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December 1, 2001 > Lights! Camera! Fudge!  
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Lights! Camera! Fudge!
by Tony Spallino (spallinoaj @ dp.net)

One of the hardest things to deal with when being the Gamemaster of a game, especially a Fudge game, is how to handle the setup and pace of a game. I think this is one of those questions that all Gamemasters have faced especially when starting out.

Personally, I'm a big movie fan. I love them and watch them any chance I can get no matter what kind of movie it is. While watching a movie one day, I realized that movies can give good advice as to how to think about GMing a Fudge game.

Plot

The story has to have a plot. If you're running a pre-made adventure, then this part is already done for you. All you need to do is read through it and become very familiar with it, almost an expert. You need to understand the story inside and out. If you're making your own adventure, start with a basic plotline. Revenge, search and rescue, love story, hunt the bugs, assassinate the enemy agent. Start simple. Once you have the basic plot start adding to it. Imagine the whole story in your mind.

One of the easiest places to get ideas is from movies. "Alien" is considered one of the best "hunt the bug" science fiction movies around. You get the sense of not only hunting the alien, but of being hunted yourself. Watching "The Princess Bride" and "Star Wars" will give you a good sense of rescuing the princess and being the hero. Want something more detailed, with modern stories of suspense, intricate plans, and betrayal? Watch movies like "The Godfather" and "The Jackal".

It doesn't matter if you start in the middle or even the end of the story and work backwards because eventually the whole story will come together in your head. Sometimes you'll watch a movie and get an idea for a story. Other times you might have a story and use a movie to get ideas. It'll work either way. If you watch a lot of movies, you'll notice that if you remove the details of the story, you'll be left with a basic plot. (A man is cheated out of his family home by a corrupt government and forced on the run. He meets up with several other men in the same situation and they band together to strike back. Robin Hood.)

Once you have the story worked out (which may take anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days) start writing down the details so you don't forget. This is a kind of "script" for your story. Be sure to include the basic ideas of the story. What's the plot? Where is it located? What time period? This would be like shooting on location. Does the story take place in a foreign land? ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Godzilla") Perhaps in the past or even the future? ("Excalibur", Star Trek movies) Could it be something that's happening right down the street from you? ("Night of the Living Dead", Jackie Chan movies)

Now put the story together into a complete adventure. Things happen in a certain order. You might want to "storyboard" your ideas and just write a paragraph about each to check it. Be sure that each "scene" logically leads into the next one. What happens in one scene may take the heroes into one or more directions. These choices are normal and can add to the adventure, perhaps making it more of an epic. The Star Wars series takes the heroes to various planets, to different locations on the planets, including starships and battle stations. Perhaps one location is all you need. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" all took place on one street, almost entirely in one house.

Characters

Now that you have the great setting planned, you need to put people in it. There's no right or wrong way to do it. Some Gamemasters like to populate their world first and then make specific characters while others like to make their characters first and expand it out to make the whole setting. My suggestion is to try both and see which one feels more comfortable to you. Sometimes your story may help make the decision for you. If you don't need to populate a whole town but only need a few non-player characters (NPC) then that's fine. Go with it! Movies are filled with characters that don't even have a name, yet appear in many scenes. Give more detail to the characters who need it.

When it comes to designing your NPCs, both good guys and bad guys, try to picture them in your mind too. Even if you don't need a whole history for them, try to imagine them as a real person. All people have characteristics that makes us all human. What are the NPCs traits? Do they have annoying habits? (The continual breathing noise of Darth Vader, Hudson Hawk sings to time his thefts) Any personality quirks? (James Bond - "Shaken, not stirred", "The Terminator") Could something in their personal history give them the motivation to do whatever it is that they do? (various Clint Eastwood westerns, Batman's obsession with crime) Some people like to make a sketch, a kind of "character board" like cartoonists use. If you're not comfortable with drawing then make some notes about them, a kind of history. You don't even have to use it in the adventure but it will help the NPCs to become more "alive" and easier to Gamemaster.

Antagonist

Now for the main bad guy. Every good story has to have conflict. Who is your villain? Is it a elven mage bent on destruction? Foreign enemy agent? Vicious aliens who want to enslave mankind? Not every villain is out for world conquest, although some do aim for that. Your villain should fit in with the plot. If you have a search and rescue game, then world conquest may not necessarily fit. Give your antagonist more thought than some of the normal NPCs. Why does he want to cause trouble for the heroes, setting, etc? What are his goals? Even hunting humans for food is a goal ("Aliens", "Day of the Living Day").

What's his personality? Good movie villains have their own personality and their own style. (The Mummy is trying to resurrect his love, and has a determined plan to do so, The Fat Man trying to get the Maltese Falcon by being polite yet devious) They do things their own way. Perhaps he's neurotic, paranoid, clever, an evil genius, completely mad, or just misguided. Villains come in as many styles as heroes do. (Norman Bates, The Joker, The Mafia - various pictures, Dr. Hannibal, Dr. Phibes,...the list goes on and on) Take advantage of that. You might take a villain from one of your favorite movies and use them as a guide. Tweak them a bit and make them your own.

Putting it all together

Now get your details in place. You have your setting, your story, your NPCs, and your villains. Put them all together and see how it all fits. Don't be surprised if you have to revise your "script". All movies go through several revisions in script and your adventures won't be any different. If you check the Internet Movie Database, you'll find references to alternate versions of many movies that were never shown. You'll find that after adjusting your plot and characters a bit when necessary you'll be even happier about the final adventure than you were before.

Roll em!

Ok, so your adventure is finished, you have all the details down, you've gathered up some friends to play, and you've started the "cameras rolling". Now what happens?

Have fun with it! You'll find that players will almost always do the unexpected. Directors and movie makers have sometimes had to adjust the plot or script of a movie due to circumstances. Don't be so in love with your adventure that you force your players into actions that they don't want to do. Here's where you have to think of your plot. If something is essential to the plot, then you may have to guide your players to the right thing. You may have to gently force your players to go to a particular area, or maybe an encounter could be moved to where the players are. Either way, feel free to take some dramatic license to keep the plot moving. Fudge helps in this aspect because the word based nature of the game helps the Gamemaster to think of a situation and adjust it accordingly. Just apply it to Fudge terms.

What if something happens that you didn't expect and are completely unprepared for? No problem. Directors deal with this kind of thing all the time. Let's say your player wants to jump across a chasm to escape the bad guy. You didn't think of that. Well, it should be a pretty far jump otherwise it wouldn't be dramatic. Perhaps it's a Good distance. Your player may have a skill for Leaping, or maybe you could just have him use a Strength skill. Just think about the situation logically and apply Fudge terms. In this example, perhaps he will roll Fudge dice added to his Strength versus a Good difficulty. Whatever the outcome, just picture the situation. If the final result is Great, then add some dramatics to it. He might clear the chasm with a few feet to spare. If it's a Good result, let him balance by his toes on the edge for a few minutes before letting him continue to run.

Be sure to have fun also. It's never the Gamemaster against the players, any more than it's the director against the actors. Both sides are there to weave a fantastic tale that everyone can take home with them and remember it happily, just like a good movie.

Here are some references to movies that may help you get an idea of plots, characters, and settings.

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