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.

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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

teitan

Legend
I'm not the original poster but I assume he is referring to this: post
Yeah he seems upset that the game hasn't sold very well following the Kickstarter and it seems more indicative that he was expecting a far greater success and the game isn't performing to expectations. It is a shame because it looks really well done. The post reads more like a finger pointing exercise than adjusting of expectations. Sometimes a Kickstarter that performs extremely well won't grow beyond that initial audience. Reach out to your customer base and see what excites them about the game, see what is working with the game and what isn't and build on the success. Subsequent interviews and comments have a feeling of a downer but that post just comes off as a touch ranty.
 

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teitan

Legend
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.
Thing is, it really isn't the "first". There are plenty of other RPGs and we go through cycles with these that people forget about where games will make a huge splash for a few years and just disappear into the aethers as if they were memories. We've had other games that have been respectful of various cultures including indigenous people, even in the D20 era during these cycles and they made some major splashes for similar reasons before fading away. I get the "made by indigenous people" element is a big key part and in many cases a lot of these were developed by or with indigenous peoples or people from those cultures. Does that mean Alexander shouldn't try? Good god no! He did a bang up job and he's allowed to be frustrated but he needs to work on that PR. A better spin would have been "we want everyone to play our game and made it for everyone" and run a sale on the pdfs or to promote the game not an exasperated pinching of the bridge of the nose and then finger pointing. Get the game in a humble bundle for some really noteworthy cause, generate some positive vibes.
 

teitan

Legend
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.
I have a few times. Had someone very offended I even cooked fried rice once. While they chomped on some Falafel.
 

Yeah he seems upset that the game hasn't sold very well following the Kickstarter and it seems more indicative that he was expecting a far greater success and the game isn't performing to expectations. It is a shame because it looks really well done. The post reads more like a finger pointing exercise than adjusting of expectations. Sometimes a Kickstarter that performs extremely well won't grow beyond that initial audience. Reach out to your customer base and see what excites them about the game, see what is working with the game and what isn't and build on the success. Subsequent interviews and comments have a feeling of a downer but that post just comes off as a touch ranty.

People get very attached to creative products. They're personal in a way a presentation for work isn't. I mean, it's tactically and strategically foolish, but I'm trying to imagine myself in his shoes, and I would have gotten myself cancelled by now.
 
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MGibster

Legend
Sometimes a Kickstarter that performs extremely well won't grow beyond that initial audience.
Given that Coyote and Crow fills a pretty specific niche, I suspect this is the case. They did phenomenally well with their Kickstarter, but it's a science fiction game and it doesn't use the 5th edition rules.

I have a few times. Had someone very offended I even cooked fried rice once. While they chomped on some Falafel.
Avoiding cultural appropriation to a ridiculous extreme leads to world bereft from cultural exchange and we'd all be poorer for it. Chinese immigrants and their descendants have been making fried rice in the United State for more than 150 years. These Americans have had an influence on our wider culture including making some of their dietary staples a part of our regular lives. Like Mexican food, Chinese food is just a regular part of my diet.
 

Quite simply: don't be the one judging Natives for commercializing their identity; let them work that out in their community. Enjoy Native done works when they're presented and to your taste, don't judge others for not sharing that taste.
Fair enough! I think that’s what I’ve been trying to go for anyway.


Must is a strong word.
For me, I'm not certain I'd be comfortable running it in public.
lol “Must” was a stylistic choice when I wrote it. I chose it to emphasize my point, which was just that if I’ve reasoned my way to my position and believe it’s ethically sound, then I shouldn’t let idle criticisms sway me. I decided to support Coyote & Crow despite being a white settler because I want to help decolonize my hobby, so it would be worse if I prevaricate.

But yeah, I can definitely see a potential minefield in playing this publicly, especially without an Indigenous GM or Indigenous players. Even if you’re all good allies, it’s too easy for someone to get the wrong idea, perhaps.
 

People get very attached to creative products. They're personal in a way a presentation for work isn't. I mean, it's tactically and strategically foolish, but I'm trying to imagine myself in his shoes, and I would have gotten myself cancelled by now.
I surely would have too. It’s very hard to say the right thing all the time, even if you’re well intentioned, and especially as standards shift over time. “PR speak” is one defense, but even that can age poorly, and has the ugly side-effect of gradually reducing discourse to mealy-mouthed platitudes. If you’re making any point with substance, you’re certainly bound to anger someone eventually.
 

Avoiding cultural appropriation to a ridiculous extreme leads to world bereft from cultural exchange and we'd all be poorer for it. Chinese immigrants and their descendants have been making fried rice in the United State for more than 150 years. These Americans have had an influence on our wider culture including making some of their dietary staples a part of our regular lives. Like Mexican food, Chinese food is just a regular part of my diet.
That’s true, cultural exchange and appropriation is a real tight-rope.

Food is always an easy example to relate to, but it’s also so low-stakes. For something more difficult, the Pope recently visited Canada to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the Indigenous residential schools cultural genocide in the 19th and 20th centuries. (Let’s not discuss that aspect here; it’s just context to my example.) At one point, one of Canada’s chiefs placed a feathered headdress on the Pope’s head—this action was highly controversial, in part because of the appropriation aspect of the Pope seen wearing a feathered headdress. But the Pope was invited to Canada by Indigenous peoples to give an apology, and that chief was within his right to present a headdress to whomever… so is the controversy just the symbolism? I don’t think this is the place to try to solve those questions (we surely won’t) but there is a parallel.

Here I see Connor Alexander and team have written a game and invited the world to play it which is their right, just like that chief had the right to invite the Pope to Canada and to invite him to wear the headdress he was presented.

Maybe the secret is just to not assume that Coyote & Crow speaks for all Indigenous people, and to merely let it stand alone and speak for whoever wants it to speak for them.
 

MGibster

Legend
For something more difficult, the Pope recently visited Canada to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the Indigenous residential schools cultural genocide in the 19th and 20th centuries. (Let’s not discuss that aspect here; it’s just context to my example.) At one point, one of Canada’s chiefs placed a feathered headdress on the Pope’s head—this action was highly controversial, in part because of the appropriation aspect of the Pope seen wearing a feathered headdress.
It seems to me that the controversy wasn't really about cultural appropriation here, but rather it was good and proper to honor someone coming to apologise on behalf of an organization that committed genocide by allowing them to wear a headdress.

Maybe the secret is just to not assume that Coyote & Crow speaks for all Indigenous people, and to merely let it stand alone and speak for whoever wants it to speak for them.
I think we'd all be better off here. I think we also need to accept that once we've exchanged our culture with another group of people, well, they're pretty much free to do with it what they want. i.e. Interpret it their way.
 


teitan

Legend
Not every game can be a Shadowrun or Vampire, a massive hit out of the gate. Sometimes a great game needs time to build an audience. Shooting yourself in the foot only worked for one man, over and over again but that’s neither here nor there. I sincerely hope Alexander is able to right the ship and find success or find the product that captures the lightning in the bottle that some creators manage to capture. He may have just over reached and expected D&D and really has an Earthdawn.
 

jerryrice4949

Adventurer
I am not surprised it has not sold as well as hoped. It is an amazing setting. Beautiful art, original concepts, great story. But the actual game play system is underwhelming. My group gave it a go and after two sessions it was unanimously decided to move on. I have since sold it on eBay.
 

I am not surprised it has not sold as well as hoped. It is an amazing setting. Beautiful art, original concepts, great story. But the actual game play system is underwhelming. My group gave it a go and after two sessions it was unanimously decided to move on. I have since sold it on eBay.
Meh, no game is gonna satisfy everyone. Good luck with whatever you choose next. Happy gaming!
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
But the actual game play system is underwhelming.

I have not yet hand an opportunity to run the system, but reading it did leave me thinking that it would be a little clunky. I'm still getting materials because the ideas in it are still awesome, and even if I decide not to use the system, I want to be able to port so many concepts to some other engine.
 

jerryrice4949

Adventurer
I have not yet hand an opportunity to run the system, but reading it did leave me thinking that it would be a little clunky. I'm still getting materials because the ideas in it are still awesome, and even if I decide not to use the system, I want to be able to port so many concepts to some other engine.
It does have a lot of amazing content. I mined some aspects to use in other games and for my home brew world.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Here I see Connor Alexander and team have written a game and invited the world to play it which is their right, just like that chief had the right to invite the Pope to Canada and to invite him to wear the headdress he was presented.
I doubt the chief did so without consulting the elders of the tribe.
Maybe the secret is just to not assume that Coyote & Crow speaks for all Indigenous people, and to merely let it stand alone and speak for whoever wants it to speak for them.
I picked up the core in PDF. I stopped feeling welcomed once I got to the character gen chapter. I feel, after reading char gen, "barely tolerated."

The character gen chapter propels it to the most overtly racist RPG ruleset I've read. (Out of around 500 systems; I've played/run over 200.) Why?

Because it limits several character options to Native Americans/First Nations players only - based upon the player's ethnicity. Including affiliation to actual tribes (limited to one's own), using indigenous language terms in names or descriptions (restricted to one's own tribal language, save those included in rules {which, if I read it right, is a custom patois}), and playing a "two spirit" character¹ (whatever that is - I need to read the setting materials to find that out, I suspect).

I get the why - claimed affiliation is cultural and identity appropriation, and likely to wind up offensive, and many indigenous languages have subtleties lost on most English speakers². And, having looked up "two-spirit people"¹ - I know a number of people for whom it seems a good label, but it's a not-quite uniquely Native/First Nations tradition with a suppressed role for the last few centuries.

Reading the mechanics and ignoring that elephant....
The rules aren't bad; they're similar to VTM 1E... but using d12's instead of 10s.
I like that tools are limited in bonus dice to the user's skill rank used.
I like the initiative system - Pick a number between 1 and your initiative score, set a d12 to it, and reveal simultaneously.

Figured HP in three categories....


1: Doing some research.... Persons with both male and female spirits within them. A term that dates to the first decade of the 20th C, coined in Winnepeg. It overlaps with LGBTQA, but is not synonymous with LGBTQA*. Most intelligible result from a reasonable source: 8 Things You Should Know About Two Spirit People
2: Some of those linguistic subtleties include: up to 5 grammatical persons, up to 8 classes of noun with different declensions for number, gender, & grammatical person (with several having 4, and a few dialects 5, and even 6), up to 6 distinct genders...
Plus a few are tonal.
Many are agglutinative, too. Many small words smashed together to make bigger words. Denaina, Koyukon, Diné...
WAY too easy to get things wrong.
 

MGibster

Legend
Because it limits several character options to Native Americans/First Nations players only - based upon the player's ethnicity. Including affiliation to actual tribes (limited to one's own), using indigenous language terms in names or descriptions (restricted to one's own tribal language, save those included in rules {which, if I read it right, is a custom patois}), and playing a "two spirit" character¹ (whatever that is - I need to read the setting materials to find that out, I suspect).
I haven't read the rules, but I saw that this was the case and just decided to keep my mouth shut about it. But I did think most other games would not be able to pull such a thing off without facing a lot of criticism.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I haven't read the rules, but I saw that this was the case and just decided to keep my mouth shut about it. But I did think most other games would not be able to pull such a thing off without facing a lot of criticism.

I mean, if folks want to get upset by the authors saying, in effect, "We give you this thing to play with, but please don't appropriate our real-world cultures beyond that," well, nobody can really stop you.
 

MGibster

Legend
I mean, if folks want to get upset by the authors saying, in effect, "We give you this thing to play with, but please don't appropriate our real-world cultures beyond that," well, nobody can really stop you.

I see where you're coming from. But if someone did the same thing with a Viking game it'd raise a lot of eyebrows I think.

Edit: And just to be clear, I don't think anyone who is non-Native can play that game without appropriating their culture. But that's how sharing cultures works.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I see where you're coming from. But if someone did the same thing with a Viking game it'd raise a lot of eyebrows I think.

The Vikings didn't end up pushed off their lands and into reservations though. The cultures descended from the Vikings enjoy some of the highest quality of life on the planet.

Much of the question of racism is about the power dynamic involved.

Edit: And just to be clear, I don't think anyone who is non-Native can play that game without appropriating their culture. But that's how sharing cultures works.

I think Connor Alexander laid out a major point there: There's a marked difference between taking a thing, and being given a thing.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I took a long weekend in Mystic, Connecticut. We were planning to visit the Mashanstucket Pequot Museum. As we were looking over the website, we saw an event listed for Schemitzun, the Feast of Green Corn and Dance.

1662758997616.jpeg

This event was also what the people there referred to as a "pow wow", which has particular cultural, and even sacred, significance to many North American tribes.

But, this was open to the public. Very open. Like, running constant busses to the Foxwoods Casino to bring people in open. We were explicitly invited to partake of the foods, and music, watch the dancing, purchase the handicrafts. They had a traditional living area where folks were practicing normal traditional daily activities in historical tribal life, open for everyone to ask questions.

When someone of another culture actively set out to offer you even a small experience of their culture, it is hard to call taking that offer appropriation.
 

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