I’ve been doing so much work on the timeline, facts and rules for Coyote and Crow that it recently came to my attention that I’ve been sort of secretive about what the world looks and feels like. So, let’s do this!
The world of Coyote and Crow can be difficult to imagine. It’s sci-fi, fantasy and alternate future all rolled into one. It takes a fragment of our own real world and flips it around in a way that doesn’t make it analogous to much. It’s not like, say, the Man in the High Castle. In that world, the Nazis and Japan won World War II and occupied America. In that world, it’s not so different from our own, just different governments and different political struggles. No, Coyote and Crow is a different animal all together.
First, changing the course of Earth’s history in 1400 is enormous. The fact that Europe, Africa and Asia don’t play a role in this setting is hard to grasp since so much of what we assume about our world is based on complex geopolitics that have been evolving for the past 700 years.
Often, what we associate with North American Indigenous culture has been affected by its interaction – for better or worse – with the rest of the world. How much were the Commanche/Numunuu shaped by their relationship to horses? How different would their history be without that animal?
Second, I think many people’s idea of this fictional world revert to a formula of: Things are like they were then, but without the white people. But this isn’t correct either. Even prior to European colonialism, North and South America were a dynamic, changing place, responding to shifts in climate and other natural changes, evolutions in technology, as well as the rise and fall of nations and leaders.
But once you add in The Awis, the event that shaped the world around 1400, things get thrown into a seriously fictional realm. First, because tribes spent the 500 years slowly climbing out of a very rough environment. That alone would completely alter everything we know about these tribes – their cultures, traditions, aesthetics, values, technology, location. Everything. In the real world, they would likely be completely unrecognizable to us. A Cherokee from our world would likely see a stranger when looking at a Cherokee from this other world.
Then we add another layer of change. This change isn’t just a parallel change from our world. It also moves the story into the future. And the climatic and social pressures put on these people has pushed them down a different techno-evolutionary path. In our real world, we like to think that technology progresses in a linear fashion. We invent A and to invent B we have to rely on the lessons and technology we earned from A in order to get there. C can’t exist without B and so on.
That’s an illusion though. And as we move through our real world, we’re starting to see that there is more than one path to an end result. In Coyote and Crow, people didn’t ever build combustion engines based on fossil fuels. They didn’t build trains or cars, which were follow ups from horse drawn implements. They didn’t have cows, pigs, gunpowder, horses, wheat and a host of other things that Europeans introduced. And yet, the world of Coyote and Crow is more advanced than our own in many ways.
I’ll get into what that entails in a minute. Because we have one more layer to add, and that’s the fantasy piece. The Adahnehdi, the Gift. Starting out as nothing more than a strange mark on living things, its essence was cultivated over generations and its power finally brought to fruition through decades of advanced scientific knowledge, unlocking new levels of human potential. Is it science? Magic? Both or neither? It’s not really important to have the answer, but it is important to recognize that it acts as time compression for the people of this world. What would have taken decades can be done in months. What would have taken hours, can be done in seconds. Physical, mental and social labor has been reduced to a fraction of its former needs and leaps in technology are coming so fast that they threaten the social fabric of this blossoming world.
So, all of this taken together, what does the world of Coyote and Crow look like? How can we paint a mental picture? Let’s start with a wide angle and slowly zoom in.
The North and South American continents peaked in population in the year 1400 in this world. We’ll use some generous estimates and say that the Americas had around 120 million people spread out across both continents. The actual number doesn’t matter because the Awis devastates this population over the next few centuries, dropping the number down to an estimated 20 million at its low point. As the players enter into this world, in about what would have been the year 2100, total population is around 40 million.
It’s hard to imagine the Americas with only 40 million people. Most of us who live in urban areas can regularly say that there are millions of people just within our own horizon line. The massive amounts of open land, unmarked or barely touched by human beings is the first thing I want to emphasize. Despite being a future society, it’s important that we don’t picture sprawling mega-cities with massive skyscrapers. The largest cities have no more than a couple of million people, and those are the exceptions. Even then, they don’t have the same skylines we’re used to. It’s also important to understand that while there are millions of people living in smaller towns, villages and doing just fine on remote rural farms, there is very little competition for land or space.
After the Awis, the land moved into a very dark period. Many species of plants and animals died off or struggled. Whole landscapes were changed by year round ice or storms. The seas became violent and unpredictable. It can’t be emphasized enough how much that kind of change can alter terrain and cultures. Some places became more arid and lost foliage. Some desserts acquired new lakes. Mountains often became impassable barriers – at least during the first few hundred years after the Awis.
A complex network of trails and trade routes have existed throughout the Americas for millennia. That’s still true. But now, those routes have become paths for massive floating barges. These cargo barges carry trade and passengers for thousands of miles. While there are borders, they often have neutral or undeclared zones between them. The nations that exist often don’t have a need to push their borders all the way to their neighbors. People are free to live in these zones and often do as few rely on governments for protection, at least while the treaties are intact.
While there are four fairly organized North American “nations” that claim somewhat traditional ideas of borders and encompass a wide variety of political styles, the one that the core rule book and players will be most focused on are the Free Lands. These Free Lands are made up of a loose collection of city-states throughout what we would recognize as middle of America. From the Great Lakes in the north to the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Appalachians in the east and down to the Gulf of Mexico in the south.
Each of these city-states has its own autonomous government. What they share and announce loudly to the other nations is that the land around these cities isn’t to be controlled by anyone, even the city-states themselves. They are free and open to anyone willing to live peacefully. This kind of arrangement might not work in a world with a billion people on the continent, but with only 40 million, it’s been holding quite nicely.
We’ll move our lens closer in now, to Cahokia. Cahokia is the largest city on the northern continent and is considered the most diverse, culturally broad city in the world, home to citizens with more than 200 different tribal backgrounds. The population hovers around two million, mostly concentrated within the fifteen square miles of the city center, which is near where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet. Prior to the Awis, massive natural mounds, similar to pyramids, were built here for a number of reasons but the modern city has expanded greatly on this concept.
In our western world, we tend to think of cities as being sort of a blank canvas where structures are then laid out and build either upward or outward. That isn’t entirely untrue in Cahokia, but we certainly wouldn’t recognize its skyline as anything like we’ve ever seen. Over the course of more than 700 years, the use of mounds in the city spread, first as a way to avoid the extreme climate and later as a way to help organize and stratify a bustling metropolis. Mounds as high as twenty stories punctuate the cityscape. Hundreds of smaller ones sit at varying levels of height, indicating either wealth or a volume of activity within. You see these aren’t just hills for things to be built upon. They are hollowed out and used for living quarters, industrial efforts, community spaces, storage, ceremonial rooms and more. And over the centuries, many important public spaces have become all interconnected underground.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that the city looks like nothing but a set of rolling hills. Atop each mound is a flat plain, often where a one or two story structure is built. These routinely continue the below ground purposes. They can serve as storefronts, seasonal home spaces, a place for receiving guests or any mix of purposes that the underground spaces serve. Sometimes there are no structures at all, but instead, open play fields for sports or public meeting spaces.
Planned walkways intersperse these mounds, traveling up one side (there’s always a ‘right path’ to walk up to the top of a mound, similar to a sidewalk or driveway in our world) and the artificially created valleys between these mounds form natural paths. Nothing is haphazard and the city retains a grid that is just offset from it’s North/South alignment by 5 degrees.
The massive floating barges I mentioned earlier float from rooftop to rooftop along the mounds. With few wheeled ground vehicles, there’s no need for driveways or similar structures. Most of these mounds also have one or more spires on top. They stand anywhere from forty feet to a hundred feet and all are intricately hand painted and detailed. But these aren’t just decorative. They are wind turbines similar to the one pictured here :
Unlike the one here, the blades continue the entire length of the structure and are painted in such a way that they create different images depending on the speed at which they are spinning. These turbines represent roughly a third of the power generation for Cahokia and are a commonly used technology throughout the continent.
There are a number of assumptions that I need to dispel before we can better understand the workings and appearance of Cahokia though. The first is that there is no such thing as the ‘nuclear family’ as we know it in Cahokia. While people are free to marry and live with whom they chose, family, extended family and in some cases tribal affiliations, encourage people to often live in the same mound. Like our real world, there are more exceptions than there are rules to this. In general, people enjoy living in mounds and structures with more than just a romantic partner and their children. This extends further into concepts of privacy and intimacy. Spaces are often accommodating for extended families and guests.
Another misconception many people might have is based around an industrial economy. While the concept of division of labor might be a sociological constant across cultures, North American Indigenous cultures in Coyote and Crow did not go through mass industrialization the way we did. There wasn’t an elite wealthy class that funded factories packed with poor workers. As such, there isn’t a rich part of town and poor part of town. There aren’t huge assembly lines where cars or toothbrushes roll off into plastic packaging. The people of Coyote and Crow skipped that step entirely.
And while this essay isn’t intended to get to deeply into the technological or sociological development of the continents, one implement is key to understanding the look and feel of this world: 3D printing. This technology and the discovery of how to make a variety of synthetic biodegradable products using corn byproducts and other basic materials is essential to the current look of this world.
New technologies have exploded across cultures over the last 50 years. Think about every advancement our real world has made over the last 200 years and squeeze that level of change into a quarter of the time. Just as you probably wouldn’t look twice at a car from the 90s driving down the streets, so too would it be a common site to see two young men walking down a Cahokia path, one wearing hand worked doeskin and another wearing a temperature adjusting, damage resistant, micro fiber jumpsuit. Both would likely be hand adorned and custom tailored to the wearer, but neither would raise an eyebrow.
Because things don’t generally roll off of assembly lines, engineers and craftsman who make everything from clothes and home electronics to weapons and the aforementioned wind turbines are still free to customize items, make things to order and to add their own artistic flairs.
Previous generations had to focus on functionality first, comfort second and fashion last. Anything ceremonial or ornate became more rare and valuable simply because of the scarcity of the materials and time needed to make them. But now, with 3D printing, better weather and a wealth of resources, the current generation is able to break many of these molds, often to the chagrin of their elders. Growing up with these new technologies, youths aren’t just willing to incorporate the latest inventions and fashions into their lives, they also find new ways to add in family and tribal traditions and borrow concepts they like from tribes around the world.
Paintable solar panels cover every structure and vehicle. The same technology that powers the floating barges, extremely efficient electromagnetic thrusters, also power modern weapons like mag-slings and bows. The traditional bow is still sometimes used, but the magnetic version is more accurate, more powerful and doesn’t require a string. Melee weapons are made of light composite materials, perfectly balanced, extremely durable and very dangerous. Intelligent drones soar through the air. Personal computer devices and VR are a part of daily life.
Most things are customized and painted brightly. Sometimes these paint jobs reflect tribal histories, but just as often, they are painted to reflect personal interests or family history. Tattoos, body paint and piercings are all still done with meaning and significance behind them, but they are done with much greater frequency and intensity now. As people have stopped worrying about starving, more people feel free to express their individuality. Hair styles can still be indicative of tribal roots, but not necessarily. And the younger generation is just as likely to copy the hair of some visitor in downtown Cahokia as they are to take on a style traditional to their tribe.
Most people are proud of their markings that they get from the Adahnehdi, which appear as a Rorschach style blob of purple somewhere on their body. Some people even add purple tattoo ink around their mark so that the final results resemble the Path they have chosen or another personally important symbol.
At its core, a driving philosophy underpins almost everything on the continent: Elegant functionality meets customized, personalized artistry. Even with the 3D printers, few people feel a need to print to excess. Making something small and portable is far more likely than making something larger and more powerful. This holds true for buildings, vehicles, machinery, clothing and personal items.
And here’s an unusual aside. A common visual in sci-fi settings is cybernetics, cyborgs or humanoid robots. While the cumulative technology exists to make these things in Coyote and Crow, there is little desire to do so, at least across most of North America. In regards to cybernetics, most people don’t see replacing a limb with an artificial limb as something you would likely do. It’s not considered offensive or immoral or anything like that. It’s just that most people don’t view someone who is missing an arm as needing to have it replaced. That person simply adapts to the world and finds new ways to interact.
As for humanoid robots, it’s again not something illegal or immoral. The people of this world just don’t generally think of making robots in the shape of humans. That doesn’t mean there are no robots or even no autonomous robots, just that they tend to be minimalist and functional things, usually meant to do a repetitive task. A good example would be a small hovering robot that harvests corn. It has a basic AI to help it navigate the quirks of dealing with corn, but it doesn’t resemble any living organism.
Bringing this all the way back around, I’d like to again emphasize that the world of Coyote and Crow is a sci-fi world, more advanced than our own. It is imperfect, different, strange and doesn’t really have any pop culture parallels. If you want to stretch things a bit, you might make comparisons to the Afro-futurism of Wakanda in the Black Panther comics. Or perhaps the video game world of Horizon Zero Dawn. But even those are stretches and the similarities are thin.
It’s important to not just think about what Native Americans might look like in the future, but what they might look like in this future. I am stripping away 700 years of our own history and then adding back in 700 years of new history and fantasy and science fiction to help us picture Cahokia and the world of Coyote and Crow.
Stiyu, ConnorArticle || Tags: aesthetics, Connor Alexander, Coyote and Crow, indigenous, indigenous futurisms, Native, native american, Role Playing