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Reviews - Secrets of New Orleans
 
by Demian Katz


Secrets of New OrleansSecrets of New Orleans
Published by Chaosium
Written by Fred Van Lente
Additional Material by James Cambias, Owen Guthrie, Toivo Luick, Kevin Ross and Chris Williams
Cover Art by Scott Baxa
Interior Illustrations by Edgar Geier and M. Wayne Miller
Maps by Stewart Noack
Editorial and Layout by Janice Sellers
90-page perfect bound softback
$16.95

The latest in Chaosium's "Secrets" line isn't as new as the 2009 copyright date might lead you to believe. It was previously published in 1997 as the less colorfully titled New Orleans Guidebook, and little has changed since then but the name and interior layout. Fortunately, as long as you don't get fooled into buying something you already own, you shouldn't be disappointed with this sourcebook. New Orleans is a great setting for a horror game, and this volume's return to print is entirely welcome. At only 90 pages, this is slimmer than some other recent "Secrets" volumes, but the shorter length doesn't really hurt the book. It's packed full of useful tidbits, and (unlike the dismal Secrets of Morocco) makes good use of the space it has available.

Surviving the Big Easy
The first chapter opens the book with a general history of the city of New Orleans, covering most of the basics needed to understand the setting. This section is designed to be read by players as well as keepers, which can be helpful for going into a campaign with everyone on the same page. The next three chapters delve into keepers-only territory, covering different areas of New Orleans. The French Quarter, where the oldest buildings and deepest secrets may be found, gets a whole chapter to itself, while another chapter details the Greater City's important features, like hospitals, universities, libraries and (of course) deadly voodoo gangs. Area-by-area coverage concludes with a chapter on Bayou Country, where all manner of dangers can be found in the swampy territory. The fifth chapter provides rules for working voodoo into a campaign, complete with a spell list. The book wraps up with "Twilight of the Fifth Sun," a well-designed scenario that makes use of a good portion of the earlier material in the book, and which can be used either to start a New Orleans campaign or to provide a one-time campaign stop during Mardi Gras season. A bibliography and index are also provided for easy reference.

Obviously, a book of this size cannot be comprehensive (part of the reason that the bibliography is so welcome), but Secrets of New Orleans does a good job of making the content it presents usable. Game stats (and, in some cases, fictionalized back-stories) are provided for famous literary figures, pirates, politicians and voodoo practitioners. In most cases, the NPC descriptions include good reasons why the players might run across these people during the course of their investigations. Typical locations like homes, nightclubs and voodoo humfors are presented as if they were specific locations in a scenario, complete with maps and detailed descriptions, making them easy to drop into a game. The complex cultural and racial politics of the city are well-described, offering interesting role-playing possibilities for players willing to deal with potentially sensitive subject matter. Secret societies working at cross purposes provide opportunities for mysterious but eventually explainable plot twists.

The book's voodoo coverage describes some of the most common and infamous spells using the standard Call of Cthulhu magic system while emphasizing that voodoo is flexible and many variant effects are possible. Ceremonies are described in enough detail to help with atmosphere, but left open-ended enough for flexible interpretation. The exact relationship between voodoo and the Mythos is never made explicit, but some detailed suggestions (such as which of the voodoo spirits known as loa might correspond with which of the Old Ones) are provided. It's hard to read this book without seeing a lot of gaming potential, and the sample scenario helps to underline the strengths of the rest of the text.

Conclusions
The only criticisms I have about the book are minor and have to do with its revision, or lack thereof. There are several points in which the text refers to the nineties as the present day, making it feel a little dated when presented as a new product. A little bit of revision wouldn't have hurt here. On the other hand, while I haven't seen the original edition of the product, I have a feeling that the area that actually was revised may not have been an improvement: the new layout features wide borders on every page spread portraying an enlarged chunk of the city map found elsewhere in the book. In addition to wasting a fair amount of space on the page, these borders are noisy, distracting the eye while reading the text and making some of the photo captions hard to see. These flaws do little to detract from the strengths of the book, but they may dissuade you from upgrading if you have a copy of the original printing.

Assuming you haven't seen it before, though, Secrets of New Orleans is well worth checking out. Whether you want to pay a short visit to the city or set up shop there for good, this book will serve you well as a starting point.

 
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