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                            Empress
Crescent City Tarot RPG
                        
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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: http://www.jasonmical.com/tarot/license.html



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 Rolls-
Royce. 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-to-
shoulder with Antebellum families, and creatures heard about only in whispers stalk the
streets next to the worst examples of humanity.

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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. Now, they want to try to feed the people on
the other end of the tap a little false information. Time for another challenge. But first,
let’s finish resolving the initial challenge.

Step Four: Overcoming a Challenge

When the players have overcome a challenge, the cards they used are put into a discard
pile. They no longer have access to those cards for the duration of the cycle, and cannot
use them again to overcome future challenges. The gamemaster places his cards back in a
discard pile as well, but when the gamemaster runs out of cards in his deck, his discard
pile becomes a new deck. The gamemaster effectively never runs out of cards.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Remember too that characters chose attributes in which they are particularly strong, and
attributes in which they are particularly weak. When a challenge involves the character’s
strong Attribute, that character can use cards of any suit to overcome that part of the
challenge.

Conversely, when a challenge involves the character’s Weak attribute, 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 example, if a character’s weakness is the
Physical attribute, and the challenge required overcoming a six of Swords, 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.

[Example]

GM: OK, 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.

GM (considers this challenge): Very well.

The Gamemaster knows that the G-men on the other end of the bug are trained to know
when they’ve been discovered. It’s going to take a lot of poise to pull this off. He selects
the Queen of Pentacles and the Ten of Pentacles, for a total of twenty-three.

Liz: Twenty-three, yikes! I’m nearly out of Pentacles. Good thing I can use other suits.
I’ve got an Eight of Pentacles left, and I’ll go ahead and play this King of Cups and a
Two of Cups. That’s twenty-four total.

GM: Excellent. As far as you know, 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.

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Liz: That gives us an afternoon and an evening without being tailed. Let’s head over to
the cemetery and follow that lead.

Complications

Often things are not as easy as they first seem. In Crescent City, 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). The players will then
need to decide whether to commit more cards to the challenge, to fail the challenge, or to
withdraw from the challenge.

[Example]

Having thrown the G-men off the scent, Liz and Chad’s character are exploring the St.
Louis #1 cemetery for clues. Chad’s character thinks he’s found something in one of the
tombs, but it’s written in a strange language.

GM: The letters look familiar, but the language does not (Lays out a King of Wands). It
won’t be too hard to translate, but you’ll have to work at it.

Chad: Fair enough. We need this information. Here’s my own King of Wands, and an
Ace of Wands.

GM: Right about this time, you see another light in the cemetery and a gravelly old voice
starts yelling at you. “If you kids are markin’ up another grave, I’m gonna tan your
hides!”

Liz: Oops, sounds like we woke up the caretaker. We’d better hurry up and get out of
here.

Chad: I’ve almost got it, right?

GM: You don’t have much time, so translating this will be a little harder. (Lays out a
Five of Wands).

Failing a Challenge

If the players fail a challenge, any cards they used to attempt to overcome the challenge
are placed into the discard pile. They no longer have access to those cards for the
duration of the cycle, and cannot use them again to overcome future challenges. In
addition, the character or characters who failed the challenge must select and discard one
Major Arcana card for failing the challenge. And, of course, if the players were
attempting to overcome some obstacle, discover an important piece of information, or try
to heal a fallen comrade, they will have failed in this task and the gamemaster must
decide its effects on the story.

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While traditional stories, and traditional horror tales, use obvious character actions, plots,
devices, or symbolism to communicate their points, 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. The other kind, the gothic kind, 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 - is the kind with which Crescent City concerns itself.

The particulars of such kinds of horror are detailed in many other places; if the
Gamemaster needs any suggestions on creating the appropriate atmosphere or writing the
appropriate plotlines, some excellent films, books, and video games are listed below.

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. (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)

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The Wicker Man (1973)
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Recommended Books

The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
Danse Macabre by Stephen King
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The House Next Door by Anne Siddons
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Daneilewski
Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice
Sanctuary by William Faulkner
Supernatural Horror in Literature by H.P. 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, gothic setting of the
1920s American South, the possibilities in the underlying mechanics are virtually
limitless. It was designed to be as adaptable as possible, and need not be constrained by a
setting where magic exists. The use of the tarot deck lends itself well to a setting that
involves some mystical elements, but Gamemasters and players should be able to adapt
the system to any kind of game with minimal effort.

After Playing Crescent City

I want to hear what you think of the system and the setting! Email feedback, reports,
suggestions, comments, criticisms, rants, raves, hate mail and love letters to
[email protected]

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