Spears of the Dawn is a tabletop roleplaying game published in 2013 by Sine Nomine Publishing. It is set in a world based on Ancient Africa and has a rule set based on and compatible with early-editions Dungeons & Dragons.
The game takes place in an area known as the Three Lands (the jungles of the Green Land to the furthest west, the savannahs of the Yellow Land in the middle, and the deserts of Black Land to the furthest east). Until forty years ago, a Forever War raged against the undead Eternal of the Sixth Kingdom, but a final alliance of the five living kingdoms ultimately broke its power. However, the peace has been a mixed blessing, as petty rulers now turn on each other for lack of a common enemy and customs made for wartime grow increasingly stifling leading to discontent and strife. To make it worse, the task of defeating the Sixth Kingdom was left unfinished, and Eternal still survive in tomb-houses scattered across the land, plotting their revenge.
Player characters belong to one of four classes:
- Griots, singers of praise and blame who wields the ambiguously magical power of song
- Marabouts, blessed with the ability to call upon the aid of nature spirits
- Ngangas, born with the ability to shape the fundamental power of the universe through talismans and rituals
- Warriors, who have no special powers but great fighting skills
Tropes found in this game include:
- Ambiguously Human: The Night Men who are attacking the Lokossans. No one is sure if they're spirits, or animals taking human form, or if they're just a race of especially savage humans.
- An Adventurer Is You: Per default the players are assumed to be Spears of the Dawn, a sort of informal order of wandering righters of wrongs and fighters of evil.
- Complete Immortality: The Eternal can't be killed, ever, in any way. They are not, however, invincible, so the common tactic when fighting them is to break as many of their bones as possible.
- Evil Is Not a Toy: The setup for a standard campaign involves one of the Five Kingdoms trying to use the secrets and power of the Sixth Kingdom for their own ends. Which one of them is randomly decided and not initially known to the players.
- Exotic Extended Marriage: Men having several wives is common pretty much everywhere, thanks to the years of the Long War when most men were killed in battle. Since that is no longer the case, though, the custom has started causing some discontent.
- Forever War: The Long War lasted for one hundred and fifty years, though it did eventually end. The Lokossans' conflict with the Night Men remains one of these, however.
- Gray and Grey Morality: Most groups in the setting (and certainly the ones we learn the most about) are neither entirely blameless nor entirely unworthy of sympathy.
- Greater-Scope Villain: The snakemen used to be a power in the world, but their rule was overthrown before the start of recorded history. Some of the surviving ones still had enough power left to transform the Sixth Kingdom into the Eternal, making them the ultimate architects of the Five Kingdoms' current woes even though the Eternal are the default antagonists.
- Human Sacrifice: The Lokossans practice it to empower their magic-users.
- Immortality Immorality: The Eternal's undead state makes them prone to various unwholesome habits.
- Implausible Hair Color: Some Nyalans have some giant blood in their veins, which can cause them to have blonde, red or white hair while otherwise looking African.
- Magocracy: The Lokossans are ruled by the a sorcerer-king known as the Ahonsu, and make the heaviest use of magic of all the kingdoms.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Griots can do things like strike people dead by condemning them, but it's left vague whether that's because they wield some sort of magic or just because people of the Three Lands believe in their authority so strongly. Their abilities are explicitly unaffected by Anti-Magic effects, for what it's worth.
- Our Giants Are Bigger: The giants of the Mountains of the Sun are roughly ten feet tall, with jet-black skin, flame-coloured hair and handsome, well-proportioned forms. They do not age, but can also not reproduce other than with humans, and with those their offspring is human with only a few giantish features such as an Implausible Hair Color. They were once the allies of the Nyalans and taught them much of their superior crafts, but they have since then grown hostile to humanity and shut themselves away.
- Our Vampires Are Different: The Eternal don't age, but they also can't heal damage to their bodies except by eating human flesh. This includes minor damage like sunburn that can add up over time (and the midday sun in the Three Lands can be pretty brutal even for the living), so many prefer to stay indoors during the day to minimise the wear and tear.
- Prefers Raw Meat: The Meru eat their meat raw, as a tradition from the Long War when they were constantly on the move and there wasn't always time to cook it.
- Proud Merchant Race: The Sokone are the richest and most cosmopolitan of the kingdoms, and their cities are havens of commerce.
- Proud Warrior Race: The Kirsi are led by their mounted warriors, and value courage and strength at arms over all else.
- Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: Most places in the Three Lands have strictly defined gender roles. However, the point is repeatedly made that player characters are by their very nature exceptional, and that no one is going to dismiss a woman who can wield magic / has the blessing of the gods / is the best fighter in the village. The way each culture deals with non-gender-conforming men and women is also outlined.
- Snake People: The Umthali snakemen are the descendants of people who worshipped the Gods Below and were transformed by them. They range from the most pure-blooded, who just look like giant snakes, to the most diluted, who look like regular humans with maybe just some slight serpent-like trait such as slitted eyes and who might even live their whole lives unaware of their ancestry... unless of course the unnatural hungers of their blood should happen to awaken.
- Tragic Villain: The Sixth Kingdom as a whole. They only made the Deal with the Devil that turned them into the Eternal because the Nyalans had driven them out into the desert and they had no other way to survive. Add to that the fact that they can't die, but can be crippled, and thus their enemies' usual way of dealing with them is breaking their physical forms so badly that they can't move or speak ever again and then calling it a day... well, they are too evil and insane to make peace with, but you still can't help but feel sorry for them.
- The Undead: The Eternal come in different forms, from the eerily beautiful and powerful masters to the near-mindless, zombie-like slaves.
- Unequal Rites: There are two forms of magic. Firstly, ngangas are people born with the inherent ability to control ashe, the fundamental energy of the universe, through the use of talismans and ritual. Secondly, the marabouts are people who have been granted the blessing of the spirits and can work miracles by calling on their aid. Generally speaking, marabout magic is subtler and more elegant (it has to work within the natural order, but the details are handled by spirits who know exactly what they're doing), while nganga magic is more powerful but cruder (it can theoretically do anything, but is limited by the nganga's ability to figure out how).
- Vestigial Empire: Nyala used to rule all the Three Lands, but the Long War broke its power, and it's now filled with families of proud lineage but no remaining lands.
- Won the War, Lost the Peace: The game takes place forty years after the Evil Empire was defeated, but now the victorious nations are falling apart all on their own.
- Zebras Are Just Striped Horses: There are mentions of Nyala fielding units of zebra-mounted cavalry, even though actual horses are also fairly common in the Three Lands.