Prose Descriptive Qualities

The Prose Descriptive Qualities (PDQ) system is a game system created by Chad Underkoffler, and used in games published by Atomic Sock Monkey Press and other companies.

Core Design Concept

The core design concept of PDQ-based games is of prose, descriptive, do-it-yourself, wide-ranging Qualities that summarize a range of attributes, advantages, merits, flaws, skills, relationships, or incapabilities. Qualities are a measure of story-effectiveness rather than reality simulation, and are intended to be ranked against and compared to one another.

Basic Mechanics


Qualities are represented by short, descriptive text that quickly describe the quality and what it can do (otherwise known as a Penumbra). Qualities are ranked on the following scale:

  1. Poor (-2 Modifier; Qualities at this Rank are often known as Weaknesses)
  2. Average (+0 Modifier)
  3. Good (+2 Modifier; Qualities of this Rank and above are often known as Strengths)
  4. Expert (+4 Modifier)
  5. Master (+6 Modifier)

A Quality is written in the following format: "(Quality Rank)[(Quality Modifier)] (Descriptive Text)".

Each Quality Rank has a corresponding Target Number that is used during Conflict Resolution: 5 for Poor, 7 for Average, 9 for Good and 11 for Expert and 13 for Master.

Quality Examples

  • Poor [-2] Face Only A Mother Could Love.
  • Average [+0] Dead Inside.
  • Good [+2] Charming Demeanor.
  • Expert [+4] Linguist.
  • Master [+6] Chess Player.

Character Creation

Players are given several 'starting packages' that involve a specified number of Quality Ranks (8 Ranks for Dead Inside, 10 Ranks for Truth & Justice) to define their Strengths. They must also choose one Weakness.

Conflict Resolution

The core PDQ system has three different levels of conflict resolution, which apply to everything from physical, mental, social, professional and other kinds of conflict:

  • Simple Situations: Used when a task is clear-cut, with no outstanding issues to complicate the situation. The GM determines the Difficulty Rank with the character's Quality Rank; highest Rank wins.
  • Complicated Situations: Used when comparisons of Difficulty Rank and Quality Rank are inconclusive, and require dice-rolling. Rolls use two six-sided dice plus the Quality Modifier, versus a Target Number; quality ratings provide Upshifts (+2 modifiers) and Downshifts (-2 modifiers) in success level.
  • Conflict Situations: Used when a character's action is actively resisted by something else. Similar to Complicated Situations, but instead of comparing it against a Target Number, the roll is compared to the resisting party's own roll plus accumulated Upshifts and Downshifts — highest successful result wins. Conflict situations may also involve factors like Initiative and Damage, depending on the situation.

Damage Resolution

Interestingly, PDQ keeps track of damage by applying temporary Downshifts to a character's Qualities that are either called Failure Ranks or Damage Ranks. If the defender loses a conflict, the defender gets the choice of which Quality to apply these ranks to. A character is deemed to have lost the conflict when all their Quality Ranks are at Poor [-2] and they take one more Damage or Failure Rank.

Several PDQ games suggest using the first Quality that takes damage as a Story Hook — a cue to the GM to use that Quality in an upcoming scene. This helps ensure that no Quality is neglected over the course of play.

At the end of each conflict, the character removes all Failure Ranks or recovers 1d6 (plus appropriate modifiers from Qualities like 'Quick Healer' or 'Slow Healer') lost Damage ranks of their chosen Qualities.

Games Using PDQ

Atomic Sock Monkey Games

Games from Other Publishers

PDQ# and PDQ2

The system used in Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies is an evolution of PDQ called PDQ# (PDQ Sharp). It adds swashbuckling Techniques and the concept of "Duels", changes Advantages and Disadvantages to Fortes and Foibles, adds Style dice, revises the use of "Upshifts" and "Downshifts," and clarifies the damage system.

PDQ2 is a simplified, more genre-neutral version of PDQ# without the swashbuckling focus. The key differences from core PDQ are: refined definition of damage (to delineate between Wound and Failure ranks), the removal of Upshifts and Downshifts (the function of which can be replicated merely by adjusting Difficulty Ranks), and the addition of a "Karma/Style Dice" mechanic. The first game to use the PDQ2 engine is aethereal FORGE's Vox.


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