One of the unfortunate truths about nerd culture (Fantasy, Science Fiction, tabletop RPGs, comics, etc.) is that it has been dominated mostly by white males, limiting its perspectives and scope for arbitrary reasons. This, in spite of some of the greats being people of color and/or women. I can’t come to you today and say, ‘hey, racism and sexism are over and everything’s good now.’ But at least I can say, there’s been a movement(or the beginning of a movement) to balance the scales a bit. A while back, a new African-Fantasy themed tabletop RPG called Ki-Khanga hit Kickstarter, and I threw a bit of money toward it. To be honest, I didn’t love the game. My biggest complaint was that I didn’t get a real sense of the setting, of what kinds of stories one might tell in Ki-Khanga. Yet, my interest was piqued enough that when I finally got a working e-reader, I purchased this anthology of short stories.
Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade have written a bunch of short tales about various folks who inhabit the world they’ve crafted. With this book, I definitely got a much better sense of setting, and of just what sort of world Ki-Khanga is. Finishing the book, I had several ideas for characters, and a few story ideas. Even the vague sense of what kind of campaign I might run if I were to ever gather a group together to play the role-playing game.
Typically, the default concept of most Fantasy tabletop RPGs is of a vaguely Medieval/Renaissance, European setting. How vague depends on the game. And yeah, there’s usually some lip-service paid to other geographies, but they’re generally handled like classic Hollywood (European people wearing exotic costumes and mouthing exotic words, but basically still European people). Dungeons & Dragons was one of the big, but hardly the only, perpetrators of this. I remember thumbing through Forgotten Realms books at the game store I worked at back in the 90s. The various lands, haphazardly spread across the map, had white people dressed like Aztecs, white people dressed like Persians, white people dressed like Mongols, etc. Ki-Khanga still captures something of that vague historic geography that D&D and other games capture, but instead of the baseline being Europe, it’s Africa. Various peoples are based on various real-world counterparts, but in that sort of anachronistic D&D way where maybe they don’t make 100% sense being next to each other or existing at the same point in time. In spite of the story plots being somewhat generic, the fact that their assumed background is African instead of European makes them more interesting, simply because there has been, historically, so little like it. There are some fun characters, plenty of strange creatures and magics. And there’s a sense of a bigger world, with something interesting going on.
Charles R. Saunders is considered the founder of so called Sword & Soul Fantasy, African flavored Sword & Sorcery. He provides a nice introduction for the collection. One of these days, I am going to read Imaro, his 1981 novel that launched the subgenre. For fans of Fantasy, as for readers of any sort, I think it’s important to read widely, and to read books written by people with different perspectives. I love that more and more work is available from more and more people, especially within the fields that I love.
If you’re interested in the Ki-Khanga tabletop RPG, I highly recommend reading this book first. If you’re simply a fan of fun Fantasy stories, give it a read. It’s something a little different, and that’s always refreshing. There are some technical issues with the book, mostly in the form of wrong or dropped words. I read it as an e-book, and there were a few formatting glitches. But for the most part, it didn’t hinder things.