Egyptian Adventures: Hamunaptra

Anicent Lands of Mystery! Towering pyramids rise from the sands, speaking of the glory of kings long gone. Three mighty pharaohs, kings and gods, rule over a land divided – over nations hovering on the brink of war. Priests of mighty deities guide the lives of peasants and nobles alike, as all struggle to make the most of the fertile lands lining the mighty river Yor. All around, the desert grows, encroaching nearer each day to the last remaining refuge of a once mighty civilization. Welcome to Egyptian Adventures: Hamunaptra In August of 2008 I found myself at GENCON. It turned out to be a good time to make my first expedition. With the release of 4th edition I found exceedingly good bargains. Visiting the Green Ronin booth I picked up Egyptian Adventures: Hamunaptra for $5. After reading The Samarkand Solution and The Annubis Murders by Gary Gygax, I was thinking of possibly running something set in an Egyptian-themed setting. At that price, I figured I could afford to be disappointed. Opening the boxed set I found three books and a fold-out map. I immediately unfolded the map to see what I would find. I was somewhat disappointed – the map is real world Egypt. At least, it looked like it to me. The names were different – the Mediterranean is called the Uatch-ur and the Red Sea is the Gulf of Tefnut. While I didn’t recognize the names, I did recognize the geography. The map was labeled ‘Khemti’, but I could recognize the ‘Your River’ (referred to as Yor River in the accompanying text) as the Nile with its three cataracts. The cities, ruins and oases marked on the map, however, I wasn’t sure if they exist, or even if they ever existed. The map itself was quite beautiful. The desert textures and raised relief showing elevations look like they may have come from a satellite image. The map is clear and easy to read. Unfortunately, terms used in the book are not marked on the map. Some terms not explained in the first book will be useful to the reader; ‘the black’ refers to the area along the banks of the Yor (where periodic flooding deposits fertile silt) and the ‘red’ are the deserts beyond the river banks. The guide also talks about Lower Khemti (the northern area) as ‘Ta-Mehtu’ and Upper Khemti (the southern region) as ‘Shematu’. Once those facts have been gleaned from the text, the map is easily used to understand what area is being described. The map also includes a ‘window’ showing the city of Hamunaptra. The three included books are Book One: The Book of Days, Book Two: The Book of Gates and Book Three: The Book of Law. Each book has a different area of focus, but the structure is not entirely logical. Terms used in the first book are not explained until the second. However, nothing was so obscure that I couldn’t piece it together prior to finishing the other books. Looking at each book in more detail: Book One: The Book of Days The Book of Days (95 pages) begins with an explanation of the history of Khemti, including the last twenty ruling dynasties. The creation mythology is actually well thought out and makes sense (each race is favored of one god, except humans who were created by all the gods and are favored by all of them). This bit of explanation is masterful for all that comes later – it is used when explaining the relationships between the various races. Each race differs from the standard races in the Player’s Handbook in small and subtle ways. Most changes reflect the culture of Khemti, but there are a few mechanical revisions as well; such as Dwarves lose Darkvision but gain a +2 Strength and -2 Dexterity along with their existing +2 Constitution and -2 Charisma. Beyond the standard races with some minor modifications the book provides one new ‘standard’ race. The chosen of Annubis, or Anpur, are jackal headed humanoids similar to gnolls. Racial HD have been removed, allowing a player to begin as a ‘gnoll’ at level one. This is a big deal for me, since I have one player that adores gnolls – this may be the answer for letting him play one from the beginning of a campaign. For the most part, I think the racial revisions provide sufficient ‘food for thought’ to justify my $5 investment. The standard classes in the Player’s Handbook are again present, with new names more appropriate to the setting. Most of the changes to the class are minor enough that using the standard classes with the new name would be sufficient for the setting, but the changes are appropriate, and if you have the boxed set, it can’t hurt to make the adjustments. For example, Sorcerers gain Eschew Materials and Summon Familiar as bonus feats at 1st level, and throughout their career they get a minor boost to Metamagic and learn a couple of innate spells (supernatural ability) at higher levels that make them a little more interesting but don’t affect the overall power setting of the campaign material. Other classes, such as wizard, remain exactly as their PHB counterpart (though they are called Kheri-Heb). For the Priest class (cleric) they lose the ability to spontaneously cast heal or inflict spells, but they gain the ability to channel prepared spells to cast their domain spell. For example, a 1st level cleric with the protection domain may lose a prepared spell to cast ‘sanctuary’ more than once per day. As someone who has frequently played clerics and has specifically chosen domains for access to particular spells, this is a great change and helps eliminate the trope that all clerics have as their main purpose to heal their companions. The book continues with a couple of new skills (and new uses for old skills) and 32 new feats. As far as feats go, they are very appropriate to a ‘core only’ game. In a game using multiple supplements, the feats may not work as intended. For example, Desert Creature allows you to make a Fortitude save once per day in desert conditions rather than each hour. Sandstorm (published by Wizards of the Coast) offers a feat called ‘Heat Endurance’ that works completely differently mechanically, but achieves a similar effect. Beyond the differences between similar feats, there is also the question of how they stack. For the most part, the feats in this book are ones that I found interesting and appropriate to the setting. I have no concerns about them changing the power level of the game, and would certainly allow them in a ‘core only’ game, even if it were not for an Egyptian-style setting. The book features an abbreviated list of weapons and armor appropriate to the setting, along with a couple of new weapons, though most are unremarkable. Mechanically, they offer a benefit to possessing a helm without increasing armor class. A helm does not make you harder to hit, but an attacker takes a -2 penalty on confirmation rolls for critical hits if you are wearing one. Following the description of spells and feats, we have a section on Khemti magic. There are a few new spells, but everything in the Player’s Handbook remains fair game. Again, the book provides a way to change the flavor of standard magic without changing much mechanically. Essentially, they remove material components for many spells and use foci instead. For example, to cast a spell from the Evocation spell, you normally need a wand or a staff as a focus. As an example for how you can ‘tweak’ the core rules to transform them into a completely distinct flavor, this book was an excellent example. For DMs that are ‘world-builders’, this may be worthwhile simply as an example of how to differentiate regions in the world without using completely different rules. Book Two: The Book of Gates If the first book provides for character creation, the second book (56 pages) provides the campaign setting details. The first chapter covers cultural practices and the like of the ‘civilized’ people of the black lands, and a brief overview of the people of the desert. Castes and social classes are briefly examined, a system of weights and measures is provided, and information on political divisions is covered. The second chapter is a description of 27 Egyptian deities with associated domains and other good stuff. It provides information on more deities than does Deities and Demigods, but less overall information. Since the gods are not active in the world of Khemti (at least, not anymore), there are no stat blocks for the gods. There is information on how they are depicted in art, the appropriate dress for their priests, and information on portfolios and domains. It may be enough to provide some ‘campaign dressing’, but doesn’t provide enough information to really explain the beliefs of the various worshippers, or how different deities with the same domains interact in anything but a superficial level. The third chapter provides an overview of the major cities, and was the most disheartening for me. There are no maps given for cities, except Hamunaptra, and that only has four marked locations – the Colossi outside the gates to the city, the Citadel (Pharonic Palace), the Temple of Osiris, and the Great Gallery (an arena). The city has an abbreviated stat block (as do the others described in the book) providing the total population, the racial breakdown and a handful of important figures. For Hamunaptra we are provided with the name, race and class levels of five major NPCs (the pharaoh, his Vizier, a high priest, the military leader, and the pharoah’s bodyguard). As far as any city based adventures, the DM is going to have a lot of work to do. The final chapter on topography is similarly unenlightening. Book Three: The Book of Law The final book is something of a hodge-podge. Included are chapters on adventure themes and seeds, secret societies, prestige classes, magical treasure, and monsters. The adventure themes are well-thought out and include good advice on how to make an adventure/campaign interesting and progress. Some of the advice is rather generic, as are the list of 100 Khemtian Adventures. ‘The undead form of an ancient warrior can only be slain with the sword hidden in his tomb’ and ‘Two children of rival noble houses run away together’ may make good adventures, but not without a lot of fleshing out, and there isn’t anything particularly ‘Egyptian’ about them. The information on secret societies does include some actual stat blocks (some even more than one). I always appreciate a few more NPCs to have on hand, and the societies presented I found to be interesting. For those who have read Green Ronin’s Cults of Freeport, this chapter is like a much abbreviated version (providing information on six organizations). Prestige classes seem to be a necessary evil in 3.5 expansion products, and this supplement is no exception. The prestige classes presented in the DMG are available in Khemti, as are nine new prestige classes. Some of them were both interesting and appear to be basically balanced. I enjoyed the Deathblade (a 10 level martial prestige class that allows you to animate the corpses for a short time) very much. The Dunewalker and the Lector Priest would not be permitted in my game – they are full caster progression prestige classes with additional extra abilities… For example, the Lector Priest has full Priest (cleric) spellcasting, has good Fort and Will saves, a d8 HD, and gains three additional domain powers (and three extra domain spells per level each day), all for the ‘cost’ of a poor base attack progression. Considering that is only a difference of +2 BAB over ten levels, it’s a deal just too good to pass up. There are some interesting weapons and other magical items. I like the ‘Lash of the Cobra’ – a whip with a few other special properties including delivering poisonous bite on a critical hit. While other items are similarly useful and appropriate, three pages of magical items hardly warrants its own chapter. The final chapter, covering creatures of silt and sand, offers fifteen new templates/creatures. These range from CR ¼ symbiotic vermin that draws on magical energy of the host and provides sustenance in return to a CR 40 sphinx. In fact, the book leans toward the high side with two other sphinxes with a CR at 37. The most useful creature in my mind was the Desert Khaibit, essentially an undead that takes the form of malevolent shifting sands. Essentially, the monster is much like ‘Sandman’ from Spiderman 3. While my criticisms of the product may seem harsh, overall I am extremely impressed. This product would be great for anyone planning on building a campaign world that features an Egyptian-inspired setting. To run a campaign in this setting there is plenty of material to inspire, but to work of building adventures and locales will fall squarely on the shoulders of the DM. Finally, any DMs that are interested in changing the ‘standard flavor’ of a D&D campaign without completely rewriting the rules would find this product worth reviewing personally. The product is available from Noble Knight Games, from $30, from Green Ronin Publishing (PDF) for $24 and from partners (new) for as little as $6.95.

Egyptian Adventures: Hamunaptra Egyptian Adventures: Hamunaptra
Author: C.A. Suleiman Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
Publish Date: 2004 ISBN: 1-932442033-2
Pages: 256 Rating:
Retail Price: $39.95