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Swordsfall Brings Afropunk to the Tabletop

In April of 2019, the Kickstarter for Swordsfall came to an end. The project had launched with a modest objective of raising $2,000 USD to fund art for a small RPG project by Brandon Dixon. The Kickstarter far, far exceeded its initial goal, however. The final hours of crowdfunding brought the total funding for Swordsfall to over $120,000 USD, greatly expanding Dixon’s vision for the tabletop universe of Tikor.

Dixon places Swordsfall in the category of Afropunk science-fantasy. Most people understand science-fantasy, but what is Afropunk? Afropunk exists as a difficult term to nail down, however Dixon describes it as a war on the status quo of media, a status quo that has a long history of othering black creatives. Afropunk seeks to rebel and reclaim blackness from colonialism in art. For a tabletop RPG, embracing Afropunk means a commitment to constantly questioning the foundations of the fictional world.

The majority of tabletop RPGs base their concepts of conflict on fighting styles from medieval Europe. This default even applies to the game systems themselves that were built out of games meant to emulate European combat like Chainmail, the template ruleset that would evolve into Dungeons & Dragons.

Swordsfall instead bases its fighting styles on those found throughout different African societies and African diaspora. A great example of this ethos in action is the Damenga profession in Swordsfall, a heightened and magically augmented form of the Dambe fighting style created by the Hausa people of West Africa. Another example can be seen in Jalens, a profession of wordsages that speak for the people with the Power of Word, drawing from the best parts of rap and hip-hop in the US.

While the larger Swordsfall project has been delayed to sometime this summer thanks to the expanded scope granted by the Kickstarter, you can get a taste of Jalen lifestyle thanks to a one-shot adventure called Summit of Kings released by Brandon Dixon. In Tikor, Jalens answer to a group called The Sixteen who throw a tournament every year, the titular Summit of Kings. Jalens from across the world gather to test their skills against one another for the honor of being dubbed The Wordsmith. The standalone one-shot showcases the finished gameplay of Swordsfall, which relies on design principles that aim to highlight its departure from standard tabletop fare.

The systems of Swordsfall also eschew tabletop norms. The world of Tikor does not operate on the d20 system of Dungeons & Dragons. Instead, it has an original system based on the Genesys, a game system meant to focus on narrative and be adaptable to any situation. The modifications to the system for Swordsfall are meant to give every action narrative weight and forward momentum. A failure is not just a dead end, but a moment that leads to something else happening. In a similar line of thought, a particularly stellar success might lead to some unintended consequence. Players and GMs get to work together to figure out how these advantages and disadvantages manifest in the game.

Blackness in the tabletop development has been historically underrepresented. This has led to a sense of alienation among black players due to a complete lack of representation or being reduced to racial caricatures. As a black tabletop developer, Brandon Dixon has crafted his world to offer a distinctly black tabletop experience, something connected to the roots of blackness that no other tabletop RPG or setting can claim.

Brandon Dixon, Swordsfall’s Creator

In Dixon’s discussion of Afropunk, he writes:

Why are all dragons from Europe and the East? Oh, look there are African dragons! But… white… “dragon experts” (not even going to get into that) decided they’re serpents and not dragons? That’s it? No other reason? Oh. Ok. Well, time to make them DRAGONS IN ALL CAPS.

If that’s not the punk spirit, then what is?

To check out that punk spirit in action, keep your eyes peeled for the release of “Welcome to Tikor” the first of four books diving into the people, places, and professions of the Swordsfall universe.

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