Coyote & Crow: Stories of the Free Lands: An Interview with Connor Alexander

Nominated for a Nebula Award, Coyote & Crow, one of the million dollar RPG Kickstarters, is coming back to crowdfunding with new books and a new “home”, Backerkit. During their first campaign, I spoke with Connor Alexander. For this upcoming campaign, Connor agreed to answer my questions about the new books, how the system works, and what the reaction to this book has been like.

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EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thank you for speaking with me! Let’s talk about the new campaign, Coyote & Crow: Stories of the Free Lands. What can you share about this project?
CONNOR ALEXANDER (CONNOR)
: This follow up has been a long time coming. We wanted to initially get these stories to folks at the same time the core book hit retail shelves. One of the most common asks we had after the first crowdfunding campaign was successful was "What kinds of stories can we tell with this game?" So we wanted to gather up some Indigenous writers and show people what's possible. But like so many things in the world right now, there were delays. And by the time we got them together and ready to go, we had other things to share, like our Story Guide Screen and Naasii, our standalone dice game. So we decided to just bundle everything up and let folks get early access to some of the stuff that would have otherwise gone straight to retail.

EGG: For gamers that have not tried out Coyote & Crow, what’s the RPG’s pitch?
CONNOR
: It's a science fantasy world set in an alternate future where colonization of the Americas never happened after a world changing climate event altered history centuries back. Now, in the near future, players take on the roles of epic heroes in a mirror America where advanced technology and spirituality stand side by side.

EGG: What is the core mechanic of Coyote & Crow?
CONNOR
: It's a story focused system where characters use pools of D12s to determine a range of success or failure. It's a system built to encourage epic storytelling and to offer a range of alternatives for conflict resolution besides combat.

EGG: Can you talk about the project’s goals? What will you produce?
CONNOR
: For the new campaign, we're offering 10 stories broken down into two PDF bundles of 5 stories each. Each story is written by an Indigenous author paired up with a different artist. Some are folks who wrote or did art for the core book, but we have lots of new folks onboard too. While we aren't firmly committing to doing a physical print run for the stories, it is planned as one of our stretch goals. The reality is, printing, paper and shipping costs are just astronomical right now and the time lag is such that we just wanted to make sure that folks could get these stories to their table as quickly as possible. For the other products, like the Story Guide Screen and Naasii, I was the primary author/designer of those. I also wrote one of the ten stories.

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EGG: There is a tendency to put projects into categories. Because I want to share this project as much as possible, I’ve mentioned Coyote & Crow when I’m writing about cyberpunk. But, this RPG isn’t specifically a cyberpunk game, I’ve simply shoehorned it there to fit it into an article here or there. What genre or subgenre would you put Coyote & Crow into?
CONNOR
: Great question! We've been called Hopepunk and Solarpunk and I certainly don't mind those labels. I call our game Indigipunk. I think there is a small subset of folks that look at our setting and call it a utopia, but I take real offense to that. I think we present a world that isn't a dystopia and it offers a primary location (Cahokia) that offers housing, healthcare, education, and a healthy environment for all of it's citizens. But that's not a utopia, that's just a baseline for what life should be like. I think that says a lot more about where people's heads are at in this country that we think basic human needs being met are a utopia. To me, Indigipunk means that it's a radical departure from most visions of the future in that it attempts to give us a future where Indigenous people had the ability to shape their own destiny. It's not a perfect world, just a different one. One that lacks colonial trauma.

EGG: Coyote & Crow crowdfunded in excess of a million dollars at Kickstarter. However, for the new campaign you’re changing venues to Backerkit, correct? Why make that move?
CONNOR
: We knew we wanted to move away from Kickstarter after they announced their plans to work with blockchain technology. We can't always make environmentally responsible decisions as a publisher working in America today, but that was one we could control. We considered GameFound, but we also had a great experience with BackerKit on our last campaign and they've been lovely to work with. So when they offered to let us into their beta, we said yes.

EGG: Are you planning any additional advertising to guide fans to the new platform?
CONNOR
: We're reaching out to fans every way we can think of. BackerKit will be doing their own advertising, but we're reaching out through our Discord and other social media and sales channels. We know that we have a rather unusual campaign as far as what we're offering and we know that BackerKit isn't entirely embedded in people's minds as a crowdfunding platform. But I’m fine with us blazing new trails. If this campaign goes well, it's a sign that at least for us, it's about the product and our mission and not the platform.

EGG: When are you planning your crowdfunding campaign?
CONNOR
: We're launching on September 13th and it will be a 30 day campaign. Because most everything is finished, shipping our way or close to being done, we're confident we can start fulfilling well before the end of the year.

Coyote & Crow Stories of the Free Lands Banner.jpg

EGG: Now that Coyote & Crow is available to gamers via FLGS and bookstores, what has the reaction been like?
CONNOR
: It's been unbelievable. On the one hand we've had some great streamed actual plays, a Nebula award nomination for game writing and incredible sweet emails from educators and therapists who say the game is already making a huge impact with Indigenous youth. On the other, we've had a hard time getting the attention of your average game stores out there. While we've done some good work, the truth is that RPGs are such a small slice of the gaming pie that I totally understand that most game stores can't keep up with anything beyond D&D, Shadowrun, and Pathfinder. I get it. But we'll slowly work our way into their hearts - and onto their shelves.

EGG: Coyote & Crow opens the door for Native stories and Native creators. What kind of positive impact have you seen/heard about Coyote & Crow having on other Native creators?
CONNOR
: I've been truly humbled by how many writers and artists and other creatives have reached out to me, asking how they can participate in some way. Beyond just wanting to continue on as a game publisher, my hope for this campaign is that it puts us in a position where can foster those folk's ambitions. And I don't just mean by hiring them to work on future C&C products. I mean, I want to be able to authorize clothing designers or toy makers or crafters or whomever else is feeling inspired to make something connected to Coyote & Crow. I can't wait to see some of the cosplay we're eventually going to have. Natives know how to dress up.

EGG: Beyond Coyote & Crow, what else are you working on?
CONNOR
: I'm working on a few things. Some stuff I can't really talk about at the moment. But I'm also working on a stand alone tabletop game for next year. We've got a card game on the way. A novel set in the C&C universe. Plus expansion books for C&C. There's so much to be done. It's an exciting time over here.

EGG: I appreciate your time. Where can fans learn more about you and Coyote & Crow?
CONNOR
: Our website, which also has a list of our socials on the main page. You can also sign up to be notified about the new crowdfunding campaign launch at [Backerkit]. As always, Egg, thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program, and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG, Noble Knight Games, and Amazon.
 

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Egg Embry

Egg Embry

Erdric Dragin

Adventurer
Can WotC hire some of their writers to redo "Maztica" because D&D sorely needs a setting that's not heavily Euro-fantasy for once. Garbage company for not coming out with a Psionics system for 5e or remastering Kara-Tur for Eastern fantasy setting.
 

Mezuka

Hero

Mezuka

Hero
Can WotC hire some of their writers to redo "Maztica" because D&D sorely needs a setting that's not heavily Euro-fantasy for once. Garbage company for not coming out with a Psionics system for 5e or remastering Kara-Tur for Eastern fantasy setting.
The Koryo Hall of Adventure for 5e based on Korean culture and mythology.

 

I’m a huge fan of this project! I got my hardcover from the original KS a few months ago, and unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to play it—but the setting is great!

I realize ENWorlders come from all around the world, so the significance of this product may not be obvious to everyone. If you’re not from a settler-colony country, the issues this product addressed might not be something you even hear about.

I’m Canadian, and probably the most common and significant cultural conflict here is about reconciling the role of settler culture and colonialism with the damage done to Indigenous cultures. I’m also white-skinned and descended from settlers, meaning that my culture is responsible for the harm that was caused.

The thing is, I’m just one modern guy; I didn’t genocide anyone, nor did my parents or grandparents, but that doesn’t mean I’m not part of the system that did. I just want to play games. But I’m on colonized land, playing games written by Americans and Brits, set in fantastical places based on medieval Europe—there’s no Indigeneity in there, even though there are still lots of Indigenous people around me.

This game is more than “something different” and not merely a “non-European”setting—this project is an act of decolonization, which is huge. Decolonization means letting Indigenous cultures flourish on their original lands. That means letting Indigenous people tell their own stories and play their own games, and settlers like me accepting those stories as valid and important parts of my own existence as a settler here.

So, if enjoying an Indigenous game and setting written by Indigenous authors helps Indigenous cultures flourish here again, I’m happy to help. After all, I never wanted to hurt anybody, I just want to play games.
 


teitan

Legend
Not sure how I feel about this game. I wanted to like it but he’s kinda been ranty since before Gencon with the game not being as successful as early numbers indicated it might be. It’s a little off putting.
 


Not sure how I feel about this game. I wanted to like it but he’s kinda been ranty since before Gencon with the game not being as successful as early numbers indicated it might be. It’s a little off putting.
No judgement and I’m not trying to provoke, so feel free not to respond. But what do you mean by “ranty”? I haven’t watched any interviews with him, just read a couple of them (like this one).

Anyway, even if the game sucks (I don’t think it does) and the author is a jerk (no reason for me to think he is yet), I still think what this product represents is important.
 

deganawida

Adventurer
I haven’t looked at it. Can anyone who has tell me if it shows the differences amongst the various nations, both culturally and linguistically? Or is it pan-Native? I won’t go too much into it, but my father’s ancestors were different than the Hopi, or the Lakota, or the Seneca, and so forth. I am therefore cautious about any modern works that avoid such distinctions. The Americas were populated by a vast array of nations with different beliefs, practices, and levels of scientific advancement, and I hate seeing those distinctions erased.

Disclaimer: I am an apple. Take that as you will.
 
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I haven’t looked at it. Can anyone who has tell me if it shows the differences amongst the various nations, both culturally and linguistically? Or is it pan-Native? I won’t go too much into it, but my father’s ancestors were different than the Hopi, or the Lakota, or the Seneca, and so forth. I am therefore cautious about any modern works that avoid such distinctions. The Americas were populated by a vast array of nations with different beliefs, practices, and levels of scientific advancement, and I hate seeing those distinctions erased.

Disclaimer: I am an apple. Take that as you will.
I’m not qualified to give you a complete answer to that, but I’ll try to provide relevant info.

Briefly: No, I don’t think so. None of those names appear in a text search except Lakota, which is cited in the section about the setting’s fictional language. It’s not exactly one pan-Native culture, but several. The game seems very careful to both specifically say that real world bands and nations and cultures do exist as part of this fictional world but also avoids connecting to real world cultures for fear of misrepresenting them.

There’s five nations in the main setting, which are massive and together span the landmass of the real world mainland USA:

* Haudenosaunee Confederacy: Northeast coast, Great Lakes

* Ti’Swaq Alliance: Northwest coast

* Diné Republic: Southwest USA

* Keetoowagi Federation: Southeast USA

* The Free Lands: The Great Plains. Not a nation per se, but a region of multiple cultures (Paha, Anikora, Nahoonak, Makokamit, Tomoha, and Nakotoo) and also home to Cahokia, the main city setting detailed in this book.

Also:

* Ezcan Empire: Mexico. Not detailed much, but presented as a major historical threat to all the other nations; aggressive and expansionist.

* Permanent Ice Zone: Most of Canada. Nobody lives here apparently. (As a Canadian, I do find this kinda funny.)

* Discussions about South America and Caribbean, and the rest of the world.

The setting is an alternative history of Earth, where some unspecified massive event/cataclysm occurred around 1400CE/AD, and it’s now that world recovered from the cataclysm 700 years later. So real world history isn’t meant to apply very closely.

The author speaks directly to the reader in Chapter 2, optionally inviting “Native Americans” (their phrase) to add their own experience and knowledge to the game if they want to, or play a fictional culture. The subsequent section asks non-Native Americans not to use real-world Indigenous cultures for their character specifically to avoid appropriation; instead they advise the use of one of the five fictional cultures provided.

Also, the credits include Indigenous affiliation wherever provided by the contributors. Most of the writers have “Cherokee Nation”, but other groups are named too. Artists have a broader range next to their names.

Sorry for the ramble, but I hope this helps.
 

No judgement and I’m not trying to provoke, so feel free not to respond. But what do you mean by “ranty”? I haven’t watched any interviews with him, just read a couple of them (like this one).

Anyway, even if the game sucks (I don’t think it does) and the author is a jerk (no reason for me to think he is yet), I still think what this product represents is important.

I'm not the original poster but I assume he is referring to this: post
 

deganawida

Adventurer
I’m not qualified to give you a complete answer to that, but I’ll try to provide relevant info.

Briefly: No, I don’t think so. None of those names appear in a text search except Lakota, which is cited in the section about the setting’s fictional language. It’s not exactly one pan-Native culture, but several. The game seems very careful to both specifically say that real world bands and nations and cultures do exist as part of this fictional world but also avoids connecting to real world cultures for fear of misrepresenting them.

There’s five nations in the main setting, which are massive and together span the landmass of the real world mainland USA:

* Haudenosaunee Confederacy: Northeast coast, Great Lakes

* Ti’Swaq Alliance: Northwest coast

* Diné Republic: Southwest USA

* Keetoowagi Federation: Southeast USA

* The Free Lands: The Great Plains. Not a nation per se, but a region of multiple cultures (Paha, Anikora, Nahoonak, Makokamit, Tomoha, and Nakotoo) and also home to Cahokia, the main city setting detailed in this book.

Also:

* Ezcan Empire: Mexico. Not detailed much, but presented as a major historical threat to all the other nations; aggressive and expansionist.

* Permanent Ice Zone: Most of Canada. Nobody lives here apparently. (As a Canadian, I do find this kinda funny.)

* Discussions about South America and Caribbean, and the rest of the world.

The setting is an alternative history of Earth, where some unspecified massive event/cataclysm occurred around 1400CE/AD, and it’s now that world recovered from the cataclysm 700 years later. So real world history isn’t meant to apply very closely.

The author speaks directly to the reader in Chapter 2, optionally inviting “Native Americans” (their phrase) to add their own experience and knowledge to the game if they want to, or play a fictional culture. The subsequent section asks non-Native Americans not to use real-world Indigenous cultures for their character specifically to avoid appropriation; instead they advise the use of one of the five fictional cultures provided.

Also, the credits include Indigenous affiliation wherever provided by the contributors. Most of the writers have “Cherokee Nation”, but other groups are named too. Artists have a broader range next to their names.

Sorry for the ramble, but I hope this helps.

Thanks! That does help.

The Haudenosaunee, more commonly known as the Iroquois, are appropriate for a pan-Native group, as they are, in the real world, comprised of the Onondaga, Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Seneca, and, post American Revolution, the Tuscarora. One fun fact: my handle is one spelling of the Great Peacemaker who formed the Confederacy, along with Hiawatha and Adario. Second fun fact: Though I’m not a member of any of the Confederacy’s member nations, my grandfather was fostered for a bit by a couple who also had a pair of Oneida twins they were fostering (both girls, who got to live in the house, while Grandpa had to literally live in the dog house with the dogs and wasn’t allowed inside except to eat).

Anyway, this is encouraging to me, and I think I’ll pick it up. You have my sincerest thanks.
 

Thanks! That does help.

The Haudenosaunee, more commonly known as the Iroquois, are appropriate for a pan-Native group, as they are, in the real world, comprised of the Onondaga, Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Seneca, and, post American Revolution, the Tuscarora. One fun fact: my handle is one spelling of the Great Peacemaker who formed the Confederacy, along with Hiawatha and Adario. Second fun fact: Though I’m not a member of any of the Confederacy’s member nations, my grandfather was fostered for a bit by a couple who also had a pair of Oneida twins they were fostering (both girls, who got to live in the house, while Grandpa had to literally live in the dog house with the dogs and wasn’t allowed inside except to eat).

Anyway, this is encouraging to me, and I think I’ll pick it up. You have my sincerest thanks.
Cheers, mate! And thanks for the story!
 

I'm not the original poster but I assume he is referring to this: post
Thanks for this.

Maybe I’m charitable, but I think I see where the Connor Alexander is coming from. He and a bunch of others put a lot of work into creating this game; it’s surely frustrating that some people would refuse to play it because they think that not playing it is somehow helping. I’ve met people with a similar attitude to the ones he describes, and they do make me cringe a bit—they miss the proverbial forest for the trees.

Dude wrote a game featuring his culture. He wants people to experience his game.

Let’s all just play games and have a good time.
 

MGibster

Legend
I feel like people are still trying to figure out the best way to balance being respectful while having a good time. But if you feel you can't play Coyote & Crow out of some misguided sense of worry about offending someone, you probably need to re-think how you're going about being respectful. This is a game that Native Americans happily marketed to everyone in the hopes that they would enjoy it regardless of their background. If they're going to share, then why not enjoy it?
 
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Thanks for this.

Maybe I’m charitable, but I think I see where the Connor Alexander is coming from. He and a bunch of others put a lot of work into creating this game; it’s surely frustrating that some people would refuse to play it because they think that not playing it is somehow helping. I’ve met people with a similar attitude to the ones he describes, and they do make me cringe a bit—they miss the proverbial forest for the trees.

Dude wrote a game featuring his culture. He wants people to experience his game.

Let’s all just play games and have a good time.

I read his message and your message differently especially in the tone. I like your idea of just experiencing a game, playing the game, and having a good time.
 

I feel like people are still trying to figure out the best way to balance being respectful while having a good time. But if you feel you can't play Coyote & Crow out of some misguided sense of worry about offending someone, you probably need to re-think how you're going about being respectful. This is a game the Native American happily marketed to everyone in the hopes that they would enjoy it regardless of their background. If they're going to share, then why not enjoy it?

I read his message and your message differently especially in the tone. His marketing also comes across differently to me than the way you would market it. I like your idea of marketing RPGs happily, regardless of a customer's background, and sharing the RPG so the customer can enjoy it.
 

I read his message and your message differently especially in the tone. I like your idea of just experiencing a game, playing the game, and having a good time.
I suppose the past few years have made me pretty willing to divorce the art from the artist; it’s a shame to throw away great creativity because of politics. So I’d rather think of this project “the first major Indigenous RPG” rather than “Connor Alexander’s RPG”, because it’s bigger than him. Not that he seems truly problematic yet in my mind, but the past few years have really sank a lot of IPs because their creators’ baggage. Better to just separate the two, if possible.

In this case, his comments have him wading waist-deep into a very deep, very modern culture war. Certainly not advisable, but also maybe unavoidable given the topic of his game. If he says nothing, maybe his work gets buried; by saying something, well, controversy is known to drive sales, and this is still capitalism. And I don’t blame him for having personal frustrations about it, either.

Haha man I’m sure I’m sounding like a broken record by now, but honestly I just wanna play games. And read stories about wizards, spaceships, dragons, etc. I’m still satisfied with the product. (I hope to actually get a chance to play it eventually!)
 

TwiceBorn2

Adventurer
Haha man I’m sure I’m sounding like a broken record by now, but honestly I just wanna play games. And read stories about wizards, spaceships, dragons, etc. I’m still satisfied with the product. (I hope to actually get a chance to play it eventually!)
Any chance you live in the Calgary area, doc? If you do and you're looking for players, I'd be happy to give it a shot (I don't own a copy of the book yet, though).
 

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