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[PDQ] Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies

System: Prose Descriptive Qualities (http://www.atomicsockmonkey.com/freebies.asp#pdq)
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 Hero Points have been replaced by Style Dice, a mechanism that works much better for maintaining the proper mood and also has a great tactile feel - there's nothing quite like the clattering of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.
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Rock. On.

December 2010

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