Back in April 2021, Coyote and Crow funded on Kickstarter. This was a roleplaying game that didn’t look much like other games that were funding at the time. The concept behind Coyote and Crow was a future science fiction setting where the Americas were never colonized by Europeans, and the societies being explored are all extrapolated from Indigenous cultures.
Because we haven’t seen a setting like this in the past, and because it is not based on an existing game system, I’m going to approach this post as a First Impression article. I’ll look at the RPG, the mechanics, and the setting, ask some questions, and think about where I’d like to see the line develop.
I backed this game on my own, and I am not working from a review copy. I have not had the opportunity to get this game to the table, so I have not had the opportunity to play or run the game.
What Are We Looking At?
This review is based on the PDF version of the game. This is currently the only version available, although print books are coming soon, as of the time of this article. The PDF is 484 pages long. This includes a title page, a credits page, a three-page table of contents, an eleven-page glossary (which includes both game terms and terms in the language created for the setting), a two-page index, and a two-page example character sheet. There are also six included pre-generated characters included.
Pages are white, with blue, purple, and gold highlights in the borders and headers of the book. The book is set up in two-column formats, with clear headers and purple and blue sidebars for supplementary information. Each of the main sections of the book have a full-page, full-color illustration introducing the chapter. While the interior of the book is full color, the smaller half and quarter-page art pieces are both in color and black and white.
There will be official dice sets, with white and black d12s, and there is also a dice rolling app available for the game as well. The app has links to the company’s YouTube channel, a feed for game-related news, and of course, the dice.
What’s the Structure?
The book is broken into four different sections, with chapters falling under those main sections. They are as follows:
- Section 1 (Introductory Information)
- Waya’s Lesson
- A Message to Players
- A Brief Introduction to Roleplaying
- Roleplaying in the World of Coyote & Crow
- Makasing and the World Beyond
- Language and Communication
- The Adanadi
- Section 2 (Character Creation and Character Facing Rules)
- Goals and Progress
- Section Three (The Game System)
- The D12 System
- Playing Coyote & Crow
- Damage, Death, & Healing
- Section 4 (Storyguide Material)
- Getting Started
- Forging Your Saga
- The Three Path Concept
- Interpreting the Rules
- Icons and Legends
- Encounter at Station 54
There are a few places where this structure houses aspects of other sections within it. For example, while most of the setting information is in Section One, Section Three and Section Four both contain more details on the setting. The full context of some of the abilities isn’t revealed entirely in Section Two, as more game rules are explained in Section 3, etc.
What’s the Setting?
The point of divergence for this reality is the arrival of a comet that crashed into the Earth. This caused a climate disaster that devastated the world for centuries. It also brought the Adanadi, a strange purple radiance that began to naturally occur in plants and animals after the comet crashed.
The climate disaster caused various nations to band together with other nations, meaning that many of the modern-day nations of the Americas are brand new entities. As the worse aspects of rapid climate change have subsided, the people have learned to harness the Adanadi, introducing it via genetics to people in their adolescence. About 20% of the people who receive this genetic modification gain extraordinary abilities.
The technology of the setting is beyond what we are capable of in our world, but it’s also tailored to the cultures that developed that technology. Flying vehicles usually only carry a handful of passengers. Advanced 3-D printers make components for many devices, but tools, clothing, and weapons are usually built of components that allow for craftspeople to customize the items being produced.
This book spends most of its time detailing Cahokia, the primary city of The Free Lands, a collection of various city-states that work together to interact with the other four nations of the setting. While none of the nations are currently in conflict, tensions are starting to rise, with all the nations increasingly able to turn their attention away from just rebuilding from the environmental disaster.
The council that rules Cahokia has a special organization that acts as their agents, the Suyata. While there are other campaign models touched on in the book, this is the suggested organization for getting the PCs working together and receiving missions. Each of the nations is given a handful of factions and groups, and there are additional factions detailed within Cahokia itself.
In addition to political maneuvering and faction interactions, there are several non-human creatures detailed as well. As presented, none of these are “canon,” and they may or may not exist. Even if they do exist, they may or may not be spiritual or supernatural creatures, or just undefined scientific phenomenon ascribed motives and histories that match various legends.
Characters and Rules
When creating a character, players pick a motivation, an archetype, and a path, and then assign numbers to stats, skills, gifts, and burdens. Archetypes grant a bonus to an ability score based on what the character has been trained to accomplish. Path is tied to the ceremony where the character gained their Adanadi, which boosts some abilities as well, and determines a free ability that the character will gain.
Characters will have derived stats for body, mind, and soul. Body determines how healthy the character is, and gets marked down when a character is injured. Mind can be spent to push a near miss into a success, and soul can be spent to trigger some abilities, in addition to being the “damage” pool in certain types of encounters, or from certain kinds of attacks.
The resolution system won’t be too alien to anyone that has played a World of Darkness game, but there are a few twists. Your stat plus your skills determine a pool of d12s to roll when making a check. By default, an 8 or higher is a success, and a 12 lets you roll a critical die, which can be worth 1 or 2 successes. However, the target number for success on an individual die can vary. Someone may have defenses that push that success number up to 10 or 11, for example, and burdens and gifts, if they apply, may increase or decrease this target number.
I’m a fan of the d12, so I’m here for a system based on it. But there is also a nice in-setting reason for rolling d12s, because the mathematical system used by the Five Nations is a base 12 system. You must appreciate building setting details into the mechanics.
Short-term and long-term goals are rewards that the players are working towards, and at different times (for example, the end of a game session), the character marks themselves closer to their goal, and when the goal has been achieved, they gain the reward. Short-term goals are usually for things like gear or skills, while long-term goals allow you to change things like gifts, burdens, or abilities.
What Will You Encounter?
In addition to various NPC stat blocks, the Icons and Legends section includes the name, type, and category of various entries, as well as what skill the player characters would most likely use to find out more information about that creature. Types are broken up into Fifth Worlders, Icons, and Legends. Icons are notable NPCs, while legends are some of those creatures that may or may not exist.
Categories include humans, spirits, and creatures. Humans and creatures are what you can surmise. While many creatures are animals that you might recognize, there are a few creatures that have developed or been unearthed after centuries of environmental upheaval. Sprits are those beings that don’t fall into the other categories, and often have some powers, as well as a history of where and when they show up. This section also presents some members of extremist or criminal organizations that may serve as the opposition to the player characters.
The Mazozoog, or Those Who Take Apart, are one of my favorites in this section. Some characters can shift to another reality known as The Black. The Mazozoog may be inhabitants of The Black that follow humans that travel there back to the Earthly plane, and then they, well, disassemble human beings they encounter. I think these are one of the best examples of a creature that could spawn origin stories that cross between the scientific and the spiritual.
What Does A Game Look Like?
The book mentions that future expansions will look at the other nations in the setting, which will open more adventuring opportunities. It suggests that a good way to start a campaign with the core rulebook is to have the PCs working as agents of the Suyata, working for the council of Cahokia. This gives them a reason to be working together at the beginning, and a way for story guides to pass on adventure hooks.
There are several adventure types mentioned in Section 4, each one of which includes entries for setting, themes, tone, and sample story prompts. The adventure types detailed include the following:
This section also details the Three Path Concept for building encounters. This approach suggests that any encounter the story guide designs should have three solutions. Story guides are encouraged to come up with at least one path that is less orthodox than the situation may suggest.
The book also addresses what some science fiction tropes look like in this setting, and how different skills and talents are regarded. For example, robots are almost never anthropomorphized, and almost never have any kind of AI associated with them. Prosthetics are usually made to look more like artistically designed tools rather than mimicking human body parts. This section also discusses mental powers and how they are regarded in the setting, as well as touching on safety concerns and player consent when using these game elements.
The sample adventure puts PCs into an action situation immediately, and then assigns them a mission. Characters are given a list of various bits of information they can find from doing research and investigating before setting off on the job. Eventually, the PCs will be sent off to investigate events in a remote station maintained by the Free Lands to find out the nature of the local disturbances.
In the closing of the book, the lead developer mentions that they don’t want to answer every question, so that people that engage with the work with ask and explore various questions that come up. I can understand this desire. I’ve got my own questions, but I’ll share a few other thoughts before I get to them.
While I can’t speak to how the probabilities will work out, I like the d12 much better for a dice pool system that is going to be modifying the target number for a success. I’m really interested to see how the short-term and long-term goals work (as well as some of the other advancement details that I didn’t dive into as deeply). There are a few instances where you may need to refigure derived stats, and while it isn’t difficult math, anything that causes a recalculation can trip up players in the moment, so I’m very curious to see how cumbersome this is in action.
I love the world, and especially the details of Cahokia as a society. I enjoy the details that we get about how transportation, production, and craftwork look in light of how this world developed. I love the idea of the comet bringing with it the potential for reaching beyond normal human boundaries. I appreciate any setting that is going to give me factions and organizations to play with. I think details like that are much closer to where the game is played than the high-level details of a nation or a continent.
While I appreciate the factions and the details of various locations, I have the same desire I often have when reading setting information. I wish there were more specific story hooks tied to the factions and the locations, with a little bit more “you don’t have to only use it this way, but this is how we envision this being utilized at the table.”
It is also mentioned that in many cases, people in the setting don’t presume that something spiritual doesn’t also have a scientific explanation. I understand that, but as a story guide, it feels tricky to walk that line between deciding to give the ceremony skill magical trappings, or to include or not include spirit creatures. If nothing else, I would have liked a longer discussion of how campaigns may look different if some of those aspects are implicit in the campaign.
This may be a place where I’m deficient in my imagination, and it may not be a problem. It’s something I want to think about.
I would love to see a book of adventures, a campaign book, or even just a whole slew of adventure hooks for various locations. I am looking forward to other books detailing nations, and I think it will be fascinating to see the setting from a perspective that isn’t using The Free Lands and Cahokia as a touchstone. I’d also love to see a “faction book” that details what operatives of the various groups do, what their current plans are, and what the potential repercussions of those plans might be for the setting.
Back to You
What settings would you like to see explored that haven’t yet been introduced? What settings have expanded your horizons once you interreacted with them? We want to hear from you in the comments below.