Game: Egyptian Adventures: Hamunaptra
Publisher: Green Ronin
Review Dated: 10th, July 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
The Mythic Vistas series from Green Ronin is a real winner. Years into d20 we’re still able to attempt to enthuse and reinvigorate players through campaign settings with a twist. I carefully didn’t say “original campaign settings” there because such a tag couldn’t be applied to Hamunptra and it’s Egyptian Adventures. We’ve been to fantasy Egypt before but anything that’s not a Tolkien-D&D clone is worth looking at.
There’s a disclaimer-cum-introduction from Monte Cook at the start of book one which reminds us that this isn’t a historically accurate supplement and the goal here is to create a flavourful campaign setting. It sounds silly but I’ve seen proof that such a caveat is needed. I’ve seen someone passionate about their Egyptology refuse even to read the introduction because the book was called Hamunptra! Heck, do you know what, I’m fairly sure there weren’t any gnolls or gnomes in ancient Earth Egypt… but there you go. I happen to think that Hamunptra does an excellent job at morphing Egyptian-like myth into a roleplaying cosmology. The magic ingredient is, I think, the direct association between each of the typical D&D fantasy races (except half-orc has been replaced by gnoll) and one of the main deities. Each deity created a race. Set, for example, created the gnomes. Isis created the elves. The Humans were a created by many of the gods working together and this is a nice way to explain why mankind is so widespread.
Sure, we might have the standard D&D races and even the standard D&D classes but Hamunptra manages to feel different. It manages to feel Egyptian. Sometimes it’s small changes like new names for the races – you can call an Asari a Halfling if you want and she won’t mind but you can’t call a Ptahmenu a dwarf unless you’re looking for trouble. The slang ptah-man on the other hand is acceptable. Rangers become Wildwalkers out there in the red sands. Hamunptra even manages to bring druids into the setting in the guise of kama’at who honour Ma’at the guiding principle of the cosmos and of which gods are just a part. Other triumphs of flavour stand out because they’re large and yet carefully blended into the game. For example, there’s been an Egyptian-style empire already which was hit by a near apocalypse. As a result there are Egyptian-style tombs and temples lying in ruins and half buried in the sands just waiting for the PCs to find, explore and stumble into the ancient magic of.
Boxed sets hark back to the D&D I never cared for but let’s not hold that against Egyptian Adventures: Hamunaptra. The price tag scrapes in at just under $40 so let’s have a look to see whether we’re paying extra for a gimmick. There’s a large colour map with the game and I must admit having a box to put it in it better than having it loose in a book and less worrisome than trying to pull it free from a book’s spine. There are actually three books in this set. We’ve The Book of Days, The Book of Gates and The Book of Law. As it turns out I don’t think we’re paying any more for this box than we’d pay for the hardback.
The Book of Days might be best described as the player’s guide. Here we have the creation myth, races and classes. We’ve charts of weapons and lists of equipment with an Egyptian theme. We might poke fun at d20 supplements which always manage to introduce new spells but Hamunptra has better reason than most to do so. We’ve new spells and new domains as well. Deities which govern the Community Domain are Ptah, Apuat, Bes, Hathor and Mentu. We find out more about the gods in The Book of Gates but the very fact that Mentu, a god of war, grants his priests (clerics) Community spells hints at the rich complexity of the Egyptian-inspired pantheon. There are plenty of new spells as well and these too have a strong flavour to them. Spells like “Blessing of Shade”, “Call Sphinx”, “Flesh to Salt”, “Mummify” and “Sand-Swim” are all Egyptian themed classics.
The Book of Gates is the smallest of the trilogy; its 56 pages compare against 96 and 64, but it’s the one I spent longest reading. I just gobbled up the newly spun Egyptian style mythology and world gazetteer. I keep using phrases like “Egyptian style” and have said it’s silly to treat the book as anyway historically or anthropologically literate – it’s just a game – but I must admit my enthusiasm for it would certainly be weakened if Thoth was an axe wielding Beserker or Set was nothing other than Nut in disguise. While I really have seen Egypt experts simply refuse to touch the box on the grounds that the actual mythology should be sacrosanct I’m glad actual Egyptian mythology has been so carefully researched and then insidiously merged into a fantasy setting. I like the fact that Ptah is believable as the Great Creator and has the deity of the dwarves (excuse me, the deity of the Ptahmenu, I meant to say). In addition to the deities themselves The Book of the Gates visits the city states of Khemti – including Hamunaptra itself, the city from which the setting gets its name.
The Book of Law is here to help the GM. We’ve adventure ideas (including those old style bullet points including such classics as; ‘creatures threaten travel and trade along the river’ or ‘a sandstorm uncovers the entrance to some ancient ruins’ – where would we be without professional inspiration?), rules for travelling, prestige classes, secret cults, monsters and treasures.
There is a lot of scope in Hamunaptra for political and religious drama. The influence of the Egyptian-style deities is oblivious whether it’s in very faces of the divinely created races or the growing Wastes which threaten to turn black soil into red sands. The pantheon gets along because it has to and so do the common races but it’s easy to see how a dispute could escalate quickly. The same is true for the city states. There’s a balancing act here too. My favourite uber-plot hook are those cults/secret societies which have a cosmology which differs from the norm (and who can still cast divine magic…) and those which, though not necessarily evil, believe the world is due a rebirth.
My largest issue with Hamunaptra is that I don’t know at what level to put it. I’ve no idea how likely the PCs are to find a wizard living in a local community. Is it rare to find a village with magic (divine or arcane) or can we expect even small communities to be able to churn out some fairly impressive magical displays? It’s rough out there in the sandy red lands but just how much of daily life features battles against fantastic foes or how much of the daily battle is simply the quest for water?
Despite my uncertainty at exactly how mythic this Mythic Vista is I am really pleased with Hamunaptra. This product could so easily have been Deserts and Dragons but we’ve avoided that trap. Hamunaptra the answer for any d20 player or gaming group who want to do something different and are contemplating an Egyptian setting.