The Independents: Quill

Renowned art dealer Christina Bowbridge is selling a portrait of His Royal Highness Prince Edward IV, and you want to purchase it. You’ve heard rumors, however, that the painting is not genuine. You want to inquire about inspecting the work of art before buying it, but Bowbridge is both enthusiastic about her work and adores the monarchy; it would be quite easy to offend her and lose the chance to buy the painting entirely. You’ll have to write a letter, and it’ll take good penmanship, the right words, a few flourishes, and . . . at least 3d6? That’s because you’re not just writing a letter, you’re playing Quill: A Letter-Writing Roleplaying Game for a Single Player!

Quill: A Letter Writing Roleplaying Game for a Single Player is the creation of Scott Malthouse/Trollish Delver Games. The premise of the game is quite simple: you are playing a character who, for one reason or another, is writing a letter. You are attempting to impress or otherwise get something from/through to the recipient of the letter, but in order to do so your letter needs to be well-written, wisely worded, and tailored to the personality of said recipient.

Character creation is very simple, in that you choose from one of several characters such as a Monk, Knight, or Poet that come with established ranks in Penmanship, Heart, and Language. These ranks are Poor, Average, and Good, which equate to a d6-based dice pool of 1, 2 and 3 respectively. You then choose a Skill, which can add an additional die to a single roll of one of those abilities once per scenario. Then you pick a scenario and start writing. and I do mean start writing: part of the fun of Quill is actually writing out the letter, in-character no less!

A scenario will detail who the recipient is, what you’re writing to them about, and any special conditions for the scenario (a recipient might particularly like receiving letters from a Courtier, for example, or might highly value beautiful calligraphy and thus make Penmanship more difficult). Over the course of five paragraphs you have to write a letter to fit the scenario and achieve your goal, and once per paragraph you must include a word from the scenario’s Inkpot. This is where Language comes in: you roll the number of dice, and if you get a 5 or 6 on at least one of them then you can use the Superior Word from the Inkpot, which gets you a point. Fail to do so, and you have to use the inferior version, which gets you nothing.

Heart allows you to add Flourishes in the form of adverbs or adjectives to your Inkpot words, but you must choose to roll Heart before you roll for Language. If you succeed on the Heart roll you add the Flourish, and if you then succeed on the Language roll you get two points instead of one! Add a Flourish to an inferior word, however, and you’ll actually lose a point off of your final score! Finally, Penmanship is rolled at the end of every paragraph; success means your writing was particularly eye-pleasing, and nets you an additional point.

Once you’ve finished your letter, you count up your total points. Every scenario has different results depending on the recipient and what your goal was. Less than 5 is the worst possible outcome and can have dire consequences indeed, while 5-7 is a success that still gets some negative feedback. 8-10 is quite good, and gets a wholly positive response from the recipient. 11 or more points meant you really swayed your reader, achieving your goal and then some!

I gave Quill a try using the Poet character, in the Art Dealer scenario described in the opening paragraph, and was surprised by how much fun it was. I had a bit of a slow start but quickly got into the groove of things, and rolling to see if I got to use a Flourish, wrote down a Superior Word, or had good penmanship (which neither I nor the Poet have) was actually pretty exciting. Unfortunately an unlucky Flourish on an inferior word, combined with truly abysmal Penmanship, meant that the result was that Bowbridge “takes great offense to my letter and responds with a scathing letter about my character. She will not sell me the painting . . . ever.” Alas. Good news is that I can always try with a different character, and even if I try again with the Poet there are more than five choices in the Inkpot so I can try and write an entirely different letter to the Art Dealer.

Quill has essentially managed to gamify a writing prompt. It’s a fun little role-playing game for a quiet night on its own terms, but it could have some other applications as well. Looking at what some other folks have to say about it, I have to agree that it proves useful as a creative writing exercise, and with a scenario made by a GM or player could be a useful tool for establishing/getting into character for a different tabletop RPG. I could even see it as a mini-game in something like D&D when your character has to correspond with someone else, rather than just a single skill check. Of course, if you don’t like creative writing than Quill is definitely far outside of your bailiwick. On the other hand, the gamification of a writing prompt could be a way to get oneself more familiar with creative writing if you’re not a fan in the first place. Something to consider.

The game has some expansions that provide new scenarios and even characters for you to write with, including Quill: Love Letters and Quill: Coal and Parchment. Coal and Parchment is actually published by Shoreless Skies Publishing, made possible by the fact that Quill was created under an Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, meaning that so long as credit is given anyone can write material for Quill! That means we may just see a great variety of scenarios, perhaps even for different settings like with Coal and Parchment.

All of the linked products, from the basic Quill to the expansions, are available at the always delightful price of Pay-What-You-Want. So grab a hot drink, find a quiet corner, prepare your Inkpot, and get writing!

Thanks to Leslie for pointing me towards the game!

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