Time to dust off the old blog for a new play report.
Using the Jaws of the Six Serpents roleplaying game (the PDQ system) and the Nine Questions, the story follows standard Sword-and-Sorcery themes and is set in a post-apocalyptic world similar to that in Thundarr the Barbarian.
This actual play was written long ago. I have refreshed and tidied up some language. Sadly, this is not an AP containing much mechanical detail other than a few stat blocks which can be used as examples of character construction and enemies. Given a recent request for me to publish something featuring a PDQ rpg (Prose Descriptive Qualities), Jaws has remained one of my all time favorite table tops in the decade or more that it has been around. In my opinion, it has held up remarkably well of the years. I’m always of a mind that Jaws can always get more love from the gaming community, as can many of the great PDQ titles.
In a nutshell, players roll 2d6 adding the MODs of their relevant Qualities and compare to a static TN or against one another in the case of opposed rolls. The interesting thing is that characters take the margin in damage directly off of each Quality, reducing it in rank. When all ranks are zeroed out, the character is taken out. The first Quality damaged in a conflict generates a story hook which the GM (or solo player) can create additional personal interest, side quests, or additional richness to the story. Jaws characters are quite resilient, making them good candidates for solo gaming. They are killed when dramatically appropriate. Normally, a GM assigns one of three danger levels, meaning PCs are merely incapacitated, receive some lasting scar, or in the worst case (Doom) perish entirely.
The fantastic freeform magic system as well as a number of other great aspects make Jaws of the Six Serpents a great toolkit for all sorts of sword and sorcery goodness. It can model just about anything one can imagine easily. It is a very satisfying and complete game for such a lightweight selection.
Without further ado, meet our heroine:
Dark-haired and pale-skinned, Doria is an attractive yet imposing figure. She hails from the forgotten north, a place few have seen, finding her way by virtue of the sword. She has served as bodyguard, mercenary, and adventurer.
- Good [+2] People: Survivalist
- Good [+2] Driver: Revenge Against the Wizards
- Good [+2] Faculty: Peak Level Athleticism
- Expert [+4] Swordplay
- Average [+0] Old Earth History
- Good [+2] Quick as a Cat
- Good [+2] Willful as the Devil
- Average [+0] Charm: A Way with Crows*
- Poor [-2] Unnerving Presence
Fortune Points: 1
Learning Points: 0
Props: Average  dirk, Average  broadsword
* This Charm ability allows Doria to have an affinity with these feathered creatures, and may summon a group upon need to confuse, bewilder, or for diversion.
Thematic Anchor: “Survival of the Strongest…”
Heroic Motivation: Track down Amalfus the Many-Eyed
Ziklii, a great city amid a sea of barren waste – a haven for scum of all corners of Earth and a capitol of decadence and villainy. Scions hid ages-long within their citadels twisted by mutations, and self-proclaimed lords entertained themselves with spectacles of blood and gore.
Here was the perfect place for Doria Nightraven of the forgotten north to hunt her prey. Few other locales harbored as many wizards as Ziklii. Here she would finally mete out justice.
She strolled the filthy squalor-stricken streets. Dressed in a harness and rough leathers of black and with knee-high riding boots, she was a formidable sight of predatory prowess and wild beauty. The pommel of a leather-wrapped hilt extended above one shoulder and a dagger at her side foretold of her profession. The few scars on her white skin and fierce preserved beauty vouched for her talent.
She scanned the vermin of the street through hard emerald green eyes. Here she would find a place to hunt and kill, and perhaps she might also find reward. It was said that here in Ziklii, the Jewel of the Seven Wastes, Amalfus the Many-Eyed was said to lair. Doria the warrior-woman would soon know.
1. Procession on the Way of Serpents
An enemy pursues new goals and takes aggressive action against unsuspecting victims.
Doria had made it a habit to haunt the Way of Serpents, a narrow thoroughfare that led through the poorest sections of the city from the south gate to the arena. She observed a steady traffic of travelers, traders, robed priests, and mercenaries. However, today, she observed a procession of unlikely folk – vagabonds, smiths, cart wrights, as well as folk without respectable trades. They were chained and escorted by armed men, following a litter borne by four slaves, its occupant shrouded behind silk screens.
Doria assumed their ultimate destination of the arena. Folk lined the narrow street crying their cheers and taunts. However, those jeers soon quieted as news spread that this poor lot was destined for a different, less glamorous, and gruesome fate.
Doria took a step closer out of the shadows. She tried to descry the occupant in the litter. A fat purplish hand was all she could see, but that was more than enough to confirm her suspicions. The only mutants to be treated as kings were sorcerers. Suddenly, the she-warrior had a vivid scene playing out in her head. A hand strayed to her sword hilt.
None paid her any attention as they all watched the procession in a mournful mood full of pity and loathing. The sorcerer’s escort also paid her no heed. If she were to strike, she would have but a momentary advantage against such numbers. No, it was better to wait and see. Instead, she blended into the crowd and followed at a safe distance.
The procession continued, and Doria remained close.
2. The Leaping Lurker
An encounter features intrigue and pursuit.
As Doria shadowed the train, high above on the rooftops a shadowy shape darted from edge to edge, keenly observing the she-warrior’s progress. A darkened hood shadowed the figure’s features. When it encountered an alley or roadway, it leapt across the gap like a grasshopper, impossibly high and impossibly fast.
Golem (Minion Construct)
These appear as artificial humanoids of any variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Many are given some form of intelligence through sorcery.
- Average [+0] Intelligence
- Expert [+4] Damage Resistance*
- Expert [+4] Leaps Like a Grasshopper
- Good [+2] Observant
- Good [+2] Strength
- Good [+2] Skill with Blades
- Poor [-2] Aversion To Water
Intent on the group before her as they neared their destination, Doria was oblivious to the threat from above.
The figure continuing to follow the follower, observing her every move. Ahead, the procession turned onto Wizard’s Way and passed into the desolate quarter where the sorcerers of Ziklii roosted. Before them stood a towering monstrosity built from the ruins of Earth’s past — a massive half-buried craft of some sort — a skyship made of metal overgrown with hanging vines. Under its considerable girth the group disappeared.
3. Confrontation with a Construct
An encounter features revelation and combat.
Doria was watching and waiting and weighing her options, when a dark shape dropped not far from her side. A figured swathed in a dark cloak rose to slightly taller than man height. Its form had gangly proportions. In a bound, it leapt to arm’s length from the warrior woman, and the hood fell to reveal a gaunt inhuman face fashioned from metal or some other pliable substance. Glowing yellow eyes evaluated her coldly.
“None are to enter the warrens of the sorcerers,” it said with a cold metallic voice. Then it lunged forward to grasp the warrior.
The fierce independence flared in Doria’s heart as the threat made itself known. She rolled away, coming clear and sweeping out her longsword with a steely skirl. She eyed the inhuman thing, repulsed by its unnatural appearance.
“You will not take me!” she promised.
The creature leapt forward again, drawing out its own blade, and battle was joined. Doria brought her guard up. She was quick as lightning, and after a few exchanges, she took advantage of an opening, slashing through the creature’s abdomen. The blow should have felled an ox, but the attacker became jarred from hitting something solid. The thing’s eyes flashed in momentary astonishment. She had obviously hurt it, but she wasn’t sure she did more damage than the hurt she felt in her arm.
The two fought like wildcats, exchanging places in the blink of an eye and moving like perfectly synchronized dancers. Where the creature moved with effective but stiff motion, Doria moved with sinuous grace. She found a few more openings, and each managed to pierce the thing’s exoskeleton, though it should have slain a veteran warrior thrice over. The creature managed to score a minor touch, and a cut bled about the warrior’s left shoulder.
The animation leapt back several strides. It made strange whining and whirring sounds. It was clearly agitated by its nervous movements and the flashing of its eyes. It looked up, and vaulted impossibly high, disappearing about the rooftops.
4. A Way Into the Fortress
Doria took a moment to catch her breath, watching for signs of the leaping construct. Seeing none, she returned her eyes to the hulking Old Earth vessel draped with growth. By now, her presence must have been noticed.
Sword still in hand, she stood poised ready to charge ahead. She looked to the air. Not far, several crows roosted around the square bickering noisily. Doria put a hand to her mouth and called out in a shrill voice. Immediately the birds stirred and took to the air. The squawking mass of birds circled and then darted in the opening after the procession that had disappeared. Doria was no longer where she had been a moment earlier.
In the shadows under the ruined aircraft’s girth, Doria crouched and allowed her eyes to adjust. She scanned the surroundings as the noisy ravens circled above. She saw no sentinels. Instead, there stood a massive seal of metal that led to the interior of the citadel.
Doria needed little confirmation to know that the massive portal was locked. She was learned in some issues of Old Earth History — the thousands of years before the coming of mutants, the sundering of the seas, and the breaking of the moon when humanity was at its height. Much science came from this early time, though few, except the sorcerers and cult orders, knew their operation or secrets.
She stood and approached the door. Examining it, she realized science clearly was the mechanism, but its operation or trigger was beyond her ken. She backed away. She would need to find an alternate entrance.
She left the fortress’s threshold and circled around, seeking another point of entry. She found another place — a sheer climb among hanging tendrils of orange and red vegetation. Among these she began to climb hand over hand. High up she clambered. At the top, she found a terrace of sorts and crept in.
5. An Alarm Triggered
An encounter of betrayal.
As soon as Doria set foot within, a loud blaring scream bleated at even intervals with red and yellow flashing lights from old refurbished instruments. Down a corridor from her present chamber, she heard the approach of footsteps and yells by sentinels.
Rather than run, Doria again drew her blade from behind her back and set herself ready to meet any challenge. She set herself against the wall beside the corridor and listened for the enemy’s approach. She waited until their panting and boot steps were close, then she leapt out, sword at the ready.
- Good [+2] Mutant Guards (eight in total)
Furiously, Doria slashed and hacked, dropping one purple-skinned mutant and then another. There were eight in total, and they were relentless. The warrior-woman parried a jarring blow that numbed her shoulder, and another opened a nasty wound high on her left thigh. She kept fighting, and now the guards had to climb over three bodies to get at the intruder. Doria had to give up ground, and the remaining five warriors swarmed in around her. Yet, she kept them at bay.
She spun and whirled in her circle, striking and parrying. Sweat matted her dark hair to her face, and now there was blood along her arm — she had no idea if it was hers or not, but she fought on. Now, only three remained.
“Go warn the wizard!” one called out.
The two remaining cornered the wildcat to allow their companion to retreat. Doria was further enraged, and pressed her attack in an unbridled display of reckless fury. A growl of sorts escaped her lips as she leapt forward.
Two fell back and couldn’t defend against the ferocity and went down with screams. Doria leapt over the bodies and slashed at the remaining guard before the fool had a chance to turn and flee. The warrioress took in gulps of air as she surveyed the carnage around her. However, she delayed herself no more.
6. Battle in the Throne Room
A do-or-die encounter featuring combat.
The corridor led along a dimly lit grated way. Ahead, it opened to a wider area. As Doria traversed it, she realized that the passage continued to become a catwalk above some larger storage area. She came within a few steps. Suddenly, a steel door slid shut behind her and more warning sirens went off.
She was trapped in the open, and numerous bright lights were aimed in her direction. There was nowhere to go but forward. When she stepped in the open space, she heard warning shouts. Looking down, she was in some large place of congregation. Dozens of guards stood in a circle around the shackled folk that had been recently ushered within. All eyes were on Doria.
Near to them was a throne of sorts. Atop it sat a robed figure. He wore strange multi-colored robes. He was bald with long blue whiskers hanging from his jowls to his lap. Looking up at Doria, she swore she could see what appeared to be red glowing dots about his eyes. There could be no doubt that this was Amalfus the Many-Eyed.
The sorcerer yelled an order and the guards immediately turned to Doria with crossbows at the ready.
Doria thought quickly. Ahead, the catwalk continued to another corridor system. That, too, was closed. On the opposite wall, numerous cables and counterbalances hung to the floor below. There was only one escape — to the floor below.
The she-warrior charged across as arrows rained about her from the floor below. She was struck twice, one missile grazing her shoulder and one sticking painfully in her thigh. She fought stoically through the pain and took cover across the way behind a blind. She sheathed her sword again behind her back and broke off the shaft of the arrow feathering her leg.
Next, she vaulted over the catwalk rail, grabbed a handful of hanging line, and swung down. She landed hard, but on her feet in a crouch like a cat. Standing, she drew her sword again and waded into battle.
All at once, the score of guards drew their own axes and spears and descended upon Doria in droves. From behind, Amalfus got up from his seat and made a hasty exit down a darkened rear passage.
Bleeding with the wicked and terrible mask of the angel of death, Doria choreographed a sinuous and deadly dance. Wherever her blade flashed, screams and spraying blood erupted. The screams of the terrified captives created a panic and all chaos broke loose.
- There are 11 Average  Warriors
Doria waded in. Those wielding bows could no longer make effective use of them. In close quarters, the she-warrior’s broadsword and her honed skill cleaved through the ranks until there were none left standing to oppose her. Any remaining fled along with the captives despite their encumbering chains. Doria hefted her blade, but faced no new challenge.
Suddenly, more sirens blared and more guards approached. Doria fled, covered in blood and possessed with a vengeful blood rage that could no longer be quelled.
7. The Wizard’s Demon
A scene featuring pursuit.
Doria ducked down the narrow corridor through which the wizard fled. Her pain, fear, and weariness were all gone, hidden behind a screen of revenge and bloodlust, fueling her with an endless well of energy. Her goal was near at hand!
Doria stopped midway along the dark corridor. The air felt close and something unseen threatened with unknown and unreasonable terror. She felt that something was in the passage with her.
Ahead, she could descry nothing in the darkness. There was only a deeper black in the deepening shadows ahead. Something blotted out all light, and all hope with it. She heard a snort through large lungs. The breath of something caressed her blood-caked cheek, smelling of death itself. Then she felt the thing step and the floor trembled. It was followed by another tremble and another in increasing tempo. The thing charged her and let out a hideous roar like the chorus of the damned.
Guardian Demon (Demon Ape)
This is a relatively modest threat from the nearer reaches, suitable for a sorcerer to call forth from behind the wall hangings when confronted by fairly new player characters. (It’s based on the giant ape in Fierce beasts.) It appears like a huge ape with night-black hair and red eyes.
- Master [+6] Strong
- Expert [+4] Tough
- Good [+2] Fierce
- Good [+2] Keen Senses
- Good [+2] Climbing
- Good [+2] Camouflage in Darkness
- Average [+0] Shocking Appearance*
- Average [+0] Darksense*
Doria turned and ran again with all her former vengeful ire turning to fear. She heard something terrible coming up behind her impossibly fast and unstoppable. She could almost feel the thing’s ghastly heat.
She returned to the great room, again teeming with guards. She leapt to her hands and knees at the foot of an exultant guard poised to strike. However, the mutant noted the approaching horror and the expression on his face melted from joy to terror.
Leaping over Doria and slamming into the guard, a huge muscular black shape exploded from the tunnel with a terrifying force and a bloodcurdling scream louder than an army’s war cry.
Panic scattered the folk in the room again with even greater effect than Doria had achieved before. Guards and slaves alike trampled one another to get free of the charging fiend. A monster stood in the center shrieking and spreading great arms as thick as tree trunks which ended in muscular talons. A black devil stood there exulting in its tremendous dark power. It looked like a great black ape, but larger, bulging with exaggerated corded muscles. Its fur was blacker than jet or any known color known by mortals as black. Its eyes were red like burning brimstone — pinpoints of light that looked into the depths of hell.
[after a contest of chasing, Doria resists the thing’s shocking appearance]
The thing turned toward Doria who was momentary frozen by fear. The thing charged, scattering furnishings in its stampede. Doria sucked in a breath and readied herself, girded in honor and courage that somehow welled to the surface at the moment it was needed.
The she-warrior slashed with perfect timing, and rolled to avoid massive limbs that could fell an old oak. She straightened up as the thing rushed past to explode into a furnace, sending pieces of metal and ash through the air. A trail of oil-like liquid marked the horror’s passage.
Doria quickly readied herself for another charge, taking a stance and gripping her sword hilt two handed and shading her eyes with its dripping naked length. She set herself in grim anticipation. The thing appeared beyond the settling debris and charged again.
This time, the sword was batted aside and the monster bore down on its singular and seemingly overwhelmed prey. Doria strove with the unholy beast, tangling like two beasts. She danced with it, striking with hot steel while deadly strong talons slashed in return.
Neither was able to score the final death blow, until Doria gave up ground. With an opening between them, the ape demon pressed for one last charge. This time, Doria did not rely on cat like agility, but instead braced for the attack. She set her blade against an iron girder ultimately impaling the beast through the heart. Knocked back by the force, she was awed as the creature backed away, bubbling with gouts of black viscous fluid. It screamed a mighty challenge, but the fight was not yet fully beaten from it.
Again it closed, but its energy was lessened. Doria was the quicker and finally scored the final touch. The creature fell with a scream, and its form melted away to nothingness.
Stunned, Doria examined herself to find that she was uninjured by the experience, though highly wearied.
8. The Fall of Amalfus the Many-Eyed
A final showdown in which the enemy nears completion of his goals and takes aggressive action against unsuspecting victims.
Amalfus the Many-Eyed
- Expert [+4] Genius Intellect
- Good [+2] Arcane Knowledge
- Good [+2] Seeks Unimaginable Power
- Expert [+4] Sorcerer*
- Good [+2] Old Earth History
- Good [+2] Disciplined
- Poor [-2] Insane
- Poor [-2] Arrogant
Props. Expert [+2] Ruby, Good [+2] Sack of Gold, Average  Dagger
Doria flew down the darkened corridor. She came to a medium-sized round room. The middle of the room sank with a few steps. A grate of steel with a single door screened the inner portion from the outer. The door was closed and locked.
- Master [+6] Strong
- Good [+2] Locked
- Good [+2] Reinforced
Beyond the gate, five men and women were strapped to chairs, struggling against their restraints. They screamed in horror. Most were attached to some strange apparatus festooned with connecting hoses and cords. One by one, Amalfus attended to the apparatus and each victim. At the very center was some sort of construct that hummed with energy and buzzed with flickering lights.
Doria tried the gate, but it was locked fast. At that point, the sorcerer turned, his red eyes aflame with evil delight.
“The sword wench!” he said. “You’re too late to save these folk. Soon, they will be dead and I will absorb great power and turn back the sands of time!”
Doria looked on the folk from behind the fence with honest compassion. Her true goal, however, was not one of liberation, but one of vengeance. Now, behind the fence she felt helpless.
“You’re mad, Amalfus!” she proclaimed.
“You have me at a loss,” the sorcerer replied. “You know who I am, but I don’t know who you are. It matters little! Soon you will be dead, and I as hale as a young lad!”
“You are wrong, sorcerer! I am Doria Nightraven of the forgotten north, where it was that you and your consortium destroyed villages, killed and enslaved my kin! It is you that shall be dead!”
With that, Doria kicked in the gate with astonishing strength and ferocity. The sound reverberated loudly like a great drum.
By the second hard kick, steel mesh began to give way, and the post securing the fence bent noticeably.
“Impossible!” muttered Amalfus.
The sorcerer interrupted his work and began chanting. His hands worked strange gestures and shapes above his head. Slowly, a mote of light appeared in the air between his hands and began to dance. Something went amiss, for whatever reason. He doubled over in pain.
Doria counted her blessing and kicked again. With her persistence, the lock finally gave way. Doria drew her sword and stalked in, the promise of death on her grim features. Amalfus stepped back in fear as the approaching bloodstained apparition approached.
Then, the sorcerer’s eyes widened in elation. “Ah, Golgon!”
Doria followed the sorcerer’s gaze. She turned suddenly to face the strange leaping robed thing she had battled before entering the fortress. The creature leapt forward with steel in its hand. Doria had but a moment to prepare her defenses.
Steel skirled as the two intertwined in a ferocious melee. The construct countered Doria thrust for thrust. The few openings she had, she seemed not to make a dint in the yellow-eyed thing. In the meanwhile, Amalfus started his incantation anew. Moments passed and still, there seemed no immediate end to the exchange with Golgon.
[here, Doria used the Digging Down Deep option, converting learning points to fortune points and the Hell for Leather option to save the day]
Doria knew her doom was upon her. The sorcerer crescendoed, rising in pitch in anticipation of the powerful magic’s release. In desperation, the warrioress withdrew to the far corner of the cage. In one fluid motion, she drew her dirk and flicked it at the sorcerer. She pivoted back to the creature just in time to parry another blow.
The dagger flew end over end, striking Amalfus square in the chest. His look was open-mouthed, one of complete shock. The hilt protruded from his breast, with a dark wet blotch quickly spreading on his multi-colored garb.
At that moment, the green-yellow magical field above his head collapsed. The light engulfed him and his skin began to smolder and char. A horrified scream escaped his lips, and slowly, his form sank in a convulsing shiver of pain and anguish. No sooner had the sorcerer hit the floor when his form melted, leaving only his bloodied, steaming garments.
Simultaneously, the magical construct collapsed and exploded into miniature metallic parts and gizmos. Doria shielded her face from the blast with her arm.
9. Escape from Jewel of the Seven Wastes
Doria freed the captives of Amalfus and drove off the remaining guards. She found a number of jewels and gold on the befouled remnants of the sorcerer’s trappings. However, Ziklii was one of the few great cities full of many more wizards than only Amalfus the Many-Eyed. Simply ridding the place of one evil magician in a foolishly reckless, albeit equally unpredictable raid would do little to impress lasting change the world. The menace of the city’s rulers arose quickly.
Doria took a disguise and hastened from the city, buying a gray destrier with some of her loot. The city would harbor her no safety. Only in the wilds beyond the wastes would she afford herself a chance of survival — and even then only by her own skill and wit against overwhelming odds. And so she fled, wandering through barrens and old roads, avoiding travelers and mongrel men. Her loot, including a dazzling ruby — worthy of a king’s ransom — was quickly sold, its gold depleted, so that she had almost none remaining within a moon.
But wander alone among the ravens she had to, until the next opportunity to rid the world of another sorcerer presented itself…