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Into the Mother Lands: A Sci-fi RPG by PoC Designers

When Eugenio Vargas spoke to us on our podcast back in November about this Afrofuturist RPG, it was still months away. Now the game has hit Kickstarter, and has made over $100K in the first couple of days!


Imagine if African explorers had set sail for the New World long before Europeans did... but got transported to a new planet instead! This planet is developed by a civilisation of African descent.

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Choose from five cultures and several professions such as the Bio Priest or the Spine Ripper.

The team behind Into the Mother Lands is a group RPG designers, all people of colour, led by Tanya DePass, the founder of the non-profit group I Need Diverse Games.

You can pick up the PDF for $25 or the hardcover for $50, plus an array of dice, screens, maps, sheets and more.

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

imagineGod

Legend
Colonialism and slavery are two different things (and Mali certainly colonized the areas it conquered which includes spreading Islam)
And while the amount of European slavery was unprecedented, the slave trade among Islamic countries was not very small either and Mali was part of that network as a source of slaves acquired by raiding which were then transported north to North Africa and east towards Arabia. And many African countries also participated in the European slave trade by hunting and enslaving others to sell them to European traders who could not penetrate deep into the continent on account if illness.
A big part of Malis economy was based on minerals, specifically gold and copper. And they were mined by slaves.
So Musa and the rulers before and after him were heavily involved in slave trade and fully used and supported slavery as a system, not at all different from Europeans. Does that mean he should not have been used as inspiration for the society in this RPG? Not at all. No historic person will be completely good according to modern standards.
But you should be aware of it that Musa was not any better than European slavers or rather kings that used and promoted slavery. And the comment about the baggage makes it sound like this is not the case. It is sadly a trend, at least in my eyes, to say that all the evils that plagued Africa arrived with the Europeans. And while they certainly had a big role in it this is historical revisionism, especially when it comes to slavery.

So when applied to this game, the baggage of Mali would be in no way smaller than the baggage of the Portuguese or Spanish, especially at this point in time before the triangle trade was established.
The people who arrived on the new planet in Into the Mother Lands would have brought all that "baggage" with them and would have been accustomed to and in support of slavery. But as I said above, without the chance to acquire new slaves which would mean Hyenale, Hathare and the other people of this planet, that practice would have died out eventually.
So nothing would change in the end, but this is such a hot topic that in my opinion you are doing everyone a disservice by spreading revisionist history to absolve some, long dead, group of people from their role in it. Everyone must be honest about this in order to resolve it imo.
Exactly this!

Sometimes, people in America forget that just because a Black writer presents a work of literature, does not mean it will accurate of Black African history or cultural and political evolution.

One reason that European Colonial Empires could expand so far and wide, are that many of the smaller tribes in the conquered territories were already at war with one another, and some even welcomed the European conquerors as a counter point to their sometimes bigger tribal enemies. Sort of a bargain between the Devil and the deep blue sea. Yes, this is a terrible pun, because that deep blue see was literally the Atlantic, and the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade are the worst parts of world wide slavery.

Very few empires of our world were truly egalitarian. Even the Roman Empire when it was a Republic that offered citizenship to certain subjects in its conquered colonies was built on the backs of slaves.

However, the very grotesque dimensions of dehumanizing other ethnic groups to justify slavery was most poignantly displayed in the free independent United States of America, land of the free, ironically.
 

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Bagpuss

Adventurer
So when applied to this game, the baggage of Mali would be in no way smaller than the baggage of the Portuguese or Spanish, especially at this point in time before the triangle trade was established.
The people who arrived on the new planet in Into the Mother Lands would have brought all that "baggage" with them and would have been accustomed to and in support of slavery. But as I said above, without the chance to acquire new slaves which would mean Hyenale, Hathare and the other people of this planet, that practice would have died out eventually.

Not sure it would die out necessarily, you know humans reproduce right? It's not like people weren't born into slavery in the past. Be interesting if it was addressed, be it if decide they are all humans, together verse these very alien races so remove slavery, or they continue it.
 

MGibster

Legend
You know, I think it's safe to say that it's okay to have a pseudo European inspired setting without all the baggage attached to historical feudalism in the name of just having fun. If that is the case, it stands to reason that it's okay to have a futuristic society inspired by African cultures without assigning it the baggage it might have had in real life just in the name of having fun.
 

Bagpuss

Adventurer
You know, I think it's safe to say that it's okay to have a pseudo European inspired setting without all the baggage attached to historical feudalism in the name of just having fun. If that is the case, it stands to reason that it's okay to have a futuristic society inspired by African cultures without assigning it the baggage it might have had in real life just in the name of having fun.

True, but most futuristic settings, make the effort to take you from A to B. Why changes in the society happened, like Cyberpunk, or 2300AD, etc. So if this culture diverts from Mali somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 years ago (since they don't seem to have even got that nailed down), it is useful to know roughly what happen in those years. To get to the society without this baggage.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Back to the game, I wonder how the society will work. They have talked a lot about culture (although without really giving many examples of the culture as far as I have seen) but a society is influenced by more than just culture. Technology for example. How does for example the economy work. Can you simply order something online and pick it up at the next matter printer? Does a drone pick it up and deliver it to you within the hour? Does everyone have replicators at home?
From what I have seen especially Sci-Fantasy games (and as several of the pictures show people running around with swords I do consider ItML to be Sci-Fantasy) have a problem to really understand the scale modern and futuristic societies have with billions of people which are highly networked with big data and likely AI supported large scale computing capacity.

Another problem Sci-Fantasy has is imo starships, especially armed ones. When you give the PCs a armed starship they will find ways to blow stuff up you intended for them to fight on foot or otherwise use them to disrupt the GMs plans.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
By the way, am I the only one who thinks that the name is a bit unforunate because I associate the concept and focus on the "Motherland" more with Russia than with any culture from Africa?
 

imagineGod

Legend
By the way, am I the only one who thinks that the name is a bit unforunate because I associate the concept and focus on the "Motherland" more with Russia than with any culture from Africa?
It is a popular phrase in many African tribal tongues too, which logically makes more sense since it is mothers who birth nations, and the fertility goddess is a big part of many African myths.
 

Gnosistika

Mildly Ascorbic
By the way, am I the only one who thinks that the name is a bit unforunate because I associate the concept and focus on the "Motherland" more with Russia than with any culture from Africa?
Might be a cultural thing. For European countries the association is maybe Russia, but to us from Africa it is definitely something else.
 


Grendel_Khan

Explorer
Just wanted to note that, while they still haven't decided on a system -- truly no idea what they're waiting for now -- the creator at least responded to a commenter's question by saying that it would definitely not be 5e.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
By the way, am I the only one who thinks that the name is a bit unforunate because I associate the concept and focus on the "Motherland" more with Russia than with any culture from Africa?
Really? The term "mother lands" or "motherland" is hardly a unique Russian phrase. I have no problem with it, and I think this is a bit of a silly complaint.
 

Pledges flattened out in a big way. Wonder if they just hit a ceiling, once the stream's fanbase finished showing up to the campaign, or is the system question part of the problem? I don't really have any theories, but I think it's weird for them to hit $200k and still not sort out the system...and also this is flat-out bizarre:
All Kickstarters do so
But, also, to call out the elephant in the room, the audience is black. And for every black person in America there's six white people. The desired audience is that much smaller. And only so many white people are going to back it
It was never going to join the ranks of the million dollar Kickstarters, no matter what names were behind it

I want this to succeed and was cheering them on. But I also couldn't justify the expense. I'd never use the book
I don't game with anyone who is black. (My group is white, Metris and Asian.) Running the setting would feel like cultural appropriation
 

By the way, am I the only one who thinks that the name is a bit unforunate because I associate the concept and focus on the "Motherland" more with Russia than with any culture from Africa?
Its use in Russia is more common but by no means unique
There are lots of Motherlands and Homelands
Fewer Fatherlands...
 

imagineGod

Legend
Just wanted to note that, while they still haven't decided on a system -- truly no idea what they're waiting for now -- the creator at least responded to a commenter's question by saying that it would definitely not be 5e.
That is not the best choice in my opinion. 5e has legions of ready made Players.
 

Bagpuss

Adventurer
I don't game with anyone who is black. (My group is white, Metris and Asian.) Running the setting would feel like cultural appropriation

I'm in the same boat, it is a shame as you do get the odd nut (on Twitter) claiming playing as a PoC (if you are white) is effectively blackface. If I bought it I doubt it would ever get to hit the table (but to be fair that's true of a number of games in my collection), this one due to the real lack of diversity among the only human group comes with a risk of that accusation.
 


I'm in the same boat, it is a shame as you do get the odd nut (on Twitter) claiming playing as a PoC (if you are white) is effectively blackface. If I bought it I doubt it would ever get to hit the table (but to be fair that's true of a number of games in my collection), this one due to the real lack of diversity among the only human group comes with a risk of that accusation.
It's certainly not blackface to just play a black character. A colorless character that happens to be black
But when you're also adopting black culture it gets harder to justify. You're adopting a minority role. It's not blackface, but not something I'm entirely comfortable with
Especially if the player is attempting an accent. Even if not a real one, like Wakandan

Also wonder if the sci-fi element might limit backers
Science fiction games aren't as popular as fantasy for some reason I've never understood
 

Grendel_Khan

Explorer
All Kickstarters do so
But, also, to call out the elephant in the room, the audience is black. And for every black person in America there's six white people. The desired audience is that much smaller. And only so many white people are going to back it
It was never going to join the ranks of the million dollar Kickstarters, no matter what names were behind it

I want this to succeed and was cheering them on. But I also couldn't justify the expense. I'd never use the book
I don't game with anyone who is black. (My group is white, Metris and Asian.) Running the setting would feel like cultural appropriation

I hear you on all of this, but I don't think Coyote & Crow faced the exact same hurdle. I'm not saying the two games are the same, at all, just that I got the sense that more people were planning to play it despite not being Natives, or were at least backing it regardless. It could be that fantasy games just have broader appeal, or that the setting was more clearly laid out (and maybe just easier to grok in a single sentence). Or maybe having details about the system helped. But I do wonder if there's more of a perceived risk of appropriation with an African-inspired, POC-created game than one based on Native cultures.

There's also the fact that the Coyote & Crow creator addressed this issue directly in an update post during the campaign, essentially giving permission to play the game regardless of whether you were Native. I don't think the Into the Mother Lands team has any obligation to do the same--if anything, I think it's admirably badass to avoid doing that, and let the game speak for itself. But the general tensions around appropriation seem like something that needs more exploration, beyond this game.
 

Grendel_Khan

Explorer
It's certainly not blackface to just play a black character. A colorless character that happens to be black
But when you're also adopting black culture it gets harder to justify. You're adopting a minority role. It's not blackface, but not something I'm entirely comfortable with
Especially if the player is attempting an accent. Even if not a real one, like Wakandan

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I basically never do accents now when I GM, other than maybe a weak attempt at something British (I'm a white American). The game I run now is set in NYC, with lots of diversity among NPCs. But I have no urge to dip into just about anything now. Not really pining for the old days, and not even sure what I used to do. Just really happy none of that was recorded. I'd hear one second and implode into a black hole of self-loathing.
 

imagineGod

Legend
I'm in the same boat, it is a shame as you do get the odd nut (on Twitter) claiming playing as a PoC (if you are white) is effectively blackface. If I bought it I doubt it would ever get to hit the table (but to be fair that's true of a number of games in my collection), this one due to the real lack of diversity among the only human group comes with a risk of that accusation.
Those people making that accusation are just nasty people. I play lots of Legends of the Five Rings with my friends and none of us are of the Asian cultures mis-represented by the creators in fantasy Rokugan.
 

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