A World of South American Fantasy
Adrián Mejía, from Ecuador, talks about Koboa
Hello everyone, and welcome to the Global South Shoutout! In this newsletter, we showcase and celebrate the amazing work being done by creators from the Global South. Today, we're excited to introduce you to Adrián Mejía, a game designer from Ecuador who is the lead director of the upcoming South American Fantasy tabletop RPG setting guide, Koboa.
Koboa is set in a world that draws inspiration from South American cultures, mixed with some elements of science fiction and fantasy. The guide is being developed by a team of incredibly talented creators, all from different parts of South America, who are working together to create a guide that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Adrián Mejía about his work on Koboa, and he shared with us some exciting insights into the guide's development. Let’s get a glimpse into what we can expect from this setting.
Can you tell us a bit about the world of Koboa and the cultures it draws inspiration from?
Koboa is a fantasy world based on the many people and cultures of South America and our stories. It is a post-colonial world, because it aims to reflect some of our modern cultures. As an Ecuadorian and Brazilian, I have put a lot of my personal experience into the game world but have gathered a team full of South Americans from all over the continent so that Koboa can serve its primary purpose - to be a world where all the people of South America can feel represented and celebrated.
The world is split into 5 territories:
Novpo, primarily inspired by Andean Indigenous peoples, including the Quechua, Kichwa, Otavalo, Mapuche, and Aymara people.
The Mallgot Accords, based on Indigenous Cultures including the Tupi-Guanari, Xukuru, Muisca, and Tsachila people.
Atsatray, a territory based on Afrolatine cultures including those in Esmeraldas and Salvador.
Gran Marcelia, based on modern Mestize cultures.
Nueva Vardia, inspired by colonial South America.
How did the team approach incorporating cultural diversity, identity and representation, including gender and sexuality, into the setting and characters of Koboa?
We decided early on we wanted a world that captures the unique and diverse voices of South America. For that end, we’ve gathered together a team of many different writers and sensitivity readers/consultants. Our team includes people from multiple political nationalities including Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Argentina. The team also includes Indigenous team members from the Xukuru, Quechua and Kichwa Indigenous peoples, and a few Afrolatine creators from the Brazilian TTRPG scene.
Our process includes sensitivity reading from multiple consultants, including experts in disabilities, LGBTQ+ experience, and Indigenous and Afrolatine experiences. We worked closely with consultation from wendi yu, a member of the TTRPG scene exploring the integration of queerness and TTRPG’s, to lay the foundations of a setting that is inclusive in gender and sexuality, and plan to work with queer members of our team to continue expanding on that.
How does Koboa tackle complex themes like colonialism and inequality in its storytelling?
Carefully. We’ve crafted a world that reflects South America without directly copying it, and that gives us flexibility in how much of the stories we tell are identical to real life or more metaphorical. We’ve focused a lot of our worldbuilding on acknowledging the kinds of themes that South America deals with but arranging them in such a way that players can be active participants in exploring how they relate to those themes in a safe environment.
As much as we can, we want gameplay to reflect the themes we want to explore, but as an expansion to pre-existing games, we’re limited in what we can do without basically making a new game system. Traditional fantasy games tend to inherit many colonialist themes baked into their core mechanics, and wherever possible we are trying to change that. For example, we’ve replaced races from core fantasy games with what we call forms. Our hope is that, by having forms in our world instead of races, we can do away with some of the bioessentialism inherent in many fantasy games, a direct result of the colonialism still extant in the genre.
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Can you tell us more about the Forms system and how it enhances character creation in Koboa?
In Koboa, the form a person takes is not permanent. People of that world crafted magical artifacts, called form Maps, that allowed them to define and change their form. As they refined their ability to make better form Maps, they started designing forms that supported their lifestyles, culture, and challenges. People living underground crafted the Map of the Kadwot, which gave them a form that excelled underground. A religious movement crafted the Map of the Guveng, which allowed them to explore their own interior thoughts as they became a swarm of multiple independent beings.
As the colonizers invaded and stole or destroyed form Maps, the people of Koboa learned to make do, coming up with ways to channel the form Maps through the fragments they had, sometimes combining different forms together. Gameplay-wise, this is expressed through each form having a major and a minor manifestation, which each grant different features to a player. Players making characters can choose a major and a minor manifestation from the same form, from two different forms, or use the minor features of three different Forms.
The system was designed to allow for characters that mix forms without GM fiat. As a Mestizo myself, I always like to play mixed characters but never really liked how no major system gave me a way to do that that worked well and didn’t require me to check for permission with the GM. At the same time, the system was defined to be simple, as the attempts I have seen that don’t require GM fiat are often overly complicated.
Could you share some insight into the creative process of developing the creatures and the lore of each of the territories of Koboa?
For many creatures, we’ve been finding a lot of unexplored space in our own stories. Many creatures we tell stories about have no parallel in fantasy. However, rather than just port the creatures directly into Koboa, we’ve taken efforts to think through what the story means to us, so that we can not only more easily adapt the creature to Koboa but also respect the origins of the story. Notably, we don’t use the real-world name of the creature most of the time - we acknowledge that we’re putting our own spin on many of these creatures and don’t want to appropriate or be seen as the experts of any given story that doesn’t belong to us.
What sets the new classes and subclasses of Koboa from other RPG settings?
The classes and subclasses we’ve designed so far are very South American in flavor. We have brujas; we have subclasses inspired by capoeira, by salsa, and by Incan astronomy. One of the subclasses I’m very excited to go out into the world, called the Ranger of the Sacred Below (designed by Daniel Delgado), is based on Indigenous protection of the environment, particularly against destruction wrought by mining.
Can you speak to the challenges and rewards of creating a tabletop RPG setting guide as a team of 100% South Americans?
A major reward so far has been that we’ve been able to pay competitive rates for all of our contributors. Many South American creators live in a completely different economy than people in the US, and a dollar goes a lot further for them. Unfortunately, this means that when they quote us for their work, they often quote us at significantly lower rates than what one would consider competitive.
We decided early on that an important pillar for our production would be that we’d never underpay people for their work, and that we’d rather not make the product than underpay creators. So it’s a joy to be able to offer creators sometimes twice as much as what they quoted us. It’s also a pleasure to find creators that have determined their own worth and do quote us at rates competitive to those paid in the US. We’re hoping that many creators who are currently not well known outside of South America will be recognized for their amazing talents through this work, and we’re hoping to be able to showcase the work of many, many people.
What kind of impact do you hope Koboa will have on the gaming community and beyond?
I just wanna see more latines in fantasy as a whole. Fantasy has historically been notoriously unfriendly to representation of latine people and cultures, and I’m hoping that Koboa can be a step to change that.
What can we expect from the future of Koboa and your other projects?
That is an excellent question. If people respond to Koboa, I’d like to be able to offer more to them. As we determine what we want to offer in our final product, we’ve realized that all the things we want to include in the book would make the page count way, way, way too high. So we’ll have to cut things. Probably many creature designs we’ve used in playtesting. I’d love to offer a book with those creature designs we’ve used. Likewise, offering additional guides to help people get in a good mindset to play in a South American setting would be amazing - stories, adventures, more art.
However, I also aspire to make my own game systems too. I have a lot of uncompleted TTRPG and video game prototypes I’d love to bring to life someday.
How can our readers find you online, and where can they find out more about Koboa and your other work?
You can follow me on Twitter (@latinerd) to learn about any other projects I work on if I ever find the time to work on them!
That's it for today's edition of Global South Shoutout! Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this interview with Adrián Mejía about Koboa. It's always exciting to learn more about innovative games that challenge traditional perspectives and embrace diverse cultures.
If you know someone who might be interested in this game or if you want to learn more about Adrián's work, feel free to share this newsletter with them. And don't forget to follow us for more interviews and shoutouts from the global south. Until next time!