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.