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Sunday, 22 April 2007

Six Of The Best With CHAD UNDERKOFFLER


Atomic Sock Monkey's Prose Descriptive Qualities (PDQ) roleplaying system is the simplest, most elegant core mechanic I have come across in almost 30 years of gaming. A free copy of the basic system is available from here.

Created by freelance games designer Chad Underkoffler, PDQ powers games from the supernatural Dead Inside to the superheroic Truth & Justice, as well as being licenced out out to other companies for fantasy adventures in Questers of the Middle Realms and fast-food ninja hijinks in Ninja Burger!

Chad's recent Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo - fairytale roleplaying in the style of Oz, Narnia, Peter Pan etc - has won great praise in the gaming community and he is currently working on Swashbucklers of The 7 Skies (flying ships, cloud islands, pirates etc).

HeroPress caught up with Chad a couple of weeks ago ...

(1) PDQ seems the antithesis of so many modern crunch-heavy games. Was it designed as a reaction to such monolithic systems?

Absolutely, for a couple reasons that are all intertwined. First, as a working adult, it's a lot harder to make time to game. This includes everything from digesting rules, to creating characters, to scheduling a face-to-face session with others, and then the actual sitting down and playing.

My - and I suspect other folks' - time is valuable, and I'd rather spend that in play than in play prep. It only takes five to 10 minutes to come up with a PDQ character, maybe 15 to 20 if you sit down without any concept or knowledge of the setting you're playing in.

Second, as aging destroys my brain cells, high-crunch games just seem harder to fully understand. It's probably more a function of time, interest, and enthusiasm, and since all three of those are at a premium for me these days, there's no real impetus to learn the ins-and-outs of a complex edifice.

Third, I find that high-crunch games tend to simulate physical reality in some regard. I don't want that. If I wanted physical reality, I'd bang my head against the wall. What I want is narrative reality -- I want the games I run and play in to be like a story, like a novel or a cartoon or or a play or a movie.

Lastly, it seems to me that many high-crunch games ignore or downplay emotional and social reality in favor of physical reality. Add into that the oft-debated virtues of social interactions being primarily rule-based ("I roll versus Fast-Talk!") or roleplaying-based ("I say to the bookie, 'No, Who's on first...'") is an example.

I wanted to provide a simple, unified mechanic that could be used for combat and debate, with inputs for both rules- and roleplaying-based approaches. PDQ goes low-crunch and simple to simulate character traits and abilities that are important in terms of narrative. That is, the fact that someone will never quit or is empowered by True Love or is incredibly likeable is as useful in the game as being good with a sword or nimble as a cat.

(2) PDQ has been used to fuel such varied games as Truth & Justice (superheroes), Zorcerer of Zo (fairy tales) and your new game Swashbucklers of The Seven Skies (airborne piracy). Do you think there is any genre it couldn't be adapted to handle?

I don't think so, at least not in terms of genre. In terms of tone, however, I think that any game that's focusing on the minutiae of simulating physical reality (no matter what the genre) will probably not be best served by PDQ.

(3) What can you tell us about Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies, and what unique spin does it put on the PDQ system?

Buoyed up by the responses to the slight rules tweaks in ZoZ,and the more extensive modifications seen in (licensed games) Ninja Burger and Questers of the Middle Realms, I'm "remixing" PDQ a bit. It's essentially the same as it was before, but I am shifting the perspective on and responsibility for success and failure in the rules. I'm also planning replacing the current "conflict situations" rules with "duelling rules" that are quite different -- pending successful playtesting of such, of course.

(4) Zorcerer of Zo was unique in documenting your own campaign - in parallel with the rules system - as a useful example of actual play. Will Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies do something similar and, if so, can you recount any memorable incidents from playtesting so far?

I plan on doing something similiar, but not the same. This time, I'm running two different playtest groups myself before going to blind playtesting by others, a Pirate group and a Musketeer group, of four people each.

I think that going into the level of detail I did on the ZoZ campaign would make the resulting book simply gigantic, so I'll probably limit myself to highlights. I will be tapping playtesters for their comments and opinions, however.

Playtesting "proper" hasn't actually started yet as of this writing (April 12, 2007) - the first sessions are scheduled for next weekend.

Part of the issue here is that each group is meeting once a month, in order to accommodate all of our different schedule. However, I did have a joint meeting of most of the players in both groups, to discuss setting information, answer questions, provoke ideas, and spark some ideas for their characters.

Once I have all their characters in hand (only one or two folks haven't yet gotten me their write-ups), I can start generating adventure ideas for them.

A couple memorable incidents did come out of that first meeting, though (in addition to clarifying and improving some of my ideas about the setting and such, of course).

The first thing was that one of the players quickly created a character who is a heckuvalot like Sabatini's Captain Blood in background – but he's never read the book or seen the Errol Flynn movie!

The second neat thing was that the Musketeer group took a single sentence in the manuscript and developed a whole new Cloud-Island culture for their base of operations - and that's definitely gonna be in the final book.

The last thing is that in discussing his character with one of my players, I realized I had made a Terrible Error in a whole chunk o' rules, and was able to recraft them to something a little less game-breaking -- all before we sit down at the table. I am so looking forward to these sessions. I am STOKED.

(5) When is Swashbucklers of The Seven Skies likely to hit the shelves?


Unknown. If fortune smiles, the end of this year. However, I doubt my primary playtesting will be done within 6 months (that's as long as ZoZ took), and I really need to test out these rules before I revise the manuscript.

This is going to be a long production, but that's okay – it gives Team S7S time to solidify the rules and setting, nail down a consistent look and feel of the end product, and generate a tremendous amount of illustrations for the book.

Fred Hicks, of Evil Hat Games and Layout Guru for S7S, convinced me to open up my design process for S7S, and I increasingly think, given the long-term development process for this work, that letting people know it's being worked on will be a great boon.

You can see my design blog in my LiveJournal using the following link: http://chadu.livejournal.com/tag/s7s

(6) As the author of Truth & Justice you clearly have a love for comic books. Are there any titles around at the moment that you would recommend to people?
I only buy Invincible, Usagi Yojimbo and Tom Strong in trade paperback, because I *cannot* read just one at a sitting, they're that good.

Willingham's Fables and Jack of Fables rock, and I've been enjoying Morrison and Dini on Batman and Detective Comics, respectively.

My life is bereft now that Nextwave is over, but I'm still enjoying Newuniversal. Astro City, of course. Amazing Spider-Man, Checkmate, and Noble Causes have gone a bit downhill, but I still dig 'em.

(And where's my last issue of Planetary, consarnit?)

1 comment:

  1. Nice interview! I've kept my eye on PDQ for a while, but not being a big fan of any of the genres it has been plugged into, I haven't bitten. But those comments on the beginning about social combat have me more interested. I'll download the system and check it out.

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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