Connor Alexander’s1 2022 science-fantasy Coyote & Crow tabletop roleplaying (TTRPG) game was:
Developed and led by a team of Natives, this game envisions a world where colonization never happened and Indigenous nations rose to future prominence.
The first thing a potential buyer will notice is that the core rulebook is a beautifully illustrated thick tome. What waits inside?
Not the most important point but one that matters to me: the font is easily readable, both in terms of font size and page/print contrast. Another detail that caught my eye: the art depicts pregnant women a lot more frequently than do other RPGs.
One element that may draw comment is this request made to non-indigenous players:
If you do not have heritage Indigenous to the Americas, we ask you not to incorporate any of your knowledge or ideas of real world Native Americans into the game.
Similar sentiments are repeated throughout the text, almost as though the writers suspect once will not be sufficient. I would expect this would trigger endless complaints from the usual suspects, except I cannot imagine the usual suspects picking up the game in the first place. To those people I say, “Shadowrunis right over there.” Not every game has to be for a certain demographic.
I’ve been reviewing vintage RPGs so can testify to the fact that RPGs have improved enormously over the last forty years. Instead of a short, flimsy rulebook with clumsy amateur illustrations, this game gives gamers a sturdy, 400+ page hardcover, one with a very striking (in the positive sense) cover. The table of contents is lavish and detailed (though the index is somewhat less so) and helpful URLs are sprinkled throughout the text. The rules are presented in a clear, easy to understand manner. Moreover, I haven’t found any combination of rules in the game mechanics that will produce counter-intuitive results2.
The only necessary items the box doesn’t contain: twelve-sided dice. It may be that the company figures that gamers will already have their own dice. But if you want dice from the game company, you can order them online.
Now for more about the rules.
The rules begin by introducing the setting. The game world is shaped by two developments. The first was the Awis, an impact-triggered severe cooling event that among other things rendered the oceans functionally uncrossable about 1400 AD (or as the calendar in the RPG would put it, the Year 1). The second was the harnessing of the Adanadi, a lifeform symbiosis with which confers extraordinary abilities. Seven hundred years later, what we would call the Americas are enjoying an era of rapid technological progress and population growth, with the usual challenges such eras entail.
The setting focus is on Cahokia, an ancient city enjoying one of its periodic flowerings. Located on the banks of the Mizizibi River, it is the continent’s largest city, drawing people from across the continent and beyond. Players do not have to leave the city to encounter a cross section of the cultures extant in this hemisphere at this time. That said, enough information is provided about the rest of the region that campaigns are not restricted to the city. The condition of the rest of the planet (beyond the Americas) is a matter of rumor, if that.
Rather conveniently for gamemasters and players seeking adventure, this is not a utopia. The two continents have a large number of cultures3 and a few nations whose interests do not entirely align. There’s ample room for plot-friendly conflict or the equally plot-friendly process of side-stepping conflict.
I am not entirely clear how the technological development trees are supposed to have worked in this world. All we see is the result: a mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar, the mundane with super-science and fantastic elements. For example, there are computers but nothing like a continent-wide uncensored network; there are compact ranged weapons but they don’t use gunpowder.
Section two focuses on character design. Chargen is a fourteen-step point-based process. That’s a lot of steps, but the process is actually quite straightforward. Each step offers a wide range of options. As far as I could tell, the chargen rules don’t push players into optimum designs4. Unless players are choosing to be identical, no two characters should be alike.
As in so many RPG rule sets, players can opt for handicaps and extras. Coyote and Crow makes the point (new to me, but obvious in retrospect) that gifts and burdens can be different aspects of the same person or items. That pesky kid sister doesn’t have to be just the mortal incarnation of a character design debt; she can also be a treasured friend5.
Game mechanics are based on dice pools employing twelve-sided dice, which is wonderful news for all of us holding large stocks of underused twelve-siders. Numbers of dice are rolled, with the goal of at least one die exceeding a specific target number (or if the role is opposed by another character’s roll, trying for more successes). Rolls of twelve will let the player roll again. If another twelve, roll again … and so on. The result, if you’re lucky, can be quite spectacular.
Game mechanics are sometimes quite elegant. For example, while as with many RPGs skill dice pools are linked to characteristics, in this case each skill is connected to two characteristics rather than the standard single characteristic. Which of the two is used depends on the character’s training. trained characters use the higher of the two choices, while untrained use the lower.
Extensive notes on and resources for running a campaign.
1: More expansive credits are:
Additional writing and development: William McKay (Manitoba Métis Federation), Weyodi Oldbear (Numunu), Derek Pounds (Samish)
Additional writing: Nico Albert (Cherokee Nation), Riana Elliot (Cherokee), Diogo Nogueira, William Thompson (Cherokee
Layouts and graphic design: John Simon
Editing: Em Matson (Sault Ste Marie Ojibwe)
Chahi Language Developer: William McKay (Manitoba Métis Federation)
Maps: Janice Sheen
Coyote & Crow logo design: Barabara Schelling (Assiniboine)
Sensitivity consulting: Spider B. Perry
Additional rules development: Jade Wesley
Art: Tate Allen (Choctaw), Kyle Charles (Whitefish Lake First Nation), Phil Cohen, Dale Deforest (Diné), Jillian Dolan (Métis/Cree), Sadekaronhes Esquivel (Kanyen’kehá:ka/Mexican Indigenous), Emma Flowers (Crow), Elijah Forbes (Waganakising Oadawak), Al Harris (Lumbee), Amélie Hutt, Keith Jim (Navajo), Scot Kimberley, Jennifer Lange, Mackenzie Neal (Quapaw Nation), Brian Roanhorse (Navajo), Heather Snell (Lakota/Dakota), Jesse Thompson, Wolf Tomoyaketu (Comanche/Apache), Charles Utting, Jeffery Veregge (S’Klallam), Kameron White (Chahta/Tsalagi), Matthew Willetto (Navajo), Lawrence Willie (Paiute), Nala J. Wu
Website design: Christopher Likins
Mobile app developer: Jonathan Garnaas-Holmes
Lead play testers: Shay Snow (Caddo/Cree), Rebecca Demarest Panzer
Play testers: Alex Baldini, Rigby Bendele, Ian Bond, Sparrow Buerer, Eric Christison, Jeremy Dunlap, Jessie Eagan, Tim Eagan, Riana Elliot (Cherokee), Michelle Evans, Kevin Ferguson, Ivis Flanagan, Craig Gehlert, Wm. Victor Golden, Sig Hall, Krystal Henderson, Jonas Hennington, Douglas Johnson, Theresa Lafavor, Garren McKelvey, Zachariah Miller, Evan J. Peterson, Lo Pierce, Martin Reed, Kyle Riley, Ashley Robison, Zoe Samer, Ethan Sharrigan, Ruth Schauble, Allison Smith, Stacy Soeten, Austin Sullivan, Colette Taylor, Jacob Trenta, Nadine Trenta, Gary Thomson, Selena Voelker-Nichols, Khangi Wampler (Oglala Lakota), Isis Wozniakowska
*Indigenous affiliation is self-reported and described as the person requested.
2: For example, in 1st Edition Vampire, higher skill levels increased the odds of success but also the odds of critical failure.
3: Due to the fact this is an alternate history in which Europeans do not colonize the Americas, while there are Metis contributors to the rule book, there are no Metis in the setting. On that note, the setting isn’t 1400 frozen in aspic but with magic and high technology: the two continents had quite a lot of history between the Year 1 and the present day.
4: I’m thinking of Danger International, in which rational choices during chargen result in a plethora of Dex 14, SPD 4 characters.
5: It turns out many significant others object to being introduced as “my dependent NPC,” and I am guessing “my burden” won’t go over much better.