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Apr. 6th, 2009

[PDQ] Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies

System: Prose Descriptive Qualities (
Hack Type: Shameless Promotion

So, I know I haven't often posted to this blog, and I know that in my mission statement for the blog, I promised you I wouldn't do anything but put game hacks on here.

But there's a hack for PDQ that you need to know about, one that will be coming around soon. I had the pleasure of reading it over the course of the past few days, and it stands as one of the finest pieces of work in roleplaying games that I have ever seen.

This hack is called Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies. It's Chad Underkoffler's newest PDQ game, produced by Atomic Sock Monkey Press and published by Evil Hat Productions. Okay, okay... it's not really a hack, by virtue of being a complete game. I know. It *does* present a modified version of the PDQ system, though, PDQ Sharp, which you can already pick up for free at the link above. So, see? There's a hack in it! Haha! I still have some small shred of credibility left, true believers.

Here's why I broke my blog rule to tell you about it:

* It's The Three Musketeers meets The Princess Bride meets pre-mecha Final Fantasy (like, think 1 and 2). If that sentence does not scream possibility to you, then you can stop reading now, because there is no talking to you.

* The setting is evocative and clearly presented, dense with information but never overwhelming, and every single page jumps out at you with a character or adventure idea. You're not going to find any, "The citizens of Boringland eat a kind of stew made from the pinrut, a plant that resembles the turnip," or any of that garbage. Instead, you're going to find dozens of whole campaigns that leap off the page and demand to be run, and characters that hold your imagination with a devilish grin and the point of a flashing sword. It's a deep setting, but a deep setting done right and laser-focused on producing interesting play.

* The mechanics are a vast leap forward from PDQ's normal, sometimes handwavey simplicity. It has rules for special character abilities called Techniques that add a lot of nuance without also adding headache-inducing complexity, and the expanded conflict mechanics (you know what I'm talking about - Duels! flashing swords, woot!) bring some lively variety into scenes. Hero Points have been replaced by Style Dice, a mechanism that works much better for maintaining the proper mood and also has a great tactile feel - there's nothing quite like the clattering of many, many dice getting passed around. I see shades of 7th Sea in it, but that could just be me reading in too much. Overall, it hits my personal sweet spot between providing enough mechanics to feel tangible, but not so much that it's intrusive.

* The GMing chapter is also much, much better than any of Chad's previous works (which, if you're familiar with them, is saying a lot) - clear, concise, and right on track to showing you how to run a good game of S7S. He doesn't make assumptions about what you might or might not know from running other games, and there's a killer app in there for adventure creation  that is so simple and yet so reliable, I wish I'd thought of it myself. It's basically a brainstorming / diagramming tool, but with the volume cranked up to 11. I've seen a lot of methods for structuring game scenarios, but I've never seen one that I've looked at and thought, "Man, if I just do this over and over again, it's a whole campaign." That's what I thought when I read this chapter.

* His breakdown of the swashbuckling genre is right on target and a nice bit of added material for the book. Chad's pretty well-known for spending time deconstructing whatever genre he happens to be working with in a particular game (superhero comics for Truth and Justice, fairy tales for Zorcerer of Zo), and this game is no different.

I sincerely believe that this game is Chad's masterwork. It made me feel like I used to feel about games when I was a teenager. Just reading the book made me giddy. It made me daydream, for the first time in years.

Someday soon, I will sail the Seven Skies. You should too.

Jun. 12th, 2007

[Fate/PDQ] Because it had to happen sometime...

System: Fate/Spirit of the Century ( and Prose Descriptive Qualities (
Hack Type: Alternate Mechanics

So, here's a link to a post I made on about a variant on Fate that takes some cues from Chad Underkoffler's PDQ system:

And here's a link to a Word document of the same hack:

That is all.

May. 18th, 2007

[PTA/PDQ] Primetime Descriptive Qualities

System: Primetime Adventures ( and Prose Descriptive Qualities (
Hack Type: Blasphemous

This hack is called PTDQ, Primetime Descriptive Qualities. It is a not-in-a-gay-sense love letter to Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue.

Assume everything about PTA and PDQ as written, except for the following:

Issues and Screen Presence -- Screen Presence translates to a number of points, like PDQ's Hero Points, that you get in a particular episode to help you resolve conflicts. Pick an Issue and chart out the season out as usual - minor episodes give you 1 HP, supporting episodes give you 3 HP, and your spotlight episode gets you 5 HP.

Traits -- You have 8 MOD points and one Weakness to distribute between traits, creating and rating Edges and Connections exactly like you would create Qualities in PDQ. You have to have at least one Edge and one Connection, and you can put your weakness in either category. If your Weakness is a Connection, that person is probably your nemesis, according to PTA rules. 

Depending on how many different types of action your show regularly features, you may want to adjust the starting MOD to 10, or cut it back down to 6. Also, if your Weakness is an "Edge", picking something that ties directly into your Issue is doubly cool, and gets you props from me.

Fan Mail Economy and Budget -- At the beginning of each episode, the Producer gets Budget equal to double the sum of each character's screen presence. Budget is used to create opposition for the Protagonists to face in conflicts; each point of Budget either assigns the opposition a permanent Upshift from Average for the purposes of rolling dice or additional Failure/Damage Ranks (free default is 1) that the opposition can ignore. Unlike normal PDQ, Failure/Damage Ranks never take away from the opposition's score - they're removed more like hit points.

So, for example, at the beginning of an episode, the Producer has 18 Budget. In the first scene, one of the Protagonists gets into a conflict, and the Producer spends 3 Budget - one to put the opposition at Good [+2], and two more to allow it to ignore 3 Damage or Failure; the fourth would spell defeat. The Budget is reduced to 15, and 3 points go into the Audience Pool.

The rest of the economy works essentially as in PTA. Fan Mail translates to additional Screen Presence in the hands of the players. You may need to adjust the Budget formula if the Protagonists start with 10 or more MOD for Traits.

Conflict Procedure -- Determine involvement and stakes, just like in PTA. Figure out what trait is going to be used in the conflict, and roll off with the Producer. Whoever wins inflicts Damage/Failure equal to the margin of success on the loser. If the loser is a Protagonist, the ranks are taken from Traits.

Narrate what happened according to your preferences, but the winner of the round has final say. If neither the opposition nor the protagonists have zeroed out, run another round until all but one person has or has given up. That person wins the stakes, and also final say over how the conflict turns out.

Protagonists regain 1d6 Damage or Failure ranks after a conflict. Unlike normal PDQ, there is no distinction between momentary or continuing danger. You can get another 1d6 back by framing a scene in your personal set. All Damage and Failure heals between episodes.

Using Screen Presence and Fan Mail -- You can spend a point of Screen Presence or Fan Mail to get an Upshift in a conflict roll and/or ignore a rank of Damage or Failure. There is no limit to the amount of points you can spend on a single roll.

Regaining Screen Presence -- You can regain Screen Presence in a number of ways. Any time your Weakness comes into play, you get a point back. Any time your Issue forces you to do something stupid or risky, you get a point back. Any time the Producer has to hose you to set up a scene or conflict, you get a point back.


There are a lot of different ways you can hack this to be even more like standard PDQ or PTA - I consider this to be "right in the middle" along that continuum. Enjoy.

December 2010



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