Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Editorial: Where Do We Go, From Here?

I've been playing a lot of City of Heroes lately. A lot. I'd say it's safe to classify it as my primary hobby at the moment, to, yes, the exclusion of Fudge and tabletop gaming in general. It's well-timed, at least, in that the games I'm in or running are gone on hiatus due to the descent of Wedding Season upon my peers, but looking to the future, it's a bit troubling all the same.

It's troubling, because it's been so easy to just walk away from the tabletop, and not think so much about the games played there. I have never played a massively multiplayer online RPG before -- heck, for City, I bought a Windows machine, something I haven't owned myself... well, ever -- and as such I hadn't been confronted before with the genre's startling powers of entertainment.

As such, I'd never really had a chance to contemplate the threat these games represent, as it were, to our hobby at large. Sure, it's difficult (though possible) to do some "real" role-playing here, but it certainly seems like such things are well within reach. Further, the mechanics of the world can be as complex as they need to be -- the computer's handling all of the workings, after all, so no dice to futz with, no paper notes to flip through, and no preparation necessary to get in and get going.

So where do we go, from here, as a hobby? I've brought this question up with some of my gaming friends, ones who are well-exposed to the City and have gone on various adventures with my characters, who also play or run the tabletop games I'm involved with locally. The conclusion is that we need to focus on what tabletop does that online can't.

For me, this means that emotional investment and "deep story" moments are certainly still there for tabletop; futzing around with mechanics, or "crunch", just isn't. And it's here where I look fondly at Fudge, with its rough-hewn granularity, its lack of (native) attribute/skill linking, where right down in its bones it is really just a simple, get-out-of-the-way system that gives me just enough structure to know where I stand and get to the playing ... and I know that there's at least a little hope for the tabletop.

If anything, my motto in gaming for the better part of a decade has been "simplify, simplify", and my recent confrontation with the Electronic Beast that Walks (and games) Like A Man if anything has solidified that. Our hobby may have spawned the electronic RPG, and much of what our hobby does will, I think, be absorbed by the online world in time, but as Fudge players I say we'll still have our seven adjectives to guide and protect us in the Valley of the Shadow of the PC.

At least for now.

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Experience-free Skill Advancement

In a long running campaign, character improvement is essential, but as Steffan O'Sullivan points out in his "Recent Thoughts on Fudge," experience points do not work very well in Fudge. Advancement is too granular, either too quick or too slow. In fact experience points in any gaming system seem misdirected. With most experience systems, there is no relation between what the character does during the game and how he advances. There is a relation with how fast a character advances, but not what skills he advances in. For example, in the AD&D experience system a thief could gain all his experience back-stabbing monsters. Then when he gets his next level, he can suddenly climb walls better. It does not seem to follow. The same problem arises in the GURPS system. You get points to improve your character, but can use them to buy skills never used. For example, a character who was awarded character points for slaying a dragon could use them to buy a skill in picking locks.

This article is about an alternative to using experience points for character development. The system will be focused on improving skills. Improving Attributes and gaining Gifts will be left for subjective character development. The main objectives of the character development system will be:

  1. There should be a direct correlation between the skills a character uses and the skills that improve.
  2. It should be easier to improve low-level skills than high-level skills. Experience systems are structured this way because it gives a more satisfying feel to character development. Our system should be able to simulate this feeling. This shall be referred to as the concept of diminishing returns.
  3. The system should not require a large amount of book keeping. Fudge is not about accounting, and this would be a distraction from the flow of the game.
  4. Finally, the system should use the same core dice mechanic that all of Fudge is based on.

So what would a system of character development look like that did not use experience points? The Basic Roleplaying (BRP) system has an ingenious example. In BRP, if you use a skill successfully during a game session, you have a chance to improve it at the end of the session. Notice you only have a chance of improvement. To succeed at a skill, you must roll under its value. So the higher the skill, the better the chance of success. To raise a skill higher you have to roll over its value, so the higher the skill the less the chance of improvement. So the BRP system is comprised of two steps. First a skill must be successfully used during the gaming session, then at the end of the session a roll is made to see if the skill improved. We shall refer to these steps as a Skill Success and an Experience Feat.

This system works well in Fudge. First, assume all characters are Poor learners. If a character successfully uses a skill during a gaming session (a Skill Success), at the end of the game session they get a chance to improve it. They must make a feat roll with their Poor learning attribute (an Experience Feat) to improve. The difficulty of the Experience Feat is their current skill level. For example, if a character was a Fair swimmer to start with, they would need a Fair result on an Experience Feat to become Good. Since their learning attribute is Poor, they need a +2 result on Fudge dice (18% chance). Difficult skills could get a -1 to learn, while a character with an aptitude for some types of skills might have a +1 chance of improving. Skill aptitudes could be taken as Gifts by characters; however, they give a very large bonus to character improvement, so should be used sparingly. Note that if characters are Poor learners, they can never improve beyond a Superb skill level (unless you have an aptitude for that skill). Getting a Legendary skill level would be impossible, but could be appointed on a subjective basis as is suggested in the rules. Alternatively, you can treat any +4 on an Experience Feat as an automatic success, improving a skill one level. Note that Fudge points should not be used during Experience Feats, or improvement becomes too predictable and we lose the sense of diminishing returns.

To be counted toward character improvement, a Skill Success has to be under stress or further the plot in some way. In other words, we should call it a Significant Skill Success instead of simply a Skill Success. Don't let the players try their skills in nice safe situations and get chances to improve. They have to be gaining useful adventuring experience to get a chance to develop. To avoid this type of munchkinism, limit the number of skills that can be improved in single session to the two or three most significant skill successes. For example, the killing blow on a dragon would be more significant than bargaining down the price of a 10 foot pole. This also eliminates having to keep a list of all the Skill Success's during the session. The players and GM should be able to remember the most significant events of a session without writing them down. At the end of the session, it is only against these Significant Skill Successes that the character tries an Experience Feat.

This system can be used to gain new skills. If a character has a Significant Skill Success with an unknown skill at the default level, they deserve an Experience Feat. For example, if a character landed a jet plane with instructions from the control tower, the character can make an Experience Feat to get a pilot skill. If the default level for a jet pilot skill is Poor, they would have to make a Poor Experience Feat. If they succeeded, they would get a Mediocre jet pilot skill (i.e. Poor + 1 = Mediocre). The chances of succeeding at default skill levels can be very difficult, but players can spend Fudge points to help their chances. So indirectly, Fudge points are used for character development.

You can use a characters imaginative play to invent new skills in this system. For example, a character with a Good quarter-staff skill uses their staff to pole-vault into a kick to knock someone off a bridge. You might assign a penalty of -2 to their quarter-staff skill for this feat. If this was a Significant Skill Success, they could take a new skill in pole-vault-kick at Fair if they make their Experience Feat (i.e. Good - 2 + 1 = Fair). This gives players an incentive to try new things and be descriptive during play. Adding new skills in this way keeps characters improving when their skills are so high that improvement is unlikely; thus, making character development less granular. We had four objectives for this character development system. The first was direct correlation between the skills used and skills improved. If only Skill Successes can be used for improvement, this objective is met. The second objective was diminishing returns, which is satisfied by the Experience Feat becoming more difficult as the skill is improved. The third objective was simple book keeping. Since only the two or three most Significant Skill Successes are important, and character development takes place at the end of every session, no book keeping is required. The last objective was to use the the core Fudge dice mechanic, which is exactly what an Experience Feat uses. So we have met our objectives, and done so without using experience points. The system allows characters to develop as a direct result of their actions taken during play. This gives players incentive to play their characters well, which is the entire reason for character development.

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Fudge Firefight! - Part II

In the first part of "Fudge Firefight!" a number of tweaks were presented to help gamemasters and players emulate the ferocity of gunplay and combat in the action genre. Continuing in that vein, Part II will look at how to handle explosives and the kid-gloves realism that often accompanies them in the genre.

Also provided are a number of Knacks, which are the heightened combat abilities of the stars of the genre. These optional "Super Gifts" make characters more effective, and sometimes more stylish, than characters in typical campaigns and can help reinforce the quasi-reality the gamemaster may be seeking for her game.

Explosives

In the action movie genre, heroic characters are often able to outrun explosions and billowing fireballs, to escape from certain, crispy death. In "Fudge Firefight!" it is, of course, no different.

Each explosive encountered within an action game should have an intensity Trait Level, which measures the force/damage of the blast. Some example blast intensity Trait Levels are given below, for easy reference.

Explosive Trait Level
Dynamite, 1 stick Fair
Dynamite, A bundle Good
Dynamite, Crate Great to Superb
C-4/Plastique, 1 lb. Good
C-4/Plastique, 2 lbs. Great
C-4/Plastique, 5 lbs. Superb
C-4/Plastique, 10 lbs. Legendary
C-4/Plastique, 20 lbs. Impossible
Grenade, World War II Fair
Grenade, Modern Good
Anti-Personnel Mine Great
Guided Rocket Great to Superb
Anti-Aircraft Rocket Superb to Legendary
Anti-Tank Rocket Superb to Impossible
Letter Bomb Mediocre
Pipe Bomb Mediocre to Fair
Car Bomb Fair to Good
Terrorist Bomb Good to Superb
Large Terrorist Bomb Superb to Impossible
Nuclear Bomb Well beyond Impossible

It may be important to note that these Intensity levels can be applied, more or less, to the Distance Modifiers table listed above (in Part 1) to measure the full diameter of the explosive's blast radius. These distances are simply a good rule of thumb and might need to me moved up or down a level or two, depending on the explosion type. For example, a modern grenade has a Intensity level of Good, which indicates a blast rated at a "shouting distance." Obviously, this is too large of an explosion... it's intensity has been raised due to the presence of shrapnel, so the GM is encouraged to lower its respective blast size to Fair, or "across the room," in situations where the blast size is important.

As stated, the most common method for living through an explosion in the action genre is to outrun the blast. This will cost a character their next action in either the current Combat Round, or the next, depending on if they character has already performed an action. Since a more free-form method of movement is favored by these guidelines, outrunning an explosion is best handled by the character making a Reflexes/Speed/Swiftness/Dodging/etc check against the blast intensity of the explosive. Gamemasters should apply bonuses in situations where the PCs are given a head-start on outrunning the explosion or if their characters are already located a fair distance from the center of the blast. A bonus of +1 trait level per level of distance may provide a good starting point for Game Masters, with extra levels thrown in at the higher end of the scale when necessary.

A positive result means that the character successfully outran the blast, suffering no ill effects. A tie means that the character just barely managed to escape damage but did get a little singed around the edges (an automatic Scratch result might be appropriate if the character isn't wearing any armor).

If the character does not successfully roll above the explosion intensity, he was caught within the blast, and will take an amount of damage based upon how close he was to the center of the blast (i.e. how badly the evasion check was missed).

The damage taken will be equal to 3 points per Level from the blast intensity Trait Level. In other words, for every level a character misses his target number for outrunning an explosion, he should suffer 3 points of damage.

For example, a grenade is tossed into Rock McCoy's foxhole. Out of desperation, he dives out of the hole in a valiant attempt at saving himself, but he only rolls a Swiftness of Mediocre (two Trait Levels form the grenade's intensity of Good). Unfortunately for Rock, he is caught in the explosion and takes 6 points of damage, a Very Hurt result, causing him to fall over, tongue hanging out of his mouth.

Of course, if the gamemaster is using a Damage Capacity Attribute to lessen damage taken in combat, it should be applied against the damage caused by an explosion, just as Armor should also limit the potentially deadly effects.

In many action films, diving into water is automatic protection from explosions, regardless of the intensity of the blast or its size. If the gamemaster provides water in a scene where an explosion is going to happen, the player characters can have an automatic protection from the blast. They must simply forfeit their next action to dive into the pool.

Disarming A Bomb

Not all explosions are immediate. Often, characters in the action genre are faced with a bomb, ticking away, towards what will surely be the end of the characters. In these situations, the only option left will be to try to disarm the explosive.

In a standard Fudge campaign, the act of disarming a bomb could simply require a skill roll against a difficulty level determined by the skill of the bomb builder. This method will work very well for action games, but an alternate, much more "gamey" system is provided here for gamemasters and players who wish to complicate such dramatic actions. As with every other guideline provided in "Fudge Firefight!" the emphasis is not on providing a realistic depiction of bomb disarmament, but is instead focused on emulating the often cheesy methods shown in the movies.

Every bomb will have a sequence of colored wires that will need to be cut to disarm it. This sequence will use colors identical to the colors of the Fudge Dice on hand. For example, if a gamemaster picked up the first "GM's Set" of Fudge Dice, the possible colors for bomb wires are White, Ivory, Black, Blue and Red.

The total number of wires that can be used in any one sequence is dependent on the skill of the bomb builder. Every bomb will have at least one wire that will need to be cut, with an additional wire becoming necessary if the bomb builder's demolitions skill is Good (+1), two additional wires if the builder's skill is Great (+2), and so on. If the builder's skill is Mediocre (-1), Poor (-2), or even Terrible (-3), there will still be a single wire that will need to cut to disarm the explosive.

After determining how many wires need to be cut to disarm a bomb, the gamemaster will take out one die for each wire, using a different color for each die, and hand them to the player whose character is attempting to disarm the explosive. For example, with a bomb that has been built with Superb skill, the gamemaster will take out four dice (let's say a Blue, Black, White, and Red die) and hand them to the player.

The player can decide which colors to use in whatever order he wishes, but in a nod to bomb disarming scenes in movies, there will always be a red wire and it will always be the last in the sequence. So, in the example above, the player might decide that his character will cut the White wire, then the Black white, then the Blue Wire, and lastly, the Red wire.

Every Combat Round, the player can roll one of the dice, determined by the order he has decided to use in disarming the bomb. If the result on the die is positive, the wire has been cut successfully, and the character is one step closer to disarming the bomb. He sets aside that die and can move on to the next wire/die.

If the result is blank, the character stalled in his attempt and will need to roll again. No harm done, but he hasn't made any progress in neutralizing the explosive.

If, however, the result is negative, the character goofed and a second die of the same color is added to his pile. For example, rolling a negative result while attempting to cut the black wire will result in an additional black wire, making a total of two black wires that will need to be cut to disarm the bomb. Rolling another negative will result in three black wires, and so on.

How does skill play into this? The character disarming the bomb can roll to "cut a wire" once per combat round if his Demolitions skill is Good (+1), twice if his Demolitions skill is Great (+2), three times if it is Superb (+3), and so on. Skill rated at only Fair (or worse) will require multiple Combat Rounds per attempt. See below.

Trait Level Value Disarming Attempts per Round
Terrible -3 1 Attempt/5 Rounds
Poor -2 1 Attempt/4 Rounds
Mediocre -1 1 Attempt/3 Rounds
Fair 0 1 Attempt/2 Rounds
Good +1 1 Attempt/Round
Great +2 2 Attempts/Round
Superb +3 3 Attempts/Round
Legendary +4 4 Attempts/Round

Regardless of the skill of the character, the ability to roll multiple times only works on one "wire" color, so if the player rolls a positive result on his first try, his character cannot move to the next "wire" during that same Combat Round. If he has rolled negative result and acquired additional wires of the same color, his extra rolls can be used on the additional wires, so long as the character is "working on" that color. Higher skill also prevents the character from accidentally activating the bomb (see below).

The bomb is successfully disarmed once the player has rolled a positive result on every die handed to him by the gamemaster. Unfortunately, the character is not guaranteed a success. The bomb will explode prematurely if the player ends up with a number of dice equal to twice what he started with, plus his skill bonus.

In some campaigns, gamemasters may allow a character to ignore a rolled negative result for the cost of 1 Fudge Point and reroll an attempt. Unfortunately, this is not allowed when working with the final, red wire.

These guidelines may seem a bit confusing, so a lengthy example is provided to help display how these rules actually work in practice.

Example: Special Agent Leroy Jones, the hippest FBI agent from the swinging 60s, has discovered a bomb on the DC-10 he's taking to Morocco. He rolls up his sleeves and decides to try to disarm it himself, mostly because the plane is in the air, but also because he did pretty well at the academy and he has quite a bit of faith in his skills.

The individual who built the bomb had a skill of Great (+2), so Agent Jones has three wires he will have to cut to disarm it. The gamemaster hands Agent Jones' player a blue, green, and red die. Since the red die is automatically the last one that can be cut, the player decides to work on them in the order of green, blue, and then red.

Jones' skill is Good in demolitions, so he will get one roll per Combat Round to try to deal with each wire. The first combat roll, Agent Jones gets lucky and comes up with a positive result. The green wire has been successfully dealt with, so it is set aside, and Jones gets ready to face his next wire during the following Round.

The second Combat Round, Jones rolls a blank while attempting to cut the blue wire. A minor setback, he tries again during the third Combat Round and comes up with a negative result. Uh oh! Sweat forming on his forehead, Jones realizes he now has two blue wires to deal with!

The fourth Combat Round, Jones rolls the first blue die/wire and gets a positive. He sets that die aside. Since he has another wire of the same color, he waits until the next Round and rolls the second blue die. This time, he rolls another negative!

The gamemaster counts the dice that Jones' player has accumulated. Jones started with three wires, but has come up with two additional wires, almost double what he started with when he first started trying to defuse the bomb. If Jones gets seven wires/dice (twice what he started with, plus his skill), the bomb will blow. He has five wires now, so if he comes up with two more wires, he's in real trouble!

Combat Round six, the player rolls a positive result, successfully cutting another blue wire. He now has one blue wire and one red wire to deal with before he successfully disarms the bomb.

During the seventh Combat Round, Jones rolls another negative. Understanding that things are starting to look pretty dire, the player decides to forfeit a Fudge Point to ignore that result and reroll. Unfortunately, when he rolls for the second time, he gets another negative result and acquires an additional blue wire.

Finally, luck shines on Jones during the eighth Combat Round and he comes up with a positive result on his first roll. In the ninth Combat Round he gets another positive result. The blue wires have been successfully cut and all he has left is the infamous red wire.

Everyone stops and counts the dice again. Jones has one green wire, four blue wires, and his final red wire. That's six wires total. If he gets seven wires, the bomb will detonate, so his last roll had better count. To make matters worse, Jones cannot spend a Fudge Point to ignore any negative results on the final, red wire.

The player crosses his fingers and drops the red die on the table. Positive! The bomb has been disarmed and Agent Jones has saved the day! With any luck, they'll upgrade his ticket to First Class for the rest of the flight and give him as many free cocktails as he can stomach.

The rules provided above are described in terms of Combat Rounds, because the time it takes to disarm a bomb can be an important detail during a game. For example, the character could be facing down a bomb with a timer that is dramatically ticking away (see below). Or, a character might try to disarm a bomb during a heated gunfight. As he struggles to disarm the explosive, his allies might be kept busy trying to hold back hordes of enemy agents, all of which are trying to stop the character who is working on the bomb.

Optional Rule: Big, Digital Readouts and Sweating

In action movies nearly all bombs will have a large, digital timer that will count down with a series of menacing beeps. That timer will be visible to all in the area and can be read, regardless of whatever else is going on (during a heated fist-fight, providing comfort to a frightened child, etc), so that everyone nearby knows exactly how much time is left before the bomb goes off. Even characters that are sleeping will often wake up just so that they can see how much time is left on the bomb's timer.

Although this may seem to have little effect on the action, other than providing motivation to the characters, digital readouts will also cause characters within the vicinity to sweat.

Once a digital readout drops below two minutes, every character within the immediate area will be required to make a Grit/Bravery/Sterner-Stuff/Machismo/etc check against the Intensity of the blast, every 15 seconds (or 5 Combat Rounds). Success means that the character kept his cool, but failure means that the character has begun to perspire. Like everything else in Fudge, perspiration is measured in Trait Levels, with the first failed roll starting the perspiration at Terrible and each failed roll following adding one level (Terrible to Poor, Poor to Mediocre, and so on).

When the timer reaches one minute, the characters are forced to roll their "coolness" checks on a more frequent basis, rolling every 9 seconds (3 Combat Rounds). Once the digital timer reaches 15 seconds, a check is required every Combat Round (3 seconds) until the bomb either explodes or it is disarmed (see Disarming A Bomb, for details).

Sweating profusely will have no real effect on the game, other than to give the players an added element to talk about when retelling tales of their character's exploits, but especially sadistic GMs might require characters who are attempting to disarm a bomb (see above) to roll Agility/Dexterity/Coordination/etc checks to keep from dropping tools or losing their grip on wires. The difficulty level of the action check is determined by the level of sweating. So, a character that is sweating at the Good level will need to roll his Agility against a difficulty level of Good. Failure to make the roll results in a wasted Combat Round, as the character fumbles with his wire cutters or loses his grip on the all important green wire (or red wire, or blue wire, or so on).

If the campaign has a humorous slant, any character who has survived an encounter with a bomb, but missed a few Bravery/Grit/Cool/etc checks, will also smell at the last level of his "sweat intensity" until he can take a shower. This can lead to unpleasant reactions from NPCs or other PCs, but perhaps even more horrible and lasting is the kind of ribbing a player will get from the other players if his character has achieved Legendary B.O. or greater!

In campaigns set in a period before digital timers, such as the old west, characters will be able to instantly identify how much time they have before dynamite sticks explode, just by looking at the fuse. They will also be able to tell just when a crate full of rattling bottles of nitroglycerine will explode, somehow sensing when the shaking of a runaway cart or speeding train will set it off. Is this realistic? Of course not, but it's true to the genre!

Knacks

Characters in action stories sometimes have abilities that are beyond those of normal men and women, yet not quite on the level of their bullet-bouncing, single-bounding colleagues in spandex. In other words, the heroes and villains of action stories will often have abilities that fall somewhere between Gifts and Superpowers, a kind of advantage which will be called Knacks.

Simply put, Knacks are "Super-Gifts" with effects that are typically centered on unrealistic combat abilities, common to the action movie genre, but nearly impossible or highly improbable in real life. Such abilities as using two handguns at once, reloading with lightning speed, and smashing through plate glass windows with guns blazing, are common Knacks, and personify the genre.

Distribution of Knacks will vary from campaign to campaign. In one game, the gamemaster may declare that each character automatically receives one or two Knacks, which can be chosen by the players from the list provided below. In another game, Knacks could be earned through play, dependent primarily on if a character attempts a similar action enough times to merit that particular "skill." In still other games, a Knack could be temporarily "bought," allowing any character a chance to perform any of the following actions by spending 1 Fudge Point.

In one particular action game, I made a deck of Knack cards and allowed the players to draw three of them, keeping whichever two they best liked. Later, as their characters improved, I allowed the players to choose from the Knack cards again. Knacks which I felt would be more common to the setting had several duplicates in the deck with more rare or powerful Knacks having only one card available to be drawn.

Only major characters may have Knacks, such as the player-characters and major villains. Minor characters, such as thugs and goons, cannot have Knacks as they represent the zenith of combat ability.

Not all campaigns will benefit from the addition of Knacks. The tone of the campaign and the desired realism of the setting should determine whether or not Knacks are included in a game. There might also be situations where some Knacks are appropriate, but not others. Ultimately, like so many other things, this is left to the gamemaster to decide.

Several sample Knacks are provided below.

Clutter Chameleon: For some reason, perhaps even unknown to you, enemies tend to have a difficult time drawing a bead on you when you're in cluttered areas. It's not that you have a tendency to take cover. It's more that you find yourself covered by the normal chaos of combat.

Unsuccessful ranged attacks made against you throw debris into the air, making you even more difficult to hit. For every unsuccessful attack made against you, you receive one level of "cover" against other ranged attacks. Unlike most cover, however, you are not limited in the kinds of actions you can take. Act normally. Fight. Take a nap. It doesn't matter. You're harder to hit no matter what you do.

These bonuses will fade at a rate of one level of cover every three Combat Rounds and will be completely negated if your character moves to another room or area.

This Knack does require that there is the potential for flying debris. In a completely sterile environment you will be out of luck, but thankfully, the world tends to be a little more crowded than that.

Double-Barreled Bad-Ass: The fashionable ability to use two pistols simultaneously to unleash a hail of evil-destroying, hot-leaded violence. Characters who use the Double-Barreled Bad-Ass Knack while holding two pistols can fire as if they were using an automatic weapon. Not only are they allowed to perform Volley Attacks (either "bursts" or "fully automatic" fire), but they can also use their pistols for Suppression Fire.

An important advantage of the Double-Barreled Bad-Ass Knack is that the character is not required to count the extra Volley Dice for the purposes of ammunition usage or determining malfunction probability. Such chances will still be based on the character's initial 4dF roll.

Eye of the Storm: You are calm at the center of the fury, the quiet force in the middle of the mayhem. Once per combat you can force a Standoff which will halt everyone's actions within the immediate area. This Standoff will remain active until another major character forces an action, giving all of the characters a chance to trade dramatic lines or threats or even exchange information if they are willing.

Regardless of whether or not you started a Standoff, you automatically get a +2 bonus to your Initiative to determine who can act once a Standoff dissolves back into carnage.

At first glance the Eye of the Storm Knack may not seem like a useful ability, but it will give characters a chance to regroup and even plot out strategies through "meaningful glances," an ability not normally allowed during Standoffs.

Glass Dancer: You're a master of leaping through plate glass windows, guns blazing, grim determination spread across your face. Apparently the glass protects you by disorientating enemies, or maybe it deflects incoming bullets, but regardless of its actual function it makes you completely immune to incoming attacks while you smash through it.

Whenever you use the Glass Dancer Knack all minor characters within the immediate area are required to attack you and automatically miss. Major characters must roll a Intelligence/Tactics/Willpower/etc check against you to act normally, otherwise they must follow their companions in fruitless attacks.

Obviously, you require large pieces of glass to leap through to use this Knack, but with some creativity it shouldn't be too difficult to find the necessary props.

Hair-Trigger Reflexes (Weapon Group): You have unusual speed with a specific type of weapon and can dish out extra attacks without pushing your abilities when using that kind of weapon. For every Hair-Trigger Reflexes level taken (this Knack can be taken more than once), you are allowed to take two extra actions without suffering the usual Multiple Actions penalties.

You are, however, required to specialize in a specific weapon group. Listed below are a few sample groups. Feel free to create additional groups if you think of something not listed.

* Blades: Any attack with an edged weapon, such as swords and knives, can be accomplished with blinding speed using this Knack. Use of "Hair-Trigger Reflexes" with this weapon group also covers thrown blades, such as knives, shuriken, and so on. * Clubs: Attacks made with blunt melee weapons. Often, the blunt weapons used will be items of opportunity, such as baseball bats, pool cues, chairs, etc. * Fists: Any attack using the body as a weapon, including punches, kicks, head-butts, elbow slams, etc. * Trigger: Attacks that use firearms, such as pistols, assault rifles, submachine guns, and even shotguns.

Hollow-Point Heart: Your bravery knows no limits. At any time you can be counted on for overcoming your fears and doing whatever it takes. You can succeed at any Bravery/Grit/Spirit/etc contest or check, automatically, by using this Knack.

Houdini's Hold-Out: Your firearm is hidden beneath your sweater, tucked in your belt, and concealed by a flowing overcoat, but you can have it ready at a moment's notice. Regardless of how expertly you've hidden your weapon you are able to fast draw and have it ready instantly and with no penalty.

Also, your weapon cannot be lost or taken from you unless your character wishes it. This secondary ability only works when dealing with minor characters. Major characters can still take your weapons from you, but most forced attempts will require a Strength/Brawn/Muscle/etc contest to determine success.

Menace Incarnate: Basically, you're scary. It might be a wild look in your eye, a menacing scowl, or maybe you have a reputation that always seems to precede you, but when it comes down to it, people are frightened of you. At any time, you may forfeit your action and use the "Menace Incarnate" Knack, which causes any minor characters to roll their Bravery/Will/Grit/etc against yours to maintain their composure. Failure causes them to run away, cower, wet themselves, or all three.

You may use this Knack even in situations that are not normally conducive for intimidation attempts or during circumstances that appear to be completely serene or peaceful.

Particularly menacing actions, such as cocking a gun or drawing a sword may earn you a +1 bonus to your Grit contest. Outwardly violent actions, like punching someone, may earn you a bonus of +2 to your contest. And, grossly sadistic or surprising actions may even earn you a bonus of +3 when rolling a Bravery contest.

Reload Ballet: With graceful motions and effortless precision you are able to reload your empty firearm with a speed that few can match. Using this Knack will allow you to ignore one "empty" result per gaming session as well as reload any following "empty" results during the same Combat Round that they are rolled.

You are also allowed to reload your weapons whenever you like for the purposes of dramatic effect, having no effect on actual game play. This ability cannot be used to bypass a "empty" roll, but it can be used to show a foe that you really mean business.

Take It Like A Man: You won't be broken, even under torture. As a matter of fact, beatings just make you mad, and when you get mad, bones get broken.

Any time you take damage at the hands of another character, and you are unable to defend yourself (i.e. you're tied up, being held down, etc), you may use the Take It Like A Man Knack. This allows you to add your Grit/Willpower/Resolve/etc to your Damage Capacity, providing you with additional protection from injury, which will be unnoticeable to your attackers. Any wound result will appear to be the severity that it would normally be, not taking into account your added bonus. Plus, every time you are struck, you roll one Fudge Die. If the result of that single roll is positive, you receive a +1 bonus that can be used later. You can these bonuses to escape, dish out a little revenge, or whatever other use you find for them.

Well-Oiled Guns: You are either fanatical about gun maintenance or extremely lucky because you never experience a jam or other gun malfunction. Never. Even in special circumstances, such as environmental effects, your guns always stay in perfect working order. Ignore any "malfunction" roll and keep fighting.

As always, gamemasters should feel free to add new Knacks, as necessary. The effectiveness of new Knacks should be weighed carefully against existing Knacks, however, to avoid the potential problem of introducing extremely cost efficient, powerful Knacks. Knacks are, after all, advantages that a character has in certain situations or circumstances, not an automatic success method.

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Fudge Abstract Funds

Introduction

From its earliest beginnings, roleplaying has been about acquisition. Whether it's a simple lust for gold or a more altruistic desire to fund an escalating campaign against ever more pernicious evils, most great heroes are peddlers at heart, searching their loot for whatever gives the most plusses and trading the rest for gain.

Unfortunately, this horse-trading can slow down the actual business of the game - adventuring. Fudge can offer a quick, easy way to keep things flowing smoothly by assigning Terrible to Superb levels to monetary values. When you expand on this, you can have an entire game where the players never have to write down a single monetary value. Even better, the GM never has to detail how many gold pieces are in the dragon's hoard or how many credits the zaibatsu's secret databanks are worth.

Assets

Everything a character possesses, from a laser-armed space destroyer to an individual copper farthing, is an asset whose value can be found on the following chart:

And so on.

Fudge Level Modern U.S. Dollars
Terrible $1 -- $5
Poor $6 -- $25
Mediocre $26 -- $125
Fair $126 -- $625
Good $626 -- $3,125
Great $3,126 -- $15,625
Superb $15,626 -- $78,125

Notice that each level is roughly five times the previous level. This means that five assets of one value are equal in value to one of the next highest level. It also means that most attempts at bargaining under this system are bound to failure; if someone offers you a Good price for a used car (around $2,000), you're not going to be able to haggle them up to a Great price (around $10,000). If you want to trade to fixed-value assets, you'll need to find to assets that both parties agree are in the same price range, or, alternatively, gather more than one asset.

Liquid Assets

Fixed assets (such as pots and horses) have one major disadvantage; they can't be divided into smaller assets without changing them completely. This leads to the absurdities of the barter system ("your change is three chickens and a duck") and huge losses of value (trading a Good value sword for a Mediocre value cart horse because you need to ride). To solve these problems and facilitate trade, societies around the world have invented liquid assets. The most obvious liquid asset is simple cash, but checking accounts, lines of credit and bags of gold dust can be divided and traded in small parts in much the same way. Even silos full of grain or tankers full of oil are liquid assets because their owners can split them into tiny amounts.

Liquid assets have values the same as fixed ones, so a purse full of copper and silver might be a Poor-value liquid asset, while a money-market account might be a Good asset. The advantage of the liquid asset is that you can buy a mug of ale or a laptop and still have value left over.

When you buy a fixed asset with a liquid asset, if the fixed asset is the same value of the liquid one, you get the fixed asset and a liquid asset of one value less. (This is your change; if you use your Good value money market to buy a Good value Laptop, you have a Fair value money market.)

If the fixed asset you're purchasing is of lower value than the liquid asset, then make a check against the value of the fixed asset. If that check is higher than the value of the liquid asset, the liquid asset goes down one level.

Of course, if the liquid asset is of lower value than the fixed one, it's impossible to buy it.

Example:

Cromrad, the Barbarian, is carrying all of his worldly possessions with him, including a purse with a Good amount of cash. Unfortunately, these possessions do not include a sword, which he lost slaying the great Sandbourne Beast. His first stop in the decadent eastern city in which he finds himself is to purchase new arms; one of those strange curved swords everyone here is carrying costs a Good amount; Cromrad's purse has a Fair amount remaining in it.

Next Cromrad spends the night drinking and wenching. Considering the types of taverns that our hero frequents, the GM decides this is costs a Mediocre amount. Cromrad's player (or the GM) rolls a Mediocre versus a difficulty of Fair. When a +2 comes up on the dice, the value of Cromrad's purse drops down to Mediocre and Cromrad needs to find some loot, fast. If you add a liquid asset to one you already have, roll against the value of the liquid asset you're adding. If the result is larger than the old asset, that old asset goes up one level in value. This works the same if you're adding an asset of the same size, as well; you need to roll a +1 when adding together two Fairs to get a Good, for example.

If you somehow manage to find a liquid asset that's larger than your current funds, you can add your current funds to your new amount instead. This is another of the great benefits of liquid assets.

Example:

After a little sword-point negotiating, Cromrad takes the purses off of two low-level thugs. He finds, to his disgust, that they're worse off than he is; they only have Poor assets between them. His player rolls a -1 when he combines their purses; he'd need to roll a +2 (getting degree of Fair) to increase liquid assets from Mediocre to Fair.

He decides to take a bigger risk next; he follows rumors of a lost temple buried in the sand, protected by unspeakable ancient evils. What he finds out in the desert he never says, but he does return with a ruby the size of a polver's egg, which he pawns for a Great amount of money. Since he's combining the two amounts of money, he can roll when he adds his old purse to the new windfall; he lucks out and gets a +4, meaning that the few coppers and silvers he had with him was enough to push the money from the gem up into the Superb range

Conclusion

With these skills, you should be able to do just about every basic economic transaction characters need. You can buy, sell and trade, and never have to write down a number. If you want to stretch yourself, you can find other uses as well. Perhaps you could model experience with a liquid asset, so that when a character performs a heroic feat her player has to roll to see if she learned anything from it. Or, perhaps a wizard's store of magical power is a liquid asset, doled out to work spells with a straight Fudge difficulty. As with Fudge itself, the possibilities are endless.

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Chronos Academy

For those not used to thinking of places without times, or times without places, describing when and where Chronos Academy was founded can be a little difficult. In one measure, it was founded in 1311 AD, or at least that is where the Time Masters Esh-kadesh, Gregorious Comnenus and Zhang Chen met outside the Irish village of Ballymote. As to the location, one might also say that it is located on the shoulders of Wildspitze, a mountain in the Austrian Alps. But just as correctly, one might say that is neither in a place or a time.

Chronos Academy was built in a temporal bubble, a sort of pocket dimension, which, while it sits beneath might Wildspitze, occupies no place in ordinary time. Travelers will see no sign of its great stone walls nor of the fabulous Dome of Ages that sits atop the highest tower. If you cannot travel between the streams of time, it has no more existence for you than, say, an infinitely narrow line on a piece of paper.

Chronos Academy is the home of the majority of Time Masters, and a place where new generations are trained in the lore and science of time travel. Before its founding, the Time Masters were a disorganized bunch, rarely meeting and frequently working at cross-purposes (as some still do). It also serves as a place of protection, and woe to even the most skilled traveler of time who tries to break through those mighty walls.

Usually, there are about forty Time Masters present, most of which are either teachers or working on private research. There are no more than about 400 students, ranging from Initiates to Apprentices and finally Journeymen, waiting their final trials before achieving the rank of Time Master. There is also a small population of the ungifted who, for various reasons, have given up life in the world of Time to serve the Time Masters as cooks, domestics and laborers.

The Academy is governed by the Temporal Council, of which the nominal head is Esh-kadesh, who holds the self-proclaimed title of Time Master Extraordinaire. Other members of the Council are Gregorius Comnenus, Henri le Brun and Abdullah al-Ya'qub. It must be noted that though the Temporal Council is respected by most Time Masters, only those attached to the Academy are in any way subservient to it.

Time Masters

Though Esh-kadesh has, on occasion, strongly suggested that he was among the first Time Masters, in reality individuals capable of stepping between Times have been around for perhaps tens of thousands of years. If Esh-kadesh can be credited for anything, it was for recording the first treatise on time travel, and for expounding the basic rules of conduct, known as the Laws of Temporal Movement, that all Time Masters should adhere to.

Most Time Masters have, if for no other reason than their own safety, voluntarily accepted the Laws. These are the main Laws in brief:

* Never overtly attempt to change any period of history, whether for one's own gain, or for the perceived greater good of humanity. * Never interfere with the Lawful activities of other Time Masters. * Never begin training a person without first convening a council of at least three Time Masters to test the merits of the individual. * Never attempt to entrap, harm or kill another Time Master or Journeyman without first convening a council of at least five Time Masters. * Immediately intervene or alert as many Time Masters as possible when a rogue temporal traveler (someone cast from the order of Time Master or who is self-taught) is moving through Time. * Never, on pain of eternal imprisonment beyond Time, reveal the secrets of temporal travel to anyone who is not at least an Initiate.

There are time travelers who do not abide by the Temporal Laws (either out of ignorance or because they're just not very nice). These are called Rogues, and a great deal of effort is put into tracking down these individuals. Some Rogues are simply self-taught, discovering how to travel time by accident. These make up a good majority of the recruits (when they are discovered). Others are rebel Time Masters, such as the infamous Zhang Chen, and these are the kind that are the most trouble, as they have enough knowledge to be more than minor nuisances.

There is another kind of time traveler as well, so-called temporal entities. These are intelligent or animal-like beings who live completely or largely in temporal dimensions. Most are little more than animalistic predators that, while exceptionally dangerous to the incautious time traveler, pose no risk to history. There are some beings, however, that have proven to be great hazards, most notably the infamous Zomroch, a highly intelligent temporal race that was capable of seizing control of the minds of certain humans and using them to alter history. The Zomroch were all but wiped out by the Time Masters, and if any are left, they are very careful not to show their face.

Time Masters may seem ageless, but that is an illusion, due to their movement through time. They are as mortal as any man or woman. Exposure to time streams does have something of a preservative effect, extending the active years to about 100. Still, in the end, they grow old and feeble.

Types of Time Masters

Time Masters can essentially be divided into two very broad categories; Temporal Mages and Temporal Engineers. Temporal Mages, as the title indicates, use various rites, incantations and other sorts of spells to travel through time. These spells are most often passed down from master to apprentice, having been tested and perfected over thousands of years.

Temporal Engineers use technology, rather than magical powers, to move through the streams of time. Various sorts of devices can be used to move objects and people, or to peer into certain times and places. A Temporal Engineer need not have any mystical abilities, and many proudly do not, feeling that their methods are purer and more skilled. Some of the more powerful Time Masters are Temporal Engineers. Most Temporal Mages have at least some ability as Temporal Technicians, able to operate temporal machines, though not build or repair them.

There are a number of stages before one achieves the rank of Time Master. At the very bottom are Initiates. Most Initiates spend between four and eight years of study, and are almost never permitted any large excursions. When they have passed the First Trials, they become Apprentices, and are sent in the field along side a Time Master.

Time Masters often have two or three Apprentices, though some Time Masters have no desire for Apprentices at all.

Every two years, an Apprentice is permitted to attempt the Second Trials, and if the Apprentice succeeds, he or she become a Journeyman. Journeymen are permitted to travel to a limited number of times and places, particularly historically calm periods. They are not permitted to go to times or places of great historical upheaval, unless in the company of a Time Master.

Journeymen typically spend three or four years mastering their techniques (either as a Mage or Engineer) before taking the Third Trials. A Journeyman only gets one chance at the Third Trials, and if he fails, he remains at that rank. Some choose not to go on, but those that do, and pass the Third Trials become Time Masters, with only the Temporal Laws to limit them in their activities.

A special class of Time Masters are the Troubleshooters, whose job it is to fix history when some temporal entity has altered it. Troubleshooters are usually trained with great detail in particular historical periods, so that they can speak the languages and blend in with the times and places they have to go. It is a dangerous job, and deaths among Troubleshooters are distinctly higher than among other Time Masters.

Time Travel

Whether its through arcane mystical forces or via temporal machines, time travel boils down to piercing the barriers that keep a physical entity (living being or inanimate object) in its present place and moment and moving it up or down its own time stream. History (past, present and future) is the sum of all these time streams.

There are some important limitations to all of this. The largest is traveling into the future. Traveling up the time stream from the moment the entity came into existence (if a person, the moment of the birth, for an temporal machine, the time of its creation) requires a larger amount of energy than moving back in time. Only truly Legendary Time Masters can move centuries into the future past the time of their birth, or tens or hundreds of millennia into the past. For the average Time Master, the range is no more than about five or six thousand years before their birth time, and about seventy years after.

The greatest danger, and the whole reason that the Temporal Laws were accepted by so many Time Masters, is interference in history. Doing so can have grave consequences. The Time Masters have become skilled enough, particularly since the construction of the Dome of Ages at the Chronos Academy, to spot trouble before it gets that serious. However, the Troubleshooters are always on call, because a serious interference might alter history beyond all recognition.

Temporal Skills

Many scholarly skills, such as history, literature, archaeology and anthropology are important to Time Masters. There are a few specific skills however. It must be remembered that using temporal devices becomes increasingly difficult the farther one attempts to look or travel from the device's creation. Moving into the future increases the difficulty by +1 for every 20 years, moving into the past increases the difficulty by +1 for every 500 years. Well-designed temporal machines may give bonuses that can mitigate these difficulties.

Temporal Technician - This skill permits an individual to recognize and operate temporal machines. The character cannot repair or build such machines. Almost all Time Masters possess this skill.

Temporal Engineering [Hard/Non-existent] - Temporal engineering includes the abilities of the Temporal Technician skill, but also allows the character to repair damaged temporal machines and design and build new ones.

Temporal Physics [Very Hard/Non-existent] - This skill gives an in-depth understanding of the movement of temporal dimensions, of the various variables that can influence Time, and of the underlying temporal forces.

Temporal Magic

The following are sample spells. Temporal Mages are not limited to just these spells. Common magical spells such as Fireball are often part of the Time Mage's bag of tricks, though training and interest will concentrate on spells that permit movement through time, space and alternate dimensions.

As with temporal machines, temporal spells that allow a caster to look or travel through time increases in difficulty; moving into the future increases the difficulty by +1 for every 20 years, moving into the past increases the difficulty by +1 for every 500 years.

Temporal Scrying [Difficulty: Fair] - This spell allows a Temporal Mage to view events in the past or the future.

Temporal Doorway [Difficulty: Good] - The primary spell of any Temporal Mage. It allows the caster to create a temporary doorway to another time. This can also allow the caster to move to another place as well, though the further in physical space the caster wishes to go, the more difficult it becomes.

Extra-Temporal Dimension [Difficulty: Superb] - An exceptionally difficult spell that allows the caster to create a pocket dimension outside of the normal streams of Time. The combined power of many Time Masters casting this spell was used to create the Chronos Academy. Normally, this spell creates a bubble no larger than a small house, linked to a physical location, but outside of Time.

Important Characters

Gregorius Comnenus - Time Master and Head of Chronos Academy

Even by the standards of the most seasoned Time Master, Gregorius Comnenus is considered exceedingly well-traveled and well-learned. He is also shrouded in mystery, which he perpetuates as best he can. He's an old man now, but the tales found in the vast archives of the Chronos Academy tell of a man who has dedicated his life to preserving Time from those who would seek to undermine it for their own nefarious ends.

Comnenus's origins are murky, but some believe that he was born in the 10th century AD (perhaps around 945 AD) in Constantinople to a wealthy Byzantine family. The first verifiable records of Comnenus have him in France as an advisor to Hugh Capet around 990 AD. For the next thousand years, Comnenus kept popping up all over Europe and the Middle East, always as advisors to princes, kings, emperors and sultans.

It was in the 12th century that Comnenus founded the Chronos Academy with two other Time Masters; Zhang Chen and Esh-kadesh. All three were equals (though Esh-kadesh as the elder became nominal head of the Academy), sworn to keep history intact and to seek out like-minded time travelers to aid in their cause.

Despite the betrayal of Zhang Chen, who turned to away from the Time Laws and sought to alter history for his own ends, Comnenus has stuck to his task. This is becoming harder to do, however, as Comnenus has become increasingly ill. Even traveling into the far future (as far as he will dare), Comnenus has found no cure, and his physicians guess that he has no more than a few months of real time left. Though often bedridden, when he is able to be active, he is, despite his advancing years (he looks to be around 80), a tall man with long white hair, a thick beard, and keen, almost prescient eyes. Quick to anger at those he deems foolish, he is also a fast friend, even to those who may have wronged him.

Comnenus is a Good Temporal Technician and a Legendary mage practiced in spells dealing with temporal and dimensional travel. He is one of the few Time Masters able to open permanent gates between time periods. It was he that fashioned the Dome of Ages atop Chronos Academy, from which dozens of historical and future epochs are accessible. He is also a Great swordsman, a Fair writer and musician (particularly with the lyre) and knows at least thirty languages from Mediocre to Superb.

The only weapon Comnenus ever keeps near him is a long sword of blue Damascus-like steel with an ODF of +2, due to the enchantments of a long forgotten smith. He wears no armor, but wears a thin diamond-studded belt that can raise a temporal displacement field granting a +3 DDF (built for him many years ago by Zhang Chen).

* Though Comnenus is seldom strong enough to travel through time, the search for a cure to his debilitating illness goes on. Perhaps it is some strange temporal disease, or some long-extinct virus. Teams are frequently sent out to search for clues to the nature of this illness, and hopefully a cure.

* At times Comnenus seems to recover some of his strength, and uses these opportunities to head out into the field, particularly to pursue the plots of Zhang Chen. He knows his limitations, and will often pick Time Masters, and even Journeymen, to go along with him.

* Even when bed-ridden, Comnenus still keeps an eye on the flow of Time, and sends out agents to keep an eye on historically critical periods that he suspects the enemies of history may be trying to alter. He keeps an elite team of Troubleshooters at the ready, prepared to leave for any time at a moment's notice.

Zhang Chen - Rogue Time Master

The power to travel through time, like all powers, all too often leads to corruption. Even high-minded idealists may be perverted and fall into evil. Zhang Chen is just such an individual, a brilliant engineer and physicist who joined like-minded Time Masters to found Chronos Academy before betraying his solemn oaths by altering history and murdering a fellow Time Master.

Zhang Chen was born to a peasant family in China in 184 BC. His brilliance was such that he mastered reading, writing and mathematics on his own, finally entering the court of the Han emperor Wu. There, despite his caustic personality, he gained favor, due in large part to his clever inventions. But he had much larger plans than bridges or canals, as he began work on a marvelous machine that could travel time.

His work was never completed, for his personality made him many powerful enemies, who poisoned the Emperor against him. The machine was destroyed and Zhang imprisoned, accused of stealing from the Imperial treasury. Zhang was rescued by the Time Master Esh-kadesh, who recognized his brilliance, and the danger of having someone of Zhang's knowledge and skills working uncontrolled. So Zhang became Esh-kadesh's apprentice, and in due course became a Time Master himself. When Esh-kadesh formed an alliance with Gregorius Comnenus, Zhang joined as well.

Gregorius became Zhang's only friend, and the two, unlike the somewhat aloof Esh-kadesh, worked closely, defending Time and building the Chronos Institute into a place of learning and research, finally uniting many Time Masters and giving them a place of peace and refuge.

Zhang's brilliant mind, however, was eventually corrupted. His lust for knowledge had always been his weakness. The other Time Masters, even his friend Gregorius Comnenus, demanded that he stop research into the forbidden knowledge of the Zomroch, the evil race that Esh-kadesh had all but destroyed thousands of years before. Zhang refused and was cast out of Chronos Academy. In angry rage, he turned his devices upon his one-time friends and allies, and killed a young Time Master. He utterly repudiated his oaths, vowed revenge on the Academy and Gregorius in particular, and went back to the time of his youth to murder the Emperor Wu of China. Though Gregorius prevented that, two advisors were slain and much effort was required to restore the time line.

Zhang's actions angered the Time Masters, many of whom threatened to disband the Academy. Zhang, knowing himself to be in mortal danger, simply disappeared. It was many years later that it was discovered that he was uniting forces in opposition to the Time Masters. Since then, Zhang and his allies have been waging a war to alter history and destroy the Time Masters.

Unlike many Time Masters, Zhang is not an arcanist and not versed in dimensional magic. He is a brilliant engineer and physicist thousands of years ahead of his time. He is Legendary Temporal Engineer (able not only just to operate such devices but also to invent his own), with a Superb understanding of physics. Little interested in history for history's sake, he is Poor in English, and Fair in Greek. He has never interested himself much in weapons, considering them crude, but has a Fair ability with a knife.

Zhang's offensive and defensive abilities are devices of his own design. He wears long white robes, with molecule-thick fibers woven in which generate temporal displacement fields which can be used for defense (DDF +4) and to create dangerous, even deadly temporal waves (ODF +3). He also carries a plain metal staff which serves both as an escape device (can shift him five minutes in the past or the future), and as a weapon, emitting a high-frequency laser (DDF +2).

* Adventures around Zhang Chen are numerous. Keeping track of his movements, trying to penetrate his deceits to learn his plans, and repairing the alterations he makes to history increasingly occupy the Chronos Academy.

* Zhang, being a Temporal Engineer, is keenly interested in any device, mechanical or mystical, of a temporal nature. For those characters on the dark side, finding these sorts of objects of power can lead to great rewards, and great danger. Zhang is a dangerous and increasingly paranoid individual.

Esh-kadesh - Time Master Extraordinaire

Esh-kadesh may very well be one of the oldest Time Master. Ancient even when he rescued Zhang Chen from imprisonment in a Han dynasty jail, Esh-kadesh is revered even by his peers as one of the earliest formulator of the lore and sorcery of time travel. At least, that's the way Esh-kadesh would like everyone to see it. If he has a flaw, it is an almost intolerable conceit.

Esh-kadesh was born in the ancient Sumerian city of Eridu around 2800 BC. His early training was as a priest of the sun god Anu, and it was at this time that he began studying lore and learning the ancient magical rites of the Anu cult. He claims that he developed incantations and rites that allowed him to move back and forth through time, though others (quietly) state that various forms of temporal incantation had existed for thousands of years, and that Esh-kadesh was merely the first to organize and codify what was known until them. More important for time travel, was his codification of the Temporal Laws.

Esh-kadesh may have inflated his place in annals of time travel, but he would still have a high place regardless. In his prime, he could pass from century to century with little more than a wave of his hands. Two thousand years before the Chronos Academy was founded, he and his students waged the first temporal war against the Zomroch, a strange god-like race that existed between the streams of Time, preventing these terrible beings from wiping humanity from the history of Earth.

For many years, Esh-kadesh still sought out promising young students. Zhang Chen was among them, but with his fall from grace, Esh-kadesh's younger student, Olivia Baker, a Victorian woman of keen intellect and of similar, though lesser gifts took his place. The rebellion of Zhang Chen was a deep blow to Esh-kadesh, who, despite a certain amount of self-serving arrogance, truly believed in the high ideals of the Chronos Academy. Since then, he has slowly withdrawn from his responsibilities as head of the Chronos Academy, leaving it the ailing Gregorius Comnenus.

Esh-kadesh is a Fair temporal technician, largely because he has never shown much interest in the later discoveries of his pupils and their pupils. However he is a Legendary +1 mage, even in his declining years, and few dare bring him to anger. Oddly enough, he has taken an interest in 19th and 20th century firearms, and is Fair a shot with the revolver and rifle (some say he likes guns purely from the dramatic effect of a large bang). He is a Good knowledge of history, and a Superb understanding of the mystical side of time travel, including various rites, incantations, summonings and enchantments.

* Like Gregorius, Esh-kadesh doesn't leave the Academy much, but when he does, it is with great fanfare. He generously invites the best Apprentices, as well as a Time Master or two, to come along with him. Protecting him from assassins and admirers alike is a full time job.

* The few Zomroch that survived Esh-kadesh's purges continually seek revenge. Esh-kadesh obviously takes a very special interest in any news of Zomroch at work, and will drop everything to lead expeditions against these temporal entities.

Olivia Baker - Time Master

Olivia Baker had the misfortune of being born in an age when women were expected to do little else but bear children. If it had not been for the chance discovery of an abandoned temporal gate while with her father in Rumania in 1895, she might have ended up little more than a bright bird in some wealthy lord's gilded cage. Her skills with mechanical devices and mathematics allowed to reopen the gate and plunge her into the 7th century BC, where she was soon rescued by Esh-kadesh.

Olivia may have keen skills in Temporal Engineering, but she is also an unapologetic adventurer, always willing to drop everything to go out into the field, whether it be Imperial Rome or the Ice Age. This angers many of her elders, including Gregorius Comnenus, who considers her irresponsible. Esh-kadesh, however, recognizes her as the first Time Master of a new generation, more than just a stuffy bookworm, interested in more than just filling in missing pieces of history or sitting in dank laboratories trying to coax two more minutes out of some temporal device. Esh-kadesh encourages her to go where her instincts lead, and she in return has given an old Time Master's twilight years a bit of joy where only private sorrow existed before.

Olivia is every bit as intelligent as Zhang Chen, but because she is not so obsessive, is not his equal. Yet she is still a Great Temporal Engineer. Her knowledge of physics and mathematics is Good. Despite any great intellectual gifts, she has insisted that Esh-kadesh teach her a little temporal spell-casting, though she has not moved beyond a Poor ability in this area. Olivia is also Fair in sword, pistol, and Poor in poled weapons.

* Olivia is a bundle of fun and trouble. She has many friends, even among the Apprentices and Journeymen, and often grabs them for a quick excursion through time. One thing one can be certain of about these excursions is that they won't be boring.

* Olivia is always building some device or another. Perhaps it is a pocket watch that can stop time, or a wardrobe that serves as a doorway between different centuries. Field testing is usually necessary, not to mention retrieving devices that have gone awry and have ended up in places where the locals might find them.

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