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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

PDQ Week, Pt 2: Silver Branch Games

Chad Underkoffler is the creator and dark lord (just kidding Chad) of PDQ but he's not the only author producing great PDQ material (which is good considering I'm trying to create one myself). The second most prolific member of the PDQ family is Tim Gray of Silver Branch Games. Tim has produced several PDQ games and supplements and I'll give a quick overview here. 

Questers of the Middle Realms is the "lighter side of fantasy gaming". Now, classic high fantasy adventure RPGs are a dime a dozen and D&D parodies are hardly less common but I still feel like Questers is something special. First and foremost it doesn't fall into the most common trap parody games suffer from: making everything a joke. A game with a sense of humor is great but it gets tiresome when every monster is a walking pun and every sword swaps your gender and hair color or makes a farting noise when you smack someone with it. Questers has a sense of humor but it's more than just a bare-bones RPG thinly wrapped in a lame joke book. If you felt like it you could ditch a few of the goofier monsters, slightly change a few locations and you'll find yourself with perfectly serviceable and interesting fantasy setting. 

One of my favorite parts of the book is the unusual take it has on the standard D&D fantasy races. Elves for instance are not simply long lived or ageless, they're actually highlander-esque immortals. Only complete dismemberment or destruction of their bodies will permanently put them down. As a result of their immortality they suffered from a massive population explosion, leading to the gods creating Orcs as ideal elven predators to hunt down and eat the pointy-eared bastards. Quester's contractually required "tiny folk", Hoblings, also have the best racial disadvantage ever. Forget stat penalties or reduced damage...they're delicious

The second great thing about the book is that Tim is not afraid to play around with the PDQ system and really see what it can do. While Truth and Justice is how I got started with PDQ it was Questers that actually made everything really "click" for me and showed me just how much this little system could do. Questers has all kinds of interesting and intriguing mechanics that can be used not only for Questers but just about any PDQ game. It has special rules for Racial Qualities, rules for the use of Props that are basically "free-floating" Qualities not tied directly to a character which can represent everything from magic swords to loyal mounts to sacks of cash. Questers and it's Book of Bewildering Beasts supplement provide the largest collection of pre-statted PDQ critters out there. Obviously it's easy enough to whip up your own but Questers still provides a great set of tools or templates to make the process even faster.

For me the shining jewel of QMR is the magic system. Even though it was released back in 2006 it still remains my favorite choice for PDQ magic. It's simple and supremely flexible without overwhelming non-magical characters. You've got Thaumaturgy, your classic wand-and-robes wizardry which can be powerful but potentially unreliable. There's also Mysticism which is a more limited but more reliable set of powers wielded by psychics or zen martial artists. Finally you've got Divine Aid which is not only my favorite god-based magic in PDQ, it's my favorite form of divine magic in any system. It's a system that makes using miracles more than just casting spells using a different mental stat (although amusingly the Qualities that influence miracles are those related to persuasion, fast talking and/or butt kissing) and allows just about anyone to call on a little bit of divine intervention here and there.

Jaws of the Six Serpents is a much more serious, swords and sorcery fantasy setting. You can think of it as QMR's older brother who picked a fight with their dad, got a tatoo and wears leather. While it's never sold me on a book it's also nice to see that Jaws is very "cleaned up" compared to Questers. QMR is a great game but it's easy to see that it's held together with a shoestring budget and you can definitely see the improvement with Jaws.

Since it lacks QMR's focus on humor Jaws can spend more time delving into it's setting, but it's still done mainly in broad strokes. Although there's definitely a cool sword-and-sorcery game in Jaws it's also meant to serve as a toolkit, much like QMR, that allows you to use PDQ in ways that best suit your game. 

Just like QMR Jaws explores some really interesting new mechanics with the PDQ system. There's Danger Levels representing rising tiers of threat and consequences in a Conflict. Rules for permanent injuries or disadvantages in the form of Scars.

And, like Questers, Jaws has it's own new magic system. Sorcerery in Jaws is a much more risky, painstaking procedure as suits the setting. It also makes a great format for ritual magic or similar "slow-and-steady" spellcasting in other settings. This also ties into the eponymous "Six Serpents" which take the form of quasi-elemental "urges" that can be tapped in various ways by spellcasters and normal folks.

Silver Branch Supplements

Another great thing about Silver Branch is how much effort Tim puts into providing cheap and useful supplements for PDQ games. Questers has the Book of Bewildering Beasts, Ten Magical Thingies and a Character Assistant. Jaws has the recently released Serpent's Teeth supplement and Tim has also produced a supplement for Truth and Justice called Legends Walk, a guide to playing mythology based superheroes.

Bonus Material 

I don't have quite as much time to write as yesterday so this won't be as extensive. If you're looking for more fantasy PDQ goodies from me you can check out my Re-Return to the Keep on the Plaplands adventure or my Tomb of Horrors, Ultimate Edition which includes rules for playing with PDQ (as well as Pathfinder and Savage Worlds).

Techniques and Magic

Both Jaws and Questers were made before "PDQ Sharp" which introduced a lot of interesting new ideas to the game. I won't post a conversion like I did with T&J (mostly because it's so easy to do yourself) but I will bring up Techniques. First and foremost, Techniques are such a great fit to the game that you practically have to add them in...they add an extra layer of depth and growth to the games without bogging them down. Basically what I'm saying is Techniques are great.

However, here's an interesting way to integrate the Techniques with QMR's (or Jaw's) magic system. Spells are built using an Intensity chart similar to the one from Truth and Justice but toned-down for the non-superhero setting. Basically a spell can normally draw on two "columns" to produce an effect. So for instance if you were casting a basic arrow of flame that basically is "range" plus "energy" (which effectively serves as the MOD for the effect). Everything else is ignored or treated as Poor [-2]. But say you want a more explosive blast then that would be "range" plus "area"...leaving Energy (and thus the MOD of the effect) as Poor [-2].

Now, here's the thought. When buying Techniques for Arcane Qualities they can be purchased either as normal techniques (representing specific signature spells) such as the "Flame Arrow" above. Or they can be purchased to represent a specific spell with an additional effect at Average [0] or Good [+2] (depending on the power level of your game). So to get an awesome explosive fireball (rather than the puff of flame above) you would buy the Fireball Technique chained to your Arcane Quality of "Expert [+4] Master of Pyrotechnics", giving you Range and Energy at Expert [+4] and Area at Good [+2].


  1. I like that spell notion. I once tried running a sort of urban fantasy mashup with PDQ and was struggling with a spell system.

    Ever plan to revisit the Exalted PDQ hacks?

    1. Probably will at some point, but it may not be until I'm actually preparing to run a game of it myself.