Monday, January 30, 2006

Fudging It!? Basic System Conversions

Thinking about using Fudge with the setting from another game? This article will guide you through the process of making a playable game out of the two.

So, you have stared at your copy of the Fudge rules long enough and finally think you "get" it. You're ready to try out your first game using Fudge. You pull out your favorite game system or world and then it hits you... "How am I going to use Fudge to play this particular game?" After slogging your way through about half of the character generation chapter you decide "If I have to translate everything over to Fudge, it's not worth the effort, I'll just play it like it is." At this point (in total frustration), Fudge goes back on the shelf and continues to be just a "quaint" idea.

This is how I first approached Fudge. I attempted to convert several systems but it never seemed to work. It was also rather annoying that when I looked for help with this I kept coming back to the phrase "just fudge it." Just fudge it?! What exactly does that mean? Later, I will show you several steps that I developed to convert other games to use Fudge, but in a nutshell it means: don't convert your system to Fudge, convert Fudge to your system.

"Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." -- Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

Fudging It, step-by-step

You can play Fudge right out of the box if you don't mind making all of the decisions required like subjective versus objective character creation, simultaneous combat versus alternating rounds, number and types of attributes, etc. If that is not something you are prepared to do, or there is something about your target rules/setting that would be lost, then here are the steps I would use to convert Fudge to your system:

Step 1: Start with a pre-built foundation

Don't be shy, steal (ahem "borrow") what other people have already done. Start with an existing implementation of Fudge like "Fantasy Fudge" from Grey Ghost, Scott Larson's Terra Incognita, Now Playing from Carnivore Games, or Fate from Evil Hat. There are many others but these should give you a starting point. This will give you the basics for skill use, combat, weapons, armor, damage, healing and any other general rules that are common to most role-playing games.

For a lot of setting conversions, this will be enough. If using an existing set of Fudge rules and/or a specific Fudge setting gives you the ability to play the game you want to play then go for it. If you still want your Fudge game to look more like a given target system, go on to step 2.

Step 2: Keep the attributes

Keep the Attributes (strength, dexterity, etc) from the target game. Start them all at a level of Fair and give the players a number of free attribute levels that equals one-half the number of attributes as suggested in section 1.16 of the Fudge rules.

Step 3: Keep the skills

Keep the Skills from the target game. Start with the skill selection rules from the existing Fudge system you selected, then modify the number of skill levels up or down to match the power level of the target game. If your skill list has broad skills like "Fighting," and "Healing" you may only give your characters 10 skill levels. On the other hand, if the skills are very detailed like "Fighting: Long Sword," "Fighting: Spear," "First Aid," "Surgery," etc, you may need to assign 30 or 40 skill levels.

Step 4: Keep any advantages/disadvantages

Keep any advantages/disadvantages and use them as Gifts and Flaws. If the target system does not use Gifts and Flaws you can add them or not to get the end results that you want.

At this point with very little work you should be 80 to 90 percent done with your conversion. But like everything else it's the final details that cause the most trouble. The final step is:

Step 5: Handle special mechanics

Add on or convert the "special features" of the target game.

Step 5 doesn't have to be difficult. In many cases you can use what someone else has already done or bring the feature over intact with no conversion. If the target game has some particularly powerful abilities you can also add them to your conversion as "supernormal powers" (Fudge Chapter 2). Remember; don't add extra complexity just because the target game had complex rules. This is Fudge, keep it simple.

If you do need, or want, to convert a special feature you still may not have to start from scratch. The best tools I have found are the percentile and 3d6 conversion tables like section 3.22 of the Fudge rules.

Percentile 3d6 Result
01 03-04 Abysmal
02-06 05 Terrible
07-18 06-07 Poor
19-38 08-09 Mediocre
39-62 10-11 Fair
63-82 12-13 Good
83-94 14-15 Great
95-99 16 Superb
00 17-18 Legendary

Here are some specific game conversion examples:

Call of Cthulhu, by Chaosium Games

In the Call of Cthulhu game, the players are fairly average people who end up investigating supernatural and horrific events. Again using the 5 steps here is the conversion:

  1. Basics: I'll start with the Terra Incognita rules because it, like CoC is about investigating strange things. Done.
  2. Attributes: 5 attribute levels. There are some derived Attributes that we will need to take care of in step 5.
  3. Skills: Keep all of the Skills. Some Skills have default percentile values so we can add something in step 5 to account for this as well. 25 skill levels added to the default levels with a maximum of 1 Superb, 2 Greats.
  4. Gifts/Faults: Call of Cthulhu does not have Gifts and Faults, but we can add them from Fudge
  5. Special Features: We want to keep the SAN and Power attributes as-is so that all of the sanity and magic rules can be used without conversion. To do this we can use the lower value on the 3d6 conversion table (shown above) as the base number for the statistic used to calculate our derived attributes. For example a Mediocre Power attribute would relate to 8 points. Gifts and Faults could be added to increase or decrease this number. Knowing the numeric value of the characters Power you can calculate the needed derived attributes like SAN and Magic Points.

For the default skill levels we can use the percentile conversion table (shown above) to generate the base levels. Here are some examples:

Skill Old Default Value Fudge Default Value
Accounting 5% Terrible
Weapon: Club 50% Fair
Drive 25% Mediocre

Timemaster, by Pacesetter

In Timemaster, the players are agents of the time patrol who fight to keep the time line on track. Using the 5 steps here is the conversion:

  1. Basics: I'll start with Now Playing because it has rules for a wide range of skills like the ones used in the target game. Done. That was easy; Fudge is a lot cleaner than the original combat rules that were based on several charts.
  2. Attributes: 4 Attribute levels. All start at Fair except Willpower. Willpower is special in this setting so I will handle it in step 5.
  3. Skills: Keep all of the Skills: 30 skill levels with a maximum of 1 Superb, 3 Greats.
  4. Gifts/Faults: These work as is.
  5. Special Features: The time agents have paranormal powers like Paranormal Memory and Significance Sensing. These appear to be better than standard gifts so I will treat them as "supernormal powers." They are based on Willpower so all agents will get +1 level in Willpower.

Bushido, by Fantasy Games Unlimited

In Bushido the players are heroes in the mythical version of medieval Japan. Here are the 5 steps for this game:

  1. Basics: "Fantasy Fudge" fits the fantasy tone of Bushido. Done.
  2. Attributes: 3 attribute levels.
  3. Skills: Keep all of the Skills. 20 skill levels w/maximum of 1 Superb, 2 Greats. Class skills default to poor others default to non-existent.
  4. Gifts/Faults: Bushido does not have gifts and faults but we can add them from Fudge.
  5. Special Features: Magic - the spells available to the magic users are based on their knowledge skills in each type of magic. So, using the percentile conversion table we can determine which spells are available.

Conclusion

For games that don't fit the percentile or 3d6 model you can create your own conversion tables. For example, take the current Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition. While its six attributes may start on the 3d6 scale, the actual values used during the game can go much higher. A more appropriate conversion table for that system may look like this:

Attribute Score Result
01-03 Abysmal
04-06 Terrible
07-09 Poor
10-12 Mediocre
13-15 Fair
16-18 Good
19-21 Great
22-24 Superb
25-27 Legendary

You may not understand all of these examples without knowing the original games that they are based on and I really have not covered very complex issues like full magic systems, but hopefully, you can see that Fudge conversions are not really as difficult as you may have thought. Don't over complicate it. Just fudge it.