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?