Planescape PDQ

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Author: Twobirds

Much of this is stolen from the Temple of Lost Gods PDQ conversion - which includes a lot of adaptations for fantasy games. (To make this even MORE complicated, Temple of the Lost Gods is a GURPS 3rd edition adventure setting.) While this write-up is intended for a Planescape game, the changes are pretty generic - you could easily play a fantasy game this way.

Some elements are also taken from Atomic Sock Monkey's Truth & Justice - a fantastic superhero RPG. These were pretty small items, I hope. You should buy the game anyway.

Other elements are from The Shadow of Yesterday, a Creative Commons game and system by Clinton R. Nixon. Which you should also buy.

Summary

The largest difference from 'core' PDQ lies in the selection of a special Rank called a Class. The Class is usually the Professional Quality for a character. The character has a number of Modifier points for Special Abilities equal to the Target Number for that Rank. Special Abilities include things like spells, fighting techniques, and supernatural powers, which are often of an Average rank. There are rules for arcane casters versus divine casters. These are specialized stunts or tricks that help define all the extra stuff you can do with your Class.

While Planescape as a campaign setting is out of print, the main source for ideas was from Black Isle's Planescape: Torment game, and the Planewalker website has been a fantastic resource as well. If you're having trouble coming up with Qualities or Abilities, look there.

Note that when I say 'MOD', I mean 'Modifier'. Average is 1 MOD point, Good is 2 MOD points, Expert is 4 MOD points, and Master is 6 MOD points.

Character Creation

Characters are constructed using:

  • Qualities
  • Class
  • Abilities in that Class
  • Race
  • Equipment
  • Alignment

Qualities

A character is made using the typical number of Ranks in the form of Qualities (and that includes a Poor Quality), but these Qualities describe personality, and background - these are related to the Social, Mental, Physical state of the character. A PC's Professional abilities are tied up in his Class, a specially described Rank. A character's non-class Qualities describe his talents, history, social circles, attitudes. These can be supporting Qualities - meaning you can combine a Quality with your Class during a roll, if the circumstances are appropriate.

Primes can take Poor [-2] Clueless as a Quality, if they like. Planars are encouraged to take a Quality relating to one of the factions, and everyone might have some kind of belief inherent in a Quality.

Class

The power level of the game is reflected in the Class Rank. Class starts at Average [0]. These are green adventurers, just starting to take on their corner of the Planes. This might be D&D levels 1-4. Good [+2] Class might be levels 5 to 9, Experts [+4] are 10 to 15, and Masters [+6] are bloods above level 15. It's a rough estimate.

As stated above, Class should reflect a PC's Professional Quality - maybe you're a zerth (and your race is Githzerai), a fighter (and your race is dwarf), a Shadow-thief (and your race is tiefling) or a Priest of Sargonnas (and your race is half-elf). Your Class determines what your basic training/talents for adventuring lie in, and what knowledge you might have gained from whatever school you attended.

Class Abilities

The Target Number for your Class Rank determines the Modifiers (MOD) you have for special Abilities - this includes spells (divine and arcane), supernatural senses and training, and fighting techniques. All special abilities can be upshifted with expenditure of 2 experience points (XP) per rank of upshift. XP is a pool of points that grows and lessens as you adventure - more than one point can be spent, if you want to have the Ability expand in scope or results. Abilities can be improved, meaning they can do more without spending XP - a Fire Arrow becomes a Fireball (damaging multiple targets with fewer downshifts). If someone with Fire Arrow wanted to turn it into a Fireball, he'd need two (or more) XP.

Abilities fall into a few categories, but these are obviously not the only ones:

  • Spells, Arcane and Divine
  • Fighting Techniques
  • Supernatural Abilities

Abilities are discussed below.

Race

Your Race (or Culture, if you are human) is formed a template of one Good Quality, one Poor Quality, and one Special Ability. Races and Cultures do not have to be identical between examples, as long as the players are into the spirit of things. The Planes are big, remember, and there's variety in all things. Two beings from the same race may still have different qualities of that race. PCs from the same area ought to collaborate, to make sure the Qualities are similar. A Race and Class can be quite similar, but some differentiation should be made.

Unless the GM says so, high-ups in the Planes (devas, pit fiends, factols) and single-minded insular races (non-rogue Modrons, Dabus, elementals, or Githyanki) are probably a no-no - it is much more interesting to play neutrals, people who have free reign to travel, interact, and make their own fortunes.

Player races from one of the well-described Prime Material worlds are fine as well, with GM approval, like Athas's thri-kreen or (shudder) Krynn's kender.

Equipment

Players also get their Class Rank TN in MOD points for their equipment - this is Signature equipment, meaning that it can repaired without too much trouble (with your own or fellow PC Qualities, for example) and will never be lost permanently (spells will easily find it, and the GM should give the player a chance to get it back). If GM and player agree, the item can be considered lost (stolen, dissolved by a Xorn, swallowed by a Gelugon) as part of a story hook, but the MOD steps are now available to be placed on something new.

One MOD point spent makes an item a Signature item. Another one makes it a Good item, with an associated upshift to its basic premise (increase damage for weapons, increased damage-absorption for armor, etc.) Single MOD points spent beyond the selected Rank add special effects.

Weapons

Normally, weapons are of Average [0] quality, and are necessary for whatever fighting skill you might be using. This base costs one MOD point. Additional MOD points can be spent for special effects. The most basic is damage, which simply means another MOD point makes it into a Good [+2] weapon. The rank is added to the damage in the case of a hit (essentially, an upshift to damage). A MOD point can be added to cause special damage, like fire. This is, again, an upshift to damage, but only in the cases of unprotected and susceptible creatures - 'protected' creatures, like ones resistant to fire, take no extra damage (their relevant [+2] Quality cancels it out). Susceptible ones suffer two upshifts when determining damage (their [-2] Quality essentially doubling up). MOD points points invested in an item to give it special effects cannot exceed the MOD points spent to get it to its base rank. A Good [+2] sword could not be both flaming and vampiric.

Armor

When someone wacks you in a conflict situation, your Armor - if it is appropriate - can absorb all of the damage ranks, and be downshifted, like the armor-like Qualities described in the core PDQ rules - but only damage ranks can be absorbed, not failure ranks. Signature Armor can be downshifted all the way to Poor without breaking. Other armor breaks once it hits Poor (but if it keeps you out of the dead-book, it's worth it). MOD points must be spent to get the armor to the Rank you would like. MOD points beyond your preferred Rank can add effects, like protection against fire (for example, ALWAYS decreasing fire damage suffered, by one rank, regardless of the condition of the armor). MOD points invested in a piece of armor to give it special effects cannot exceed the MOD points spent to get it to its base Rank.

As far as I'm concerned, a Mage can wear armor and still cast spells, but I think it'd be cooler if his armor was a Ring of Protection or something. Fixing Armor requires either appropriate Qualities or finding a blacksmith/sage to do so - the GM should consider Signature Armor to be easier to repair than non-Signature armor.

Other items

You can declare that a simple item, like jewelry, an official writ, or even a tattoo can give you an upshift in a particular situation. This should be specific, not general. It should, in the best cases, be a sub-set of one of your Qualities, like upshifting a seduction attempt when you have Good [+2] Looks.

Casters may want to have some form of spellbook (obviously, it doesn't have to be a book, perhaps it's an interlocking series of etched metal plates) as a signature item, and add spell-casting bonuses to it. Magicians can also take Familiars as Signature Equipment, or spell or power keys, which help certain spells function normally on Planes that would otherwise prevent that effect.

Alignment

Dictates your 'home' plane, who hates you, who loves you, and just how you might deal with the wackiness of Limbo or an unbelievably boring stay on Mechanus. No true neutral, plz. Making an important decision based on your alignment earns you XP.

But I hate that alignment crap! Yeah, yeah, I understand. You gotta give me something to go on, though. Instead of alignment, we'll assume you're neutral and open-minded enough that the Outlands are your home plane, but you must choose a philosophical question - if you can relate the current situation to the game, you earn XP. If you make headway in answering the question, you'll earn a larger dose of XP.

Special Abilities

This covers a lot. There are several basic categories, so I'll lay it out that way. Remember that all abilities can be upshifted with XP, but do not require any to be activated. Some have instantaneous effects, or create something permanently, but most will last a whole Scene or more. The GM should be generous in allowing its effectiveness.

What should I take as Abilites? - It depends. Average abilities are still impressive to those without training or the magical aptitude to perform that task. Some Abilities, like Darkvision, are easily used, and Average Darkvision lets you function in a dark room. If you intend to beat someone in a contest using that Ability, you probably need Ranks in it, in order to help your chances. Similarly, if you want to know if someone is evil (as defined by the planes) it's not too difficult if they're just a regular guy (so Average is okay), but if you want to know the appearance of the last person they were mean to, it would be more difficult - but still related. That's how I hope to keep it general.

Supernatural abilities

This includes everything that would make barmy an average human resident of the most basic Prime world you can find. It includes stuff like Darkvision, Detect Magic/Evil/etc., Stories-Bones-Tell (talking with corpses), magic tattoos, Know Gate (its key or exact destination) - whatever it is, it should not have permanent effects, or damage someone. Improved Rank in one of these mean extra knowledge or effectiveness.

Fighting techniques

These are special skills you have that let you fight in new ways, remove downshifts in some situations, or upshift situations. They should be unique - stuff that your Class does not cover, and specific rules in the core PDQ rules. It might allow you to dual-wield without penalties, charge an opponent if you need to cover distance between you and he, remove some of the downshifts caused in attacking multiple enemies, backstab if you make a successful stealth-related roll, stuff like that.

Spells

To cast a spell, the player declares the spell he wants to cast and rolls his Casting-related Class. This is usually an easy or average task, unless the target has applicable Qualities (e.g., Magic Resistance for magic damage, or Iron Willpower to resist magic domination) that attempt to prevent the effects. Some spells are inherently difficult to cast, and have a higher TN.

If magic creates an end product (like a wall of fire, gallons of Magic Wine, or a swarm of bees), the GM uses the effective Rank of the spell to determine how much, how strong, how dangerous, how far, etc.). Normally, end products are persistent; they do not vanish at after the spell ends (though things created with spontaneous spells could disappear like that, at the GM's option).

Spells include Set and Spontaneous spells. Set Spells are cast at the caster's Class level, plus modifiers; Spontaneous Spells are cast at two downshifts to Class level.

Set Spells are defined effects that the GM and player have agreed upon. A caster can have memorized a number of spells up to his Class TN - an Average Wizard or Cleric can hold 7 spells in his head, if he has no other abilities in his Class 'repertoire'. This doesn't mean that once he casts one, he's forgotten it. It means those are the ones he can cast at any one time - he can cast those spells all day long if he likes. If he rests, he can go over his spellbook and switch around the spells in his head, switching out one for another. A character sheet should reflect that Class abilities are set to 'Spell Slots' - a Class might have all of one's Abilities as spell slots (a dedicated Priest), or half of one's Abilities as spell slots (a Paladin, perhaps).

Set Spells MUST have a cool name: "Madat's Remembrance" is much spiffier than "Preserve Knowledge" and "Flaming Sword" really can't hold a candle to "Ever-Blazing Emerald Blade." Difficult spells may require a better-than-Average spell slot (that is, one with more MOD points in it) - this can apply to spells that break rules, like damaging multiple enemies without downshifts-per-target.

Spontaneous Spells are cast at the player's whim; these are cast at two downshifts to their Class - barring circumstances, like Being Badass, taking extra time, helpful items, or relevant Qualities. Low-ranked casters cannot, typically, cast Spontaneous Spells in combat. They need to take extra time, and go through the ritual process that builds up the magic, rather than casting it in their head. If there's time and proper equipment available (GM's discretion), however, pretty much any spell cast be cast.

Casters can also take a Way of (Word) Quality, where (Word) corresponds to a type of magic - for example, Fire, Movement, Healing, or Knowledge. This upshifts attempts to cast a spell relating directly to that word. This can be more detailed than 'Way of Fire', for example, if you want to be from a particular school somewhere - just note that that Quality is supposed to work that way. Set Spells have an upshift of whatever Ranks are in Way of (Word) when the spell relates to the spell, and Spontaneous Spells are cast at the rank of the Way of (Word) Quality, not the twice-downshifted Spellcaster Quality.

Arcane

Arcane wizards have a grimoire, or spellbook (and it obviously does not have to be an actual book), containing all of his spells. This collection of information contains everything they know about casting spells - effects, methods, ingredients - everything about spellcasting they've learned in the process of attaining their Class. Set Spells are formed after lengthy consultation with one's spellbook, and Spontaneous Spells are cast by grabbing relevant sections from the book on-the-fly. (The contents of one's spellbook is not intended to be blindly restrictive, only to define the areas a player might want to concentrate on.)

In Planescape, Arcane magic uses fundamental aspects of the Planes themselves to function - this includes fundamental aspects, like Knowledge and Movement, and the make-up of those Planes - like the Inner Planes (the Elemental, Energy, and Para- and Quasi- Planes). A Wizards 'Way of (Word)' Quality probably relates to one of these.

Arcane spell slots should be noted as such.

Be sure to look at 'Effect of the Planes', listed below, for effects on Arcane Magic.

Divine

Divine casters - priests, paladins, and proxies - work similarly, but their spells are restricted to their god's domain. Their area of magic is concentrated on understanding the nature of their god, and their magic functions as extensions of that god. Set spells are current and immediate answers to a divine caster's prayers, spontaneous spells are on-the-fly requests for aid. (The domain of a god is not intended to be blindly restrictive, only to define the areas a player might want to concentrate on.)

Even if it isn't in the domain, all divine casters have basic healing abilities, which can be taken in spell slots. If healing is in the domain, it is much stronger magic. A priest might heal 1d6 Ranks in the first case, 2d6 in the latter. Healing abilities can also remove curses or afflictions (accomplished through temporarily added Poor Qualities).

A divine caster's 'Way of (Word)' Quality should relate to one element in his god's domain.

Language

Everyone knows Planar Trade (the common tongue) and their racial/homeworld/homeplane language. Understanding other languages in-game require related Quality rolls. Whether it's related is up to you - those who know the rebus language of dabus can know it for many different reasons.

Experience

Players start with 5 XP and 10 MAXP. XP cannot exceed MAXP. When they get XP, the character earns ticks towards MAXP. When their ticks reach MAXP, MAXP increases by one and ticks returns to zero. This is considered the 'fast' ticks from Truth & Justice. MAXP can't go below 5.

Earning experience

There are a couple methods of earning experience - some come from the player, some from the GM.

  • Making important decisions based on your beliefs (faction, god(s), or alignment) earns you XP - it must either come out of your alignment, your 'question', or a belief-related Quality.
  • You earn XP when you interact with and help your fellow PCs.
  • Spending XP in conflict situations that you end up winning earns you XP in return.
  • Completing goals and defeating the obstacles to those goals earns everyone equal XP.

Character Advancement

Qualities cost 4 MAXP to increase in rank. Your Class requires 8 MAXP to increase in Rank, and you automatically get the new MOD points to spend on Class Abilities. You can spend 3 MAXP per invested MOD point to make a magic item a Signature Item.

Effects of the Planes

Some areas of the Planes restrict arcane magic, or particular spells. Fire magic is upshifted on the Elemental Plane of Fire, and heavily downshifted on the Elemental Plane of Water. Illusion spells have a tough time on Mechanus. Hardly anything works in Limbo (expert difficulty to get the effect you want). Close to the Spire, all spells may be downshifted. Portal spells that are cast with intent to exit Sigil (as opposed to move around within it) never work.

Divine casters face upshifts/downshifts depending on their location relative to their god's domain. They receive an upshift on the Outer Plane relating to their god, a single downshift if they are more than a quarter of the way around the Great Wheel from that plane, and two downshifts if they are in the 'opposite' Outer Plane. This can be remedied in some situations, given a power's providence.

In Sigil, only 'simple' divine spells can be cast - nothing major.

Suggestions

Powers and the Lady of Pain do not get rolls except in, perhaps, extremely unlikely situations. They just just get to mess you up.

Alternate Rules

Appendix

The PDQ master chart:

LEVEL NUMBER AS QUALITY RANK MODIFIER TO 2D6 ROLL AS DIFFICULTY RANK TARGET NUMBER MOD AMOUNT
Poor Notably Inept. -2 A trivial task. 5 -2
Average Typical human capability. 0 Straightforward task. 7 1
Good Better than usual; most professionals or talented newcomers. +2 Complex task, requiring attention to detail. 9 2
Expert Noted/famed professional; talent with skill to back it up. +4 Intricate task, difficult and requiring sharp concentration, hard for a typical untrained person 11 4
Master Acclaimed genius: talent with substantial skll behind it. +6 Extremely difficult task, hard for most professionals in the field. 13 6