Tabletop RPG Review: Nyambe: African Adventures

Back at the beginning of the 21st Century, the folks behind Dungeons & Dragons did something very clever that I strongly suspect has a lot to do with why D&D has reached new heights of popularity today.  It also opened the doors for an unprecedented amount of community-created material, helping to make a positive feedback loop that has helped bring the whole hobby out of a kind of dark age.  I don’t think that’s what was intended.  But that seems to be what has happened.  Just go on YouTube and look up “the OSR,” and you’ll see levels of do-it-yourself creativity the hobby didn’t even enjoy in what I think of as its first Golden Age, the mid-1990s. 

I don’t fully understand the whole D20/OGL business because I mostly stepped away from the hobby in the early 2000s, but you can look it up.  But with the D20 System, suddenly anyone could put out material compatible with the then current D&D system, allowing new settings, new styles of play, and tons of new content that Wizards of the Coast didn’t have to pay to develop, but which constantly aimed people back toward their books.  Win-win.  Atlas Games, creators of many of the best danged games there are, got in on the action with a surprising but much needed book, Nyambe: African Adventures.  Virtually all Fantasy settings around at that time were deeply rooted in European ideas, if not directly and specifically in European history and mythology.  Egypt or Japan being some of the only non-European settings that ever got much attention (and in too many cases, those were Europeanized to the point of being almost pointless if not offensive).  

With this book, Chris Dolunt tries to clear away a lot of Victorian Imperialism and pulp/adventure fiction ideas of Africa to create a well-realized Fantasy world built upon a different foundation than many of us are used to.  There’s a clearly built history, well fleshed out locations, factions, a developed metaphysical world, new weapons, magics, creatures, and more.  There’s an excellent section that goes through various regions and gives story hooks with various options so a prospective DM/GM has something to build upon.  

The only downside I see with this book is that it uses D20.  I don’t care for it as a game mechanic.  I don’t care for D&D in general as a mechanic.  I’d love to see Atlas Games revise this and put it out with one of their much, much better games, like WaRP.  That said, I’d also love to see more folks who run D&D get copies of this so they can bring in some African based Fantasy and not just white-wash it like the Forgotten Realms setting used to do.

This is an excellent book and I’ll definitely be raiding it for upcoming games.  I won’t be using the mechanics, obviously, but the setting info is top tier.  Highly recommended for anyone who might be running Fantasy games.  I’d love to see more works like this.

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