What is Sword & Soul?
Sword & Soul is a genre created by the writer Charles Saunders, which takes inspiration from Sword & Sorcery, but places African-based mythology and characters in central roles. From Milton Davis:
Robert E. Howard created many fascinating characters during his brief life but the one that stands out in most minds in Conan, the Cimmerian barbarian brought to life in movies by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Howard’s stories were filled with brutal action, monsters and magic. Howard was also one of the few writers who frequently included black characters in his stories. Despite this, he was still a product of his times. The black people of Howard’s fictional world were fierce and formidable, but they were usually led by a person of fairer complexion.
Fast forward to the early seventies. A young man by the name of Charles R. Saunders became enamored with the Conan mythos. As he read these stories an idea formed, the result being Imaro. Imaro was a hero destined to be created, the result of the cultural and political explosion affecting African Americans during the sixties and seventies. Here was a character just as strong and courageous as Conan, but he was black. His world, Nyumbani, was a fictional reflection of ancient Africa, its people based on the various kingdoms that existed on the continent prior to European intervention. It was Charles who invented the phrase Sword and Soul when asked to describe his brand of fantasy fiction.
It might seem a needless distinction and separation to some, but utilizing common themes with different source material for culture and mythology makes Sword & Soul novels distinct and entertaining, and definitely a solid basis for gaming.
Obviously I can identify with the protagonists without worrying about problematic issues breaking me from the fiction, but there’s so much more to it! Saunder’s Imaro novels carry a strange power at least the equal of Conan, and reading Davis’ Meji brought a great sense of wonder in it’s elegantly crafted world and tale. To think that all that’s going on is Conan with a palette-swap is to miss out on some really great work! Here’s some material to get you started.
Charles Saunders writes with skill and with power, and his tales of the alienated Imaro coming into power and acceptance is a great read, so start with the first and keep going!
I love the Meji books by Milton Davis. This tale of two twins separated at birth but whose destinies intertwine is a page-turner. I will run a game in this world sometime soon.
Two great anthologies of Sword & Soul short stories.
- Once Upon a Time in Africa
- Changa’s Safari I
- Changa’s Safari II
- Timbuktu Chronicles: Aida and the Chosen Soldier
- Nyambe. This is the classic D&D supplement for adventuring in an African setting. Not perfect, but definitely worth reading.
- Spears of the Dawn. Created by the author of Stars Without Number, pretty much a near perfect match for the genre.
- Ki-Khanga. Currently in playtest from MVmedia , but hopefully this will be out soon and we can say more about it ( I will be in the playtest, and am really excited about it!)
There’s not a lot here, and I hope this changes! I am working on it.
“Imaginary Africans.” A retread of his Dragon classic, “Out of Africa”, Saunders gives a great overview of some basic mythology and factors to consider. Must read.
“Multicultural Fantasy.” Saunders on getting started writing the fiction he wanted to see an exploring all sorts of cultures in fantasy.
“Marvel and Me.” Charles Saunders talks about almost being able to do a spin-off African character from Conan
“Dorothy, We Ain’t In Kansas Anymore: The Building of a Non-Eurocentric Fantasy World!” Balogun Ojetade discusses the journey towards publishing his works and creating the Ki-Khanga RPG.
“Why do we need Black Speculative Fiction?” Davis gives a very good answer to a frequently-asked question.