Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thoughts on Jaws of the Six Serpents & the PDQ System

I received my copy of a new rpg last week. The game is called Jaws of the Six Serpents and it is written by Tim Gray and published by Silver Branch Games. The game uses Chad Underkoffler's Prose Descriptive Qualities System (PDQ). Gray had previously published another PDQ game called Questers of the Middle Realms which from the title you might have guessed is a game that emulates tolkienesque high fantasy. So why the need for another PDQ fantasy game? Well, Jaws of the Six Serpents is inspired by the dark fantasy and pulp sword and sorcery stories written by writers such as Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, Glen Cook, Karl Edward Wagner, and David Gemmell. When I read about it online I decided to give it a go since I was familiar with the PDQ system and was curious to see a real sword and sorcery implementation of it.

I really dug into the game last night, and I have to say I'm quite excited. For some time I've been looking for a system that suits my style of play and which might be well suited to pulp sword and sorcery. D&D can do this, but it misses the mark in a few areas. D&D' s reward system is generally built around exploring underground spaces, killing monsters, and collecting magic items and while this makes for a great and fun game it doesn't really replicate the sort of stories written by the above gentlemen. Some of the folks over at the OD&D boards have some brilliant house rules and variants of OD&D that bring D&D in much closer line with this sort of fiction, but I've been curious to try this type of story using a more narrativist system

I should also note that one reason systems like OD&D, Tunnels & Trolls, the Fate System, The Shadow of Yesterday, and PDQ appeal to me as a GM is that I can be terrifically lazy when it comes to game systems. I don't want to do anything like the sort of prep that something like D&D 3E requires. I'm older, busier, and I've got a family which means that my prep for games should ideally be both easy and fun. I'm done with taking three hours to stat out bad guys that are going to eat it in five minutes when my bloodthirsty players get their hands on them. I want to spend my prep time thinking about interesting npcs, environments, and situations for my players to deal with.

Jaws makes all that stuff quite simple. I'm not going to go into an extensive discussion of the PDQ system here, but I will mention a few things. The system runs on modifiers which are attached to Qualities that the character possesses, and the modifiers range from -2 to +6. Examples of Qualities might be "Swordsmen", "Beserker", "Walks with a Limp", or even things like "Always Carries a Red Scarf in Remembrance of His Slain Lover". The modifiers from the relevant Qualities are added to a roll of 2D6 and compared against a target number or another character's roll. That's the basic mechanic, but the most innovative aspect of the system is the damage system which involves the character taking damage to their respective Qualities. However, the player decides which Qualities will be affected. Eventually, if the character has lost all of their ranks in all of their qualities they are considered to be "zeroed out" which means they've been defeated (but probable not dead unless the stakes are really high for the story). Jaws itself introduces some unique elements to the PDQ system such as Dark Learning points for Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know, and the demonically tainted magic you often find in Sword & Sorcery tales--as opposed to the sort of magic you find in various high fantasy settings.

I'm an incessant tinkerer when it comes to game systems (which is why OD&D/AD&D are so much fun), but Jaws pretty much sold me on running the system as is--which says quite a lot.

I could see using Jaws for all sorts of fantasy games. The system will work pretty well for any sort of low-magic dark fantasy setting, but it could be easily adapted to science fantasy settings or a variety of other things as well. I'd definitely recommend the system if you're looking for a rules lite system that facilitates narrative play, and which allows you to run a dark fantasy styled game.


  1. How does this stack up against the awsome Barbarians of Lemuria for S&S gaming?

  2. I can't totally say as I've got the old edition of Barbarians of Lemuria. But based on that edition I'd say that it depends on what you're looking for. Both systems are rules lite and could be a blast to run, but Jaws falls a little more on the story-character side of things due to the PDQ system's tendencies in that direction.

    Barbarians of Lemuria has a cool system and lots of genre appropriate tweaks. I'd say that Barbarians also has a bit more genre flavor than Jaws, but then Jaws is supposed to be a more generic implementation (although they do include a sample setting--but it doesn't quite have the gonzo goodness of Barbarians of Lemuria's setting).