Monday, March 27, 2006

A Learning Experience

Fudge has a variety of systems for character creation, skill usage, combat, and dealing damage. However, there are only a few ways for character advancement. Never one to shrink from a task, I have complied a half dozen different ideas for how character development can be handled.

Fudge has a variety of systems for character creation, skill usage, combat, and dealing damage. However, there are only a few ways for character advancement. Never one to shrink from a task, I have complied a half dozen different ideas for how character development can be handled.

First and foremost it is important to understand the importance of an experience system. For a one-shot game, this article will no doubt be useless, however for a longer campaign character development is almost as important as plot development. If the characters started off as barely trained young adventures your players will probably want to have their characters improve greatly by the end of the campaign. Whereas if the characters are already heroes at the beginning of the campaign, maybe only a small amount of improvement in needed for the players to be satisfied. Also remember that Fudge's strength lies in its flexibility, by all means if an experience system isn't working as well as planned, supplement it with additional EP, or junk the system entirely, after discussing it with your players.

Gift Based Improvement

After the heroes have saved the princess and earned the King's eternal gratitude, what should they get? 5 EP? Or perhaps a new Gift, "Patronage of the King"? This system is based on the idea that there should be enough new and unique Gifts available to the players that instead of advancing primarily in skills, the characters receive Gifts appropriate to the deeds done on the adventure.

Pros: A different way of advancing characters that fits within the game mechanics and world logic. Players may be intrigued with the idea that character advancement isn't limited to Superb skills.

Cons: Eventually there may be a glut of Gifts for the characters. Many gifts will either be repeated, or the GM must constantly think up new types of Gifts.

Wish List Progression

Very rarely is a character everything that a player wants that character to be at creation. Maybe just one more skill level or a nice power that the player just couldn't afford. After character creation, and any time afterward, the players should maintain a wish list of character improvements; goals, Skills, Gifts, removal of certain Faults, whatever the player wants, and the list can, and should, be as long as possible, organized with the most immediate desire at the top. At the end of the session the GM looks over each wish list and may grant one or two items off of the wish list.

Pros: The players have a firm control over how the character will progress. Everyone will eventually get what they want.

Cons: Uneven character progression, one player may want a new Gift, whereas the other wants her character to stop being a mediocre Cook.

Lucky Learning

This system is inspired by the level up system in Risus. At the end of every session, each player gets a certain number of experience rolls. In order to improve a Skill, that player must use an experience roll to try to improve. A Skill can only be improved by one level per experience roll, even if the roll was good enough to improve the Skill to a higher level.

Normal Skills simply need the experience roll to be an absolute value equal to the number. So to improve a Skill to Great a + or - 3 will be sufficient. Harder Skills and Attributes require that the roll be positive or negative only. It is up to the GM to decide whether or not multiple experience rolls will be allowed for a single Skill, or if an experience roll could be used to add additional Gifts. Additionally a GM may decide that all experience rolls must be made at the end of a game session, no saving of rolls for a later date.

Level Roll Needed
Mediocre 0
Fair 1
Good 2
Great 3
Superb 4

Variation: Only a Skill used often and for a significant purpose during the game is available for improvement. The "Lord of the Dice" article may give you some additional ideas for how to adjust the probability of a successful check. For example, you could give a virtual minus to a character who is a slow learner. A "Yahtzee" system in which the player roll once, keep the dice he wants and re-rolls the remaining will also improve the chances of getting a Skill increase. Although this should cost at least two experience rolls.

Pros: Harder to advance as a character's Attribute level is higher. Players may enjoy a run of good luck.

Cons: Random. Potential for growing too quickly. Also a potential for no growth at the end of a session.

Learning from Failure

This experience system is based on the idea that every time a character fails at an action, he learns something from that and eventually will improve because of his failures. Every time a character fails a check by one that Skill gets a tally by it. Once the tally reaches a GM defined amount (high tally total needed means it'll take longer to increase a Skill) that Skill goes up a level and the tally total is erased to begin again anew.

Pros: Skills that are used often will increase more often than unused Skills. The player doesn't feel so bad about almost making a check because the character still gains some benefit. High Skills are harder to improve.

Cons: Progression is slightly random. Certain Skills used often will progress much faster then other Skills.

Min-Mid-Max Experience

Total Bonus Die to Read
0 Min
1 Mid
2 Max
3 Add Min + Max
4 Add All three
>0 No EP

Suppose you're running a game with the Mid-Min-Max damage system, and you want to use those 3d6 for something else. Well how about using them to give experience and help improve the actions of your players? At the beginning of the first session, make a list of all sorts of positive behaviors that give the players an experience bonus, and all sorts of negative behaviors that give an experience penalty. Ask for player input in this as well, and make sure everyone agrees to this system. Some examples are:

  • +1 Point for completing the mission
  • +1/2 Point for playing your faults
  • +1/2 Showing up on time
  • +1/2 Bringing snacks
  • +1/2 Being a team player
  • +1 For poor luck
  • -1 For shouting
  • -1 For abusing Contacts and other personal NPCs
  • -1 For general rudeness

At the end of each session tally up how each player did and give them their bonus number. Decide whether the GM should roll for the dice for everyone's experience or if each player rolls independently. Treat the experience earned as experience per the Objective Character Development rules (p. 55, Fudge 10th Anniversary Edition).

Variations: Using a different size die (1d4, 1d8, etc) will give you finer control over how much EP to award.

Pros: A quirky system used in combat which can then be used for experience. Some players may like the idea of having a set social contract system.

Cons: Random EP given. Some players may argue their bonuses and feel insulted by not getting the same amount as other players.

Rank based Experience

This system could be used if your players are used to a level-based system. After character creation, the players should choose three primary Skills for their character (a Skill-heavy game may need more primary and secondary Skills). Next choose four secondary Skills. Every other Skill the character knows is tertiary. At the start of the game every character is rank one. At every rank increase, the character can improve one primary Skill, or two secondary Skills, or three tertiary. However, only one secondary Skill can be as high as the median primary Skill Level; and no tertiary score may be higher then the median secondary Skill Level. Every three ranks, a character can change the ranking of two Skills, upgrading one Skill to a higher level, or downgrading the Skill to a lower level. However changing a tertiary into a primary or vice-versa is not allowed, only one-level increase or decrease is permissible at a time. Additionally you can extend the rank system even more, granting new Gifts to characters when the reach a certain rank.

If you don't mind additional modifiers during combat, one can also have Offensive and Defensive Damage factors tied to the character's rank. Decide whether the character is focused on offensive actions, like a knight, defensive, like a thief, or neither, like a student. For offensive minded-characters every rank their ODF increases by one, but their DDF will increase only once per every three ranks. This would be recorded as 1:3. Whereas a thief, who is much more interested in avoiding getting killed then killing would be gain DDF every rank but would only gain ODF every three ranks so this would be recorded as 3:1. These numbers can be moved around depending on how important a role the GM thinks rank should play in combat.

At the end of every session the GM gives a fraction of a rank to the players, if they did a lot, they move half the way to the next rank. For simplicities sake, I encourage GMs to maintain the same base throughout the rank; don't give 1/3 one session and 1/7 the next.

Pros: This system may mimic a certain rather popular system and is very easy for the GM to control how powerful the characters are becoming.

Cons: A Level based system for Fudge seems almost profane.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article gave you some new ideas for character development in Fudge. Or at the very least some excitement at the end of the session instead of asking as the dice are being packed up: "So how much EP did we get?"