Review: Fudge 10th Anniversary Edition
Fudge is a wonderful skill-based, customizable role-playing game (RPG) written by Steffan O'Sullivan and published by Grey Ghost Press. It is unique in that Fudge was designed and written with a great deal of input from the online gaming community. Much of the content is available on line for free, and the game supports a thriving online idea magazine Fudge Factor.|
When I first played Fudge, I knew it as F.U.D.G.E., the Free-Form, Universal, Do-it-yourself Gaming Engine. In the years since, the game has become even more free-form. Fudge is just that: Fudge. No acronyms (dropped six years ago), no striving to be more than it is, no pretensions. In fact, that's the whole point. The game is so story and role-playing focused that if the rules get in the way, then you are encouraged to just "fudge it."
That's not to say that it has no rules. The nice big hardcover in front of me (at 320 pages, it is no lightweight) is packed full of rules. And good rules at that. But that's not the point of the game. The point is to have fun. So we're going to sit back, and take a bite of Fudge, one small piece at a time. To do that, I'm going to fall back on the now-outdated acronym and dish up a delightful game for you.
Free-form.The rules are there, make no mistake about that. There are 100 pages on basic character creation alone, not counting the special character needs for fantasy, superhero or cyberpunk campaigns. However, the rules start out very simply and give you the basics of what you need, right up front. On two whole pages. That's it. Two pages sum up the basics of Fudge. Even these are just guidelines, adaptable by the gamemaster (GM). From that point on, all the rules are add-ons, extras to help define a world and a character, giving the GM and players a common set of definitions and language.
There are no classes or ranks, except those that the GM establishes. There are no limits or restrictions to what a character can or cannot have or use, be it skill, weapon, or armor. Your 15th century Shaolin monk can wear a modern day flak vest with 24th century optical scanning software and fire a sphere of magical fire from a Martian trebuchet, if that's what you and your GM agree on - especially if it's what drives the story forward.
Because it's so free-form, it's sometimes tough for new Fudge players to truly grasp the enormous amount of freedom they do have when designing a character. You have to get past the idea of a 4th level fighter who can only do thus-and-so. The limits are based on what is right for your story, for your group, not based on the rules. The rules are there to help you put those limits into place, but your gaming group and your GM have to decide where those limits are. The rules are there at YOUR beck and call, not the other way around. It can be a scary thought, but it is a fantastic way to game: the only limit is your imagination!
Universal.This goes along with the "Free-form" thoughts. You can be anything you want to be. Superhero? No problem. Hobbits and dwarves? A cinch. Modern day Crime Scene Investigator? Give me something hard! Martian canal diggers of a Jules Verne-style campaign? Not a problem. Monsters? Cthulhu? Pokemon? All a snap. If you can dream it, you can game it. Period.
The Fudge, 10th Anniversary Edition deals extensively with various common RPG genres, such as Fantasy (including a Bestiary, Weapons and Armor, Miracles and two Magic sections), Psionics, Superheros, Cybernetics, Netrunning, Space travel and Martial Arts. It has a great section on Vehicles and a separate one for Dog-fighting. The chapter dealing with Weapons and Armor is not just fantasy based, and includes nice tables for everything from sticks and stones to futuristic beam weapons.
However, it doesn't stop there. All of the rules listed are jumping-off points for various players and GMs to develop whatever game they want. There are no limits, there are no stopping points, no artificially built in barriers or ceilings. You can go where you want, do what you want, build what you want and then game it.
In short, if there is a genre of gaming that is not able to be covered by Fudge, I will eat this article.
Do-it-yourself.Aye, there's the rub. With as open and universal as Fudge is, you have to be willing to put in some time yourself. Especially if you're the GM. For example, you have to decide how detailed the skill sets are going to be. Are you going to let all your fighters be able to pick up any sword and swing it with the same skill level, or will you differentiate between sword types? Is any bladed weapon caught up within that sword skill? There are advantages and disadvantages to either side of that coin, but the point is that the game system doesn't decide that for you. You do.
That means work, especially for the GM (this is repetitive of the previous paragraph). Sitting down ahead of time and deciding some basics of the game are always part and parcel of a GM's set-up time. But usually, the game system will define many things for the GM. This game system doesn't. You don't have pre-set limits on what sort of skills a fighter can and cannot have. This, in my opinion, is a wonderful thing. Real medieval warriors had more than just a standard fighter's set of skills: before war came to their small hamlet, some were farmers, some were fishermen, some were thieves, and so on. But when war came, they all picked up swords and became first level fighters. Just because they became fighters doesn't mean they should lose their farming, fishing or lock-picking skills, as some games systems seem to think.
Fudge lets you build the character or world that you've always wanted to build, but you have to put in your own good time as well. As a GM, you need to put some hard thinking time into what limits YOU want to have on your world. Decide them, write them down and share them with your players. Players need to figure out what their characters are like, what drives their heart and soul, what their past is, and then decide what skills and talents got them there. And all of it needs to work together, which means that GMs need to trust their players and even more so, players need to trust their GMs.
Gaming.This is the core of Fudge. It's all about the gaming. The character creation section doesn't just jump into tables and charts and lists of skills; it encourages the player to describe their character in words, then work with their GM to attach skills and attributes, gifts and faults onto that description. Combat can be diceless or described in nit-picky, round-by-round details. Rules for each are included. There are plenty of tables and charts to warm the heart of any rules lawyer, and all of which are "fudge-able" as the GM sees fit.
This is where the "gaming" in F.U.D.G.E. comes in. Players and GM alike have to have the good of the story as their goal. It's all about the gaming. It's all about having fun. It's all about telling a good story in a cooperative way. It's all about the game.
To build your character, you balance things between skills (what your character can do), attributes (physical descriptors), gifts (positive things like luck, wealth or contacts) and faults (negative things like phobias or... well, faults that the character has).
When you have your character built, you'll have a description of a person that can be read by anyone (gamer or non-gamer) and be fairly easily understood. The skills, attributes and so forth are all described in terms like "Superb" or "Fair." For example, your character could be Great at knife fighting and Mediocre at library research. They could be Terrible looking and have a Good dexterity. Most people are Fair at most things, so that is the "zero" point for most skills and attributes. The levels are: Terrible, Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good, Great, Superb. You have to pay for things that are higher than Fair level, but you get points back for taking things at lower than Fair.
Part of gaming is the cool stuff you get to play with while gaming. Fudge has cool stuff! There's a whole new set of dice that you can get! Fudge dice are six sided, with two sides having a plus on it, two sides having a minus on it and two sides being blank. One rolls 4dF (four Fudge dice) and gets a result anywhere from - 4 to + 4. You add up the total number of pluses and subtract out the minuses to get your total. For example, a roll of +, blank, -, + would be +1. Granted, you can use the six sided dice that come in your standard board game, but what would be the fun of that?
You compare your rolled result to the trait rolled against and the difficulty needed for success. For example, say your character has a Fair in climbing. The GM decides that the cliff ahead of you has only a few handholds and, since it's nighttime and raining, it will take a Great skill roll to climb it successfully. That's "Fair + 2"; the player needs to roll a total of +2 on 4dF to succeed. Combat is similarly based, each player rolling against their various combat skills and comparing results. Someone who has a Terrible sword skill can still beat someone with a Great sword skill, but it takes a lot of luck!
One of the best parts of the Fudge, 10th Anniversary Edition is Carl Craven's article at the end of the book entitled "Just Fudge It!" His article is about how the real world has rules but doesn't always seem to follow them (how can someone fall 10 stories and survive, while someone tripping over a crack in the sidewalk breaks their neck?) He emphasizes that breaking rules isn't a bad thing, especially if the GM and players are all on the same page about it. And he gives some basic guidelines for how to "fudge it" for new players and GMs. This section, the last one in the book before the index, is a "must read" for all new Fudge players.
Finally, this book has what I believe every good RPG book should have: an index! It is a wonderfully detailed index, letting you find just about any detail you need in seconds flat. That lets you get back to gaming faster – which is exactly what I want from an RPG book.
Engine.Fudge is a set of rules designed to drive you where you want to go, if you're willing to put the time and effort behind it. It's got a vibrant community of gamers who are constantly tweaking and fiddling with it, making it better all the time. It's already spawned various stand-alone systems (two of which are a late-19th/early 20th century society called NAGS as played in the game Terra Incognita and the new Deryni Adventures ).
In short, you supply the gas (the imagination, desire, ideas) and Fudge will supply the engine to take you wherever you want to go.
Try some Fudge. It's great stuff. Best of all, you can try the old version for free. Download it - there's three different formats to choose from - and try it today. It's the only Fudge that has no calories and still is great after 10 years.