How I Messed Up Nefertiti Overdrive

I posted this earlier on Sword’s Edge, but I think it’s important enough to be posted at both, so here you go: my huge regret regarding Nefertiti Overdrive.

Just after I put out the Quickstart rules for Nefertiti Overdrive, I had a discussion with a respected game designer regarding the characters. He was very unhappy with what he saw as an exclusion of Africa in a game set in Africa. The cast of characters included an Italian, a Greek, a Central Asian, and an Asian and only two from Africa – a Kushite/Sudanese and an Egyptian. At the time, I decided to change the Amazon in a Numdian/Berber, but argued for keeping the Asian character, given that the concept of Jet Li in Ancient Egypt was the idea kernel that sprouted into the story. And as for the Etruscan and the Spartan – well, I argued, Egypt was a Mediterranean culture rather than an African one.

That was a pretty stupid argument. It’s on par with insisting on a misogynistic medieval fantasy setting because that’s what history was like, while at the same time including magic and dragons. By the time Nefertiti Overdrive was released, not only was the Amazon a Numidian but the Monk had become the Misfit and was Ethiopian. While I kept the Etruscan and the Spartan – I’m sorry, but I can’t tear myself away from the image of those two iconic cultures in Ancient Egypt – I included the Bantu (a Sub-Saharan culture) and the Mercenary (from ancient Carthage) which could be used as alternatives and fit the same role.

Some might argue that I should have stuck to my initial vision, that I only changed what little I did in order to meet an “agenda.” They would be wrong. I actually don’t feel that I changed it enough, and honestly struggled with keeping the Etruscan and the Spartan – the historical argument being honestly empty and unimportant. If I could go back and re-commission all the art, I would do so and remove the Etruscan and Spartan. I could maybe include them as part of a series of iconic warriors from other cultures around the world statted for Nefertiti Overdrive.

The only agenda I am meeting is my sense of what I should have done. That’s personal. Another individual offered up an argument, and the more I think of it, the more I feel he had the right of it. I have heard others argue against his position, and I am not moved. The agenda that feeds this post is the same agenda that created Nefertiti Overdrive – what I want.

In deciding to use Egypt, I also decided to use Africa and the baggage that goes along with that. While I might be able to decouple that baggage in my own mind, it still exists, and only if I do not care for the perceptions and desires of others can I ignore it. What is sad is that I did ignore much of it. I had an opportunity to shape a game with much more African content. The more I think about the argument – and I do, regularly, especially as I consider embarking on a Korean-inspired second-world setting – the more I feel my compromise was actually a failure.

How would Nefertiti Overdrive have been impacted with the Bantu and Mercenary in place of the Etruscan and the Spartan? I don’t believe it would have been. Sure, the images of the Etruscan in a-historical Principate period legionary armour and the Spartan with his iconic helmet likely got some people excited. I’m pretty sure action images of the Bantu and the Mercenary would have worked just as well. I don’t think many have supported Nefertiti Overdrive because of the two Mediterranean characters.

Would anyone argue that I should remove this from sale, given the real weaknesses I see in it now? Probably. I haven’t heard that yet. I’m not going to do that, mostly because of all the work I and others put into it. I really do love this game, as much as I feel I missed a great opportunity.

So, this is one long mea culpa. I fucked up. It’s out there for all to see. I’ll try to do better next time, if there is a next time.

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7 Responses to How I Messed Up Nefertiti Overdrive

  1. You could do a followup that introduces the missing characters. I like the idea of mashing cultures in an unexpected context, and the emphasis was over the top action not historical accuracy, but you are right it is important that we not perpetuate historic injustices.

  2. Fraser says:

    I’m honestly considering a re-release with corrected text. The only thing holding me back is the art. That can get expensive.

  3. I would replace a Bantu with a Garmanatian, the culture that flourished south of Libya contemporaneous with Egypt– there is some thought the Garamantians may have taught the Egyptians mummification. They’re the people who even survived the Romans you’ve never heard of. I second the Ethiopian, but with the timeframe you’re talking about, it would be more of a pre-Axumite culture, which is thought to have more of a Sabeatan origin from the Yemeni portion of the Arabian peninsula. The sub-Saharan cultures showed up further north as slaves rather than explorers, with Roman reports of the Garamantians hunting them from chariots.

    And hey, modifications are what a second printing in 5 years are for. 🙂

  4. Fraser says:

    Doing a quick read on the Garamantes makes me think you may have something there. Good call, Ben! I think our Garamante might replace the Mercenary rather than the Bantu. It would be cool to have a sub-Saharan in our cast of characters.

  5. Tariq says:

    With all due respect, *this* is what you are worried about? A game called “NEFERTITI Overdrive,” with a depiction of Nefertiti’s head on the cover (which, actually, I find to be very cool), yet is set in Dynasty 25, not the Amarna Period, and you are now worried about some issue with modern political perceptions about Egyptian history? Sorry, I have to say, I don’t really understand that at all. Fair enough, you state the game is not intended to be a historically accurate reflection, but what you are proposing doesn’t help in the least.

    Never mind the the title, and the wuxia aspect, but the issues you a raise seem to be rather (to be blunt) silly. Yes, Egypt is in Africa; yes, the Egyptians were African (regardless of however you decide to view them “racially”—I’m not getting into THAT), but the country, even in Dynasty 25, was very much oriented to the north (i.e., the eastern Mediterranean). So beyond Egyptians, Kushites, Nubians (not the same cultural group as Kushites, BTW), and Libyans [i.e., Berbers], I really doubt there would have been a lot of other African people in Egypt, with the possible exception of Puntites. There would not have been “Bantus” and proto-Punic peoples from Carthage wandering about. Of course, if you want them for coolness-sake, by all means include them, but I don’t think you need to beat yourself up over some false “lost opportunity.”

    What I find bizarre about your “fuck up” (your words, not mine!) is that you seem unduly unhappy with yourself for not including some ahistorical representative “African” people. The Mercenary, as a proto-Carthaginian would have been (esp. in Dynasty 25), is essentially a Phoenician colonist from Lebanon; why not go with a Phoenician from Phoenicia, since the Egyptians were in direct contact with them as allies against the Assyrians, and Phoenicians actually lived in Egypt, rather than some very marginal (at that time) colony? The “Ethiopians” at that time were colonists from South Arabia, and Numidians did not pop until several centuries later. Instead the one African group that you did ignore are the Libyans (i.e., Berbers, like the later Numidians), despite the fact that they had been running the show in Egypt for centuries, and were still certainly running things in all but name in the Delta; they’d eventually kick out the Assyrians as Dynasty 26, a group you dismiss as upstarts.

    Then there are the “Etruscan” and the “Spartan,” which based on the illustrations seem to be stand-ins for Romans and Classical Greeks. Fine, but the Etruscan particularly is unlikely to have been in Egypt, but hey, it’s a game, and even an Etruscan is more likely to be historically attested in Dynasty 25 Egypt than a “Bantu.” What I cannot work out is why you totally ignored the Hebrews the Philistines, and the Phoenicians (never mind the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, and Aramaeans), all of whom basically lived right next door to Egypt, and with whom the Egyptians were constantly causing problems for the Assyrians in the Levant (which ultimately leads to the Assyrians invading both the Levant and Egypt, because they got quite tired of Egyptian interference in their territory). Taharqo even invaded Judah on behalf of the Hebrews before he became king, but fled after getting spanked by the Assyrians (who then remained in the area, giving them a spring board into Egypt a couple decades later). You could have had Cypriots, or even post-Hittite peoples from Anatolia (like the Carians and Lycians) and western Syria (i.e., people from Carchemish).

    Again, I accept that you did not want to make a historically accurate game, and evidently want to inject more “African” content into it for (I would say) anachronistic, modern political concerns with social justice, but you did pass up a golden opportunity to have lots of historically-attested people that could have lead to some quite interesting characters (especially the Libyans who were still living in the Delta, and Egypt’s allies in Philistia, Judah, and Israel). Egypt was not oriented towards the African interior at that time (or indeed at any time). (Now if you had set it in post-Dynasty 25 Kush, that would be a different story.) Removing it from sale is just a plain silly idea. If you really want more “African” people as characters, add a Puntite (Egyptians resumed contact with Punt in Dynasty 26, so why not), and certainly add in Libyans (i.e., Berbers) first and foremost from the Delta, and if you want the western oases and/or Cyrenaica (no need to go to all the way west to Tunisia/Numidia for them!). You could even add in the ancient Medjay (i.e., modern Beja from the Eastern Desert). Play up the very real differences between Nubians (i.e., Nubian-language speakers from Lower Nubia/Wawat) and the Kushites (i.e., Meroitic-speakers from Upper Nubia/Kush). There are plenty of non-Egyptian African people all around Egypt without resorting to bringing in folks from very far away just because they are African (Africa is HUGE).

    Frankly, it seems that you just didn’t do much in terms of research to see what Egypt was like in Dynasty 25, even for an ahistorical game that is nevertheless set in that period. If you haven’t read them, go start with Robert Morkot’s book The black pharaohs: Egypt’s Nubian rulers, or Aidan Dodson’s Afterglow of empire: Egypt from the fall of the New Kingdom to the Saite renaissance. Both are excellent. The period was absolutely fascinating, with Egypt right in the middle of “the action” in the Mediterranean.

    Lastly, stop being so hard on yourself, and no mea culpa is warranted. You did NOT “fuck up” anything. It is a good, solid game, but it seems you want to use it for something other than a history lesson; fair enough but don’t then turn around and make it into a PC, social justice screed that is even more anachronistic.

    (PS: if you want a Garamante, fine, but really add in the Libyans LIVING IN EGYPT before you import them from outside.)

  6. Fraser says:

    I really appreciate your comments here and there’s a lot to consider and address. It’s a crazy week for me, but I’ll reply with some thoughts as soon as I can. Thanks for the very detailed and obviously considered post.

  7. Fraser says:

    Tariq,

    This is more for others reading the blog than for you, as we are in email contact now, but I want to just give a response because I don’t think you are alone in your thoughts.

    My game design – and my fiction writing – has changed over the years. Part of that is an attempt to be more inclusive, to try to expand my own boundaries on who makes a good character or a good protagonist. This started when I had daughters and realized that accepting change and difference is not enough. If I wasn’t out there trying to write stories and create games in which they could see themselves reflected, or at least heroes to which they could aspire, then I wasn’t doing enough. So I tried to expand.

    When I wrote Nefertiti Overdrive, I was conscious of having characters my daughters could play, but I believe I missed a chance at including more African characters. For a lot of people, it’s not necessary. It’s not fitting. It’s not really important. I understand that, however what I really want to do with Nefertiti Overdrive is include some cool African characters just like I tried to include some cool female characters.

    Now, while I don’t have your level of knowledge on Egypt, I was aware enough to know that it was closer to a Mediterranean culture than an African one, but it’s creating African characters that I’m interested in. You’re suggestions of actual cultures that could be included are excellent. There is actually already an art commission out there for a Puntite warrior to replace the Spartan. Now I have some more suggestions for a character to replace the Etruscan.

    I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts, and you are absolutely correct when you say that I didn’t do enough homework. I’m doing more now, though this is never going to be a good historical representation of Egypt, just like Braveheart was a bad representation of Scotland, Gladiator was a bad representation of the reign of Commodus, and James Bond is pretty much the worst spy ever.

    I can live with that.

    All the best,
    Fraser

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