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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

PDQ Week, Pt 3: Zorcerer of Zo

Phew, keeping up a post-a-day is rough. Especially the long-winded posts I've been chugging out. So tonight's may be a bit shorter.

Next up we have The (Zantabulous) Zorcerer of Zo. The Zorcerer of Zo is certainly a unique book, even when compared to other PDQ games. In a lot of my previous commentaries I talked about how the product showed you new ways to use the PDQ system and serve as a sort of "toolbox" for the system. Zo is a little bit different. 

Zo uses a version of PDQ known as "the good bits", a trimmed down version of an already impressively compact system. It's designed for maximum ease of play and making sure that the rules fade quietly into the background whenever possible. Instead of playing around with the system Zo is much more concerned with setting and story. 

The setting of the Land of Zo is interesting, drawing upon a variety of pre-existing fairytale ideas and characters and creating new ones by fusing them together. For example you've got the Blue Hood, a conceptual hybrid of Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood. Timothy, a noble talking cat who is a fusion of Puss in Boots and the Marquis De Carabas from Neverwhere. Then you've got the setting's ultimate Big Bad...wolf of course: Shaykosch, the Deathless Wolf. A combination of the obvious Big Bad Wolf and the mythic Koschei the Deathless. The Land of Zo is a great fairytale setting right out of the box which provides enough familiarity to tug at childhood memories but enough novelty to avoid being predictable. 

In addition you've got copious notes from the author on the nature of fairytales, storytelling and happy endings. You've even got about 50 pages devoted to notes on Chad's nearly year-long Zorcer of Zo campaign and notes on his preparation for the games. I cannot recommend the book enough as a great "starter" for anyone new to RPGs, it's got a simple system, a nearly universally appreciated theme and tons of inspirational material. 

And while the book's focus is certainly on setting and style it still manages to slip in some neat new ideas to the PDQ arsenal. It's magic system is unique and simple, although strongly tied to the fairytale theme. I quite like the idea that whenever a character attempts to do magic then magic will happen...it's just a question of whether it does what you wish it to. It also introduces Learning Points (a concept also used in Jaws of the Six Serpents and later in Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies) which are a great form of character development. Learning Points are earned when you fail a Challenge or suffer a setback in a Conflict. This means that characters are rewarded for trying difficult and seemingly impossible tasks, taking on great odds and tackling things outside of their normal skill set. 

Bonus Material: Dark Fairy Tales

Zorcerer of Zo is a refreshingly straightforward and innocent take on the fairytale genre (yes I know that most original fairtales are not nearly so innocent, I don't care). It's a nice dose of nostalgia and sweetness when placed alongside so many other games which twist or deconstruct these stories into darker forms. It's good to see a game that doesn't turn Red Riding Hood into an axe-murderer or wicked fairies into walking fetish fuel. 

So, all that said, I still like some good twisted fairytales from time to time. So here's a few things from a short-lived dark fairytale campaign I ran a few years ago. 

The Characters: These guys might be suitable as monsters or foes in your fairytale campaign...in mine they were the PCs. 
Lump, Ogre Baker

Lump is a huge, ugly brute of an ogre who wears a tiny little chef's hat atop his head. Although he mostly just wants to settle down and be left alone to bake and sell his bread he is often hounded out of towns he comes to because of his hideous appearance and the "secret ingredient" of his bread. This character is sort of a fusion of Shrek, the "grind your bones" giant from Jack and the Beanstalk and a bit of the incredible hulk.

Qualities: Expert [+4] Big and Burly, Expert [+4] Muscles Like Boulders, Good [+2] Baking, Good [+2] Keen Nose, Poor [-2] Dumb Lump

Special Move: Good [+2] Me Stomp! (Big and Burly)

Vort, The Living Poppet
Vort is a living doll...but he doesn't exactly fit in at the Island of Forgotten Toys. Vort is in fact a living voodoo doll. Fortunately he doesn't let his lot in life get him down and he's full of pluck and cheer. He also carries around some huge (compared to him) knitting needles. He's a bit of a combination of Pinocchio and the Scarecrow from Oz. 

Qualities:Expert [+4] I do Voodoo, Good [+2] Clever, Expert [+4] Small, Good [+2] Needle-Fencing, Poor [-2] Little Fellow

Special Move: Good [+2] Right in the Eye! (Needle Fencing)

I Do Voodoo is a Gift Quality that allows Vort to suffer a Damage Rank by stabbing himself to make an attack against a target he couldn't normally reach using the Quality. If he has a bit of hair or similar then he could even attack without them being present!

Mad Jack
This is a combination of the classic "Jack" of fairytales and the Mad Hatter, he is meant to be the Jack in fact...his many professions and personalities caused by his insanity. He normally appears as a spry, handsome young man who always wears a hat (it doesn't matter what hat, but he'll always insist that it's his and he's had it his whole life). 

Qualities: Good [+2] Handsome, Good [+2] Nimble and Quick, Good [+2] Unusually Persuasive, Good [+2] Fair Hand With a Blade, Expert [+4] Multiple Personalities

Special Move: Good [+2] Lucky Hat (Nimble and Quick)

Multiple Personalities is a Gift that allows Jack to dictate a new, personality-type Quality to replace it at the start of each session. During a session Jack may spend a Fortune Point to swap out for a new personality. So one day he might be Expert [+4] Brave and Bold while another he might be Vicious or Cowardly. 

Mister Boogey

The classic boogeyman (although perhaps mixed a bit with the one from Nightmare Before Christmas). Mister Boogey is a dapper, somberly dressed gentleman who is rail-thin and dark-eyed. He dislikes the light and prefers to lurk somewhere out of the way. He's a merchant and travels from town to town in his rickety cart full of odd and disturbing knick-knacks.

Qualities: Expert [+4] Invisible To Adults, Good [+2] Bug Magic*, Good [+2] Wiry But Strong, Good [+2] Merchant

Special Move: Good [+2] Snatching (Wiry But Strong)

Invisible to Adults is a Gift that means Mister Boogey fades out of the perception of anyone over the age of 14 or so (personality is more important than age though) and is normally unseen unless he draws attention to himself. Bug Magic is a Magic Star Quality that covers numerous magic tricks involving insects...summoning them, talking to them, seeing through their eyes, controlling them and possibly even becoming one. 

Dark Learning Points

This is a concept from Jaws of the Six Serpents that fits dark fairytales very well. Basically Dark Learning points are gained by succeeding at a roll rather than failing...but succeeding at a task that is disturbing or wicked. This works exceptionally well for stories that start more pure and become darker with time. Innocent protagonists might gain Dark Learning Points from stealing or breaking the rules or reading the wrong book...straying off the path. Later they're getting them for shoving witches into ovens. 
Dark Learning Points can either be spent to purchase "tainted" Qualities or abilities with a darker tone (perhaps wicked magic or just unpleasant personality Qualities). Alternatively they could be traded for Fortune Points that can only be used in a wicked way (which often means they'll come back...). 


  1. You had me at 'Timothy, a noble talking cat who is a fusion of Puss in Boots and the Marquis De Carabas from Neverwhere'. There are fewer more under rated works of fantastical fiction, and awesome characters than Neverwhere and the Marquis. I still stick on the TV show every once in a while. thanks for the reviews, I've got my teeth into the system now and these have been great.

  2. Indeed, it's great to see the process behind a lot of the characters in the setting. Glad they've been helpful!