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Coyote & Crow the RPG
Coyote & Crow the RPG

Two years ago I wrote a blog post on this site called “An Important Message From Connor” that, to my surprise, received quite a bit more attention than I thought it would. I’ve since been called racist, unhinged, and a lot worse by a particular sphere of folks within the tabletop RPG community. I’m not so worried about that. What does concern me though is that the point of my post seemed to be somehow lost along the way, despite it being in bold letters near the top of the page. Let me reiterate it here before I go on to why I’m writing this.

“White People: You Can Play Coyote & Crow.”

For a recap, Coyote & Crow is a science fantasy tabletop roleplaying set in an alternate future where colonization of the Americas never happened. It broke Kickstarter records, was nominated for a Nebula Award for game writing, won the Diana Jones Award for gaming excellence, along with numerous other awards, and went on to spawn Coyote & Crow Games, a publishing company which has since produced The Stories of the Free Lands, which is a set of adventures for the game, a custom dice set, a story guide screen, Hemlock & Sage, a novel set in the C&C universe, Naasii, a dice game, Wolves, a semi-cooperative tabletop game releasing in May, and a good amount of merch, with more things on the way. We strive to hire Native Americans in as many roles as possible and attempt to make games that are environmentally responsible.

Coyote & Crow, the RPG, was, by most definitions, a success and one that I’m very proud of. But to this day, two misunderstandings continue to dog the game. One, this is not something that non-Natives (read: white people) should play. Two, this fictional world is a post-scarcity utopia, meaning there are no conflicts in the game and therefore there’s nothing for players or story guides to do.

I’m revisiting these pernicious issues because we’re going to be announcing quite a few big things for Coyote & Crow this year, including our first full setting book for the RPG, called Ahu Tiiko -which you can see the first teaser for here. I’ll start by saying that I stand by everything I wrote both in Coyote & Crow the RPG and on my blog about who is invited to play this game. Depending on my mood on any given day, my tone may vary on the subject, and I was certainly frustrated when I wrote that blog post. But I stand by every word written there.

So, let’s just dive into this whole “can I play this game” thing and bring everyone fully up to speed. Then we’ll tackle the utopia topic. Here are some truths. I’ve stated these in various ways in the game, in my blog, on social media, and in interviews:

  • I want Natives and non-Natives to play Coyote & Crow, equally and for different reasons. It was built for those express purposes. It’s meant to act as a bridge, a gateway, and a sandbox. To give Natives a chance to play in a world that is uniquely theirs, and to give non-Natives a peek into a fantasy world that isn’t built on European lore.
  • Players should not play characters from a real world tribe that they do not belong to. It’s not that complicated. I’m a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. I would not play a character from the Coast Salish nation. Seems pretty obvious and simple. The game does not require you to insert any real world nations into the game in order to play. And things you might assume about those real world nations are probably wrong and or inappropriate for you to mimic. But I’m not going to pop into your game like the Kool-Aid man if you don’t. It’s an ask.
  • Don’t be a dick. Don’t wear war bonnets at the table. Don’t make whooping sounds. Don’t paint your face red. Don’t have your character say “how” as a greeting. Not too difficult.
  • For Natives that have specific cultural concepts they’d like to bring into the game, they’re welcome to speak to the Story Guide about working their heritage into this fictional world in a way that makes sense for the game. I want Indigenous people to feel like they’re seen in this world that they have a way to opt in their culture in a positive and healthy way.
  • White people and Europe are not discussed in Coyote & Crow. The exact nature of the natural disaster that altered history is left intentionally vague for in-world reasons. The people of Makasing don’t know the full story of why things happened the way they happened. The game isn’t a statement against white people or Europeans anymore than it’s a statement against Asians, who also do not appear in the book. It’s just not about white people. For some, apparently, that’s upsetting.
Sir No-Appearing-In-This-Film
  • If you, after all of this, feel like you still aren’t allowed to play this game, or you feel that it would be inappropriate for you to play this game because you’re not “Native enough”, then you might want to do some serious self-reflection on how you view race and how you interact with other cultures. An entire cadre of Native writers and artists have put this book out into general distribution – all over the world. We’ve even gone to the extra lengths to specify that non-Natives can play it in the text. If that ain’t enough, then the problem is likely you.
  • And if you think any of the above makes me racist or a jerk? Well, this game probably isn’t for you and I doubt this article did anything for you other than give you some woke-porn.

Let’s move on to the utopia misconception. A number of people have claimed that the alternate future presented in the world of Coyote & Crow is both utopian and post-scarcity. And because of these things, the game lacks “conflict” or “things for players to do”. While I wouldn’t laugh at someone who said these things to my face, I do find both of those assertions painfully funny.

I’ll begin my response with one of only three mentions of the word “utopia” in the entire core rulebook. It can be found on page 456, in the “Final Notes” section where I used the word three times in the paragraphs that were some added personal thoughts. Most prominently: “Coyote & Crow isn’t a utopian world. It’s a ravaged world, slowly getting to its feet after having been knocked down hard.” Let’s dive in further.

Another mention comes on page 75, while discussing the day to day living in the city of Cahokia. “All of this might sound pretty easy and straightforward, but it was a long road to get here for the citizens of Cahokia, and doesn’t mean they live perfect lives in a utopia.”

Finally, on page 370, in the chapter titled “The Ethos of Coyote & Crow”, I said, “This world isn’t a shiny happy utopia. It’s not a place where everyone lives happily ever after in a storybook garden covered in rainbows and little birds land on your fingertips, inviting you to sing a song.” I don’t think I can make it much clearer here.

Some people have compared the world to something like Star Trek: the Next Generation. When they do it favorably, they’ll mention that there’s still plenty of drama to be found in a world that doesn’t have conflicts over basic necessities. When they do it negatively, they’ll likely say something like “except there’s no evil” in the world of C&C, somehow implying that everyone in Coyote & Crow has to be virtuous or noble. I’m not a fan of that comparison, partially because Star Trek’s Federation has a mixed record when it comes to colonization and its “equality for all” exterior gloss (I’m looking at you, Journey’s End).

At a certain point, I have to assume a couple of things about these conversations surrounding Coyote & Crow’s setting. First, the person making these kinds of statements might not have actually read the book. Two, if they have read it, they aren’t discussing the book in good faith. They’re coming into the conversation with an agenda and a preconceived idea of what they think is in the book or what they’ve chosen to see beyond my literal words. 

Let me be blunt. There’s evil in this alternate world. There is scarcity. There is greed, corruption, malice, murder, cheating, stealing, and lying. None of that is gone. And I’m enough of a cynic to know that even in a city that provided everyone with basic needs, those failings would still exist. We’re all human beings with the same core issues. An alternate history doesn’t change that.

The fictional city of Cahokia treats its citizens pretty well. They have jobs if they want them, roofs over their heads, food in their bellies. Maybe it has to do with our real world and how entrenched many of us have become in the miseries of it, but I think people have a skewed idea of what a utopia is. Cahokia provides shelter, food, jobs, and education. That’s not a utopia, that’s the bare minimum for a civilized society.

I think there are a few things at play here when it comes to this misconception. First, because we at Coyote & Crow had so much world building to do, we decided to give the most space in the book to a single metropolitan city, Cahokia, somewhat an analogue to New York City. But using NYC as a way to gauge what life is like in the rest of North America is a wildly bad idea, right? It’s the exception in so many ways. It’s no different when comparing Cahokia to the rest of Makasing.

Many readers took what we wrote about Cahokia and simply thought it applied to everywhere in Makasing (North America). It truly doesn’t. Cahokia is the exception in Makasing, even while it’s the most obvious choice for players to start their journeys. There are other metropolitan areas, to be sure, but they are wildly different from each other. And the vast majority of people and places in Makasing are not part of a metropolis like Cahokia.

Which brings me to the second thing at play. Americans have a bad tendency to make things monolithic, especially marginalized people. I think it’s why many Americans still struggle with the modern definition of the word queer, for example. It doesn’t fit into a simple box. When you ask an average non-Native American to think of a Native American, the imagery they pull up in their mind is probably strongly influenced by films like Dances With Wolves or Last of the Mohicans. But if you ask an average American to describe any differences between say someone from the Seminole Nation of Florida and someone from the Paiute tribe of Utah, and they’ll go blank.

They might not even know that those are real, actual, distinct cultures.

I’m not trying to critique any one person’s education or understanding of Native Americans here. What I’m trying to get at is that Americans, as a group, have a tendency to think that once they’ve seen one of a thing, they’ve seen all of the thing – in any category. So when we wrote about life in Cahokia, most non-Native readers probably took that as that’s how life is in all of Makasing, even though we did our best to say otherwise. 

What we did instead was to give summaries of the other major nations of Makasing and the ones in central and south America. The goal with this was twofold. First, our book was already soaring past 400 pages. We couldn’t fit all of the lore we wanted to in a single book. Second was that we wanted to give players a small taste at just how varied each of these regions would be. The Ti’Swaq Alliance is vastly different from the Keetoowagi Federation and would each require their own book to include individual Paths, Abilities, regional factions, laws, celebrations, and complex histories.

Let’s go back to this idea of there being no conflict in Coyote & Crow. Chapter 16 of the book, called Forging Your Saga, directly offers a number of settings and themes that you can delve into in this world, and offers story prompts for each. From Exploration to Espionage to Horror and beyond, we offered numerous specific genres to play in. 

More broadly speaking, the world of Coyote & Crow is ripe for drama. Nations are questioning the value of ancient treaties that made sense when the world was more oppressed by the cataclysmic weather. Myths and legends of yesterday are taking on a very real and literal presence in recent years. The change in weather is encouraging folks to explore beyond their usual borders, allowing players to venture off into a vast unknown. New technological advances are directly clashing with deeply held traditions.

It’s true that there isn’t a central villain that we lay out in obvious terms or stats. You aren’t fighting against a giant robot with an absurdly villainous name or a huge evil eye atop a tower that’s looking to subjugate a realm. However, if that’s the only way you can see conflict in an RPG, might I suggest that perhaps you widen your view? Of course it feels great for heroes to save the world. But can’t it be just as exciting to save a village? Or a single human life? Or maybe just make one person’s life a little better.

If someone comes to me in good faith and says, “I want to play Coyote & Crow but I don’t know what kind of stories I can tell,” my answer to them is to check out our adventures called Stories of the Free Lands. They were designed to be one shots that can help folks adjust to this world and get their Sagas rolling. They’re filled with great art and adventures from ten different Native authors.

But often what I’ve seen is that people who complain about Coyote & Crow are complaining that they aren’t being spoon fed enough; that a 500 page core book, 12 one shots, and a novel isn’t sufficient to get their own stories rolling. That there isn’t enough world building done for them to imagine a conflict. Corrupt governments, shadowy organizations, mythical creatures and spirits, high tech gadgets, dozens of cultures and biomes, and mysterious superpowers just aren’t enough

Many modern TTRPGs are built with a very specific setting and tone in mind. Kids on Bikes is a great example and you almost immediately know what kind of stories you should be telling with that game, and that’s fantastic. And the system for that game is one that perfectly lends itself to that vibe. It’s the system I’d want to use if I was trying to tell a story about a group of suburban teens trying to steal a horde of pirate treasure out from under some bumbling crooks.

Conversely, Coyote & Crow isn’t trying to tell you what kind of stories to tell. It’s intentionally vague on that topic. Instead, it’s asking you to reframe how you tell those stories. To question your character’s (and your antagonist’s) motivations. That big monster you’d normally just swing a sword at? What do you do if killing it just makes it come back more powerful a week from now? Do you need to kill it at all? Is there something more at play you just don’t see? The system isn’t a statement against classically hack and slash games like Dungeons & Dragons, but it definitely gives alternatives to those traditional types of play.

If the only reason you engage with tabletop roleplaying games is to have your characters go somewhere, kill the things that live there, take their belongings, then rinse and repeat that process for the sole purpose of gaining power for your character by way of increasing their stats and abilities, then maybe Coyote & Crow isn’t the game for you. 

But let me tell you who Coyote & Crow is for. Coyote & Crow is for anyone, from any culture, any background, who wants to tell epic stories, with characters who feel real and lived in, but are also destined for greatness. Even if that greatness is just a well-worn tale around the fire a hundred years after they’ve passed on to the next world.

I welcome honest discourse about Coyote & Crow. I think it’s a fantastic game, with amazing fans. And it’s okay if C&C isn’t to your tastes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not for everyone. We’ve got so much coming this year and I can’t wait to share with you all how we’re growing this incredible, hopeful world full of mystery, danger, science, and spirituality. We’re just getting started.

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Siyo folks!

So many updates for you. First off, if you haven’t heard by now, Coyote and Crow is Live On Kickstarter MARCH 2nd! Please sign up there for notifications and/or for our newsletter HERE.

We’re also going to have a separate post that will detail all of the places you can read or hear more about the game through other sources (podcasts, interviews, etc). We’ll update that post with new links as they become available.

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Siyo folks!

Our Kickstarter video is now live on YouTube. You can check it here:

Music from A Tribe Called Red

Hope it gets you as excited as it has us!

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So much exciting news. Let’s jump right in to the updates!

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So much happening that it’s hard to keep up. But before we get to the happy stuff, I have a confession to make because I’m trying to be as transparent with our creation process as possible.

I’m scared shitless, my friends.

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Apologies for the lack of updates lately, but I’m happy to report that it’s been because we’ve been really busy on our end. Let’s jump into all of the good news!

  • After some chats with various folks including team members, industry colleagues and a very unscientific Twitter poll, we’re going to stop trying to squeeze our Kickstarter in before the end of the year. Instead we’ll likely be looking at the early part of the first half of 2021. It will be here before we know it!
  • We’ve got a great new graphic designer on board and I’m really anxious to be able to show you all some of the things he’s working on.
  • Our cover art will hopefully be completed shortly!
  • We’re currently working on another round of edits and development after we did a blind test of a group of our alpha testers taking the materials and making a character on their own. We learned a lot from that!
  • The materials continue to get both more refined and voluminous. We’re currently estimating the book at about 250 pages!
  • We got mentioned along side Rebecca Roanhorse’s new book, Dark Sun on Tor’s website! You can read the article HERE.
  • We’ve made some hefty changes to help streamline some of the mechanics.
  • Lastly, our GoFundMe (which is still up and available) hit it’s goal of more than $2000! Thank you all for your generosity. It will mean we get many more pieces of Indigenous art into our final product.

That’s it for now, but we’ll have more soon. Take care. Vote Trump out. Be safe. Be kind. Wado.

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Things are moving along! I’m currently communicating with someone who has the potential to be our new Lead Artist and help keep us on the timeline that will get our Kickstarter launched before the end of the year!

In the meantime, here’s what else we’ve been up to!

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Coyote and Crow needs an art partner and we are hiring! Are you an artist who is looking for work and is interested in more than one off contract jobs? Read on! (And please feel free to share this post far and wide)

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Over the last couple of years, I’ve received a number of variations of the following question: “What about real world tribe X in Coyote and Crow? What happened to them?” I’ve decided now is a great time to tackle this question and address some important issues. Buckle up!

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I’ve been doing so much work on the timeline, facts and rules for Coyote and Crow that it recently came to my attention that I’ve been sort of secretive about what the world looks and feels like. So, let’s do this! (* One important note: C&C is still in development. Everything I talk about here is not final and may change between now and the final game.)

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