Thursday, March 9, 2017

Nyambe - African Adventures

About 8 years ago I was in Pittsburgh and went to this gaming store in Oakland called Phantoms of the Attic. It’s still there, luckily, and you can find their website online here. It’s a big, rambling store packed with roleplaying games, comics, miniatures, memorabilia, and trading card games.

While I was there, I started going through their section for discounted and discontinued games. During my exploration, I came across a game called Nyambe. It was a big hardbound, its cover green and gold, stamped with what looked to me like generic African tribal symbols. The cover art showed a raging lion attacking a group of African warriors inside a tomb of sorts.

I wasn’t impressed. In fact, I thought it was silly.

I don’t remember even taking the time to flip through the book to see what it was all about. I just dismissed it out of hand. Why? It’s complicated. Part of me felt like African stuff didn’t belong in role-playing games. Right. A victim of my own self-hatred, I guess. The other part of me just felt like a White guy couldn’t do an African setting any justice without turning into a shitfest of stereotypes and racist themes.

Well, I was literally wrong about everything.

Not only does Nyambe make sense, Dolunt has managed to create a very powerful, richly detailed, and complex game system that embodies the deep, spiritual essence of a mythical African continent and RPG without using stereotypes and racist tropes. What he’s created is pretty amazing: 12 different ethnic groups, a detailed history and cosmology based on the African orisha, a collection of equipment, weapons, spells, and monsters that are unique to the land, and enough open connections in the system that a GM can easily link it to more traditional fantasy worlds.

I haven’t played it yet, but I want to; my wife will likely be my first player, just to test out the system and see what it can do. Basically, Nymabe uses the d20 system also found in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. It’s very heavy with skills and bonuses, which means the number crunching can get tiresome, but it’s always been one of my favorites. I’ve always been a fan of having lots of skills in a game because I think it helps differentiate characters of the same type: for example, you can have three warriors in a party, all skilled at different things, making them all experts in their chosen fields.

So…Nyambe. Here is an excellent, detailed review on that sums it all up really nicely. There is also this interview with the game creator, Chris Dolunt; check out the sidebar for more downloads and links. After I play the game, I’ll post a review on how things go.

Inspired by Nyambe, I also picked up a copy of Spears at Dawn, another great role-playing game set in a mythical African world. 

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