a DramaSystem role-playing gameby Thomas McGreneryFind the Malandros rulebook and supplements at

Rio de Janeiro in the last days of imperial Brazil. A city of slums and palaces, street gangs and tycoons, magic charms and outlawed martial arts.Cunning, bohemian, streetwise, the malandro walks through it all without fear—because there’s always a way out.

“Malandro é o cara que sabe das coisas
Malandro é aquele que sabe o que quer
Malandro é o cara que ta com dinheiro
E não se compara com um Zé Mané
Malandro de fato é um cara maneiro
E não se amarra em uma só mulher.”
Malandro is the guy who knows things
Malandro is the one who knows what he wants
Malandro is the guy who has money
And he does not compare himself with any Joe Schmoe
Malandro, in fact, is a cool guy
And does not tie himself to one girl.
Bezerra da Silva, “Malandro É Malandro e Mané É Mané”

Last year, Princess Isabel signed the Golden Law, abolishing slavery in Brazil. So now we’re all free: black, white and native alike. More or less.Round here the coffee barons run the show. They might have fought against abolition harder if they hadn’t fig red out that it’s cheaper to pay workers peanuts than put a roof over their heads.The Empire of Brazil is entering its last days. At street level in the city, life continues to be vibrant, often violent, and full of people just trying to get by, to find a jeitinho. “Finding a way” – that’s the streetwise thing to do; it’s what malandros do. But as the proverb has it, O malandro demais se atrapalha: the guy who tries to be too smart only trips up himself.

What this is

Malandros is a roleplaying game based on the DramaSystem rules engine. Players take on the roles of characters in a tight-knit community caught up in tumultuous times.Although Malandros takes a particular time and place in history as its starting point (1889 in Rio de Janeiro), it is not a historical simulation – you, the participants, will work together to create the story of what happens to your characters and their city.In any given session of the game, most of your group will be the ‘players’. That is, you each portray a single player character (PC), one of the protagonists of your shared story. One of you will be the GM (short for a Gente e o Mundo), portraying the world at large and all the people in it that the player characters meet. If you are the GM, your player character becomes part of the supporting cast.You may choose to have one person be the GM all the time or take turns at the job with each new episode, as you prefer.--
Find the Malandros rulebook and supplements at
Legal stuffThis work is based on the DramaSystem SRD (found at, a product of Robin D. Laws and Pelgrane Press, developed, written, and edited by Robin D. Laws, and licensed for use under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence( is made available under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported Licence ( use the content of Malandros in your work, please use the following attribution language. This text must be placed in the same place you put your own copyright notice, and must be the same size as the rest of your copyright notice."This work is based on Malandros, written by Thomas McGrenery, and the DramaSystem SRD (found at, a product of Robin D. Laws and Pelgrane Press, developed, written, and edited by Robin D. Laws, and licensed for our use under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence ("

How to Play

Creating the main cast
Take turns to announce your role in the cast, choose a character type and name your characters.
Say how your Player Character (PC) is related to the others.Choose a Desire.Choose a pair of Dramatic Poles.Say what you want, emotionally, from at least two other PCs:E.g. I want...
approval from my father
love from the object of my desire
respect from my boss
to dominate the leader of the rival gang
subservience from my employee
The other PC’s player will tell you why you can’t have what you want.Finally, complete this sentence:My story is of a man/woman who…Scenes
Players and GM take turns to call scenes. When it’s your turn, tell everyone:
who is in the scene (including other people’s characters if you want)
where and when it takes place
what is happening
Your PC must also have a goal in mind – why they’re doing what they are in the scene.If your character wants an emotional response from someone else – a favour, a show of obedience, a friendly word – it will be a dramatic scene.If your character is pursuing a practical, concrete goal, it’s a procedural scene.If you can’t think of anything straight away, take a moment to think. Look at your Desire and Dramatic Poles for inspiration, consider the episode’s theme, or ask the group for help.If it’s not your turn to call the scene, you must wait until the caller asks for help before you can offer advice.Dramatic scenes
When you get what you want from another participant’s character in a dramatic scene, give that player a drama token. If they don’t give you what you want, they must pay a drama token to you.
You may spend two drama tokens to force someone to grant a significant emotional concession. They may still withhold some part of what you seek.
You may block a force by giving the other player three drama tokens.Other PCs in the same scene may also contribute tokens to a force or block.Procedural scenes
To resolve a procedural scene you’ll need to take one or more actions.
Roll a single six-sided die (1d6). If you want, you can add your rating in a relevant ability to the roll, but you have to say so in advance. When you use an ability, put a cross next to it on your character sheet. You can’t use it again until you refresh it (see below).Different actions have different outcomes according the die roll. In general, a result of 2 or less is usually a failure. 3-5 is a success with drawbacks, and 6 or more is a complete success.Asé Dice
You may spend 1 Asé (rhymes with ‘sachet’) to roll an additional die for an action. Keep whichever rolls the highest result. Whenever an action says you “gain Asé”, add 1 to your Asé score.
Refreshing abilities
You can regain the points you’ve spent on using an ability by calling a dramatic scene during which your character recuperates in an appropriate fashion. You must state when calling the scene that you intend to refresh an ability, and which one.

Rio de Janeiro

They call it the cidade maravilhosa: the marvellous city.Rio de Janeiro has much at which to marvel.Its grand palaces and avenues befit the capital of an empire. Emperor Pedro II, a reluctant monarch, holds court in the Paço Imperial.The white vaulting arches of the Lapa Aqueduct bring fresh water to the city.The city has all the benefits of modern science. Steam-powered trams ply the streets, and at night the city is illuminated by the glow of gas lamps. A modern sewage system keeps away the worst diseases.Rio even has the most modern communications technology – both a telephone system and wireless telegraphy.

Your Neighbourhood

If you’re new to the city, chances are you live in a cortiço – a slum tenement built around an enclosed central courtyard, with the rooms rented out individually.A cortiço isn’t a shanty town. It’s a single building owned by one person rather than a cluster of individually constructed houses. The central courtyard is typically used for laundry and other menial piecework, and contains a communal well.If you’ve been in the city longer, you probably live in one of the older districts, in a townhouse. If you’re rich enough you might own the whole thing, but more likely you rent one floor or one room.The older parts of town tend to have narrower, winding streets and alleyways. Some lanes are more like staircases with broad stone steps climbing one of Rio’s hills.The newer districts have broad, well-planned streets with all the benefits of modern engineering.No matter what, your neighbour-hood will have at least one church, a marketplace, several cafes and bars, and most likely a park or open plaza, though it might be quite run-down.On the edges of the city, communities have sprung up around quarries, factories, railyards and other new places where jobs are available.


Brazil is rapidly urbanising.Railways are being built at a dizzying rate. Goods stream into and through Rio constantly.People flood into the city from Europe and from other Brazilian provinces to work in the many new factories making textiles and other products.Coffee, cacao, rubber, sugar, cotton and leather are brought into the city by the thousands of tons, ready for export.Fishermen go out to sea every day and bring home their catches with the incoming tide.The most profitable fishing is more dangerous. The fishermen must go far out to sea and it may take days before they can return home.


The streets and homes of Rio are full of song.The great and good dance in lavish attire to the music of the orchestra at formal balls where they are waited on hand and foot.Ordinary people have their own kinds of music.Choro is a style that usually has a fast, happy rhythm and makes great play of virtuosity and improvisation.It is usually performed by a trio of flute, guitar and cavaquinho, typically informal groups of friends at parties, in botecos, on the streets, or at home balls called forrobodós.The maxixe, sometimes called the ‘Brazilian tango’, is commonly danced to choro music.From Portugal comes the mournful fado, songs of longing and regret performed by solo singers with guitar accompaniment.


Rio is a city of churches. Every bairro has its parish church, and often several more besides. Many professions and lay fraternities have their own chapels, as do military barracks, schools, hospitals and other institutions.Christianity here is almost exclusively Roman Catholic. Catholicism is the state creed of the Brazilian Empire, though non-Catholics are not prevented from practising their faiths or building places of worship.A few years ago, a contretemps between church and crown landed two bishops in jail over disobedience to the Emperor. They were soon freed after widespread public protest but the underlying discontent remains.Clergy and monastics are a common sight among the crowds in the city. Many are familiar faces: parish curates, friars or nuns who tend to the pastoral needs of the local community. Others are missionaries from overseas or from Brazil’s interior, rarely staying in Rio for long.Largely hidden from view as far as the elites are concerned, many descendants of Africans brought to Brazil as slaves practise macumba.For non-practitioners this is a pejorative, catch-all term for African-derived religion, tantamount to witchcraft.Believers know that ‘macumba’ is a misnomer and use the term only grudgingly, if at all. It does not really exist in a meaningful sense, for the Afro-Brazilian religions cannot be simply clumped together as one.Drawing on traditional beliefs of West Africa, in particular those of the Yoruba cultures, a great deal of syncretism has occurred since the first slaves were brought to Brazil, influenced by Catholicism and native beliefs.Furthermore, while society at large calls these religious practices primitive and backward, the truth is that they are complex, complete belief systems with centuries of history behind them.The priestesses of these faiths, known as mães-de-santo – mothers of the saints – commune with the spiritual world to secure the blessings of the primordial beings called orishas.Major orishas include:Exu, the messenger, whodistributes aséYemanja, goddess of the seaOgun, god of battle and metalOshosi, spirit of the hunt,animals and wealthSome people use their knowledge of the spirits to create protective amulets, and some to inflict harm on enemies –both services are available toothers for a price.


The maltas – criminal gangs associated with the martial art of capoeira – are a constant menace to public order. There are two big capoeira “nations” – the Nagoas (whose colour is white) and the Guaiamuns (red). Each is made up out of many smaller local maltas who identify with a particular parish or area. Most gang members are in their teens or early twenties.The Guaiamuns control the central areas of the city, but are surrounded on all sides by Nagoa territory. The Guaiamuns hold the old city centre, mainly the Sacramento and Santa Rita parishes.The latter includes the port area, which is full of the overcrowded tenements called cortiços. The Nagoas are strongest in the newer parts of town, forming a circle around the old city centre. Their turf includes Glória district, Lapa and the Santa Luzia beach. The big square of Campo de Santana is contested ground.The Nagoas are identified with former slaves and Africans, who became a fixture of the city about 100 years ago, and are still from mainly black neighbourhoods today.The Guaiamuns have native and mestiço roots, and grew significantly in the last few decades, as freemen, Portuguese immigrants, poor whites from the interior and creoles from all over Brazil became the majority of Rio’s working population.All the outfits hold regular training in headbutts, kicks, and techniques for the straight-razor and knife. The more experienced members act as instructors for the beginners. At first they practise thier techniques using wooden weapons, then later with actual blades, which often leaves the exercise areas stained with blood.The maltas fight for territory, protect their bairros and commit countless crimes against person and property. They also defy the powers that be. Every time there is a big parade in the streets, you’ll see young men full of bravado dance in front of the military bands, performing capoeira movements and acrobatics before escaping into the crowd, pursued by the police.When a civilian parade is on, like for Carnival or a saint’s feast day, the capoeiristas from the bairro accompany their neighbours as bodyguards, dancing along and knocking down people who get in the way.The maltas also help decide elections. Most outfits have a particular patron, for whom they hassle opponents, drive off the wrong sorts of voters and “take care of” the ballot boxes on election day.


It’s a fight, a dance, a game. Created by slaves, a way for the downtrodden to make themselves free.Capoeira is a martial art closely associated with the malta gangs that rule the streets of Rio. However, you don’t have to be in a gang to learn capoeira. You can also learn it in the streets, or from a local or travelling master of the art.When it’s a fight, it’s a contest of kicks, trips and head-butts – and often knives, clubs and straight razors.When you play capoeira, it’s a contest of agility, acrobatics, trickery and power, which takes place in a circle called a roda. How much of a straight-up fight it is depends on the players.Sometimes you just want to show off your prowess, marking where a kick would land or giving your opponent a playful tap where their guard is down. Sometimes you want to knock them down. And very occasionally, you bring a blade and play for keeps.The capoeiristas of Bahia and other regions to the north incorporate music into their rodas – the game is led by the sound of the berimbau, often accompanied by other instruments, and the lead berimbau player presides over the roda and leads call-and-response songs. This form of capoeira is uncommon in Rio, but not unheard of, at this time.In most cases, carioca capoeira music is limited to the war songs that maltas belt out as challenges when they enter enemy territory, though games played for fun may be accompanied by music, singing, and general raucousness.Getting caught practising capoeira will see you jailed for public disorder. You’ll usually be released quickly on condition of future “good behaviour”. Many arrested capoeiristas are subsequently recruited by the secret police.“Capoeira is the worst fight in the world, and I’ll tell you why. You get into a boxing ring, you know what the stakes are: a few rounds with a lot of rules and maybe you’ll get knocked out. Go into a pistol duel or a street fight where the blades come out early and you know death is on the line.With capoeira? With capoeira you can never be sure.”

Race, Ethnicity & Class

So, the good news is that no one is the literal property of anyone else in Brazil any more. It may be true that slavery was on the wane and, by the time of the Golden Law in 1888, most black Brazilians were already free. But being free because of economic conditions isn’t quite the same a being free because the law recognises that you’re a real person like everyone else.That said, racism permeates Brazilian society. Black children have little or no access to education.All but the lowest status jobs are off-limits to black adults. Many immigrants have come to Rio, mostly from Italy and Portugal. They are divided by culture and language from each other and from native-born Brazilians. Mutual distrust and prejudice is common. However, everyone has to live next door to each other.The elite have no such need to mingle. They keep out immigrant entrepreneurs from the most lucrative businesses and make it hard for black or mixed-race people to climb the social ladder. There are exceptions, like the author Machado de Assis or the engineer and politician André Pinto Rebouças, but they are just that – exceptional.

Food & Drink

Also known as a botequim. A place for bohemian types to meet, get a decent drink, cheap snacks and easy conversation. It’s the kind of hole-in-the-wall place where you can show up alone and hang out with whoever else is there. As well as snacks and alcohol, most botecos sell tobacco, cigarettes, sweets and various sundries.
Coffee House
More upmarket than a boteco, somewhere for the educated professional to relax with a coffee and a newspaper. Wine, beer and spirits are also available.
Much like a bar anywhere else in the world. Bottled and draught beers, wine and spirits. Rarely food, though.
Today in 1889, Rio is comparable to any of the world’s great cities. As such, you can find cuisines from all over the world, provided you have the money to pay for it.
The common grade of restaurant tends to offer local Brazilian dishes or food from low-status immigrant communities such as those of Italy, Asia and Africa. Fine dining establishments cater to those in search of European cuisines such as French or German. Portuguese dishes can be found at restaurants of both types.To Eat
A black bean-heavy feast using the lowest-grade cuts of pork or beef, this hearty slow-cooked stew originated in the slave-quarters and is well on its way to becoming Brazil’s national dish. It is accompanied with rice, farofa (cassava flour) and oranges.
A slow-cooked fish stew originally from the state of Espírito Santo, not far from Rio. Ingredients may include olive oil, salt-water fish, shrimp, crab and lobster. The dish is seasoned with onion, tomatoes, coriander and chives, accompanied by pirão, a paste made from cassava flour.
Boteco snacks
Figado Acebolado: liver & onions
Chouriço Apimentado: spicy chorizoGiló Frito: fried aubergineTo Drink
Coffee is one of the pillars holding up Brazil’s economy, and there’s plenty of it around, in bars, cafes and restaurants of all classes.
Tea is becoming more widely available now that it is grown in Brazil. A similar indigenous drink is made from the yerba mate plant.Wine is almost always imported, from Chile or Europe.Cachaça is a strong spirit similar to rum, distilled from sugarcane juice.It’s usually drunk neat in shots or with ice.In São Paulo they use cachaça to make a cocktail called a “caipirinha” but it hasn’t really caught on anywhere else yet.Quentão is a kind of mulled wine, mostly drunk on festival days.Beer is brewed locally though imported brands like Carlsberg and Heineken are popular. Lager, being well suited to the climate, is the most popular kind of beer. A cerveja is a beer; a chope is specifically a draught beer.

Around Town

Use these prompts to help set the scene.Places
a barbershop – full of gossip; with just one old man getting a shave
the beach – with fishermen bringing their jangadas in to shore; with rich people taking the sea air; with a ritual to Yemanja taking placea boteco – dark and smoky; cramped and raucous; a gang hangouta cafe – with a tattered awning giving a little shade; with elegant tables and chairs out the front; cool, quiet and shadya church – the heart of the parish; small and faded; where the orphans sleep; baroque and impressive; a military chapelthe docks – with a huge cargo of coffee going out; deserted; site of a clandestine capoeira rodaa factory – thundering with the modern machinery of commerce; where rows of workers sit and make goods by hand; closed down and dustythe Lapa aqueduct – the iconic landmark of malandro Riomountains – serene and restful; a place to hide; a new construction sitea plantation – for coffee; for sugar; with conditions like slaverya restaurant – haute cuisine direct from Europe; a bustling bistro; where the factory workers go after their shiftthe sea – a place for fishing; where the cargo ships stand at anchor; a new life is on the far shoretailor’s shop – the finest formal wear in Brazil; suits for weddings and funerals; favoured by Rio’s most stylish dandiesthe theatre – popular; for the great and good; avant-gardeTransport
boats – flimsy fishing skiff; luxurious pleasure craft; the old ferry
horses – old nag; sleek polo pony; military chargerrailways – bringing in fresh workers; your ticket out of hereships – taking coffee to Europe; smuggling by night; listing heavily to starboardtrams – horse-drawn; steam-poweredwagons – blocking the street; bumping along a dirt road; a young lady’s carriageNeighbourhoods
Candelária, Catete, Catumbi, Cidade Nova,
Estácio, Gamboa, Lapa, Santa Teresa,Santo Cristo, São Sebastião, Saúde, TijucaStreets
Ajuda, Bom Jardim, Catete, Carioca,
Carmo, Cotovello, Espirito Santo, Floresta,Guarda-Velha, Marrecas, Mercado, Misericordia,Olinda, Pescadores, Princesa, Quitanda,Rosario, Rio Comprido, Santo Amaro,Sete de Setembro, TheatroYou can also give descriptive names in your own language: e.g. Market Street, Harbour Road, Garden Lane.Public Squares
Largo de Santa Rita, Praça do Caju,
Praça da Constituição, Praça da Harmonia,Praça Saco AlferesChurches
Nossa Senhora da Candelária, Nossa Senhora da Saúde,
Santo Antônio, São Bento,São Francisco, São Sebastião,Santa Cruz dos Militares, Santa Luzia

Malandros & Malandragem

A malandro is someone who always has an eye for the main chance, whatever the situation.The malandro uses charm, cunning and whatever resources are available to manipulate people and circumstances. The malandro’s art is called malandragem and it will in time come to be seen as a typically Brazilian mode of navigating the whorls and eddies of society.Malandragem is the art of sidestepping the rules, a rejection of the idea that following the rules can ever bring about the best outcome for you personally. It is a tool for an ordinary person to turn against the system, if they have the smarts to do it right.The malandro is a male archetype, though one does not have to look far to find example of women who, in similar fashion, refuse to take life on the terms presented.The typical malandro is a sharp dresser, with a panama or straw hat and a smart suit, usually white with red or black details. In the breast pocket of the suit is a navalha – a straight razor. Purely for self-defence, of course.The malandro is bohemian, enjoys music and dances, and views a steady job as a mug’s game. Shady schemes, gambling and the largesse of lovers is more the malandro’s speed.The malandro is gallant, a hedonist, streetwise, deceitful, charismatic, lazy, a dandy, vicious when cornered, a trickster. You don’t have to be all of those things to be a malandro, but you have to be at least a few of them.Some malandros & malandras
Bender (Futurama)BlackadderBridget Gregory (The Last Seduction)Bugs BunnyBugsy MaloneCarmen SandiegoDean Corso (The Ninth Gate)Doc HolidaySergeant Ernie BilkoFred (Subway)Han SoloIrene AdlerJeanne de Valois-Saint-RémyJenny Everdeane (Gangs of New York)Jordan Baker (The Great Gatsby)Marnie Edger (Marnie)Moll CutpurseMolly MillionsPedro NavajaRobin HoodTop Cat

Creating Characters

O defeito do malandro
É gostar de dinheiro, amizade e mulher
Malandro tem cabeça feita
Malandro sabe o que quer
The failing of the malandro
Is liking money, friendship and women
Malandro has his mind made up
Malandro knows what he wantsBezerra da Silva, “Malandro é malandro mesmo”Overview
The first step of a new game of Malandros is creating the player characters. Because the relationships between the characters are a key part of this, character creation should be done with all of the group present. Adding new PCs to the mix later is easy enough, but try to have at least three quarters of your group present for the first session, to create the tangled web of relationships that will be the wellspring of your adventures.
First off, someone (probably the GM) should briefly outline the concept and style of the game for anyone who’s not yet familiar with Malandros. Pass the book around, maybe flick through the Character Types chapter, and think up some ideas.Proclaiming your Role
The first player proclaims their PC’s name and role in the cast. The next player proclaims their character’s name, role and connection to the first character. Each remaining player takes their turn to announce their character’s name, role, and connections to those already proclaimed.
Proclaiming your Desire and Dramatic Poles
In the established order of precedence, players proclaim their characters’ Desires. Then you go round again, with each player proclaiming their Dramatic Poles.
Relationships with Other Characters
Determine a new precedence order. Each player in order defines what their character wants from any other player’s character. The player of the other character says why they can’t get it. Both players adjust the statements as needed to reach an initial setup that’s acceptable to both.
Do this until all characters are named as objects of at least two other characters’ wants. (Any unaddressed relationships are defined during play.)Character Attributes
Each player determines their character’s type, abilities, resource and Signature Moves.
Your Story
Finally, sum up your character by compleing the sentence “My story is of a man/woman who...” Your story might, in the end, turn out to be quite different from this sentence. This is just a beginning.
Your Role in the Cast
The main cast of player characters (PCs) in a game of Malandros belongs to a community centred around a city neighbourhood, your bairro – you’ll define the characteristics of the bairro together with the other participants during the course of the game.
Some or all of the cast consider themselves, or are thought of by others as, malandros – ‘bad boys’ – rascals identified by turns as charming, roguish, thuggish, lazy, dishonest, streetwise and cool. Whatever kinds of character your PCs are – male or female, black or white, rich or poor – they are all connected by the common bond of the bairro.When you proclaim your role, you may have a specific character type in mind (e.g. “I want to play a Músico; I think I’ll be the piano player at the local cafe.”) but you may also want to come up with a more abstract role in the community before choosing the character type that will define your PC in terms of game rules.For example, you might want to play the respected elder people turn to for advice, the ridiculed old guy everyone underestimates, the local tough guy or the local kid recently returned from abroad. Many roles can be filled by more than one of the character types that appear in the game.Defining Relationships
When you define your relationship to another PC, you establish a crucial fact about both characters. You can make it any kind of relationship, so long as it’s an important one. Family relationships are the easiest to think of and may prove richest in play. Close friendships also work. By choosing a friendship, you’re establishing that the relationship is strong enough to create a powerful emotional bond between the two of you. Bonds of romantic love, past or present, may be the strongest of all.
As in any strong drama, your most important relationships happen to be fraught with unresolved tension. These are the people your character looks to for emotional fulfillment. The struggle for this fulfillment drives your ongoing story.Players may raise objections to relationship choices of other players that turn their PCs into people they don’t want to play. When this occurs, the proposing player makes an alternate suggestion, negotiating with the other player until both are satisfied. Keep track of relationships as they are established during character creation with a relationship map.Your Desire
A PC’s Desire is the broadly stated, strong motivation driving their actions during dramatic scenes. The Desire moves them to pursue an inner, emotional goal, which can only be achieved by engaging with other members of the main cast, and, to a lesser degree, with recurring characters run by the GM.
Your Desire might be seen as your character’s weakness: it makes them vulnerable, placing their happiness in others’ hands. Because this is a dramatic story, conflict with these central characters prevents your PC from easily or permanently satisfying their Desire.Think of the Desire as an emotional reward your character seeks fromothers. The most powerful choices are generally the simplest, for example:approvalacceptanceforgivenessrespectlovesubserviencereassurancepowerto punishto be punishedYour Dramatic Poles
Driving any compelling dramatic character in any story form is an internal contradiction. Your character is torn between two opposed Dramatic Poles. Each pole suggests a choice of identities for the character, each at war with the other. Events in the story pull the character from one pole to the next.
Examples:altruism vs. self-interestambition vs. loyaltyfame vs. ambitionfreedom vs. responsibilitygenius vs. foolgood cop vs. bad copjoin the family vs. destroy the familylove vs. fearrevenge vs. friendshipscholar vs. hedonistwarrior vs. peacemakerWhat You Want From Others
Now bring your Dramatic Poles into specific focus by declaring what they lead you to seek from particular other PCs.
The sooner you define a want, the more important it is to you. The first and second PCs you name as your withholders of emotional reward are your fraught relationships.List these first in the “People in My Life” section of your character sheet. Also, mark your fraught relationships by circling or highlighting them on your relationship map.If you find it a useful memory aid, include a notation describing the emotional reward you seek.The other PC’s player will tell you why you can’t have what you want from them. As the story develops, you’ll work on turning things around with some or all of the other PCs.Examples:I want...approval from my fatherlove from a boy or girl in the bairrorespect from my bossto dominate the leader of the rival gangsubservience from my employeeThe other PC’s player will tell you why you can’t have what you want from them. As the story develops, you’ll work on turning things around with some or all of the other PCs.Examples, in reponse to the examples above:“Music is no career for a man – how can I approve of that?”“But I am engaged to my childhood sweetheart!”“I’ve never known one of your kind ever amount to anything.”“I’m too proud ever to back down to you.”“I work for you because I have to, not because you’re better than me.”Character Type
Choose one of the character types in the section “The People You Meet” to determine your PC’s initial selection of abilities and Signature Moves. Your character type also, to an extent, describes your PC’s place in the community of the bairro.
The neighbourhood where you live has at least one person living in it, PC or NPC, who fits each character type – or frequently visiting, in the case of the Magnata and Peixe fora d’água. The types, listed here with their strong abilities and Signature Move categories, are:• Cabecilha – you’re the leader of a street gang Authority, Enduring, Fighting, Sneaking / gang, capoeira• Capoeirista – your calling is the outlawed martial art of capoeira Capoeira, Fighting, Knowing, Moving / capoeira, art• Comerciante – you’re a local street trader or shopkeeper Business, Knowing, Making, Talking / community, business• Estivador – you’re a dock worker, loading and unloading ships in the port Enduring, Fighting, Making, Moving / quayside, community• Magnata – you’re a business tycoon, part of Brazil’s new elite Business, Knowing, Talking, Wealthy / connections, business• Moleque – you’re a street kid, orphaned, abandoned or simply impoverished Knowing, Moving, Sneaking, Talking / hustling, gang• Músico – whether it’s your day job or a hobby, music is your passion Art, Knowing, Moving, Talking / art, community• Peixe fora d’água – a rich kid, you don’t belong here... but you can’t stay away Knowing, Sneaking, Talking, Wealthy / wealth, connections• Pescador – you fish for a living, in your own boat or as part of a crew Enduring, Knowing, Making, Talking / quayside, business• Proprietário – you run a bar, cafe or restaurant, or rent out slum housing Business, Knowing, Making, Talking / business, hustling• Tira – you’re a cop, keeping the streets safe Authority, Enduring, Fighting, Knowing / community, gang• Vigarista – you’re a swindler, a petty criminal, always on the make Knowing, Moving, Sneaking, Talking / hustling, businessAbilities
Each Character Type has four abilities listed. Choose which one you want to be your strongest and give it a value of 3. Choose the one your character is least good at and give it a value of 1. Assign a value of 2 to the remaining two abilities.
The common abilities are:Enduring FightingKnowing MakingMoving TalkingSneakingAny ability to which you add points is called a strong ability.Skills & Custom Abilities
You can create your own, narrower custom abilities and make them one of your strong abilities. Do this to make a clearer, more specific statement about your character. Strive for a one-word name.
A custom ability allows you to overlap several of the existing abilities, though only when the action directly relates to your specialty. Some character types get custom abilities as part of character creation. Relating to a particular kind of training or competence, these are called skills.When a procedural action tells you to roll a specific ability, you can roll an appropriate skill instead. But you can’t swap in another normal ability unless you have a Signature Move or other trait that lets you do so. For example, you can use Authority instead of Talking with all the Community Signature Moves. But you can’t use Knowing or Sneaking.How You Do It
For each of your strong abilities, write a short phrase (or single word) describing your specialty within the type of activity concerned. In a situation where it fits to describe yourself as employing your distinctive talent, you gain some additional advantage. Use specific detail; don’t just find a synonym for the broad category. Your GM may ask you to adjust an overly vague, broad, or dull description.
Descriptors help to distinguish main cast members from one another. If two players pick similar descriptors, negotiate to decide who keeps the current idea and who picks a new one.Your Resource
Choose a cherished item your character owns, or another kind of special resource. When you use it, it counts as an ability with a rating of 2. Whatever you choose, its application should be narrower than standard abilities, such that either it only comes into play occasionally or can only be used in ways that tend to escalate the situation (such as a weapon). Suitable items or traits might include:
a book of poems by Luis Camõeslots of contacts among ex-slaves whom you helped find work in Rioyour mother’s ivory cameoan old pocket watchyears of fishing experiencea heavy fighting cane (a bengala)Your Signature Move
Each character type lists two categories of Signature Moves. These are special actions that mark your PC as someone who stands out from the crowd. When you create your character, choose one Signature Move from your primary category: the category listed first in the character type description.
The Signature Moves are provided in the next chapter. They might make reference to game rules that haven’t been explained yet. In that case, just pick something that you most like the sound of.You’ll pick up new Signature Moves as the game goes on. The “Learn Something” action describes how that works, later in this book.Your Story
Given what you’ve now discovered about your character, complete the sentence:
My story is of a man/woman who...The sentence should evoke your Desire, and possibly your central relationships and contradiction. It serves as a reminder to keep you focused on the story you, taking into account the collaboration of other group members, have resolved to tell. If your sentence is more than 25 words long, your idea isn’t simple enough. Adjust the introductory clause a little if it makes for a clearer, shorter sentence.Questions to ask each other
Ask these questions during character creation or later in the game when they seem appropriate. Answer individually or decide as a group.
About You
How long have you lived in the neighbourhood?
Where did you come from?I’ve been here all my life / moved from another part of the city / arrived from another country / migrated from the interior.What race are you?Black / white / mestiço / native / other.(Natives are few and far between in Rio de Janeiro at this time.)Can you read and write?Literacy is low in general, but it’s common enough that a PC of any background can say ‘yes’ to this. Upper-class characters may not say ‘no’.What is your family background?Slaves / farmers / urban workers / fi hing / monied.(Abolition is recent enough that black characters may have been born into slavery: it was only 18 years ago that the Rio Branco Law freed all children born to slave parents, and it’s been one year since the Golden Law abolished slavery completely.)About connections
Whose picture do you keep in your home?
Why don’t you trust my Player Character?
Which of your brothers or sisters are you closest to?
The last time your boss admonished you, what had you done wrong?
Whose was the most recent funeral you attended?
Why did you have to kick [name] out of your place last week?
About race & ethnicity
What did you do the first time a landlord refused to rent to you because you are black?
When did you first understand the social benefits of being white?
When did you get a favour because of your ethnicity and how did you pay it back?
About the war, 20 years ago
What did you lie about when you returned from Paraguay?
What did the war take from you?
How did you react when your promised reward for military service was not forthcoming?
About politics
What did the abolition of slavery mean to you?
Why do you support the Conservative politician Duque-Estrada Teixeira?
When did you start working for the secret police? Why?
What did you say when your co-workers suggested forming a union?
About coming to Rio
Why do you keep your real name a secret?
Were you freed from slavery, or did you run away to the city?
What did you leave behind in your home country?
Who first took you in when you arrived from the countryside?
Who do you wish had come to Rio with you?
Who was your friend on the voyage to Brazil? How did you lose touch?
About your neighbours
Who in the bairro misses their home the most?
Who has attracted the attention of the local grandee, and why?
Who runs the local street gang? Are they affiliated with the Nagoas or Guaiamuns?
Who does everyone go to for advice?
Which neighbours have an ongoing feud?
Who has the best connections with the police?
Who is everyone careful not to provoke?
Who do people talk about, long after they moved away?
Who is rumoured to be having an affair?
Who is an outcast, and why?
Who has a lot of expensive, luxury goods in their home?

About your bairro
What’s the layout or your neighbourhood?
Is it centred on...a courtyard tenement (a cortico)a narrow residential streeta busy crossroadsa leafy public squarea marketplacea quarry on the outskirts of the citya dock and the nearby warehousesthe townhouse of an aristocratic familya factoryWhere is the parish church?
Where do people gather to relax in the evening?
Where does the richest person in the neighbourhood live?
Where do you go to hear music? Where is the general store?
Where is the cafe? The bar?
What is the landmark people refer to when describing your bairro?

The People You Meet

Gang Leader
[A] quasi totalidade dos crimes contra a pessoa têm sido perpetrados por individuos da infime classe da sociedade – escravos, estrangeiros, proletarios e desordeiros, vulgarmente conhecidos por capoeiras.
Almost all crimes against the person are committed by the lowest class of society – slaves, foreigners, proletarians and troublemakers commonly known as capoeiristas.Francisco de Faria Lemos, Rio chief of police, 1870Calling the shots on the malta’s turf, commanding through force of personality, shrewdness or straightforward brutality.Abilities:Authority FightingEnduring SneakingSignature Moves:gang, capoeiraCapoeirista
Martial Artist
Capoeira é defesa, ataque, é ginga de corpo e a malandragem.
Capoeira is defence and attack, a rocking of the body, and malandragem.- trad.Devoted to the outlawed martial art of capoeira.Maybe a malta gang member, maybe just someone taking their freedom where they can get it.Abilities:Fighting KnowingMoving CapoeiraSignature Moves:capoeira, artComerciante
Street Trader
Férias? Um luxo ... ele carregava caixas de frutas para que um dia eu pudesse carregar caixas de livros.
Holidays? A luxury... he carried boxes of fruit so that one day I could cary boxes of books.José SerraA local street vendor or shopkeeper, known by all the neigbourhood and who sees the whole life of the city as it passes by.Abilities:Talking MakingKnowing BusinessSignature Moves: community, businessEstivador
Dock Worker
Os dias prósperos não vêm acaso; são granjeados, como as searas, com muita fadiga e com muitos intervalos de desalento.
The days of prosperity do not come at random; they are cultivated, like the crops, with much fatigue and many times of discouragement.Camilo Castelo BrancoA dock worker, loading and unloading the ships at the port.It’s hard work for low pay, but it’s that or starve.Abilities:Enduring MakingFighting MovingSignature Moves:quayside, communityMagnata
Business Tycoon
As esplêndidas fortunas – como os ventos impetuosos – provocam grandes naufrágios.
Splendid fortunes – like fie ce winds – lead to great wrecks.PlutarchA captain of industry, part of Brazil’s rising new elite. Perhaps a landowner with coffee, cotton or sugar plantations in the interior, or a manufacturing magnate with factories in the city.Abilities:Talking KnowingWealthy BusinessSignature Moves:connections, businessMoleque
Street Child
Vestidos de farrapos, sujos,
semi-esfomeados, agressivos,soltando palavrões e fumandopontos de cigarro, eram, em verdade, os donos da cidade,os que a conheciam totalmente, os que totalmente a amavam, os seus poetas.Dressed in rags, fil hy, half-starved,aggressive, cursing and smokingcigarette ends, they were, in truth,the lords of the city: the ones who knew it completely,who loved it completely, its poets.Jorge Amado, Capitães da AreiaOrphaned, abandoned or simply dirt poor, there are hundreds of kids like this on the streets of the city. They scrape by how they can, begging and stealing. A few get taken off the streets to orphanages or reform school, but the world has a way of making more.Abilities:Talking KnowingMoving SneakingSignature Moves: hustling, gangMúsico
Música... Se eu pudesse ter
Não o que penso ou desejo,Mas o que não pude haverE que até nem em sonhos vejoMusic... If I could haveNot that which I think or crave,But what could not beAnd even in dreams I do not seeFernando Pessoa, “Música... Que sei eu de mim?”For some people, music isn’t just a pleasant diversion. Whether it’s their day job or their hobby, it’s what they truly live for.Abilities:Talking KnowingMoving ArtSignature Moves: art, communityPeixe fora d’água
Slumming Aristocrat
Amor é fogo que arde sem se ver.
Love is a fire that burns without being seen.Luís Vaz de CamõesA rich kid from a good background. Once people like this get a taste for the wrong side of town, it seems nothing can keep them away.Abilities:Talking KnowingSneaking WealthySignature Moves: wealth, connectionsPescador
Deus ao mar o perigo e o abismo deu
Mas nele é que espelhou o céu.God gave to the sea peril & the abyssBut it was there that He mirrored the heavens.Fernando Pessoa, “Mar Português”A hard-working mariner. The city’s fishermen brave the seas beyond the horizon to support their families. Sometimes they don’t come back.Abilities:Knowing MakingEnduring TalkingSignature Moves: quayside, businessProprietário
O boteco é ressoante como uma concha marinha. Todas as vozes brasileiras passam por ele.
The boteco resounds like a seashell. All the voices of Brazil pass through it.Nelson RodriguesThe owner of a bar or cafe, a restaurateur or a slum landlord: someone whom everyone knows and who hears at least a little about everything that goes on in the neighbourhood.Abilities:Talking MakingKnowing BusinessSignature Moves: business, hustlingTira
Não há crime sem lei.
There is no crime without law.- trad.A policeman, keeping the city streets safe.At least that’s the theory. Half of them are in cahoots with one of the malta gangs, the other half are terminally demoralised. Maybe this one is an exception.Abilities:Fighting EnduringKnowing AuthoritySignature Moves: community, gangVigarista
A mentiroso, boa mémoria.
A liar must have a good memory.- trad.A con artist, a swindler, a seducer. Always playing some kind of angle, always masking their true thoughts and feelings.The kind of person country mothers warn their children about as they put them on the train to the city.Abilities:Talking MovingKnowing SneakingSignature Moves: hustling, businessNames
Given names for Women
AdrianaAnaBeatrizBenedictaBrunaCarolinaFernandaFláviaFortunataGlóriaIsabellaJoanaJúliaLuziaMarianaRitaRosaSophiaTeresaVictoriaGiven Names for Men
Rich people have a lot of them, maybe four or more; slaves were forbidden surnames or African names, and now freed slaves or their descendants often have the surname of a former owner.
Most commonSilvaSantosSouzaCostaPereiraCarvalhoAlmeidaGuimarãesOliveiraSoaresAlvesGomesRochaCruzMachadoDerived from a placeTavaresPiresCortêsChavesAlmeidaAndradeReligious originde Jesusdos ReisRamosPascoalda AssunçãoPazLuzTrindadePatronymic originHenriquesRodriguesLopesNunesMendesNicknames for Gang Members and Capoeiristas
BacalhauBaixinhoBaleiaBatataBonecoBraço ForteBrancoCanarioCapitãoCoelhoDolorosoElefanteFeijãoGafanhotoGansoGatoGiganteÍndioMacacoMagreloMaluquinhoMascotePeixePica-pauPreto VelhoRisadinhaSábioSalomãoSapoSem PernasTartarugaTico-TicoTomateTrês OrelhasTucanoTurcoVaqueiroZumbiA note on pronunciation: if you are familiar with carioca Portuguese and its pronunciation, great. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.