Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Spears of the Dawn

Spears of the Dawn is a game with a bit of history to it.

First, it's funded through the Kickstarter process. This in and of itself might be enough to make some people shield their eyes and turn their heads. The thing about Spears of the Dawn though, is that it actually game out a little ahead of time.

Second, it challenges the reader to do better by the gaming community. The author talks about using Scribus, OneBookShelf, OGL material and asks that if you don't like the game, make something better. I don't get the vibe of "You ain't got no game" or nothing hostile like that. I get the vibe that the author is endorsing people to be creative and put their efforts out for the masses in a good way. Probably why he's released the art for the game as public use for gaming too eh?

In between different bits, like looking at apartments and waiting to see what's going on with where I currently live, I've been pinging between Spears and other PDFs. On my computer, the file comes across fine. On my Toshiba Android Thrive tablet, using something like ezPDF, the heading files lose almost all of the detail, leaving only the capital of each word.

While I haven't read the whole book yet, and will hopefully come back to it soon, I wanted to point out the in game mechanic of having the characters be Spears of the Dawn. In games where the culture doesn't default to noble knight, shifty rogue, enigmatic wizard and pious cleric in a pseudo Middle Age Europe, it can be difficult to get a group together. It can be difficult to have a starting point for the game. It can be difficult to know what the players are supposed to do.

Another game, long ago mind you, Legend of the Five Rings, saw this potential problem in its first edition and recommended that the players be Magistrates who must uphold the law, work together, solve problems, and do right not only by their clan but by the Emperor!

Spears of the Dawn is a calling, a caste, a title, but from what I've seen this far, it's not a game mechanic. The people of the Three Lands have come out of war only recently against a dark and evil force that has many pockets of malice behind them and it is up to the Spears of the Dawn to battle against those monsters.

It's a great plot device that allows a diverse group of characters to get together and take to the dungeons with a bit of a background. It's one that can be used for multiple characters. It can be as deep or as shallow as the game master wants to make it. For those who might not be interested in that venue though, there's a sourcebook/adventure out by Sine Nomine Publishing already, House of Bone and Amber.

I haven't read through enough of the game rules to determine what is new and what is old school in game mechanics. In many ways it seems at first glance to be lot of old school including some of the old stand by for gaming stats: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma, rolled 3d6 straight in line.  Bonuses are relatively small starting at +1 from 14-17 and +2 for 18. One of the nods to old school, or at least I consider it a nod, is the use of a silver standard. Many times one of the cries against the old Dungeons and Dragons is the sheer amount of wealth characters can accumulate.

In a non-campaign moment, one of the things I was looking at in terms of the stat generation, was either a nod to the old Rolemaster game system, or a case of parallel development. Many moons ago, in Rolemaster, if you didn't have at least a 90 in your prime stats, you could swap out your stat for a 90. Here, in your class, while you do roll 3d6 in order, you can put in a 14 for your prime score. While it's not going to be as awesome as an 18 in say, 3rd or 4th edition, or anything, especially in an OSR style game, it does provide some options for those players who have to have some better stats then the minimum eh?

Another non-standard bit, is rolling hit points. While it's a random roll, it's a random roll every level. It uses the lower end hit dice types, so fighters using d8 for example. The 'thing' though is that say at 3rd level, you can roll 3d8 for your hit points and take the better of the two, the new ones or your original ones. That's a bit of a strange system for me as it can have some flux in lower level characters who roll poorly but doesn't seem too useful as advancement happens and dice start to 'average' out on weight.

I hope to get back to Spears of the Dawn soon. It looks like a nice campaign setting that could easily be yanked out of the OSR system for exploration by characters from other systems or settings.