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Tabletop Game / Prose Descriptive Qualities

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Prose Descriptive Qualities ("PDQ" for short) is a Tabletop RPG engine published by Atomic Sock Monkey Press. Instead of having a set list of attributes, players can choose any trait they can describe in a few words (subject to Game Master approval), and then assign a rank to it from Poor [-2] to Master [+6]. The rank acts as a modifier to any die rolls related to that trait, and players are encouraged to justify using their traits in as many situations as possible. Damage (physical, social and otherwise) takes the form of reductions in trait ranks.

Products in the PDQ line include:

  • Dead Inside, a horror game about characters who have somehow lost their souls and want them back.
  • Monkey Ninja Pirate Robot, a lighthearted Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot (with monkeys instead of zombies) style search for plutonium.
  • Truth & Justice, a Superhero game.
  • The Zorcerer of Zo, a Fairy Tale game based on settings like Narnia, Oz and Wonderland.
  • Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies uses PDQ-Sharp (PDQ#), which adds, among other things, Duels (physical or other contests with multiple rounds of attack and defense) and Style Dice (analogous to Fate Points or Drama Points in other systems).

Other publishers have licensed the PDQ rules for their own products, including Aethereal Forge (the second edition of Ninja Burger, Vox), Atomic Overmind Press (Adventures Into Darkness for T&J) and Silver Branch Games (Questers of the Middle Realms, Legends Walk for T&J, Jaws of the Six Serpents). Modiphius Entertainment released a version of their Achtung! Cthulhu setting for the Zero Point Campaign.

Core rule book found here.

Not to be confused with P.D.Q. Bach, or the 1960s Heatter-Quigley Game Show PDQ (hosted by Dennis James; it was later reworked into the 1973-74 NBC game Baffle).

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Games by ASM:

    General Tropes 
  • Experience Points: PDQ system games, as a rule, do something unusual with character advancement. In Dead Inside you have to find ways to regain soul points which can go to improving your Type (sort of your race or class), and then Type ranks can be traded for Qualities (skills and abilities). Truth & Justice offers Hero Points for suitably heroic actions, and you can decrease the maximum size of your Hero Point pool to buy extra Qualities and Powers. Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies gives you Training Points which can be spent towards new Fortes (Qualities) — but you can only earn Training Points on failed rolls, since succeeding means you didn't have to learn anything from the effort.
  • Hit Points: The games have your skills and abilities as your hit points. Your abilities (called Qualities or Fortes, depending on the game) are ranked, and points of damage translate into penalties on those ranks — one point of damage means decreasing one Quality by one rank. It's up to the player which Qualities get penalized at the time, so in a fight you can decide your combat Qualities are the last to go — or the first, if you really want to throw the fight. Later games in the system added Story Hooks — whichever Quality took the first point of damage in a fight is also used to suggest plot elements of the next adventure (and allows players to vote for the kinds of adventures they want to see).
  • Improbable Weapon User: Qualities (or Fortes) are essentially "build your own skills", which means that, as long as the game master can be talked into it, you can fight with anything you can think of. The rules reward creative thinking and flashy action.
  • Possession Implies Mastery: Any Quality or Forte is assumed to have a "penumbra" of related knowledge reflecting broad experience with the subject at hand. In other words, if ownership of a car is important enough to your character that you've noted it down on your character sheet, then you probably do know how to fix it up or break it down. The idea is to let characters be fairly competent and able to maintain their skills and gear without having to go into the minutiae of whether they know how to do so.
  • Schrödinger's Gun: There's usually a power currency (Style Dice, Hero Points) to let the players declare significant facts about the game, such as inventing useful NPCs or giving them new abilities. S7S even encourages players to make flat statements that something exists and tossing a Style Die down, as opposed to asking if it's so and having to pay the cost the GM sets (though the GM should ask for more dice on particularly large changes anyway).
  • Stat Grinding: Inverted. You have to fail a roll to get Training Points. The logic is that, if you succeed, the challenge was too easy for you to learn anything from it.

    Dead Inside

  • A Chat with Satan: A Mage who wants to achieve immortality must cut away their Shadow and then either rejoin it or destroy it. The Shadow can provide this chat, and the Mage can reconcile with it as one path to immortality... but most just try to kill the Shadow instead, because they think it'll be easier than swallowing their own pride. (And given how prideful most Mages are...)
  • City with No Name: The City at the heart of the Spirit World is known simply as, well, the City. It's the only form of civilization anywhere in the Spirit World, and is implied to be the collective unconscious archetype of the very concept of the city. It's extremely malleable as a result, so instead of having a firm geography you can only reach one neighborhood from another when on foot because they're conceptually related.
  • Dead to Begin With: The game has the option of starting play as a ghost or zombi in the Spirit World.
  • Good Feels Good: The game is designed to, in the creator's words, invert the "kill people and take their stuff" behavior of other RPGs to "heal people and give them stuff". The feeling of gaining a new soul point is like a rush of warmth and energy, one that can make a person dizzy and excited from the experience. Good literally feels good.
  • Karma Meter: Soul Points and their generation or decay. There are five major Virtues and Vices to track behavior against, and acting in accord with Virtues generates new Soul Points for you while indulging Vices causes decay. If you indulge your Vices too much and completely decay your soul, you "husk" and become an Eldritch Abomination (and thus unplayable). However, Virtues and Vices aren't mutually exclusive, they're just how often you've acted in accord with one or the other, and so your Soul Point total is an imperfect reflection of morality, especially since you can steal Soul Points from others. The ultimate result is a setting where Power versus Karma is on a bell curve, where the least and most powerful people are the most horrible ones. Truly good people rarely graduate out of the middle ranks of power because they're just not ruthless enough to deal with the big players.
  • Layered World: The "real world" is just the outer shell of reality, wrapped around the Spirit World, which is itself wrapped around the Source. These layers of reality act as buffers protecting the Source from the Void outside reality. It's possible for characters to become living (or technically, undying) cracks in the shell of reality by losing every last scrap of their souls and becoming a channel for the Void.
  • The Lifestream: The cosmos is structured like a bird's egg, with the real world as the shell, the Spirit World as the white of the egg, and the Source as the yolk, protected by everything else from the void of oblivion on the outside. All soul energy comes from the Source, and all soul energy returns to the Source. That is, unless it rots away through indulging one's vices, or eaten by living holes in reality, or burned away to power magic, or... well, suffice to say that not enough soul energy comes out of the Source these days to keep up with all the possible ways it might be lost, so one of the ways to lose your soul in the game is to have never had one in the first place. Nobody knows if the Source can be tapped out, and, if so, how close it might be...
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Magic powers work this way as characters can learn how to do them by seeing them happen, or are taught by important NPCs (such circumstances which the Game Master obviously controls). One, the Shadow, exists largely to let the GM offer new powers whenever players are in a tight spot (such as teaching you how to fly while you're busy falling off a skyscraper), or just to tempt them with convenience, but the Shadow's gifts usually have a cost.
  • Our Souls Are Different: The game is based almost entirely around the loss, gain, and expenditure of souls and soul energies. In most games, new characters start off as someone who's had his/her innate spiritual "shell" cracked open, and their soul scooped out, leaving nothing but the last few dregs of soul power to them. The overarching objective for anyone in such a position is to either grow (through doing good deeds or engaging in character building) or steal a new soul. Soul energy powers magic is the basis of trade, and is the basis of self-improvement: you perform rituals at various stages to "lock" your soul energy into a fully-developed soul. Once you have your soul back, you become known as a Sensitive, and if you cull another soul's worth of energy and perform the proper ritual, you become a Mage. The more developed your soul, the easier magic is to perform, and what happens to you when you die is different depending on whether you're Dead Inside, Sensitive, or Mage.
  • Personal Gain Hurts: A constant threat. Selfish acts strongly risk further soul decay, which puts your life at risk — and losing soul points hurts. That said, if you do anything selfless or giving to cultivate soul growth, growing a new soul point is a wonderful, invigorating feeling. (Soul points are also usable as currency and power in the Spirit World, meaning in this case that Personal Gain Is Pleasant as long as you use ethical means.)
  • Role-Playing Endgame: The premise is that each player character has somehow lost their soul and needs to either regain it, get a new one, or assemble one from bits and pieces of magical energy. If they succeed, they become a sort of enlightened being called a Sensitive. They can continue playing if they can think of further goals for themselves (for instance, a Sensitive can become an even more powerful creature called a Magi, and a Magi can aspire to gaining True Immortality), but the default conflict of the game is over.
  • The Soulless: The player characters all start out having lost their souls through various means (or never having had a proper soul in the first place). All Dead Inside are impaired when it comes to social behavior, because their lack of soul makes it harder for them to feel emotions, but they're not stunted to the point they're completely amoral (well, not inherently). The setting and rules explicitly maintain that acting in a moral, positive manner can encourage the regrowth of a soul, while amoral bastardry will destroy what little you have left, though if you're lucky and clever you can trade or steal soul from others and keep doing whatever you feel like doing.
  • The Voice: This is a tool for the GM to use to give the players hints as to what their characters should be doing next to solve the current situation. It's stated that nobody has ever seen the speaker of The Voice, nobody knows what it is, but it's suggested that it might be the literal Voice of the game-universe's God.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: The game is designed specifically to discourage the usual tabletop RPG standard of "kill them all and take their stuff". The PCs are (by default assumption) people who for various reasons lack most of their souls. Doing bad stuff (especially killing people) can result in losing the rest of your soul and becoming one of The Heartless. Conversely, doing good things, helping people, being courageous and optimistic, and whatnot helps regenerate soul-energy, which can be forged into a new, complete soul, which is pretty much the default goal of the game.note 
  • Weird Currency: The are several different kinds, ranging from most-commonly-used to least:
    • Memories are the primary currency of the spirit world. For most common goods you only have to share a memory of the seller's choice, which is represented by a small token that appears when you concentrate on sharing it. For more expensive things, you may be asked to completely give away a memory instead, forgetting it entirely in the process.
    • Soul energy becomes tangible in the spirit world, and early game is incredibly precious so few will willingly trade it. Later, more powerful characters and NPCs might find soul-stuff far more affordable an expense, but it's never really something you spend casually.
    • Finally, for the really high-end stuff — not just trading, but for important rituals and crafting items of power — you could be expected to give up skill ranks or type (race/class) ranks. The exact medium through which such trades work is highly ambiguous.
  • Your Soul Is Mine!: A victim of this is the default (and titular) player character type. True, they lose the Weirdness Censor that prevents humans from using Functional Magic, but the thing is that Censor is an evolved defense against supernatural beasties and harmful phenomenon, and up until they grow (or steal) a new one, a Dead Inside suffers from depression, relatively weak powers, and the inability to live happily outside the Spirit World.

    Truth & Justice

  • The Battle Didn't Count: The villains have "Villain Points" that the GM can spend to give them a sudden escape — a secret passage, dropping a smoke bomb and disappearing, actually having been a robot double, whatever. It serves as a pacing element to the plot, always giving a villain an out until the climactic final confrontation, while limiting the capacity for GM Fiat to protect a Creator's Pet villain from ultimate comeuppance. Once a villain is empty, they're caught and this trope can no longer apply (until they escape again for another story, at least).
  • The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: The story hooks designed to enable this. Your Qualities (skills and traits) are also your health, so taking damage decreases them — and the first Quality you assign damage to in a fight is your vote for where your plot goes next. Mind that you can have relationships as Qualities. This lead to the joke that you can punch Spider-Man in the girlfriend and that's why there's always trouble with Mary Jane.
  • Robotic Reveal: Where heroes get Hero Points to trade for bonuses and to pull off impossible stunts, villains get Villain Points which grant similar bonuses and also allow them to "actually" turn out to have been a robotic double all along, and other forms of instant escape/backup plan. Villains have to be worn down in a series of confrontations to be put away for real.
  • Super Hero Origin: Players are encouraged to outline their character's Origin, but it doesn't automatically have any kind of mechanical relevance — it's there for the Game Master to mine for plot ideas. A player can choose to make it matter mechanically by basing their Weakness on their powers or if the player takes a Meta-Power for their character, a package of shared powers and vulnerabilities based on that Origin.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Villains get a pool of Villain Points they can spend to do things like turn out to actually be a robot double, or have a secret exit immediately to hand that closes and locks itself behind them. Game Masters were in fact encouraged to do this to make a villain into a recurring character instead of a one-off thing, with several encounters and last-minute escapes culminating in the villain (finally out of Villain Points) getting captured and locked up. Only to spend the time in prison regenerating their Villain Points through devious scheming...

    Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies

  • Adventure-Friendly World: The game is set in a world shaped like a snow globe where the only sizable land masses are large floating islands, and the seasons are dictated by massive weather patterns (the Seven Skies) that rotate around the Dome over the year. Large empires are difficult to establish and maintain, and armies are a challenge to raise, arm, and move effectively — especially since some of the Skies are incredibly dangerous to travel. Everything about the world, in short, is tailor-made to divide the setting into many small, distinct regions and to require everything important to get done by small groups of daring heroes engaged in high-stakes intrigue as they travel around the world in small, lightly-crewed flying ships.
  • Ambition Is Evil: "Ambitious" best describes the national character of the Barathi, whose empire is tangled, corrupt, and ridden with assassination and Vendetta-killings. The other nations have their own ideals that can cause conflict, but the Barathi are the easiest to hand for any GM who wants a sinister plot driven by someone's desire for power. Ambition is even listed as one of the fatal flaws that distinguishes a swashbuckling villain from a hero, becoming consumed by the need to win.
  • Anti-Hoarding: The game has two different forms of this trope for limited-use bonuses (Style Dice) or treasures:
    • Players can spend Style Dice for bonuses on their rolls or as an extra cost to do unusual things with their Fortes. Each player starts with a couple and the GM has a pool to hand out for impressive deeds. Spent ones go back to the GM's pool. Players are encouraged to spend them, since they go away at the end of a game session (and get reset at the default amount next time, so leftovers are just wasted), and are really easy to get back — just add some extra detail to your next action and try to impress or amuse the other players.
    • Treasures like money or special items are granted as Temporary Fortes — temporary skills. Unless the player spends Training Points to make them regular Fortes, they will go away soon. It's up to the player to find some way to spend them usefully, or at least in an entertaining manner — at the least, you can explain how you blew your share of the treasure on getting half the town rip-roaring drunk, in exchange for an extra Style Die or two next time you play.
  • Bizarre Seasons: Floating islands experience six seasons over the course of a 360 day year, as each of six skies passes overhead: the Mists are warm and foggy, the Jungle Sky is even warmer and filled with floating trees, the Sky of Thunder is full of rain and lightning, the Sky of Stones marks early autumn, the eerie and colder Ghost Sky marks late autumn, and the Sky of Frost is icy and nearly impassible. (The seventh sky, the Sky of Fire, sits at the central axis of the world dome and fries anyone who tries to enter.) Ships travelling far can cross into a sky earlier or later, and ships bear the brunt of each sky's weather, notably stones, lighting, and trees.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: The game rates potential antagonists on a scale of minions, sidekicks, lieutenants, villains, and archvillains. Minions don't even have the dignity of being dangerous on their own, but rather must join together in minion squads to hope to hurt a player character. At their absolute most dangerous they're Glass Cannons... if they even survive long enough to get off a "shot".
  • Diminishing Returns for Balance: You only gain points to improve your abilities when you fail. Characters who max out an ability and then focus exclusively on it are going to advance very slowly, if at all, while those who dabble in many things or throw themselves into scenarios where they've got no real skill are going to develop faster.
  • Easy Come, Easy Go: There are two kinds of temporary forte (character attributes): Ephemera and, er, Temporary Fortes. Grand treasures, favors, and other rewards often become these as making them permanent would give a character a significant extra boost for free. As such, these temporary fortes are going to go away no matter what the character does, so players are strongly advised to find some way to blow them that advances the plot or is at least entertaining, often providing the GM with story hooks for later in the process.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The game suggests that the GM tells the players what their characters are checking to spot, and, if players then fail the check, the player gets to explain why. For example, the GM will call for a check to notice an assassin sneaking into the team's home, and a player who fails might say they were busy cleaning their gear... meaning they're armed when they do finally notice.
  • The Fair Folk: Ghosts have a couple of Fair Folk traits — for example, when traveling the Ghost Sky (which is believed to be full of ghosts), it's considered horribly bad luck to refer to it by its name, so most skysailors use names like the Good Sky. The setting is drawn in very broad strokes, though, meaning that further comparison of ghosts and fairies is really up to the Game Master.
  • Fantastic Fragility: Kolduns can lay hexes, essentially making some use of a magical Gift persistent. The catch is that the koldun has to set a taboo whenever they cast a hex, and if that taboo condition is met then the hex is broken. One of the examples in the book is a koldun cursing someone to be forever followed by the rain so the target may never again enjoy the sun.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: NPCs are ranked from cannon fodder Minions all the way up to powerful Archvillains, but some characters are so arbitrarily powerful that they can only be designated "Plot Devices" and so the game doesn't bother giving them stats — for example, Alexei Rostand, a retired sky-pirate who had been at the work-around fifty years before he managed to win a pardon. Even Rostand's lieutenants go un-statted and are simply described as extremely dangerous.
  • Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: Kolduns, especially in the hands of gregarious players. See, non-kolduns can buy a magical Gift using their Forte (skill) ranks. Normally you're limited to one. A koldun can buy multiple Gifts as Techniques chained to their Koldun Forte (a Technique being some condition that gives you a bonus to that Forte when its requirements are met). As such, the koldun's repertoire expands very rapidly compared to anyone else—someone with a Fencer Forte can only take Techniques to make herself a better fencer, while a koldun can get the ability to throw fire and lightning, heal, fly, teleport, read minds, and so on. A koldun gets a lot more value for points spent on their Koldun Forte, compared to any other Forte. Kolduns can even "hex" people (including themselves) with permanent effects, for good or ill. However, hexes and other fancy uses of Gifts will cost a koldun lots of Style Dice... but the Game Master is supposed to reward Style Dice for entertaining behavior. Act out a lot and take the lead, and you're better able to dominate the game both in and out of character, and leave everyone else — especially the fencers — in the dust.
  • Love Is a Weakness: "True Love" is recommended as a good Foible for a Player Character to take. Your choice of Foible is a huge waving flag to the Game Master as to what kinds of things you want to trip you up in play. The player who takes this is literally demanding love be their weakness, effectively affirming this trope even if the character doesn't believe it.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: "Style dice", which are earned for acting in genre or otherwise entertainingly and constructively. They net a player extra dice for rerolls, or flat +1 bonuses to any roll (useful when you need just a little more but a reroll is more likely to harm than help). There's a limited pool of style dice available which replenishes as they're used, meaning players are encouraged to not only act outrageously to acquire extra dice but spend them like water (usually on said outrageous actions) to keep the dice flowing.
  • Ominous Floating Castle: Floating fortresses are common among the flying islands of the setting. Of particular note was the Astramorte, destroyed in a daring raid taking advantage of seemingly inconsequential vulnerabilities.
  • Threatening Shark: Skysharks are horse-sized flying carnivores described as "little more than fanged mouths with wings".
  • Weird Currency: The people of Sha Ka Ruq have a reputation and favor-trading economy based on their "face" or prestige in their society, and have a reputation currency of small talismans called tzushen to allow favors to be easily traded beyond one's immediate acquaintances. Tzushen are all weakly enchanted to feel like they weigh more based on the creator's prestige, allowing one to get an immediate feel for value.
  • World in the Sky: The game takes place within a dome thousands of miles across, filled with floating islands ranging from near-continents with their own seas to tiny islets. There's a region called the Sky of Stones filled with floating boulders.
  • Wretched Hive: The wandering island of Ilwuz is a vicious pirate haven that has only enough rule and order to keep the place operating at all. Important issues on the island are occasionally put to a vote, but the simplest way to get more votes is to come armed, and nearly any means are considered acceptable to sway the vote.

Licensed Games:

  • Hearing Voices: The game has the players taking turns running not only their own characters, but also voices the others have started hearing. The exact nature of these voices is completely up in the air, and GMs are encouraged to make up their own explanation. They could be ghosts, gods, insanity... it's even possible for characters to share a voice they can each hear. Sometimes the voices can take over.
  • In and Out of Character: It's suggested the "table talk" is really chatter from the voices to the PCs. If another player is trying to suggest a combat action to you even when their character is not around, then you can assume the advice is coming from the voice you hear.
  • The Voice: Each Player Character is Hearing Voices which are definitely more than just hallucinations — they might know things the PCs don't, for one. It's up to the Game Master and players from game to game what the Voices might actually be, as they could be guardian spirits, ghosts, God, the Devil, manifestations of some psychic gift, or wholly unexplained. A character can end up with multiple Voices, and it's not unheard-of for two or more characters to start sharing the same Voices. A character's Voices are played by the other players for the most part, incorporating table chatter and suggestions that regular characters couldn't actually make to one another (such as by being split up) but that players do all the time.

Alternative Title(s): Dead Inside, Truth And Justice, Swashbucklers Of The Seven Skies