I don't think that you can say that for any other retroclones on the market!

Adventure: The Lost Mastaba of Khamose

The adventure provided is a short dungeon crawl for 1st level adventurers. The backstory is that a hundred years ago a troubled village was ruled by the tyrannical Lord Khamose, whose forces paid tribute to the Eternal King. He forced the people to build a tomb-house befitting his stature as an Eternal noble. In time the advancing armies of the Five Nations slew his legions and forced him into his buried mastaba. For forty years the villagers stayed away from this dungeon, but in recent days their shepherds and cattle have suffered mysterious disappearances in the western hills, and they suspect the mastaba. Adventuring Spears will be rewarded by the village if they investigate and take care of any horrors within.

In truth, a group of bandits have been using the mastaba as a headquarters for cattle-rustling. Unfortunately they dug too deep and released the Eternal into the rest of the complex, killing all but a few of them and their leader Gwoza. The survivors are trapped in a barricaded room.

The dungeon has 13 rooms, the entrance containing bloodstains of the eaten bandits. The atrium has been redesigned to resemble and outdoor garden, with clay sculpture plants and a fountain that recycles a fine silvery sand, and a silver circular ceiling painting resembling the moon. Five eternal Dreamers are feasting on bandit corpses in the dining hall, and four bandits are hiding under their beds in the sleeping chamber waiting for the next opportunity to escape (they'll attack the PCs in a mad frenzy for one round and then try to flee).

In the library is Gwoza the leader, and an Eternal who looks like a living human's posing as a nonexistant wife (Senti) who befriended the bandits before they dug down. Gwoza knows that going back to civilization means the death penalty, so he'll attack the PCs believing them to have come for him, while Senti will pretend to be a damsel in distress while waiting for the perfect opportunity to establish an Eternal cult in the next town or city.

The bandit storehouses and the storeroom contain the majority of treasure (silver Deshirite jewelry, trade ingots, and semiprecious jewels), and the nearby bathing chamber's full of fetid mold which can leave the PCs dizzy. Khamose's Chamber is way in the back, and his chamberlain Ushab is now an Eternal noble who's taken over the quarters. He's quite powerful but has reduced hit points than others of his kind and stature (due to wounds suffered slaughtering the bandits). In a chest is more treasure of trade ingots, and he wields serpent-headed staff as a +1 runku (war-staff).

Libertad's Thoughts: The dungeon can be quite lethal if the PCs go through it too fast. There's 11 Eternal Dreamers, one Walking Corpse, four bandits and their two guard dogs, and the aforementioned named NPCs. Given that Eternal take minimum possible damage from edged weapons (this is common knowledge to Spears), a party with warriors decked out in swords and bows will have a very bad time. If you're introducing newcomers to the game or players of less lethal RPGs, I'd recommend toning down the number of opponents if that might turn them off the game.

Bibliography

Aside from the Index, this is the last entry before we end our read of Spears in the Dawn. During the creation process Kevin Crawford spent two months brushing up on African history, folklore, and mythology. Even though this RPG is a pastiche of Africa rather than being historical, these materials (which are include fictional material) provided great inspiration to him. He hopes that the rest of us might find it useful, both for searching for things to add to home games as well as entertaining reads in and of themselves.

Fiction

“Sword & Soul” is a touchstone for Spears of the Dawn, taking many of the familiar tropes of sword and sorcery fiction and placing them within the setting of historical or fantastical Africa. The present dean of the genre is Charles Saunders, whose Imaro practically defined the type. The following list is simply a starting point into the genre, one chosen for the breadth of authors rather than a deep focus on any particular series. Several of the books below are parts of a longer series, most of them well worth following.

Changa’s Safari, by Milton J. Davis
Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, edited by Milton J. Davis and
Charles R. Saunders
Wind Follower, by Carole MacDonnell
Timbuktu Chronicles: Aida and the Chosen Soldier, by Anthony
Nana Kwamu
Chaka: An Historical Romance, by Thomas Mofolo
Once Upon A Time in Afrika, by Balogun Ojetade
Imaro, by Charles R. Saunders

History and Culture

A quick dip into these books can provide a vast trove of NPCs, places, and conflicts to translate into your own game. Particularly with older texts, the observations should sometimes be taken cum grano salis, but even wild fancies can provoke your imagination.

The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval
Africa, by Patricia and Frederick McKissack.
While very much a popular book in writing style, it contains maps and a clear, crisp overview of medieval Africa. Particularly useful for its description of the sometimes-ambiguous sources and pointers to other books.

The history and description of Africa and of the notable things therein contained, by Leo Africanus. Born in 1494 as al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, Leo Africanus provides a firsthand description of northern Africa in the sixteenth century. Not all of his observations were his own, but his visit to Timbuktu helps to detail the vibrant life of a fabulously prosperous African trade city.

‘The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself ’ and Other Writings, by Agyeman Prempeh. Begun in 1907 by the Asantehene Prempeh I, the essays in the front of this book are of less interest than the history itself, which is told from the perspective of the exiled king who prepared it.

Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, by Henry John Drewal and Enid Schildkrout. This book is useful in providing examples of sophisticated, beautiful artwork in metal, terra-cotta, and other materials. You can use the descriptions to flesh out palaces and come up with characteristic art treasures for your PCs to plunder, as well as get a hint of the subtle religious and aesthetic values that underlay the creation of such works.

Mythology and Legends

A GM can take their pick of myths and legends. Gruesome beasts and quarrelsome spirits make good monsters for your PCs to
face, and the marvelous artifacts and tokens of the myth make for handy magic item templates that your players are unlikely to have found a dozen times before.

A Dictionary of African Mythology: The Mythmaker as Storyteller, by Harold Scheub. Fairly popular in character, this book is full of short myth and legend synopses that often feature religious or mythological figures. If you can’t get the other books on this list, this one provides a great deal of grist and a useful bibliography.

African Folklore: An Encyclopedia, edited by Philip M. Peek and Kwesi Yankah. A magisterial volume, you can flip this one open and find something interesting on almost every page. The brief treatments are ample for most game uses.

Religion

The warning made earlier about not taking a part for the whole applies particularly to matters of religion. Different regions and cultures can hold drastically different cosmologies and religious practices. Disputes over the “real meaning” of rites or customs are common, and you can expect to find as much disagreement over subtleties and particulars as you would find in any other living religious tradition. Finding good books in this field is difficult- many of them on the market are popular works intended to provide religious guidance to believers rather than the raw grist most useful to a GM. Those books that take a more scholarly perspective can be hard to find without recourse to a university library.

Encyclopedia of African Religion, edited by Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama. Check for this in a good academic library if you have access to one, as the price tends to be prohibitive to casual users. If you can get access to it, however, you’ll have the use of a volume that is remarkably exhaustive on the details and specifics of African traditional religion.

Religions in West Africa and Ancient Egypt, by Jonathan Olumide Lucas. A very hard book to acquire, but the author’s eagerness to show derivation between ancient Egyptian and precolonial traditional religion is useful to a GM, as he provides many examples of rites and customs by which to bolster his argument. Whether or not you find it persuasive, you can use the ritual material.

West African Religion: A study of the beliefs and practices of Akan, Ewe, Yoruba, Ibo, and Kindred Peoples, by Edward Geoffrey Parrinder. While first published in 1949, with all the baggage that implies, Parrinder provides the kind of direct observation that is sometimes harder to find in more modern texts. Details on specific practices are particularly useful for GMs who want flavor and detail for religious rituals and marabout customs.

West African Traditional Religion, by J. Omosade Awolalu. Not an easy book to get, but it provides a useful and necessary perspective from a scholar with intimate cultural familiarity with the region.

Visual Resources

One particularly useful resource is the International Mission Photography Archive curated by the University of Southern California. This is an enormous collection of missionary photography largely from the late eighteenth and early twentieth century, and a good deal of it is pertinent to Africa. While many of the photographs and postcards depict the rapid cultural and technological change that was in effect at the time, others show details of dress, traditional buildings, important local officials, and other visual details that are hard to find elsewhere. Browsing through the collection can give a GM a great many ideas about NPCs and places of interest for their campaign. It can presently be found at http://digitallibrary. usc.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15799coll123

And this concludes our reading of Spears in the Dawn! What a wonderful book! It's clear throughout that this is a work of love, fashioned by one dedicated not only to making an engaging respectful treatment of fantasy Africa, but a good concise game unafraid to toss out staple rules and tropes prevalent in other D&D games to make a better experience. I hope that my review has brought new-found attention and interest to what is easily my favorite OSR game by far. My final verdict on this product is a Must Buy. Even if you're not a fan of OSR games, it contains enough working parts and cool things that players of "New School" games can appreciate!


I plan on giving an in-depth review of Dreamscarred Press' Path of War next, a chapter-by-chapter analysis like I did this book. I'm eager to see you all again soon!
 

LibraryLass

Feminazgûl
Validated User
Wow! Some of those tables sound fantastic for any GM. And that Appendix N makes me want to run to the library and see if they've got anything like that.
 

Koren n'Rhys

Got your mirrorshades?
Validated User
This has been great - thanks for the ride, Libertad! As an OSR guy, and being on the lookout for something beyond the stock medieval, this was super useful. I'd like to see you tackle Arrows of Indra in the same manner if you're up to that at some point.
 

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
This has been great - thanks for the ride, Libertad! As an OSR guy, and being on the lookout for something beyond the stock medieval, this was super useful. I'd like to see you tackle Arrows of Indra in the same manner if you're up to that at some point.
I don't think I'll review Arrows of Indra anytime soon.

I noticed that I'm at my best for products I feel passionate about; I guess that it makes it less of a review and more of a "check this out!" Even then there was a big 2 month gap of lack of progress on Spears (due to focusing on writing my 4th book) and I'd rather not have that happen again with a Let's Read.

I do plan on covering Scarlet Heroes (another non-Eurocentric RPG designed by Kevin Crawford) after Path of War, though.
 
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