Comments on some mistakes I made during the creation of the Phoenix game.
All the way back in ancient days – 1995, 1996, 1997, somewhere in there, and gradually onward for another decade – we played my longest-running role-playing game, set in Phoenix, Arizona. As the storyteller/gamemaster, I take the lion’s share of the credit and the blame for the creation of World of Darkness Phoenix, a city with really very little in common with Mundane World Phoenix.
Despite that, WoD Phoenix was a collaborative effort between the five players and I, and each player contributed significantly to our understanding of the city, as the desires and needs of each character led me to reveal more areas. For example, Silver Night and Laura Newman were most responsible for your collective exploration of the downtown area and Bone Gnawer and Glass Walker caerns. Rattles the Sky’s inclinations led to a significant elaboration of the Caern of Visions Umbra and Dark Umbra. Without “Grunt” Stonethrower the Far Umbra or Deep Umbra connections of the Caern of Visions might never have been seen. Crimson Moon was responsible for the most in-depth experience of the local Magadon factory, eventual exploration of the holdings of the Technocracy, etc. I planned to include none of these things when I was first building WoD Phoenix seventeen years ago.
My vision of WoD Phoenix was apparently compelling enough to bring us back again and again, but to be honest the prequel Mage game set before the resurgence of the Caern of Visions (circa 1993-1995?) was probably a more coherent presentation of the city than mine ever was. Despite that, my version came first, and subsequent interpretations of the city carried with them some mistakes that I made when I first designed the game.
Designing the city as a 15 or 16 year old kid meant that I was simply working from ignorance. I knew very little about the geography or culture of the Southwest and nothing about Phoenix itself, other than a name and that it was a city in the desert. So I made a few mistakes. Today I professionally study Native American peoples, and so the most glaring errors I can see in hindsight have to do with my depiction of local Native American peoples and history/prehistory.
I’ve learned an enormous amount about what the real Native experience of the Southwest is like. This new knowledge led me to critically reevaluate my own depiction of Native peoples. Turns out I had tribes in the wrong place, I had tribes that don’t like each other living together, I portrayed some tribes as being unchanging for thousands of years when they were new immigrants to the area, and I DIDN’T use the tribes that ACTUALLY live near Phoenix. Nor did I draw upon the really excellent archaeological record for that area.
Oh, I didn’t really do that badly. Thinking back, I think my/our depiction was reasonably sensitive, politically correct, and racist only insofar as I tended to depict Native Americans as homogeneous, mystical, and unchanging (which is a lie). After all, a number of our major characters were Native American, and the importance of Native American political agendas combined with spirituality were underlying themes of the game as a whole. Furthermore, some of the errors weren’t mine at all – the actual Uktena Serpent that gives its name to the Uktena Totem is Cherokee, and the predominantly Navajo (Diné) characters of our story would not be very likely to embrace it so whole-heartedly… but White Wolf depicts the Uktena tribe as essentially what we would call a Pan-Tribal or Pan-Indian group, which ignores the enormous differences that would be contained in such a group. Although to their credit, they recognize the problems this would cause by making the Uktena lack political unity; which underscores their internal complexity while also undermining their efficacy. Hmm.
The first major mistake I made was geographic. Phoenix is in central Arizona, significantly west and south of the Rocky Mountains. WoD Phoenix, at least originally, was supposed to be EAST of the Rockies – some of you may remember travelling west through the desert to reach the Rocky Mountains. That would put WoD Phoenix in Eastern New Mexico; probably where Albuquerque is. That’s a pretty big problem geographically, but we can easily fix this one. Just replace any remembered mention of the “Rocky” mountains with the White Tank Mountains, a range that is ACTUALLY west of Phoenix, and borders on the Sonoran Desert. Problem fixed.
By the way, I correctly had Phoenix in the desert, but never specified that it was the Sonoran Desert. It is.
Tom’s Thumb is a real butte or peak that might be or looks like the spot where one of you was ambushed by the Black Spiral Dancer pack of the Burning Winds, and where Draco’s vampire sire was later found entombed in the stone still (un)alive.
In WoD Phoenix, a major urban area sat in a desert along major highways routes, with a very large Native American reservation due west of the city, connected by a single good-size rural highway. In Phoenix, there is no such community due west of Phoenix – but there IS a possible match due SOUTH: The town of Maricopa and the neighboring Indian Reservation town of Ak Chin. Maricopa is a small suburb with the Maricopa Wells source of freshwater, which in the mid-1990’s (our time frame) was a desert village of about a thousand people, with a significant openly Native population of 50-100, and probably as many as 400 who are not comfortable identifying as Native (Since then real-world Maricopa has burgeoned into a huge suburb of almost 40,000 white people, but that isn’t relevant to our time-frame). Ak Chin is a 22,000 acre Indian reservation housing 700-800 Ak Chin people. Both Maricopa and Ak Chin’s major route of access to Phoenix is Maricopa Road/ John Wayne Parkway/ Highway 347. Interestingly the road is called Maricopa (named after the Indian tribe), while between Maricopa and Phoenix the same road is named after John Wayne (notorious symbol of Indian-killing). Coincidence? Probably not – Arizona politics are notoriously anti-Native. Just east and southeast of there the Gila River Reservation extends the native lands in this area, but that’s getting fairly distant geographically…
Another option: to the EAST of downtown Phoenix is the The Salt River Pima/Maricopa Reservation, primarily containing Maricopa and Pima/Akimel O’odham peoples. This might be an even better match for a couple of reasons: it is larger (50,000 acres), and the Phoenix Caern of Visions reservation was very large; 20,000 acres of it are a nature preserve, and it is also very close to downtown Phoenix (within 10 miles), which was about the distance of the Caern of Visions/Navajo Reservation in the game. In this world, the Salt River Reservation is almost surrounded by suburban sprawl (Scottsdale, Mesa, and Fountain Hills suburbs), and they operate two casinos. They have an on-reservation population of about 6500 and a tribal enrollment of 8700, which is actually not too bad for the Southwest. However, as you should remember, in the World of Darkness cities tend to be somewhat more compact; more fortress-like, and less sprawling, or at least the line between city and wilderness is sudden (see page 30 in the Second Edition Werewolf book). I always described WoD Phoenix as being both more populous and more compact than real-world Phoenix, so this makes sense; as you leave the city heading east taking Highway 202 and then Highway 87/ North Beeline Highway, you would suddenly pass the edge of the city and be in a frightening desert waste just to the north of the Salt River. Since in the World of Darkness native peoples are even MORE downtrodden than they are in our world, the native population would be even lower and less economically developed. The population would be smaller and probably wouldn’t be able to afford to develop casinos or other industry, and if they did it would probably be mostly owned by outsiders so that most profits left the tribe (actually this is usually true in the real world anyway, depressingly enough). Anyway, an even poorer version of the Salt River Reservation sounds a lot like our dirt-poor Caern of Visions population.
Either of these make a pretty nice place for the Caern of Visions, encompassing the Ak Chin reservation (instead of the Navajo), the town of Maricopa, the Palo Verde Mountains and nearby peaks and buttes, OR the Salt River Reservation edging into the McDowell and Santan Mountains and including part of the Salt River Valley.
I favor option number 2 at the Salt River Reservation.
So, another error, this one cultural: The Diné/Navajo live in Northeast Arizona. Very few Navajo are in the Phoenix area. The Navajo have the largest reservation in the United States, and the second-largest population of any Native group in the United States (only the Cherokee are larger). The Navajo are ALSO recent immigrants. They arrived less than 1000 years ago from the north, as has been demonstrated linguistically, archaeologically, and through the use of Navajo oral traditions which record the migrations fairly clearly (although there ARE some Navajo who believe they have always lived in the same spot and archaeologists are liars, but the majority opinion is that they migrated in ~700 years ago). The Navajo speak an Apachean language – they are the largest branch of the Apache – and together with the Apache they are the Southern Athabascan languages, related most closely to languages in Canada and along the Pacific Coast (such as Tlingit).
This means that Indigo Sky/Rattles the Sky cannot have been Navajo, OR cannot have had a local family history that goes back 10,000 years, OR has to be of multi-tribal heritage. The last one makes a lot of sense, but it would also be just as easy to make Indigo a Pima (Akimel O’odham, which means “River People” in their language), who actually HAVE lived in that spot for thousands of years, and call themselves the River People because they have always lived in the Salt River Valley near Phoenix. Other good possibilities for Indigo: a Papago (Tohono O’odham, which means “Desert People”), who live close by but were somewhat more migratory, the Maricopa (Maricopa is their Pima name; they call themselves the Xalychidom Piipatsje, “People who live toward the water,” meaning the Gila River in this case) whose territory extended 40 miles up and down the nearby Gila river. Any of the Pueblo groups would also be okay (Hopi, Zuni), since they also were settled for a long time, but they live quite far away from Phoenix and so aren’t really a good fit for Indigo’s personal history.
This also means that our important reservation Indians, who were such a major part in the story, were NOT Navajo, Hopi, and a few Apache as they were in the original game (although actually the Hopi and Navajo DO live together, but mostly don’t like each other, in the real world). Much more likely was that they were mostly Akimel O’odham (Pima, the local tribe) with some Maricopa (from immediately south) and a few Tohono O’odham (from just southwest), and Yavapai (from the northwest and north), some White Mountain and San Carlos Apache from the more distant mountains to the east, maybe a scattering of immigrant Yaqui (from the south), and Yuma (from the west), perhaps a handful of the Hia C-ed O’odham (“Sand Papagos” or “Sand Dune People”) who lived in the deeper desert to the west, and a few refugees from more distant tribes.
Culturally the Navajo were migratory hunter gatherers from ancient prehistory until the 1300’s, when they moved into the river valleys of the southwest and SOME of them became corn farmers, while others continued their annual migratory patterns. After the arrival of the Spanish, most of the Navajo gave up farming (switching to herding) to flee further back into the mountains, where they became military demons to the Spanish, with unstoppable guerilla raids from great distances. During this time they adopted the horse and the sheep, which arrived with the Spanish. Paradoxically, despite their reputation as fierce Spaniard-destroyers in early recorded history, they were a relatively peaceful and somewhat settled tribe of sheep-pastoralists from 1600 until contemporary times; a common saying of the Navajo is “Sheep are Life.”
So my depiction of the Navajo in the reservation was wrong anyway. There should have been a shit-load more sheep-farming… and Navajo don’t live in deep desert anyway, they live in scrubland mountain environments.
The Akimel O’odham, by contrast, had been corn farmers in river valleys for almost 2000 years, which means that our WoD Phoenix reservation Indians, mostly Akimel O’odham, SHOULD have been settled comfortably in the river valley, farming corn extensively, and sometimes venturing into the desert to take useful desert plants and animals (cactus fruits and jackrabbits, yum). Instead we had them squatting in the deep desert, living on… what? I don’t know? Government subsidies?
That’s it for major errors that I’m aware of. For future reference, any further use of Phoenix in this game world will place the city in the correct geographic location in the Salt River Valley of the Sonoran Desert, with the Caern of Visions overlapping most significantly with the Salt River Pima/Maricopa Reservation about ten miles to the east, and the White Tank Mountains standing just to the west. Culturally, all original mentions of Navajo/Diné, Hopi, and Apache, are officially changed to Akimel O’odham, Tohono O’odham, and Maricopa Native Americans.