PDQ: Prose Descriptive Qualities by oriongates
Overview/Monkey Ninja Pirate RobotOriginal SA post
PDQ: It's Not Just For God-Games!
PDQ is one of my favorite systems and one of the first systems that really got me to experiment with playing outside of the standard D20/D&D paradigm. Needless to say they'll be a fair amount of fanboying going on here, but I'll try to avoid glossing over flaws and gushing too much over the things I really like. I figure after the disappointment that is the Hercules and Xena RPG and the painful slog of the WLD, I deserve to talk about a game I like. So there.
This is kind of the prelude to actually talking about the various PDQ games out there. Since they all work on the same basic system I'll go ahead and lay that out first and then we can jump into the nuttier stuff.
PDQ stands for "Prose Descriptive Qualities", but needless to say I'll be using the acronym from now on. I always dread explaining the title to others because it sounds really pretentious. Let's pretend it stands for "Pretty Damn Quick" because it's a really streamlined little system. PDQ is a rules-light RPG with a strong "DIY" philosophy. This means the game doesn't give you a bunch of set skills/abilities/traits/etc, instead players and GMs are encouraged to come up with their own traits. There are several other systems with similar ideas (FATE's Aspects is one of the most well known), but in PDQ's case there are practically no predetermined traits (the exception tends to be "type" Qualities related to specific game settings)
The core rules for PDQ can be found for free online: http://www.atomicsockmonkey.com/fre...di/pdq-core.pdf and some people seem perfectly thrilled to just play with these basics. Myself I prefer a little bit more crunch to my PDQ games, but we'll get to the more involved systems later.
The central conceit of the PDQ system are player-defined Qualities . A Quality is any significant trait and falls into two categories: Strengths, which are inherently positive, and Weaknesses, which are inherently negative. In most cases, when the game refers to Qualities its talking about Strengths.
Each Quality has a Penumbra which is basically the range of actions a Quality will help with. There's no specific range that games are "supposed" to have, it's just up to the GM and the players to decide whether a Penumbra is fair. Narrowing or broadening the penumbra of Qualities helps to give a game more focus and can help adjust the "power level". For example, in some games it would be totally fine to pick a Quality like "Warrior" or "Fighter", which would generally represent your ability to kick butt. However, your GM may decide he wants characters to be painted in less broad strokes and require more specialized Qualites and would require a character to define themselves as a "Swordsman" or "Archer". Alternatively, a Quality like "Pirate" could represent fighting skill in certain situations or with certain weapons but also covers other skills.
My favorite example of how you can narrow or expand a Quality is the "Ninja" Quality (appropriate since the Ninja Burger RPG uses the PDQ system).
In a realistic game the Quality "Ninja" would basically represent skill with disguise, infiltration and possibly the use of assassination tools like poison or garrotes.
In a fantastic/cinematic game "Ninja" covers all of the above as well as acrobatic ability, fighting with exotic weaponry, keen instincts, speed, etc.
In a completely over the top game "Ninja" could include not only all of the above but also ninja magic, mental conditioning to resist interrogation or mind control, running on water and up walls, and probably a lot more.
Qualities are Ranked to indicate how useful they are to the character. The ranks are as follows:
* Poor [-2]
* Average 
* Good [+2]
* Expert [+4]
* Master [+6]
Weaknesses are always Poor [-2] Ranked, Strengths are always Ranked between Good [+2] and Master [+6], although damage can lower them. In general you'll only have an Average  Quality listed on your character sheet if one of your Strengths has been damaged and reduced to Average  Rank. However, if you're taking an action that isn't covered by either a Strength or a Weakness then you're treated as Average 
The number in brackets is the bonus a Quality adds to a 2d6 roll to determine success or failure.
Basic PDQ characters are extremely bare-bones. Most of the later generation PDQ games (those made after Dead Inside) give a bit more options when it comes to building characters. However for now I'll stick with the basics.
You get 4 Quality Ranks to purchase Strengths. Each Rank gives you a Quality at Good [+2] Rank or can be used to improve a Quality by one Rank up to Master. So you can basically have 4 Good [+2] Ranks, 2 Good [+2] and one Expert [+4], 2 Expert [+4], or a single Master [+6] Rank and one Good [+2] Rank. You also have to choose a single Poor [-2] ranked Weakness.
And that's it. You've just finished a character. However, most games have a few extra steps as I mentioned.
When the GM wants to set a difficulty for tasks that are not being actively opposed they use the PDQ "Master Chart", assigning tasks a Rank just like Qualities.
There are two ways to go from there:
Simple Situations : If you have a relevant Quality whose Rank is higher than the Rank of the task you're attempting and there's nothing in particular stopping you from focusing or taking your time then you succeed. So an Expert [+4] thief can pick a Good [TN 9] or lower Ranked lock without making a roll under normal conditions.
Complex Situations : If you're dealing with a task whose rank is equal or higher than your Quality Rank or you are under stress, a time crunch or danger of being shot/stabbed/etc then you're dealing with a Complicated Situation and you have to roll. You roll 2d6 and add any bonuses or penalties from relevant Qualities. If the final total is equal or higher than the TN you've succeeded.
If a character is facing active opposition from another character both characters roll and whoever rolls higher wins, or it's resolved as a Conflict (see below). Much like FATE, you can easily stat up just about anything as though it was a character.
This is the combat rules, but they can be used for any type of drawn-out, opposed situation where you don't want to resolve things with just one roll. In a conflict everyone takes turns (going in order of highest relevant Qualities) being an attacker. When you make an attack you describe how you're attempting to harm/disadvantage/stop/etc your target and they describe how they're trying to avoid/stop/endure your attack. These descriptions are used to choose which Qualities will apply. Both attacker and defender roll 2d6 and add relevant bonuses/penalties. If the attacker wins they inflict damage equal to the difference in the roll. If the defender wins they've avoided the attack. There are a few small Conflict specific rules
*You can Flip Out to get a +2 to your offensive action, but you take a -2 to all other rolls until your next turn. Conversely you can Play It Cagey to get a +2 to all defensive reactions in a turn, but you suffer -2 to your offensive roll and any other rolls you make until next turn.
*If you want to target multiple opponents you can do so at a -2 per extra target.
*If you've got a Strength focused specifically on defense (Iron Jaw, Dermal Plating, etc) then you can choose to ignore all but one point of damage from a successful attack...the downside is that one point goes straight to that defensive Quality and makes you easier to hurt going forward. On the other hand if you've got a relevant Weakness (Bruises Easily, Not in the Face!) then you take 2 additional points of damage the first time you're hit in a Conflict.
I actually find it interesting how much depth there can be once you grasp how Qualities and applicability interact. It's easy enough to just try and add up as big a bonus as possible and just trade 2d6 rolls until someone is taken down, but there's surprising tactical depth if you keep in mind that it's possible to manipulate the scene to try and maximize the Qualities you can use but minimize your opponent.
For example, say you've got a soldier with Good [+2] Marksman and Expert [+4] Buff As Hell fighting a Master [+6] Kung Fu Fighter. If he just takes advantage of his high Expert [+4] Quality he'll be at a disadvantage against the Kung Fu Fighter's higher Rank. However, if he pulls out a his sidearm and opens fire he'll be rolling with a lower bonus (+2 vs +4), but unless this game is one where martial artists can catch bullets his opponent won't be able to defend with his Quality at all.
Damage is one of the areas where PDQ tends to stand out and it's one of the more polarizing aspects of the game. If someone doesn't like PDQ, it's probably because they don't like the damage system.
Characters do not have hit points or health boxes or anything like that. Instead a character takes damage to their Qualities. Each point of damage reduces a Quality of the character's choice by one Rank (so Master drops to Expert then to Good, Average and finally Poor). Once all Qualities have been reduced to poor any additional damage forces you to Zero Out and you've lost the Conflict, or at least you can't participate any further.
The victim gets to choose where the damage Ranks are assigned and this is one of the areas where the system trips some people up. It's important to note that damage is purely an abstraction, not necessarily something that has to be justified with in-game logic or effects. Lets say you have Big Bob. He's got the Qualities Good [+2] Street Fighter, Expert [+4] My Badass Motorcycle, and Good [+2] Secret Knitting Hobby. Now, if he's jumped in his house by a rival gang member and takes 3 points of damage to his Good [+2] My Badass Motorcycle Quality bringing it down to Poor [-2]. This doesn't mean that down in his garage his bike suddenly starts hemorrhaging oil and miraculously repairs itself when Big Bob recovers. The bike is unaffected, but if Big Bob tries to hop on his hog and escape his attacker's he'll still be rolling poorly.
There are two types of damage, both work exactly the same during a Conflict scene, but they recover at different rates.
Damage Ranks (called Wound Ranks in newer PDQ games), represent actual injury or rarely some form of lasting non-physical trauma (such as extreme mental shock or spiritual anguish). At the end of a Conflict characters recover all Damage Ranks if there is not going to be any further danger in the near future and they have an opportunity to recover at their leisure. If the situation is still dangerous and another Conflict could potentially happen soon you instead recover 1d6 damage at the end of the Conflict (this may be modified by Strengths like Quick Healer or Medic).
Failure Ranks basically represent everything else. In short they're "stress". Whether this stress is caused by being exhausted, frustrated, unbalanced, etc. Outside of combat, most damage takes the form of Failure Ranks. At the end of the Conflict all failure Ranks are automatically recovered.
And really that's about all there is to the Core Rules. There are no special rules for magic or the supernatural since the assumption is that it will be handled by whatever specific PDQ game you decide to run. There's only the slightest rules for experience and advancement for much the same reason.
Monkey Ninja Pirate Robot
I'm throwing this into the same post as the Core Rules because MNPR is probably one of the simplest PDQ games. It's more or less a wacky board game turned into an RPG via the application of PDQ's rules. In a lot of ways this is to traditional RPGs what Kingdom of Loathing is to MMORPGS. Given that it's one of the first PDQ RPGS and is a super-casual game it's fairly roughly put together.
MNPR is not worried about a setting. It's basically the modern world but with the logic of a cartoon. But the "real" world isn't really important. The important part is the struggle between Monkeys, Ninjas, Pirates and Robots to control the power of uranium (each faction uses it in different ways). All four factions also oppose Aliens, little gray men out to steal Earth's uranium for themselves. With that in mind it doesn't matter where or how the characters get together and fight one another or outside forces.
Each character has a "Type" (one of the eponymous factions) which determines a few basic things about them.
Monkeys: Monkeys are "hakuna matata" types. They like hanging out, chilling and having fun. Generally they get along okay with Pirates, don't like robots and don't give a toss about ninjas. Of course they hate Aliens. They use uranium as fertilizer for their bannana trees (which has the side effect of granting them human intelligence, speech, and a special ability called Monkeyshines. Monkeys can get a +2 bonus to a social situations once per session.
Ninjas Ninjas are inscrutable assassins. They're sneaky and mysterious. Generally they don't care about monkeys, don't like pirates (of course), like robots and hate aliens. Their Ninja Magic is powered by uranium. They can also get a +2 bonus to a physical situation once per session.
Pirates Pirates are a lot like monkeys, but more likely to set things on fire. They're frat boys with boats and eye-patches basically. Pirates don't like Ninjas, like monkeys, don't care about Robots and hate Aliens. Pirates value uranium as valuable booty, but it's radiation does also make them more cunning and tricky. They can call upon a +2 bonus to business/professional rolls once per session.
Robots Basically a cross between Data and Doc Brown. They're intellectual but also focused on upgrading and improving themselves and gathering new data. They like ninjas, don't like monkeys and don't care about pirates, and hate aliens. They use uranium as a power source. Their logical minds let them get a +2 bonus to a mental roll once per session.
Each of the four factions has a trait called Mojo which is kind of like the "hero points" of the system. Mojo is gained either by exemplifying your character's Type (a robot who takes the time to download the library of congress for example) or beating someone else up and taking their mojo, highlander-style. Well, it doesn't actually have to be violent, you just have to overcome a semi-formal Challenge with another mojo-user. A Challenge can be any sort of Conflict from a fist-fight to a cook-off. To engage in a Challenge you must formally challenge the opponent and they must accept. Once a challenge is accepted, attempting to back out or run away forfeits all of your Mojo.
Step One: Pick a Type (see above)
Step Two: Pick a Goal. Basically this is your reason for not just sticking around at home eating bananas, meditating, collating data or polishing your peg. A Goal can be basically as specific or vague as you want. Once per session you can get a +2 bonus to a roll made to pursue your goal.
Pick Your Qualities In addition to the standard 4 Strength Ranks and one Weakness, each character also has an Average  Type Quality. So you're an Average  Monkey, or Average  Ninja, etc.
Starting Mojo Everyone starts with 1d6 Mojo points. Mojo is "flavored" so Monkeys get Monkey-Mojo, Pirates get Pirate-Mojo, etc.
And you're ready.
Mojo is used as both a power source and as a form of experience to improve your character.
There are some uses of Mojo that are universal, allowing you to add extra dice to a roll (adding it after the roll costs more), adding a flat +2 bonus. Recovering damage ranks. Some uses are much more specific, giving you a ranged attack that targets anyone you can see, sensing the nearest character of your Type, or even asking yes/no questions of the GM that must be answered truthfully or blocking other characters from using Mojo.
There are also Flavored Mojo powers that can only be used with the right flavor of Mojo and by the right Type. So a Monkey can only use Pirate Mojo for universal powers, but can use Monkey Mojo for his special Monkey powers.
*inflict -2 to a character's roll in a business or professional situation.
*to force a target to mimic your next action.
*to inflict a -2 penalty to an action involving a complicated machine, computer or similar advanced process. This works on any actions taken by a Robot.
*Spend 2 Mojo and sacrifice your action to negate any attempts to damage (whether Damage Ranks or Failure Ranks) until your next turn.
*Spend 3 Mojo to become invisible. This grants a +4 bonus to any actions that benefit from stealth and lasts until you draw attention to yourself in some way.
*treat just about anything (smoke, wires, treetops, etc) as though it were a solid surface for one turn.
*Spend 2 Mojo to force a target to immediately obey a simple command. If the command is iffy or risky to the target the ninja has to make a roll with their Type Quality vs. the target's highest mental or psychic Quality. The command lasts only one turn.
*fill an area with smoke.
*apply a +1 bonus to damage.
*summon a Good [+2] Parrot for 1d6 (plus Pirate Rank) turns. The parrot obeys your commands as long as it's around.
*inflict a -2 to an opponent's mental action.
*Spend 3 Mojo to force everyone to start singing a shanty. All non-pirates lose their next action.
*force a machine to do the opposite of what it's operator is trying to accomplish (accelerating a car will slow or stop it. turning left will turn right, saving a file will delete it, etc).
*detect any enemies within Middling range.
*Spend 1 Mojo to interlock with another robot or robots (who must also spend 1 Mojo). The combined robot will have all of the component robot's Qualities.
*release a limb to act as an independent character. You can transfer any Quality Ranks you wish into the limb, but it must have at least one Rank of the Robot Quality.
You can also spend Mojo to increase your Qualities or buy new Qualities at Good [+2] Rank. This is fairly expensive (4 Mojo per Rank), so it won't happen a lot unless you're really good at Challenging opponents without burning any mojo yourself. Improving your Type Rank requires Mojo of the appropriate Type and you can also purchase a new Type using appropriately themed mojo (so a Monkey with 4 points of Robot Mojo could become a Robot Monkey)
If you should run into "negative" Mojo (basically by losing a Challenge when you have no Mojo left) your Qualities will be lowered to produce the Mojo you need. You get half the Mojo back from each rank (so 2 Mojo per Rank rather than 4) and have to surrender any owed Mojo to the winner.
The aliens are bizarre interstellar assholes who come to Earth to hassle the locals, mutilate farm animals and probe things. Aliens want uranium for unkown reasons.
Aliens are exceedingly tough, having a trait called Alien Invulnerability which reduces Damage Ranks (not Failure Ranks) suffered by the aliens from damage by terrestrial Types. The reduction is equal to the alien's Type modifier. So a Good [+2] Alien ignores 2 Damage Ranks from every attack. A Master [+6] Alien ignores 6. Overcoming this reduction requires multiple terrestrial types attacking the alien together (or a single character with several Type Qualities). 2 Types can overcome a Good [+2] Alien, 3 can overcome an Expert [+4] Alien and all four are needed for a Master [+6] Alien.
Aliens have their own flavor of Mojo:
*spending 2 points lets them communicate with anything within Middling range. This doesn't grant control, but the communication is universal...they can communicate with people, cows, trees, cars, toothbrushes, etc.
*Spend 1 point of Mojo to emit a wave of TK force, knocking down anyone who can't beat a Good [TN 9] task.
*Spend 2 Mojo to drain 1 point of Mojo from the target and inflict a -2 to all physical actions for 1d6 Scenes. It's possible to drain more, but the alien must sacrifice additional Mojo themselves. This only works on helpless or completely surprised foes.
*Spending 1 point to slip through openings the size of a golf-ball.
*Spending 1 point of Mojo and an action allows mental communication with a number of other Aliens equal to the Alien Type modifier (so an Expert [+4] alien can mind-talk with 4 other aliens). This goes up to Far range. If using this power against a terrestrial with the Alien Type can allow the Alien to spend an extra Mojo and force them to obey a short command or see an illusion of the alien's choice.
Non-aliens can get Alien Mojo from Challenges, but using it causes aliens to become aware of their presence and experience minor, weird psychic phenomena. If the PC takes the Alien Type Quality using Alien Mojo they gain the benefits of the Type but every session the GM can give the player certain conditions they must follow or lose their Alien Type quality, up to the Type modifier. This is encouraged to be used primarily for silly, bizarre behaviors. These conditions should be revealed only the the player with the Alien Type and kept secret from the other players. Examples are:
*For the next five minutes you must speak with a strange accent.
*For the rest of the session you cannot use a door.
*For the next five minutes your character things (other player) is Lassie and reacts to them appropriately.
There a few additional rules of interested scattered through the GM chapter.
Each of the Types has a "King" that is the theoretical ruler of the Type and the epitome of the Type's traits. These guy's have a Type Quality ranked at King [+8]. To become a Type King you must have a Master [+6] Rank in the Type and Challenge them for leadership. If you win you attain the title. In addition to their high bonus, Type Kings can create "Toys" which are basically objects with Qualities (see below).
Each Type has one or more headquarters (the Monkey Haus, Ninja Hut, Pirate Ship, Robot Factory and Alien Muthaship). The HQs have Qualities like characters. So a Robot Factory might have Good [+2] Security Systems, Average  Secret Escape Tunnel, or Expert [+4] Giant Laser On The Roof. In general each HQ has as many Quality Ranks as there are players in the group, and the players should get the opportunity to assign the Qualities as they wish. Alternatively a player can assign the HQ a Poor [-2] Weakness instead (usually to weaken an opposing Type's HQ). The GM then selects a Strength and a Weakness. The group creates one HQ for each Type in the party.
Uranium is basically solidified Mojo and can be used a couple of different ways. It can be eaten for healing, sold or traded to other characters, or converted into untyped Mojo which must be used immediately, it cannot be retained.
These are basically items with Qualities. They either have a Good [+2] Strength, or an Expert [+4] Strength and a Poor [-2] Weakness. Toys can be lost, traded, etc and whoever is using it gets the benefit of the Toy. Toys can't be used to absorb damage/failure ranks but the player can choose to "drop" the Toy to reduce an attack's damage by the Toy's modifier. The Toy is on the ground and potentially up for grabs for anyone.
Like HQ's and Toys these are basically objects statted up as characters. In addition to adding the bonuses of their Qualities to the pilot's rolls the pilot can assign damage ranks to his vehicle's Qualities or split them up between himself and his vehicle. Vehicles are, intentionally, not crazy powerful. A combat-focused character can easily cut a car in half or take down a tank.
The rest is mostly generic suggestions on GMing styles, different ways to play the game and building adventures. None of it is mockable or unusual, and by now I'm sure all of us are fairly familiar with the content of these chapters.
Next: Dead Inside
Dead Inside FluffOriginal SA post
PDQ started with basically two games. I've already covered Monkey Ninja Pirate Robot which is basically meant to be a fast-and-loose completely goofy, more-or-less settingless game about beating up aliens and eating radioactive waste.
The other game is more or less its polar opposite. It's a game about losing what's most important, suffering, pain, rebuilding your life and using the opportunity to explore a world you've never been able to see before. No we're not talking about breaking up with your girlfriend in college, we're talking about losing your soul. We're talking about being Dead Inside.
Described as "The Roleplaying Game Of Loss and Redemption", it's all about folks who have lost their soul and their journey to try and find it again or build up a new one from the tattered remains. It's also described as a deliberate inversion of the standard "kill things and take their stuff" formula of RPGs because the easiest way to rebuild your soul is through good deeds, making it a game of "healing people and give them your stuff".
A quick browse through the book's art and the title would probably give the impression that this game is goth as hell
CRAAAAWLIIING IIIIN MY SKIIIIIIIIN
However, appearances are deceiving in this case. Dead Inside has horror elements and some dark/bleak themes but at its heart Dead Inside is an urban fantasy game which has a lot in common with stories like Neverwhere , Mirrormask , or Coraline . It's more about being "weird" than scary and the "soul-cultivation" mechanic encourages positive, optimistic actions by the players.
Chapter 1: Being Dead Inside
In the context of this game "Dead Inside" means that you're a person without a soul. There are a lot of ways that someone can lose their soul. You might have been born without one or suffered a spontaneous loss. However, it's more common to lose it through self-destruction (drug addiction, wallowing in excess, and generally turning yourself into an awful person) or through the sudden loss of something or someone immensely important to you (losing a child violently is a good example), the failure of a life-long dream can also cause soul loss. Finally it's also possible for a supernatural entity to steal or (more likely purchase) your soul.
Losing your soul has two main effects:
First, you feel bad . Apparently the real world is essentially the spiritual equivalent of Siberia: cold, barren, and hardly livable. The human soul provides insulation against this terrible place and without it you're basically standing naked in the cold. Empty hollow pit inside that can never be filled. You can't properly interact with normal people anymore and your emotions are just faded echoes of what they used to be. Goth, goth, goth, shit bats.
Second, you can perceive things you couldn't before. Although the human soul provides insulation and protection it also blinds normal people to the spiritual world. With your soul gone you can now see portals to the spirit world, ghosts and the effects of magic and the supernatural. With this awareness comes the ability to manipulate the energies of the soul and perform supernatural feats yourself...if you had any actual soul-power to fuel them.
So, this all sounds pretty weird and it gets weirder. Part of it is because Dead Inside sees the soul a little differently than most definitions. Although the game talks about losing your soul as though it was a unique, concrete thing, you eventually learn that this isn't quite how it works. The soul is more like water in a jug. It can be divided up, consumed, poured out, transferred to another container or spilled on the ground. Normal people have a thick, sealed jug. You can't get to the sweet, sweet soul juice inside, but it's also protected from the outside world. It's tough to effect an ordinary person with supernatural abilities and in turn they can't use the energy stored inside for any particular purpose. However, when that jug is shattered you're left with only the tiny drops collected in the biggest fragment. You can easily access the soul-energy now but you barely have any left. And likewise, you're now vulnerable to outside influences. In the context of the game getting your soul back means "rebuilding" the jug. It'll never be as strong as it once was though...but you can build it bigger than before.
There are several ways to go about getting the soul energy you'll need. The majority are positive: using soul-cultivation is the slow and steady path: do a good deed, help someone and you can create soul-energy. That's the preferred method, but the spiritual bleakness of the Real World makes it difficult, it's much easier to cultivate new soul energy in the Spirit World. Alternatively, the Dead Inside can follow signs from the Imagos, a sort of Jungian spirit-guide to go on quests or journeys to help restore their soul (faster, but more dangerous than soul cultivation).
You can also steal souls from others. "Eating" ghosts is one way (ghosts have minimal defense against spiritual attack), or even attempting to steal or sucker someone else out of a soul (ignorant Average People would make tempting targets but their natural spiritual defenses make them tough targets). This is bad karma though and you tend to lose some of the soul energy to soul decay. If an entity bought your soul from you then buying it back (or stealing it back if you were cheated) is fine and doesn't garner any negative soul marks.
Chapter 2: The Real World and the Spirit World
This is where the game took an unexpected turn the first time I read it. I was expecting something like Vampire or Mage, with the supernatural lurking out of sight of the mortal world and the Dead Inside suddenly thrust into a world of back alleys, nightclubs, sewer people, etc. etc. In actuality players are strongly encouraged by the game to leave the Real World as soon as possible, and it's fairly easy.
The Real World
Like I mentioned before, the Real World sucks if you don't have a soul. Dead Inside assumes that the Real World is basically just the ordinary mundane modern world. There's some weird stuff out there...but surprisingly not a whole lot. Spiritually aware entities find the real world inhospitable and Average People are tough nuts to crack for spirit predators. Most supernatural abilities are also heavily penalized in the Real World (the exception is Second Sight). There are a few "native" inhabitants of the Real World, but other than Average People, almost all of them only live there part time and prefer to stay in the Spirit World (although a Real World Sourcebook Cold Hard World goes into more detail on the Real World and playing the game there):
* Average People have intact soul-shells and are blind to the supernatural. These shells are extremely tough to crack, but when they do they shatter and they become Dead Inside. It takes a really powerful entity or the spiritual leverage of making a bargain with them to do it though.
* Dead Inside We've talked about these guys already. You're one of them. They have limited mystical abilities, but the most significant and obvious is that their Second Sight is active now that their shell is broken and they can see the supernatural forces around them. Given how spiritually bleak the Real World is it can take a surprisingly long time before the Dead Inside realize they're not just undergoing some kind of neurological or psychological breakdown.
* Ghosts : Ghosts are bundles of once-living soul energy with the remains of a personality tagging along. They usually have some kind of unfinished business holding them here. Because they're basically floating wads of soul power they're tempting targets for soul-eating and so they often "hid out" in the Real World. They're insubstantial in the Real World but semi-corporeal in the Spirit World.
* Zombis Zombis are dead bodies without a soul (just as the Dead Inside are living bodies without a soul). They don't hang around the Real World long because they tend to start decomposing without a high level of background spirit energy. Zombis have no emotions left, but their lack of either a soul or biology means they're actually quite intelligent and and very strong. In the Spirit World they can, and do, stick around for centuries, usually pursuing intellectual goals. They also tend to lack morals and usually fuel their unlives by eating ghosts or spirits. If you die while still Dead Inside you become a Zombi. Once this happens you're basically a lost cause: a Dead Inside can heal, a Zombi can only die.
*Sensitives These guys are living humans with excess soul-energy. Some people are born this way but many were once Dead Inside. Once a Dead Inside "rebuilds" their soul, they can put the blinders back on and become Average People or they can become Sensitives. These guys have increased spiritual powers and when they die they automatically become ghosts.
Magi A Sensitive who cultivates enough soul power can become a Magi, basically having "two" souls (effectively a larger pool of soul energy). They have the most impressive spiritual powers and prefer to stick to the Spirit World and pursue the goal of achieving immortality. If a Magi dies they become a ghost and a Zombi.
The Spirit World
The Spirit World is kind of a hodgepodge of different influences like Jungian psychology or Lovecraft's Dreamlands. It is closer to the source of all soul-energy and thus has a greater "background radiation" of power. That means that when the Dead Inside are here they don't have quite as much gnawing pain or howling cold in their hearts. They can feel more emotionally connected and their choices lead to a greater chance for soul-cultivation (or decay). It also means that supernatural powers of all kinds are stronger here and generally if you want to succeed at anything magical or supernatural you had better try it here. Trying it in the Real World is just a waste of Soul Energy, especially since crossing over is almost child's play for most supernatural beings.
The "geography" of the Spirit World is extremely simple. There are only five places. The central place is the City, a giant metropolis that's full of strange people and places. To the East is the Wood, an ancient forest. To the South is the Waste, a desert. To the West is the Sea. To the North is the Mists. The City is the home of 99% of civilized spirit world inhabitants. Outside of its bounds weird creatures and even spiritual predators are common. The Spirit World has a few "natives" as well (along with plenty of immigrants from the Real World):
*Free Spirits : These are a lot like ghosts: just wisps of soul energy with a mind and personality. However, unlike ghosts they were never alive to begin with. They have a kind of Pinocchio-syndrome, hoping to become "real" enough that they (like ghosts) feel the pull into the Source and eventually be reborn as mortals. Of course others are just assholes or tricksters.
*Qlippoth : These are the really nasty critters. They have no motivation but to prey on the souls of others and what they eat doesn't get absorbed, it gets destroyed and it reduces the total soul energy in the universe. They seem to just want to destroy the Source to end their pain. If a Zombi is completely drained of their spirit energy in the Spirit World they'll produce a Qlippoth.
*Tulpas These are artificially created spirits. They're made usually by Magi and powerful Sensitives as servants. They have the same abilities as Free Spirits and if they manage to break free of their creators that's what they become.
The City is the place where most things are happening in the Spirit World. It's basically an amalgam of every city in existence and represents the iconic, archetype of "Cityness". The place is always shifting and changing, but generally speaking the higher one goes vertically the more modern the city becomes. The bottom floor of a building might look like something from the 80s or 90s. A few stories up and the cell phones and computers get smaller, TVs become bigger and flatter and so on. Go belowground and the opposite happens. A few floors down you're dealing with pre-electrical and eventually pre-industrial. Eventually it's all just caves and flickering torches. The city is connected by The Train whose appearance shifts to match its surroundings (far enough below it's a giant snake). Of course, there's also taxis.
Like Sigil, just about everything here could be a Gate taking you either to the Real World or some other location in the Spirit World. Nothing stays the same on its own. Stability is only possible through the will of powerful entities like Sensitives or Magi. Because of this travel is more about association than actual location. Here's a map:
Commerce is common in the City, but different from normal trade. Money is, of course, meaningless here. Instead barter is the rule, trading unusual goods (especially the relatively stable goods from the Real World) is common, but so is exchanging memories and dreams or even raw soul energy. The nature of the Spirit World allows anyone who wants to trade (including humans) to coalesce insubstantial goods into symbolic items that can be traded. There are two ways it can be traded. Sharing trades allow you to experience the memory or feeling but it is retained by the other party. A vendor selling the memory of biting into a slice of pizza when you're really, really hungry can allow his customer to experience that sensation without losing it himself (and thus can sell it to others). Then there are selling exchanges which are for keeps. This is how you sell actual items, vital secrets (to ensure they're not traded again by the seller) and soul-stuff.
These guys are a unique inhabitant of the Spirit World. They manifest differently to different people and their goal seems to be helping the various entities pursue their agendas: the dead inside to restore their soul, the Sensitives to achieving a higher state of existence, Ghosts to move on and Magi to become immortal. Everyone's got a different opinion on exactly what they are or what their purpose is. Normally you never know if you met one.
Several Imagos are just reflections of yourself. Whether there's one for everyone or it's just one entity in many guises is unknown.
* Animus/Anima : This is the feminine aspect of males or the male aspect of females. They mainly appear to guide or complicate your attempts to pursue relationships with others (romantic or otherwise).
* Shadow The animal part of you. The part that cares only about food, shelter and sex. Most Dead Inside have very powerful shadows, because this is where the soul-energy lost from soul rot (through bad karma) goes. However, the shadow is amoral, not evil. It just cares about fulfilling needs and survival.
There are also "collective" imagos, that are viewed as being more universal:
*Child The child represents the future, rebirth and salvation. Needless to say, he's a big deal for the Dead Inside.
* Father/Mother : fairly self-explanatory. You can see the old-fashioned psychology that these two sprang from. The Father drives intellectual and spiritual pursuits while the Mother is more concerned with emotions and intimacy, especially with sexuality.
* Trickster This is that asshole who's always shaving, conning, tarring, or harassing everyone in those faerie tales.
the Wise Old This guy is all about wisdom and experience. You can be sure when he talks to you you'll hear the voice of Morgan Freeman.
There's also two other Imagos who fall in between universal and personal:
* The Voice This guy is all about proclamations of essential truths. They're there to tell you want needs to happen. The Voice is a prophet/seer figure.
* The Nemesis Not everyone has one, but this is your personal asshole. Magi have it particularly bad: their Shadow is also their Nemesis.
Next: The Dead Inside and what they can do
Dead Inside GameplayOriginal SA post
Dead Inside Part 2: Playing The Game
So, I've covered the basics of the setting, so how about the mechanics? This part is where Dead Inside is at its roughest. It's one of the first PDQ games and when you compare it to the games that come later you can definitely tell that there's some rough patches and not-quite-right bits, especially in regard to the soul mechanics. A "2nd edition" version updated with material taken from later games like Truth and Justice and Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies would be a real improvement.
Chapter 3: Creating Characters
Dead Inside character creation is definitely a bit more in-depth than MNPR, there are 8 steps:
Step 1: Personality Come up with a word or phrase to sum up your character's personality. This could be something like their star sign, blood type, Myers Briggs, etc. Similar personality types have a bonus when dealing with one another.
Step 2: Backstory This is your character background. For the most part it's just fluff but along with it you must pick your Virtue and your Vice . The virtues are Integrity, Hope, Fortitude, Generosity and Courtesy, the Vices are Hypocrisy, Despair, Cowardice, Avarice, and Cruelty. The Virtue/Vice traits are part of the soul cultivation and decay mechanics that come up later. In situations where one or the other draws you towards a particular action you may have to roll to resist it. You can also invoke your virtue once per session to grant a +2 bonus to a roll or automatically overcome a Vice check so long as you can explain how it applies.
Step 3: Soul Loss How you lost your soul. No mechanical effect here, but it could determine if some of your soul is still out there waiting to be retrieved or if there's no choice but to start again from scratch.
Step 4: Discovery This is the moment you realized that you had no soul and that the weird things that have been happening aren't just a mental breakdown. It's often a way to tie characters together by having multiple people involved in this breakthrough. Maybe you're all members of a support group that realized their problems are different from everyone else's for example.
Step 5: Qualities Pick your Qualities. Like normal you get 4 Ranks of Strengths and one Good Weakness.
Step 6: Type Like MNPR, everyone has a Type Quality. The default assumption is that everyone will be a Dead Inside. It's possible to introduce different Types into play, but most aren't meant to be "balanced" against one another (a Sensitive is objectively better than a Dead Inside for instance). You can only be one Type at a time but this might change. As a Dead Inside you're penalized on social interaction in the Real World and if you die you'll become a Zombi. If you restore your soul you'll become a Sensitive (or return to being an Average Person).
Your Type is an Average  Quality. The game goes into a little detail on the supernatural abilities Dead Inside have but I'll save that for later.
Step 7: Soul Points If you're Dead Inside you start with a single, solitary soul point. Don't spend it all in one place.
Step 8: Miscellany Anything else you want to include about the character.
Chapter 4: Game Mechanics
Obviously the basic mechanics are identical to those found in the PDQ core rules so I'll stick with the new ones:
Soul Points work a lot like Mojo from MNPR (although they aren't "flavored"). They can be used in many of the same ways as Hero/Fate/Luck points from other games (bonuses to rolls, recovering from injury, helpful coincidences, etc) but unlike most meta-game currency these events are actually a part of the supernatural abilities of the different Types. Soul Points can also be used in more obvious ways as well.
Probably the biggest problem the game has is that so much hinges on Soul Points. They are the focus of everything and there are so many potential uses and demands on your Soul Point supply that it can be overwhelming. Here's the different roles Soul Points play in the game.
*"Hit Points": You still take Damage/Failure ranks like normal, but supernatural characters can attack one another's souls directly, stealing soul points and adding them to their own (this is the favored method of Qlippoth especially). If you run out of soul points then you Backslide and your Type Quality is reduced by one Rank (so an Average  Dead Inside becomes a Poor [-2] Dead Inside). If your Type is reduced below Poor [-2] then you Husk and become a Qlippoth (although Mages and Sensitives will regress to lower stages of power, Mage>Sensitive>Dead Inside>Qlippoth). This means that, especially for Dead Inside, it's essential to keep enough Soul Points to avoid being taken down in Spiritual Combat.
*Currency: Soul Points are a common form of currency in the Spirit World as everyone has them and their value is universal. If you're asking for anything other than a "sharing" transaction you can bet you'll probably be paying in Soul Points. Especially if you haven't been in the Spirit World long enough to collect any permanent objects of true value.
*Meta-game bonuses: Like more common "fate/hero/et" points you can use Spirit Points to help turn around a crappy roll, succeed at someone that would normally be too difficult and keep fighting despite injuries.
*Fuel for Abilities/Powers: Somewhat linked with the previous, if you want to do anything with your supernatural powers you'll typically be paying a Soul Point cost especially if you're in the Real World.
*Character Improvement: Soul Points are also used as the exp for the game. Collect enough Soul Points and you can increase your Type Rank, For humans once you reach Master [+6] Rank you can do it again to ascend to a higher spiritual state (Dead Inside to Sensitive, Sensitive to Mage and potentially Mage to Immortal). Qualities are gained or improved by sacrificing Type Ranks in turn (which is a bit of an odd way to do it, since Type Ranks are purchased with soul points it's unclear why Qualities aren't simply purchased directly though them as well).
Clearly this is a lot of demands on your Soul Point supply and its especially frustrating when your natural motivation will be to improve your Type Quality as quickly as possible (in-game because you desperately want your soul back, out of game because it rewards you with much better abilities). The game motivates hoarding Soul Points and spending them on Type Rank ASAP, rather than doing neat things like flexing your super-natural abilities and exploring the potential of the Spirit World. Let alone improving your mundane abilities.
Improving Qualities especially is ridiculously expensive. If you want to buy or improve a Quality it costs a number of Type Ranks equal to the bonus of the Quality. So if your Dead Inside accountant wants to pick up a skill like Good [+2] Gun Training to help deal with the supernatural monsters that he's been forced to interact with he'll first have to buy his Dead Inside up from Average  to Expert [+4] (this costs 6 Soul Points) and then sacrifice both of those new Ranks and go back to being Average  Dead Inside. If he wanted to raise that from Good [+2] to Expert [+4] Gun Training then he would need to already be a Master [+6] Dead Inside and send himself back to Poor [-2] to afford the cost in Type Ranks. It's not even clear how one could actually raise a Quality to Master [+6]. It's more or less impossible to justify improving your character as a Dead Inside (since it works directly counter to re-growing a Soul), and if you're a Sensitive or a Magi the powers granted by your Type are generally to powerful to damage in exchange for improving your other traits.
Conversely, if you do hoard your Soul Points for fixing your soul then that will happen surprisingly quickly. You can reach Master [+6] Rank in your Type from Average  with 12 Soul Points. So long as you're in the right place it costs only a single additional Soul Point for a Master [+6] Dead Inside to restore their Soul. What seems like it should be the basis of hefty story arc of redemption and restoration becomes the plot of basically a single adventure.
This also brings up a fairly common item in the setting called a Soul Egg, which is basically an enchanted item that lets you store Soul Points for safe-keeping. It seems to be fairly common for people in the setting to use them and for the life of me I can't figure out why. There's no maximum number of Soul Points that you can have stored yourself and there seems to be no reason to try and store them externally. Sure, if the soul points aren't on you they can't be Soul-Taken from you...but then again if you run out of Soul Points you'll be dead. Plus it allows your Soul Points to be stolen much easier by anyone who can physically access the Soul Egg, plus it makes you vulnerable to people using Powers against you through the egg.
Spiritual Abilities and Powers
As spiritually awakened individuals Dead Inside have access to Abilities and Powers . It's not quite clear what makes something an Ability vs. a Power (for instance altering the environment or yourself is an Ability, altering someone else is a Power), but the two do function differently. An Ability is something that is effectively part of the Penumbra of your Type Quality and can be done simply with a roll (usually at a penalty based on the strength of the Ability). Powers require both a roll and the expenditure of Soul Points.
Each Type has a different set of Abilities and Powers and the cost in Soul Points or the penalty to your Type Roll is different for the different Types. For example, all types can perform Soultaking. Dead Inside and Free Spirits roll at their Type -2 (so an Average  Dead Inside is a Poor [-2] Soul-Taker), Mages and Sensitives suffer no penalty to their roll and ghosts and Zombis suffer a -4 penalty. On the other hand the Power to Change Others is available only to Sensitives (for 3 Soul Points) and Mages (for 2 Soul Points).
In the Real World all powers and abilities become more difficult and more expensive, with the exception of Second Sight and Opening Gates to the Spirit World. It's also worth noting that "passive" Second Sight is the only Ability that the Dead Inside start out knowing how to do. In order to use any other Powers or Abilities they must either see someone else use it or have the process explained to them in detail (so long as it's one that the Dead Inside are capable of).
*Change Landscape: This lets you alter some feature of your immediate environment as well as simple telekinesis. Common examples are like what you see in the first Matrix movie, creating a door in a blank wall, bricking over a window instantly, etc. Spending Soul Points or taking additional downshifts might be required for major changes (such as creating an entire building from nothing). Making this permanent requires sacrificing a Type Rank.
*Change Self: Basically reshaping your body in just about any way. This could be used for disguise, changing into different creatures or just to be weird (growing knife fingers, turning your eyes pitch black, etc). In most cases this grants a +2 bonus to an existing Quality or gives you an Average  Quality that lasts for a scene or so.
*City Navigation: This lets you find your way around in the City, which is important because most locations tend to "drift" around the place.
*Movement: This takes two forms: Dream-Leaping and True Flight. Dream Leaping involves heavily bending physics as far as movement goes. You can walk on walls, stand on water, jump impossible distances, etc. True Flight just lets you freaking fly and is typically at a higher penalty.
*Open Gate: This lets you open a gate between the Real World and the Spirit World, or to connect different locations in the Spirit World.
*Second Sight: Passive Second Sight is never penalized and can be done automatically without being learned and it basically lets you perceive the use of Powers/Abilities and other things that are invisible to normal perception such as ghosts and spirits. Active Second Sight is used for things like object reading, clairvoyance, etc.
*Soultaking: The basis of spirit combat. This ability lets you directly attack another's Soul Points and take them for your own.
*Bind: This is used to force someone else to obey you. It's difficult to use against beings with a body (Dead Inside, Zombis, Sensitives, Mages) and requires that you have a Soul Egg with one of their Soul Points in it. It's much easier against Ghosts and Free Spirits, and if it is used against Tulpas it's possible to take control of them permanently.
*Enchant: This lets you create a magical object. The process is essentially the same as purchasing Qualities for yourself but they're stored instead in this external object, although some have unique powers (like Soul Eggs or Stones of Light which are healing items). Unless a Type rank is sacrificed enchantments are only temporary.
*Healing: Spend a soul point and you get back 1d6 Damage/Failure Ranks.
*Luck: Spending a soul point before rolling to roll an extra d6.
*Supercharge: This lets you use a Quality you have in a magical way. For instance, someone with Good [+2] Marksman might be able to curve bullets and make them fly around corners or through glass without breaking it. Someone with Good [+2] Persuasive could convince someone they're seeing or perceiving something that isn't real or even use it on inanimate objects or forces.
*Ward: This has several uses. Offensively you can force bad luck on someone and force them to reroll if their roll is successful, it can also be used to counter other magical abilities, prevent Spirits/Ghosts from traveling through solid objects, and keep Qlippoth back.
There are also a few Powers that can only be accessed by Mages and Sensitives: Change Others, Create Object, and Create Tulpa.
Chapter 5: GMing Advice
Much of this is fairly standard so I won't go into detail. There's discussion of the different "levels" of play (Dead Inside, Sensitive, Mage) and also on what to do with characters who want to try playing one of the other Types. Generally Dead Inside, Ghosts and Free Spirits are roughly equal in power. Sensitives and Zombis stand about equal as well and Magi are a full step above all the rest.
There are also rules on using the Imagos, which are fairly interesting. The Anima/Animus for instance represents the character's perfect "complement", a nerdy, frail bookworm would likely be complemented by a strong, confident body-guard type. A brutish physical sort might be complemented by a compassionate intellectual like a doctor or nurse. Accepting your Anima/Animus and forming the Syzygy to overcome your own limitations is part of the essential transformation of a Sensitive into a Magi. The Shadow will stalk the characters and feed on any soul points lost of Soul Decay, the shadow can then, in turn, offer those soul points back to the character to be used on feats to save their lives or pursue base goals...but this causes more soul decay. When a Sensitive becomes a Mage their shadow is released (Mages cast no shadow) and becomes their Nemesis, conquering your Shadow is the final step (theoretically) into becoming a True Immortal. Non-mages may have no Nemesis but there does exist a ritual that allows you to embody the Imago and become someone else's nemesis, which gives you Soul Points whenever you cause trouble for the target (especially if your actions cause them to lose Soul Points).
There's a quick bestiary which contains stats for some spirit world animals and rules for creating stats for Qlippoth.
The main topic of interest are the rules for awarding soul points as well as soul growth/decay. The main way to handle it is through the Virtue/Vice rolls. When a character is faced with a situation that calls him to follow one or the other he first must decide what he wants to try and do. If he chooses to resist his Vice or follow his Virtue, he automatically gets two "ticks" towards soul cultivation, if he chooses to resist his virtue or pursue his vice he gets two ticks for decay. Then you roll to see if you actually succeed at resisting. So even if a drug addict gives in and gets high, he'll get at least some credit for trying to avoid it, likewise someone who tries and fails to overcome his urge to help an innocent in danger doesn't get as much credit as someone who leaps into the fray immediately. After the results are determined you get a chance to explain why your character failed to live up to their Virtue or resist their Vice and depending on the quality of the explanation they may earn up to two additional ticks. Good roleplaying can earn additional ticks.
Most other actions are worth one or two Ticks. Overall anything other than your Virtue or Vice is going to involve a fairly slow progression, so those are typically what PCs will focus on. This also makes soul-taking more tempting as you can earn one or more soul points in exchange for one or two ticks (which are 1/5th a soul point each). The biggest barrier for soul-stealing for the newly Dead Inside is the fact that they'll probably suck at it with their low Type Quality and penalties due to their Type.
So that basically wraps it up. In conclusion it's a creative setting and concept, but the mechanics clearly need an update and the Soul Point system especially is interesting but flawed.
Next: Would people like me to provide details on the Dead Inside Setting Expansion Cold Hard World, or move on to the next game Questers of the Middle Realms.
Cold, Hard WorldOriginal SA post
As I mentioned in the Dead Inside summary the game is actually meant to have very little involvement with the Real World. As soon as a Dead Inside finds a gate or learns how to open one on their own, they'll probably stick around the Spirit World and never look back. The benefits are obvious: Soul Points are earned faster, powers and abilities are easier and less expensive, you don't suffer penalties to social actions there, and the yawning, frigid void at the core of your very being howls a bit quieter as well. Relatives and friends may pull you back into the Real World from time to time...but frankly until you get your soul back your friends and family will probably avoid you or attempt to have you institutionalized.
But what if the players and GM find the Real World setting intriguing and want to play a game with more focus "back home", well that's what Cold Hard World was created for. It's meant to give suggestions on how to play in the Real World as well as providing a bit of clarity on areas the core book glossed over.
The change between the Spirit World and the Real World is fairly significant and it has a pretty deep effect on the tone of the game. Playing in the Spirit World is mostly about discovery and healing, playing in the real world is more a matter of conflict and survival. Because powers are so limited and soul cultivation is so slow the Dead Inside typically must resign themselves to finding their original soul (if there's any left), taking soul energy from others, or trading with more powerful entities for soul energy.
Chapter 1: Real World Recap
This chapter goes over the effects the Real World has on the Dead Inside and other Types, and how Powers and Abilities are influenced. This was briefly covered in the original book but it's given greater focus here. There's also mention of Places and Times of Power, which will be explained further later, but they're essentially areas or times when the Spirit World is closer and the supernatural is more active.
First it goes over the different ways Types are affected by the Real World and how they're perceived by Average People.
*Dead Inside: Average People see dead inside as strange at best, and usually they instinctively feel there's something wrong with them. Dead Inside are hit with a penalty to all social rolls in the Real World. In Places/Times of Power Average People can tell there's something deeply wrong with the Dead Inside and will usually assume they're high or crazy. Animals tend to avoid them and plants wilt around them within a week or so.
*Free Spirits/Ghosts: Both of these Types operate the same. They're invisible to Average People and they can freely move through matter so long as they're not blocked by a ward. In Place/Times of Power they may be perceived as vague forms of light or shadow. A powerful spirit or ghost can apparently possess someone by phasing into them and using the Bind power (however, neither has the Bind power. Presumably this is a unique exception but there's no guide for the cost). Most animals can see them and react appropriately.
*Imagos appear to Average People only in dreams and will never take physical form in the Real World although they may appear as visions or voices on the wind to supernatural entities.
*Magi: Average People generally will not notice Mages cast no shadow and they find Mages to have a magnetic personality (they receive a bonus to social rolls). Animals love them.
*Qlippoth are almost unknown in the Real World. Qlippoth from non-humans (spirits/ghosts/zombis) cannot survive in the Real World except near portals to the Void. Qlippoth from humans (Dead Inside, Sensitives, Magi) can only survive if they can manage to feed on soul energy within moments of their "parent" husking and they require double the normal soul points to sustain themselves. Given the limitations of the Real World and the resistance of Average People to Soultaking this means that only extremely strong Qlippoth can manage to survive for long and those that do are even more ravenous. A Qlippoth in a human form is visible to Average People, but when they're "shadow form" they're invisible. Animals can perceive both forms and are immediately terrified.
*Sensitives: People tend to find them particularly intense, but Sensitives only get a bonus to social rolls in Places and Times of Power. Animals find them oddly intriguing and will tend to hang around them.
*Tulpas: Tulpas are always invisible to those without Second Sight, even in Places and Times of Power. They cannot normally possess anyone.
*Zombis: Like Dead Inside but more-so. In addition in the Real World their flesh starts to decay and they have to spend a Soul Point every week to avoid getting worse. Even then people generally think Zombis are desperately ill, at best.
We also get a sidebar mentioning that if you're playing in the Real World you may want to establish that animals have Soul Points (if not a "true" soul), generally between 1-5. Taking soul points from an animal is easier since they lack the shell Average People have, but it will always kill the animal in the process and is a Soul-rotting action. Still, given the relative ease of access to animals, lack of legal protections and the ease of soul-taking on them you can bet that most Dead Inside in the real world have soul-drained a few strays in their time.
There's also a decently-researched sidebar on the Dead Inside and the modern mental health profession. It points out some common ailments that a Dead Inside might be diagnosed with but also makes clear that the loss of your soul has no physiological consequences: all tests will show you as completely healthy and prescription medication designed to help balance the brain chemistry of an unhealthy individual will certainly mess you up. It also makes clear that this is advice for the game, and not real life. Take your meds people.
There's also a small, but much appreciated, section on "supernatural history" pointing out that no Hitler was probably not a Dead Inside and that the gods of old myths aren't all ancient Magi and that for the most part the history of the Real World is guided entirely by the actions of Average People. Sure you might find some supernatural stuff at the weird fringe of history, but for the most part their impact is minimal.
Next it clears up how Soul Cultivation and Decay works in the Real World. In the original Dead Inside rules you still marked ticks against both, but generally you didn't accrue points unless you were in the Spirit World. However, that's adjusted for a game focused on the Real World and instead Soul Decay happens at the same rate (-1 soul point for every 5 ticks) but Soul Cultivation happens twice as slow, requiring 10 ticks to equal up to a Soul Point. This means that unless you're constantly being pressured by your Virtue/Vices Soul Cultivation is going to be a painful ordeal. A Dead Inside who intends to use this as his primary source of soul accumulation had better be prepared for a long hard road. He'll likely have to transform his lifestyle: devoting himself to charity and helping others while diligently avoiding any negative acts.
More likely, this change will push the Dead Inside into actively hunting sources of Soul Points. They may not go so far as to start soul-taking, but they'll probably start doing work for supernatural beings who need something done in the Real World in exchange for a hit of soul-blood, or start plotting to take down nefarious supernatural beings and loot their territories of Soul Eggs. Expect things in the Real World to be more tense, action-focused and less able to be solved supernaturally.
Powers and Abilities in the Real World
Related to the above using Powers/Abilities in the Real World is hard . Abilities now cost a Soul point to use at all and they suffer an additional -2 penalty, Powers suffer a -2 penalty and the Soul Point cost is doubled. On top of this, the low-power level of the Real World means many powers are more limited and muted:
*Bind: You just plain can't Bind Average People outside of Places/Times of Power. Even then its limited to mild suggestive effects.
*Change Landscape: This only works on "invisible" features of the environment. You can make it hotter or colder, conjure a breeze, etc. You can't directly transform objects or structures but you can do things like weaken or strengthen an door or wall.
*Change Others: This will never work on an Average Person, regardless of the circumstances.
*Change Self: Normally you're limited to minor cosmetic changes, but major changes are possible at Places/Times of power.
*Create Objects: Objects created will not remain if they're not in a Place/Time of Power or not held by a living being.
*Enchant: Enchantment is only possible at places/times of power and the cost is still higher there. Only objects with "invisible" effects function in the Real World.
*Healing: Can only be used on an Average Person at places/times of power.
*Movement: works normally (other than the additional difficulty and expense) but are unlikely to be noticed by Average People, and even then are likely to be rationalized.
*Soultaking: Really, really difficult against Average People. First, it costs an extra Soul Point (on top of the normal Real World charge) to "crack" their Shell and even then it requires a successful roll beating the target's roll by seven or more. A successful soultaking attempt will also automatically incur 5 ticks of soul decay (it's worse to do it to an Average Person due to their ignorance and the consequences of making them Dead Inside). The reward is 8 soul points (5 after you consider the initial cost), but this is still a tough situation when you consider that even a Master [+6] Mage will probably have to spend a Soul Point or two on Luck to succeed (and if the roll fails you lose any soul points you've invested).
Soultaking with a contract is much easier since you only have to beat an Average  roll with your Soultaking ability by one like normal. And it's technically not in and of itself a soul-rotting action so long as you were clear about the conditions and no deception was involved. Even then it's usually much less so than the consequences of forcibly cracking an Average Person.
*Supercharge: This can only work with "invisible" effects outside of Places/Times of Power.
*Ward: You can only offensively Ward an average person in a Place/Time of power.
Chapter 2: Lay of the Land
By default there isn't a whole lot of motivation for Supernatural Types to hang around in the Real World...their powers are weaker and costlier and they rarely fit in. Those who do hang around tend to be weak (after all, an Average  Dead Inside or Ghost has such minimal powers to begin with that Real World or Spirit World doesn't make much difference) or to be hiding out from enemies in the Spirit World. However, there is an interesting optional rule to allow a greater Real World focus: if a human falls asleep in the Spirit World they wake up back in the Real World.
Those who do hang out in the Real World tend to band together and make sure they have a Place of Power that they can stick around to keep at least some power available to them.
Places of Power
Places of Power are areas where the Spirit World is closer and there is a greater amount of energy available. It's not as "rich" as the true Spirit World but it does remove the additional downshifts and soul point costs of using Powers/Abilities.
Places of power are usually those where great emotional events take place (nurseries, theaters, battlefields, morgues, etc), "in between" places (crossroads, shorelines, doors, etc) or good old sacred sites. Not all of these places are automatically ones of Power, but they're good starting points to look for one.
Times of Power are more controllable, but obviously less reliable. They include beginnings and endings (notably births and deaths...human sacrifice is sadly the easiest way to arrange one), rites of passage, and in-between times (dawn/dusk for example).
All this actually has an interesting effect on the supernatural in Dead Inside. It becomes more difficult and more costly, but at the same time more *magical*. In the spirit world a pissed off mage only has to glare at you and your mouth will seal shut. In the Real World if that Mage wants to hit a victim with something nasty he'll probably have to sacrifice an animal to score some extra soul points and perform a ritual in a graveyard or at dusk. The additional layer of ritual and paraphernalia gives more of a traditional magic feel, while using supernatural power in the Spirit world is much more like lucid dreaming.
*Anomalies: Anomalies are vortexes visible only to second sight. They drift through the Real World and the Spirit World sucking up small, out of the way objects and animals (this is where those socks go) and eventually dumping them in one world or the other. Anomalies can be "hitched" by supernatural beings as a form of transportation.
*Desmesne: These are places of power that belong to someone specifically, referred to as the Lord or Lady. Within the Desmesne its possible to Change Landscape much easier, and they can block other's attempts to change the Desmesne. They can also restrict the place's function as a Place of Power selectively to only work for certain Abilities or Types, or even only for themselves and those they designate. This means you've got a tremendous advantage within a Desmesne against any outsider. It's possible to turn a place of power you already have a personal connection with into a Desmesne with a relatively common ritual.
*Side-Step: A side-step is a place that exists within the Real World but which Average People cannot perceive or will ignore. Some are even limited only to certain Types. Within a Side-step it's also impossible to open Gates to the Spirit World.
*Threshold: These are proto-places of power. They haven't become one yet, but because of that they have a great deal of potential and can be transformed into a Place of Power or even specific sites like Desmesnes or Sides Steps.
*Verge: These are kind of the opposite of a Place of Power, often caused by extreme amounts of soul-rot and negative actions. This is a place where the Void is closer to the Real World, making it sort of like a Place of Power for the Qlippoth (and its the only place where Qlippoth without bodies can survive in the Real World). It's possible to "break" a verge and let the Void pour in, but these breaks scab over in a few hours.
Groups of Power
Generally speaking there aren't supernatural cabals and conspiracies guiding the world. It's tough enough to affect a single Average Person when they want you to...trying to guide a whole nation or world of them is basically impossible. However, safety in numbers is still a fact of life and there are a few gangs of supernatural Types who have decided to hang together in the Real World for various reasons.
The Beautiful People One thing they don't have in the Spirit World is Hollywood and some people feel like it's better to be a big fish in a small pond than try and stand out among the craziness of the Spirit World. These are Free Spirits who have slipped into the Real World and have managed to perform a special ritual granting them a human body. It lets them be seen by Average People, but it restricts their abilities as well so that whenever they perform a supernatural feat it warps their body in some appropriate way (for instance glowing eyes for active second sight) and must be corrected with Change Self.
Cryptozoo Revue Free Spirits on the other side of the coin as the Beautiful People. They spend their time basically screwing with Average People, taking the form of lake monsters, hairy people, mermaids, etc and trying to catch attention. Then they get together and compare their "admirers" Since they're usually invisible this is limited to Places and Times of Power, or by making "puppet shows" using local materials to fabricate photo ops.
Gothiks These guys are mostly clueless Dead Inside who believe they're vampires. The bizarre things that have happened to them and their new abilities basically just led them astray before they could be taught any better by more experienced supernaturals. If one of them dies and turns into a Zombi it only reinforces the idea. Many of them will only Soultake as part of a bloodletting, but some rationalize their abilities as "psychic vampirism". They often (but not always) have a self imposed or psychosomatic weakness related to vampiric folklore.
Helots of the Darkling Glass These are your world-ending nihilists. They're basically ready to break the world and let it slide into the Void...they're ready but they lack any real capability to make that happen. They often hang around Verges and attempt to shatter them or create Qlippoth but generally this just ends up killing them and reality is hardy enough to shrug off a few cracks. Most of these guys are Dead Inside or Zombis who haven't been able to work up the guts to turn their lives around and just decided that the only way they'll feel better is if there isn't anymore anything. Since their formation they've organized a bit more and sold out a little, trading one-ness with the void for a bit of cash and a dangerous reputation.
Interfaith Inc... This is a small (about 100 people) group composed mostly of Sensitives of a religious bent from a variety of different faiths. Although they all have their own interpretation of the Source and the nature of the Spirit World they've seen enough to know that they have more in common with one another than they do with the Average People who make up their own faith. They also know that their perspective gives them an opportunity to lead and protect their respective flocks with greater ability. Setting aside their differences they work together to advance the spiritual knowledge of mankind. They mainly focus on the hard facts they've learned that certain actions "grow" the soul and others harm it and trying to lead as many as possible to embrace the one and avoid the other. They especially focus on helping out any Dead Inside they can.
Noumenal Search and Rescue Basically these guys are sort of like an animal right's group that focuses on Spirits and Ghosts. Since Ghosts are already dead and Spirits never lived in the first place (and many were once simply Tulpas), a lot of soul-hungry types see them as easy and relatively morally justifiable prey. These guys try and make sure that non-bodied Types are able to defend themselves against those who would eat (or sell) them. It's a really tiny group, only about 2 dozen and are usually Sensitives.
Ordo Scalarum This is a team of Magi, making them some of the biggest dogs in the kennel. Unlike most Magi these guys base their operations in the Real World. They mainly concern themselves with keeping Magi from blowing each other up and generally try and make sure civility reigns among the higher ranks of the supernatural entities. They also take care of arranging for funerals for mages...a difficult task since the mage's spirit takes the form of a ghost and their body a zombi...and both hate one another.
The Phenomena Project These guys are mostly clueless Average People along with a mixture of Sensitives and Dead Inside who don't know any better. They're dedicated to finding proof of the supernatural and sharing it with the world. They're well funded but their "talents" (the Dead Inside and Sensitives) tend to disappear into the Spirit World once they figure out what's actually going on.
Soulmarketeers This is a group of traveling salesmen who specialize in trade between the Spirit World and the Real World.
Spookleggers These guys are like the Ghost Busters, except they're usually zombis or dead inside, and instead of trapping ghosts they eat them and sell the soul-juice to others. They also make use of bad puns, such as going after spirits with Boo!-merangs.
Worldspacklers These guys are dedicated to sealing up cracks in the Real World that let the Void leak in. Closing Verges and wiping out "negative" places of power. Naturally they're dedicated enemies of the Helots.
Chapter 3: Seeds and Scenarios
This chapter is a bit more GM advice, mostly pointing out the various issues and concerns that the Real World will force on players. There's also snippets of small scenario and story seeds.
Chapter 4: Cosmos Reloaded
These are some ideas for alternative settings for Dead Inside, which are fairly interesting.
This flips the standard migration patterns of Dead Inside, making the Real World the "place to be". Ghosts and Zombis want to be near the living, Free Spirits want to be like them and Mages and Sensitives want the stability and influence that comes from it. The Spirit World is a madhouse of lunatic beings and chaotic terrain with the Imagos always meddling and pestering at everyone. Think Wonderland with a slight dash of Lovecraft.
Those who come to the Spirit World will find it difficult to leave as both the opening of gates is more difficult and the inhabitants of the crazy place refuse to let them escape. Meanwhile in Places and Times of power gates may open that allow the lunatic spirits into the Real World. The Real World is less magical, but that's a good thing, you have a chance to catch your breath, eat a meal that doesn't grow eyeballs and sleep in a bed that doesn't go for walks.
This version makes the difference between the Real World and the Spirit World more extreme, by making the Spirit World a place that cannot be entered bodily. Supernatural beings can project their consciousness into the Spirit World while in Places or Times of Power, but their bodies remain behind.
This allows the spirit world to remain an important source of experience and improvement, but the Real World is still very important since your body will be sticking around. You've got to make sure you can make rent, buy food and not tick off the neighbors too badly.
The rules for travel to the spirit world vary from Type to Type. Zombis can't do it at all and have to hang around the real world, making them much more dangerous as they're likely desperate for Soul Points. Ghosts and Spirits can travel freely through gates as they have no body. Dead Inside can project but this leaves their body defenseless both physically and psychically...a ghost or spirit can easily possess the hollow shell. Sensitives work the same but the spirits have a tougher time getting control.
Mages are unique in that they can "split" their consciousness between both worlds, basically dividing up his Type Rank between his real and spirit forms.
It is also possible for beings capable of projecting to send their astral body traveling through the Real World as though they were a ghost or spirit, but this requires a Place or Time of Power and you cannot leave the place (or your soul returns to the body once the time is over).
Magic In The Streets
This version turns the "urban fantasy" elements up a few notches. Here the Spirit World and the Real World aren't really separate...it's just difficult to find the magic underneath. Instead the Real World is full of Side-Steps, places the ordinary Average People can't see or notice, but are still physically present. Likewise, supernatural beings don't stand out a lot. A Free Spirit that looks like a monkey in a business suit probably just appear as a hairy dude. The prevalence of supernatural abilities will depend on where you are, different areas represent different levels of magical strength and the magical "geography" of the city becomes more important.
This version starts as a possibility for urban fantasy, but quickly spirals into suggesting the possibility of low-key superheroes, super-tech, pulp action and so on. Of course, if you've got Truth and Justice that'll certainly do the job a bit better...but there's a certain appeal to the idea of a Dead Inside dressed in a cape leaping from rooftop to rooftop keeping his Soul Points up by saving people from muggers.
While the standard Dead Inside assumption is that there's something terribly wrong with you , in this version its the world that's broken. Think Jacob's Ladder the RPG, or Silent Hill.
This is generally meant for one-shots, basically come up with a theme or mystery for the players to unravel as the world starts to unravel around them. The PCs might find out they're ghosts who have been imprisoned inside a Soul Egg all along, or all aspects of a Mage's consciousness as it splinters while dying. They're caught in virtual reality. Experimented on by aliens. etc.
For this one the GM secretely selects a Type (assuming the PCs actually fit with any of the standard Types. The game starts in the Real World and the PCs will find themselves transitioning back and forth to the Spirit World. There's an example
*All the players are secretly Tulpas and the ultimate goal is becoming a Free Spirit. In place of a Type everyone gets a Corporate Quality at Expert [+4] (typing, Pass the buck, brew coffee, etc) and a weakness related to why they can't quit their job. The only powers are Luck, Ward and the Corporate Quality which has elements of Second Sight and Supercharge. All NPCs are Tulpas as well and their job is to keep the PCs working, except one is an Imago there to help liberate them. As the PCs awaken to the truth the shell of the office starts cracking and revealing the weirdness underneath and the characters realize they've never actually left the "office" in their lives. The Cube meets Office Space.
It occurs to me that a Dead Inside exploring a particularly bleak stretch of the Spirit World would be a great interpretation for the plot of Silent Hill 2.
Well, that's it for Dead Inside. Next we've got Truth and Justice!
Truth & JusticeOriginal SA post
Truth And Justice
Truth and Justice is a game for PDQ super-heroes. It was my first PDQ game and still my favorite super-hero game. It takes a couple of steps back from the "DIY" aspect of the system, as it provides a fairly hefty power list, many of which have specific mechanical effects. I actually think this improves the DIY aspect however, because it's a great showcase of the different things you can do with PDQ's relatively simple Quality system. That said, this is still one of the earlier PDQ games and it still features its share of bugs.
Chapter 1: Superhero Genre
The first part of the book, 14 or so pages, serves as an introduction to the Superhero genre and the different tropes and terms that have sprung up around it. A useful resource for those who aren't as familiar with them, but not much "game" material. Still, its a good way for non-comic fans to figure out what things like "silver age" and "four color" mean. The gist of it is that Truth and Justice is, at its heart, designed primarily for classic "Capes" style superheroes where you don't worry overmuch why the guy in tights is punching criminals rather than directing his abilities towards economic improvement, and the bad guys will probably self-identify as "evil" and laugh maniacally while lowering you into shark tanks.
Chapter 2: Truth and Justice Rules Overview
Much of this is going over the basics from the PDQ core rules, however there is one significant difference. Instead of just having Qualities characters now have both Qualities and Powers.
Qualities are mostly unchanged, however there are several "special" Qualities that work in a unique way. Qualities operate on the "normal" scale, meaning the scale that humans, animals, cars, etc. all work on. You might have Qualities that represent super-human or non-human abilities, but if they operate on the Normal scale then they're probably still Qualities. For instance, you could take a Quality like "Aquatic" (because who wants to waste a power on that?) to let you swim and breath underwater, or a Quality like Claws to have a set of claws for fighting, climbing, etc (of course Claws can also be a Power, think the difference between Beast and Wolverine).
Powers represent superhuman abilities which operate on the Super Scale. Powers are Ranked just like Qualities (Poor/Average/Good/etc), but they represent abilities that no human is capable of and unlike Qualities if you lack a Power you can't "wing it" (although you can twist your Powers to fit different situations). At their core Powers still operate much like Qualities. If you want to punch someone with Expert [+4] Super-Strength then you roll 2d6 +4. However, there are often additional bonuses or abilities granted by Powers beyond their bonus to your roll.
Stunts are what you do when you want to use a Power in a way not covered by the Power's penumbra, typically to emulate a different Power. For example, a character with Expert [+4] Body of Flame might use a Stunt to emulate the Flight power by producing a jet of flame. Someone with Super-Speed might vibrate at high speeds to emulate a power like Phasing. etc. Someone with a Master [+6] level Quality can also perform Stunts, such as a Master [+6] Martial Artist using meditation techniques to stop their heart, etc. These are called "Spin Off" Stunts. It's also possible to invent powerful, individual moves called Signature Stunts (such as the Human Torch's Nova trick, or Black Bolt's Master Blow). Typically Stunts have a Rank several steps below the Power's Rank, but this can be increased by spending hero points.
Hero Points We were just talking about these. We all know what hero points are by now. In Truth and Justice hero points are used in all the standard ways (boosting a roll, recovering from injury) as well as making declarations about the game world or fueling Stunts. They're gained by acting in-genre. So a super-hero will gain Hero Points by saving people, being self-sacrificing, showing mercy and nobility, etc. meanwhile villains gain Hero Points (or Villain Points) by performing overly-elaborate plans or traps, gloating, and so on. All characters have a rating called MAX which represents the maximum number of Hero Points that they can hold onto at a time. As you earn Hero Points your MAX will increase, and it can be decreased for character improvement. This means that characters can remain viable even if they never increase their Power or Quality Ranks (as many comic book characters are fairly static) because they'll have a much higher MAX than characters who spend their MAX to gain new abilities or skills.
We'll go into more detail on all of these in later chapters.
Chapter 3: Characters
Truth and Justice has 9 steps to making your character:
Name This is your "real" name, as opposed to your "cape" name.
Background Your character's history, often with a focus on the "non-heroic" bits. Superman's background would focus on his arrival on earth, growing up in Smallville and coming to Metropolis to work for the Daily Bugle.
Motivation Your hero's primary driving goal. "Rid Gotham of Crime" for instance. Your motivation will compel you to act on it, but in exchange it will earn you more hero points.
Qualities Characters in Truth and Justice have more abilities than your standard PDQ characters. They get 5 Quality Ranks and one Weakness. It's worth noting that your Weakness isn't typically going to be things like Kryptonite or the color yellow, these are special traits called Vulnerabilities or Limitations, which are covered later.
Origin Where you got your powers from.
Powers Everyone gets 3 Power Ranks, which work the same as Quality Ranks (so you can have one Master [+6] Power or split that up into multiple weaker powers. Because just having a Power can be a big deal it's possible to "split" your Power Ranks into two Average  Powers. Average  Powers don't have a bonus to your roll, but they still give you access to Super-Scale abilities: Average  Flight isn't very fast but you can still friggin fly! Average  Super Strength doesn't give a bonus to hit, but it still gives a boost to your damage and lets you lift things that a normal human can't. If you really want to push it you can split an Average  Power into two Poor [-2] Powers (meaning a really incompetent super-hero could have up to 12 Poor [-2] Ranked Powers), to represent powers you have but can't really control well.
If you decide that Powers aren't your thing you can also exchange them for Quality Ranks. The formula for this is oddly overcomplicated but it basically boils down to this: turn any Power Ranks you want to sacrifice into Average  Powers, then for each Average  Power sacrificed you get 2 Quality Ranks. So a character go full "super-normal" gets no Powers, but will get 17 Quality Ranks (5 normal Ranks + 12 from sacrificed Powers). You can also choose to sacrifice only a portion of your Powers if you want to play a "weaker" superhero who still plays with the big boys.
Hero Points Everyone starts with 5 Hero Points and 10 MAX.
Codename Your super name.
Uniform Describe your costume
Miscellany Anything else you want to note down. This is a good place to describe any Qualities or Powers that aren't self-explanatory.
Next we go into the rules on Hero Points . It's worth noting that your Hero Points don't "refresh" from session-to-session, the pool is tracked continuously and refilling the pool requires performing significant deeds or falling victims to your flaws. You earn hero points for following your Motivation without hesitation as well as performing heroic acts in general. You can also earn Hero Points by accepting negative consequences. If you have a Vulnerability or Limitation then you earn hero points if you're hindered by it, and extra points if you manage to cleverly overcome it. The GM can also invoke what's called a Revoltin' Development, where they inflict some unavoidable plot-induced misfortune on the character(s) in exchange for a hefty chunk of hero points.
Hero Points are used to declare facts (this bar has a basement, Me and Melting Man were college lab partners), fuel Stunts, add a bonus to rolls, recover damage, or call on a "trophy" from a past game (basically letting you use a plot device from a previous story to help out now).
Whenever you earn a hero point you mark a "tick", and once you have Ticks equal to your MAX then you reset and your MAX increases by one. So characters with extremely low MAX will return to acceptable levels fairly quickly, and those with a higher MAX will start to slow down.
Your MAX is spent mostly on character improvement. You can turn a regular Stunt into a Signature stunt with a MAX point, purchase or improve Qualities and Powers. In desperate times its possible to sacrifice a point of MAX for a hero point, but this isn't a great deal.
Chapter 4: Superpowers
Truth and Justice uses an Intensity Chart to provide basic guidelines on what's possible with Powers.
Want to see how much weight a super-strong or Telekinetic can left, check that column. Same for the speed of a character with Flight or Super Speed. As you can see the fairly low range of modifiers hurts the system a bit. Things typically ramp up massively between Expert [+4] and Master [+6] and the power level doesn't really scale to the ridiculous levels some super-heroes reach. Personally I use an expanded chart that goes above Master based on the newer rules provided in PDQ#.
If you want to have some power-based flaws you can pick up a Limitation or Vulnerability.
A Limitation is some kind of restriction on your power's use. Mind Control that works only on men would be a good example or Flight that is limited to no higher than 10 feet off the ground. If your power's limitation restricts you in a significant way during a Scene you get a Hero Point. If you can come up with a good loophole or workaround for the limitation this increases to two hero points. For instance, if you've got a super-hero whose Super-Speed depends on nearby electrical current fighting villians out in Amish country he'll earn a hero point every time he can't use his power (assuming it would be useful in the conflict). However, if that hero rigs up a dozen potato batteries and fills a backpack with them then he'd be able to use his powers again and earn an extra Hero Point for being clever. If you want your power to have a Limitation you just make a note of it.
A Vulnerability is more severe. Vulnerabilities are purchased using Power Ranks. And yes, this means it's possible to create a superhero with nothing but a Master [+6] Vulnerability. The reason for this is that Vulnerabilities are a huuge source of Hero Points. Every turn you're exposed to your vulnerability you lose your action, take damage equal to the Vulnerability's modifier (minimum 1) which ignores any defenses and you gain 1d6+ modifier Hero Points. So captain Vulnerable might have a Master [+6] Vulnerability to Bullets which means he'll be crippled if he's ever shot...but the guy will earn an average of 10 Hero Points every time. Some special powers come with "built-in" Vulnerabilities which do not give bonus hero points.
Although the DIY theme is still going strong there's a fairly long (14 pages) list of different Powers or special Qualities. I won't go over each one individually, instead I'll mention some of the highlights and point out some of the strengths and weaknesses.
Gadgets/Gadgeteering/Super-Gadgets/Gadgeteering In general you can take any Quality or Power in the form of a Gadget, basically giving it the Limitation "can be lost/stolen". Gadgets are purchased as Qualities and represent "cutting edge" or "near future" technology. You can get a jetpack or a laser gun as a Gadget, but these things are still "normal scale", so a jetpack won't let you break the sound barrier and the laser gun is effectively just a gun with a bigger special effects budget. Gadgeteering is a Quality that can be purchased to allow you to trade hero points for Gadgets. Gadgets produced with Gadgeteering are not "built in" Qualities so you can't absorb damage with them and they have no story protection. Super-Gadgets and Super-Gadgeteering works basically the same but using Super-Scale effects rather than normal scale.
Invulnerability Invulnerable characters do not take any Damage Ranks from most normal-scale threats. They don't even need to roll. They can still be affected by Failure Ranks however (so you can't shoot someone whose invulnerable, but you may be able to get him in a wrestling hold). Extreme normal scale threats (being hit with a missile or by a train) can inflict Failure Rank damage. The only way to inflict lasting injury on them is with Super-Scale attacks, which inflict damage Ranks like normal. Invulnerability is a neat idea, but its a power that's open to abuse because there's no reason to take anything higher than Average  Invulnerability. Higher ranks only add a bonus to your roll to resist super-scale damage or extreme normal scale damage, but you could just put all the other ranks into other defensive abilities like Super-Armor which grant bonuses which scale to your rank.
In general, PDQ doesn't do great with powers that have "absolute" effects such as Invisibility, Invulnerability or Phasing.
Sidekick/Super-Sidekick This is a special type of Quality or Power which basically gives you a backup character. Taken as a Quality every rank you put into the Sidekick Quality gives him more ranks to design his Sidekick, ranging from 4 Ranks to 6. Super-Sidekicks are built the same way, except they also get Power Ranks equal to the number of Power Ranks invested in the Sidekick.
Super-Armor This is a bit fiddlier than invulnerability but it does grant a scaling benefit. Against normal-scale threats Super-Armor reduces damage by an amount equal to 7 + the modifier of the Power. On the super-scale it reduces damage by an amount equal to the modifier. So a character with Expert [+4] Super-Scales would reduce normal scale damage by 11 and super-scale damage by 4. Obviously, on the normal-scale this is very close to being invulnerable anyway.
Super-Scale Attacks This includes just about any form of offense-focused power. Beams/Blasts/Bolts of whatever as well as Super-Strength. Against normal-scale inanimate objects these powers get bonus damage equal to 7 + power modifier. Against normal scale opponents inflicting this bonus damage requires you to spend a Hero Point. The exception is super-strength which inflicts that extra damage for free. This tends to make attack powers fairly over-powered (for perspective your average character without Super-Armor or Invulnerability can take 12-16 Damage Ranks without zeroing out). One good hit from a character with even a low-ranked power can take out opponents without dedicated defensive powers. Just like Invulnerability, investing just enough for Average  Super-Strength is a great way to "game" the system. The +7 bonus to damage for just half a rank is a huge up-front benefit.
Super-Speed And of course here we've got the Power with the biggest potential for abuse, because it grants extra Turns. You get extra actions equal to the modifier of the Power. Combined with the fact that it can be used both defensively and offensively and the potential for powerful Stunts, Master [+6] Super-Speed can be used to end most conflicts before they start...7 actions a turn means most opponents will never even have a chance to try and beat you. In short, don't fuck with the Flash.
Vehicle/Super-Vehicle Sort of a cross between a gadget and a sidekick. Like a Sidekick Vehicles have their own Qualities (or Powers) which the PC can take advantage of when piloting the vehicle.
Meta-Powers This is one of the weirder categories of Powers. A Meta-Power is actually a large collection of powers that all spring from the same source and are effectively treated as a single power. This is how you represent Heroes with obscenely broad powers like Sorcery, or just characters with a ton of powers like Superman. It's actually possible for the same power to be either a normal Power or a Meta-Power depending on how it's interpreted. For instance, some people with Telepathy basically just get to talk mind-to-mind with others...and then you've got people like Professor X. Likewise, a character like Quicksilver has Super-Speed as a Power...but the Flash definitely has it as a Meta-Power.
Mechanically, Meta-powers have no "core" power use and instead allow you to use all the sub-powers as Stunts, basically letting you use them for free as though they were 2 Ranks lower than your Meta-Power's level (so Master [+6] Meta Powers would give all the sub-powers at Good [+2] Rank, with the option to boost them with Hero Points). Because of this you generally don't want to bother taking meta-power unless you have at least as many powers as Superman or Martian Manhunter and you don't really want to bother investing in a Meta-Power at below Expert [+4] Rank.
Along with the benefits, Meta-Powers are required to have a Limitation or a Vulnerability tied into them and unlike normal Limitations/Vulnerabilities these grant you no bonus Hero Points.
Despite some of the criticisms, most of the powers are very open to alternate interpretation and the loose, DIY nature of the game at least makes it very easy to "fix" problematic powers. The powers described above are the ones with the most "baked in" mechanics, most of the rest are simply described with a variety of interpretations and possible concerns to be addressed.
Powers in Truth and Justice are usually quite flexible and when you want to try and pull something off outside of the Power's normal penumbra then you're doing a Stunt. Spin-Off stunts are the most common and they represent altering the Power's normal function or form, so long as the use has at least a believable relationship with your original Power. In many cases common stunts practically become secondary Powers for a hero. Normally you perform Stunts at two Ranks lower than the base Power at no cost, with the option to spend Hero Points to increase the effective Rank (including going higher than the original Stunt). So a Good [+2] Flame Blast power would normally be "stunting" at Poor [-2] Rank (say if you wanted to use it as a jet, or to produce a concussive explosion).
Signature Stunts are exceptionally powerful but very specific Stunts that a hero has perfected. Signature Stunts cost at least one hero point to activate, but in addition to the "spin off" value of the stunt you add the base Modifier of the Power. This means that it's pointless to make Signature Stunts for Good [+2] or Average  Powers, as the hero point cost will actually grant no benefit (for Good [+2]) or increase have a negative effect (for Average ). However, for Expert [+4] or Master [+6] ranked powers the boost is impressive (for 1 Hero point an Expert [+4] Power grants a +6 bonus as opposed to +2. A Master [+6] Ranked power would grant +10 as opposed to +4).
Chapter 5: Super-Scale Conflict
This chapter is, for the most part, just the normal Conflict rules from PDQ core. There are a few new ideas though:
Story Hooks The first time you take damage to a particular Quality or Power in a Scene, the GM marks it as a "story hook" related to the Quality. Basically this means that the GM is expected to come up with some minor plot, complication or event related to the Quality. Since the first Qualities to take damage in a conflict are often non-combat related (such as Ace Reporter or True Love) this tends to ensure lots of drama from a character's "normal" lives springing up to conflict with their crime fighting. There are no strict requirements for when a story hook occurs and ultimately it's more of a suggestion on how to shape the plot rather than a strict requirement.
Light Posts and Lamborghinis This is a fairly simple rule. If you want to use some kind of destructible improvised weapon or other extreme collateral damage (throwing a car at someone, collapsing a building, etc) then you get a +2 bonus to your attack.
Scale effects generally speaking, if a PC operating on the Super-Scale is taking on a non-powered NPC then they can usually treat it as a Complicated situation rather than a Conflict situation. For example, a Good [+2] Telepath wants to get past a security guard (with the Qualities Good [+2] Watchful and Good [+2] Marksman) they would normally have to engage in a Conflict and the telepath would have to disable the guard by inflicting enough Failure Ranks to zero them out. However, under this rule they can simply treat the NPC as an obstacle with a TN rather than a character that must be fought. Since the guard has no Qualities related to resisting mental intrusion it's an Average [TN 7] Task. The telepath rolls 2d6+2 and so long as he beats a 7, he can simply bypass the guard (putting them to sleep, mind controlling them to leave, clouding their senses, etc). This is only for minor NPCs, full-scale "super-normal" villians should always be treated as Conflicts.
Chapter 6: Gamemastering
As is always the case for these sections the advice is decent but not exceptionally different than what you would expect to find in any other super-hero book.
There are also rules for allowing the PCs to work together to create a Headquarters (much like the rules presented in MNPR).
Next we have rules for Plot Devices or Macguffins. Generally speaking they're meant to drive the plot and be used by NPCs, however if the PCs get ahold of them they can call upon them in later stories as Trophies. Using a Trophy requires some hero points and generally these devices have functions that work outside of the normal bounds of Powers/Qualities...they just work. These are things like Moon Lasers, Cosmic Accessories, Power Neutralizers, etc.
There's a quick section regarding different "power levels" you can use to build your villians and NPCs and a small list of sample NPCs.
Chapter 7: Second String Supers
This is one of three "sample" super premises for your Truth and Justice Game. Second String Supers is the more light-hearted setting, focused on the "animated" style of super-heroes with a strong episodic theme.
The premise is that the world's mightiest heroes are being called away into space to fight an alien armada on the edge of the galaxy before it can threaten Earth. The PCs are all B and C grade supers who have been reluctantly recruited by The Dragon Knight to defend his city of Drakesburg in his absence. The chapter provides a list of NPC allies and villians as well as a simple write up of a "season" worth of episodes.
As the goofier, light-hearted setting this one has some of the best NPCs. These are my favorites:
* The Orange Ogre This guy was a professional wrestler whose natural mutant abilities triggered after a severe head injury in the ring. As a result he's a huge (7 foot plus) orange-skinned monster with brain damage. The Orange Ogre is basically caught up in the delusion of Kayfabe (the scripted "reality" of the wrestling world) and believes all his actions are part of his wrestling persona. He's stuck as a "Heel" and thus must act the part of the villian, but really wishes he could switch to a "Face" and believes that if he defeats a major opponent like the Dragon Knight he might be allowed to do a Heel-Face turn.
Expert [+4] Wrestler, Good [+2] Gambler, Good [+2] Party Animal, Good [+2] Shocking Appearance, Poor [-2] Delusional. Good [+2] Invulnerability, Expert [+4] Super-Strength
* The Philatelist A riddler-esque criminal whose crimes all revolve around postage. She's a complete nut with a stamp obsession and who likes playing games with the authorities. She doesn't have a complete write-up but she does have the Meta-Power Expert [+4] Stamp and Mail Schticks. Basically she can do anything so long as there's a component of the postal system, stamps or stamp collecting. For instance, if she slaps enough postage on an opponent she could teleport them to another location. She can mail herself out of prison in an envelope, pull just about whatever she wants out of a mail-box.
Chapter 8: Supercorps
This is the second super-hero setting. It's the near future and mega-corps effectively rule the world. The PCs are "Super-consultants" who work for a meta-human consultancy firm who works for hire for the different mega-corps when they need super-human resources beyond those metas they have on their payroll. The setting has traces of Aberrant and Shadowrun, and is actually a fairly unique concept for super-heroes. Well, heroes is a bit of a stretch.
To enhance the feel of the setting there are no aliens, other dimensions, lost civilizations or magic. Superhumans are typically the product of mutations (born or by accident), scientific "upgrades", or even intensive self-improvement. Or at least that's the public perception, there's always the possibility of more out there.
Chapter 9: Fanfare For the Amplified Man
This is the most unique of the three super-settings. Basically this is a world that has only a single source of super-powers and the traditional super-hero tropes are extremely thin on the ground.
All super-heroes were gifted "normals" who have done something exceptionally heroic and self-sacrificing and thus earned a device called an Amplifier that grants them superhuman abilities. The abilities are always themed in some way towards the character's exceptional act. So basically it's got a sprinkling of Aberrant, Exalted and the Green Lanterns.
Your Amp gives you the ability to earn and spend Hero Points, access to your Powers (it's possible to use Powers without your Amp but they're greatly weakened), allows you to communicate in any "living" language and allows you to communicate with other Amp Weilders telepathically.
In this setting there are explicitly no aliens, no magic, no ancient super-tech (or any super-tech outside of Amp weilders), no super-normals, and no super-villians . There are a small number of Amp weilders in the world and they are all altruistic individuals.
This isn't a traditional super-hero game, it's basically a big "what if you had the powers of X, how would you change the world". The PCs are given abilities no one else have and challenged to find a purpose for themselves. It even points out that it's very unlikely that Amp weilders will ever be good crime-fighters since there simply isn't enough exceptional crime in a normal world for an individual with powers to have more of an impact than the police already have.
And there we go. That's basically it for Truth and Justice. Since I feel like it's hard to do the game Justice without some good examples does anyone have any super-human characters they'd like me to stat up? Existing ones or original characters are fine.
Truth & Justice Sample CharactersOriginal SA post
Also, you mentioned that there is a newer version of the rules (PDQ#?), is there a version of Truth&Justice with the updated rules available?
The answer is a little complicated...
PDQ# is a newer set of rules, but it's not quite a "second edition". Essentially PDQ# is the set of rules created for Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies. It includes several significant modifications to the Core Rules however like Techniques (specializations of Qualities), an expanded Master Chart that takes Target Numbers above Master rank, the addition of "Core" Qualities, and somewhat heftier rules for XP (called training points). However, the system itself is still very "swashbuckler" focused, for example it ditches the normal Conflict rules and replaces them with Dueling rules that are pretty much designed only for one-on-one fights (or one-vs-a group of mooks).
Really, each PDQ game is different enough from every other version that you could call them different editions. PDQ# just has the distinction of being one of the most recent, introducing the most new ideas, and generally being considered the most polished edition of PDQ.
Now, there is a set of rules called PDQ2 (or PDQ Too!) which basically is PDQ# with all the buckles and swashes removed. It uses the original Conflict system and slightly tones down the level of cinematic-ness, but it incorporates the new ideas like Techniques, Training Points, Core Elements, etc. This wasn't made by Chad Underkoffler (the guy who made PDQ and has written all the games we've covered so far), but by Mike Fiegel, the writer of the Ninja Burger RPG (which we'll be covering soon).
PDQ2 has so far been used in only two products: Vox, written by Mike Fiegel, and the PDQ edition of Achtung! Cthulhu, written by me for Modiphius
So far, there hasn't been any sign of earlier PDQ games like Truth and Justice or Dead Inside getting a 2nd edition, although there are a few fan conversions.
Now, onto character examples...
Okay, Stilt-man has gone through some upgrades but just for maximum ridicule we'll go with the earlier versions. Since he's well known for his incompetence we'll use slightly downgraded stats (4 Quality Ranks, 2 Power Ranks) compared to regular superheroes and villians, about the right level for a Powered henchman. Since his suit is meant to be bulletproof we'll make it Power Armor (a form of Super-Armor that also allows you to create "subsystems" as Stunts). Since he doesn't seem to produce much in the way of real Super-Gadgets we'll make him a normal gadgeteer, the Stilt-Suit is probably just a one time inspiration combined with stolen tech.
Qualities : Expert [+4] Gadgeteer; Good [+2] Disguise; Good [+2] Kicking; Expert [+4] Balancing Auto-Gyros; Poor [-2] Overconfidence
Powers Good [+2] Stilt-Suit; Average  Super Strength (Limitation: Part of the Suit)
Stilt-Man's Stilt-Suit is a suit of Power Armor that grants him the effects of Super-Armor (reducing normal-scale damage by 9 and super-scale damage by 2) and has a variety of built in gadgets (including his 2nd power of Super-Strength) that are available as Stunts, starting at Poor [-2] Rank: environmental defenses, adhesive proofing, fast movement, long-range kicks, a defensive electric charge, and height adjustments. Since they rank as Poor [-2] Stilt-man will often have to rely on Villian Points to be effective.
As a Gadgeteer Stilt-man can produce a variety of normal-scale devices, usually as temporary modifications to his suit. He'll typically have an Expert [+4] Gun (raygun or gas gun), and one or two Good [+2] or Expert [+4] ranked gadgets depending on the situation.
Stilt Man has sacrificed one Average  Power for two Quality Ranks.
Obviously there are a lot of different interpretations of the green lantern character. I'll go with the most straightforward, John Stewart from the Justice League cartoon. If we were going for one of the higher powered green lanterns like Hal or Kyle he would probably have to be statted up as a Veteran or World Class hero.
Obviously the Power Ring is going to be a meta-power, the big question is what Limitations it should have. In JL cartoon we don't see the color yellow being a limiting factor and in the modern day this isn't a big deal in most of the comic's I've seen. So that'll be an optional limitation, something that GL can have as a source of Hero Points but not "built in" to the meta-power. Since the power ring is so powerful there will be two built in limits: Willpower and Recharging.
Qualities : Expert [+4] Indomitable Will, Expert [+4] Former Marine, Good [+2] Architect, Poor [-2] Inflexible
Powers: Master [+6] Power Ring
The Power Ring is a meta-power with very few limits: Energy constructs, translation, super-scale attacks, Invulnerability, Flight, life support, scanning abilities, etc. These all default to Good [+2] but can be boosted with Hero Points. However, the ring's effects are limited by the user's Willpower, meaning you can't Stunt higher than the rank of your Willpower based Quality (so John is limited to Expert [+4] effects normally). If you want to go higher you've got to spend not only the Hero Points on your Stunt, but Hero Points to temporarily increase Your Willpower Quality. The second limitation is Recharging: every 24 hours the ring goes without recharging it's Rank is reduced by one and any Damage Ranks absorbed by the Power Ring cannot be recovered until you recharge.
Doctor Strange is a tough one...partially because I'm not actually very familiar with the character but from what I've seen he tends to serve as more of a plot device than a protagonist, and like all good plot devices he has whatever powers the plot demands while still needing the help of the main character(s) to solve the situation. I'd probably stat him up as a World Class hero, giving him 4 additional Quality Ranks and 2 additional Power Ranks. Here's my best attempt, ignoring powers that exist purely as plot devices.
Qualities : Expert [+4] Surgeon, Good [+2] Martial Artist, Expert [+4] Intellect, Master [+6] Ritual Magic,
Powers : Master [+6] Sorcerer Supreme; Expert [+4] Mystic Artifacts
Ritual Magic is a Quality that covers the magic Strange does outside of Conflicts or to resolve mystic tasks. Sorcerer Supreme is a Meta-Power which potentially (at the GM's option) can cover about anything but typically can be used for super-scale attacks and defenses (including "binding" attacks that inflict Failure Ranks), astral travel, teleportation, illusions, and expanded powers of perception. The limits of the Power are Strange's dependency on words and gestures and that his powers don't operate "automatically", if he doesn't know an attack is coming he can't defend against it. Mystic Artifacts operate essentially the same as Super-Gadgeteering, but rather than creating the devices Doctor Strange simply equips himself from his personal arsenal of magic.
An alternative way to approach Sorcery would be to allow it to do basically anything but only in the form of specific spells (which must be purchased as Signature Stunts). This means all of Strange's effects would be incredibly powerful (minimum modifier of +10) but he's limited by the repertoire of spells and will likely have a fairly low MAX as he would have spent a hefty chunk on his Stunts.
Questers of the Middle RealmsOriginal SA post
All the previous products have been written by Chad Underkoffler, the inventor of the PDQ system. Questers of the Middle Realms is the first licensed PDQ game by Tim Gray. I really like Tim's PDQ stuff because he tends to think about things a bit more "mechanically" than Chad. He's a bit more of a traditional game writer to Chad's stronger story-gaming philosophy. The games he writes definitely have their own feel and help fill out the PDQ system with different ideas. I tend to find that combining elements from systems written by the two of them produces good results.
QMR is a comedic fantasy game which tends to waver back and forth between "light-hearted fantasy" to "straight out D&D parody". The setting is fairly bare-bones but has some interesting aspects. The world is called Median, with all the action taking place on the continent of Ludor, also referred to as the "Middle Realms"
The standard term for adventurer's in the setting is Questers (which I always seem to want to spell as Questors for some reason...) and of course there's plenty of dank ruins and ancient tombs to explore and treasure to loot.
So, we've got the basic PDQ core rules that all the games have shared so far.
Since we're dealing with a D&D-style fantasy game there are of course, Races . Your race takes the form of a free Good [+2] Quality and an mandatory Poor [-2] Weakness. So an elf has Good [+2] Elf and Poor [-2] Elf. Humans are an exception, having no racial Quality. Instead they get a free Good [+2] Personality type Quality and no racial weakness. (all characters also get a Poor [-2] Weakness of their choice, so non-humans will have two Poor [-2] Qualities. In addition to providing it's bonus to certain rolls, most races can take a point of damage to their racial quality in exchange for a bonus of some kind. I quite like QMR's take on the different fantasy races:
Elves Elves in Ludor are immortal...and we're not talking immortal in the Tolkien sense of the word, we're talking about Highlander style immortals. They can be hurt, knocked out, stabbed through the heart but they'll get better. The only thing that kills an elf is complete bodily destruction (burned to ashes, crushed to paste, digested). Since they're so long lived elves are really jaded and hedonistic and generally have a reputation among other races as untrustworthy assholes.
If you're killed then you can take a damage rank to your Elf Quality to come back to life, restoring all Qualities to Average , this takes at least an hour or so. Elves can also take a point of damage to their Elf Quality to prove their superiority to other races, giving you a huge bonus to a single roll so long as it can be explained through reflexes, great age and experience and so long as there's a witness from one of the "lesser" races to show off to. The Elf Quality also grants nightvision and helps you maintain your style and composure.
The elven weakness is their inability to resist interesting sensations and experiences, and a really, really unsavory reputation with the other races. They're also limited to no more than 5 fortune points at once, compared to 10 for everyone else.
Dwarves are literally made out of earth and stone and then given the appearance of flesh. New dwarves are sculpted from stone by their leaders and then brought to life. Dwarven society resembles a Gentleman's club (no, not a strip club) and while other races think they're prone to drinking and fighting that's just because the alcohol they need for a "buzz" is enough to knock most others unconscious and what they consider a pleasant sparring season will leave humans with broken bones.
The dwarf Quality helps resist injury, seeing in darkness, and aids with mental focus and stone-work related tasks. The Quality is also an "armor" like Quality which can cancel the damage from an attack in exchange for one point of damage to the Dwarf Quality.
The dwarf weakness relates to their high density and lack of flexibility. Their lack of genders and sex-drive also means they can't really comprehend social interaction driven by romance, sex, or parenting.
Remember how I mentioned elves were immortal? Well, elves don't breed quickly but when they just won't die even one baby every couple of decades will eventually lead to a population explosion. To solve this problem the gods created the orcs, a species designed to hunt and cull elves (eating them to ensure no regeneration). That was a long time ago however, there are still some "traditionalist" orcs, but most of them just want to be taken seriously by the other races but they're still having some trouble grasping this whole "civilization" thing.
The Orc quality covers strength, wilderness survival, and keen senses (receiving a big bonus for scenting elves).
The Orc Weakness covers being ignorant of proper behavior, lack of education and the vulnerability of their keen senses to being "overloaded"
Hoblings are the settings hobbit/halfling equivalent. In Ludor they are the product of some unknown god transforming an unknown rodent species into humaniods. They're small, somewhat hairier than normal and very driven by appetite.
The Hobling Quality aids in situations where being small is helpful (sneaking, avoiding attack, etc), keen survival instincts and resisting things like poison or hostile magic. Hoblings are also very lucky and can take a damage rank to their Hobling quality to get the equivalent of a free fortune point that must be used immediately.
The Hobling Weakness covers the downsides of being tiny (resisting injury, lacking strength) and the difficulty hoblings have with resisting their appetites. Hoblings also have the best racial disadvantage ever: They're delicious. Just about anything that would eat a person finds them nearly irresistible.
After Races comes your Personality Hooks , which take the form of a Virtue and a Vice just like Dead Inside. These aren't as essential to the game's concept however and are freely defined. The virtue just has to be some positive character trait and the Vice is a negative one. These aren't Qualities but they do serve as a way to earn extra Fortune Points
Next are your Qualities . Everyone gets 5 Qualities they can pick freely, however you can't take "skill-based" Qualities at a rank higher than Good [+2]. So for instance, you can have Master [+6] Strong (since that's an innate feature) but you'd be limited to Good [+2] Swordsman (since that represents training). It is possible to have "stacking" Qualities that add up higher though (like Good [+2] Swordsman and Good [+2] Knight). This is meant to represent the fact that starting level characters are somewhat new to the adventuring lifestyle. In addition to your free Qualities you also get a Good [+2] Homeland Quality representing the country you came from, and a Good [+2] Organization Quality to represent your current or past membership in some relevant organization. PCs are encouraged to make up their own organizations.
So, all told PCs will have 8 Quality Ranks and one or two Poor [-2] Weaknesses.
Everyone also starts with one Fortune Point. You can spend them for a guaranteed good roll (roll 6+1d6 in place of 2d6), a +2 bonus to your roll, recovering 1d6 failure ranks or 1 Damage Rank, or dictating a plausible coincidence. You can gain fortune in game by following either your Virtue or Vice (it's not important that you be good, just be yourself), succeeding at a major challenge, doing cool stuff, or getting screwed by the plot. You can't hold more than 10 at once though.
As a dungeon-fantasy game gear and money is a bit more important to QMR than it is in other PDQ games. Objects that have Qualities but are not a part of your character are called Props. Props won't take damage for you and they can be permanently lost (unlike gear taken as Qualities which has plot armor). Props cover not only gear (like a Good [+2] Sword), magical gear (like a Good [+2] magic sword!) but they also include money and valuables (Expert [+4] Giant Diamond or Good [+2] Sack of Coins). There are a few different types of props:
Bonus these just add any Qualities to your roll. If you've got a Good [+2] Sword and you try and chop up an orc you get to add that +2 to your roll.
One-Shot You can get the bonus to one roll (or sometimes for a Scene) and then the prop is used up. These include things like potions, scrolls, alchemical bombs, or valuables that aren't easily "divisible" (for instance a Master [+6] Elven Crown can't just be chopped up for multiple purposes, at least not without losing a lot of value)
Plot-Point These are typically magical items and they can be invoked for an effect once per Session.
Slow Burn These are Props whose bonus can be "split up" among multiple uses. Each use gives a flat +2 bonus and decreases the prop's Rank by one, being used up once the Prop goes below Poor [-2]. So a Good [+2] Bag of Gold could grant a +2 bonus to 3 rolls or used up all at once for a +6 bonus.
Functionally the main difference between magical and non-magical items is that magical items typically grant a bonus to rolls that normally you wouldn't get from that sort of item, or let you do things that normally aren't possible. For example, in terms of fighting you could have a Master [+6] Perfectly Crafted Blade or a Master [+6] Enchanted Mace of Smiting and both would grant the same bonus in fighting but the magical weapon might allow you to do things like fire energy bolts, attack everyone in an area, ignore certain defenses, etc.
In addition to using a prop for a bonus you can get rid of the prop with a Dramatic Exit, getting a big bonus to a defensive roll in exchange for losing the prop (so long as it makes sense in context).
I quite like how QMR handles gods, it's a bit more traditionally pantheistic than other fantasy games and the gods are represented as fairly neutral rather than strictly good or evil. The five Greater Gods are taken from Mesopotamian mythology and there is an undetermined number of lesser gods that are meant to be created by the players as the game goes on.
Once per session each player can choose to come up with a named god related to a particular event the group is involved in. The player gets a Fortune Point for this and the new god is added to the list of deities. Everyone involved gets a point of positive or negative Favor, depending on what exactly they were doing. For example a player might decide that he's dedicating his arena fight to Testosteroes, god of Oiled Muscles and snag +1 Favor with Testosteroes and a fortune point. However, if they were crashing a male model fashion show that might be -1 Favor.
Anyone can call upon Favor from a god (although priests do it best). Using favor works sort of like casting a Miracle (see below), but instead of producing a magical effect you get the benefit of a spent Fortune Point, so long as it's relevant to the god's interests. So Testosteroes could help in rolls to appear impressive or glistening, feats of strength or manliness, but not to help you pick a lock or sail a ship.
If you keep getting negative favor you will face some trouble. Once you're at -2 Favor you might start finding yourself on the bad end of some nasty miracles whenever near a place relevant to the god. The intensity of the miracle depends on the amount of negative Favor, which is reduced by one every time it happens.
There are three types of Magic in QMR: Miracles, Thaumaturgy, and Mysticism. All share some features in common but also have their own fairly distinct rules. First, in order to do magic you must have an Arcane Quality. Arcane Qualities are purchased as normal Qualities but they're one Rank lower. So if you spend one Rank on an Arcane Quality like "Holy Wrath of Jojo" then it would be an Average  ranked Quality, two Ranks gives you Good [+2] and so on. Arcane Qualities are marked with a *.
The effect of the spell are based on a magic Intensity Table much like the one for Truth and Justice, just toned down to less super-hero levels. for example, weight goes from a couple of pounds at Poor [-2] to a sailing ship at Master [+6]. Casting a spell involves two rolls: an effect roll to see if you succeed (this is also your attack roll if you're trying to hurt someone) and a fatigue roll to see if you can cast your spell without suffering any ill effects. The TN for these is based on the Rank of the effect you're going for. You can choose to lower your effective rank to produce an easier and less taxing spell, or even increase it above your Arcane Quality but you'll automatically fail the fatigue roll and you'll probably suffer some unpleasant side effects.
Thaumaturgy is your basic "spellbook and wand" flavored magic. In order for Thaumaturgy to work you've first got to have at least a couple of objects with a mystic connection to what you're trying to do. Particularly strong or weak connections might give a bonus or penalty. Locations with particularly strong affinities might also grant a bonus to your magic. Spellcasters with this flavor of magic add intellectual-type Qualities to their effect roll, and stamina or endurance type Qualities to their fatigue roll. If they fail a fatigue roll they suffer Failure Ranks.
Thaumaturgy can also go wild if you roll double 1's on the d6, or if you're "overcasting" it'll go wild on any doubles.
Mysticism represents supernatural abilities that you get through pure mental effort. This could be psionic-style effects, or something more like ki mastery. It's based on willpower and is less flexible than the other two flavors and generally allows narrower Qualities. Like thaumaturgists they suffer failure ranks if they fail a fatigue roll.
Miracles are related to the Favor aspect above. If you're a priest you probably have a Quality called Ordination for a particular god. Ordination guarantees you a certain minimum level of Favor (equal to the bonus of the Quality, regenerating 1 Favor per day if you drop below it). So a Good [+2] Priest of Colgate (god of smiles) would have 2 Favor automatically and if he drops below 2 he'll regain one per day until he's back up to 2.
Priests can use their favor the same way anyone can (as a kind of virtual Fortune Point), but they can also use it to power Arcane Qualities. Priests add their Favor (rounded up to the nearest even number) to their fatigue roll and if they fail they lose a point of favor. Their effect roll is influenced by qualities related to charm, smooth talking and butt-kissing. Basically the more you can sweet talk the god the more powerful your spells are.
Ludor is divided up a lot like your standard "video game levels", which fits the game's conceit fairly well
Ar-Karap Desert Big, sandy and full of nomads. It's got a single city ruled by a (former) grand vizier Jafar Doom. He's evil, but in a kind of laid back, casual way. Sure he's guarded by the animate skeletons of those who tried to interfere with his rule, but for most people in his city life is pretty good.
Arrganarr This is the setting's equivalent of Mordor, a volcanic wasteland surrounded by a mountain range. This is a land ruled by evil beings and savage human tribes. However, they still trade with the rest of the world because it's tough to grow food in an blasted obsidian desert. The trade city of Shiny Gate is the only place where outsiders tend to show up because the city watch strictly enforces nonviolence from the monstrous citizens.
The League of Groth This is the kingdom of goths (technically the principalities of goths). Lots and lots of black lace, decadent nobles and nighttime parties. They like seances and vampires.
Helongor A rugged frontier sort of place. Their elite warriors are the Weasel Riders who, obviously, ride giant weasels into battle.
Kadink This place is terrible, partially because it's basically a giant swamp full of toxic snakes and diseases and partially because everyone is basically paranoid and spying on each other all the time.
Ko-Sha This is the setting's equivalent to Waterdeep or Sharn. The mandatory huge semi-independent metropolis that attracts adventurers like flies. Home of the Classic Inn, which is known as the place to go to meet shadowy figures in corners.
Logrin This is fantasy equivalent of Britian. A small, tea-loving island nation with a powerful navy. Also faeries.
Orthedia This is basically "medieval times" the country, lots and lots of knights who love to go on quests and wear lots and lots of armor.
Scata This is kind of the fantasy equivalent of Scotland. They wear kilts and are practically infested with supernatural and spiritual pests.
Tek Wei Obligatory Asian section. Lots of bureaucracy, advanced levels of clockwork and craftsmanship and persistent dragon motifs.
Valharia Viking country!
Wochilat Fantasy subsaharan africa combined with a bit of ancient greece. Lots of philosophers and home to the Great Library which employees custodians who are basically the librarian equivalent of Indiana Jones.
Yrisiel Forest This is the ancestral home of the elves. Considering the sort of things ancient elves get up to in order to amuse themselves it is a nasty, nasty place.
The Plains of Plap This is a place where stuff falls from the sky. Just..stuff. Most are just household objects of some sort but occasionally you get larger, more unusual, or living. No one really knows why.
QMR has a few guidelines on creating monsters as well as several already statted up. Generally creatures that are larger or smaller than humans have a Size Quality and Weakness (Good [+2] Large for a horse or lion up to Master [+6] Large for whales and the like). They also usually have a Type Quality (Grazer, Scavenger, Predator for animals). Plus there's a few "common Qualities" that can be just bolted on to modify creatures or create new ones. Examples are things like Dead or Energy Drain (an Arcane Quality that lets the attacker recover damage when they inflict it). There's also a few different ways poison can be handled in PDQ. There are also a few "template" Qualities that can be plopped onto a critter that work a lot like Racial Qualities. There's Empyrean (divine beings), Nether (infernal ones), and Dread (sort of like Dire Animals, bigger and nastier than normal). Here's some of the more interesting creatures both from the main book and the min-expansion the Book of Bewildering Beasts:
Good [+2] Scavenger, Good [+2] Strong, Good [+2] Endurance, Expert [+4] Swimming, Good [+2] Blindsight, Expert [+4] Damage Resistance (silver ignores this Quality), Good [+2] Poison Spur; Poor [-2] Confusion, Poor [-2] Slow on Land
Master [+6] Large, Expert [+4] Predator, Expert [+4] Intelligent, Expert [+4] Willpower, Good [+2] (Personality Trait), Expert [+4] Keen Senses, Expert [+4] Breath Weapon* (arcane quality, based on mysticism); Expert [+4] Flight, Expert [+4] Long-Lived, Good [+2] Tough Hide, plus one to two Good [+2] Dragon Magic qualities. Poor [-2] Large, Poor [-2] Vanity
Good [+2] Small, Expert [+4] Grazer, Good [+2] Dread Creature, Good [+2] Gnawing Teeth, Expert [+4] Sensitive Hearing, Good [+2] Digging, Good [+2] Jumping
Mildew Monster (like a rust monster, but for nonliving organic material)
Good [+2] Agility, Good [+2] Quick, Good [+2] Keen Senses, Good [+2] Tough Hide, Good [+2] Persistent, Expert [+4] Rot (dissolving organic material), Expert [+4] Sense Organic Matter, Good [+2] Arcane Resistance: Disease. Poor [-2] Intelligence
Sensorius: an evil floating sphere with numerous stalks each ending in a different sense organ, each with a different magical ability.
Master [+6] Multiplied Senses, Average  Flight, Expert [+4] Intelligence, Expert [+4] Will, Expert [+4] Malevolent, Good [+2] Bite, Good [+2] Tough Hide. Poor [-2] Arrogant, Poor [-2] Too Much Magic Crap
The arcane abilities range from Good [+2] to Master [+6] depending on the individual sensorius' power. The central eye produces an antimagic field, automatically negating any lower-ranked magic and resisting all others. One eye stalk hypnotizes, another grants telekinesis. One ear fires destructive beams of energy and the other encases victims in wax. One nose fires mucus, the other fires wind blasts. One tongue fires acid and the other can be used to learn more about whatever it touches. One finger enrages the target (guess which) and the other can make melee attacks targeting pressure points.
And that pretty much wraps up Questers. Next will be the Zorcerer of Zo . I'm skipping Ninja Burger for now. Partially this is because there's not much mechanical difference between it and "vanilla" PDQ-core, and mostly because I seem to have lost my pdf copy.
Zorceror of ZoOriginal SA post
Zorcerer of Zo
ZoZ is a fairytale game and setting for PDQ. In fact, it's technically a "lite" version of PDQ called "The Good Parts". As hard as it is to believe that PDQ could get lighter.
ZoZ is kind of a weird RPG book, it's got a light set of rules to provide a framework and then the rest is half setting and half actual-play summary of the author's own campaign. It'd probably make for a great intro to RPGs, but it's a little unusual.
Chapter 1: Fairytales
Like he did with Truth and Justice Chad goes into a bit of a discussion on the "genre" of fairy tales. He goes into common elements of the stories. It's interesting in a TVtropes sort of way, but for the most part it's not exactly required reading. Even if you can't exactly write an essay on the nature of fairytales you probably have enough familiarity with the common traditions to create your own.
Chapter 2: The Zantabulous Land of Zo
Now we're into the setting. In case you haven't figured it out somehow, Zo is pretty clearly inspired by Oz. In fact, the setting can be summed up as a fairytale hybrid. Almost every major character is a combination of two existing fairytales.
The land of Zo consists of 5 smaller countries: Azul , Giallo , Rosso , Viola , and Zo itself. And yes there is a color theme going on here. Talking Animals exist and fall into the category of humaniod, bipedal, clothe-wearing (and yes, there are categories, I told you the first chapter gets pretty analytical). The book also informs us that if two talking animals have children together the child will be the same species as the parent that shares their gender. Thankfully it does not attempt to theorize on talking animals having children with humans.
This is the woody area the empire, both the "enchanted" and "deep, dark" variety. Rather than being a single kingdom like the other 4, Azul is actually two Counties: Cobaltia and Indigon (yes, Zo really loves its color themed names). the heir to Indigon has vanished and until it is proved that they are either alive or dead the two can't be combined into one kingdom.
This is the farm country and the primary exporter of brave and honest country-folk for fish-out-of-water adventures and coming of age stories. Its royal line died out decades ago and no new ruler appointed by the Empire, so while technically united it's effectively ruled by individual dukes, earls, counts, earls, etc. So basically this is the fairytale equivalent of the Dalelands or the Hundred Kingdoms.
It's time for pirates and musketeers. Rosso has got your maritime needs covered. They're also the loud, boisterous and will likely be portrayed via a Brian Blessed impression.
This country is mountainous and it's where you get your foggy peaks and dwarf mines. Just off the country's coast is the Island of Forgotten Toys, home to a large living toy population. It's also mentioned that Viola is the most accepting of Living Toys and Talking Animals as citizens, apparently elsewhere there's a fair amount of prejudice.
Here we've got the cosmopolitan section of the empire. Big cities and lots of emerald spires. It's also got traces of willy wonka, with flowers full of syrupy nectar which can be dried and eaten as candy.
The Deathless Wolf
One of the major setting elements is the Deathless Wolf, Shaykosch. The Deathless wolf is a hybrid of Koschei the Deathless and, of course, the Big Bad Wolf. He's basically a force of immortal evil that shows up every few decades to terrorize the empire before being put down by a hero. Of course he inevitably shows up again.
The ruler of the empire of Zo, but no one actually knows anything about the Zorcerer (including gender or species). It's basically left for the GM to determine, although there are several suggestions such as the Jack of tales, someone from another world (i.e. the real world) or Zolion, the founder of the empire (a cross between Aslan and oddly enough the Cowardly lion). The only thing known for sure about the Zorcerer is that they command the unique forces of Zorcery...although there's no definite idea of what Zorcery is, just that it's immensely powerful (maybe...)
Chapter 3: Zorcerer of Zo Rules
The rules here are the "Good Bits" version of PDQ, basically the standard core rules with a few extras trimmed off. Namely stuff from the combat/conflict options like Armor-Like Qualities, attacking multiple targets, flipping out/playing cagey.
You've also got Hero Points which work much like those from Truth and Justice, except there is no equivalent to MAX. Instead character improvement is handled by Learning Points . Learning Points are earned by failing at tasks, which I've always felt is a great way to handle XP. Characters may also choose "Special Moves" which are basically specializations of one of your Qualities, giving a bonus for a specific move like "Two Handed Strike!" for Swordsman. Many of these ideas will eventually evolve into the PDQ# system.
Magic is handled very simply and falls into two categories:
* Gifts This is a fairly narrow Quality that lets you do something that you couldn't normally do (this also includes things like magical objects). Something like Speaks With Animals or See In The Dark.
* Magic Star Qualities These are the "spellcasting" Qualities. Generally this is a normal Quality like Singing or Herbalism, but marked with a * to indicate that you can perform magical feats with the Quality. Like Arcane Qualities in QMR, these Qualities start one Rank lower than normal (so starting from Average ).
When attempting to use a Magic Star Quality the GM should determine if the use is meaningful or gratuitous . If it's meaningful then the GM and player should come up with a Cost or a Catch. A Cost means that something is sacrificed in order to perform the magical feat, whether it is a literal or metaphorical loss. A Catch is some kind of limitation to the spell that allows it to be undone. Catch's are especially used for powerful or long-lasting magic.
Chapter 4: ZoZ Characters
Character creation has 6 steps:
* Name Pick a Name
* Background and Nationality Come up with a background and decide on which kingdom you hail from (or if you're someone coming here from the normal world.
* Qualities In ZoZ everyone gets 6 Quality Ranks and one Poor [-2] Weakness.
* Special Move You can (if you want) pick out one Special Move attached to one of their Qualities.
* Hero Points and Learning Points Everyone starts with 5 Hero Points and 1 Learning Point
* Miscellany anything else
Next we've got a collection of significant Zo NPCs.
*Alphonse, Count of Cobaltia: This guy is a somewhat benevolent power-hungry dictator. He's a combination of Bluebeard from the Fables comic, and Vlad Tepes.
*The Blue Hood: The possible heir to Indigon and a rebel fighting against the tyranny of Alphonse, she especially likes robbing his tax collectors and redistributing the wealth with her 22 Happy Bandits. She also has some kind of mysterious connection with the Deathless Wolf. She's a combo of Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood.
*George Pieman: a young man spoiled by the relative affluence he enjoys as the son of Rosso's royal pastry chef. He heads up a small gang of rogues who enjoy drinking and bullying. He's a combination of Georgie Porgie combined with the Jack of Hearts.
*Shawn Gruff: a talking goat who has spent most of his time as a thief in Azul. However, recently a brother of his was killed by trolls while guarding a bridge and Shawn has sworn vengeance. Obviously he's got the billy goat gruff influence, combined with the Grey Mouser.
*The Stitchwitch: A witch whose magic focuses on the use of thread and needles. She's one of the ugly witches and is the terrifying combination of Baba Yaga and Pinhead from Hellraiser.
*Timothy, The Marquis De Carabas: This guy's a Talking Cat who lives in Giallo and rules the Carabas region. Although he's a good ruler he's a bit too refined and urban for the rustic area he governs. He's a combo of the Puss in Boots, the Marquis of Carabas from Neverwhere, and Lord Percy/Kevin Darling from Blackadder.
The rest of the book details the Actual Play report of Chad's ZoZ campaign which eventually transformed into the game. It features the characters of Horace Hogg (the 4th little pig who left the farm to learn magic) and Deril, a crocodile with an LED clock display on his stomach.
It's an interesting perspective on how the campaign setting developed. One interesting example is the religion of Lionism. At one point Horace and Deril are in a chapel where Count Alphonse is planning to forcefully wed a princess and claim the kingdom. The players get curious as to what the chapel is actually for and Chad basically has to come up with a state religion for Zo and decides on Lionism, the worship of Zolion, the foe of the Deathless Wolf.
That said, it's fun but not really something I can just summarize for a Fatal and Friends review, so that'll be it for Zorcerer of Zo. Next will be Jaws of the Six Serpents
Jaws of the Six SerpentsOriginal SA post
Jaws of the Six Serpents
I'm posting the whole cover up there because this is the most gritty and badass a PDQ game has ever looked. PDQ is a great system, but it definitely has a reputation for goofier, beer and pretzels style gameplay. Jaws of the Six Serpents is Tim Gray's attempt to create the flip-side of his previous game Questers of the Middle Realms: going from Dungeons and Dragons Parody to Conan-esque Swords and Sorcery.
Jaws is meant to be PDQ with chest hair and rippling biceps. It's got a strong "action" focus and a system for handling fights with lasting consequences and lethality. On top of that it comes with a Sword and Sorcery setting that's a bit more fleshed out than the world of Ludor from Questers.
It also has the highest art budget for any PDQ game so far, which makes it a nice read:
Part 1: Rules and Characters
The first part of the book is your standard PDQ rules, with a few previews of new ideas that are fleshed out later. Next we've got character creation.
Characters in JotSS have a few required Qualities:
*a Good [+2] People Quality. People is the stand-in for standard fantasy races. As a Sword and Sorcery game the assumption is that everyone will be human, and instead your nationality is more important. Instead of having a set of "special traits" that all People share in common. For example the Freemen of the River Towns might pick a Quality like Steady, Practical, Craftsman, Trader, Boating, or Fishing, while one of the Witch-Folk of Belimaur might take a Quality like Intelligent, Perceptive, Secretive, Trader, or Traveler.
*A Good [+2] Faculty. This is an "innate" Quality, part of your mind or body like brawn, toughness, intelligence, etc.
*A Good [+2] Driver, a Quality that motivates you to action. This could be good or bad, but it gets you off the couch.
Next you get 5 Ranks to pick additional Qualities (so starting characters will have 8 Ranks total, making them pretty badass compared to standard PDQ characters).
And of course you've got to take a Poor [-2] Weakness.
You've also got the standard Fortune Points (in Jaws you get one point at the start of a session, plus the option to earn Fortune Points when you do something awesome, get screwed over by the GM, etc.
And there are Learning Points , which work much like they did in Zorcerer of Zo. You earn Learning Points whenever you fail a roll or lose a conflict. You can also get them if your character has some kind of deep insight or understanding (basically if the GM decides to hand one out) or a major life event (typically the death of a party member).
And then there are Dark Learning Points . Basically this is an optional rule for getting extra power at the cost of your sanity and/or humanity. Essentially these are your Dark Side points. Rather than getting these for failing a roll, you get them when you succeed at something you really, really shouldn't have done. Translating that forbidden tome, quaffing that concoction of human blood and nightshade and surviving, etc. Alternatively, some deeds may be so tainted that you earn them just by being involved, such as battling inhuman monstrosities man was never meant to see.
Dark Learning Points can only be spent on "tainted" Qualities (addictions, mutations, insanity, or dark magic) and they can be used in place of Fortune Points to aid in rolls on "tainted" actions (which often means the Dark Learning Point will end up coming back to you).
Jaws also introduces Danger Levels , which are basically different levels of risk for different situations. The GM will always tell the players going in what the Danger Level is, so they're aware of the potential consequences.
* Drama This is the "default" for PDQ. No one is likely to get killed or seriously injured and any damage will usually be recovered within a few Scenes. A bar fight would be one example, or a fight where the PCs will be taken alive or rescued if they lose.
* Risk This level has some long-term consequences if you lose a Conflict. If you're forced to Zero Out you'll end up with a Scar: a new, permanent Weakness. Scars have to be related to the nature of the Conflict. The only way to get rid of a Scar is to spend Learning Points to "buy them up" to Average  Rank from Poor [-2].
* Doom At this level, if you Zero Out from a Conflict, you die (or go permanently mad, hopelessly crippled, etc). It's generally recommended that this be saved for major "boss-fight" level confrontations.
If a character is permanently killed then any Learning Points they have are distributed evenly among their remaining party members (at least 1 to each surviving member) and your new character will typically start with 1 Learning Point for every character who has died so far (not just your characters).
Another new rule is Minions . Essentially these are NPCs with only a small number of Qualities. Usually just one like Good [+2] Corrupt City Watchmen or Good [+2] Imperial Soldiers. But they can also have some extra situational Qualities like Good [+2] Alertness or Good [+2] Archers. No matter how many Qualities they have, Minions go down in one hit. They're treated as a Challenge rather than a Conflict.
If you're facing multiple minions they attack as a single character, with an advantage based on their numbers. Two minions get a +2 bonus, 3 or more change that +2 to a +1d6. That's the maximum however, whether you're fighting 3 or fighting 20 they only get to roll 3d6 plus their Quality. Of course, you can only take them down individually so 20 men will have plenty of time to wear you down while you chip away at their numbers.
Part 2: Magic
Magic in Jaws uses the same basic ideas from Questers and Zorcerer of Zo. You can purchase supernatural Qualities typically at one rank lower than normally (so starting at Average). There are two types of Magic in Jaws: Sorcery which is the big, powerful magic that's typically the domain of villains and NPCs and Charms which are small bits of very specific magical knowledge or abilities. They're less powerful, but much safer, than Sorcery. There's also Alchemy and Divination which are only kind-of magic.
This is your real magic: spellbooks and dribbly candles and wavy knives. The works. Sorcery is bought as a Quality one rank lower than normal (starting at Average) and it's rarely used directly to resolve a situation or make an attack or defense. Instead Sorcery is used to create Effects.
An Effect is some sort of magical construct, force or being that acts on the Sorcerer's behalf. So rather than attacking an opponent directly with your Sorcery you create an Effect like Good [+2] Wall of Fire or Expert [+4] Black Lightning which your opponent then attempts to overcome as though it were an environmental hazard. This is important because an Effect can have a Rank higher or lower than the Sorcerer's Quality.
To create an effect you have to first gather power, building it up one Rank at a time, starting at Poor. So if a Sorcerer is forced to zap away with a single spell every round, they'll only be able to produce a Poor [-2] Effect, which is mainly only good for special effects. Gathering a Rank of power takes one Action in a standard Conflict. Once you've reached the Rank you want you can cast the spell.
Every round you spend building up power you've got to make a roll with your Sorcery Power against the TN of the Effect's current Rank. If you succeed you can keep building. If you fail then you take damage and there's likely some magical fallout. A roll of double 1's automatically fails. Using Sorcery is also always at least at the Risk Danger Level. It's not safe.
It's also possible that you have to have appropriate sources of power to draw each Rank from (yourself, the environment, human sacrifice, objects of power, etc).
This is the more "heroic" form of magic. Usually Charms are innate magical talents, special gifts from the gods, magical objects, etc. This can also involve knowledge of very specific individual magical spells as opposed to the broad sweeping effects of Sorcery. Like Sorcery Charms are bought one rank lower than normal but you don't have to build up power or worry about charms spinning out of control. They're "cast" at your Quality's Rank and cost you only 1 Failure Rank to use.
This lets you produce semi-magical, one-shot Props. You can create Effects equal to your Alchemy Rank but every time you create one you effectively take a point of Damage to your Alchemy Quality (not to mention it takes several minutes or more). The GM may also require you to sacrifice appropriate Props (in the form of expensive materials, or rare ingredients) to create an Effect.
Charmcraft is a version of alchemy that's even more specific, essentially the ability to make Charms into magic items. However, you can only "imbed" Charms you know already. So this is probably something only NPCs will tend to use.
This is for predicting the future and tuning into the GM's plot-radio. It can be used to either negotiate with the GM for some extra info (trading a Fortune Point to learn something significant, or earning a Fortune Point to learn nothing at all). You can also set up a Divination effect retroactively, basically using it to claim that you perceived something in advance and prepared in some plausible way (usually by swapping out Props or something similar).
Part 3: Gear and Wealth
Equipment works a lot like it did in Questers of the Middle Realms. Pretty much any non-Quality possessions take the form of Props: "free-floating" Qualities which anyone can use and which can't take damage for you. This represents both equipment (like an Average  Suit of Armor or an Expert [+4] Blade of Charmed Steel), supplies (Good [+2] Medicinal Herbs or Expert [+4] Large Pack of Rations), or wealth (Good [+2] Sack of Coins, Master [+6] Coffer Full of Gemstones).
This also includes one of my favorite mechanics for fantasy adventuring: Indulging . Basically if you spend time in game indulging your passions and zest for life you can "cash in" Props in exchange for Fortune Points. You get a number of points equal to the Prop's Modifier. So if you decide you'll get blind drunk and wake up the next morning with your Good [+2] Fine Blade stolen you'll get 2 Fortune Points. Or perhaps you throw a massive party full of wine and singers and women and find that the next day you've spent your haul of Master [+6] Fat Loot, you'll get 6 Fortune Points in exchange.
Part 4: The World of Six Serpents
This is the "default" setting for the game, and it's actually pretty interesting. It's not extremely detailed but it feels more fleshed out and less cursory than QMR's Ludor.
In general the World is a fairly wild, uncivilized place. Most of the land is wilderness and there are few major kingdoms or even cities. There's little in the way of science or education (beyond secret arts like Sorcery or Alchemy). Magic is widely known, but not well understood and is generally feared and distrusted. Seers and alchemists are a bit more likely to be accepted as their powers are less terrifying and far less likely to run amok. Religion varies from settlement to settlement and the gods do not take an active role in the world. A powerful priest might know charms or sorcery, but there's nothing to indicate that this is a divinely granted gift. Indeed, there's little evidence that the gods are "real" at all.
One of the major setting elements is the concept of Urges . Urges are basically elemental energies that shape the world, represented by the eponymous Six Serpents:
There is an additional Dark Urge, connected with demons and the underworld, generally seen as something that is kept in check by the other 6 Urges.
You can take Urges as a Quality or Weakness to represent how intense these energies manifest in you. This can be used for sorcery, as a source of power to produce effects, or it can be used for big bursts of energy related to the Urge. You can invoke a positive Urge Quality to receive a +1d6 bonus to a roll related to the Urge's theme (so for Fire that would be for things like making a passionate speech or flipping out on someone). In exchange, the Urge's Rank is reduced by one level for the rest of the scene. You can have multiple positive Urges, but none that oppose one another (they're rock-paper-scissors style as opposed to binary opposition). So if you've got Good [+2] Fire and Good [+2] Wind you can't have Water or Metal (water opposes Fire and is opposed by wind, and metal is opposed by fire) or Earth (opposes Wind).
If you've got an Urge as a Weakness it represents a deficiency or lack of control over the Urge.
Some locations or objects can also possess high levels in certain Urges, making them good sources to draw power from when performing magic.
Next there's a bit about Intercessors , basically priests of a group called the Cult of Honored Ancestors, also known as Bone Priests. These guys are probably the closest thing the setting has to out and out "good guys". They follow the will of honorable and good ancestor spirits and try and "smooth out" the Urges in the World and get them to work in harmony. They believe the best way to do this is for the good spirits to become strong enough to hold the Urges in check.
Overall, a positive message, but it also means they're kind of interested in heroes dying, typically after performing great deeds. So, they'll want to help you to do great things...but they might not do much to try and prevent John Wilks Booth from taking you down afterwards. They have the power to call upon spirits to enter the physical world, either possessing a living host or animating a dead body.
That means the closest thing to straight up "good guys" in the setting are the necromancers.
Then we've got Peoples . There are no non-human races available in the standard setting...although some of the People are quite weird.
* The Devilfolk of Ahaan : These guys live in a half-destroyed city which is the only remnant of an ancient civilization that was struck down by an unspecified calamity. They've got cat-slitted eyes and rumor has it they're descended from beings of the underworld, plus they don't share the common aversion to Sorcery most others have. Basically these are your Melniboneans of the setting.
* Witchfolk of Belimaur : These guys like magic and magical knowledge, but avoid sorcery. Sticking to charms and alchemy or just the pursuit of pure knowledge and theory. They've got kind of an Arabic feel to them and they tend to collect charmed objects and equipment and serve in distant cities as advisors or scholars.
* Earth Tribes of Kalet Here's where your Conans come from. They're a bit Celtic, a bit viking. They like fighting but aren't known for military discipline.
Cliff People of Narrowhome These guys live in a single city founded by exiles and convicts and built on a cliffside. It's basically an entire city built from bad neighborhoods. They're culturally mixed and universally shady.
Masked Folk of Nilsomar These guys hail from the City of a Thousand Delights...which combined with their masks makes it seem like "Eyes Wide Shut" the city. This is the seat of decadent civilization. Lots of money, lots of fun, lots of corruption.
Water People of Quegin Like the devil-folk, these guys are only "semi-human". They've got slightly webbed fingers and toes and can hold their breath for around 10-15 minutes. They live in a collection of islands on top of a submerged city.
Freemen of the River Towns Your independent, stubborn, salt-of-the-earth types. You know the sort. They're among the least likely to use or understand magic.
Citizens of Sartain Aside from Nilsomar, Sartain is the other big city and it's not quite so hedonistic. This is where your cosmopolitan characters will probably come from. Streetwise, cynical, tough, etc. Of course they've got their foppish, decadent nobles and their hidden dark side as well.
Owl-men of Temisarum These guys can see in the dark and are naturally nocturnal, living in the jungles that have grown over the ancient city of Temisarum.
Next we've got the Monsters . This section isn't so much a bestiary as it is a guide for creating your own monsters out of common parts. There's a big list of Qualities that are common to monsters and a general idea of their Penumbra and any special rules that might apply.
There are a few common monsters provided though. There's near-humans like Ogres and Undermen, beasts that range from big cats and rat swarms to Wyrms (the closest equivalent to dragons in the setting). Also undead and Things From the Dark (ie lovecraftian horrors).
finally the book ends with common GM advice for possible alterations or adaptations of the source material: making magic more or less dangerous, allowing other races, proper rewards and goals, etc. It does include an amusing sidebar:
And that's about it for Jaws of the Six Serpents. I've got to say, it's probably my favorite PDQ book. I like how Tim works with the PDQ mechanics and the book's art and layout is far better than any of the previous PDQ games. I still use the other PDQ games for their own unique takes on the mechanics, but Tim's work here is probably my biggest inspiration when working on my own PDQ stuff.
PDQ Sharp/Swashbucklers of the Seven SkiesOriginal SA post
Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies is the first game to use what's called PDQ Sharp (or PDQ #). The core rules of which are available online: http://www.atomicsockmonkey.com/freebies/PDQ.pdf
Of course, all the different iterations of PDQ have had some fairly significant differences from Truth and Justice's Powers to Zorcerer of Zo's "Good Bits" system. However, S7S has enough new ideas that it demands a new set of core rules. However, PDQ# isn't really a new "edition", as it is extremely focused on "swashbuckling" style play, something that will become apparent in time.
Interestingly enough, Chad's introduction at the start of the book reveals that S7S was intended to be the very first PDQ game ever back in 2003. It turned out to be the fifth (the 8th if you count games Chad didn't write himself).
Chapter 1: The World of Seven Skies
Unlike most games S7S starts with the setting first. In fact, you won't see any mechanics until chapter 5. With 130 pages of setting material total, this makes S7S by far the most fully realized PDQ setting.
The World chapter focuses the "geography" of the setting (aerography?), which is fairly complex. There is no "planet" to speak of...the world is a hemispherical bubble of sky, called the Dome of the Heavens with clouds and islands floating within. The center of the dome has a cone-shaped vortex called the Sky of Fire (this is not actually the source of day and night, the World has both a sun and moon).
The Dome of the Heavens has 7 "layers", different wind-patterns stacked on top of one another, moving alternatively clockwise or counter-clockwise, with potentially dangerous cross-winds between the layers. There are also "sky-tides" which blow in and out from the center of the Dome rather than rotating around it.
At this point the jargon is somewhat overwhelming, with the names for each of the seven wind-layers, "cross-rips", the Fire Tide (winds blowing out from the core), and Utter tides (winds moving inwards towards the core) and the Blue.
The Blue is one of the weirder features of an already weird setting. It's a flat expanse which covers the bottom of the World that is basically a pool of thick, blue tar. Anything that falls into it will slowly sink into it, typically never to be seen again and conversely things sometimes rise from the Blue into the skies above. The Blue is a fairly unstable place, magic behaves unpredictably and strange events can occur, especially for those who are attempting to harvest the Blue's substance (called Raw Cerulean).
Outside the Dome of the Heavens orbit the sun and moon (both of which appear to move around the Dome, passing underneath the Blue and up the other side. Beyond the sun and moon the stars spin in a fixed field across the night sky, forming unique constellations which influence the setting's magic.
This is not a setting that feels the need to explain or justify itself. The game knows that no aspect of it jives with science or logic and it doesn't try and come up with any. The world is just what it is. If you attempt to pass outside the Dome of the Heavens you'll simply be stopped by an invisible force at the edge and the Blue creates an impassible barrier at the bottom. Islands float, sink, or fall apart at the whim of unknown forces.
For the most part I quite like that they don't bother to try and come up with any BS explanation or pseudoscience for why things work. It's a place where pirates and musketeers fly around in sky-ships, that's all you really need to know. However, one aspect that really could have used clarification is gravity, you can only figure out how it works by piecing it together from different descriptions.
Essentially, out in the Sky everything will fall towards the Blue below (presumably at the same speed as falling objects on earth), with the exception of the numerous flying animals. The other exception is a substance called Bluewood which naturally is unaffected by gravity, neither floating nor sinking unless acted upon by wind or other forces. The cloud-islands themselves are also not subject to gravity (although anything on top of them is) but they also exert a mysterious force which cancels out Bluewood's anti-gravity properties when it comes within a certain distance.
Next we get into the 7 Skies themselves:
The skies are essentially semi-stable "seasons" which rotate around the central Sky of Fire. Your typical cloud-island stays in a fixed position relative to the Sky of Fire and thus the other 6 Skies will move "across" the islands at regular speeds. It takes about 60 days for an island to pass through one of the Skies (a year is 360 days).
The Mists this is "early spring". It's warm, but cloudy and damp with extremely low long-range visibility. They have a few native animals that move with the Sky (notably carnivorous sky-sharks) as well as small bluewood trees.
The Jungle This is "late spring" and it carries with it the most vegetation and wildlife. This is when most islands harvest their bluewood. Bluewood will either fall upon an island as it drifts into their gravity enforcement bubble, or the islands will send out ships to harvest the wood. bluewood trees are wheel-shaped with a central node of wood surrounded by branches which grow in a horizontal plane. In addition to bluewood wheeltrees are a source of fruits and nuts for both food and alchemical purposes. Forests of wheeltrees are sometimes the home of "Blue-men", primitive natives who live in the sky and react with hostility to long-term logging projects. There are also monkey-squids and giant parrots called Ruqs.
Sky of Thunder This is summer, bringing lots of rain and thunderstorms. Basically "monsoon season". Sailing through the high winds here is fast, but dangerous. Airwhales also make this sky their home, weird creatures that are known to "swim" in and out of the Blue. There are also hydrogen filled balloon-flowers and flying rainfish.
The Sky of Stones This is theoretically "early fall"...but mostly it's "holy shit, rocks!" Basically this sky is a permanent asteroid field of floating rocks which seem to float like cloud-islands but without the anti-gravity canceling properties (like I said, the setting isn't great at actually establishing any coherent physics). This sky is commonly mined for ore and gems and some of the larger stones are used as a mobile base or mini-island. The stones occasionally smash open and inside can release bizarre things (monsters, animals, glowing water, music, etc).
It's worth mentioning that islands have a semi-transparent protective "Fog" which naturally repels the majority of hazardous elements from the various skies. Typically an island won't be fried or flooded in the Thunder Sky, or mercilessly pelted by rocks or wood in the Sky of Stones or Jungle Sky. Some of the effects still get through (so wear a hat this time of year) but they're not devastating.
Ghost Sky This is "late fall", and this Sky is mostly barren. few animals, few plants, not much of anything at all. Travel through the sky is normally quick and easy and it's probably a welcome respite to island-dwellers. However, legend has it that those who die in the Ghost Sky are doomed to haunt the winds, making it a bit of a "Bermuda triangle"
Sky of Frost This is "winter" full of snow and sleet. It's extremely dangerous to be outside of a cloud-islands protection during this time due to sub-zero temperatures, the only way to travel safely is to skirt along the Sky of Fire where the cold is less intense.
Sky of Fire The central "hub" of the skies does not move, sitting at the center of the world. Despite the name, this is not actually filled with flames, it's merely extremely hot. The intensity of the heat depends on the movement of the sun and moon. When both are in the sky the heat is enough to turn anything within to ash, just the sun alone is hot enough to ignite wood after an hour or so. Living beings can only travel the Sky during the night of a new moon, called the "Dragon Sprint" If you can make it in time you can travel across the World at unprecedented speeds, otherwise you burn.
The sky of fire is supposed to be the home of the mythical Dragons, and supposedly a cloud-island in the exact center.
Next, there's a brief discussion of the Cloud Islands themselves. The term refers to roughly disc-shaped pieces of landscape which are supported on a cloudbank which hold the island at a stable height and keep it in a fixed position relative to the Sky of Fire. Above the island is a protective field of Fog which shields the island from the hazards of the various Skies. The Fog also marks the border where the island begins to cancel anti-gravity effects from Bluewood. Most skyships sail in from the island's edge and into a body of water, and then sail off the edge of the island back into the sky.
The major islands vary in size, most probably around the size of Britian, but with the biggest approaching the size of Greenland. These are the homes of the major nations of the World. There are also innumerable minor islands which serve as colonies, desert islands, fortresses, etc.
Overall, I quite like that the setting doesn't feel the need to try and justify it's uniqueness. That said, I can't help but notice there's several setting elements (namely gravity) which needed to be spelled out clearly and others which seem to have unintended consequences, especially when it comes to the different Skies. For instance, the sun and moon both turn outside the edge of the Dome of the Heavens...and things like the Sky of Stone and the Jungle Sky both feature enough floating material that traveling through them is essentially described as moving through "channels" in the mass of foliage and/or rocks, sort of like gigantic Gradius levels. But even with the Fog protecting cloud islands, wouldn't this more or less prevent any sunlight from penetrating to the islands, especially those closer to the center of the World? And almost all cloud-islands have some kind of body of water on their edge (which is how skyships can sail on and off)...so does that mean that there is some kind of infinite source of water springing from within each island?
That's probably the biggest weakness of the game. The setting is so far removed from the "real world" that there are few reliable frames of reference and it becomes very difficult to imagine the setting in action. It's tough enough visualize air-travel in the world: is it like space travel but with wind and selective gravity? or is it more like sea travel but in three dimensions? And then on top of that you've got the stacked winds, tides, and the extreme effects of the different Skies on top of that are even more bizarre. It's cool, but as a GM you have to be ready to answer many, many "what about..." or "what if..." questions on the fly.
Chapter 2: Island Nations of the 7 Skies
There are 7 major nations (yes, the number 7 will be a recurring motif throughout) in the World which represent the major powers of the setting. Each one is quite thoroughly detailed with information on their geography, history, technology, culture, relationship with other nations, and current events.
Barathi is the biggest nation and has an ominous spider-theme, which is never a good sign. Most of the island is actually a sea, dotted with...I guess you could call them "sub-islands" which make up the actual dry land. These guys also seem to be the most technologically advanced of the nations: possessing railways and (presumably) steam-powered trains.
The culture is full of money, intrigue and scheming and the nation is run by a collection of noble houses commanded by the Empress. The entire society is tied together with Morgani Contracts, arranged marriages between the different noble houses which also include the transfer of resources, titles and trade agreements. The complexity isn't helped by the fact that the Barathi are polygamous for both sexes...so marriage is more like membership in a club than a personal relationship (marriage for love is practically unknown among nobility, but romance outside of marriage is perfectly acceptable unless your marriage contract forbids it).
An interesting idea but I don't think I'd ever want to try and unravel the cultural effects of this sort of legal clusterfuck.
Other than lots of marriages and lots of schemes, there's also plenty of fun honor duels and assassinations.
Viridia is a rough, harsh island with lots of mountainous terrain but also plenty of metal deposits, including special ore for forging unique Viridinese steel which is just a step or two below mithral.
However, what they have in mineral resources they more than make up for in a lack of flora and fauna. There are only a few native sources of food (a tree called eggfruit and gigantic venomous tortoise.
This all lends itself to a militaristic nation with lots of weapons. It started off as Australia to Barathia's England, a colony for exiles and criminals. there's no real central government, instead there's several city-states who fight or raid one another, held together by a meeting of freehold leaders called the Conclave.
They're basically sky-vikings.
Colrana This island is split into two nations: the Zultanate of Colronia and the Kingdom of Colrania.
The Zultanate has a middle eastern theme and is more arid, while the Kingdom is definitely European in style and is dominated by lakes and forests. The two are pretty much constantly at war with one another.
The zultanate has no water coastline, so to allow skyship access the zultanate has built an "off-island" wharf constructed of bluewood and floating rocks from the Sky of Stones. They're also opposed to Kuldun (the "mages" of the setting), feeling their magic powers are too great and forcing them to accept either exile or "fettering".
Crail This is one of the smallest islands, mostly because it used to be two islands. There used to be an 8th nation called Kroy which was one of the most powerful in the World. In a war with Barathi the Kroy developed an "island killer" weapon of unknown design and decided to test it against Crailwuz, a pirate haven. The test shattered the island into Crail and Ilwuz, but in the process Kroy managed to dissolve their protective Fog and began to drift towards the Sea of Fire, eventually being destroyed.
Crail has Fog only about half as strong as most islands, meaning it's border is constantly ravaged by the Skies as they pass over. However, the city at Crail's heart is one of the biggest and most cosmopolitan in the world as it's easy for skyships to land and take off, and Crail is full of resources left by the skies on it's edges: lots of mineral rich rocks, bluewood trees, etc.
Ilwuz While Crail left it's pirate past behind after the sundering, Ilwuz continues to serve as a pirate port, a floating Mos Eisley. Unlike Crail, Ilwuz's fog is stronger than normal, which is important because the island is unmoored in the sky, teleporting randomly from sky to sky, even occasionally the Sky of Fire, which it can survive thanks to the dense Fog.
There is no government and only one actual city. The place is typically a hideout for pirates and similar sorts. Pirates will wait until the island appears in a new Sky (which happens every 49 days) goes out raiding and pillaging in the surrounding area, then once local authorities start hunting them they hole up in Ilwuz again until the place shifts position once more.
It's also skull shaped.
Sha Ka Ruq This is the least civilized of the nations, it's a jungle-covered island with several loosely allied tribes and villages. They're poor in metal and don't tend to use sky-ships, instead they leave the island on domesticated Ruqs, giant parrots. The tribesmen are descendants of Bluemen tribes who have survived crash-landings on the island.
Much of the economy of this island is based on reputation, it's just as common to trade "face" as it is money. Basically individuals of elevated status can purchase goods and services by being friendly towards lower status individuals. If you have a great deal of "face" you can buy a meal just by shaking someone's hand, or invite them on a camping trip in exchange for a horse. In turn, this increases the "face" of the receiver, who might then be able to perform "facetrading" of their own (a creepy sounding term).
Next: Info on magic and sky-ships.
Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies ActivitiesOriginal SA post
Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies, part 2: more setting material
So we've more or less covered the major "landmarks" of the setting, so now we're getting down into what characters are actually going to be doing: weird magic and sailing airships.
Chapter 3: The Mystical and the Faithful
This chapter covers magic and religion in the S7S setting. Despite the fact that its included in here, religion in The World is not a source of supernatural powers or divine blessings. A priest might practice magic, but their religious training focuses on theology and scholarship.
Alchemy is the first of the Mystic arts. The premise is pretty familiar: you mix stuff together and you get potions, salves, etc. Alchemy can produce magical effects and can even temporarily grant Gifts (see below) for very brief spurts. Alchemists are almost universally accepted throughout the Seven Skies (something that can't be said for other practitioners of magic) and even small settlements will generally have an herbalist or wise-person with some alchemy skill.
Alchemy relies on the use of Materia Mystica . Basically anything worth mentioning as "different" from the normal world has some kind of mystical or alchemical properties that make it useful: Airwhale ambergris, the venom of Viridia's giant turtles or their special steel, The various flying and floating flora and fauna out in the Skies. Just about everything has some kind of potential value as an alchemical agent.
Alchemists can create Alchemicraft items which are semi-magical tools or gear. They're cheaper and easier to acquire than "true" magical items, but they're also typically less reliable, more unstable, and generally not as good.
The Gifted are the most common users of full-on magic. They're sort of a mix between Eberron's Dragonmarks and the X-men. Typically about .5 to 1% of the population exhibits a Gift, which is one of seven (of course) specific magical talents named for mythological beasts and constellations. The Gifts are:
The Basilisk This gift is essentially telepathy. It includes not only mind-reading, thought-speak but also the ability to influence other minds or project mental illusions. Actual full-on mind control isn't normally possible however. Think "jedi" rather than "professor X". It's not clear why the Basilisk is associated with telepathy...some of these associations make perfect sense (see the next one), others not so much.
The Dragon Pyrokinesis! Well, not just pyrokinesis, the Dragon Gift really covers any sort of fire magic. You can use it to speak through flames, teleport through them, protect yourself from fire, divining with fire, etc. They rarely use firearms, both because they don't generally need to and because if they get pissed off it tends to explode.
The Griffin The griffin is kind of a mixed bag of abilities. Essentially they have perfect bio-feedback abilities. They can block pain, push their bodies beyond their normal limits, work for days, etc. Really, it makes them basically low-level superhuman in just about all human abilities: stronger, faster, tougher, better memories, slower aging, breath control, faster healing. Essentially this is the Captain America power. Oh, and it also includes the ability to touch ghosts, resist magic and cloak your aura. The one limit is that you can only do one thing at a time.
The Merhorse This power includes just about any sort of "sixth sense". You can see magical energy, perform psychometry, clairvoyance and even see into the future. The last power is the most limited, as the more you gaze into the future the less distinct it becomes. This ability has some extremely practical functions as it gives you spider-man like "danger senses" and the ability to predict your opponent's actions as they're taking them.
Pegasus This one gives you telekinesis. In addition to just moving things (very big things if you're a powerful Gifted) a Pegasus can fly, shield themselves and attack with pure TK force.
Thunderbird Take this gift and you're Storm, controlling the wind and the weather. The gift covers commanding, dispersing and predicting the weather as well as generating lightning from your own body. needless to say, a very important power for sky-sailors.
Unicorn Healing mental or physical trauma...or doing the opposite and draining someone's life force. The one big limitation is that your power works only via touch.
The Koldun are basically the Gifted taken to the next level. They're the setting's equivalent of wizards. For whatever reason, a Koldun is a person who has the ability to develop all seven gifts. In addition they can learn the Three Hidden Gifts which only Koldun have access to. Because of their massive potential power, Kolduns are not as widely accepted as the Gifted or Alchemists...especially by the Church who believes that it is impossible for humans to use that much power responsibly. They're also very rare, about .01% of the population.
A Koldun who has learned all 10 of their Gifts is an ArchKoldun and they are capable of using multiple gifts at once (normal Kolduns can activate only one Gift at a time, but they can maintain multiple Gifts simultaneously) and are capable of blending Gifts together in bizarre ways. For instance, the Basilisk and dragon together could set someone's thoughts on fire, or combining the Griffin and the Chimera to turn into living fire.
Chimera The first Hidden Gift, this one lets you alter your form: turning into animals, plants or objects. This includes partial shapeshifting as well. The greater the difference between your shape and the one that you assume, the less time you can maintain it. Turning into another person might last a day or so, turning into a dragon would last only a few moments. This includes "aura-shifting" as well, so you can mystically assume the shape of someone else to bypass a lock keyed to their aura, or evade a curse meant to target you.
Manticore This is the mind control ability that is lacking from the Basilisk. The Manticore gives you amazing charisma and the ability to command others to do your bidding, hijack their senses, or control them like a puppet. The one limitation is you can't use this gift to read thoughts, you'll need Basilisk for that. The use of this gift is universally illegal in all nations.
Qilin The Gift of being in a martial arts movie. In addition to perfect agility you can walk on substances that can't support your weight: tightropes, paper, treetops and even smoke or mist. And teleportation, which kind of renders the rest of the power a bit obsolete.
Kolduns can also create Kolduncraft items, basically full-on magic items (as opposed to the semi-magical objects made by alchemists). The most common are good luck charms, magical freezers, magical fetters which limit the ability to use a Gift, wands that shoot fire, floating discs, and of course, gunpowder. Alchemists can make gunpowder too, but Kuldon-made gunpowder is more stable and more powerful.
The Church of Voaz is the major religious force in the World, with its center in Colrona. The church is apolitical for the most part and acts as mediators between the different nations, educators for most young people, and advisors. Voaz is the God of the church, the creator of the World. Honor is the central tenet of the church: don't lie, keep your promises, protect the weak, treat others with respect, repay good deeds done to you.
Priests are trained in politics, philosophy, science, and theology. Each priest is also trained in a Domestic Craft, some sort practical skill for creating something. This could be alchemy, but more commonly it's cooking, smithing, weaving, woodwork, etc. Priests are allowed to marry and have children, but almost exclusively marry within the priesthood (which is unisex). Some priests are trained in the role of Virtutoirs, who are basically confessors. They listen to your misdeeds or arbitrate the most sensitive of issues. They're honor bound to never reveal secrets told to them in confidence (although what many don't know is that they can still choose to act upon what they know).
There are of course other religious groups and heresies as well. Most are remnants of "native" faiths before the Church of Voaz became omnipresent. The largest is in Sha-Ku-Ruq, where the native animistic beliefs still hold sway.
Chapter 4: Skyships, Trade and Warfare
Now this is the part we've been waiting for, the cool ships.
A "proper" skyship is a vessel capable of flying from island to island through open Sky. They come in three varieties: Galleons (big, not very nimble, heavily armed), Junks (mid-sized, mechanically complex allowing it to sail into the wind and de-mast quickly), and schooners (small, maneuverable and cheap).
As you might notice from the illustration a "proper" skyship has masts on all sides, which means they must "de-mast" to land in water on a cloud-island. Galleons require so much work to de-mast that they almost never land if they can help it, sending ship's boats to and from land.
All of these are made of bluewood and other mystic materials to allow them to fly, ascend and descend in the Skies.
We're also treated to a great deal of sailing jargon, some of it from the real world and some likely of Chad's own invention for S7S's unique ship designs.
Next we have Cloudships, which are ships that are capable of flight within an island, but not capable of Sky travel. They use giant gasbags filled with lifting gasses and floater discs. They're typically not armed with cannons due to weight concerns.
And finally we've got Gliders which are wind-riding devices, usually made from bluewood. Since they're fast, risky and small they're typically only used for courier work between nearby islands. They can't stop moving, withstand much damage or severe weather so it's fairly common for a glider to wreck between islands.
Then we've got more information on how skysailing works. It's interesting but at this point the jargon is getting almost impenetrable. This two page section alone has about 35 highlighted terms.
Next there's information on skysailing, different roles sailors have on the ship, the role of officers
The actual mechanics of skyships are handled in a later chapter, so the game moves onto travel and distances. And while skyships move fast, the distances from island to island are really friggin big. The shortest travel time (between Crail and Colrona) is six weeks. And that's assuming you don't fall prey to some of the hazards of the skies.
You can get caught without wind sometimes, which means you're stuck in the sky unless you can get towed to a higher wind layer, drop an anchor into a lower one, or use a gas bag if you've got one.
Storms can always be a problem when you're literally sitting inside of a thundercloud and wheel-trees, sky-ivy, or giant floating rocks can get you. And of course the Sky you're in will influence travel:
The Ghost Sky is the fastest and safest by far...if you don't get taken by ghosts.
The Jungle Sky is slow and dangerous since there's numerous obstacles and wild animals.
The Mists doesn't involve lots of obstacles, and you can travel as fast as you like...but you might not see what you're flying into.
The Sky of Fire is of course suicide unless you're traveling during a moonless night.
The Sky of Frost is fast but dangerous due to intense cold.
The Sky of stones is even worse than the jungle sky.
The sky of thunder is very fast due to high wind but it's very, very unsafe.
After that we've got some info on the islands, and specifically what each has ready supplies of, what unique goods they produce, and what they need. And of course, how they fight one another.
The different island nations are large and powerful enough that actually attempting to conquer another nation is almost unheard of...the resources needed to engage in such an undertaking is enough to make the attacking nation vulnerable to any other nation. War typically takes the form of squabbles over colonies and resources or one-time raids on an island's assets. Colrona is the only nation where prolonged land-warfare is common, between the Kingdom and the Zultanate.
The military technology of the War is just as Age of Sail as you would expect: ships are equipped with cannons and while guns are common they're of the flintlock variety so hand to hand combat is still extremely relevant.
Chapter 5: Seven Skies Characters
This is where we get the character creation rules for Swashbucklers, and where we first start to see the differences between PDQ and PDQ#.
First, you don't have Qualities anymore...well, you do they're just called Fortes instead. Instead of a Weakness you have a Foible , which is no longer a Poor [-2] Quality, instead it's meant to work a bit more like an Aspect from FATE, as a story-based disadvantage rather than a mechanical penalty (although if push comes to shove, it'll inflict a -2 penalty on your roll).
PDQ# also introduces a new character element: Techniques . A Technique is something that's cool and useful, but not quite important enough to be a "full" Forte. Most Techniques are "chained" to one of your Fortes and serve as a kind of specialization or focus.
For example, if you have a Forte like Expert [+4] Sky-Pirate, you could take a Technique like "Rapiers" for fighting with a specific weapon, or "fighting Colronians" for dealing with particular opponents, or even "While Drunk".
You can also, at greater cost, purchase "unchained" Techniques which apply to any situation where the Technique is relevant (note to self, always take "While Drunk" and "While Naked" as unchained Techniques).
A Technique lets you do one of two things: reroll one of your dice (not the whole roll) keeping the best result, or get a flat +1 to a roll. You can only use a Technique once per turn, but you can use as many as you want on a single roll.
PDQ# also introduces an expanded "Master Chart". In normal PDQ, difficulty ranks are matched precisely to Quality Ranks. In PDQ#, the chart continues past Master [TN 13], for much higher potential difficulty ranks.
There are two other main elements of a PDQ# character: Training Points and Style Dice .
Training Points are the "XP" of the game and you get one whenever you fail a roll. That means if you get hit in a fight, you get a Training Point, if you accidentally pilot your ship into a rock, you get a Training Point, get slapped by the barmaid you're trying to seduce, you get a Training Point.
Training Points are used to improve or buy new Fortes, purchase new Techniques, and create alchemical and magical items.
Style Dice are like PDQ's standard hero point/fate point/etc mechanics but they're more important and more complex. Get ready, because PDQ# takes style seriously . Style dice are used much like normal: you can spend them to improve a roll (they give the same bonus as a Technique), recover some damage ranks, dictate important facts about the world and using mystic powers. They also act as a sort of wealth mechanic, because you can exchange them for temporary gear and/or money. You can "purchase" a temporary gear/sidekick/money Forte in exchange for Style Dice equal to the MOD of the Forte. These temporary Fortes cannot take damage, and can be lost or used up and if not used up by the end of the session they disappear or fade into the background (you might still technically have that Expert [+4] dueling pistol, but unless you buy it as a permanent Forte or keep investing Style Dice into it then you won't get any bonus from it anymore).
This tends to mean Style Dice matter more than actual cash when it comes to what you can buy and do economically. This makes a bit of sense given the setting where it's easy to come upon a sudden windfall (pirate booty, gambling winnings, your cargo getting exceptional prices, etc) and then lose it just as quickly.
Earning Style Dice is where it gets a little tricky. There are two sources of Style Dice: The Box and the Bowl. The Bowl is the source of "being cool" dice. If you do something cool, come up with a clever idea, or advance the plot in interesting ways you get Style Dice from the Bowl. The Bowl has a limited number of Style Dice at the start of a session: two for every player. Any dice that get used are added to the Bowl and if players wish they can reward a fellow player with dice from their own supply for showing "good form" during the game. If this happens the GM must "match" their contribution by adding an equal number of dice to the Bowl. The Box has an endless supply of dice and it represents the "uncool" side. Whenever you're forced into a bad situation by the GM for plot purposes you get dice from the Box, same for if you're affected by your Foible.
Style Dice are reset at the start of every session (everyone usually starts with 1-2 Style Dice) and the intent of the box/bowl system is to ensure that Dice are kept constantly moving. Players should empty the bowl quickly by doing cool, fun things and then fill it back up just as quickly by spending those Style Dice to pull off amazing actions.
In practice, I find the whole thing a little overcomplicated honestly.
Connected to Style Dice is a thing called Ephemera . Ephemera are temporary changes in status or relationships that might have slightly long-lasting effects. They're effectively a temporary Forte that lasts until the end of the next session, and which you can use to absorb damage. They start at Good [+2]. Some examples would be things like "Welcomed by the Blue Men Tribe" or "The Count Is Smitten With Me". You can use Ephemera as a normal Forte, but you can also "cash it in" for a one-time +7 bonus to your roll in addition to it's normal bonus. However, this immediately removes the Ephemera. You can spend a Style Die to keep the status going, rolling it over to your next session or spend training points to officially purchase it as a full Forte at half the normal price.
Next Time creating a character, using magic, and more on the PDQ # system.
Swashbuckles and Other Mechanical BitsOriginal SA post
Part 3: Mechanical bits
So, we've covered a bit about the different elements that make up a character, lets get into the rest.
Here are the bits that make up your swashbuckler:
First you've got Core Elements , which are 4 things that are essential for a proper protagonist. First you've got a Foible to serve as a disadvantage. Next you've got three Fortes which are each at Good [+2] Rank. You have a Past which must have something to do with your background, a Motivation which is some kind of driving force, and your Swashbuckling Forte which is the area where you have the greatest talent.
After that we've got 3 additional Forte Ranks which can get you a new Forte at Good [+2] or improve one of your existing Forte's by one Rank.
Next we have Technique Points which can be used to buy Techniques. Normal Techniques cost 2 points, Techniques chained to your swashbuckling forte cost half as much (1 point), and buying one that's unchained costs 3 points.
Everyone also starts with 1 Style Die and 0 Training Points.
The GM may give the team a Team Sanctum or Team Vehicle. These have a single Good [+2] (place) or (vehicle) Forte (like Good [+2] Hidden Cave or Good [+2] Sky-Schooner) and each PC gets one Rank to add Forte's to the sanctum. These can be combined to give higher Ranked Fortes (so if you want a really, really fast ship 3 PCs might pool their Forte's to give it Master [+6] Speed). The GM then gets to choose a Foible (Style Dice earned from the Foible are earned by the ship or place, but any PC on board can use them).
Of course, if the GM isn't offering a Team vehicle or sanctum, you can still purchase your own with your own Fortes.
I figured I'd go ahead and cover how Gifts actually work in play. There isn't a dedicated section for this and some of the info is a little scattered, so here's how it works.
Gifts work basically two ways. If you're using one of your Gifts to do something that could have been done with a normal Forte, or using it to attack or defend against a human-scale opponent in a Conflict then you just use it like a normal Forte, adding the MOD to your roll. "color" uses of Gifts are also free. If a Dragon wants to light his pipe without a match that's not a problem.
However, if you want to use your Gift to do something that isn't humanly possible, or something that creates significant changes to the environment you have to spend at least one Style Die (major changes take two). This includes making attacks on a "vehicle-scale" such as attacking a building or skyship directly with your Gift.
The GM can activate your Gift, but if the activation significantly inconveniences you then it counts as a Vexing Misfortune and you get 3 Style Dice.
It's worth mentioning that you can purchase more than one Gift without being a Koldun, however there's absolutely no good reason to do this: being a Koldun is much, much more cost effective.
Honestly, I think Koldun's are a tad overpowered. Kolduns can create alchemical items, kolduncraft items, potentially use all 7 gifts and access 3 additional gifts only they can use, all within a single Forte.
If nothing else, this means that anything a Good [+2] Alchemist can do, a Good [+2] Koldun can do and much, much more.
To access a gift a Koldun must purchase it as a Technique for their Koldun Forte. They do get the benefit of the Technique as well as access to the Gift (which means a Good [+2] Koldun with the Dragon Technique will be better at any use of the Dragon Gift than a Good [+2] Dragon character).
If you wanted to make a straight shot for Arch-Koldun-hood you can easily start as a Master [+6] Koldun, pick up 6 Gift Techniques (assuming Koldun is your swashbuckling forte) and then it just takes 4 more Techniques (8 Training Points) to purchase all the remaining Gifts and a 5th Technique to attain Arch-koldunhood.
So, cool idea but definitely overpowered, this is a lot of abilities to stick on a single Forte, even considering the Style Dice cost for special actions.
Alchemy and Kolduncrafting
If you want to create an alchemicraft item the process is fairly simple, but it's not something you want to indulge in too often as it will use up Training Points.
First you need a formula for the object you're creating. If you don't have one you can try linking together the alchemical associations for Materia Mystica to try and come up with something that makes sense.
Next you spend 1 Style Die and 1 Training Point (if you're making a one-shot item you need only a Style die or a Training Point) then you've got an Average  product. You can then spend additional Style Dice to boost the Rank, at the cost of 1 Rank per Die. So if you wanted to create a Master [+6] Bomb (a one-shot device) then you would need to spend 4 Style Die. If you wanted a Good [+2] Armored Vest it would take 1 training point and 2 Style Dice.
repeated use alchemycraft items can only be used once per session, after that they'll need to be recharged, renewed, or rested.
Kolduncraft items on the other hand can be used multiple times a session, however the cost for kolduncraft items is always in Training Points. So to get an Average  device costs 2 Training Points, plus...apparently 8 points per rank. Which must be a typo as it'd cost much less to simply purchase a new Forte for your character.
Challenges and Duels
Here's the actual gameplay rules:
Challenges are S7S's equivalent to Complicated Situations from ordinary PDQ. They're basically identical: the GM sets a TN, the player rolls 2d6 and adds their MOD and if they meet or beat the TN then they succeed.
There is a new type of Challenge, called a Flashy Challenge which is halfway between an attack and a Challenge. Basically two characters roll 2d6 (plus modifiers) and whoever gets the higher result wins. The winner gets a Style Die and the loser takes a Failure Rank.
This is a good way to handle actions in combat that might screw with someone, but probably wouldn't really defeat them outright. Things like tossing insults, intimidation, cutting your initials on their hat, etc.
This is PDQ#'s version of Conflicts, and it's fairly different. First and foremost, a Duel is almost always between two characters. You can have groups fighting, but everyone is expected to match up into pairs to engage in Duels.
Both Duelists have 3 d6's which must be divided between attack and defense on a given turn. So if you wanted to be a bit more aggressive you could use two dice for attack, and 1 for defense. If you wanted to make sure you weren't going to get touched you could take no attack and use all 3 for defense.
The attacker (the guy in the duel with the most Style Dice) rolls his offense dice and the defender rolls their defense, both adding any relevant Fortes/Techniques. If the attacker beats the defender they inflict damage equal to the difference.
Then the defender becomes the attacker and gets to roll their offense dice and the other guy rolls his defense dice.
notably, damage is not actually assigned until after both characters have a chance to attack or defend, so even if you do enough damage to the defender to take them out, they get a chance to cut you too.
There are also a few "dueling tricks" which you can try in place of an ordinary attack. Some work fairly well, but many are either too effective, like disarming (you declare a disarm attempt and if you do Damage equal to your opponent's combat Forte then you've disarmed them...which means there's no reason not to attempt a disarm every time you attack) or not very effective at all, like feinting (you don't inflict damage, but if you succeed you get to add the degree of success as a bonus to your next roll, because of the way PDQ's damage and combat work there's no advantage gained, and if you fail then you take your margin of success as a penalty.)
Damage from duels works basically the same as in PDQ standard, the biggest difference is that you aren't completely taken out until you have Zeroed Out every Forte. In effect, this lets every Forte take one additional point of damage, and ensures that everyone is a bit tougher than in normal PDQ. Once you do zero out all your Qualities you are Mostly Dead , a state where you can't effectively do anything and recover much more slowly (taking 1 Spirit Die per Forte to bring each one back to Poor [-2]).
Another notable addition is Minion rules. Minions are minor characters with only a single Forte. A single minion is basically just a Challenge, they don't get to roll to resist a PC, instead they just have a Target Number based on their Forte Rank. So if you want to knock out a Good [+2] Guardsman, you just have to roll 9 or better.
A group of Minions is treated as a single character that is capable of rolling, using their MOD and getting a number of dice equal to the number of Minions in the gang. They still get to keep only as many dice as they've assigned to attack and defense however. So a group of 6 minions has 6 dice, but they still get to keep only 3 total, divided between attack and defense. If a minion group is damaged, each point of damage takes out one Minion. So a group of half a dozen minions can easily be wiped out with a single good hit.
This is one of the cooler sections of S7S. This is basically rules for mass combat, which work for both ships (sky or otherwise), fortresses, or potentially even two armies in open battle.
The focus of these rules is how PCs work together as a team to achieve victory. The assumption is that each PC will take the role of an Officer (even if this is not an official rank) and one will be the Captain. The ship itself (or fortress) has Forte's much like a character that add to the rolls of any character taking advantage of the aspects the Fortes represent.
The Captain should have some kind of Forte related to leadership or command, because they get a number of Orders equal to the bonus from that Forte, plus the ship's primary Forte (so an Expert [+4] Leader of Men on a Good [+2] Skyship gets 6 orders). Each turn the captain can give that many Orders to his officers, giving each of them a Challenge to overcome so that the captain can get Vehicle Dice that turn.
The captain starts with 1 Vehicle Dice automatically. You get to divide Vehicle Dice between attack and defense (much like Minions, you can't have more than 3 results "kept" between attack and defense) in a Vehicle Duel.
Vehicular combat goes as follows:
1 The captain issues his orders. "Load the cannons with extra powder!" "Bring us hard to port!" "Prepare the men for boarding!" They can also issue orders to themselves to represent mental (or possibly mystical) actions. These orders do not have to be strictly related to the combat (you could yell out to the taskmaster to get more grog ready for after the battle, or order the cabin boy to fetch your lucky hat).
2 The officer makes a roll, adding their Fortes and any relevant vehicle Fortes. If they succeed then they generate a Vehicle Die for the captain. If they fail they get a Training Point and take damage equal to the difference (failure ranks or wound ranks depending on what they're doing). They can choose to have the vehicle take the damage instead, but given how important the vehicle is and the relatively small number of Fortes it has, this is a bad idea.
3 The captain divides up any Vehicle Dice he's earned between attack and defense, and determines how many dice (out of 3) are "kept" for each.
Alternatively the captain can "burn" vehicle dice for special actions:
*a flat +1 bonus
*let one of the officers make a Challenge roll to heal a rank of damage to the ship.
*Launch or repel a boarding action: When a ship is boarded the fight temporarily "zooms in" person-to-person combat.
*Give a die to a crewmember to have them target enemy crew or (at the cost of a Style Die) the ship itself with an attack.
*Give it to a crewmember to be turned into a style die for their own supply.
NPC ships always have 4 Vehicle Dice every turn, but they can board for free.
4 both ship captains roll their dice and determine damage just like a Duel.
5 Damage is divided up among the officer's "sections" of the ship. Each officer has to make the call as to whether they'll take the damage personally or assign it to the ship itself.
If the PCs damage the NPC's ship their Forte's aren't reduced directly, instead the type of cannon shot the ship is using inflicts targeted damage, with each rank inflicting a -2 penalty to particular categories of actions:
*Ball shot: puts holes in the hull (reducing integrity, seaworthiness), damaging their cannon (penalizing attacks)
*chain shot: cutting masts/cords (reducing speed and/or maneuverability)
*gas shells: clearing the deck (aiding in boarding)
*grape shot: clearing the deck (as above), injuring crew, destroying sails (reducing speed)
*harpoon shot: grappling (reducing speed, aiding in boarding)
*incendiary shot: on fire (lots of possibilities).
An NPC ship is taken out once the total penalty from targeted wound ranks equals the ship's TN (so a good [+2] skyship is taken out when they suffer a penalty of -10 or more (since that would be higher than Good's TN of 9).
It's worth noting, a ship that's badly damaged will begin to fall towards the Blue, but this can take weeks since the bluewood ensures the descent is very slow.
Like always, this chapter is fairly familiar reccomendations on how best to run the game, possible ways to weak things to emphasize different aspects (such as the deadliness of firearms), and of course we've got Chad's traditional analysis of the genre.
So that's it for Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies. The next PDQ game will be the mysterious Vox
Vox: The Hard To Explain OneOriginal SA post
Vox: The Hard To Explain One
Vox came out back in 2009 very shortly after Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies. It's also the only PDQ book I own an actual physical copy of (the author sent me one to help playtest).
Weird more or less sums up Vox. It does a lot of things in an unusual way and like I mention in the title it's kind of difficult to explain exactly what the game is about and what I'm talking about when I summarize it. Lets start with a bit of system history to show you what I mean:
PDQ is the core rules that has been used for all games up until PDQ# was introduced as a lead-in to Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies. The PDQ book often makes a few small changes to the core rules, but for the most part they focus on adding new rules and ideas rather than altering the basics. PDQ# is the first "new edition" for the Core Rules, making significant changes and introducing several new concepts. However, it's heavily geared towards the "swashbuckling" genre, and it doesn't quite fit into a more generic game (the biggest change being the fact that all Conflicts are now Duels, one-on-one (or one-vs-mooks) fights).
The writer of Vox took many of the new concepts from PDQ# and created PDQ2 . PDQ2 (also called PDQ Too!) resembles PDQ#, but lacks several of the more "swasbuckling" elements such as Duels and Techniques. Basically, the only reason this isn't an official "2nd edition" PDQ system is because it isn't freely available and it wasn't created by Chad.
Normally, I don't focus on the layout, but with this book it bears mentioning. The book has an unusual 9 x 7 format, and it's a "flipbook". The front cover (colored white) is the "Lux" section for players and is about 95 pages. To read the rest you flip the book over and start from the back, black, cover for the "Nox" section which is the GM and setting section, also about 95 pages.
What the hell is this about?
That's a damn good question. Like I said, Vox is hard to describe and is definitely "high concept", approaching pretentious. The main concept is that each of the PCs has a voice in their head. What this means will vary greatly depending on the game and the setting.
Are the voices a product of insanity? Are they spirits? Ghosts? Split personalities? None of these questions are definitively answered and are left to the GM to answer (or preferably not answer). So, what sort of game is it? Horror? Definitely maybe. Conspiracy? Sort of could be. Urban fantasy? *awkward shrug*.
Basically it's a bit like Unknown Armies with the weirdness dialed up, the magic dialed down and a narrower focus. It doesn't have any kind of specific "goal" or built-in driving forces, rather providing a wad of inspirational materials to try and get the players and GM to come up with their own goals and purposes. You could also say it's "First Season of Lost" the RPG. Basically lots of weirdness which hints at a larger pattern which may or may not exist.
Well, lets get started. We'll begin with the Lux side of things.
This is essentially the introduction. The first paragraph points out that this is a game for "experienced" roleplayers which is usually code for "this is an obscenely complex fantasy heartbreaker". In this case, it's code for "this is a really weird, indie RPG that won't provide much guidance".
There is no "what is an RPG" section although there is some very deep musing on what a character is. Like I said, this game can seem fairly pretentious, although it doesn't get anywhere near as bad as Everlasting at least.
Here's where the game's core concept is laid out. You've got a Voice in your head. One day the Voice started speaking to you, telling you things, asking you things, or even demanding things. It's been getting louder, and harder to ignore.
Each character has their own voice. There's no set explanation for why this is. Maybe your Voices told you about one another and arranged for you to be together. Or maybe you all went through some kind of significant or traumatic experience together.
It goes on to point out that many serial killers, murders and psychotics have claimed to hear voices. But so have political, religious and spiritual leaders throughout history. This doesn't actually mean anything...or does it...no it doesn't...but maybe...
Next we've got a discussion of common causes of Voices. This bit is somewhat confusing because it's not clear if this is a discussion of what causes a PC to hear voices in the context of the game, or if this is a list of real-world afflictions which cause hearing voices as a symptom. I say this because the first three entries (Drug-Induced Paranoia, Dissociative Disorder, and Schizophrenia) seem to be relatively straightforward explanations of real-world problems, but the fourth Vox, seems to be entirely fictional (as I can find no information on a disorder with that name).
Finally there's a brief section on "what the voices sound like", which basically boils down to "whatever". they can have any characteristics or none at all, they may stay the same or be different over time, they may come from inside your head or without.
Now we're on to character creation. There are actually two methods of character creation. The "Blank Slate" method and the "traditional" method. The Blank Slate method is actually fairly interesting, although like all the rest of the game it's very "high concept".
In this method, PCs start with nothing at all beyond, perhaps, a description (if that). They're all experiencing an amnesiac state together. Why and where is up in the air, but there's kind of a "standard" scenario provided in the form of a subway. Players may be required to roll to attempt to overcome difficulties as normal for PDQ, but at this point they have no Qualities or other defining traits so all rolls are a straight 2d6.
However, pass or fail the GM should consult a table after the player rolls to see what the roll revealed about the player. A roll of 2-4 reveals some kind of failing or flaw, a roll of 5-6 provides some significant insight into your past, a straight 7 gives you some knowledge of your present, an 8-9 gives some remembrance of a future hope or ambition, and a 10-12 gives you a Karma Die (identical in function to S7S's Style Dice).
The player comes up with all of this information, the dice just provide a cue for when it is revealed.
So we've got a bunch of amnesiacs (who, at this point will usually not have Voices)...
Scene 1: The Subway
Everyone is in the last car of a subway, with only flickering emergency lighting on. The car has stopped in between stations and there appears to be no conductor or other passengers. The PCs should at this point give a brief character description and may or may not know their own name at this point. They can roll (target number 7) to search the train or their own person. On the train are some random things: a laptop with 2 minutes of battery life, a wrench, and a set of keys. Each PC may have (depending on how well they roll) an ID, some cash (a lot of cash actually: 2d6 x100$), and maybe a cell phone with a wiped memory. There's also a shopping bag that has some Salvia, a throw pillow, a page of words in Yaralde (extinct Australian language), and a page ripped from a latin phrasebook (Vi-Vo).
After the PCs are done investigating and get ready to leave the subway, a hippie appears.
Seriously. His name is Roger and he shows up from somewhere on the train that has been passed over. He's an aging hippie who seems friendly and probably stoned.
Scene 2: Buddy
Roger is friendly and unusually likable and seems oddly familiar. He appears to be stoned but a high roll (11+) will reveal it's a ruse and he actually seems to be sober and a little nervous. He'll claim the bag is his but can't remember much about it other than he wanted to smoke the Salvia and look at weird words for some reason. He doesn't know why the train stopped as he fell asleep. He doesn't seem to bothered and just suggests getting out and walking to the last station.
Scene 3: Tunnel
Opening the door (TN 7) is possible in a variety of ways, and will presumably be managed eventually. Roger will immediately set off towards the last station. Whether or not you follow, someone will bump into something in the tunnel, it's a protrusion that turns out to be a circular door set in one wall labeled "this is not an exit" but the word "not" has been obscured by a greasy handprint.
Roger will ignore it and just head towards the station which he insists is just a little ways ahead. Anyone following him may notice an excessive amount of cables and metal debris on the floor of the tunnel. If someone does open up the door and the group heads into it, Roger will turn around and follow them. If they ignore the door then you should skip to scene 5.
Scene 4: Stairs
The room beyond is initially dark and full of cables, but after someone steps further in some kind of monitor is triggered and all the lights in the room come on. The door will also swing shut, only open-able by a key pad. Theoretically it could be disabled but the TN is high enough that it's only possible if the PC rolls well and has already established a relevant Quality related to such things, and even then its unlikely. However, there is a flight of stairs leading downwards. The stairs lead to a panel set in the wall with no knob or handle. After reaching the bottom a soothing female Voice will speak (this is capitalized), saying "welcome 23704773" and asking you to wait for a retinal scan. however, the only result is a spray of sparks as something shorts out and the voice stutters to a halt. At this point Roger is suddenly nowhere to be found. If the PCs return to the upper floor (the only real option) they may (TN 9) spot a wallet which upon investigation has roger's license (expired), a library card, a coffee card (9 of 10 holes punched) and a single 5,000 dollar bill.
The trick here is that the previous Voice was not saying "23704773" but "to 3704773". If the PCs don't figure this out then after a few minutes fumbling around the lights flicker to blacklights for a moment and the code is visible in fluorescent ink.
Scene 5: Train
If you skipped Scene 4 Roger goes missing at this point, basically just disappearing into the darkness. A few moments later the power turns on and the rails begin to vibrate. a train is coming. The hatch door has locked now and won't open again and there is no space off the side of the tunnel to avoid a train. The PCs must run towards the platform (the train that they were on has gone now), making a TN 7 check to make it. even if everyone fails a hand reaches down from the platform to help them up just in the nick of time. There's no real risk here since no one has any Qualities yet.
Scene 6: Platform
On the platform is a young girl named Ezter in a teddy bear costume pushing a coffee vending cart. She'll give everyone free coffee.
She was here when things went dark, and said that some people freaked out and didn't seem to know where they were anymore. She says security guards came down and helped them upstairs. At least she thinks so.
If they talk to her further (TN 9) she'll reveal that she'll relate a surreal story involving a glass eye and someone jumping off the platform. This is what inspired her to quit and now she only has to take her cart back to drop it off.
Roger's coffee card can be used for a free cookie.
At this point other subway goers begin showing up on the platform, and there's nothing else here, so likely the PCs will head up to the streets. The game seems to assume they'll look for Roger's home address (123 Fourth street).
Scene 7: Street
The PCs will having a nagging urge to return Roger's wallet at this point. This may or may not take the form of Voices, depending on how reluctant the PCs are. They can walk the 10 blocks or try and catch a cab or find a bus (TN 9).
Odd sounds and maybe even footsteps are heard as the PCs make the trip. They may (TN 9) notice an ice cream truck parked nearby. A TN 11 roll will notice the same kind of truck parked in several places along the way.
Scene 8: House
Roger's house is a huge gated mansion, with a damaged intercom. Climbing the gate is TN 7, but it will set off a silent alarm.
The garden is overgrown and neither door is locked. In the backyard behind a shed is an ice cream truck.
Once all PCs enter the house the doors slam open and the room is filled with men in suits with mirrored shades and earpieces. All carrying silenced pistols.
A black man with a blond mullet introduces himself as Mr. Samson, and he wants to talk about Roger.
Scene 9: Emerge
Since no one has Qualities yet and there's no real combat to speak of if the PCs decide they want to fight they're outnumbered 3 to 1 and have to roll an 11 or higher to "take out" one of the agents and they only need a 7 or better to take down a PC (wrestling them to the ground).
However, Samson just wants to talk asking for any details about their encounter with Roger. If the PCs hand over his wallet he'll search through it and discard everything but the coffee card. If it's not completed then he'll hand the card to an agent who hurries out. If it's been used then he seems disappointed and puts it in his pocket.
Samson will then loudly instruct someone to "take him out", at which point there's a gunshot (silenced) as one of the agents suddenly turns on one of his fellows, shooting them in the arm. He'll then grab the wounded agent and hold the gun to their head. He seems confused, alternatively pointing the gun at his hostage, Samson and his own head.
"No, that's the Divanorum up there!" he'll shout. This seems to confuse and shock his fellow agents and guns begin to wave in all directions. At this point a Voice only the PCs can hear tells them to get down.
Samson admits that he is eliminating the Divanorum, at which point several of the "agents" begin weeping or praying and before long they begin shooting, basically firing randomly at one another. Samson will pull any PCs who haven't ducked to the floor, pull out a small silver pistol wrapped in duct tape and give it to one of them and tells them to "do the right thing" before getting back up to shout at the agent who attacked first, named Daniel.
At this point time seems to stop, and the PCs are told what exactly will happen in the next few seconds. Samson will approach Daniel who will shoot him, first wounding then fatally and then turn the gun on himself. The PCs feel like this has happened before many many times and now they have the chance to influence events. Depending on what they choose to do they may interrupt the chain of events.
If Daniel survives he'll say "not what I expected" and toss a blank black business card to a player before leaving. refusing to speak further.
If Samson survives he'll drop a blank white business card, shake everyone's hand and leave.
Scene 9: Rest
If the PCs explore the house they may find a few hundred dollars in loose change in different jars, sorted by year (from 1960 to 2008)
Roger is upstairs on the bed, dead. No sign of violence and he seems to be smiling. There's also an electroshock machine.
In a few minutes there's the smell of gasoline and shortly thereafter a voice instructs you to "Get Out". The ice cream truck in the back starts up and drives away, playing CSNY's "Ohio".
The house the erupts in flames, reduced to ash in a few moments.
By this time the PCs should have a sheet full of different memories and clues to their past lives. They should take one each of the Past, Present, and Future memories and turn them into one of their 3 Core Qualities: Good [+2] Past, Good [+2] Defining Quality, and Good [+2] Motivation. Memories of failures or problems becomes your Quirk, and a Karma memory becomes either a new Good [+2] Quality or an increase to one of the 3 Core Qualities.
The GM should also construct everyone's Voice at this point, based on the memories and events of the prelude.
Also, by this time they are probably thoroughly confused. The Tabula Rasa method is interesting but it's obviously unsuitable to "reuse" and only really fits one of Vox's 4 settings (Oversight, a modern-day conspiracy setting). The core idea can of course be adapted or adjusted to different settings or scenarios...but I get the feeling that after the first time wandering around with no skills or memories isn't going to appeal.
This is Vox's "traditional" character creation section. Characters have two parts: your Persona and your Voice.
Your Persona is the "real" you, the guy everyone can talk with, walks around, picks things up, puts on pants, etc. The Persona has 3 Core Qualities at Good [+2] (Past, Defining Quality, and Motivation) as well as a Quirk to represent a failing and a single extra Quality rank which can give you a Good [+2] Quality or improve one of your Core Qualities up to Expert [+4].
Needless to say, Vox characters are not badasses, with only 3-4 Qualities to start with.
Your Voice is the thing that only you can perceive which speaks to you. Voices may have a name, a description, a Good [+2] Past Quality, a Good [+2] Motivation Quality, a Quirk and a rank to buy an extra Good [+2] Quality or improve their Past or Motivation to Expert [+4]. Since they have no physical body Voices never have physical Qualities.
This bit deals with Karma Dice, Vox's equivalent to Style Dice from S7S. Like Style Dice you have both the Box (an infinite source of "mechanically driven" dice) and the Bowl (a limited source of "good form" dice).
Karma Dice are earned in much the same way as S7S, however there's one new source: playing Voices. This will be detailed a bit more later on, but basically your Voices are usually roleplayed by the GM or the other players. Whenever you take the role of another player's Voice for the first time in a session you get a Karma Die.
It's also worth noting that Karma Dice belong to the player , not to their characters. So if Steve is currently roleplaying Jake's Voice, he can use his Karma Dice if he wants to make a roll better but he can't dip into Jake's pool of dice.
Like I mentioned, this is PDQ# with the buckles filed off the swashes. Like PDQ # it's got a larger range of possible Target Numbers, uses Spirit Dice (ie Karma Dice) and you earn Training Points for failing at a roll. You've also got unranked Quirks (Foibles) instead of Poor [-2] Weaknesses
However, Fortes have turned back into Qualities, and the standard PDQ Conflict rules are back instead of divvying up dice between attack and defense.
The system has one significant new addition:
In times of great stress your Voice may attempt to take control of your Persona. At these times you must make a Metanoia check, using your Defining Quality vs your Voice's highest Quality. The winner becomes dominant for the rest of the Scene.
Since Voices are often played by other players, Persona and Voices are going to get swapped around a lot. Bob might end up controlling his own Persona, plus RPing Jim's Voice when Jim fails a Metanoia roll causing Bob to take control of his Persona as well.
Next Time: more rules for Voices and personalities before getting into the Nox section.
Vox: Hearing VoicesOriginal SA post
VOX part 2: Hearing Voices
So far, we haven't actually gotten much info on Voices. To some degree, this will continue but here's the actual relevant chapter.
The first thing we're told is that a Voice, despite the name, is not limited to audible words. A Voice might have no language and just communicate via growls, beeps, morse code, etc. Alternatively it could involve visions, images or text, or even just a feeling or urge.
As mentioned in character creation, Voices have their own Qualities. They cannot have purely physical Qualities (like Strong or Handsome), and while they might have knowledge of physical skills (Gymnastics, Swordfighting, etc) they cannot use these Qualities unless they're in control of your Persona.
No matter what, a Voice can only act in the physical world through the medium of the Persona's body. They can control some things that are normally instinctual or unconscious (glandular function, heartbeat, etc), but not beyond the level of something like hypnosis or biofeedback.
If the Persona and Voice are cooperating, it is possible to add your Qualities to those of your Voice for a roll total. Working together with your Voice makes you much stronger.
Next we have a list of various Voice Types. Despite the amount of space devoted to this section, these Types have no mechanical effect, they're simply a list of possible ways your character might interpret their Voices. Keep in mind that all of these are your character's interpretation of the Voices, there is no implication that any of them are remotely factual.
Each type comes with a few suggested Qualities for your Persona related to your Voice. These aren't "special" or unique qualities, just thematic suggestions. However, most are irritatingly vague and since your Voice cannot grant any specific or explicit supernatural or unnatural abilities they're usually more or less just different forms of GM fiat as to when they will or won't work.
For example, one of the example Qualities for Vox Equus is "The Man With the Hex" which states:
Maybe it's real magic, maybe it's the power of suggestion, or maybe it's just paranoia and superstition, but if your target is aware of you and your intent then you can put a hex on him that will cause him nothing but misfortune in the future.
Vox Alius Your voice is an alien being, some kind of signal, telepathy, or transmission from space.
Vox Angelus The voice of angels or heavenly beings. Guardian angels specifically, but really any kind of heavenly messenger.
Vox Animus Messages from your spirit animal.
Vox Apparatus Communications from electronics, usually TV or computers.
Vox Bestia Talking animals, different from Animus in that it's communication from actual, physical animals.
Vox Custos Basically this is you tapping into "big brother", listening in on the secrets and transmissions from the people controlling the world.
Vox Dei The voice of god(s). Wannabe prophets.
Vox Equus This one's pretty specific and seems to be referencing Vodoun beliefs as far as I can tell. it's one of the more confusing Types.
Vox Fata Basically getting visions or glimpses of the future or sending the flow of fate.
Vox Imago Speaking with your own reflection.
Vox Madidus Another very specific voice. This is the imaginary friend who only shows up when you're drunk, or more generally I suppose any kind of Voice related to drinking.
Vox Musum A muse or voice of inspiration.
Vox Natura This is communication through natural forces such as sunlight, wind or rain.
Vox Pecunia Money talking to you.
Vox Phasma These are ghosts talking to you.
Vox Susurrus whispers, basically noises in quiet places or in the murmur of a crowd.
Here we get some info on how your Voice actually interacts with you. It's made clear that the Voice is not a constant presence and will only speak up on its own at times of importance.
Most of the time the Persona is in control of themselves and the Voice rides shotgun, occasionally piping up to offer some kind of advice or commentary.
So long as you've got the time to "chat" with your Voice you and the Voice can cooperate and pool your Qualities. But this is just the same as receiving advice from someone in the room, it's probably not going to be fast enough for split second reactions. A voice with the Good [+2] Marksman skill might be able to help you line up a shot and correct for errors if you're firing a gun from a rooftop at night, but he can't really help in a firefight.
Essentially using a Voice's Qualities takes at least one round in a Conflict spent only conversing with the Voice. The exception is if you're combining your Defining Quality with one of your Voice's and you spend a Karma Die. So someone with the Defining Quality Good [+2] Violent and a Voice with the Quality Good [+2] Boxing, could (by spending a Karma Die) immediately make use of that quality in a fight to hit someone by channeling the Voice.
The Voice can attempt to take over the Persona via Metanoia checks, this can happen when the Persona is forced to Zero Out a Quality or is rendered Mostly Dead.
The player may decide to initiate a Metanoia challenge, hoping to lose, to "channel" his Voice in order to let them take over and use their Qualities.
When a Voice is controlling the Persona, all of the Persona's Qualities are inaccessible except for their Defining Quality (although they can still absorb damage). However, as the Persona is now a Voice they can use their Qualities to assist in the same way that a Voice would.
transitioning is always traumatic and obvious, unless the player spends a Spirit die.
Normally only one Metanoia Challenge can happen in a Scene, to initiate a new Challenge after the first costs a Karma Die. At the end of the Scene control returns to the Persona.
The player should not control his Persona's Voice, instead it is controlled by the GM or other players. Everyone may just have the person to their left control their Voice, it could be random, or it could be controlled entirely by the GM.
Everyone starts with a single Voice, but apparently most Persona will eventually develop additional Voices. However, searching through both sections I cannot for the life of me find any rules covering how one gets additional Voices or why. This section presents two options that seem to be related to multiple voices but actually don't really have anything to do with them:
Fugue This is where a Voice takes over the body permanently. Basically when a Metanioa event is failed and the situation is so traumatic that the Persona cannot regain control (this usually happens after the Persona is reduced to Mostly Dead). In this case the Voice effectively becomes the Persona under control of the player and the Persona becomes a Voice under the control of the GM and other players. It's not made clear what happens to the Persona's Qualities, especially Qualities that might represent relationships, appearance, physical traits and so on. The text states that in order for a Fugue to occur, the Persona must have multiple Voices but it's not really clear why this is since only one Voice is actually involved.
Harmony This is where two Personae both hear the same Voice, so kind of the reverse of multiple Voices. It also doesn't address the fact that this moves the game from "reality vs insanity" to a straight up, blatantly supernatural game although it does mention that this is only available at the GM's discretion.
Making the Voices Stop
There are two ways to get rid of a Voice, should you want to.
Purge this is basically an exorcism. First the Voice must be in control of the body, meaning a Metanioa check will likely be forced until the Persona fails and the Voice takes control. Then the Voice must be engaged in a Conflict to inflict Failure Ranks. This could be psychological counseling or just straight up torture. Once the Voice is Zeroed Out it can be Coup de Graced just like a Zeroed Out person, effectively "killing" the Voice. If the Persona wishes they can use their Qualities to aid either the exorcism or the Voice in the Conflict.
Merge rather than erasing a Voice this is basically integrating a Voice with the Personae. There are no real rules for this and it's basically up to the GM when the Personae has fully realized what the Voice represents and its nature. The Persona immediately gains a new Quality at Average  based on the Voices highest Quality.
Surge this is only loosely defined but apparently an extremely important Purge or Merge of a voice can lead to a "breakthrough", giving the PC new Qualities. This will apparently be addressed more significantly in the Nox chapter.
This is just some notes regarding how Players should roleplay the Voices of other Persona. It mostly amounts to a fair amount of gabbing over how Vox doesn't restrict you when you want to do things that are "out of character" or addressing other common "table problems" (such as absent or idle players, etc).
Here the author waxes philosophical on Jungian philosophy and the nature of truth. I've got to say, it's not a bad game but damn can the constant digressions on the nature of truth, reality and the self become kind of mind-numbing.
Basically this section works on the assumption that when you roleplay a Voice you'll often by lying or telling contradictory truths. Of course, it's kind of a hard thing to wrap your head around. After all, while the DM may or may not provide truth or lies when roleplaying a Voice, your fellow players don't know anything more than you do...so why ask them (via your Voice) for advice, beyond that provided through Qualities? It just seems to be an odd assumption that the Voice will be telling lies, and that you the player might be in a situation where you'd believe them. Of course, over all the relationship between Persona, Voice and player is still a little vague as we have no real setting yet to provide them context or understand what your goals are and what Voices are (the Voice Types provided in the previous sections are often contradicted by the nature of the Voice rules, meaning they're clearly not "real").
It does state flat-out that a Voice will never attempt to force the Persona to suicidal actions. They're dependent on the Persona and destroying them will also destroy themselves (another bit of evidence showing that most of the Voice Types aren't "true").
This chapter is basically a short essay on the Myers-Briggs personality types. The game apparently includes its own terms for each of the dichotomies, for instance a Thinker is an eMpath, a Feeler is a sYmpath (and yes, the capitalization is from the book), an extrovert is a Cenobite and an introvert is an eRemite. When you need to include random capitalization in order to avoid repeating letters in your acronym and you're already replacing existing terms you might want to just step away from the thesaurus.
We're then given archetypes for certain personality combos. For instance "Doer Kritarchs" (ie, people who are both Sensing and Judging) are referred to as Wardens, with four subtypes based on the other two personality components: Watchmen (DYKC or ESFJ), Commissioner (DMKC or ESTJ), Bodyguard (DYKR or ISFJ) and Gumshoe (DMKR or ISTJ).
I suppose I could see these as being useful "shortcuts" for Voices, since each voice will be swapped from player to player...but considering this is a game for experienced gamers, I'd bet most of the time it would be easier to simply list a few personality descriptors rather than forcing everyone to figure out what you mean when you say your voice is a Gumshoe personality type.
That's it for the Lux section, and we're officially out of the player portion of the book.
Next we flip the book over and go to the Nox section, maybe we'll get some idea of what's going on (hint, we won't).
Vox: NoxOriginal SA post
Vox Part 3: Nox
Now onto the GM section. Now if you thought that things were confusing before...
The mood for this section is set by an "in-character" sidebar written by a doctor examining the disorder known as Vox, which has become widespread and epidemic. The note indicates it's around 2020-30 or so and Vox started affecting about 1% of the population (a hell of a lot of people really) and this grew by 1% every 17 years, first being notice roughly 40 years ago. Although Vox is apparently not conclusively blamed for this governments have collapsed and billions of people have died since this doctor has been investigating the phenomena.
This seems to be document from the future of the "Oversight" setting which we'll cover later.
The chapter begins by letting us know the general philosophy of the game's mysteries: "the truth is out there"...but you won't get to find it. Essentially the "truth" of Voices and reality is not going to be established and should be hinted at to the players but it should not be revealed.
Then we zoom out and the cosmology gets...explained?
Apparently at the beginning of time there was a singular, omnipresent entity: The One. For reasons no one is capable of knowing the One decided to divide itself. Half of the One splintered into Chaos, each bit dividing further and further.
The second half remained intact and was Order, the Demiurge. A single, sentient entity that seems to be the closest thing to a "god" in the universe.
It is immensely unclear whether the "universe" as we know it is an aspect of the fractured half or the Demiurge. Both are stated to have become "reality" but neither is defined beyond the vaguest terms.
There are two groups who each have beliefs about the One, namely whether the division was an act of creation or an attempted suicide. Who these groups are, whether they're human or otherwise, and where they got this information from is not defined.
Both groups however have noticed that the bits of the splintered half occasionally "come together" and rejoin, becoming closer to the original entity in the process.
The Demiurge is very "territorial", it does not want to divide or become less than it currently is and will do whatever it takes to ensure this doesn't happen. The Demiurge knows that if any entity becomes strong enough to challenge it then it would basically be the end of the universe. So it makes sure that the bits of chaos don't accumulate and grow bigger or badder.
For the history of the universe humanity has been kept in the dark by the Demiurge and those who serve it, with the Truth kept hidden from them.
However, throughout its history humanity has discovered some kind of link to the Truth, often in the form of Voices. This frightens the Demiurge who always makes sure that such prophets or visionaries are "taken down" by the rest of humanity.
Now theology really starts to go through the wringer...
Now, apparently the legend of the tower of Babel was sort of right, but not quite. It was a project mean to be a "gate to God" or the path to becoming gods. The text refers to genesis and the words of the serpent who claims that God is afraid that humanity will eat of the tree of knowledge and will become like god, knowing the Truth. Oh and the tree, it was Yggdrasil, the tree that leads to the heavens.
Essentially it is an event where humanity became closer to Godhood, before the Demiurge managed to break them apart, divide them and weaken them again. It has happened many times throughout history and each time the Demiurge has defeated them.
Here we get a pretty clear statement as to what Voices are. They are not imaginary (well, there's that mystery gone), but they are also not gods or aliens or ghosts. They're part of the Persona's own mind, trying to reestablish contact with itself and connect and merge once more.
Meanwhile the Demiurge uses its agents to try and undermine those who hear Voices, convincing them that what they hear isn't real, or just kill them.
Now, that's actually fairly clear...except that this "backstory" isn't actually mentioned in any of Vox's four Settings. Perhaps this a fifth, default setting? Or maybe its some kind of truth behind each of the four settings. It's unclear.
The Demiurge background continues here. Each of the PCs contains a little "spark" of the original One, and if they manage to "integrate" and rejoin with that spark they may be able to to it again. As more and more sparks, or Voices are merged you become something more than human.
PCs are Apoths (I've got to say, that's a terrible name), people mean to change the way things are, and possibly lead humanity to a new stage of being. Which is of course exactly what the Demiurge doesn't want and the universe will attempt to discredit or destroy Apoths.
Apoths typically appear when something needs fixing or repairing, often starting or ending wars or revolutions. The text seems to imply that the Demiurge might allow them around when it needs things changed briefly, only to eliminate them before things can change too much.
By the way, I'm sparing you a lot of college-roomate philosophizing. Let me give you a taste of stuff I'm trimming:
Who's to say that it wouldn't be good to have an Apoth live on, changing minds, awakening the whole world to a new reality, casting down old beliefs, and raising all existence up into open warfar against the universe itself, tearing down all that is in order to see what lies beyond the veil? Unity consciousness, all for one and one for all, forever and ever. Well, lots of people would probably say that wasn't good. Because once you pull back the curtain, rip the tablecloth out from under the dishes, there's no going back. isn't it safer to keep your hands inside the car at all times? To color inside the lines? To keep your mind shut?
So basically, the Demiurge is the Man and the Man is keeping you down, dude.
Oh, and apparently Apoths are also called aeonites, because apparently the first things Chaos splintered into were called Aeons.
Apoths tend to be polymaths and are usually very broadly skilled (definitely not the case for a starting PC, but perhaps this is meant to change over time). But basically an Apoth can do anything the GM decides is appropriate for them to do. Perhaps they can take Qualities that let them see the future, tell truth from lies, etc.
Each time the PCs manage to Merge with a Voice one of the Voices Core Qualities becomes part of the PCs (as an Average  Quality). Whenever this happens there is a 1 in 6 chance of a Surge , giving you a new Quality in addition to the Quality that you've absorbed from the Voice. A short table (3d6) is provided with possible Surge Qualities. Presumably these new Qualities are also Average , it's not stated.
Most of these Qualities are psychic abilities (clairvoyance, clairaudience, dowsing, empathy, precognition, psychometry), some are just exceptional or unusual human traits (photographic memory, musical prodigy, intuition, speed reading, and synaesthesia).
The game does mention that in order to avoid an over-abundance of Qualities eventually the players should "fuse" multiple Qualities together to produce a single Quality with a larger penumbra.
Finally there's a smaller table of extremely supernatural Qualities the GM might hand out if he decides he wants something less subtle. This is things like TK, invisibility, levitation, teleportation, resurrection, etc.
Here we get even more bizarre philosophy and cosmology, as well as plenty of new vocabulary words.
Did you know the passing of a soul to another body is called Metempsychosis? Also, because you are breathing the same air molecules breathed by Socrates it's not unbelievable that thought, memory and personality work the same way!
Reality and time is cyclical, like an etch-a-sketch. The same material is used to create new things over and over again only to be dissolved and rendered back into raw nothingness and the whole thing starts again, unless you know the Truth!
Ignorance is what chains you to Maya, the illusion of reality (just insert "man" after everything I say and you'll know how this all sounds in my head).
Next we're told about how time is real, but perception is reality and reality is illusion and did you know that if you take LSD time can seem meaningless and in near death experiences you can relive your life in a single moment?
Also there's polydimensional time where you have always already "done" and "been" everything and everwhere you will ever do or be. But you can't perceive this except on the quantum level of your thoughts where your synapses will occasionally "align" with states that they "will" occupy in the "future" (quotation marks are the book's).
Basically it's talking about deja-vu, which players can trigger via spending Karma Dice. The GM rolls 2d6 and consults a chart.
2: Jamais Vu You have the experience of encountering something familiar yet feeling as though it is unknown or new.
3-4: Deja Senti This is where you have no idea what will happen or be said, but you "feel" you've seen it before. Basically what most people know as deja-vu.
5-7: Deja Vu For the next few seconds you know what will happen or be said, but of course you can change it by saying or doing something different.
8-9Deja Vecu This is the feeling that an experience is familiar, but more distant than deja vu, as though some other person has lived through the experience, sort of like a past life memory.
10-11 Deja Visite You feel like a new place is familiar, and may find your way around without a problem.
12 Cryptomnesia This is the feeling that what is happening now has never happened before but it is in fact something that has happened before (such as writing a song someone else has already exactly written).
Now, to be clear, this is the only explanation for the events given. It is never made clear what exactly the benefit of Deja Vu is meant to be, why players would want to spend Karma on it and how the GM is meant to come up with the "future" off the top of their heads.
We've got more about Synchronicity (where you spend Karma for helpful coincidences) which mostly amounts to talking about how weird coincidences can totally happen in real life and Jung said blah blah blah blah. It's a bit too dense to be interesting and too to actually be useful.
Did you know on August 8th, 2008 a baby named Eden was born at 8:08 AM who weighed 8 pounds and 8 ounces (man).
Also more vocabulary words: Apophenia (the experience of seeing patterns in random data) and Pareidolia (seeing faces in inanimate objects such as household objects or clouds).
This is basically a chapter introducing you to the concepts of Jungian psychology and how completely relevant it is to the game.
This is basically about how to integrate your Voices with your Persona, seeing them as Complexes that block the path to Individuation and Anima and Shadow and Syzygsdug paaaah!
I'm sorry, but this section is really really dense and every other word is capitalized.
We're also presented with Tarot-style Archetypes which, in Vox Tradition, are renamed for no apparent reason. For instance the Hierophant is the Praeceptor, the High Priestess is Antistia, the charioteer is an Agitator, The Strength is Fortitudo (and is also called the Strongman).
This is the "adversaries" Chapter. It includes rules for Minions (identical of S7S) and different ranks of "power" for opponents (the highest of whom may have Voices of their own).
Archons are those who knowingl serve the Demiurge. They are aware of the Truth and seek to prevent anyone else from learning of it. They don't actually know what the Truth is, just that it exists and something similar to the Demiurge exists. Some Archons think they're serving the creator of the world, others know the world is an illusion but it's best illusion you can hope for.
There are several hundred Archons and they operate in pairs. Archons have all had Voices which they have viciously purged, often leaving them with several extra Qualities. They also get a huge 10 Karma Dice every session, in addition to the GM's dice. Basically their main power is that the universe is literally on their side.
Orders are essentially conspiracies that run things from the shadows trying to discover or hide the Truth.
There are two main ones: Lux Aeterna and Nuit
Lux Aeterna is the more "positive" of the two. They're goals are to protect the ignorant (but keep them ignorant). If the ignorant learn the truth they're to be guided towards awareness and learning the importance of unity and obedience. The needs of the many, etc.
Basically they're all about small sacrifices for the greater good. They might ever-so-slowly ready the masses for the Truth but until then, ignorance is their best protection.
Their leader is called "The Man" and he looks like the Colonel of KFC fame.
Like their counterpart, Nuit believes in keeping humanity ignorant. However, they feel it's better that the masses never learn of the Truth. Rather than providing incremental knowledge or leading those who stumble onto it they seek to cloud any discoveries and, if necessary, eliminate anyone who learns of the Truth. Voice especially are to be purged.
Neither Order specifically serves the Demiurge, although both may have secret Archons among their ranks.
Next We've got the four "settings" for Vox, and the best part of the book.
Vox: SettingsOriginal SA post
Vox Part 4: Settings
Here we talk about the potential settings for Vox, which are all actually quite cool but they do reveal the game's biggest weakness...It's not very focused on it's core concept.
Basically the idea is that you hear Voices, and the effect of those voices on gameplay is fairly interesting. But that idea seems to get left behind as the book gets caught up in its cosmic conspiracy theory and it turns out the Voices are just going to be "power ups" for the PCs to deal with and then "eat" in order to become more powerful. It's fairly well established that the Voices aren't independent beings or forces (making the Voice Types kind of pointless) and since they aren't in any sense real their existence doesn't ultimately matter beyond the abilities granted once they're absorbed or purged.
The setting intro mentions that you can use Vox for just about any sort of setting: greek hoplites communing with the Gods, space horror games with psychic parasites, or a game of lunatics whose voices are actually people in another place or time who are hearing your voice. These are all neat ideas...but Vox isn't a generic game system. "all the players are people with voices in their heads only they can hear and which can take over their body" is pretty far from generic.
The "default" Demiurge concept makes for an interesting conspiracy/horror game in the vein of Unknown Armies or even a low-powered Mage game...but it doesn't actually have anything to do with the Voices, and those just feel tacked on, which is bizarre since that's the central concept behind the entire game.
Likewise, the other three settings are all really interesting...but they could be played just as easily without Voices and they're probably be more coherent and playable.
Anyway, lets get to the four potential settings:
This starts by stating that apparently everyone in the titular Facility has a Voice, so that's interesting. It also talks about the different types of Voices that are most common:
*Vox Phasma: the "ghosts" of those who have died in the Facility, or possibly those who were there before.
*Vox Alius: These Voices are mostly confined to a group explained later: The Order of the Red Brotherhood. Basically people with these voices tend to believe that the Facility is some sort of alien vessel or lab and the Voices are transmissions or messages from the Alien Masters.
*Vox Dei: These guys believe they're hearing the voice of God or the Devil and usually see the Facility as some form of purgatory or hell. Often these guys are driven to violence and join a group called the Possessed. Apparently anyone who gives off the impression that they're hearing Voices is generally assumed by others to be one of the Possessed...which is odd since earlier it mentioned that everyone has Voices.
*Vox Machina: The voice of the System itself, that runs the Facility. They tend to be "hackers" and have a talent for getting the Facility to do what they want.
So, what is the Facility? Well, that's a good question. Basically it is a gigantic structure of long white hallways and small, barren rooms. No one knows who built it, how it operates or why it's full of people with Voices in their heads.
Every 90,000 seconds sleeping gas is pumped into the rooms and halls.
Everything is controlled by the System (or Evermind) and there are several computer terminals in some areas.
Much of the Facility is lit constantly by soft-white overhead lighting but in some areas the lights are unreliable or burned out. These areas are called Nighthalls. Sometimes small, useful objects are found in the area, they're called Gifts and have a tendency to vanish spontaneously sometime later.
The structure of the Facility is as follows:
Rooms are 10x10 chambers which are what you can find behind most open doors in the Facility. They have running water, toilet facilities, and a cot. Some time after the sleeping gas is pumped in food will appear in inhabited rooms.
Halls connect just about everything. Some Halls have lights, some don't (see Nighthalls). Night-halls are often the lair of the possessed.
Sectors This is a collection of Halls and Rooms that have regular inhabitants. They're named for the number of regular people staying in them (so Sector 116 has 116 inhabitants). This would presumably be confusing but the narrator (for some reason this chapter is told in first person) states that he's never found two Sectors with the same population or any Sector where the population fluctuates for long enough to be renamed. Sometimes people go missing but someone new always replaces them.
Wards are larger chambers, often surrounded by Nighthalls. They're usually locked and inside are computer terminals connected to the System.
The Garden is the center of the "main" Facility, a pentagonal area in the center of a 5-way intersection of rectangular "wings". This contains a library (which is also kind of a "neutral zone") and an indoor garden full of many different plans tended by the Facility. This region is handled by a faction called the Union.
Around the Garden are several Wings which are rectangular-shaped regions of halls and rooms, about six floors tall. Each Wing has their own collection of Nighthalls, Sectors, Wards and unexplored areas.
The garden and it's Wings are connected to other parts of the Facility by The Hallway . The Hallway is a single, giant stretch of wide-open blackness. There are no lights and the whole thing is several miles long. Corpses can be found in the darkness with disturbing regularity. There are plenty of Possessed here as well.
At the end of the Hallway is the Stairs , a big, empty spiral staircase leading downwards with occasional lighting. At the end is a magnetically locked door with a blacked out window. No one has been though this door. However, some landings also lead to two other Wings that are only accessible through the Hallway. One of them is nearly as dark as the Hallway and the rumor is that it's the source of the food, water and medication pipes.
Next we've got some info on the organizations and factions in the Facility:
The Union is the "good guys" of the Facility. They're there to try and get people to work together. They want everyone to get along, stand together and basically be more civilized.
The Administrators believe they are descended from the people who were originally employed in the Facility, and are thus superior to the other residents. They want to stop anyone from finding an exit and to ensure that they control as much as possible within the Facility. They refer to non-administrators as "patients" and basically keep them as servants and slaves whenever they can. Patients who prove themselves can be promoted to "doctors", but only those with "provable" pedigree can become high-ranking.
Order of the Red Brotherhood , also called the ORB. They think the facility is a space-ship taking everyone to an alien planet. The aliens live in the basement below the Staircase, controlling and observing the Facility and its inhabitants. They hate the Union and may have some kind of treaty or understanding with the Possessed.
The Possessed are basically those who hear Voices that drive them to violence and who have been "broken down" by their Voices. They are usually alone or in small packs. However, Possessed are not beyond saving and there are a few Redeemed who have managed to purge or merge with their Voices and regain their sanity.
The Facility chapter ends by breaking out of the first person and provides a few tips on running a Facility game, including a few random tables for random exploration events, random gifts.
The last part gives us the "truth" behind the Facility, which is actually disappointingly mundane and doesn't actually make a huge amount of sense given the Facility's layout and procedures. Basically back in 2012 a facility in Antarctica was created to house victims of the Vox plague...and that's about it. No one knows what has happened to the rest of the world since then or how long its been.
Oversight is the "default" campaign setting for Vox, set in the modern day with an ever-increasing "plague" of the Vox disorder, where the victims hear unexplainable Voices. Presumably this also includes the Demiurge and its agents...but they're never actually mentioned nor is it ever explained how the Demiurge cosmology fits in with the "plague" of Voices (something you think would provoke a huge reaction from the entity).
The setting is, specifically, Washington DC during election season of 2012...which is pretty darn specific I suppose. People in America and the world are starting to become more polarized and radical. Everyone has an opinion and they're getting louder about it. Protests are more common and becoming more violent and in reaction the jails are full of activists and extremists on trumped up charges.
The presidential election is currently undecided with recounts and court orders extending the election into late November and no new president yet determined. Oh, and apparently one candidate is Muslim...how they possibly got enough votes in 2012 USA to deadlock the elections is an exercise for your imagination (Vox was published in 2010 by the way).
Like the Facility it starts with some common Voice Types:
*Vox Dei: Plenty of religious extremists and true believers. This is where its mentioned that one of the candidates is Muslim (the other is Christian) and it also says that both sides seem to be equal in size and influence...this must be a very, very different world because a quick google search reveals that Muslims make up .6% of the population vs Christianity's 78.4% . I'm all for alternate realities but sometimes you need to point out that you're diverging and maybe give some insight into what that means for the setting.
*Vox Apparatus: These guys can either be luddites who hate the "machine Voices" they're forced to endure or semi-transhumanists.
*Vox Alius: basically a surge in alien abductee mania. Many of those with these Voices believe that the Truth is being hidden by the government.
*Vox Custos: These are the conspiracy theorists who believe that they're "tuned in" to the people who are trying to hunt them down and control the world.
The chapter goes on to describe some of the better known landmarks in DC: the national mall, the Washington monument, the Capitol Building, etc. None of this has any actual game relevance, but it does serve as set-dressing.
Next we've got the fictional candidates and their major supporters. No political parties are mentioned...but it's not exactly hard to tell. Nor is it hard to tell whose side the book is on.
First we have the "Agents of Change" Aadil Bukhari is the Muslim candidate and he's just one miracle away from sainthood. He's the frontrunner, won the popular vote clearly but the electoral vote is being hotly contested. He was born in the inner city, has an "astounding intellect" and made his way through public high school in "record time" (which must be something considering the youngest high school graduate is six years old). He's also the youngest presidential candidate in history. His running mate is Nathan Locke is an older and more seasoned man of so full of wisdom and serenity it is leaking out of his ears. He was, notably, an ambassador prior to becoming the VP candidate so although he has lots of experience and wisdom he has never been a "real" politician, avoiding the corrupting brand of being an "insider".
some of Bukhari's supporters are listed as well: a climate change expert attempting to warn people about dangerous new weather conditions in the near future, a secret service agent in service of the unnamed incumbent president (who is ending his 2nd term), a young reporter for the Post. There is also mention of a Micah Harris a high schooler who has some vaguely defined prophetic or mystic gift. There's no indication of how he's connected however.
Then we have "The Establishment", ie the opposing party. It's worth noting that from the brief description given of the 2-term incumbent he's clearly on the same team as Bukhari...so it's not really clear how the rival party counts as the "Establishment". They might has well have labeled them "the Sith" considering how they're described.
Judith Wagner is the opposition candidate and a lawyer. During her legal career she was nicknamed "the vampire" and her political career has been tainted by shady real-estate deals that have recently come to light. It also makes it clear that she and her family are the ones behind the gridlock on the elections. For some reason no mention at all is made of her running mate. We do hear about a few of her supporters: a supreme court justice who is instrumental in helping her block the election results, a political radio commentator, a freelance reporter, and the evangelical Reverend Grigsby. Micah Harris's psychologist is also mentioned, but again his connection is unexplained.
Then we've got the Factions which may or may not be connected to the conspiracies of Lux Aeterna or Nuit. There's the Lightbringers who are a semi-secret group who reaches out to those with mental illnesses offering help and support (but operate in secrecy) and the AVARC or Association for Voice Anomaly Research and Containment. They're basically Men In Black who seek out and capture those with Voices.
The chapter ends with a random headline generator as well as a "random event" table. The random events are basically insane, which isn't totally inappropriate, but it does paint the world as one where the events of the presidential election are the least of anyone's concerns...let's see...here are 4 random results:
Preachers disguised as rioters. Also an explosion.
EMTs arguing with bystanders during a fire.
Police questioning a Flash Mob in the middle of traffic
Men In Black assaulting looters while an assassination occurs.
Honestly, this setting is way too focused on the least interesting part of the world (2000-style stalled presidential election in a world where schizophrenia is a contagious disease and the weather is poised to go Ragnarok) and the one aspect that lone individuals (ie the PCs) have the least amount of influence or control. There's almost no actual indication of how the PCs might get involved, what would drive them or even what will happen without their intervention. The lack of any moral ambiguity is also a bit of a game-killer for a political conspiracy game.
This setting is semi-lovecraftian and set in the 1920s, in Buffalo NY. Like before we've got some suggested Voice Types:
*Vox Apparatus: Almost the whole of Buffalo is now powered thanks to the work of Nikola Tesla at Niagara Falls. Also there's jazz.
*Vox Musum: Specifically related to the Suffragette movement and the "voice" of inspiration leading these activists.
*Vox Madidus: Can't avoid mentioning Prohibition of course.
*Vox Sussurus: This is basically a Voice personified by rumors.
We also get a selection of almost-1920's street slang. Did you know that "tough guys" used to be called "Bimbos"?
We're then given some important places in interbellum Buffallo, of course mentioning the insane asylum. Some of these are just historical mentions but others have bizarre rumors attached to them. Supposedly a giant tentacled creature sleeps under niagara falls and the hydroelectric dams are there to keep it either asleep or to wake it up. People who go over in barrels sometimes disappear.
And of course there's mention of the mob families of buffalo, the personelle of the insane asylum and oddly enough vendors in the Broadway market.
Then we come to people connected to the Supernatural...
We do have Phineas Ghoule who is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He leads a cult trying to take over the world, performing rituals to use the electrical grid of the city as a giant ritual focus for unspecified purposes.
And we've got Nikola Tesla in the twilight of his life who is working on secret modifications to the electrical system in the hydroelectric dam.
There are two other characters mentioned, a professor of history from the local university with no known supernatural affiliation (but hey, he's a history professor in a lovecraftian setting) and a couple who runs the Queen City Hotel with undefined " knowledge of the occult".
Currents also comes with an actual adventure scenario, something that Oversight desperately needed revolving around the eclipse set to occur on January 24th of 1925. The Eclipse can be used as either a climax for the game or as a starting point. However, reviewing this outline I've got to say...I'm a bit confused.
If we're going with the events leading up to the Eclipse here's what we have:
In January of 1900 Tesla arrives to upgrade the system he created for Westinghouse in Niagara Falls. The generators run at 4000 RPM after he modifies them.
Twenty years later just after prohibition is passed the PCs find themselves at the Front park near the Niagara river. Something is going to happen that only they can stop. This is the only information we have.
In 1922 we have a bit about the DiCarlo crime family. Yes, we seem to have skipped forward two years with no explanation. Antony DiCarlo, the son of Joe DiCarlo (the family head) loses 4 days during which his father succumbs to a heart attack and he is nowhere to be found. Upon returning he appoints Stefano Magaddino to run the family until he feels capable. This is all the work of Angelo Palmeri who didn't want to see Antony in charge.
Then in ??? we have Dr. Eliot Cambria who is a senior psychologist at the insane Asylum. He leads a cult in Buffalo under the name Phineas Ghoule and is preparing to create some kind of portal using the power of Tesla's generators and the parks around Buffalo. Cambria helped to arrange Antony's disappearance for Angelo Palmeri in exchange for getting him test subjects for his mind control experiments which take place under the asylum.
As their plans unfold unnatural events begin to occur around Buffalo: "time doors" open to other places, citizens vanish and reappear or are altered in odd ways.
January 1925 , three years after the last established date, the solar eclipse will occur. And then...profit? The characters have presumably saved the day, or they haven't. This is literally all we have and it's meant to span a 5 year adventure? Forget what I said earlier about an adventure outline.
Of course, the Eclipse could just be the start of things...
The morning of the eclipse the characters are drawn to downtown Buffalo, they enter Niagara square at about 9:40 and the eclipse begins 5 minutes later and lasts for 101 seconds. And basically bad things happen. We're given a few brief examples (doorways to other worlds/times open, lovecraftian beings enter the dimension, or perhaps psychic episodes affect the inhabitants of Bufallo) and a possible way to defuse the situation (dropping the revolutions of the transformers to 3600 RPM).
However, overall it's a bit of a mess. There's not really enough information or material for this to be considered a real "setting" and as an adventure it's waaay too long-term and disjointed.
This is the Victorian setting for Vox. In this setting five years before Victoria was due to ascend to the throne she was forced to flee and an usurper has taken her place.
Here at least we're given a rundown of how this world is different from our own version of 1832. Cholera outbreaks and civil unrest weaken the government and King William the IV becomes ill and dies. His Queen becomes regent but power is seized by John Conroy and a 13 year old Victoria flees the palace and disappears. The game itself may occur weeks, months or years later in a London where it has been raining constantly ever since.
Buckingham palace has been fortified by Conroy's forces and the Tower of London is home to his Watchmen. Queen Victoria has joined up with a group called the Guttersnipes, basically a semi-organized group of lower classes and criminals. She is 13 (no matter how long it has been since Conroy seized power, she does not age) and is organizing a revolution among the guttersnipes to overthrow Conroy and put herself back on the throne.
And...well that's really about it. Again, kind of a neat idea but there's not really anything beyond some notable historical differences and some unexplained phenomena. No real information about how Voices tie into things. At least it's easier to see the PCs getting involved, but the whole Voice schtick just feels out of place...
And that's it for VOX. It's quite the up-and-down game. It introduces some cool ideas and the occasional neat mechanic but it doesn't really seem to know where it's going with things. It's also missing some essential information (mainly, how you get additional Voices). Definitely not the strongest PDQ game, but it's certainly a source of potential inspiration for weird/conspiracy gaming.
Ninja Burger: Fast Food AssassinsOriginal SA post
Ninja Burger: Fast Food Assassins
Rewinding the PDQ timeline a little bit here because I managed to track down my copy of Ninja Burger. Apparently I have two accounts at Drivethrurpg.
Ninja Burger was the first PDQ product by Aethereal Forge, who would eventually produce Vox, and up until Jaws of the Six Serpents and Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies came out it was probably the PDQ game with the best production values.
If you're not familiar, Ninja Burger was a turn of the millennia joke site similar to Real Ultimate Power. I was first introduced to it through the ninja-burger card game, which I always found to be a lot of fun. After discovering PDQ one of the first things I wanted to do with the system was use it to turn the card game into an RPG (I was not aware that the "1st edition" of the Ninja Burger RPG already existed).
Well, Ninja Burger beat me to the punch and released a PDQ version of Ninja Burger themselves, the 2nd edition of the Ninja Burger RPG. This is that game.
The name pretty much sums it up. Ninja Burger is a fast food delivery franchise owned, run, and staffed by ninjas. They promise delivery within 30 minutes or they will commit seppuku.
Unlike Vox, Ninja Burger thankfully does not take itself seriously. Well, for the most part at least. We do get a 9 paragraph essay on the nature of imaginative play and ninjas in popular consciousness...but that's easy to skip past.
Here is the in-game history of Ninja Burger: It was founded in the 1950s when fast food was becoming prominent. Because ninja burger employed real ninjas they could cater to exclusive clientele: the rich and powerful who find themselves in places where getting fast and greasy food would be impossible: politicians locked in military bunkers on high alert, wealthy explorers scaling mount everest, soldiers pinned down behind enemy lines. Ninja burger has been involved in most major historical events, but you don't hear about it because (of course) they're ninjas.
Eventually the ninja burger franchise began to branch out as the rich elite are a bit of a small market. Now they'll deliver to anyone who needs their food delivered quickly, quietly and discretely.
The first Ninja Burger location was in San Francisco in Chinatown, which is still the company's primary headquarters and main dispatch/call center. The Ninja Burger company relies not only on ancient secret arts but also extremely advanced modern technology. This is their primary delivery vehicle:
The VR Rating is a concept introduced in order to try and set the theme of the Ninja Burger game and it refers to the Violence/Realism rating. These ratings are +2, 0, and -2 for each.
Violence +2 is like a Mortal Kombat game. Limbs go flying on most deliveries and the "Seppuku Rule" is in force, or at least the "finger rule" (where you can cut off your fingers to atone for dishonorable conduct).
Violence 0 is like an action movie. PC death will probably only happen if you're incredibly stupid or you break the rules of the genre (jumping out a plane with no chute, trying to block a bullet with your kidney).
Violence -2 is cartoon violence. permanent death is pretty much not in the cards. Grenades may blacken your face and knock you out but no one is getting blown to bits.
Realism +2 Basically means anything goes. Aliens could crash in the middle of town and everyone will complain about the traffic. You can show up to a delivery with a giant brain leech trying to gnaw through your mask and no one will comment.
Realism 0 is "comic book" realism. There are mutants, talking monkeys, aliens, magic, etc.
Realism -2 is mostly the real world. People may act strangely (for instance starting up a fast food franchise staffed entirely by ninjas), but nothing physically impossible happens.
For the most part there's no specific effects from the VR ratings, however there are going to be sidebars scattered throughout that represent optional changes related to the VR score of a campaign. There are also "sample concepts" related to different VR rating combos:
Ninja Burger 101 (V0, R-2) this is basically Ninja Burger being run as though it were a real company in the real world. They have tremendous resources, highly trained staff recruited from ex-special forces or intelligence agents, and a good working relationship with several major governments. Delivery issues are mostly logistical and deal with the real world complications of getting food to their clients quickly and discretely. Enemies are mostly a few other "elite" fast food franchises and corporate espionage.
Crouching Monkey, Hidden Robot (V-2, R+2) This is Ninja Burger as a saturday morning cartoon and toy line. Every week there's a new set of mutants, aliens or thawed out nazis who somehow are interfering with your deliveries. If it weren't for them though, deliveries anywhere and anytime would probably be a snap.
Biggie Sized Trouble In Chinatown (V0, R0) The weird stuff is out there but ordinary people never see it...and that's how it needs to be. Make sure that you get your customers their order and fight off those vampires who caught the scent of the ketchup without letting anyone know what's really going on.
Burger Wars, Inc (V+2, R-2) This is cyberpunk ninja burger. The year is 20(2d6+10) and Ninja Burger is a mega-corp engaged in the fast food wars with other vicious themed franchises. Cybernetics, genetic mutation and high tech gadgets are common weapons in the war for customer's hearts.
Real Ultimate Ninja (V+2, R+2) This the "flip out and kill people" version of ninjas, and a setting where basically anything can happen and you can try just about anything so long as it sounds fun. Grab a guitar and shred out a solo to try and melt a robot's brain? Sounds good. Going back in time to deliver food to historical figures. Easy.
About Ninja Burger Employees
Next we've got a set of four concepts that sum up the ninja burger employee philosophy:
1) Ninja Burger will deliver to anyone, anywhere, anytime. They're 24-hours, multinational and hold no particular loyalty to any government or philosophy. Since everyone is a potential customer it's considered bad for business to put the general public at risk and can result in paycheck deductions.
2) Ninja Burger's mission statement is "Guaranteed delivery within 30 minutes or less or we commit seppuku". However, it is up to the individual franchise whether or not this slogan is to be taken literally or not. Some of the more lenient franchises only demand the ninja cut off a finger or garnish the failure's wages.
3) Company Honor before Personal Honor. The first goal of a NB employee is to deliver food, and the second is to defend the company against its competitors. Ultimately you're expected to place these goals above your own needs and desires. If you need to kamikaze a helicopter into the side of a building in order to make that the delivery happen, so be it (and its coming out of your paycheck).
4) Ninja Burger employees do not exist. Ninja Burger deliveries should always be as stealthy and low-key as possible. The company will publicly deny knowledge of any employee captured or killed in the line of duty and its best to minimize casualties (other than competitors) whenever possible.
Ninja Burger characters are pretty standard for PDQ. There are four bits: Your Name , Job , Qualities , and Background .
Your Job is the specific role you fill as a NB employee. Each delivery team consists of 3-6 ninjas and usually has a mix of different positions:
* Ninja Chef The backbone of Ninja Burger. These guys usually go on missions in case something happens to the food en route. If the bag gets squished or the fries get cold you'll need to be there to whip up a replacement.
* Ninja Deliverator This is the guy who gets the food to the customer's face-hole. They're usually the best at combat, breaking and entering and stealth. Basically classic ninjas.
* Ninja Driver Your ride. The guy who makes sure everyone can get to the delivery site on-time.
* Ninja Navigator The driver's best friend. Also typically responsible for knowing building layouts and so on.
* Ninja Spotter This is the guy who watches everyone's back and keeps an eye out for trouble. Often backs up the Deliverator.
Worth noting, your Job doesn't have a strict mechanical effect, your Qualities cover that (although you can take a Job as a Quality). Everyone starts with an Average  Ninja Quality which is basically a big, extra-broad Quality covering everything Ninja: unarmed combat, fighting with swords, staffs, shurikens, knives, spears, riding swimming, playing with gunpowder, espionage, infiltration, stealth, disguise, meteorology, geography, philosophy, meditation, and fast food.
Since you're only Average  that doesn't mean much yet. But if you advance to Good [+2] or higher its a big bonus. Other than the Ninja Quality everyone gets 3 Quality Ranks (that's 3 Good [+2], one Master [+6] or one Good [+2] and one Expert [+4]) and a Poor [-2] Weakness.
Finally you've got your Background which includes appearance, attitude, personal history but also includes your Element and Clan . There are six elements: Air, Earth, Water, Fire, Light and Dark. There is no set list of Clans, the naming format is [Color] [Verb]ing [Animal] such as "Blue Leaping Dolphins" or "Off-White Quivering Hamsters". You should also pick a "Matter of Honor", some sort of action you're personally forbidden from. If you have trouble coming up with ideas there's a slightly excessive set of tables:
Honor is a pretty overburdened system for Ninjas. In a more serious game it would be an abysmal system. As a beer-and-pretzels game it's somewhat acceptable.
Basically everyone starts with 2d6 Honor Points. Honor serves as your social status (ninjas of equal rank are meant to defer to those with higher honor), it's used as "action points" in game and also as "experience points" for character improvement during downtime.
When a ninja is faced with a conflict to either corporate honor (the four points above) or their personal Matter of Honor they face a Challenge of Honor and may increase their Honor score. Or it may decrease if they screw up. More to come on that later.
It is possible to have a negative honor score, which can be fatal if the seppuku rule is in effect.
Character improvement costs Honor as mentioned before. 5 Honor points lets you improve a Quality by one Rank or gets you a new Good [+2] Quality. Your Ninja Quality has two ways it can be improved at the GM's option: easy or really, really hard. The easy option is to simply allow Ninja to be boosted like any other Quality. Naturally this will lead to everyone dumping most of their honor into becoming Master [+6] ninja. The alternative is far on the other end of the spectrum. In order to raise your ninja quality you must use, successfully and appropriately, the ninja skill for each of the 20 individual ninja sub-skills (that is unarmed combat, swordfighting, staff fighting, shurikens, stealth, geography, etc, etc). Especially with the "successfully and appropriately", that's going to be a very hefty order to fill.
If you're using the optional rule where everyone starts as Poor [-2] Ninja trainees at least they suggest giving everyone the option to check off ten of the uses ahead of time, so you don't have to worry about how you'll figure out how to shoehorn in a meteorology challenge and avoid failing on your 2d6-2 roll.
Next: Basic rules and other stuff
Ninja Burger: Ninja RulesOriginal SA post
Ninja Burger, Part 2: Ninja Rules
So, this part has the core rules. These are almost completely identical to the standard PDQ rules so I won't go into them. However, it does have some of the more fun art in the book so I will go ahead and throw that up here.
Acting Ninja is Ninja Burger's equivalent of Being Badass from the core-rules (basically, you get a +2 bonus for cool descriptions, awesome ideas, etc). For clarity the rules make a distinction between "being ninja" (i.e. doing things that a ninja does normally) and Acting Ninja (doing things in a particularly awesome way, deserving of a bonus). Summed up in this illustration:
VR Rules There are a few optional VR rules scattered about here, both for Violence level. The first is an option to add a game's Violence level to the damage of a successful attack, ensuring that attacks are more or less damaging. A variant option is presented where this is only the case for attacks that inflict "lethal" damage.
Chapter 4: The Dispatcher
The Dispatcher is Ninja Burger's name for the Game Master, however there's one important distinction. The Dispatcher is also an actual character role played by the GM. They are the voice on the other end of your ninja headsets feeding you mission updates and monitoring your status. Basically a fast food version of Oracle.
Of course the Dispatcher still has to wear the "GM hat" when describing things or role-playing NPCs, but the game encourages them as much as possible to speak to the PCs "in character" as the dispatcher. The GM should also create stats for their ninja dispatcher just like the other starting character, using the dispatcher's Qualities to help out characters with Challenges and the like.
Some of the suggestions are pushing the "GM as a character" aspect a bit too much (there's really no reason your dispatcher should be telling you "in character" what you see when you come into a room), but overall its a neat idea.
Next we've got a random delivery generator:
The neighborhood is referring to a neighborhood in San Francisco (the default setting), which is a little bit disappointing given the premise promises a lot of really ridiculous delivery locations (mountaintops, secret bunkers, underwater space stations).
And then we've got the optional complications table which the dispatcher is encouraged to use whenever things are going too smoothly.
Next are Bad Guys , the opponents of honorable ninja burger employees.
Bad Guys come in 5 standard "sizes" which determine how powerful they are: Kid-Sized, Small, Medium, Large and Super. This is basically their threat level. Kid-Sized enemies are things like the family dog, minor henchmen, kids, etc. They get one Good [+2] Quality and one Poor [-2] Weakness. Small sized threats are your faceless mooks, rookies, mall cops and so on who get one Average  and two Good [+2] Qualities and a Poor [-2] Weakness. A Medium threat is someone like a soldier or cop and has one Good [+2] and one Expert [+4] Quality and a Poor [-2] Weakness. Large threats are significant opponents like high ranking henchmen or enemy ninja and they have two Good [+2] Qualities and one Expert [+4] Quality with a Poor [-2] Weakness. Finally the super-sized threats are "bosses" who have a Master [+6] and an Expert [+4] Quality plus a Poor [-2] weakness.
We next get a set of example opponents in different categories.
Robots and Computers
Modern Day Warriors (despite the name and picture these are modern day versions of ancient warriors)
Pirates (of course)
There's also a brief write up of Ninja Burger's competitors. Basically take an existing fast food or franchise and alliterate it with something: monkeydonalds, ghurka burger, pirate pizza, tiki taco, etc.
There's also a couple of VR Factor rules here as well. The first is the "inverse ninja" rule based on Realism. In case where you're dealing with multiple ninjas at once you get a shift to your rolls every time the number of ninjas double. Whether this shift is positive or negative depends on the Realism factor. So for +2 Realism (which is low realism, in case you're confused by the modifier) you get a +2 bonus to your rolls every time the number of opponents doubles. So facing eight ninjas at once means you get +6 to any rolls against them and will likely destroy them in short order. However, for -2 Realism you suffer the equivalent penalty, so a -6 to rolls for those 8 ninjas you're fighting meaning you're dead meat. It's not quite clear if this is meant to apply only to actual ninjas or if it applies to any opponents.
The second relates to the list of ninja burger competitors. The competitors can be randomly generated by rolling 2d6 and they range from least to most ludicrous, starting with pirate pizza and samurai burger and ending with Domo Antipasto (italian food run by robots) and monkeydonalds. You simply add the Realism factor to the 2d6 roll so a high realism (-2) game will result in more "normal" results and exclude monkeys and robots while a low realism game will make them more likely (although it somewhat questionably will exclude pirate pizza and samurai burger). Really, none of the competitors other than monkeydonalds and domo antipasto are any more or less ridiculous than any of the others. I'm not sure how a burger joint run by actual samurai (#3 on the list) is more or less realistic than a Cuban Guerrilla themed banana stand (#10).
Next we have more Honor Rules , going into detail on what Honor can be used for other than character improvement.
The Seppuku Rule Every time a character does something dishonorable they lose one Honor point. Any time Honor becomes negative the GM can require the player to make an Honor Roll, this is 2d6 plus your Ninja Quality minus any negative Honor. So an Average  Ninja with -5 Honor rolls at 2d6 +0 -5. The difficulty is 7, so that guy's screwed. Failure means that the urge to commit seppuku grows too strong and you must end your life. Otherwise you manage to deal with your shame and keep going.
Typically only one check is made per game session, although really dishonorable acts might prompt another. They shouldn't be made when in the throes of a sacred mission such as a delivery or protecting clan honor, you can kill yourself after the job's done.
You can play as an "Honorless Dog", a character with no personal Matter of Honor who is not subject to the seppuku rule. However, if you dip below -5 Honor you'll probably find that other ninjas are happy to do the job for you. You also start with 5 less honor than normal ninjas (which can, from a 2d6 roll, mean you start with negative honor out of the gate).
Lenient franchises might offer another way out for those who have dishonored themselves: offering a finger as atonement. You immediately gain 1d6 honor and can ignore a failed Honor Roll (only one digit per session and only when you're already in the negatives).
If a character does commit seppuku their replacement gets 2d6 extra Honor as compensation.
Honor is also used as a loose form of rank within the Ninja Burger franchise. Anyone with 25 or more Honor is considered a Crew Trainer and 50 or more means you're a Manager. Obviously this means that the higher ranked characters will actually have less skill (not having cashed in Honor for character improvement) which the book points out is exactly in line with management in the real world.
Money and Salary
Being employees of Ninja Burger you naturally get a salary. This works out to, roughly and after taxes, 1$/hour per point of Honor. So assuming a 40 hour work week an average starting ninja character (7 Honor from a 2d6 roll) will take home 280$. Low Honor characters presumably suffered paycheck deductions, demotions or took time off to train and improve themselves. High honor characters get bonuses, promotions and overtime. The minimum hourly pay is 0, no negative money.
Bonuses are also possible, issued by the Dispatcher.
Good Teamwork 50$ to each member.
Hazard Pay 1d6 x100$ for the team as a whole if someone is injured during a mission, 2d6 x100$ if every team member is injured.
MVP 100$ bonus to award to whoever did the best on the team for a mission. The vote for this is secret, but if everyone gets only one vote no one gets it.
Gaining Market Share +25$ per defeated competitor employee, to the team as a whole.
Team Spirit 100$ to the employee who has done the best job of boosting morale in the team.
And of course, there are benefits: training facilities, food and lodging (if the employee wishes, living on site is not required), basic equipment (uniform, personal gps, satellite headset, and some job specific gear). Health insurance is not provided but Ninja Burger stores have full medical suites which provides free care. And there's the Ninja Burger Store.
The Ninja Burger Store is a 24 hour, on demand employee store for just about anything a ninja needs. You can purchase from the store at any time, on or off the clock. Purchases can be delivered anywhere within the same city in 2d6 minutes for triple normal price. This is the best way to get ahold of important items in the heat of delivery.
We get a page or so of common weapons, tools, and vehicles that might be purchased. Of course, since PDQ tends to ignore equipment for the most part this doesn't actually mean much. The weapons especially don't really serve much purpose: why pay 250 (or 750 for delivery) of a crossbow when, for all intents and purposes it's pretty much identical to a Bow (150). Or the 350$ Naginati vs the 50$ tanto.
Finally we come to Ninja Magic which is an optional feature depending on the game's VR rating and personal preferences of the GM. There are two types of magic: Focus and Flashy. Focus is "internal" effects that mostly just give you some kind of personal "invisible" benefit, while Flashy are obviously magical and often "external". It's not quite clear how Ninja Magic is actually used but my best guess is that you need to take Ninja Magic as a Quality which then gives you access some or all of the Ninja Hand Signs to produce magical effects.
When making a Ninja Magic check the TN is typically going to be the same as a normal action, but a failed roll results in backlash which ranges from lost honor (you can always choose to simply take a 1d6 Honor hit instead of suffering another consequence) to Damage Ranks, temporary amnesia, wrong target(s), etc.
The actual effects are based on the hand-sign used:
* Rin : Focus +2 on the next physical or mental action. Flashy You gain the temporary Quality Good [+2] Ubermensch for the rest of the Scene which can be used for any physical or mental actions but you automatically fail any social or "other" actions (including the use of ninja magic).
* Kyo : Focus your next successful attack inflicts +2 damage. Flashy Shoot a ball of elemental energy based on your element, essentially a ranged attack with your Ninja Magic Quality.
* Toh : Focus +2 on your next social Flashy for a scene you have the Good [+2] Buddha-Like Quality which applies to Social actions and wisdom, but you automatically fail any physical actions or ninja magic.
* Sha : Focus You heal 1 damage rank, can only be used once per scene. Flashy you get the Good [+2] Supernatural Healing Quality for the Scene. This Quality can be used to resist diseases or poisons and adds +2 to your healing roll at the end of a scene, this can also be applied to someone you touch.
* Kai : Focus You go first next turn Flashy You fall unconscious and your heart slows. you become aware of all living things within a mile and know who wants to harm you. While in this state you cannot act but you never take more than 1 damage rank from any source of harm.
* Jin : Focus you get +2 to your next defensive action. Flashy you get the Good [+2] Psychic Quality for the rest of the scene. This allows you to attempt to read thoughts or added to social rolls. however you automatically fail any physical or magical rolls.
* Retsu : Focus You get +2 to your next offensive action. Flashy You can step out of normal time and space and can choose to step back at any time to interfere or intercept someone else's action.
* Zai : Focus You can "swap" the properties of one element for another such as walking on water like it was earth, seeing in darkness like it was light, etc. This lasts one action. Flashy You can either swap or simply ignore an element. if you ignore it and the element does not match yours then you take 1 Damage Rank per turn. This lasts for an action.
* Zen : Focus You automatically succeed on your next complicated situation. Flashy You can swap your Quality ranks around. This lasts for a scene and during that time you are completely unaffected by any bonuses or penalties.
Needless to say it doesn't take much examination to see that the different hand signs are hardly "balanced" against each other (clearly the focus version of Retsu beats Kyo, and Rin beats Retsu for instance), but its serviceable enough for a quicky one-shot game.
Next Time Waaaay too much time describing San Francisco and a couple of ninja burger adventures.
Ninja Burger: The RestOriginal SA post
Ninja Burger Part 3: The Rest
Chapter 5: The City By The Bay
Now we come to the setting chapter detailing the city of San Francisco. Now, I've got to say as a setting document for Ninja Burger, the world-wide fast food delivery service for anyone and everyone it's a pretty disappointing chapter. As a guidebook to San Francisco it's amazing .
Seriously, this is probably the most detailed city write-up I've ever seen in any RPG I own. It's 28 pages long, includes 8 maps (4 road maps of varying levels of detail, a map of alcatraz, monster park stadium, golden gate park, and the san francisco zoo), several skyline photos of different areas, about a page dedicated to the city's history, half a page to its traffic, and half to its weather. There's brief info on nearby locations and a breakdown of the 35 neighborhoods or regions in the city (called "delivery zones").
And the thing is, this could be really cool if that much time was dedicated to "game material". Perhaps notes on where you might find lots of competitor franchises, evil white ninja hideouts, experimental robot factories, or focus on the weirder or unique areas like Alcatraz...but really almost all of this is pure, factual information from the real world. This is a 28 page guidebook to the city of SF as it exists in the real world. The only nod to the game are "encounter charts" for different regions...and all of those are extremely mundane. As an example, here's a random write-up for one of the neighborhoods.
It just strikes me as a lot of wasted potential. All of this material is fairly easy to find for anyone who's dedicated to making their city "true to life" and anyone else will likely find it easier to just to wing it. Not to mention that it doesn't really jive well with the concept of the game...isn't Ninja Burger meant to be able to get you your food anywhere in the world within 30 minutes? It seems like a lot of local focus for a company that should be parachuting their team into remote jungles or launching them into space. I mean, lets compare some of the location cards from the Ninja Burger Card Game:
It's just weird to dedicate over a quarter of the book to a fairly dry description of San Francisco.
Now, after the long list of San Francisco locations we do get some ninja burger specific material on the Ninja Burger HQ. The place is a huge underground facility below the original NB franchise, which resembles an old-fashioned diner.
Below are huge kitchens, training facilities, employee dorms, vehicle bays and tunnels leading to the rest of the city. These tunnels come up at a few different locations to facilitate rapid delivery: Yerba Beuna Island (containing a secret dock housing company boats and subs), Mt. Sutro (which has their private helipads and light aircraft as well as Dispatch's sattelite uplinks), and Fort Funston (linking to the docks to allow employees from overseas to get in easily). '
Ninja Burger Adventures
This is the intro to the Ninja Burger tradition of building adventure scenarios via loose movie parodies.
In this adventure the Ninjas are new employees who have done amazingly well at the basic Ninja Burger training. They have caught the attention of Staff Trainer Bill, who has decided to test their potential with his personal "gauntlet".
The PCs are taken out of their regular training course and informed that due to a sudden employee shortage they're being sent into the field before completing their full training. Their mission is to bring two Ninja Burgers and a large soda to a trailer in Monster Park for a "Bill", which is currently hosting a game between the 49s and Cardinals and the customer wants their food before 7 PM.
Upon arriving at the trailer the ninja who comes to the door will be yanked in by a woman in a yellow jumpsuit with two eyepatches. This is Patches, a blind ninja who sees via her ninja discipline. Along with her is Bob, a ragged looking man with a shotgun.
Patches will insult and threaten the ninjas, claiming that she never ordered anything and doesn't know any Bill. She'll try and incite the PCs to combat but won't attack first. If the PCs don't seem to want to fight the police will show up to make things more tense (remember, if you get arrested the company will disavow any knowledge of you). If the PCs flee Patches will hunt them down with her super-keen senses.
No matter how the confrontation plays out, after it is over the dispatcher will announce that Bill has called in to cancel his order...a grave insult to Ninja Burger. The ninjas must hunt him down to exact revenge.
The "hint" to track Bill down is probably going to throw off most people. Patches has a note on her from Bill stating they'll meet for a round of darts at "the usual place" after her business is done and the trailer is full of dart trophies from a bar called the Fox and Whistle. Of course if the PCs don't search Patches (not making the connection that she's really working for Bill all along), avoid a fight, or have left the trailer during the course of the fight...well hopefully the Dispatcher can trace the call or something.
Of course Bill isn't actually at the Fox and Whistle. Several of the patrons are dangerous though: an assistant manager of Pirate Pizza is playing darts, some criminals are discussing their latest heist at a poker table, etc. To find Bill the PCs will have to notice a fellow called Twitch (actually a fellow ninja) who, upon hearing Bill's name will fling a knife into a map (pinpointing the San Francisco Zoo) and vanish in a flash of smoke (quite possible setting off a fight with the pirates). If the PCs don't catch the clue then the Dispatcher might just need to slip in an emergency delivery to the Zoo in order to get them back on track.
If the PCs search through the Zoo they'll find no sign of Bill, but they will be attacked by a primate army led by the Zookeeper. This is probably the hardest fight in the game...in fact it's borderline impossible for most characters, due to the stats for the monkey army.
Their Qualities are fairly basic: Good [+2] Screaming Horde and Poor [-2] Morale. However, there are 99 monkeys in all. They're treated as a single character but they get to make an attack against every PC in a round and a every point of damage decreases the number of Monkeys by one. Given that the Ninjas are Average  and only have 3 Quality Ranks, they're likely to have a combat-based modifier of only +2 or +4....meaning it would probably take 10-15 rounds of combat to whittle down 99 monkeys and by that time the monkeys will certainly have inflicted some significant damage or simply taken out the PCs.
There are some advantageous rules. After 10 monkeys are taken out they panic (suffering a -2 penalty to their rolls) for one round until the Zookeeper gets them back into shape. Once the Monkey's numbers drop to 50 their Screaming Horde Quality drops to Average and they panic again...but then the Gorilla Guerrillas show up (4 apes with Expert [+4] Fists of Fighting Fury and Average  Fling Feces). Honestly at this point the PCs are probably screwed. And of course there's also the Zookeeper but he's not too impressive (Good [+2] Ninja, Good [+2] Evasion, Poor [-2] Hygiene).
If the PCs are badass enough to deal with the monkey horde, a monkey on a motorbike zooms away and the Dispatcher instructs them to follow the ape. The monkey will lead them through a chase scene through the zoo. The monkey will finally take them to the Japanese Tea Garden in the Golden Gate park.
At the tea garden the PCs will encounter Bill's right-hand woman, a white-robed ninja named Hinagami Asuka. She offers a combat to the death and if the PCs are victorious she will reveal Bill's location with her dying breath (Ninjas are god-damn serious about their training excercises). She's not likely to last very long though...she's only an Average  Ninja and her only combat Quality is Expert [+4] Spearwoman. After being defeated she'll reveal Bill is hiding in tunnels under Alcatraz.
The Dispatcher requisitions a stealth boat to infiltrate Alcatraz. Before leaving the docks the PCs will be ambushed by the police (if they encountered them earlier in the evening) or by pizza pirate crew. Either fight is pretty deadly...the PCs are probably outnumbered and the attackers are typically packing a +4 modifier on attack and defense...
Alcatraz itself is apparently secretly in use again, serving as a prison where the police keep captured combatants from the Fast Food wars: samurai, ghurkas, vikings, etc. Naturally ninjas have infiltrated the security at this prison and make sure that high value ninja burger employees conveniently escape.
Bill's tunnel is beneath one of the bottom-most cells, leading to a secret chamber full of fine art and souvenirs. And of course Bill.
When confronted Bill will reveal that this has all been an elaborate training exercise and congratulate the PCs for accomplishing what no other trainees have managed...unless the PCs have displayed a significant lack of honor during the mission. If Bill thinks the PCs haven't honored the franchise then he may demand they commit seppuku. Likewise if the PCs have strictly avoided combat as much as possible he may demand a fight to test their bloodlust (no small challenge as Bill is a Master [+6] Ninja). Success means the PCs are declared employees of the month.
We've got a set of short TV/Movie adventure seeds (numbered to be rolled via 1d6 x 1d6). Here's some examples:
3: Big Trouble In Little China In search of a stolen truck in Chinatown a trucker and his friend stumble into the plot of immortal chinese sorcerers, monsters and gangsters. Guarded by the legendary 3 Storms the trucker has managed to call in an order for two burgers and two colas. Better hurry before he's dropped into the Hell of Slowly Starving.
9: The Hulk Exposed to gamma rays, a scientist has developed a habit of turning into a giant green monster when things don't go his way. Deliver 24 cheeseburgers, and don't be late. Don't make him hungry, you wouldn't like him when he's hungry.
6: Star Trek The Voyage Home A group of strangely dressed gentlemen insists that they are here from the future to save some whales. They're also quite hungry, and have placed an order for one of everything on the menu. Get to them before the authorities track them down.
Next we get some japanese vocabulary for ninja terms, fast food terms, counting and some common phrases. Also instructions for making a paper shuriken. A ninja burger menu (available online here: http://ninjaburger.com/order/menu.shtml ) and character sheets.
Then we go back to adventure plots with 4 short adventures, again based on movie puns:
Diet Hard: There's a guy stuck in a building full of terrorists with nothing to lose and he needs a meal. Get past the terrorists and get him fed.
Burger She Wrote : upon delivering to a loft apartment a dead body is discovered. You must track down the killer to ensure that the order is paid for.
House on Hamburger Hill To win a hefty bet a group of ghost hunters are staying in a haunted mansion. However their food has mysteriously disappeared and no other food joint will deliver to this place.
The Meatrix A young hacker, who goes by the handle Prius, has placed an order with the new, completely robitically automated fast food chain "The Meatrix" He is their first customer and you're there to ensure he gets a complimentary delivery of Ninja Burgers and stop the robots from taking over the fast food market.
And there we go! Like I mentioned Ninja Burger is probably the best early PDQ game as far as production values go. It's also hilarious and really creative. It's a little shaky on the mechanics in some areas and could definitely benefit from some of the later innovations (Techniques and Minion rules especially could definitely improve it). It also has kind of a love-hate relationship with it's over-the-top concept swinging from completely ridiculous to oddly mundane at the drop of a hat. Overall though, definitely glad I found it. I may decide to drop the 4 bucks to get the No Honor Edition to see what improvements were made.