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Crescent City: Roleplaying in a Magical-Realistic New Orleans Employing the Traditional 78-card Tarot By Jason Mical © 2005 Jason Mical License Information: Chapter 1: Introduction The electric lights blend with old gaslamps in the Southern summer, shimmering across the languid Mississippi waters. Jazz music pours from barely-concealed speakeasies in the French Quarter, mixing with the smell of cigarette smoke and the cloudy licorice reek of absinthe. On St. Charles Street, a cablecar clangs past century-old mansions while beautiful debutantes tighten their corsets before leaving for a ball in their family’s RollsRoyce. In the back alleys, old men sell roosters to voodoo practitioners, while rumors of darker things crawling from the sewers fill herbal shops and less-savory places. At Tulane University, scholars delve into long-forgotten religious texts while young gentlemen in fraternity houses squander family fortunes older than the state itself. Telephone lines have connected the city to the world in a way that paddleboats and barges never have, but old-timers still complain about the limbs they lost in the War and contemplate simpler times. The hustle of the world threatens to overtake the city, and the recent draining of land for development heralds an era of new growth, but its citizens seem less concerned than ever with the affairs of the outside world, and are content to take the changes at their own pace. Meanwhile, troubling stories abound regarding animated corpses walking the streets. Families living in decaying plantations deep in the swamp have begun practicing rituals not seen in hundreds of years. Pale people linger too long on Bourbon Street, and drunks are found dead the next morning with strange bite marks on their necks. Revivalist preachers claim angels and demons themselves prowl the cities, while the Church keeps a tight seal on the recent arrival of Jesuit monks that resemble mercenaries more than holy men. Welcome to New Orleans, circa 1923. Step aboard the coach; your adventure awaits. Crescent City is a role-playing game of magical realism set in a New Orleans that has more to do with fiction, film, and romantic misconceptions rather than fact. It is a place where the crush of technological advancement has not yet destroyed the deep connection to the mystical, and often both coexist in a strange balance. Anne Rice’s characters might feel at home here, as would the protagonists of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges. It is a place for lovers and fighters, a city where anything can happen from the wondrous to the horrific – often at the same time. Voodoo priestesses walk shoulder-toshoulder with Antebellum families, and creatures heard about only in whispers stalk the streets next to the worst examples of humanity.

and especially in North America. In Europe. it doesn’t look like any rat I’ve ever seen. The old way of life is alive and well. but the entire world – and the characters are the only ones who can stop it. some scratch paper. and this is the perfect place to try out “something new. anything is possible. or the voodoo practitioners are at war with the university scholars. The Volstead Act has led to the rise of organized crime. if the game features a mummy terrorizing the city. What You Need to Play Each player should have his own Tarot deck. It might also depend on the direction the Gamemaster wishes to take the game. A sheet of paper and a pencil to record elements of their character is also important. Crescent City uses the traditional 78-card Tarot deck to resolve conflicts and adjudicate the inevitable mystical encounters in the Big Easy. Or there’s something more sinister that threatens not only the languid peace of the Big Easy. Are the dead crawling out of their stone sepulchers to walk the streets? Are demonic forces battling the armies of Heaven behind closed doors? And what is that thing crawling from that sewer grate. he might recommend a Tarot deck with Egyptian imagery.” Or. Chapter 2: A Roadmap of the Tarot Deck Most readers will no doubt be familiar with the Tarot deck as a means of fortune-telling or mystical symbolism. .” or “that adventure I’ve always wanted to run but couldn’t quite find the context in which to do it. Rats don’t have tentacles. but massive voodoo rituals revive the Old Ways nightly. make a campaign of it – perhaps the mobsters have come into conflict with the old families.Rather than a traditional role-playing system of dice and numbers. Some basic math skills also come in handy. tarocchi. Tarot is a trick-taking card game similar to pinochle or bridge that can trace its roots to an even older trick-taking game. and a few pencils if necessary. This is its popular use. but many specialized Tarot decks are available on the market today. The Rider-Waite Tarot is the most traditional and most versatile. especially since the 19th century. Sentiments regarding the War still exist. The gamemaster should have his own Tarot deck. Tulane and Loyola Universities are centers of great learning. even in the deep South. New Orleans in the 1920s was a big place. Which Tarot deck to bring? That depends on the player. Story ideas abound. and when you throw mythological creatures and nameless horrors into the mix. Whatever deck a player is comfortable with is the deck that player should use. sums in Crescent City can be done on fingers and toes. Crescent City takes the best of American folklore and mixes it with the joie de vivre at the height of the jazz age and places it in the unique Southern gothic setting. The Game So what kind of game is Crescent City? The limits are in the GM’s imagination.

the Queen. around the same time that those cards first appeared. They include cards like Death. The other twenty-one cards are things the Fool encounters on his trip. They are numbered 0-21. The Devil. something more important to the purposes of storytelling and role-playing. Those practicing the Kaballah (a kind of Jewish mysticism based partially on numbers) have been using Tarot and other similar numerical devices for centuries. Taken together. Each suit contains a 1-10 (the Ace typically being the 1 card). You might want to consider copying this chart onto the sheet of paper containing your character information. but its reputation as such was firmly established in the 19th century and bolstered by Alester Crowley’s endorsement of this purpose in the early 20th Century. and The Emperor. Enlightenment or Inspiration). the Tarot deck is divided into four suits.” where arcana refers to “mysteries” or “hidden knowledge. and parts of the Czech Republic and the Balkans. or the “major arcana.Both Tarot and tarocchi use a similar 78-card deck. In the Tarot game. they tell the story of the Fool’s journey to adulthood (or. with the 0 card being The Fool and 21 being The World. Wands or Staves. Suit Swords Wands Cups Pentacles Swords Sex Male Male Female Female Element Air Fire Water Earth Attribute Physical Mental Emotional/Creative Social .” Where Tarot decks differ most from regular decks is the other twenty-two cards included. Traditionally. and are still played in France. The Magician. in terms of points) card. It is not clear when the Tarot deck became used for divination.” In the Tarot game. It appears that church warnings against the symbolism of playing cards date back to the 1300s. these cards are used as trump. as you will likely refer to it often in the course of play. these suits are called Swords. and Pentacles or Coins. and the King. the Knight. Like a traditional deck of cards. if you prefer something more esoteric. the cards in the four suits are called the “minor arcana. An outline of the four minor arcana suits and their corresponding symbols is below. Italy. The exact names of the suits may vary from deck to deck. and four “face” cards: the Page. or lessons the fool learns along his journey. Taken as a series of panels. and the ones often seen in pop culture representations of the Tarot. Tarot Symbolism In Crescent City Crescent City follows much of the traditional Tarot symbolism in terms of both the major and minor arcana. Cups. The World is the most powerful (and most valuable. But the major arcana also represent something else. they are also the cards most important to divination.

Chapter 3: Creating A Character Before play begins. Cups are one of the two suits used in the exploration and control of magical energies. because major non-player-run characters (NPCs) will also need to go through this process. but to offer a means by which you can get to know your . a sword is merely a tool. A sword is born of a combination of earth (the elements used to create it) and fire (the force necessary to fashion it). and can be used in self-defense or to protect the weak and innocent as easily as it can be used to oppress and control others. a way to reduce something into an easily-recognizable form so that someone can instantly recognize it. risking too much can offend the gods and result in catastrophic and unforeseen consequences for the overzealous. The social suit. the ability to craft a story and captivate an audience or the power to pen a song that pierces the soul. The wand is a symbol of the means by which magical energies are concentrated. Wands are one of the two suits used in the exploration and control of magical energies. intended to draw blood and cause physical harm. from running a race to fighting a barroom brawl. Gamemasters will also want to be familiar with this process. and minor NPCs may need the bare-bones treatment as well. pentacles represent a mastery over language and discourse that allows people to chose the correct things to say in any social situation. representing the passage of knowledge and study into the physical world and the power of that concentrated knowledge. The sword itself is a weapon. Wands Wands represent the mental aspects of life: a dedication to philosophical and scientific study that brings great knowledge. The character creation process is designed not only to guide you though the nuts and bolts of creating your character. each player will have to create a character. Cups are the suit of creativity. but sometimes not. and is itself the very air it slices. cups are tools designed to capture and hold liquids – often water or a beverage. though. pentacles are physical symbols of abstract concepts.Swords represent all things physical. Pentacles Also called coins. a way to pass information secretly. Cups Perhaps the most female of the four suits. and the capturing and holding of this chaotic force is the key to the mastery of emotion. or even the skill to read unfamiliar symbols and generalize their meaning. because while knowledge can create comfort and warmth. Liquid itself is ever-changing. In and of itself. A wand is a fiery thing.

and skill at brawling – are best represented by Swords.” a person without any exceptional talents or abilities (or a person who simply decides to ignore some of the more mysterious or scientific forces in the world). Step Two: Select a Weakness In addition to a strength. he decides that his character’s weakness is Cups. somewhat naïve in the ways of the world but well-versed in society and comfortable in a variety of social situations. In Crescent City. while a poet or a femme fatale would select Cups (Emotional/Creative). it is unlikely that she will ever be comfortable reading a science book. Liz’s character’s weakness is Wands. Conversely. A scholar.” if you will) by using the symbolism of the Major Arcana. Step Three: Assign Experience The Major Arcana of the Tarot deck represent a metaphorical journey. [Examples] Chad is playing in a Crescent City game where the party is a group of Secret Service agents sent to investigate a counterfeiting ring in New Orleans. characters mark the extent of their knowledge (their “level. Her character’s strength is Pentacles. from 0 (The Fool) to 21 (The World). although she can navigate the stormy seas of a New Orleans ball. He decides that his character’s strengths – ability with a gun. an athletic character would choose Swords (the Physical) as her area of strength. Liz’s character is a young debutante. doctor. physical fitness and prowess. because of the rigorous training at the FBI academy and the military-like discipline that the agency fosters in its members. The “average person. For example. Liz decides that her character has had very little time to develop her education beyond the basics taught in school. Note that characters who wish to manipulate magical energies cannot select Wands or Cups as their Weakness. Liz’s Gamemaster tells her that her character will be recruited by the Secret Service to help infiltrate the counterfeiting ring. A character’s strength and weakness must be drawn from two different suits. Therefore. Step One: Select a Strength Each character will have one particular area of strength.character in a relatively short amount of time. while an empathetic con artist could very well lack physical strength. representing . a diplomat or trader would choose Pentacles (Social). and the experience structure in Cresent City reflects this. represented by the Attribute corresponding to a suit. Realize though that we’re painting in broad strokes: the details will be yours to fill in later. or voodoo priestess would choose Wands (Mental). has an experience of 0. A scholar might not have many social graces. each character will have a weakness: an Attribute sacrificed to build their strength.

the dean of the college. as with other role-playing games. characters will start with these items. you’ve probably got just a few words on a blank sheet of paper. A powerful voodoo practitioner. A mid-ranking Voodoo priestess. but don’t feel you have to create all of these things right now – often. Step Four: Fill In the Blanks If you’ve been writing this down. Experience 0 1 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 21 Card The Fool The Magician The High Priestess The Emperor The Lovers Strength Wheel of Fortune The Hanged Man Temperance The Tower The Moon Judgement The World Example Character An average person A character fresh out of college. Typically. A wolf or less-common horror from the swamp. A famous author or athlete at the top of his game. A Loup-Garou (Louisiana Ghost-Dog or Werewolf) A high-ranking mobster. where you really get to know your character. or new to his line of work. a strong demonic force. A weak demonic force. 21. new characters start out at 1: The Magician. anything is possible. A powerful wizard. as challenges will scale according to the characters’ experience. the strongest supernatural forces. although in the mysterious world of New Orleans. The vengeful ghost of a lynched slave. characters will acquire useful items as they travel. A newly-wakened vampire. What’s your character’s name? Gender? Height and hair color? Hopes and dreams? Fears and phobias? Family members? Old friends? Occupation? Odd habits? Nervous ticks? Overall worldview? Strange birthmarks or tattoos? Be creative. Now it’s time to take out a pencil and get to work on the details. perhaps only a handful of people each generation accomplish this. an old college professor. Items In Crescent City. The limits of human achievement.that they have not yet begun the journey along the path. It is highly recommended that characters all start at the same number and that they grow in experience at roughly the same time. The highest experience a character can achieve. Sometimes. While there is no defined limit to the number of items a character can carry or use. It is also far more rewarding to work up to the higher arcana rather than starting there immediately. It would be safe to say that few human beings throughout history have reached the point where they are familiar with The World. it is up to the gamemaster to . the most powerful kinds of magic. they come out in the course of role-playing. represents the limits of human knowledge and development.

that’s how a role-playing session would be. Remember when you were a kid and played cowboys and Indians. The players will then select cards from their deck to overcome the challenge. If the entire group is trying to break down a door. I had shields!” “Did not!” “Did so!” Without the underlying game structure. often playing to their strengths when possible. coming up with a creative response to a question. attempting to negotiate past a guard. GM: Sounds good. only that character can participate. then all characters can help. or Buck Rogers. I’m going to look at the receiver and see if I can find anything. you’re dead!” “Are not!” “Are to!” “No way. or something similar. and conflict resolution. Step One: Decide Who Participates The gamemaster will first indicate which character or characters can participate in a challenge. Chapter 4: Playing the Game Although the crux of a role-playing game is the back-and-forth between the gamemaster and the players. “Bang bang. Challenges Challenges are the primary means of conflict. and accomplish certain tasks without degenerating into petty arguments.keep this reasonable. Get ready. The game’s structure offers a means of conflict resolution that allow characters to overcome obstacles and opponents. Chad. Every time you hang up the phone. Chad: I’ll bet someone’s bugged our phone. in Crescent City. When it is time for the players to face a challenge. a character might try to wield an axe. If one character is walking down a hallway looking for tripwires. the gamemaster selects cards from his deck appropriate to the situation and the difficulty of the challenge. For example. . or translating an ancient text. [Example: Examining a Phone] GM: There’s that strange noise again. a sword. Liz: My character isn’t so good with the technical stuff. GM: OK. I’m going to sit this one out. A challenge can include a physical battle. and an Uzi all at once – but it will be exceptionally difficult. the underlying system exists to provide a basic framework for how certain things should work. you hear this odd clicking sound. Your character is now participating in a challenge.

the Knight’s value is 12. the gamemaster chooses a suit or suits based on Attributes challenged (a situation can challenge more than one – or even all four – of the Attributes). the Queen’s value is 13.Step Two: Choose Suits Appropriate To the Type of Challenge Once indicated. Physical Challenge (Swords) Opening a window Climbing two flights of stairs Treading water A three-mile hike A steady swim Climbing a large hill Arm-wrestling a drunk Swimming in the swamp Holding a dog’s jaws open A round of boxing Swimming upstream Wrestling an alligator Walking a tightrope Pulling a car out of the mud Running a Marathon. Use Chart [XXX] as a rough guide for different kinds of basic challenges and their corresponding difficulties. the Page’s value is 11. and chose numbers from the suit or suits based on the difficulty (one for the most basic of challenges. and the King’s value is 14. fighting a vampire one-on-one. [Note] Remember that the Ace’s value is 1. in terms of numbers. Mental Challenge (Wands) Read calligraphy Change a car’s oil Identify a simple magical ritual Read a French menu Safely clean a gun Translate a familiar language Replace a part in an engine Predict weather with 40% accuracy Create strategy in unfamiliar game Translate an unfamiliar language Identify a complex magic ritual Difficulty 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30+ Difficulty 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 . up to thirty or more for an especially taxing or overwhelming task). swimming during a hurricane.

Mingle with a crowd two or three social stations higher / lower than you. complex magical ritual. Remember the names of a dignitary’s children Identify a convincing whopper Tell a convincing whopper Talk your way into a death row prison. identify an ancient. gain the confidence of a sworn enemy. Remember a dignitary Get reservations at a “full” restaurant Identify a standard lie Tell a standard lie Talk your way into a ball for which you have no reservations. 24 26 28 30+ Emotional/Creative Challenge (Cups) Finger-paint Write a limerick Seduce a willing target Gain the confidence of a cat Convince a friend to tell a secret Write a new jazz tune Seduce a neutral target Paint a picture to sell on the street Innovate a new mousetrap Write a sonnet Gain the confidence of a neutral person Calm an angry dog Seduce an unwilling target Paint a picture to sell in an art gallery Create a song of everlasting beauty. Difficulty 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30+ Difficulty 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30+ . Social Challenge (Pentalcles) Use basic manners (please and thank-you) Identify a white lie Tell a white lie Get reservations at a nice restaurant Mingle with a crowd one social station higher / lower than you. fix a complex mechanical device.Predict weather with 80% accuracy Build a simple steam engine Rewire a telephone Translate a forgotten language.

you see a wire that shouldn’t be there. the players decided which of them would examine the phone for a bug. within the same suit(s). The Gamemaster selects the Nine of Wands and the Eight of Wands to represent the challenge of locating the bug. Liz: Great idea! . GM: Twenty will overcome my seventeen. Liz: We’d better figure out if they’ve been eavesdropping on us. Once the players have selected the cards they will use to attempt to overcome the challenge. Chad: Wait a second. they have failed the challenge. If we know they are listening. Therefore. they have overcome the challenge. Step Three: Attempt to Overcome the Challenge In order to overcome the challenge. and that it was bugged by experts in covert operations. And. I’ve got a Nine of Wands. The players can play as many cards as necessary to overcome the challenge. this will mean using cards of high and low value together. We might be able to use this to our advantage. Chad: We’ve got our work cut out for us. in fact. bugged. For more information on when the deck cycles. We should find if there’s a bug. it will be especially difficult for the characters to locate the bug. [Example] In the previous example. If they cannot (or choose not to do so). those cards are discarded and the players cannot use them again until the deck cycles. a Page of Wands. then we can feed them some false leads and throw them off our tails for a night or two. Liz: Damn them! Let’s try to get this thing off of here. often. If they can (or choose to do so). You would never have seen it if you weren’t specifically looking for it. the characters need to select and play cards of greater value than those the gamemaster has revealed. As you’re examining the phone. see Cycling the Deck on page [XXX] [Example] The Gamemaster reveals the Nine and Eight of Wands. The Gamemaster knows that the phone is.mingle with a crowd several social stations higher / lower than you. That makes twenty.

if a character’s weakness is the Physical attribute. the people on the other end of the bug are fully convinced that you’re going to attend the Rue du Morgue’s party tomorrow night. they want to try to feed the people on the other end of the tap a little false information. The gamemaster places his cards back in a discard pile as well. He selects the Queen of Pentacles and the Ten of Pentacles. It’s going to take a lot of poise to pull this off. Conversely. . As far as you know. and I’ll go ahead and play this King of Cups and a Two of Cups. The gamemaster effectively never runs out of cards. the cards they used are put into a discard pile. Time for another challenge. When a challenge involves the character’s strong Attribute. that character can use cards of any suit to overcome that part of the challenge. But first.Chad’s character’s efforts – represented by the Nine of Wands and the Page of Wands – were enough to locate the bug on the phone. and the challenge required overcoming a six of Swords. his discard pile becomes a new deck. They no longer have access to those cards for the duration of the cycle. [Example] GM: OK. Step Four: Overcoming a Challenge When the players have overcome a challenge. when a challenge involves the character’s Weak attribute. For example. the character would need to play Swords worth thirteen or more (to make up for the lessened value of the cards) to overcome that part of the challenge. GM: Excellent. let’s finish resolving the initial challenge. Strengths and Weaknesses Remember too that characters chose attributes in which they are particularly strong. and attributes in which they are particularly weak. and cannot use them again to overcome future challenges. GM (considers this challenge): Very well. the character treats the cards in that suit as if their value were half their face value (round down) for overcoming that part of the challenge. for a total of twenty-three. Now. but when the gamemaster runs out of cards in his deck. how do you want to approach this? Liz : I’m going to try to mislead whoever might be listening into thinking that we’re going to attend the Rue du Morgue Krewe’s Mardi Gras party tomorrow night. I’ve got an Eight of Pentacles left. The Gamemaster knows that the G-men on the other end of the bug are trained to know when they’ve been discovered. yikes! I’m nearly out of Pentacles. Good thing I can use other suits. Liz: Twenty-three. That’s twenty-four total.

I’m gonna tan your hides!” Liz: Oops. GM: Right about this time. It won’t be too hard to translate. any cards they used to attempt to overcome the challenge are placed into the discard pile. the character or characters who failed the challenge must select and discard one Major Arcana card for failing the challenge. you see another light in the cemetery and a gravelly old voice starts yelling at you. or try to heal a fallen comrade. GM: The letters look familiar. Louis #1 cemetery for clues. Complications Often things are not as easy as they first seem. sounds like we woke up the caretaker. discover an important piece of information. Failing a Challenge If the players fail a challenge. but you’ll have to work at it. We’d better hurry up and get out of here. right? GM: You don’t have much time. Here’s my own King of Wands.Liz: That gives us an afternoon and an evening without being tailed. if the players were attempting to overcome some obstacle. or to withdraw from the challenge. so translating this will be a little harder. In Crescent City. of course. and cannot use them again to overcome future challenges. to fail the challenge. Chad: Fair enough. Liz and Chad’s character are exploring the St. Chad: I’ve almost got it. but it’s written in a strange language. the gamemaster can add more cards to the challenge from her deck (perhaps the characters were surprised by an attack from the rear while they attempted to pick the locked door). they will have failed in this task and the gamemaster must decide its effects on the story. Chad’s character thinks he’s found something in one of the tombs. “If you kids are markin’ up another grave. [Example] Having thrown the G-men off the scent. We need this information. but the language does not (Lays out a King of Wands). (Lays out a Five of Wands). In addition. The players will then need to decide whether to commit more cards to the challenge. . And. and an Ace of Wands. Let’s head over to the cemetery and follow that lead. They no longer have access to those cards for the duration of the cycle.

Let’s get out of here. you hear the sound of barking dogs. a mother may tap into a superhuman strength to lift the vehicle and free her daughter. but they did not succeed at the challenge. the card is placed in the discard pile and cannot be used until the next cycle. Liz: I’m not fighting this beast. GM: OK. you can flee no problem but the text will remain untranslated for now. In Crescent City. a massive guard dog leaps on Liz’s character and begins barking loudly! Liz: Escape – how? GM: This is a Doberman.” a card players can use to withdraw from a challenge when they didn’t realize a situation might be beyond their abilities. it’ll be after you again. as are any other cards the character may have used. Typically. the Fool works as an “ace in the hole. Withdrawing From A Challenge In the Tarot game. the gamemaster has just complicated Chad’s character’s attempt to translate the strange language by adding an extra Five of Wands to it due to the time constraints. in the blink of an eye. as it has no numerical value. it’s still barking! Extraordinary Character Feats When a child is trapped under a burning car. playing the Fool is used to back down from an obviously slanted fight or to duck out of a social situation where the characters are hopelessly outclassed. GM: Somewhere. Playing the Fool means the character or characters have accepted a neutral outcome to the challenge. Chad: Forget it. [Example] As they are fleeing the cemetery. and this will not be easy.[Example] From our previous example. and a Ten of Cups). After playing the Fool. the Fool represents an unwanted trump. things start to get worse. they will not have to discard another Major Arcana for failure. GM: OK. If you’re the only one around and . Then. a Knight of Swords. And. I’m halfway through my deck and almost out of Wands. Chad must now decide how important translating the text really is. and they may attempt to overcome their obstacle by another method. (Plays the Fool). you manage to roll out from underneath it and back away slowly – but if you start running. (Lays out a Queen of Swords.

Chad: Yeah. we’re going to try to run to the gates as fast as we can. somehow you know just the right things to say and do to convince the person not to leap. Chad: Oh. it’s going to be worse if I stay around. It shouldn’t be too hard. a character whose Experience is Five (The Hierophant) can use cards one through five as normal. (Lays out the Ten of Swords). but you hear the caretaker again and he sounds angry. those cards instead have a value of one. I’ve got a Six of Swords left. [Example] GM: The dog doesn’t seem to be following you.someone is about to jum p off a skyscraper. they are placed in the discard pile and cannot be used again. characters can use their Major Arcana cards to help them overcome a particularly difficult challenge. if things are looking grim. so I’m going to play The Hierophant (Major Arcana 5) as well. Once the major arcana have been used to help a character overcome a challenge. OK. This penalty represents that a character may not necessarily possess the skills. you can try. . training. These are examples of extraordinary character feats. It’s got you in its grip. GM: Indeed. He can’t be more than thirty yards away. it’s hard – I’m almost out of Swords! Still. The value of the major arcana can be applied to any aspect of the challenge in any way the character chooses. Liz: Can we make a break for it? GM: Sure. if the character plays The Lovers (with a value of six). As you’re running. Therefore. GM: Side by side? Chad: No. I’ll go second to make sure she doesn’t trip. GM: Sure. for example. and my character’s Experience is five. or experience necessary to tap into his potential. Characters can use any major arcana less than or equal to their Experience in this manner without penalty. In Crescent City. or things could get a lot worse. Chad: I’ve got to get free. Chad’s character feels the dog’s jaws close on his ankle. When using major arcana valued above a character’s Experience. she can divide that value as needed among the various parts of the challenge.

a challenge will be so overwhelming that it will require extraordinary reserves of personal skill to overcome it.) Liz: Well. using cards from the gamemaster’s deck. the players must play cards from their strong Attribute or from their Major Arcana greater than the value on the GM’s Major Arcana – in addition to overcoming the other parts of the challenge. adrenaline. but you just manage to wrestle your ankle out of the dog’s jaws and kick its muzzle enough to discourage it from taking another bite. in addition to whatever minor arcana are appropriate. either to help the party or hinder them. Luckily. Extraordinary Challenges Sometimes.GM: You’re not sure if it was sheer terror. so this will be interesting. the gamemaster selects one (or more) of the major arcana. For these challenges. Here I go! GM: Outstanding. NPCs have strengths and weaknesses just like characters. Liz: I’m going to try to scramble over it. GM: OK. you’re only scratched and you can keep running. except that the gamemaster does not discard the cards NPCs use when the challenge concludes. or divine intervention. that’s going to be a very difficult task. you cleared the fence! Well done! Non-Player Characters NPCs the characters face can participate in challenges as well. I’ll lay out the Empress and the Emperor. [Example] GM: You’re nearing the cemetery gates. I’ve got my own Knight of Swords. NPCs should not be given free reign to do as they please . or a pauper trying to convince a prince he should not be executed are all examples of extraordinary challenges. However. Remember that Major Arcana greater than the character’s Experience still only count as one during these challenges. but it looks like the caretaker has closed and locked them! What do you do? Liz: How high is the fence? GM: Looks like eight feet or so. In order to overcome an extraordinary challenge. my character’s Experience is only Five. so I’ll lay that out first. an athlete swimming for an Olympic gold despite a broken rib. Then. NPCs do this in exactly the same manner as player-controlled characters. and this affects their ability to overcome certain kinds of challenges. (Lays out the Knight of Swords and The Chariot. and it’s topped with iron points. as a balancing factor. card seven of the Major Arcana. William Tell shooting the apple off of his son’s head.

. brain-dead. or a natural stopping point. and taking time to reflect on what has occurred. Rather. When the deck cycles. Choice and Sacrifice Because players discard their cards after use. but not always.(otherwise. A story cycle can best be described as a chapter. it is a good idea to weigh which challenges a character should face. at a resting point in a long journey (a nap under a tree. As a rule of thumb. so their ability to perform Extraordinary Character Feats will be extremely limited. The GM should announce the end of a cycle when the characters take a large amount of rest. for example). the gamemaster can instruct characters to select either randomly or by choice a certain number or type of cards to add back into their decks. Gamemasters should use this option when characters get a few moments to rest. and how many resources a character should devote to overcoming certain challenges. Cycling the Deck The term “cycle” refers to two related things: the return of discarded cards back into character’s decks. when. Therefore. to keep things fair (especially in a combat situation) it might be a good idea to resolve an entire combat with one large challenge so the players and the NPCs are on relatively equal footing. Otherwise. the character can only perform Extraordinary Character Feats until the next cycle. This includes getting some sleep. Once a character has used all of his or her minor arcana. and the end of a certain part of the story. most NPCs have an Experience value of 0. or takes a catnap in the back of a swampboat on the way to the old plantation. the character dies (or at the very least is immobilized. or day of gaming. each action in the Crescent City system is one of choice and sacrifice. eating some food. discarding cards to overcome challenges represents a character tiring out and tapping further and further into personal reserves of skill and prowess. When a character has discarded or used all of his major arcana cards. it represents a character “freshening up” and rejuvenating himself for another day of adventuring. or mentally unfit to continue). but not enough to end a cycle – perhaps the character slips into a speakeasy to knock back a drink and listen to some music for a half-hour. at the end of a story cycle. performing basic hygienic tasks (if able). When a character has used or discarded the last card from his deck. this will coincide with the end of an afternoon. comatose. Cycles can end at the end of a day. the deck cycles. evening. or in extreme circumstances when the characters are holed up in a relatively safe place for a few hours. Life and Death There is no “hit point” system in Crescent City. As an option. an episode. Often. an NPC could simply cut through an army of enemies – or the other characters!) Gamemasters should temper an NPC’s responses with common sense. this represents that his character is becoming exhausted.

or it might be the sum total of all the various challenges a character has overcome (or failed. otherwise what is easy for some characters will be beyond the reach of others. Magic in Crescent City is treated in a very different manner than in many role-playing games.Experience As characters progress. airlines have reduced a cross-country trip to a matter of hours. a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Clarke noted. Magic As Arthur C. and the automobile cut it from weeks to days. the gamemaster should make the decision on how Experience will be awarded before the campaign. the very building blocks of life that could someday offer a means for people to live forever. humans will do the unimaginable: split the atom and develop a technology that could eliminate the entire species. they learn to hone their areas of strength. Chapter 5: Magic and Conflict There are two specialized kinds of challenges in Crescent City: the use of magic. Regardless. practice their skills. their Experience increases. and combat. They may marvel at the speed of an airplane. The railroad cut the time required to travel from coast to coast from months to weeks. and learned from) in a story. and inform the players in advance. and train themselves to excel. corresponding to the final card in the major arcana. such as a ball of fire of a means to heal a wounded companion. When they do this. Rather than casting a spell instantaneously that creates a certain effect. they turn to older knowledge that is all but lost in the sterile halls of scientific achievement. It is highly recommended that a group of characters be within one or two Experience values of each other. When a character’s Experience value increases is up to the gamemaster. Now. Following on the heels of that discovery is the recognition of DNA. Vaccines and antibiotics prevent and treat diseases previously thought incurable. In a few years. but when the hour grows late and the electric lights turn off. Note that twenty-one is the maximum Experience value. the use of magic is nothing more . and many of the discoveries made during the ongoing scientific revolution are changing lives in ways no one ever imagined. Telephones allow people to converse in real-time across enormous distances. while radios bring entertainment and news into people’s living rooms every night. But there are some who merely smile and nod when confronted with the trappings of progress. There are two schools of thought on Experience: it might be a flash of insight or a result of training in a character’s area of strength. or tune in to the sounds of Jazz and vaudeville on the radio.

The character who has cast the ritual may chose to focus the energies on a friend or foe. Even so. or even years.than the focusing of magical energies. However. ancient rituals must be performed to begin concentrating magical energies. Characters whose weak suits are Wands or Cups can never successfully complete a magical ritual. from which the practitioner releases stored magical energy with pins. Magic may be stored in a piece of jewelry such as a ring or an amulet. . is but one method. Failure can be a very bad thing. and the possibility of failure when dealing with powers beyond a character’s control. instead. This energy can be stored for hours. he will set aside a certain amount of cards for use when he sees fit during a cycle. if noticeable at all. but as the energy realigns around a dead body. or challenges other characters face. effectively allowing that character to live longer and overcome more difficult challenges than someone not inclined towards magical manipulation. and often the empirical effects of magical manipulation are fleeting. or perhaps it is the key to understanding the very root of matter and the structure of the universe. The cards provided by a ritual need not be used all at once. ancient texts written in long-dead tongues detail other methods. A foul spell designed to give life to dead flesh will not cause corpses to start lumbering out of the cemetery immediately. science has no easy explanation for magic. to aid a companion or group in overcoming a challenge. Not everyone can manipulate magical energies. Once a character completes a ritual. but it may bring more rain that usual during an entire season. Perhaps the energy is some kind of life-force that flows through living material. Either way. it will slowly begin to reanimate. Once used. A ritual to control the weather will not produce an instant thunderstorm. this ability comes at a price: time spent researching. characters who cast spells are creating a “battery” of cards from which they can draw to help themselves overcome challenges. those cards are not discarded – they instead go back in the player’s deck. Those who have shunned the world of learning and the development of their own creativity and connection to their surroundings are simply unable to tap into this energy. Spells are not simply cast. or could even be concentrated in the user himself. These cards can be used to overcome any challenge the character faces. Manipulating Magic in Crescent City In game terms. Gris-gris bags are another. These are only two of the most common methods of magical manipulation found in Crescent City. There are many different ways in which that concentration manifests in the real world: a voodoo doll. magic will never have a whiz-bang direct effect on the world. days. or activated immediately after the ritual has concluded.

those cards may still be stored and used during the next cycle without having to perform the ritual again. love. As a general rule. The actual . reactions of others to a character: Pentacles Step Two: Learn the Ritual First. Identifying a ritual in an book or written on an ancient tablet may require completing a challenge. Examples of Types of Spells and Cards Provided Strength. or as many as twenty or thirty. rituals may provide Major Arcana cards with the usual experience restrictions. due to his Experience. When the ritual is identified. the character would still have to overcome a Cups challenge equal to Six. For example. Emotional connections. even though any Major Arcana provided with a face value greater than Two would only provide a value of One for that character. healing. Additionally. Step One: Identify the Type of Ritual It’s always important to know what kind of ritual you’re about to perform. harming. a spell to enhance a person’s strength could utilize as few as two or three Swords. before starting a ritual. a spell to aid in the curing of disease will provide a character with Swords. any method of dealing with supernatural forces or entities. but characters should only learn magic from those they trust. Learning rituals from other practitioners is easier. the character must first understand how to perform it. if a character with an Experience of Two wanted to perform a ritual that provided Major Arcana cards with a total value of Six. understanding scientific devices: Wands. it won’t do to cast a ritual that will instead cause both of them to become deathly ill. the cards a ritual provides will correspond with the effects of the ritual. as there are plenty of unscrupulous practitioners who would think nothing of using a novice as a pawn in part of a larger ritual. hate: Cups Social skills. but doing so requires the character to overcome a Cups challenge equal to the face value of the cards. For example. For example. effectiveness of a speaker at convincing a crowd. learning. even if that face value is greater than the character’s experience. Often this means studying an ancient text or learning from a current practitioner. rituals can be made weaker or more powerful depending on how many cards a character wants – for example. money and wealth. physical manipulation: Swords Intelligence. Sometimes. reading of unknown languages. if you want to encourage two people to fall in love.If a cycle ends before the cards are used. speed. the player will know which cards the ritual will provide for use later in the game.

but will almost always have some negative and undesired effect relating to the desired result of the ritual. the character will have to overcome a Cups challenge to complete the ritual. That time need not be all at once. then you’re missing the point entirely. fighting is a dangerous – even deadly – business. Unlike other roleplaying games where characters will often seek out vicious opponents to kill. or hands start . This includes non-deadly combat. Therefore. the results could threaten all of human civilization. If the ritual involves Major Arcana. a character can learn a ritual over a period of days or weeks. if necessary. in hours. to perform the ritual. a single battle in Crescent City results in severely weakening a character in the best of circumstances. When knives are pulled. magic should be treated as a MacGuffin. Step Three: Performing the Ritual Performing magical rituals is a time-consuming task. Most conflicts are solved with simple challenges. Therefore. guns are drawn. It is a device to help make the plot go. The results of this failure are unpredictable. if a ritual provides cards with a total value of thirty. If you find that you’re spending more time obsessing about the particulars of magic in Crescent City. to affect the game itself. if a ritual takes eight hour to complete. the character can perform it again without having to relearn it. but in the end it is merely a means to an end in that it makes the story more interesting. Once a character has learned a ritual. it will take thirty hours for the character to perform the ritual. therefore. A Word About Magic When all is said and done. The value of cards a ritual provides is the amount of time it takes. Failure to do so indicates that the character has allowed the ritual to grow beyond his control. For more information on suggested uses of magic in a Crescent City game. and a multiple body count in the worst. it will take a character thirty-two hours to learn. see What Is Magical Realism? in Chapter Six.time spent learning the ritual is four times the time it takes to complete a ritual. In the case of a love or a healing spell. like a boxing match or a barroom brawl. it’s typically better for a character to perform rituals between cycles. Combat In Crescent City. although the Gamemaster can integrate them seamlessly into gameplay if he wishes. and can even be the centerpiece of a story. If the ritual was intended to summon a long-dead horror from the bayou. typically the results will not be earth-shattering.

and an admittedly romanticized version of Voodoo and other. The Gamemaster should not cycle his deck in the middle of a combat challenge. or chooses to end the challenge. but the character escaped without further harm. more sinister elements. If a character does so. Therefore. except that both sides continue to complicate the challenge by adding more cards until one side or the other: runs out of cards resulting in the death or incapacitation of that character. withdraws. has very little to do with the actual practice of those traditions and more . A combat challenge works just like a regular challenge. New Orleans adds the mystery of the Old South. as with representations of the Vodun tradition in many roleplaying games. Both characters and the NPCs they are fighting can only complicate the challenge a number of times equal to their Experience. The vast majority of the time. A Note About Voodoo and Magic In Crescent City Voodoo in Crescent City. the character has been stabbed.wrapping around throats – in other words. a group of four characters at the beginning of the cycle will generally be able to overcome four opponents. and government police forces were on the move. but it will save the character from immediate death. and the structure of Crescent City. Running out of cards is as bad as it sounds. Prohibition gave rise to organized crime. strangled. Any American city in the 1920s would provide a myriad of options for stories: the Great War was over. a character or an NPC with an Experience of Five can complicate the challenge up to five times. when combat is a life-or-death situation – a character will need every ounce of strength to survive. shot. some intelligent opponents will not accept surrender. Withdrawing from a combat challenge still results in the character losing the cards he used when participating. a character with a full deck at the beginning of the cycle will be able to defeat a single opponent but will run out of cards in the process. it is wiser to avoid direct combat situations. Therefore. Because of the deadly nature of these kinds of challenges. Choosing to end the challenge while losing is an option only when facing an intelligent opponent who might accept a character’s surrender. Still. the challenge must resolve. After that. the freewheeling spirit of the Jazz age. it will have a negative impact on the story. or otherwise hurt to the point of incapacitation and will die without immediate medical attention. Chapter 6: More About The Setting and System Crescent City is based on two literary traditions: magical realism and the Southern gothic. the economy was booming for the time being.

Although the voice could be in his head. We’re not striving for historical and technical accuracy as far as magic goes. where magic often plays a central role. and the events that follow could be strange do with the popular conception of them. magic in this game is presented as a storytelling device rather than a faithful adherence to those beliefs. in magical realistic tales the fantastic elements are a small fraction of the overall story and often still obey many of the rules of the “real world. more or less. The vast majority of the time. Magical realism is a broad term that encompasses stories. and a sense of dread and decay. the main character hears a strange voice telling him to build a baseball field. but in recent years has been expanded to a great many other authors and artists. Traditionally. rather. More recently. with the publication of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967. That’s fine. gothic stories . are used to frame social commentaries about the whole of American society.” For example. The term is applied most often to novelists like Marquez from Latin and South America. What is Southern Gothic? Southern Gothic is a literary and film tradition where the social structures of the American South.use many of these elements.and their bestknown child. the term has expanded to include the wealth of literary possibilities contained in the secretive Southern culture. William Faulkner’s stories and novels are typically set in a Southern Gothic landscape. and films that use magical elements in an otherwise realistic setting. and supernatural forces don’t seem so unusual. there is still enough wonder and mystery in the world that at least the suggestion of voodoo. While Crescent City borrows slightly from the theory behind those traditions. So too are there folks who make magical (or magickal) manipulation part of their religious traditions. in the film Field of Dreams. magic. In the days before science would truly hold the world in its grip. What is Magical Realism? Art critic Franz Roh coined the term “magical realism” to describe art in the 1920s. Real Voodoo practitioners don’t carry around Voodoo dolls to attack their enemies. after releasing the enormous amount of energy contained in an atom at White Sands in the 1940s. it’s another tool in a storytellers toolbox for making a fun and compelling Crescent City adventure. it is wiser to avoid direct combat situations. Crescent City employs a similar system and setting of magic. Rather than fantasy stories. Typically it includes sinister and supernatural elements. typically after the American Civil War. there is always enough doubt that they could be real the audience it never sure (until the end of the film). . but the term is most often applied to a literary movement that began. novels. gothic horror .

is the kind with which Crescent City concerns itself. if the Gamemaster needs any suggestions on creating the appropriate atmosphere or writing the appropriate plotlines. rely on carefully constructed moods and a feeling of overwhelming dread .the despair that there is no survival. and that a character has doomed himself . and traditional horror tales. devices. gothic tales take a slower and more subtle approach. An appropriate example is the two very different kinds of horror films. Some of them rely on either "jumps" or massive amount of gore to create a feeling of horror. use obvious character actions. or symbolism to communicate their points.While traditional stories. some excellent films. The particulars of such kinds of horror are detailed in many other places. (2001) O! Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) Nosferatu (1922) The People Under The Stairs (1991) Pi (1997) Rope (1948) Session 9 (2001) The Stepford Wives (1975) Twin Peaks (1990-1991) Vertigo (1958) . the gothic kind. Recommended Films American Beauty (1999) An American Werewolf in London (1981) Below (2002) Big Fish (2003) Blue Velvet (1986) Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) Carnival of Souls (1962) The Changeling (1980) Chocolat (2000) The Crow (1994) Edward Scissorhands (1990) Fargo (1995) Field of Dreams (1989) Frailty (2001) Freaks (1932) The Haunting (1963) The Hole (2001) Interview With The Vampire (1995) Let's Scare Jessica To Death (1971) Lost Highway (1997) Memento (2000) Mulholland Dr. The other kind. books. plots. and video games are listed below.

Lovecraft The Witching Hour by Anne Rice Recommended Video Games Eternal Darkness (2002) Gabriel Knight (1994) Silent Hill (1999) Silent Hill 2 (2001) Voodoo Vince (2003) Using the Crescent City System in Other Settings While the Crescent City system works well in the magical-realist. After Playing Crescent City I want to hear what you think of the system and the setting! Email feedback. reports.rpg@gmail. suggestions. hate mail and love letters to tarot. Daneilewski Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice Sanctuary by William Faulkner Supernatural Horror in Literature by H.The Wicker Man (1973) The Witches of Eastwick (1987) Recommended Books The Call of Cthulhu by H. raves. It was designed to be as adaptable as possible. Lovecraft Danse Macabre by Stephen King Frankenstein by Mary Shelley The House Next Door by Anne Siddons House of Leaves by Mark Z. but Gamemasters and players should be able to adapt the system to any kind of game with minimal effort. criticisms. the possibilities in the underlying mechanics are virtually limitless. gothic setting of the 1920s American South. rants. comments. and need not be constrained by a setting where magic exists. .P. The use of the tarot deck lends itself well to a setting that involves some mystical