Wednesday, June 21, 2023

More Latin American content for your TTRPG sessions

Expand the scope of your adventures with the wealth of content in Boricubos and Koboa

A couple of months ago, I introduced you to the fantastic world of Kuauhtla by Fifth Sun Press, a game setting inspired by Mesoamerican culture, that can be integrated into D&D 5e. Today I bring you yet more awesome Latin American books to add to your game: Boricubos by Legendary Games, a game setting based on the mythologies of the Caribbean islands, and Koboa by The Word Refinery, a game setting based on the mythologies of South America.

I spoke with designers of both games to go into more detail about their creations.

Art from Koboa

Arturo Serrano from Nerds of a Feather: How did the original idea for your setting emerge?

Miguel Colón (designer of Boricubos): This is a setting that has conceptually been in the works for probably a decade. Rough drafts of ideas have been lying around several notebooks and have been worked on, scrapped, tossed out more times than I could count. I am Puerto Rican and have always wanted to work on something that represented my culture. Don't get me wrong, I love the base settings most use when playing 5e and Pathfinder. I grew up with them, after all. But I also grew up with various stories surrounding the Taíno. The mysteries within Puerto Rico were vast to me. In particular, I imagined El Yunque, the rainforest there, and thought of what it'd be like to have the island come alive as much as the people.

Adrián Mejía (designer of Koboa): I've been thinking a lot about why I didn't see a lot of Latines in fantasy over the last few years. Then, during the start of the part of the pandemic where many of us were avoiding all human contact, a friend told me he wanted to play D&D for his birthday. I set up a game for us to play and decided it was time to play in something distinctly not European. This campaign helped flesh out and begin the idea for Koboa.

Art from Boricubos

AS: Where did you look for the writers and artists for this project?

MC (Boricubos): Our teammate Jason Nelson was adamant about making sure that it was primarily Latin American writers and artists working on this project. I know quite a few of them and have to say that it was a pleasure to see some of the work done on monsters, adventures, and more.

AM (Koboa): South America. Our team has spent many hours on Twitter, Instagram, and art-sharing platforms to find South American talent that could join us in our project.

Art from Koboa

AS: At what stage of development is the project at this moment?

MC (Boricubos): At the moment, Boricubos has been released for Pathfinder (both first and second editions), as well as 5e.

AM (Koboa): We launched our Kickstarter on May 9th. [Note from Nerds of a Feather: The Kickstarter was spectacularly successful.] We have between 30% and 60% of the book ready, and will be using the Kickstarter funds to finish the product. We have a preview document that is 5e-compatible, and we intend our final product to be compatible with 5e, Kobold Press's Core Fantasy Roleplaying System, and Pathfinder Second Edition. [Note from Nerds of a Feather: The Koboa rulebook is being produced in English, Spanish, and Portuguese versions.]

Art from Boricubos

AS: Which real-world cultures inspired your world?

MC (Boricubos): I incorporated stories told to me by family and friends, as well as independent research on both the Taíno and Carib peoples, in Puerto Rico and Cuba in particular. From there, things expanded. As there are different playable ancestries within Boricubos, it was important to further individualize them so that they could take on different and distinct roles in the setting. You have the Coquían, who act as spiritual leaders; the Baracúden, who are warriors and protectors; the Taínem, who are unsurprisingly based on the Taíno themselves. I even incorporated elements of what it'd be like if there were a sect of the island entirely breaking away from tradition and not because of an outside influence. That is where you get the Iguaca, who are masters of magic and mercenary in their allegiances, going as far as to invent the currency used in the setting, where there wasn't a physical currency before.

AM (Koboa): We have taken inspiration from many real-world cultures in South America. We want all people of South America to not only see themselves and their culture represented in our world, but also celebrated.

Art from Koboa

AS: How did you ensure a respectful representation of elements from real-world cultures?

MC (Boricubos): There is a careful balance here. As someone who is very entrenched in the culture, I had to make sure I represented what I loved about some of the stories I was told, some of the research I did, and some of the things that I came up with individually. This all blended together quite nicely, I believe. Ultimately, it is not my role to speak for every Puerto Rican, other Latin Americans, or anyone, really. I am trying to represent something deeply personal to me, share with others something that would make them interested in doing their own research, and present a new point of view for people. It's very hard because, in order for the setting to work, there have to be things that are inspired by the actual culture, but also things that are completely independent. I think the best thing for people to take away is that Boricubos represents some stories and legends, but is not a one-for-one recreation.

AM (Koboa): It is an ongoing process. We have built up a team of South American designers, writers, and artists with extremely diverse backgrounds and experiences. Additionally, all our content (writing, art briefs, illustrations, etc.) goes through two or more cultural and sensitivity consultants, to ensure we don't inadvertently represent elements of culture in ways that are harmful or offensive.

Art from Koboa

AS: What unique rules do you introduce for character creation?

MC (Boricubos): Boricubos introduces a wide variety of ancestries to play, with many new options for classes. This is where I put quite a bit of time and effort, since each individual ancestry is different and the class options have lore built into them. For example, it was not enough to make a subclass for the Rogue called "Arcane Trickster," add mechanics, and let you figure out what that meant. There are parts of the setting built into every class option, such as Clerics gaining access to a subclass called the Behique. They are not mere priests, but spiritual leaders who work as doctors within Boricubos. They have a very specific role to play in society, so it may not be appropriate for every Cleric to be a Behique. That's the sort of thing I love: mixing lore with mechanics.

AM (Koboa): In Koboa, people can change their body through magical artifacts called Form Maps. In this way, somebody born a certain way can choose to change themself into something else. To represent this, we have created the mechanical concept of Forms. In many ways, Forms work like Races or Heritages or Ancestries. However, Forms are made to be mixed. In many systems, I've noticed that playing a character that combines different heritages limits your options to the predefined "half-somethings," or that you need to ask your group for permission to do something the rules don't cover thoroughly, if at all. We designed Forms to be mixable from the start.

Art from Koboa

AS: What unique rules do you introduce for combat mechanics?

MC (Boricubos): Our goal was to provide a new setting for the games listed; we didn't want to rewrite the system entirely. So new options that fit the mold given by the games were great, but it was out of our scope to introduce much in the way of new combat mechanics.

AM (Koboa): Koboa brings many imaginative creatures that create unique combat experiences. We have also created many interesting subclasses based on our cultures, that may approach combat in unique ways. One class we are playing with, the Rhythmatist, specializes in moving during combat and keeping a particular rhythm during a fight, gaining benefits as they move around the battlefield.

Art from Koboa

AS: What unique rules to you introduce for spellcasting?

MC (Boricubos): While I do have scrapped notes for new magic systems, it felt like it might be a bit out there to introduce something entirely new. After all, Boricubos is meant to draw people in who have never seen a setting that was not European fantasy. It would be harder for them to want to experience the setting itself if it forced a bunch of new mechanics to learn. That said, there are quite a few new spells to play with, as well as a Shaman class that integrates all this.

AM (Koboa): We are very excited about the spells we've designed for Koboa so far. One such spell, called plant eyes, allows a character to create a plant with eye-like seeds that they can see through. It is based on the guaraná plant, which, if you haven't seen it before, very much looks like it has many, many eyes. Additionally, one class we are designing, the Bruje, focuses on casting spells in sometimes unpredictable ways.

Art from Boricubos

AS: In terms of the player experience you wish to create, what does it feel like to travel through your world?

MC (Boricubos): Excitement, adventure, and a sense of novelty. Boricubos purposely distances itself from many, though not all, European fantasy conventions. This is a world with a rich history within itself. Boricubos is actually isolated from the world at large and is highly distrustful of outsiders, limiting access to a single port and town to anyone not born within Boricubos. So anything that you see on the island was carefully crafted by the land or its inhabitants.

AM (Koboa): We want to create a living, breathing world, vibrant and proud of our heritage. We want players to see the rich culture of our lands and to experience our unique stories through a narrative that centers us.

Art from Boricubos

AS: What traditional gaming assumptions should one unlearn when entering your world?

MC (Boricubos): Boricubos is in a civil war with itself. The people. The gods. There is a lot of distrust going on, and the setting draws upon some aspects of the Dirty War in Argentina and the Stasi in East Germany. Boricubos is a beautiful land, the people you meet will be friendly, but almost everything is dangerous in this time of war. People you know may try and stab you in the back because their god is at war with yours. One day you may wake up and find that your neighbor has disappeared because they were taken by religious fanatics. But here's the big thing: there is no right or wrong. The two sides of the civil war are tragic in that neither wants to be fighting, but it feels like they have to. The gods that started the war are in a state of misunderstanding as well. In fact, there was a conscious choice to make sure that both sides were led by good-aligned deities. Boricubos asks you to consider something a lot of settings don't: what if the person you're fighting isn't evil at all? What if they're just desperate and scared and only fighting you because, if you don't try to kill them, one of your allies would?

AM (Koboa): We designed Koboa to be about reclaiming our past and what was stolen through colonization. This contrasts with some traditional playstyles of TTRPGs where the players are conquerors looting new lands.

Art from Boricubos

AS: What interesting locations are you particularly proud of?

MC (Boricubos): Boricubos is an archipelago that has many distinct islands. Some are inhabited by the Anabaguas, who are best described as humanoid hibiscus flowers. Their lands are better preserved, as they are tied to nature and are loath to destroy it even for resources. They allow it from other peoples, but only because they have an understanding that not everyone can simply live without such things as wooden tools and the like. Some parts are more developed, with coastal cities and trade hubs. There are even islands dedicated to the praise of the gods, which is crucial in the setting. Unfortunately, those latter islands are also some of the deadliest, as the civil war that is embroiling Boricubos means that something as simple as traveling to a shrine may be a dangerous ordeal.

AM (Koboa): I'm extra happy with a location called The Infinite Process. The Koboan territory of Gran Marcelia is well known for its use of law magic and the bureaucratic processes that law magic has enabled. After the war for their liberation, the Marcelians took dangerous weapons used by their enemies and sealed them away in a vault, protected by law magic so that only authorized people could enter it. As time went on, they made more and more complicated rules for accessing different parts of the vault, and used more and more law magic to enforce those rules. Eventually, the tangled strings of law magic took on a life of their own. Now no one can access the vault, as the rules required to gain access are close to impossible to fulfill, and even more difficult to understand.

Art from Boricubos

AS: What awesome folk monsters should we expect to meet?

MC (Boricubos): Boricubos was made by a diverse team and has an additional companion book dedicated to Latin American monsters from a wide variety of cultures. So we have everything from Puerto Rico's chupacabra and Mexico's llorona to Guatemala's quetzal. It is quite astounding, the collection of monsters you can find here.

AM (Koboa): The enchanted dolphin is a fae that takes the shape of a dolphin. However, they can change themselves to appear like any other humanoid. They like to cross the boundary between their fae realms and the mortal realms to visit humanoid towns and basically be tourists—although maybe the worst kind of tourists. They can leave whenever they want, so they have no issues causing chaos and havoc to maximize the fun of their experience.

Art from Boricubos

AS: What has been the response from playtesters and buyers?

MC (Boricubos): It's amazing. People were extremely supportive of Boricubos and [the book on] Latin American monsters, and quite frankly, we are so glad we get to share this with the people whom the book represents culturally, as well as those who are delving into non-European fantasy for the first time.

AM (Koboa): We haven't had buyers yet (stay tuned for the Kickstarter for that), but playtesters have been having a lot of fun. Our playtesters have enjoyed our designs and our unique world.

Art from Boricubos

AS: What's next for your game setting? Are you planning any additional rulebooks in the same world?

MC (Boricubos): We have to keep cards close to the chest. Can't promise anything, of course, but I can say I have spoken with Jason Nelson about potentially doing more in the future. There is no timeline currently, and no guarantee that this will happen. This sort of project is a massive undertaking, so it wouldn't be good to go ahead and make bold promises with no intent to deliver.

AM (Koboa): We'd love to create more content for Koboa. We have designed far more creatures than will fit in the first book, and so we'd love to have a whole compendium of creatures be our next project. But we'll have to see how the Kickstarter goes. My hope is everyone is as excited about the project as we are.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie/Miraculer, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.