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Let’s talk about dice! More specifically, about the dice and system used in CoyoteAndCrow, and how they are connected to the theme and mechanics in this Indigenous world.

I’ve been playing with polyhedrals since 1979 and I got my first set of D&D dice that I had to fill in with crayons (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up). In that set, you got a d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and most importantly a d20. The d20 over the years has become more than just a commonly used die in role playing games, it’s become a symbol, a standard tool, and really, a trope.

But I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a fan. It always felt a little silly to me when the barbarian charged the door, rolled a “1”, and bounced off, only to have the feeble wizard insist on a go at it. The old man rolls a “20” and the door is a pile of splinters now. But I’m not here to nitpick about dice or other game systems. What doesn’t work for some, works for plenty of others.

It wasn’t until the World of Darkness came along that I found a system that I really clicked with. Their focus on d10s and a concept of ‘degree of success’ rather than a binary fail/pass really captured my imagination. It really is an elegant system and whether you’re a fan of that setting or not, you have to admit, it was a refreshing change from many more cumbersome or clumsy systems of the day.

For Coyote and Crow, I had a very specific list of goals I was looking to achieve with the dice.

  • The system had to be simple enough that it allowed players to focus on storytelling and their character sheet, not endless calculations or charts
  • The dice needed to encourage role playing and more than just success/fail, it needed to tie into the larger themes of the game (which I’ll touch on below)
  • The physical dice themselves need to be fairly accessible, especially to those players who might be on a reservation or otherwise not particularly close to hobby shops. For this reason, I sincerely considered making the game based entirely around d6s.

Where I landed was the often overlooked and criminally underused d12. Not as swingy as a d20, but more variation than a d10, it also tends to have large, easily readable faces which helps those without great eyesight. And while not as common as d6s, they aren’t hard to come by. And if I have my way, I’ll be offering sets of dice as add-ons to the Kickstarter.

As a side note, there are some exploding dice mechanics and there will be three colors of dice used in the game, most commonly: White, gray, and black (although any agreed upon color scheme will work). White is what is used for ‘basic’ rolls, while gray is an upgrade to ‘major’ and can explode into black dice for ‘critical’ effects.

So, how do you use the dice? As I stated above, one of my goals was to keep it simple. While I’m not going to get into a full breakdown of how you create a Dice Pool in Coyote and Crow, let’s assume your character is doing something fairly mundane. Whatever they happened to be doing grants them a pool of three basic dice in this instance. So, they’d pick up three white d12s and roll them.

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The best die

‘7’ is the magic number in Coyote and Crow, in that it’s the standard number a character needs to roll (It’s also a sacred number, but I digress). So in the above example, if even one of the d12s rolled a 7 or higher, they would score a success. Which would indicate that the player succeeded in their attempt. For more difficult or easier tasks, the number can raised or lower. If the player rolls more than one success, they might accomplish the task faster or better, depending on the circumstances.

However, in Coyote and Crow, 1’s and 12s have a special effect. A 1 is always a failure, no matter how many other bonuses the character has. It also cancels out 1 success. If a character has zero successes, they fail at their attempted task. If they have negative successes (more 1’s than successes), the character has critically failed and there’s an extra story based outcome. This could be anything from slipping on a ledge to a weapon jamming or any number of things.

A 12, under most circumstances, is a success and allows the Player and Story Guide to roll an additional die of the next upgraded color, potentially adding even more success as well as additional effects granted by ‘major’ and ‘critical’ successes.

There are also ways for players to manipulate their dice after they’ve rolled them and there’s a very important reason for that. It ties back into theme and my intentions for the game, which, really is at the heart of this post.

Most tribes of North America have an incredibly long and complex history of oral storytelling. Without detailed written histories, oral histories became something far beyond literal transcriptions of events. Native stories aren’t just about narrative or plot, they’re about conveying culture and beliefs.

Part of the foundation of Coyote and Crow is storytelling, not just in the sense of the Story Guide crafting a setting for the game at hand, but in the Players helping those events become a ‘story after the table’, crafting them into a fable to be told by both the people at the table long after the game has ended, and the fictional people living within the world of C&C.

Which is why I wanted a flexible, imaginative system, and why I created mechanics for altering the dice after the roll. While my setting is somewhat hard sci-fi, with a creamy layer of spiritual and supernatural, it needs to have the epic feel of stories told around campfires. Heroes (and villains) need to be able to reach beyond boring charts and static numbers and tell stories to inspire.

In essence, I don’t want the dice to be the last word. I want Players and Story Guides to feel empowered to tell wider, grander, more thrilling stories enabled by nothing more than a handful of humble d12s and their imaginations.

More to come. Stiyu (stay strong)

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