Saturday, May 01, 2004

Fudge on the Fly

Fudge on the Fly is a method of character generation that allows games to begin immediately, with only a few moments required for character generation. It does this by allowing players to select their character's skills during play, when the situation arises which calls for them. This has a number of benefits in addition to its speed - most notably it spares players the annoyance of failing to purchase the "right" skills. Every skill purchased will be one that proves itself useful during play. The revelation of character skills over the course of play also allows for the same sort of character discovery that is common in books and film.

The Basics

The core of this model is expressed with the character sheet, which includes the adjective ladder from Poor to Superb, and has slots next to each step. By default, there is one step next to Superb, two next to Great, three next to Good, four next to Fair, five next to Mediocre and any number of slots next to poor. Laid out on the page, it will look a lot like this:

Superb                      
Great                                          
Good                                                              
Fair                                                                                  
Mediocre                                                                                                    
 
                                                                                                     
Poor                                                                                                    
                                                                                                     

Character Generation

Character Generation is composed of four steps:

* Name the Character * Write a Blurb * Describe a Flaw * Choose a Talent

Name the Character

Hopefully, this step is self explanatory. Come up with a name that you think sounds neat, and which is not too hard for everyone else to remember, or else you run the risk of acquiring a nickname.

Write a Blurb

The character blurb is the one or two sentence summary of the character. It should not be longer than one or two sentences, perhaps twenty words. The goal of the blurb is to express the nature of the character, not their history or personality. This is an example of an awful blurb:

Third daughter of the Duke of Glockenberry, her father held her mother’s death in childbirth against her, remaining cold and distant as she grew up. Alienated, she sought friends among the castle’s staff, finding surreptitious comfort in their company, and retreated into books. As she grew older, she matured into a beauty, and her father turned his eye towards arranging a politically beneficial marriage for her. Left with no other option, she fled the castle in the night with nothing but a horse, a stolen sword, and the coins that were to have been her dowry.

If this is the story, that’s great, but that’s something to share with the GM, not to worry about in character generation. The blurb version of the above might read:

Shut-in daughter of aristocracy fleeing an arranged marriage.

When in doubt, err on the side of simplicity.

Describe a Flaw

Every character has a flaw, be it an internal weakness or an external threat. It could range from a drinking problem to a sworn enemy or to a doomed romance. Flaws need be neither large nor small, and have no specific mechanical effect, they’re just part of the character. As such, they don’t need to be in specific categories or lists, instead, simply describe the character's greatest flaw as succinctly as possible. Examples include "Bad temper", "Hunted by Cardinal Estreban of the Inquisition", "Fond of the ladies" and so on. The sole caveat is that if the flaw involves another character, like an enemy, it’s important to name them, otherwise the GM is obliged to make the unnamed NPC a monkey, a ninja, or a pirate.

Pick a Talent

Think of the one thing the character’s really good at, be it fencing, poetry, being keen-eyed, breaking things, or whatever else the one thing they excel at, above all others, is. Be a little specific. "Fencing" is reasonable, but "Killin’ things" might be a little broad. Let your GM know what this talent is, and if they say it’s ok, write it down in the box next to the word "Superb" on the character sheet.

Skills in Play

When the GM calls for a skill check, she’ll usually call out what skill is necessary for the task at hand. Players who have other skills they think might be appropriate can chime in and the GM will decide if they’re appropriate and assign any penalties to suit. The kicker is that starting characters have no skills on their sheet other then their talent, which they have at Superb.

Whenever the GM calls for a roll, players have a few options.

1. If they have the skill, they may roll it.

2. If they don’t have the skill and have a blank slot on their character sheet, they can write the name of the skill down in that slot. They now have that skill at that level, and can roll it.

3. Otherwise, the character writes the skill down in the "Poor" row, and may roll the skill at that level. Note that there is no limit on how many skills a character can have at Poor. If they run out of slots, they can just add more to hold the extra skills.

What this means is that players are effectively choosing their characters' skills on the fly. Narratively, the characters are assumed to have always had the skills, it is simply that they are revealed to the audience, as they would be in a movie or novel, at that point in the story.

Fudge Points

A player should be awarded one extra Fudge Point at the end of any session where their flaw was a significant detriment to their activities.

Development

From time to time, usually after the completion of an arc, the GM may call for a period of development. During a development period, players can reconsider their character’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of how that character may have changed or grown during that time. Each development period consists of a few steps:

1. Write a new blurb -

Assuming the character has grown or changed in some way, rewrite their blurb to reflect their new status. Make sure to keep a record of the old blurb: this creates a record of the character’s history which can be quite useful.

2. Consider the Flaw -

If the character has overcome their flaw, or a more interesting flaw has come up, the player may opt to change the flaw to reflect this.

3. Rearrange skills -

The player may rearrange skills within their steps, moving skills up and down no mare than one step. The final distribution should remain in the stepped pattern on the character sheet.

Optional Rules

Option #1: Stats

The default system assumes that only skills exist, and that anything that can be covered by stats like strength and toughness should be covered by appropriate skills. The failure of this model is when used in conjunction with combat systems which use stats as mechanical modifiers. In such a system, it's entirely possible to consider all such stats to be Fair (+0) and not worry about them. However, if it is important to your game to include stats, you may use any system you like for assigning stats without creating a problem. However, if you wish to assign stats in the same spirit which skills are assigned, it's a simple matter of creating similar slots for stats, and allowing players to choose them as they come up. For example, in a game that uses Strength, Toughness, Resolve and Wits, the core character sheet might look more like:

Stats Skills
Superb                      
                    Great                                          
                    Good                                                              
                    Fair                                                                                  
                    Mediocre                                                                                                    
 
                                                                                                     
Poor                                                                                                    
                                                                                                     

This would mean that the character can set one stat at Great, one at Good, one at Fair and one at Mediocre, and they may do so over the course of the game, in the same manner as skills.

Option #2: Advancement

Development exists as written to allow characters to evolve in a natural way. Interests and pursuits can grow more or less important, and the character can change to suit. The idea is that the young barbarian can eventually become a wise elder because he's changed his focus, not because he's added some political skills to his bucket of whupass. However, advancement, in the sense of characters growing more capable over time, is a classic staple of gaming, and many players would be uncomfortable without it.

The GM may declare any period of development (ideally one which takes place after a significant point in the game, such as the defeat of a major enemy or achievement of an important goal) to also be a period of advancement. When this happens, the player gets to add one more slot to one of his steps, which skills may then be moved into according to the normal development rules. Which step gains a slot depends on what advancement period this is.

Advancement Extra Slot in this Step
First Mediocre
Second Fair
Third Good
Fourth Great
Fifth Superb
Sixth Superb +1 (Legendary)

These steps are additive, so a character who has had three advancement periods will have extra slots at Mediocre, Fair and Good.

Example of Play

Deborah sits down to make a character. She wants to play a political type, a minor but ambitious noble. With that in mind, she gets started.

Name: She steals from one of her favorite books, and takes the name Baroness Diane Nichelli.

Blurb: This one’s easy: "Ambitious, scheming noblewoman."

Flaw: There are a number of options. Enemies is a strong contender, but since Diane is still a minor player, Deborah opts for something more internal and decides that Diane is "Arrogant."

Talent: Deborah thinks about a number of skills that might be useful for a politician, and decides she wants Diane to be an excellent judge of character, especially of a person’s honesty. She could probably call this "Sense motive" or even "Sense Lies" but she opts for the more colorful "Cold Read". Her Sheet Looks like this:


Baroness Diane Michelli

Ambitious, Scheming Noblewoman

Superb Cold Read  
Great                                          
Good                                                              
Fair                                                                                  
Mediocre                                                                                                    
 
                                                                                                     
Poor                                                                                                    
                                                                                                     

Flaw: Arrogant


The game begins and a conspiracy of coincidences result in Diane fleeing into the night on horseback. The GM asks what her riding skill is. She has none on her sheet, and Deborah gives it a moments thought. While Diane is hardly a jockey, she has been taught the fundamentals, so she writes down "Riding" next to Mediocre.

Later, there is a question of how she’s going to pay for her gown and servants for the upcoming ball, so Deborah quickly scribbles down "Wealth" next to Great, and the issue is resolved.

At that ball, Diane is accosted by another lady of the court in a most unladylike fashion. The ensuing scuffle calls for a brawl check. Deborah thinks Diane has no real talent for brawling, and writes it down next to "Poor". Thankfully, her opponentis not much better.

At this point in the game, her character sheet looks like this:


Baroness Diane Michelli

Ambitious, Scheming Noblewoman

Superb Cold Read  
Great Wealth                      
Good                                                              
Fair                                                                                  
Mediocre Riding                                                                                
 
  Brawling                                                                                
Poor                                                                                                    
                                                                                                     

Flaw: Arrogant


Example of Devlopment

In time Diane's sheet is fully fleshed out and reads as follows:


Baroness Diane Michelli

Ambitious, Scheming Noblewoman

Superb Cold Read  
Great Wealth Lying  
Good Dagger Observation Diplomacy  
Fair Fashion Gossip Dance Administration  
Mediocre Riding Athletics Singing Cryptography Hysterics
 
  Brawling Fencing Swimming Stealth                    
Poor                                                                                                    
                                                                                                     

Flaw: Arrogant


She goes through the steps of development:

New Blurb: Ambitious Lady of the Court, reknown for her parties.

Consider Flaw: Arrogant has done well for her, but she’s made some delightful enemies, so she replaces it with "Enemies with the Viscount Breneal".

Rearrange Skills: While she’s mostly happy with the current layout, She wants to make a few changes. Codes are proving more valuable than dances, so she swaps Cryptography and Dance. Additionally, Gossip has proven much more useful than Dagger, so she swaps the two of them. Ideally, she’d like to move Gossip up to Great, but she can’t move it two steps in one development period. Now, her sheet reads:


Baroness Diane Michelli

Ambitious, scheming noblewoman reknown for her parties

Superb Cold Read  
Great Wealth Lying  
Good Gossip Observation Diplomacy  
Fair Fashion Dagger Cryptography Administration  
Mediocre Riding Athletics Singing Dance Hysterics
 
  Brawling Fencing Swimming Stealth                    
Poor                                                                                                    
                                                                                                     

Flaw: Enemies with the Viscount Breneal


In Summary

Fudge on the Fly is designed to be fast and easy to use. It's a flexible concept that can be easily adapted to almost any approach to play, and can be adjusted to a variety of flavors through the simple addition and subtraction of slots. It plays to one of Fudge's strengths in stepping away from mechanical character creation and just stepping into the story where things "make sense" to a lot of gamers. At the same time, any player who is uncomfortable with choosing skills on the fly is naturally welcome to fill in their slots ahead of time, so it should not prove too difficult a compromise.