Sunday, September 5, 2010

Conan Meets Jaws

This long weekend I've been enjoying my perusal of Jaws of the Six Serpents, an RPG published by Tim Gray's Silver Branch Games that offers a sword-and-sorcery take on Chad Underkoffler's PDQ (Prose Descriptive Qualities) ruleset.  Indeed, I'm so pleased with what I'm reading that I'm thinking of giving up the Barbarians of Lemuria rules in favor of Jaws.  As a test run of the character creation rules, I took my Barbarians write-up of "Tower of the Elephant" Conan and translated it into Jaws terms.  Game stats and commentary behind the fold . . .


People: Cimmerians

Strengths: Expert [+4] Unerring Instinct of the Barbarian, Good [+2] Broad Heavy Shoulders, Good [+2] Eyes Blue and Smoldering, Good [+2] Given Courage by Crom at Birth, Good [+2] The Hand of Fate, Good [+2] Moves with the Supple Ease of the Great Tiger, Good [+2] Steel-Trap Quickness

Weakness: Poor [-2] Too New to Civilization to Understand Its Discourtesies

I'll admit to being somewhat precious in my desire to base all of Conan's Qualities on actual phrases from Howard's "Tower," but they're such great phrases—and they work quite well in PDQ terms.  (I.e., their evocative nature gives each of them a sizable "penumbra" or range of applications.)

The astute reader will note that I've included nothing like "Warrior" or "Thief" here.  My reading of Conan suggests that it's his innate qualities that most mark him out as a hero; his strength lies in the inherent superiority of the savage to the civilized man.  Certainly at this early stage of Conan's career skills are of lesser importance in defining him than essences and character traits.  He's less an experienced swordsman and second-story man than he is a force of nature that turns any weapon into certain death for his foes.

I've also subordinated his strength ("Broad Heavy Shoulders"), dexterity ("Moves with the Supple Ease of the Great Tiger"), and speed ("Steel-Trap Quickness") to the Cimmerian sixth sense that saves his life time after time in "Tower."  More than his physical qualities, it's Conan's "Unerring Instinct of the Barbarian" that enables him to slay the Kothian slaver in the dark, survive his encounters with lion and spider in Yara's lair, and avoid insanity at the sight of Yag-Kosha.

"Eyes Blue and Smoldering" is probably Conan's best social quality: it's those eyes that make the women swoon and the men back down.  There's also a hint of rage there to enable Conan to withstand torment.  "Given Courage by Crom at Birth" is another psychological resource.  The weakness "Too New to Civilization to Understand Its Discourtesies" will often leave poor Conan befuddled—but then he can usually make use of his prodigious physical abilities to resolve any resulting faux-pas.

Finally, "The Hand of Fate" (Yag-Kosha's term for Conan) stands in for Conan's protagonist status and eventual destiny as King of Aquilonia.  This quality functions as per the rules for Fate qualities given on pp. 34-35 of Jaws (i.e., two times per session, Conan can invoke this quality to immediately gain a Fortune Point).

I'm very pleased with the extent to which Jaws can create Conan as he exists in the source narratives.  Particularly satisfying is the system's ability to factor in personality traits; if I get around to generating Jaws versions of Fafhrd and the Mouser, I can easily see "Love for Vlana" and "Love for Ivrian" as qualities.  Whether or not those traits are strengths, weaknesses, or both at the same time is a matter for another discussion.


  1. Giving up Barbarians of Lemuria? Really? I've been debating whether or not to buy JotSS for several months and I think you've just decided for me. That good? I'm anxious to hear more.

  2. Did you ever run, Shadow, Sword & Spell? I'd be curious to hear your impressions.

  3. I'm curious also. I bought it and have read about half. What are your thoughts?

  4. JAWS is a fantastic product. The PDQ system is very powerful, and adds a component to gaming flavor and genre that numbers alone cannot match!

    Glad your Jonesing on it!

  5. Have you had time to do much with Jaws? Curious minds would like to know.

  6. Between administrative duties at the University, my own teaching and research, and domestic responsibilities as a husband and father, I haven't done much of anything gaming-related since last fall.

    Well, I did level up my first real WoW character to 85.

    But that's it!

  7. I have been wanting to buy this for a *long* time. I may finally get off my butt and do it now. I love PDQ, being just a slightly crunchier soul-mate to Risus.

  8. I finally purchased this about 4 months ago. I really like it. I still have wrap my mind around the Urges. I like the flexibility. I'm a bit torn between this and BoL now.