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.

Coyote & Crow Stories of the Free Lands.jpg

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

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.

I respect anyone who is willing to write something, put their name on the work, and publish it in today's world. That takes courage.

It makes sense to me that you want to keep the author and the work separate. RPGs are so small though that the author is going to likely interact directly with readers at some point, maybe even run games for readers or at least talk to them at conventions and online. This article itself is an example of that, an interview with the author.

Also, RPGs aren't just art where the creator makes it and others experience it. RPGs are a shared intimate experience that strangely enough are both run in tightly knit groups and with complete strangers depending on who is running the game and where. So the underlaying writing style matters as well as the tone and themes which are all chosen by the creator. And ongoing marketing also shapes how an RPG is run and perceived in some but not all cases. And is running and playing the RPG fun. That may be the most important factor in an RPG's success. And fun is tied to who is playing the game and how they are playing the game. Which circles back to how the RPG is presented in the first place.

On my own, I could run an RPG anyway I want if I can find willing players. If I want to GM at a convention, game store, or on an online forum or even with a home base of players there will be expectations on how each unique RPG should be run and experienced to make it fun. These expectations start with the rules, tone, and themes of the RPG itself, spin out to how the creator markets the RPG, and ultimately becomes a gestalt of shared experience across multiple tables over years of game play. If the RPG survives the test of time. And some RPGs outlive their creators and become something entirely new and different. Which also adds validity to your point. But that happens over a long span of time if an RPG catches on. Which comes down to how readers perceive it but more importantly if GMs run it at a table with willing and eager players and eventually many GMs run it at many tables and everyone has fun.
 
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Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
I'm not the target audience, but:

1. The guy's Cherokee. If you buy his game, you're supporting native creators. He seems to make an effort to support other native creators as well. Even if you just read it, you're still supporting the creator.

2. If you play the game, you make it easier for other people who want to play it to find groups, helping raise the profile of native creators and native tropes.

So IANAP (I am not a progressive), but the ethics here from the progressive point of view seem pretty clear. Buy as much of it as you can and support the game, then take it to your FLGS and offer to run a game.

Besides, from what I've seen the game seems well-done, well-researched, and quite creative, and could easily be used as source material for your orthodox D&D game (like so many other indie RPGs over the years).

tl;dr just buy the game. ;) I can't see a good progressive argument against doing so, and it looks cool.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
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.

Unfortunately, he's trying to reach out in a world in which those who want to be allies are given multiple, sometimes contradictory messages.

I mean, I, personally, have been told that I should not go to a nearby restaurant, in which people from Mexico are offering up authentic traditional Mexican food for sale. While my money may be supporting them, I was told eating and enjoying food that is not of my culture is appropriation on my part. Apparently, I should pay them, but not actually take any food...

I laughed (inwardly) at this person, and bought tortas for dinner that night. But the point remains that not everyone thinks about appropriation in terms of giving and taking like Connor Alexander does.

People who want to be good allies have to navigate this issue.
 

SakanaSensei

Adventurer
Unfortunately, he's trying to reach out in a world in which those who want to be allies are given multiple, sometimes contradictory messages.

I mean, I, personally, have been told that I should not go to a nearby restaurant, in which people from Mexico are offering up authentic traditional Mexican food for sale. While my money may be supporting them, I was told eating and enjoying food that is not of my culture is appropriation on my part. Apparently, I should pay them, but not actually take any food...

I laughed (inwardly) at this person, and bought tortas for dinner that night. But the point remains that not everyone thinks about appropriation in terms of giving and taking like Connor Alexander does.

People who want to be good allies have to navigate this issue.
I’ve never had the food thing come up, personally, but I’m definitely one of the people the author is trying to address in that post I think. I see a world of difference between eating tortas and pretending to be someone from a real world culture, and even being told by someone “no, really, it’s ok!” doesn’t take away the feeling of unease that comes with it.

If it was a fantasy world taking inspiration, it might be different. But with C&C being an alternate history… yeah, sorry Mr. Alexander.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
I see a world of difference between eating tortas and pretending to be someone from a real world culture, and even being told by someone “no, really, it’s ok!” doesn’t take away the feeling of unease that comes with it.

So, it would help for you to read the pages Connor Alexander refers to in his post.

The game encourages those with Native American roots to bring those into the game if they wish. They DO NOT encourage others to try that. Those of us who don't have that cultural connection are encourage to use the fictional groups they've made, that are not direct analogs or extrapolations of real native peoples.
 

MGibster

Legend
If it was a fantasy world taking inspiration, it might be different. But with C&C being an alternate history… yeah, sorry Mr. Alexander.
It's not exactly alternative history. There's a common past that diverges in the 14th century, but it's set hundreds of years in the future making it no more alternative history than Cyberpunk or Shadowrun at that point. It might as well be fantasy inspired by real life cultures at this point. If you're not comfortable playing it, that's certainly your prerogative, but you might want to examine what exactly the source of your discomfort is. If I invited you to play in a game set in late 17th century Scotland where you investigate a plague of witches affecting your kirk would you refuse on the grounds that you're uncomfortable playing a Scot when you're not one?
 

MGibster

Legend
I mean, I, personally, have been told that I should not go to a nearby restaurant, in which people from Mexico are offering up authentic traditional Mexican food for sale. While my money may be supporting them, I was told eating and enjoying food that is not of my culture is appropriation on my part. Apparently, I should pay them, but not actually take any food...
Food is kind of a funny thing. I know the origin of the taco, but to me, they're as American as mom, apple pie, and baseball. In fact, Mexican food, at least the Tex-Mex variety, is so ubiquitous and such a regular part of my diet that it's pretty much just American food to me.
 


Unfortunately, he's trying to reach out in a world in which those who want to be allies are given multiple, sometimes contradictory messages.

I mean, I, personally, have been told that I should not go to a nearby restaurant, in which people from Mexico are offering up authentic traditional Mexican food for sale. While my money may be supporting them, I was told eating and enjoying food that is not of my culture is appropriation on my part. Apparently, I should pay them, but not actually take any food...

I laughed (inwardly) at this person, and bought tortas for dinner that night. But the point remains that not everyone thinks about appropriation in terms of giving and taking like Connor Alexander does.

People who want to be good allies have to navigate this issue.
Yeah, that’s a solid point and definitely true. I do try to be a good ally (well, being a decent person is my actual objective) but I’ve encountered those mixed messages too. For whatever it’s worth, appropriation is all around us and flows in many directions, but it seems like a spirit of humility and respect can bridge a lot of the conflicts.
 

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