Online-Approved RPGs: PDQ


The Prose Descriptive Qualities (PDQ) System Core rules is a stripped-down game system that is designed to be fast, flexible, and easy to learn. It is written by Chad Underkoffler and published by Atomic Sock Monkey Press, it has formed the basis for a number of acclaimed games including Dead Inside, Questers of the Middle Realms, Truth & Justice, and The Zorcerer of Zo.

At the heart of the PDQ system is the concept that characters are described by descriptive, player-defined, broadly-applied Qualities that summarize a range of abilities, skills, skills, relationships, and/or weaknesses. Unlike traditional “skills” or “abilities”, Qualities are quantified more in terms of story-effectiveness rather than trying to be a simulation of reality. Qualities are typically very broadly interpreted and thus can be applied in a wide variety of situations, especially if a player is creative in how he or she interprets and uses them.

All Qualities are ranked on the PDQ Master Chart, with a value of Poor, Average, Good, Expert, or Master. As would be expected, a value of poor is essentially a weakness, while values of good or better are above the norm. Essentially, a character is defined by a few Qualities of various ranks and is “average” on everything else. While this may sound like a limited number of possible values, in reality they work well with the bell-shaped distribution of dice rolls that the system’s system (2D6) generates. Tasks are given similar types of ratings and then the two are quickly compared and a target number is set which the player must meet or beat to succeed; Qualities offer direct modifiers to these rolls (ranging in value from -2 for poor, to +6 for Master level Qualities).

The conflict system of PDQ allows for multiple levels of task resolution, ranging from quick comparisons (i.e., you just compare your relevant Quality to the task’s Difficult rank: If the Quality is greater than the Difficulty rank you succeed automatically; otherwise you roll) to full-blown conflicts with alternating attack and defense phases. Irregardless, the system requires a minimal amount of rolls to resolve any conflict and is extremely good at generating interesting story hooks and developments. In fact, in many of the ful PDQ titles, story hook generation is a formal part of the conflict system.

A word of warning: The system is lite and that means that people who want crunchy mechanics or a heavy simulationist type game are liable to find it wanting. However, you really need to give it a try before judging it.

So why do I recommend the PDQ system for online gaming? To start with, it’s very easy to learn, very flexible (you can use it for almost any genre), and it requires a minimal number of die rolls to resolve tasks and conflicts. In my experience, online gaming (whether using a VTT or play by post) moves at a slower pace than face-to-face games and can really be bogged down by a lot of heavy mechanics. PDQ avoids all of that by keeping things simple and focusing on the story instead. Since it’s so easy to learn, players adapt to the system very quickly and it’s very friendly to beginners: Furthermore its focus on story and narrative means that new players learn to generate interesting stories and characters, rather than min/maxing or focusing on the game mechanics.

Finally, there’s the advanatage that the core rules are free. While the free rules are fine to get you started (and work great for supplying players with the basic info about the system), I would highly recommend a GM pick up one of the specific books (Zorcerer of Zo is my choice, though Truth & Justice and Questers of th e Middle Realms are also good choices) in order to get much more specific details and examples as well as a full explanation of the system. If you like the system but want a little more crunch/grit, the upcoming S7S will use a modified system that Chad has referred to as “PDQ Sharp.”