Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Spears Without Number . . . No . . . Wait . . .

I've been looking over the shoulder of a friend who already has downloaded his alpha copy of Spears of the Dawn, and I must say, I'm very excited.  Kevin Crawford certainly seems to know how to do a Kickstarter right.  And what's more, he's releasing all of the artwork into the public domain.  I'm tickled pink.

It bugs me that mega-corporations go around squeezing drawings of anthropomorphic mice until they've wrung out all the money that they can, long after their creators of the images are dead, instead of letting that intellectual property go back to the culture that helped spawn it and become folklore instead of a cash cow for people who are already rich.  Call me a communist if you want, but companies are not people and information wants to be free, baby.

Oops, sorry, I appear to be on a soapbox.  Let me climb down . . .

So Kevin Crawford's Spears of the Dawn - yeah - awesome.

A couple of friends and I were sitting around the table last week playing Thunderstone (awesome card game, btw,) and the discussion moved towards Spears of the Dawn.  I'm very interested in it - and so is Merwyn.  I see it as a great opportunity to role play in types of cultures that are rarely explored in RPGs.

Crazy-Ass Tim worried that playing an African culture based RPG would lead to stereotypes - unpleasant ones - popping out all over the place.  Kaye - our resident African-American - had similar fears.  We are all in The South, after all, and our stream-of-consciousness role playing style amplifies ugliness sometimes.

Perhaps I have more faith in humanity.  Perhaps I have studied more, as a person who once wanted to be a history professor, about the rich history and culture of the peoples of Africa, and see a wealth of gaming and role playing opportunities.  Perhaps I am huffing paint.  But I think it would be very fun, and could be done in a non-offensive manner.

The stereotype issue - well yeah, RPGs have stereotypes, though the term archetype is used more often.  D&D uses European stereotypes, but it's so ingrained that most of us don't even notice.  Take the ideas of elves, dwarves, orcs, and goblins and move them back in time through D&D and Tolkien into mythology, and I'm sure they represented particular groups and cultures that the people telling the original stories didn't like, or didn't understand.  James Raggi tends to talk about that a lot, if you've ever noticed. :)

What I'm seeing from the alpha of Spears of the Dawn is a concerted effort to avoid negative stereotypes, and to educate gamers on broad facets of medieval African-ish culture, so that players understand their place in the game setting, and so that GMs know how to run the thing.  He's condensed what that players need to know about their chosen culture (of which there are five to choose from,) into a single page.  Okay, yeah, that is simplifying to the extreme - but it's a heck of a lot more information than you get from Basic D&D about Elf culture.  The GM gets a lot more data.

So, while I haven't delved deeply into it, the culture and setting look great.  Almost all of the game mechanics are the same ones from Stars Without Number.  There are some twists to the Death and Dying rules that I actually prefer, and I have been kind of soft-house ruling something similar myself in the Redshirts campaign - in that a stabilized but unconscious character is very boring to play - so why not have them be awake, just not able to do much.  I like his mechanic for that a lot.

The spell system appears to be a whole 'nother beast than the Psychic powers in SWN.  I haven't really read any of it, so I don't know.  Skimming it, I did see some casting times listed that were very long indeed, so looks like we have ritual based magic here as well as regular combat stuff.  I like that kind of spell diversity.

A while back I did a mini-review of a book called Essential African Mythology: Stories That Changed the World in this blog post.  I think the book would be an excellent companion piece to Spears of the Dawn for GMs and players alike.

So, I'm really pleased with what I've seen from Spears of the Dawn, and I'm sure it will illicit more discussion around the gaming table soon.

- Ark


  1. i think the magic is going to be a great asset, my first impressions where to people a planet with SoD for SWN, the more im reading it could be a whole culture of a sector. i think the psy and magic will work well together

  2. Can you do a mixed party of SoD and SWN? Maybe just letting SoD characters have access to hi tech weapons?