Category Archives: Spears of the Dawn

An Africa-inspired game of fantastic adventure using the Stars Without Number system rules.

The House of Bone and Amber is Finished

Thanks to the tireless work of my artists, The House of Bone and Amber adventure for Spears of the Dawn has been finished and provided to all backers. PDF and print copies should be available through DriveThruRPG within a week or two, along with the public domain art package containing the art I used to make the file.

With this completion, the Spears of the Dawn Kickstarter is now finished. The core book was shipped two months early and the stretch reward was provided on time, thus making it fully successful within the promised time frame. It has been a frankly exhausting process and would have been quite impossible without the help of Luigi Castellani, Miguel “Pictishscout” Santos, Ejiwa Ebenebe, Pamela Ngouoghe, Mohammed Agbadi, Nicole Cardiff, Andrew Krahnke, IanMacLean, Earl Geier, and Sara Mirabella.

It’s quite likely I’ll come back to this mode of funding again some time in the future, when I have need of art or other polish for a particular work. One lesson that has been emphasized, however, is that the text of a product should be at least draft-complete before the KS begins. The strain of coordinating art, doing editing, handling layout, and dealing with the hundred and one practical business details needed during a kickstart is enormous, and a creator just isn’t likely to have much mental ease to actually write a project. It can be done, but it’s substantially harder than doing it while there isn’t a looming deadline and a group of several hundred backers to keep happy. If I hadn’t had Spears of the Dawn manuscript-complete before the campaign was fully funded, I’d have been very hard-pressed to get things in order as quickly as I did.

But things did work, and the kickstart was successful. It’s thanks to generous patrons such as they that I’m able to keep putting out books and I’m glad of the opportunity. Now that Spears of the Dawn is settled, it’s time to turn an eye back to Stars Without Number with Suns of Gold, a merchant campaign guide for those who want a little more commerce in their interstellar swashbuckling. I hope to have more details of it soon, but within its pages you’ll find guides for far trader commercial empires, tags for building the economic profile of the world, tools for creating suitably exotic new goods for these worlds to trade, and systems to let bold traders establish new colonies on distant worlds or deep in the void of space. With luck, it should be available by the end of May.

Spears of the Dawn Now Available

Get it here!

Now that OneBookshelf has the backer list and the cash for fulfillment, it’s time to open up Spears of the Dawn to those souls who couldn’t make the kickstarter. In addition, interested souls should grab the Spears of the Dawn art pack, a free file full of every piece of art and map in the book, all public domain and free for your own products and projects. The art pack also includes an InDesign CS6 file containing the paragraph and object styles I used to make the game’s layout, plus the source file for the entire first chapter for you to use as a worked example.

Now to finish up The House of Bone and Amber, and this kickstarter will have officially finished ahead of its promised schedule.

Spears of the Dawn PDF is Finished

The Spears of the Dawn final PDF is finished and has been made available to backers via a backer-only update, two and a half months before the listed deadline of March 2013. I’ve also sent out a survey to get the mailing addresses of print-copy backers, and I expect them to trickle in while I wait for the print proofs to check out. Assuming I get things right on the first try, they’ll be ready for shipping in the first week of February, and folks should start to get their paper rewards once the mails do their work there. OneBookshelf will be handling the fulfillment of the orders, so they can be expected to get them out briskly and in proficient fashion.

That leaves The House of Bone and Amber for completion. The cover is done and some interior work, but I still need to finish a few more maps before I can hand out the draft to backers in a playable condition. I still don’t dare promise PDF delivery before the end of March on it, as I’ve never done a color product before, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if I got it done ahead of the deadline. I have an intense aversion to having this Kickstarter still out there,  even if it’s not late, and I won’t be able to rest easy until it’s in the hands of everyone who’s pledged for it.

Once the PDF and print versions of Spears of the Dawn are ready and the backer addresses have been given to OBS, I’ll turn it on for public purchase for those who weren’t able to get into the Kickstarter or who wanted to be cautious about backing it. The same will happen in turn with The House of Bone and Amber once the backers have all gotten their PDF copies.

Getting Things Settled for Spears of the Dawn

As the tracker in the upper right implies, the Spears of the Dawn kickstarter was a rousing success, and a plain signal to other small publishers that there are plenty of people interested in this sort of topic. I’ve been communicating regularly with the project’s backers thus far giving updates on where things stand, but I’m dropping this note here so those of you equally interested, if perhaps less fiscally involved, also know what’s going on.

The Spears of the Dawn rulebook is completed. Backers have already received the low-art version with the existing pieces in place. I’m continuing to collect any typo reports or other bugs, but right now all it needs is the last art to be dropped into the slots assigned for it and it will be ready to submit for POD and shipping to the backers. Current expected delivery date is the promised March of 2013. It currently only lacks about 25 out of the 62 pieces of art, but these things never, ever go as smoothly as they ought to, so I can’t prudently promise things any faster than I first did. I’ll believe all troubles are behind me after the last book is in the last backer’s hands.

As a bonus, backers are also due PDF copies of The House of Bone and Amber, a module I wrote earlier this year for a Lamentations of the Flame Princess module campaign on IndieGoGo. Sadly, that campaign did not fund- but it did leave me with a 20K-word module in draft form. I’m hoping to get the module rewrite for Spears of the Dawn complete by the end of this weekend, and then rough it into a layout so I can begin commissioning color art for it. A piece from the Cameroonian artist Pamela Ngouoghe has already been arranged, and I’d like to get more African artists involved if possible, but the first priority is getting people their promised goods on time. Once the module is in rough layout, however, I can release it to the backers so they can use it in their own games and give feedback on anything that needs fixing.

All in all, the Kickstarter campaign has been very successful thus far. The only reason I hesitate to consider it a resounding success just yet is that it isn’t actually over until people get their products in hand. Once that happy day arrives, I dare say I’ll be using this funding source for other products as well.

Spears of the Dawn Alpha Now Available to Kickstart Backers

Menu-SotDCoverReady to give Spears of the Dawn a look? Head over to the kickstart campaign and pitch in to back it to get access to an update with a link to the alpha game PDF. It includes everything but the art that you’re helping to fund, and is ready with all the information and tools a GM needs to get a game rolling. Typos, layout bugs, and other errors can be sent to the contact address on the sidebar, and I’ll get them fixed in time for the beta PDF release at the end of the campaign. By the time the art is ready for the final I should have had have plenty of time and eyes to get the book in top condition.

Spears of the Dawn Kickstarter is On.

The Spears of the Dawn Kickstarter is now live, offering you the finest in old-school sandbox fantasy gaming with an African-inspired flavor. Built on the Stars Without Number game system, it’s meant to ease a play group smoothly into an African-flavored setting, one that gives you all the classic pleasures of dungeon-crawling, wilderness exploration, and hard-driven politicking with a new set of toys drawn from a time and place that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. Grab the free preview chapter there while you’re at it and see for yourself!

Spears of the Dawn and Culture Smoothing

Scholar_thumbAnother slice of excellent art from the redoubtable Ian MacLean depicting a scholar at his grave cogitations. Scholars aren’t the only ones who need to do some thinking when confronted with new settings and new cultures. How will Spears of the Dawn help players to fit into a milieu that many of them will find novel and unfamiliar? There are two main techniques that are used to help smooth out these issues and get everyone playing quickly and confidently.

First, Spears of the Dawn‘s setting is built to encourage classic freebooting adventurers. The subterranean tomb-houses of the vanquished Eternal cry out to be purged of their ancient evils, and the forgotten prehuman ruins of the hidden vales and high mountains await the avaricious courage of plunderers.  Unctuous merchant-princes have need of hard-handed strangers, and the proud lords of fallen Nyala have much work for those accustomed to a reddened blade. Golden cross-shaped trade ingots spill across the tables of palm-wine houses as pay for the glistening rubies they just “recovered”, and every one is spent before a scarred old chieftain humbly begs their aid against the were-leopard cult that torments his village. The Three Lands offer new foes to fight, new patrons to aid, new lands to explore, and new plunder to seize, but they offer the kind of play and excitement that your players have loved for years. Even those players who are least comfortable with exploring the societies of the Five Kingdoms aren’t at a loss as to what to do next; they have a stout runku in their hands, the party’s nganga has empowered their warding amulets, and the griot knows stories of an Eternal tomb-house up in the hills that was never cleared after the Long War. Onward to glory!

But aside from supporting familiar and well-loved play styles, Spears of the Dawn also helps players fit into the setting right from the start of character generation. While it uses the familiar character creation system of the free Stars Without Number RPG, every background is explicitly linked to a place in the cultures of the Five Kingdoms. Experienced and comfortable players can always free-form a background to their liking, but new participants can pick one with the confidence that it will give them a clear place in society. Take a look at the draft Background spread for Nyala, one of the Five Kingdoms. Each of them has a two-page spread like this to ease players into the setting- and those who care to learn more can turn to the setting chapter to get further details. Even without such supplementary reading, a player never has to digest more than a page of information to understand their character’s native origins.

Spears of the Dawn is shaping up fast. The text should be complete by the end of the month, and the doughty efforts of the artists are producing cracking good material at a brisk rate. Don’t forget that every bit of art in Spears of the Dawn is going to be released into the public domain once the game is out. I want to encourage other people to take their own shot at the splendid trove of adventure and excitement that lies in Africa’s history and myth, and if this art helps make their free work and commercial products more feasible, then I’ll count the project a success.

Spears of the Dawn art and tools

BOWMAN_thumbSpears of the Dawn is moving apace, with a piece of example art by the talented Luigi Castellani shown here. I’m very pleased with the stable of artists I’m rounding up for the project, as several have already put forward some excellent work. While all of the art is meant to work well with Spears of the Dawn‘s setting, I’ve also been arranging pieces to be as useful as possible to other publishers and creators. As I’m going to be releasing it all into the public domain once Spears of the Dawn is published, I want it to be something other people can use for their own projects, something to encourage them to explore the possibilities outside our traditional gaming canon.

Aside from the art, Spears of the Dawn will have every bit of that sandbox support you’ve come to expect from Sine Nomine, scientifically desiccated down to the most ruthlessly efficient tables, sheets, and inspiration nuggets. One such nugget is the one sheet template, pages designed to provide a sandbox GM with quick answers for running a suddenly-necessary dungeon, urban structure, or street encounter.

Your players suddenly throw you a curveball, deciding to drop by the oba’s palace after dusk tonight and search for evidence of his pacting with unclean spirits. What do you do? You pull out the photocopied blank palace map you took from the rulebook, the one-sheet monster summary that lists the most common PC foes and their combat statistics, and this one sheet template for an urban palace. A handful of fast dice rolls marks out which rooms serve which purpose, studs it with suitable occupants, and tells you how to describe the loot the PCs might find in such a kingly abode. Similar one sheet templates are provided for tomb-houses, cavern complexes, street scenes, ruined dwellings, and lost shrines. This is just one of the sandbox tools included in the game- and handiest of all, most of them are entirely mechanics-neutral and suitable for your gaming system of choice!

Spears of the Dawn Coming Soon

One of the great pleasures of being a one-man publishing outfit is that I can follow my whims. I can pick up a project whenever it pleases me and drop it for something else when I need a change. I need no approval from anyone else and I can control every aspect of my output to fit whatever criteria fits my mood. And lately, I’ve been annoyed.

Every month or so the larger online RPG communities seem to be roiled with a recurring complaint about inadequate diversity in role-playing games. People complain about the settings, they complain about the art, and they complain about the implicit assumptions embedded in the game. They do a great deal of textual interrogation and pointing to flaws and very little pointing to better examples. The debates never really change and nothing ever seems to be accomplished beyond personal halo-polishing and ritual public disappointment in the failings of game companies.

Last month, the usual cycle was particularly irritating to me. I don’t even particularly care whether the complainants are right or not, I’m just tired of nobody ever doing anything. Did somebody break their fingers? Burn their library card? Cut off their net access? Is something stopping people from writing their own RPG and showing how things ought to be done? So last month I decided to quit being irritated and start doing something useful.

Spears of the Dawn is an old-school RPG that provides an African-flavored take on traditional fantasy adventure gaming. Where the classic editions of old worked on a European pastiche of mythical and historical elements, Spears of the Dawn takes its inspiration from pieces of medieval Africa, its cultures and mythology. Walk with mighty-thewed warriors, masked ngangas and pious marabouts through the carved mahogany palaces of dread sorcerer-kings, with griots to sing your praises and cast stern judgment on your deeds. Plumb the tomb-houses of the dread Eternal dwellers in the black eastern deserts, or revel in the raucous marketplaces of the great stone cities of the west. Ride with the fierce hill-country lancers of the north, or fight alongside the red-handed amazons of the southern jungle kingdoms as they fight to preserve their people against the bestial Night Men from beyond civilization’s edge.

Spears of the Dawn isn’t just about making an African-flavored retrocousin with the Stars Without Number engine- it’s about encouraging other people to make the games they think should be made. There’s never been a better time in our hobby for individual creators, and people should take advantage of it. If you want a game, make that game. The old-school gaming framework provides ready-made mechanics to wrap in the setting and tropes that you think are important. You don’t have to be a mechanical innovator or a trailblazer through the mathematical jungles. You just need to write the setting and acquire the art that’s right for your idea.

To encourage this, all art used in Spears of the Dawn will be released into the public domain upon its publication. You are encouraged to use it for your own commercial or noncommercial products. I will also release the InDesign template files I use for the book, so those of you with expertise in the software can just load them up with your own text and commercially publish that. You are encouraged to do what Spears of the Dawn does, except do it better– whatever kind of “better” that is for you.

Furthermore, because the point is to show people how simple and straightforward it is to release a game like this, I’m planning to have the game fully written by the end of September, no more than two months after I started the project. You don’t need to sacrifice your life to create a role-playing game and you don’t need to monopolize your year to put something out. Yes, I’ve had more practice than most in putting together games but even a novice can move at a good clip if they really want to produce something.

As time goes on I’ll be revealing more about Spears of the Dawn and how I intend to support GMs and players in a cultural pastiche that’s not as familiar as the usual faux 14th century Eurolandia. Right now, I just want to encourage people to pay attention to the opportunities they have for creating the kind of games they think should be made. These games can happen if they’re wanted- so do people really want them?

House of Bone and Amber kickstarter at Indiegogo

Baltic storms crash on the salt-stained walls of Salatgriv. The crumbled ruins of the damnable fortress of Salismunde squat like a vulture above the ill-favored port town, and the wine-eyed heathens of the Tatar quarter hide within their houses of graven stone. There are savage whispers amid the townsfolk, and merchants clutch their purses at every start and shadow. Old Father Raum shrieks imprecations at the pagans from the steps of the altar, and the Tatar elder’s blood pools in the amber pits outside the town’s walls. Birgirmeistar Akmens is desperate to halt the bloodshed before it becomes a full-fledged pogrom, but who in the town can be trusted to save its people from their own murderous passions? It is a task for a band of red-handed outsiders, ruthless souls who’ll do what they must to earn the Birgirmeistar’s silver- and who have the mettle to bring bright steel to the cursed town’s black past. Will your heroes prove more terrible than the darkness that gathers, or will they be yet another bloody sacrifice beneath the House of Bone and Amber?

The House of Bone and Amber is an adventure for PCs of levels 4-7. It includes the fully-detailed port town of Salatgriv and a full cast of NPCs, with tools for using the town even after the grim events of the adventure have rolled over its streets. The sinister halls beneath the Salismunde are fleshed out in six separate sections that can be mixed and matched within the adventure- or pulled out entirely to insert into your own campaign when you need a quick delving of ineffable horror.

In conjunction with the Lamentations of the Flame Princess July Grand Adventures Campaign, I’ve brewed up something special for Indiegogo backers, and its success hinges on your support. I’ve had the rough draft sitting on my hard drive for a month, but it still needs that tender loving care that goes into making a good sandbox product, and you get to vote with your pocketbook on whether or not I should spend that effort. With Earl Geier on board to provide suitably horrific art, almost sixty rooms worth of dungeon-delving goodness, and the festering sink of bitter human passions you’d expect from one of my sandbox towns, I’d surely hope to be told that this is something people want me to finish. Have a look and tell your friends!