QUILL: A letter-writing game for single players
by Scott Malthouse
available on DrivethruRPG (and presumably direct from Mr. Malthouse)
Quill is a short little game (available as a PDF only, I think) that defies easy description. It categorizes itself as being an “roleplaying game”. In the strictest sense, that’s certainly true. Players assume a role (there are six of them), the roles have statistics associated with them, the statistics have lower or higher number to judge successful attempts at doing something in a RPG setting, and there are actual skills that increase your chances of success as a bonus versus rolling against our statistics.
That is about where the similarity to any conventional RPG you are familiar with ends. Quill is a game about writing letters. Letters in Quill are very rigid and formalized exercises and they are written to achieve an outcome, which is defined by the scenarios provided with the game. Letters are the sole means of determining success or failure in this game– characters only are used to create letters. To give an example of “a character”, a Quill player may choose one of six– say, a Monk. Monks have statistics (there are only three in the game: Penmanship, Language, and Heart). The character’s statistics are pre-defined, so the monk has Good Penmanship, Average Language and Poor “Heart”. Our monk is also chooses a skill in Augmentation to bump up his poor “Heart” Skill (This will grant him +1 dice to a “Heart Test”).
The monk receives the scenario, which gives him his “Superior Words” (high scoring words) for his letter. He must write a five paragraph letter (always) to some person. Using my first example of playing Quill, in the fourth scenario, the task is to write to King Gerald V. The Monk is now corresponding with the King (known to be a bit of a sourpuss) on account of a suspicious person that has been seen lurking about town– he might be a spy! You have an “ink pot” full of words you need to use to bump your score up. There are several, like “Your Majesty”, Smith/Blacksmith, Curious Individual, etc. etc.
My monk sets himself to the task. Superior words in bold.
Gracious Majesty, King Gerald V,
from the Abbey of Beresford, I send you greetings.
Your Majesty, I beg pardon any intrusion of my humble self into the weighty matters of state might cause, but I felt compelled to write you out of concern for the security of the kingdome. For the past two fortnights there has been curious individual loitering about Beresford Common, his manner is sly and retiring, but there is something about him that I find worrying in my soul. He is a sneaky fellow of ill aspect named Roger Calloway, late arrived as a laborer in a merchant caravan, but he has stayed in town a week after market day, which has caused suspicion.
Calloway is hardly an imposing man, but buggered of face and possessing a furry lip that he allows to droop down and conceal his aspect to great effect. It is hard to see what he is thinking. I have often seen him walking about the Common and visiting the market place and various shoppes about town, all the while making notes on pieces of parchment he keeps concealed on his person.
This behavior may seem innocent in its face; certainly listing prices for hemp and cordage or a pound of ha’penny nails is not an ill deed akin to dropping deadly nightshade into the village fountain, but it does beg the question: why? What advantage could be gained from this information? One can only speculate, and of course mention the matter to wiser heads such as yours.
My theory is that he might be an agent from a trading cartel in Holland or Flanders, and he is here posing as an Englishman to keep an eye on products and prices compared to Continental markets. The advantages in trade would of course be obvious to your Majesty, and acted on should you decide to act. I am unlettered in the matters of law and trade, and do not know what the consequences of apprehending this individual might be.
Calloway keeps his own counsel and consorts with nobody I have seen, although I have seen him loitering at the Smithy kept by Will Ramsay, also on the commons. Their friendship, it that may be the word for it, does seem strained. I saw them have words the other night and Calloway left the forge in a hurry, with Ramsay following behind, red-faced, his hand raised as if to strike him. I made no further inquiries into this matter, deciding there and then to bring it to your Majesty’s kind attention.
I trust I have been of some service in this matter, which I hope is really nothing to find alarming— but one may never know.
Your humble servant,
Roger, Assistant Abbot, Abbey of Beresford
(actual letter, my first time playing)
Let’s “score this letter” in game terms– this is the next part of the “RPG”.
My Monk’s stats are: Penmanship: Good (3D6) , Language: Average (2D6), Heart: Poor (1D6).
For every Superior Word, add 1 point.
(He has augmentation in reserve for Heart checks, once per scenario)
Rolling Language for each Superior Word I attempted to use: I hit on a 5 or 6, 4 times for 4 points.
I didn’t really “get” flourishes (using the HEART skill) as equating to using adjectives, so there are not many in the above letter directed towards Superior Words. I will fudge a little and say “Gracious Majesty” is one, and roll 1D6 for Heart, and use my Augmentation skill to add a dice. Once. Miraculously, I get a 5 and a 6., for 2 points.
Next is Penmanship. My Monk has GOOD penmanship, so I hope to clear up, with five rolls of 3 dice: for a score of 5 more.
Totaling it all up, I get 4 + 2 + 5 for 11 points on this letter. According to the scenario outcome, my result is:
11+ points: The King writes you personally, with great thanks. He has positioned his guard close by and the spy will be caught. You are invited to the King’s court as a guest, and a hero.
Not bad, not bad at all. I might have done better with more flourishes, but I did end up using my Augmentation Skill to great effect, which got me the best result possible.
Okay, so all this is pretty amusing and creative, but…..
Well, it’s not really a RPG, is it? You run a character but it’s not really a role-playing exercise. Your only interaction with a character is with an off-board NPC, and it is in the form of a letter. You don’t really make a lot of decisions above and beyond choosing how to use Superior Words in a letter. Writing a letter is a fun creative exercise, and I was impressed that I could easily make up a narrative thread to encompass all (or most of) the Superior Words in my Scenario.
Summary: So what is Quill? Perhaps an interesting classroom exercise developed by a creative instructor, who said to himself “Hey, self, this could be an RPG with a little polish!”. It feels like it is a fragment of something larger to me. The game’s theme is a thin patina indeed, and might improve with some expansion material in a follow up. Quill is amusing, EXTREMELY affordable, and a lot of fun. It will not bear up to repeated plays before becoming a bit tedious. Until then, it’s quirky and interesting, and worth a look. At the asking price, you can forget what you paid for it easily if you want. Enjoy!