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Odyssey of the Fall of the Kushite Pharaohs

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One of the thoughts I’ve had for a game sounds really cool in my head, but it is very much all about the setup. I have one scenario that I think could be awesome with the right group.

Here it is: historical periods with ahistorical, ass-kicking heroes. The scenario that I’ve got in my head is the fall of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty in Egypt. The pharaohs of that period were actually Kushite, from an area now part of Sudan. The scenario I’m envisioning is kind of a riff on Xenophon’s Anabasis (also known as the Ten Thousand). At the fall of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, when the Assyrians invaded and drove out the Kushite pharaoh Tantamani, Tantamani’s daughter, The Princess, is cut off and her bodyguard and what is left of her father’s mercenary army are forced to fight their way through the Assyrians to reach Kush and safety.

Working on this in my head, I already have some characters, and – because that’s how my imagination works while I’m listening to tunage on the bus – I’ve got actors that represent the characters for me. I’ll list them all below, along with the characteristics I’ve envisioned for them. But how would I do this in a game?

To be honest, one would need total buy-in from the players, and much of what would be cool would be the narrative descriptions of combat – kind of like the cinematic action requirement to use Style in Kiss My Axe. I’d be really hoping to get some very evocative scenes. I’d use a hack of my own Centurion RPG. I’m not going into the hack here – it might be something I’d like use later – but players would bid on initiative, and then the number of d6 usable for task resolution would be reliant on the narrative explanation of the cinematic action the character is engaged in. “He stabs with his sword.” Okay, 1d6. “Blocking the attack with his shield, he jams the sword up into the enemy’s jaw, piercing his brain. He then uses that sword like a handle, and flips the body over his shoulder in the direction of the rest of the badguys.” Nice. That’s 5d6 (if you’ve got them in your hand to apply).

Part of the game would be the setup, kind of like how Jason Pitre’s Spark does it – where one discusses inspirational pieces and other ideas at the outset of the game – and this would take a bunch of historical elements and throw them into the idea meatgrinder to serve up a delicious setting.

Anyway, that’s not something I’m planning on doing any time soon. I still have to finish writing Centurion (almost done!)

The idea is likely going to keep banging around in my head, which is okay, because I think it would make a cool campaign, maybe a fun story, and absolutely an awesome movie, if done right.

Here’s the characters I envision:
Although it’s the Princess (Zoe Saldana) who is being rescued, she is the leader of the party. She is smart, capable, and able to protect herself with both bow and khopesh. Her focus is on getting all her people back to Kush alive, although she accepts that she must face risks when doing so. Part of her strength is the loyalty and hope she inspires. Maybe she will become queen in her own right, ruling Kush as a benevolent monarch. It could happen.

The Etruscan (Sean Bean) is the Princess’ loyal – though mercenary – bodyguard. He is dressed like an early Imperial Roman legionary, with lorica segmentata (banded armour), scutum (shield) and gladius (short sword). Every part of his body is a weapon, his shield, his helm, his elbows, his shin guards, his studded sandals – everything. He is a mute, but able to communicate with the Princess through significant looks and gestures. There seems to be some kind of telepathy between the two. Theirs is not a romantic relationship, and the Etruscan is more a father to her than her real father.

The General (Siddig el-Fadil, who is actually Sudanese) has been assigned by her father to get the Princess to safety. He is armed and armoured, though his armour and weapons are stylized and not historical. He fights smart, dispatching enemies with almost thoughtless efficiency. Though assigned to “protect” the Princess, he is no idiot, and realizes her worth. They are partners, the Princess relying on the General’s knowledge and instincts as much as he relies on her determination and effortless resourcefulness.

Then there are a crew of mercenaries that are holding the docks for the last riverboats to escape south back to Kush. By the time the Princess, Etruscan and General arrive, the last of the boats are in flames, and the mercenaries have pretty much doomed themselves by following orders. The Princess is impressed with their honour and prowess and the two groups join together and head for Kush.

The mercenaries are led by the Spartan (Michael Wincott), an experienced warrior and general, decked out as a Greek hoplite, with spear and sword. He fights mainly with spear and shield, using his spear’s iron butt as often as its bladed head. He seems almost bored in combat, never facing anyone who reaches his level of skill. Should he face a real challenge, he gets energized and actually puts effort into combat. He uses weary cynicism to hide the real affection he has for his troops and the melancholy knowledge that he will never reach home and embrace his wife and children again.

At the Spartan’s side is the Amazon (Gina Torres). She has a compound bow almost as tall as her, with long, leaf-bladed arrows. She has no shields, but can use her bow like a staff. When the fighting gets close, she uses a kopis and a bracer with metal plates as a kind of shield. A queen in her own right – though now deposed – she will accept orders only from the Spartan, who has bested her in battle, and whom she respects. In turn, the Spartan often relies on her to poke holes in his plans and assumptions. She’s his constant devil’s advocate.

The Monk (Jet Li) does not speak any language that anyone else should understand, yet everyone knows what he is saying, just as he knows what is spoken to him, no matter the language. He wears the armour of a Qin Dynasty warrior (a bunch of plates over a tunic . . . maybe a kind of studded leather?) with a dagger-axe on a staff and a long dagger, more like a short sword, at his belt. The dagger-axe is exceptionally flexible, like the staff weapons in wuxia movies, and if the fighting gets close, the Monk’s hands and feet are deadlier than the blade at his side. He is constantly making jokes and seems totally immune to fear. He is a comfort and support for his comrades, always cheery, never showing fear. Even the Amazon has an easy-going relationship with him. Everyone loves the Monk . . . except those people who face him in combat.

Finally there is the Serpent (Saïd Taghmaoui), a mysterious, dark-garbed dagger-man who uses two long blades to end his foes, maybe something like kukris – like I said, totally ahistorical. He seems almost pathological in combat. He is ruthlessly efficient and evidences no feelings. He and the Monk are joined at the hip, and the Serpent’s cold demeanour is an interesting juxtaposition to the Monk’s gregarious optimism. The Serpent, you see, has sold his soul to Set for his talents, and must send 100 dark souls to be eaten by the Ammit, the Devourer of Souls, to free his own. It is not that he is a bad man, but he is a haunted man. His time among the mercenaries has given him hope, and he has decided to only kill those with truly evil souls, something he can see when he touches a mortal with one of his blades.

Long post. This has been a long time fermenting in my head. It might be something I’ll pursue later, though likely not. I think this is one idea that will falter in the realization. I fear I could never do it justice.

Or maybe it’s something I should run at Gen Con?

Learn more about the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt here.

Learn more about the Anabasis here.

Check out Jason Pitre’s Spark here.

Wikipedia will tell you about the khopesh here.

Do you need to know what a hoplite is? Really?

Then you probably need to know about the kopis too.

What did a warrior of the Qin Dynasty look like? Like this.

Do I need to tell you about the kukri? Wikipedia will do it for me.

And you are probably interested in the Ammit, the Devourer of Souls. Wikipedia’s got your back.