Home Forums Fantasy General Fantasy Conan – The Black Kingdoms

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    Angel Barracks

    As you may or may not know, my 15mm fantasy is Conan inspired and set in the more southerly/middle eastern part of the world.
    As such it has a desert sort of vibe about it.

    I am now painting some warrior tribesmen from the Black Kingdoms. (not my name)

    Here are some images from Conan about the nature of the people there, put quite simply they are black.

    As such I am painting them black.
    However with them being a savage warrior tribe I am wondering if people will think I am being some sort of massive racist.

    What are your thoughts around portraying a tribe of black people (fictional of course but based on reality) as baddies?


    personally I don’t have a problem –  if I was playing a Conan game, I would want to keep the setting as accurate to the original stories as possible.

    Northern Monkey

    Black/Asian/non-White adversaries are prevalent through out many periods of historical wargaming, I have never considered gamers of these periods as being racists in anyway, they are simply being historically accurate, or in your case canonically accurate!  I personally play Anglo-Zulu war games on occasion and have never considered that it may give an impression of implied racism.

    My attempt at a Blog: http://ablogofwar.blogspot.co.uk/


    Robert Ervin Howard (January 22, 1906 – June 11, 1936) was a man of his time and place, and his culture was reflexively racist in ways we can hardly imagine without a focused effort. Howard’s black tribesmen aren’t ‘baddies’, they’re just there, like his other caricatured ethnicities; his Stygians, his Shemites, or his Aesir and Vanir, for that matter. If you sanitize Howard, he’s not Howard, any more than a bowdlerized Huckleberry Finn is Mark Twain. I say, take him as he is or leave him alone.

    Some people are going to object to playing a game set in the Hyborian Age. If you want a socially progressive background for your heroic fantasy wargaming, I propose Sam Delaney’s Neveryona stories.

    You'll shoot your eye out, kid!


    I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments outlined by the posters above; Howard is a product of his time, and we shouldn’t be squeamish about finding some of the sentiments of the era uncomfortable or downright unsupportable – the very fact we are noticing and not nodding along says that we have (hopefully) left or are in the process of leaving that all behind…..

    further, I don’t think you need to worry about the peoples of the ‘Black Kingdoms’ being the ‘baddies’ per se; I mean, look at things from their point of view – Conan is not wandering into their lands to pick flowers and take the air – he’s there to steal and fight – remember he might have ended up a King, but began as a thief! – I think any self respecting inhabitant would want to do away with him as quickly as possible – he’s the outsider, the intruder, and he’s carrying a broadsword along their high street…..

    Darkest Star Games

    Someone who wants to be offended will always find something to be offended about, whether it’s gamers objectifying women by having scantily clad figures, having slave figures on a slave ship (was ranted at about this during a large convention game because we DARED to show something historically) or whether your drink Earl Grey instead of Chamomile tea.  Nothing you can do to prevent it, so do your thing with whatever sensitivity you deem necessary for your own conscience.  If you’ve done what you feel is right and someone else gets prickly about it, I’d think it’s their problem and something within themselves that they need to examine and live with.

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."


    Howards stories might have portrayed the Black Kingdoms as bad guys but, like mentioned by other posters, he was a product of his times. Look at Flash Gordons nemesis, Ming the Merciless. He certainly wasnt a white dude. Check out old Marvel superhero cariacatures of Japanese enemies as well.

    Later versions of Conan are far more progressive (and some – not the cartoon – are in my opinion, far superior to REHs original stuff):

    – In Savage Sword of of Conan #110 “The Mud Men of Keshan” Conan teams up with a bloke from Keshan (after aforementioned bloke saves Conans life) for a while.
    – Although juvenile, the Conan of Conan the Adventurer has as his first ally, Zula, a noble prince of the Wasai.
    – In 2011s Conan the Barbarian, Jason Momoas best pal is played by Nonso Anozie.

    These are just a few examples off the top of my head: there are plenty of examples of our hero slaying Hyborian-style Arabs, Jews, and, GASP, Europeans.

    REH might have been a big racist f—, but gladly the world has become more enlightened, and there is no reason why we can’t enjoy something just because the creator was biased. Keep what you like, toss out the rest.

    For these reasons, i would not feel at all uncomfortable fielding Black Kingdom dudes as bad guys. Oh, but remember: Zembabweians ride DRAGONS.

    Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let's go kill them!


    I just painted up a bunch of ancient Germans with very dark skins. They are playing the role of North African auxiliaries for my Fantasy Roman 15mm campaign. They are local tribesmen, hired by Roman mages as mercenaries (the Romans themselves are sort of a stand-in for the Lunar Empire — think Iron Age Glorantha).

    Those Conan fake Africans look pretty historical and no more “savage” than Conan himself. I think your most difficult challenge will be painting dark color skin. It’s pretty difficult, actually. Sometimes I use a very light bronze drybrush to try to get a sheen of sweat effect. The thing you should do is make sure that your highlight color is a lighter shade of brown and not the skin tone + white, unless you want your figures to look like they just walked through chalk dust. Also, body paint in white, red and yellow works really nicely ion dark skin. My new auxiliaries have lots of gold jewelry and a gold dust spot on their foreheads. They also have either bright red or dark blue cloaks. Really makes them stand out!


    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    General Slade

    I think your most difficult challenge will be painting dark color skin. 

    I’m also doing a Hyborian-influenced campaign and have been painting up some 15mm Minifig Zulus as a civilisation based on the Waddintons/Letraset rub-down transfers I loved as a kid: http://www.action-transfers.com/html/panorama/jungle.shtml

    I use Vallejo Hull Red for my basic skin tone.  It sounds like an odd choice (it is basically a very dark rust colour) but it works very well on 15mm figures.

    I love R.E. Howard’s work.  I think he is a great writer who has never received the recognition he deserves (Tolkien is seen as great literature and Howard is still derided as pulp – doesn’t make any sense to me).  However, as others have pointed out he was also a product of his times and some of his stories can make for uncomfortable reading these days.

    I think the disquiet about the depiction of black characters in Conan-influenced heroic fantasy is not so much that they are the ‘baddies (after all good characters are few and far between in the world of Conan) but the fact that they are only ever depicted as primitive savages living in mud huts.  If you are worried about it then why not  balance things by including a more ‘advanced’ black civilisation in your world  – maybe based on the medieval empire of Mali: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mali_Empire – then no one can have cause for complaint.


    Still on topic (as in painting figures as baddies), today in ANZAC day in Australia and New Zealand.

    I have in my collection decent 20mm Australian WW2 and Japanese WW2 forces to game with. Since marrying my Japanese wife, I really haven’t used them at all.

    Today I asked her the question if she was worried about me using them. This topic was what spurred me on to ask.

    Her reply was ‘You can use them. I know our countries were enemies during the war, but I don’t take offence if you play games with your toy soldiers’.

    My wife can tell the difference between toy soldiers representing historical events and something that would offend someone.

    Angel Barracks

    I have painted them up.
    But the photo’s are a bit ropey:


    Rob young

    My own Black Nations HoTT army is based on old Minifigs. It has quite an interesting balance.


    Rob Young

    Ivan Sorensen

    Howard was pretty racist even by the low standards of a 1920’s New Englander, however, we live in a time where badass black protagonists aren’t unknown anymore, so I’d just lean on that a bit.

    If it’s a character driven game, give the tribes their own named leaders with their own motivations and agendas and it’ll be fine.
    I wouldn’t sweat it too much, just avoid doing like pygmies or something

    Nordic Weasel Games

    Rod Robertson


    Racism isn’t a colour choice, it’s a mindset of preferential vs detrimental treatment based on slight biomorphic differences between humans. If you paint them well enough that they look dignified, even in a barbaric way, and you use them as both friends and foes, as you would any other shade of humans, you are being inclusive and not racist. As you look at an unpainted figure, first picture it as White, Latino, First Nations, Oriental Asian, or Indian Caucasian. If you see no problem painting it and using it in those shades then you should not feel bad about painting them in darker shades and using them as friends and foes alike. If you’re concerned about depicting some ‘Blacks’ as baddies, then you must ask yourself why you are loathe to do so. Certainly within any population of people there are villains and schemers who do bad. Just make sure that there are numerous African-Hyperboreans who strive for good and it balances out in the end. Even if you have slavery depicted in your games this can be done with balance and neutrality. Have some of the slavers as dark skinned sinners but make sure other shades are also slaving. Have many slaves depicted as different shades but some of the slaves as dark skinned, so all shades are victims of this vile vice. Mix the slavers and the slaves up so that many shades are represented and no one group is singled out. Depict all shades with a distinct culture and a unique dignity and you should be fine.

    To paint an African-Negroid phenotype I use a base coat of dark Caucasian Flesh from Ceramcoat. Then progressively darker layers of semi-opaque Burnt Umber (also from Ceramcoat) until the desired level of darkness has been reached. Palms of hands and soles of feet get little to no shading. Hair is black, brown and rust depending on the individual.

    Just remember that racism lives in the mind and heart and if it is not found there then it will not be on your gaming table. What other people project onto your table you can’t control but that’s down to their prejudices and hang-ups.

    Thaddeus B:

    Interesting reference to Glorantha there. Romanesque Lunars are interesting. I toyed with the idea years ago but finally settled on an Indo-Caucasian phenotype and culture for my Pelorians based on the depictions of the idols and temples presented in Gloranthan art in the mid-1980’s. The closest thing I have to a Roman culture in my version of Glorantha is a derivative Romano-Penlandan culture in Carmania but it completely lacks the political and economic institutions which some would associate with Rome. I like your direction however and would like to hear more, perhaps on another thread someday.

    Cheers and good gaming.

    Rod Robertson.

    William Minsinger

    I like Rod’s take on it; if you aren’t painting them deliberately to depict them as ‘inferior’ or ‘savage’ then I think you’re in clear.  Plus real Africa has a long heritage of warrior cultures so you have plenty of real inspiration to fall back on.  Humanize them a bit (name their leaders/characters would be a good start, come up with tribe names too maybe) and I don’t think anyone would think about it twice.

    @Thaddeus – Your project sounds very interesting, would like to hear more about it.


    William Minsinger

    Also a given is the notion that in Hyboria every nation is basically a ethnic pastiche so that takes some of the pressure off; The Nordheimers are stereotypical vikings with horns on their helmets, Turan are Arabs in cloaks, there’s no nation that is treated in a ethnically sensitive or accurate manner!


    Victoria Dickson

    You’re taking them from the source material. If you don’t make them black you’re ‘whitewashing’ it.

    Maff Sparkes

    <p style=”text-align: left;”>I think that one of Conan’s toughest allies is Juma (?) from the Black Coast so they aren’t all villains.  It is a minefield so proceed with respect and avoid cliche – and if the Kushites rip up those slavers then well done them.</p>

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