Monday, February 06, 2006

High Fantasy Fudge, Part 1

Are you tired of dungeon crawl after dungeon crawl and having to wait two years for your character to level up and become the hero you wanted him to be? Were you drawn to roleplaying because you wanted to participate in epic tales in the style of your favorite fantasy novels? "High Fantasy Fudge" is a build of the Fudge rules designed for this type of play. This article aims to recreate the feel of epic or literary fantasy, such as the worlds of Tolkien, Eddings, 1001 Arabian Nights, Homeric epics, or the legends of King Arthur. The character creation rules encourage strongly archetypal characters like Beowulf, Hercules, Merlin, or Robin Hood.

"High Fantasy Fudge" consists of three independent parts: Character Creation, Magic, and Weapons. This is part one, Character Creation.

Are you tired of dungeon crawl after dungeon crawl and having to wait two years for your character to level up and become the hero you wanted him to be? Were you drawn to roleplaying because you wanted to participate in epic tales in the style of your favorite fantasy novels? "High Fantasy Fudge" is a build of the Fudge rules designed for this type of play. This article aims to recreate the feel of epic or literary fantasy, such as the worlds of Tolkien, Eddings, 1001 Arabian Nights, Homeric epics, or the legends of King Arthur. The character creation rules encourage strongly archetypal characters like Beowulf, Hercules, Merlin, or Robin Hood.

"High Fantasy Fudge" consists of three parts: Character Creation, Magic, and Weapons. Each of the parts may be used independently of the other two. Character creation aims to be simple and quick, outlining characters in broad strokes. The section on Magic details a rules-light and generic system that allows you to create almost any flavor of magic in your fantasy game. The section on Weapons outlines a system that rates weapons and armor on the Fudge trait scale, removing the need to add and subtract numbers in play via a comparison of Fudge trait values. It defines required strength levels for various weapons in a way appropriate to epic fantasy, where a mortal man may not be able to lift a great hero's sword or bend his mighty oaken bow. However, the Weapons section is definitely optional. While you need Magic to create magic-using characters, "High Fantasy Fudge" works extremely well with Story Element Combat or similar rules.

Character Creation

Characters in "High Fantasy Fudge" are defined by six Traits.

  • Might (strength, brawn, size, and skill in battle)
  • Valor (courage, will, leadership, endurance, and general "goodness" and heroism)
  • Cunning (alertness, perceptiveness, ability to hide, deceive others, or solve puzzles)
  • Deftness (agility, gracefulness, balance, speed, and skill with light or missile weapons)
  • Craft (arts, craftsmanship, and ability to handle, repair, or build anything technological)
  • Lore (knowledge, education, wisdom, book-learning, and literacy)

Each Trait describes an important attribute of the character. Keep in mind that these are the qualities of true heroes. If you have a Fair rating in any Trait, you would probably be described as having that Trait. In other words, if your character has a Fair Cunning, her friends may very well describe her as "cunning". Fair is by no means the "average" in "High Fantasy Fudge"! Most people will be Poor or Mediocre, with Fair reserved for their central trait: a veteran soldier will probably have a Might of Fair, and the village wise woman will probably have a Lore of Fair, for instance.

Here are some common archetypes and their associated Traits:

  • The Warrior
    • Might (for some, also Deftness and/or Cunning; possibly Craft to appraise and repair weapons or armor as well)
  • The Thief or Trickster
    • Cunning and Deftness
  • The Sage
    • Lore and Cunning
  • The Saint or Martyr
    • Valor
  • The Builder
    • Craft (and Valor for Tolkien-style Dwarves, or Cunning for a gnome or similar creature)
  • The Wise Ruler
    • Valor and Lore

Almost all rolls in a game will be based on one of these six Traits. To further define characters, players may pick Abilities, which add a bonus to a Trait roll in specific situations.

Abilities include, but are not limited to, the following list. Players may invent their own as long as they clear them with the GM before beginning play.

Might Valor
Axes
Bending Bars
Brawling
Climbing
Flails
Lifting/Carrying
Maces & Hammers
Shield
Spear
Strength
Sword
Animal Handling
Courage
Endurance
Fortitude
Honor
Leadership
Piety
Presence/Will
Resist Magic
Rousing Oration
Sense Evil
Cunning Deftness
Alertness
Charm
Deception
Fast-Talk
Find Hidden
Hide
Merchant
Observation
Perception
Persuasion
Streetwise
Acrobatics
Balance
Bow
Dancing
Fencing
Juggling
Jumping
Knives
Move Silently
Pick Pockets
Riding
Craft Lore
Appraisal
Armory
Artisan (pick a specialty)
Blacksmithing
Bowyer/Fletcher
Construction
Picking Locks
Repair
Siege Engines
Surgery
Traps
Alchemy
Beast Lore
Geography
Heraldry
Herb Lore
History
Languages
Military Strategy
Occult Lore
Prophecies
Scribe (reading & writing)

Note for GMs: If you are ever unsure which Trait should be rolled, you should be able to quickly determine which one is appropriate by looking at this list. The list of Abilities acts as a shorthand for the kinds of actions where you should request a roll of that Trait. In cases of doubt, it is suggested to err in the favor of the player--after all, the characters are heroes.

Example 1: A character wants to disarm a trap in a mine, and does not have any appropriate Abilities. Looking over the list, we find "Traps" under Craft, so the GM calls for a Craft roll.

Example 2: Another character picks up a quarterstaff. Should she use Might or Deftness to wield it? If you feel a case for either could be made, allow the player to choose which Trait they would like to use.

To create a hero, you begin with a rating of Fair in each Trait, and you may raise any Trait by lowering another by an equal number of levels. Traits are limited to a level of Great. In addition, you may select seven Abilities. In play, when you have an appropriate Ability, you may increase the level of your Trait by one. However, you are still limited to a level of Great. Up to three of those Abilities may be selected as a character's "Specialties". Specialties add two levels to the base Trait and are limited to Superb instead of Great. (Yes, this means that a character with a Specialty in a Trait with a Great rating only adds one level--see Sir Fredegar, a sample character, below.)

In the case of a low Trait, the GM may permit you to stack these bonuses (Example: selecting an Ability as a Specialty and spending an additional Ability slot adds three levels to the base Trait).

To create characters who are not heroes, select two Traits at Poor, three at Mediocre, and one at Fair. Such "regular" people will usually have three or four Abilities, and only one of them will be a Specialty. Regular people who are PCs may have the same number of Abilities as heroes, if the GM wishes.

If you wish to play lesser heroes instead of "normal" people or Heroes with a capital "H", begin with an average of Mediocre, and add three levels. Lesser heroes still have seven Abilities, with three of them as Specialties.

Optional Rule: If you find this system lacking flexibility, simply give players 10 points. Each point spent on an Ability increases its rating by one level above the governing Trait. Raising an Ability above Great costs 2 points per level. This is equivalent to seven Abilities/three Specialties, as presented in the regular rules.

Design Note: Since you can attempt any skill you don't have simply by rolling your Trait, you probably won't need to take many Abilities in Traits you have at a high level. This may be somewhat counterintuitive at first! Make sure you take Abilities in areas where you wish to be competent but have a low Trait rating.

Wilderness Lore

Some skills may not seem to fall under any of the six Traits. It is recommended that in those circumstances you should still try as hard as possible to choose a Trait on which to base the Ability. However, if this seems impossible or undesirable, you may rate the skill separately.

Most fantasy games will be suited by the list above, but games with an emphasis on outdoor adventure (e.g. Lord of the Rings) should have a skill called "Wilderness Lore" which defaults to Poor. It may be raised by expending the following number of points or Ability slots:

  • Fair - chosen as an Ability (or 1 point)
  • Good - chosen as a Specialty (or 2 points)
  • Great - chosen as a Specialty, and an additional Ability slot expended (or 3 points)
  • Superb - two Specialty slots expended (or 4 points)

Wilderness Lore is the only official skill for "High Fantasy Fudge". It is used for navigation, survival, tracking, stalking, hunting, and any other outdoor endeavors. However, it remains optional. You can just as easily use Cunning to hunt a stag, Craft to set snares, Valor to befriend animals (after all, animals can sense your goodness), and Lore to find herbs in the forest or to navigate by distant mountain peaks. You don't need Wilderness Lore unless you want to draw a specific distinction between those with wilderness experience and those without.

Monsters and Villains

What Valor rating do I give to a character who is not clearly good? Regular people, who may be tempted to evil acts, simply have a low Valor score. On the other hand, an evil character, monster, or villain shouldn't have a Valor Trait at all. Such an entity has a Trait named "Malice" instead. Malice works exactly the same way as Valor, except for a few of the Abilities, which need renaming: Leadership becomes Intimidation, Honor becomes Cruelty, Piety becomes Devotion (presumably to an evil god or cause), and so on. Malice defines both a monster's level of corruption, evil will, and its courage, will, and persistence. Creatures with a high Malice rating are hard to frighten or intimidate, easily dominate their minions, and are completely determined to wreak havoc, pain, and destruction.

Example: Shelob, the giant spider guarding Mordor, is probably possessed of Great Malice.

Combat and Might

"High Fantasy Fudge" assumes tales that present the protagonists with a variety of challenges. If your game involves a lot more combat, you may find Might to be too desirable a trait for the PCs. In this case, you may want to reduce its usefulness. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Any defensive use of skill in combat is based on Deftness, not Might.
  • A character may use Deftness to attack in combat, but at -1 to damage, and may not add any bonuses to damage from Might or Strength.
  • If using the standard Fudge damage system, you can base Damage Capacity on Valor instead of Might, or use Valor to determine the number of wound boxes, and limit Damage Capacity to that granted by scale and/or Gifts.
  • If using the standard Fudge damage system, a character may choose to use their Deftness rating as their DDF. Such a character loses any damage bonuses from their Might score.
  • Make Cunning play a role in combat by using it to determine initiative or to create situational bonuses by spotting tactical advantages.

Sample Characters

Edward Wood, local blacksmith ("normal" person)

  • Might: Mediocre
    • -Strength: Fair
  • Valor: Mediocre
  • Cunning: Poor
    • -See Through People's Nonsense: Mediocre
  • Deftness: Mediocre
  • Craft: Fair
    • -Blacksmithing: Great (S) ("S" indicates that this skill is his Specialty)
  • Lore: Poor
    • Wilderness Lore: Fair

Ed Wood is a fair craftsman, and renowned as a master blacksmith. He also has some experience as a woodsman. He is in decent shape, and stronger than his Might would ordinarily indicate. However, except for his ability to catch people who are trying to pull his leg, he isn't overly bright or knowledgeable.

Design Notes: We could also have chosen "See Through People's Nonsense" as his Specialty (making it Fair), since even without the Specialty bonus, he would be an expert (Good) blacksmith due to his high Craft trait.

Sir Fredegar the Bold, Knight of the Crimson Order (hero)

  • Might: Great
    • -Jousting: Superb (S)
    • -Swordplay: Superb (S)
  • Valor: Good
    • -Piety: Great
  • Cunning: Poor
    • -Hunting: Mediocre
  • Deftness: Good
  • Craft: Mediocre
    • -Basket-weaving: Good (S)
  • Lore: Mediocre
    • -Heraldry: Fair
    • -Court Etiquette: Fair

Sir Fredegar is a typical courtly knight, mighty, pious, brave, and not too bright. He is a famed swordsman and jousting champion. He also has a bit of a hobby, which he uses to relax whenever he has some spare time. Needless to say, he prefers it remain a secret.

Design Notes: Due to his high Might and Deftness, Sir Fredegar is skilled with any weapon he picks up. Although his life at court will require skill at Dancing, we did not select that as an Ability since his Deftness is already Good.