Crescendo is a fantasy roleplaying game, centered on character development of the player characters in a dynamic world. Players draft and push their Tenets against the GM’s Movements, inside a setting that regularly causes trouble. These three elements colliding with each other produces an epic fantasy story, set in the vein of Gene Wolfe, Ursula Le Guin, and Neil Gaiman, where the question is centered around how the characters grow and change.

Unlike most roleplaying games, Crescendo is openly mythical. There are immortals who influence the setting and its inhabitants, both obviously and subtly. The world is more faerie tale-like: animals can talk, ogres can come out of nowhere, and that kindly woman who’s asking you to dinner is actually a witch. The world is alive and responsive to your actions.

Crescendo doesn’t have a built-in setting, but has detailed instructions on making your own. Those directions give you a world where immortals have overlapping omens, servants, and prophecies. It’s never entirely clear who is helping you, or why. Even the most overt actions by the immortals are not especially clear. It’s up to the table to interpret what is going on.

The reason why such ambiguity is possible is because there is no preset story in Crescendo; the story is the clashing of player Tenets and GM Movements, with Locales changing things up. No one knows what is going to happen. There are substantial tools to help your table make a story that is not only unexpected, but coherent on a thematic level. Meanings will emerge from play, like a figure coming to you in a mist.

Players draft Tenets, which focus on ideals and people their characters care about. By writing Tenets the player signals what they want the game to center around. Tenets are not goals; how the players act upon their Tenets are left deliberately open, so as to allow the story to be flexible. Through the course of the game Tenets will change to reflect the growth of the character. The mechanics of the game focus on how and when player Tenets change; all things involving dice rolls eventually come back to Tenets. They are the center of play.

The GM drafts Movements, which are the big things trying to happen in the world. Movements are end goals, things the GM is trying to accomplish. Movements don’t say how the GM will do these goals, only what his end purposes are. The GM then uses his Movements to create situations that challenges the players’ Tenets. Players then respond, creating a fluid situation that can change at moment’s notice.

So far Crescendo doesn’t really sound that different from any other RPG you may find on the market. Players and GMs have their priorities, and those priorities clash, creating the story. Where Crescendo differs from other games is that the Locale, the setting itself, will respond to player action! Crescendo doesn’t use a random table to make up these events. The Locale uses the past actions of the players and the history of the setting to change the situation the GM and the players are in. And nobody knows ahead of time how the setting will act, or even when!

All these mechanical pieces (and so much more!) become a clockwork puzzle of aids. While no mechanic can (or should) make the story for you, Crescendo does provide layered prompts, evoking your natural ability to give meaning to the world. And it will be hard not to give meaning to what is happening; Crescendo offers an embarrassment of riches to imbue, selected from what your table finds important. The narrative builds all the time, always driving towards a fever pitch of emotion, spirituality, and mythology. You’ll wonder what it is you’re driving towards.

And then you’ll know. It’s usually not what you expected.

Good luck.

Crescendo is in an open alpha playtest! Get the PDF here!