Monday, July 25, 2005

Taking All (Fudge) Factors Into Account

Fudge has always been a system that minimizes excessive modifiers. This article takes a look at action resolution that can cover the most important factors affecting the outcome of an action quickly and easily, often resolving actions without even needing to roll the dice!

This addition to the Action Resolution section of the Fudge rulebook offers some ideas on taking a variety of different factors into account when determining the outcome of any given action. It also provides a common framework and vocabulary for describing Fudge actions in simple and straightforward terms.

3.31 Action Factors

A number of things factor into determining the outcome of any given action. By applying all the appropriate factors for a given action, you can quickly determine the outcome of the character's attempt. You can quickly and easily determine results, often without needing to roll dice!

The factors involved in any given action are: the character's capability of performing that action, the conditions under which the action is performed, the amount of time and effort put into the action, and, lastly, a measure of luck.

Capability

A character's capability is key to any action and is represented by the character's level in the trait relevant to the action. All other factors being equal, characters can reliably achieve an outcome equal to their capability in any given action: a Good swordsman usually achieves Good outcomes, a Great writer can reliably produce Great writing, and so forth. If capability is not a factor, then the action isn't really an action, just a random happenstance, left up to the whims of chance (either a die roll or the decisions of the gamemaster).

Option: Combined Capability: While one trait usually determines a character's capability for any given action, the GM may choose to have two or more traits measure a character's overall capability. In this case, use the lowest of all the required traits, as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. A complex scientific problem requiring skill in Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry uses the lowest of the character's three skill levels to determine his capability.

Option: Supporting Traits: A supporting trait is a secondary trait that contributes in some way to the success of an action. This secondary trait can belong to the character performing the action or someone else providing assistance. Providing support is a Good action in itself, so the character must have some capability or success with the supporting trait for it to be of any help.

Verne is at the library, researching an obscure South American Indian ritual. He uses his Research skill of Good, but he also has a Good Anthropology skill. The GM decides it is a suitable supporting trait and gives Verne a +1 modifier to Research for this action because he's researching a familiar area.

Support differs from combined capability in that the supporting trait is not required to complete the action, it's just helpful in doing so. In the example, if Verne were not Good at Anthropology, he could still research the obscure ritual, because he's Good at Research. Being Good at Anthropology just makes his research more effective.

Option: Hindering Traits: A hindering trait is the opposite of a supporting trait, a trait so bad it makes related traits less effective! Essentially, if a character has a Terrible trait, then actions related to, but not directly using, that trait suffer a -1 penalty.

If Verne is Good at Research but Terrible at Anthropology and researching an obscure South American ritual, the Game Master can apply a -1 modifier, meaning Verne is only Fair at researching things related to anthropology, because he's so bad at understanding it.

Conditions

Conditions can make characters more or less effective in performing an action. For example, a character who is Hurt suffers a -1 modifier to all actions. A character with exceptionally fine tools or resources for an action may receive a +1 modifier, and so forth. As a general rule, makeshift or difficult conditions impose a -1 modifier, while good conditions grant a +1 bonus. Very bad conditions are -2, while ideal conditions are +2.

Time

Time can be an important factor in completing an action in two different ways. The first is taking time to prepare before attempting an action, and the second is actually taking more time to perform the action itself. Which one applies depends on the type of action. Generally, taking about twice the normal time required is a +1 modifier, while taking ten times the normal amount (a painstaking effort) is at +2. Taking more time than that doesn't significantly affect the outcome. Conversely, not having enough time can adversely affect outcome: rushing an action is a -1 modifier, while extremely rushed or slap-dash efforts impose a -2 modifier.

Effort

Effort is how hard the character tries to succeed, other than putting in extra time as describe previously. If how hard the character tries doesn't really matter, then effort isn't a factor.

Effort is measured against anything normally required for that action. So, if an action requires a certain minimum level of effort, putting in more effort provides a bonus, while putting in less effort imposes a penalty. This means more capable characters operating under good conditions can usually succeed with less effort, while less capable characters need more effort in order to succeed at all.

The measurement of effort depends on how fatigue is handled in the game. In general, putting additional effort into a task, enough for a +1 bonus, should cause an amount of fatigue equivalent to a Hurt damage level, the loss of a level in a trait like Endurance or Strength, or something similar. Likewise, similarly reducing the amount of effort should equal a -1 penalty.

Luck

Luck is the final factor in completing an action. If the character's final outcome after applying all the other factors isn't sufficient to achieve the desired effect, then all the character can do is rely on luck and hope for the best.

Luck is a roll of the dice, providing a modifier between -4 and +4. It is the biggest potential modifier, but also the least reliable, since there's no way of knowing if luck will favor you this time or not!

Luck is not a factor in some actions, such as lifting a heavy object or jumping across a span. For other actions, luck is practically the only factor! Optional in most actions, the GM can require a luck roll as she sees fit. In most cases, characters can choose to achieve an outcome based only on their other factors, primarily capability. This is the "slow and steady" approach: it's reliable, but it also doesn't innovate or give spectacular successes either (unless the character is so capable as to achieve Superb outcomes all the time).

Adding the luck factor to an action that doesn't require it is called "trying your luck." You're pushing things a bit and relying on luck to help you through. This offers the possibility of a greater outcome at the risk of a great failure.

Option: Luck is Mysterious: The trouble with luck is you can't rely on it, and you never know if the outcome was a lucky break or not. Whenever a player decides to try his luck at an action, the GM should roll the dice to determine the luck factor and not tell the player the result. The Game Master just adds the luck factor to the other factors and tells the player the final outcome, so it isn't immediately clear what was due to luck and where other conditions came into play.

3.32 Applying Factors

Not all factors apply equally to all actions. Some actions rely solely on time and effort, others on luck and the right conditions. Generally, an action can be described in terms of what factors apply to the outcome. For example: Understanding the scroll is a task of Great difficulty requiring knowledge, time, and luck. This can also be expressed in shorthand, such as: Decipher Scroll (Great Difficulty; capability, time, luck).

Here are some examples of applying action factors:

Weight-Lifting: Kor the Barbarian needs to lift a heavy iron portcullis. The GM decides it is a Legendary feat of Strength to do so without any real effort. Kor has Great Strength, so without some additional factors, he cannot succeed. The GM has also decided time and luck are not factors in this action; someone can either lift the portcullis or not, taking extra time won't make any difference, and a lucky break isn't going to help someone lift any better. Since the conditions are a +0 modifier, Kor's player needs to rely on effort to get the job done. Kor seizes the bottom of the gate and strains with all his might. One level of fatigue is enough for a Superb outcome, not quite enough; the iron gate moves slightly. Kor's player says he'll take two levels of fatigue, which pushes the outcome to Legendary. With a roar of triumph, Kor heaves the portcullis up and open.

Picking a Lock: Fast Eddie needs to pick a lock. Fast Eddie is actually Good at Lockpicking, and the GM has determined it requires about a minute and a Good outcome to pick this particular lock. That means, all other factors being equal, if Eddie has a minute, he can pick the lock. No roll (luck factor) required, he just does it.

Now, suppose Fast Eddie doesn't have a minute to pick the lock. He needs it open now and has to live up to his name. Eddie's player says he wants to pick the lock quickly. The GM decides that is a -1 time factor, lowering Eddie's outcome to only Fair, which won't be enough (or, in other words, picking the lock fast requires Great Lockpicking, which Eddie doesn't have). Eddie's player needs to come up with some positive factors if he's going to succeed. He asks the GM if Eddie can try harder, really concentrating on getting the lock open. She agrees and says Eddie can suffer a level of fatigue in exchange for a +1 modifier, which is enough to succeed.

Shooting: Robin is shooting a bow and is Fair at Archery. If she's merely target shooting, she achieves a Fair outcome. If she takes twice the normal time to aim, she gets a Good outcome (a +1 modifier). If she's shooting in the dark (poor conditions, a -1 modifier), the outcome is Mediocre. The GM decides Robin can put additional effort into a shot only if it is carefully aimed (taking extra time as well). She also decides that shooting in combat is always a situation where luck is a factor, since combats tend to be so chaotic. Note, however, this doesn't apply to an ambush where Robin has time to set up and carefully choose her shot.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Primitive Fudge

Imagine a world with ice walls from coast to coast, so high you could never hope to climb them. Where you must survive attacks from lions nearly as big as a horse while you hunt for woolly mammoths. A world where you must hunt and gather for all your food because there simply isn't a means for growing your own. This is the world of the Wisconsin glaciation, the last ice age to occur in North America.

Imagine a world with ice walls from coast to coast and so high you could never hope to climb them. Where you must survive attacks from lions that are nearly as big as a horse while you hunt for woolly mammoths. A world where you must hunt and gather for all your food because there simply isn't a means for growing your own. This is the world of the Wisconsin glaciation, the last ice age to occur in North America.

There are many books and even a few RPGs that tell the story of the last ice age in Eurasia while there are precious few books and hardly any RPGs that deal with the last ice age in North America. The glaciation that lasted from 70,000 years ago to roughly 10,000 years ago created an America that is so different as to almost be an alien land when compared to the modern landscape.

Since there is so much material to cover, the scope of this article has to be limited. This article will cover the Tioga ice age, the last period in the Wisconsin glaciation. The Tioga ice age lasted from 30,000 years ago till around 10,000 years ago and was the least severe ice age in the Wisconsin glaciation. This article will include many facts, and where facts are used links will be included in the bibliography. There will also be quite a bit of non-factual material included, both to make the article more interesting and because there simply isn't a lot known about the Wisconsin glaciation.

Setting

The setting is North America, approximately 12,000 years ago. It's a landscape completely different than the current one. There were many types of animals that no longer exist and cultures that modern man can only wonder about. It is a place where anything is possible and very few facts are known.

Terrain

The terrain of the Tioga ice age was completely different than it is today, with most of North America under ice and the weather greatly effected by that. Somewhat like modern times, there were forests to the northeast and to the northwest of what is modern America, with a drier climate towards the southwest. Unlike modern times, the seasons were much different. Winter lasted much longer than it does in modern times, and Summer was more like the modern Spring.

Ice Sheets: A giant sheet of ice covered most of Canada and came down somewhat into what is currently the United States. This sheet of ice was caused by a global drop in temperature, but overall this was mild because the Tioga ice age was the the turning point towards a warmer climate. The gigantic glacier greatly effected the landscape due to the weather conditions produced by it. The glacier absorbed all the moisture, so the landscape was actually fairly dry and snow-free close up the ice. Further from the ice, snow could be quite heavy and everywhere the wind was very strong.

Rivers: The water coming off the glacier as it melted caused rivers that provided a clean water supply for animals and for the humans who inhabited North America. Many early cultures developed close to rivers, so it makes sense that rivers should play a big part in the setting of an RPG based on primitive cultures.

Animals

There is an almost infinite variety of animals in ancient North America. Described in this section are just a few of the more common ones.

Primitive Modern Animals: Many of the animals we see in modern America were present in ancient America. Just about any animal seen in the wild today would have been encountered by primitive Americans, with the exception of introduced species. Some examples include wolves, bison, and bears.

American Lion: This was one of the largest cats ever to exist on Earth, comparable in size to Europe's Cave Lion. The giant cat was an average of eleven and a half feet long, with the males weighing a quarter of a ton and the females weighing about two-thirds as much as the males.

They resembled a larger version of the modern African lion, except that they had longer legs and possibly had stripes. Due to their longer legs it is possible that they could have sprinted faster than modern lions, though nowhere near as fast as the modern cheetah.

With the largest brain-to-body ratio of any lion ever to have existed, they may have had more complex social structures than modern lions. This may have contributed to the fact that there are fewer lions than other predators in the tar pits.

American lions were most common to the southwest, but may have spanned all of America, though no remains have been found to the northeast. They likely used caves for shelter in the winter and may have lined their dens with grass and debris, much like the Siberian tiger of modern times. They also likely hunted deer, bison, and young mammoths and mastodons.

Mammoth: The mammoths of America were actually the largest species of mammoth. These were called the Imperial Mammoths and stood thirteen feet tall. They had very large tusks and a long trunk. They were covered in thick fur, consisting of a heavy overcoat and a fuzzy undercoat, providing the elephant with extremely efficient fur. They thrived in cold weather, though its likely they didn't do well in heavy snow. They might well have migrated with the season changes, coming north towards the glaciers in the Winter, where snow wouldn't be deep, and south during the Summer where the feed would be good. Like modern elephants, they were herbivores.

Dire Wolf: This animal is closely related to both the grey wolf and hyenas, though it is not the direct ancestor of any modern animal. It was about five feet long and weighed a little over 100 pounds. It co-existed with the grey wolf and lived all across America.

It had shorter legs than the grey wolf, which suggests that it might have been a poor runner and thus was probably a scavenger, but would likely have hunted any slow herbivores or wounded prey animals.

The dire wolf had much larger teeth than the grey wolf and likely used these teeth to crush the bones of their prey as they ate.

Glyptodon: These creatures were a very large, very heavy version of the armadillo. About the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, they likely could only move one to two miles per hour, as they weighed between one and two tons. Glyptodons had an armored shell, consisting of more than a thousand one-inch plates. They didn't have the ability to hide their heads, instead they had a hard bony shell on their skulls. They may have had a trunk to make getting food easier (they probably ate the plants found around rivers and lakes), but there is little evidence to support that theory. Most predators would have had trouble turning the glyptodon over to reach its unprotected underside.

Mastodon: The mastodons were very similar to the mammoths, only about four feet shorter than the Imperial Mammoth and with teeth more suited to leaf-eating than grazing.

Giant Sloth: Also known as the ground sloth, the giant sloth was found mostly in the Midwestern area of America. There were four species of giant sloth in America, though they were all very similar. They reached heights from around three to eighteen feet, the largest having the bulk of a bull elephant. They had large claws that might have been used for digging for roots or for harvesting food from trees.

Arctodus: Also known as the short-faced bear, Arctodus were the most powerful predator in America during the last ice age. While they were likely scavengers, they could have easily hunted just about any creature in North America. One species, Arctodus simus, was the biggest bear ever to have existed, standing five feet at the shoulder, though the most common Arctodus was merely four feet tall. They were extremely strong and had very powerful jaws.

Smilodon: Also known as the Saber-toothed tiger, the Smilodon was a species of cat best known for its rather large fangs. These big cats weighed more than seven hundred pounds and were about the size of a modern African lion. With seven inch long canine teeth and jaws capable of opening a full 95 degrees, their fangs were likely used to puncture their prey's neck, quickly killing any animal.

The Smilodon species that existed during the Tioga ice age were not good at running and likely hunted in packs to overcome this. Though its legs were not good for running, they were very strong and could likely hold down most prey.

Society

Modern man inhabited North America during the Tioga ice age. These people were known as the Paleo-Indians and were very similar to the Cro Magnon people found in Eurasia. They hunted with spears and had stone tools.

Little is known about actual societies in the Tioga ice age, so most of the following is fictional.

Hunting and Gathering: The Paleo-Indians had to struggle to get food. With the major prey animals migrating and the short warm season limiting the available food, much of the ancient Americans' time was invested in gathering food and storing it. These people likely hunted just about any animal they could get their hands on, either for food or for tools. While the men hunted animals, the women likely gathered what plants they could, which ranged from mushrooms to grain to roots.

Shamanism: The Paleo-Indians likely had a form of shamanism, much like modern Native Americans. In this shamanism the spirits of the ancestors, the animals, and a few major gods were worshiped. Whether it was true or not, the Paleo-Indians really believed that the spirits and gods shaped the world around them. It is up to the person running the game to decide whether the spells that a shaman casts are real or not, but it is important that Paleo-Indians characters believe that the spells are real. A simple system for shamanistic spells follows this section.

Social Structure: The Paleo-Indians had a hierarchical structure. There was the leader, often the oldest and wisest of the tribe. Then there were the elders, the men who were too old to hunt but had years of experience. Below the elders were the hunters. The hunters were respected because they provided the most food for the tribe and were also responsible for keeping the tribe safe from predators and competing tribes. Below the hunters were the women and the men incapable of hunting and without elder status. These lower people were the ones to gather vegetation for the tribe and often made most of the non-weapon tools. At the bottom of the social structure were the children.

Equipment: Many things were used in the daily life of the Paleo-Indians, though not all of them can be mentioned here.

  • Baskets and Backpacks: Baskets and backpacks made from woven reeds and grasses or leather were often used to carry raw materials from a gathering site or to carry food and tools. The backpacks were attached to a wooden frame, making them sturdy and strong enough to hold heavy items.
  • Clothing: The clothing of the Paleo-Indians was made from leather and decorated with animal fur and simple beads and even some feathers. Their clothing was much like modern Native-American clothing.
  • Shelter: Many Paleo-Indians lived in caves or under rock outcroppings, but many also lived in man-made structures such as tepees. What the Paleo-Indians lived in was mainly determined by their habits. A nomadic tribe would likely use tepees, while a tribe that never moved would live under a rock outcropping or in a cave.
  • Tools: The Paleo-Indians were stone knappers. They shaped flint into tools, such as spear points, knives and hide scrapers. These tools required skill to make and were fragile, so areas with flint deposits were highly prized and were likely the cause for many territorial battles.
  • Spears: The spears of the Paleo-Indians were unique. They were made using wooden shafts about five feet in length, but it is the tips that made them special. They had a stone point, known as the Clovis point, that was designed to break off in the target, keeping the wound open. These spears were used for hunting small animals, such as ducks, and also for larger animals, such as mammoths.

Shamanistic Magic

A shaman should have the Gift "Respected by the Spirits," the Meditation skill, and several skills related to areas of magic, as noted below. This system uses a word system for casting spells, using nouns for the target of the spell and verbs for the actions of the spell, each noun and each verb being a skill.

The nouns are as follows:

  • Water: Refers to any liquid, from rain to rivers, and even things like soup. It can also refer to snow.
  • Fire: Refers to energy, of which Paleo-Indians only knew of lightning and heat.
  • Earth: Refers to any stone or soil, but can also refer to any solid, such as bones.
  • Wind: Refers to the unseen force of the Paleo-Indian world. It includes both air movements and air itself. It can also refer to sound.
  • Spirit: Refers to the spirit world in general, from the ancestors, to the animal spirits, to the Gods. It can be used in both good and bad ways.
  • Man: This refers to any human and any body part thereof.
  • Animal: This refers to any living thing that is not human or plant yet is alive.
  • Plant: This refers to anything that is alive but doesn't move on its own.

The verbs are as follows:

  • Summon: This brings something from afar to nearby. It does not create things.
  • Banish: This makes things nearby go away, it does not destroy things.
  • Shape: This alters the target, for good or bad.

To cast a spell, a shaman must first meditate and then combine a verb with a noun. To meditate, the shaman must roll his Meditation skill against a difficulty set by the gamemaster. The gamemaster should choose a base difficulty based on how easy it is to contact the spirits in her game and should modify this difficulty based on several factors. If the shaman is in good standing with the spirits, the difficulty should be lowered by a level or two. If the shaman is in bad standing with the spirits, the difficulty should be raised by a level or two. If the shaman takes something like a hallucinogen the difficulty should be lowered a level or two, as it is easier to reach the spirit world when in an altered state of mind. If the shaman is distracted, the difficulty should be raised by a level or two.

If the shaman successfully reaches a trance state through meditation and thus has contacted the spirits, the shaman must state the goal of his spell. The GM will decide the appropriate nouns and verbs and set a difficulty based on how difficult the spell should be to cast. The shaman rolls against this difficulty using the lowest involved skill.

If the roll is successful, the spell is cast and the shaman remains in the trance and can attempt to cast further spells. If the shaman fails the roll by more than -2, he comes out of the trance. If the shaman rolls a natural -4 the spell automatically fails and the shaman is stuck in a trance for at least a half hour, seeming to be in a coma. After a half hour the shaman can attempt to come out of the trance, rolling against the same difficulty used to go into the trance. A roll of a natural +4 gets the shaman out of the trance automatically. If the shaman fails to come out of the trance, he can try again every half hour, the difficulty lowering by one level every try.

An example casting of a spell: The shaman attempting to enter a trance, rolls his Meditation skill of Good against a difficulty of Great. He rolls a +2 and easily enters the trance. He then says that he wants to banish the evil spirit that is causing the little girl of his tribe to be sick. The GM decides that that spell requires the Banish verb and the Spirit noun. The lowest of these skills is at Fair and the GM decides that the difficulty will be Fair because the evil spirit isn't very strong. If the shaman rolled a Fair or above, the spirit would be banished and the girl would get better and the shaman could try casting another spell or could come out of the trance at will. If the shaman rolled a -1, he'd only fail the spell by -1 and thus the spell would fail but he could try again or try a new spell. If he rolled a -2 or below he would fail the spell and would automatically come out of the trance but he could try entering a trance again if he wanted. However, the shaman rolls a -4, which not only fails the spell, but gets him stuck in a trance. After a half hour he can try to get out, having to roll a +1 or better because the original trance difficulty was Good. He fails the roll, and after another half hour he tries again and gets a +4, instantly dropping him out of the trance.

Scenario Seeds

The following are short scenario descriptions to get a gamemaster going with this setting. If you intend to play as a player in this setting, you should not read further.

The Mammoth Hunt

The mammoth hunt was one of the more exciting moments in a Paleo-Indian tribe's existence. In short, it involves scouting a mammoth herd, hunting the herd, and finally killing a mammoth and then defending the kill from large predators.

Since there is a lot of work involved in hunting a mammoth, the entire tribe will go on the hunting expedition, though only the hunters are likely to go anywhere near a live mammoth.

The Scouting Party

The player characters are told by the chief to scout ahead for the mammoths. It is fairly easy to follow the trail of the giant mammals, as they tear a path of destruction through the vegetation as they go. All is fine until the scouts have to scare off a rogue Dire Wolf. If they successfully scare off the wolf without spooking the herd, the mammoths shouldn't be too hard to spot. If the mammoths are spooked, they will be harder to find and the scouts may have to return to the tribe to tell them the bad news, which will lead to hardship as another scouting party has to go out looking for the mammoths, possibly with help from the shaman.

The Hunt

Once the mammoth herd is found, the rest of the tribe stays behind as the hunters try to get the elephants to run into a trap, preferably a valley with only one entrance or a cliff wall. When the elephants go towards the trap, the goal is then to separate one from the herd and then plunge as many spears as possible into it without getting hurt. Even if successful, it is likely that a few hunters will be badly hurt or even killed.

The Aftermath

As the women and the others butcher the mammoth, the hunters must stand guard. They are likely to have to fight off many predators, as the smell of a large dead animal is enough to draw in nearly all nearby carnivores. By now it is likely getting dark and the predators may still try to steal the meat despite the fires. The hunters will have their hands full and there is a possibility for several exciting fights.

Desperation

This scenario shows what can be done with a little imagination and a little stretching of the truth. It has a strong horror element and should be kept scary if at all possible. It involves a small Paleo-Indian tribe having to fight off the cannibalistic Neanderthal tribe that's doing whatever it can to avoid extinction due to starvation.

The Build-Up

The scenario opens with a hunting party returning. This party should have a dramatic return, such as two hunters carrying a wounded third hunter into the camp when the original hunting party had at least ten members. The returning hunting party should tell the story of monstrous humans attacking them in the night and stealing their kill after killing most of the hunting party. The monstrous humans should also be described as having taken away the dead bodies of the attacked hunters.

The Discovery

The shaman, horrified that the fallen hunters won't be put to rest with honor, demands that the chief send out a party of hunters to attack the monstrous humans to get the bodies back and to exact revenge.

The chief picks the player characters, the best hunters in the tribe, to go find the monstrous humans and to do what it takes to get the bodies back.

The player characters are told where the attack took place and it is very easy to find. There is blood everywhere and the smoldering remains of the hunting party's fire. Blood trails and footprints can be found leading towards a swamp. The player characters, if they go into the swamp, will discover an empty village made from primitive straw huts. There are bones everywhere, most of them belonging to animals, but some also belonging to humans. If the hunters search the huts they will find one with the dead bodies of the hunting party, in various stages of being butchered. The details should be made as gruesome as possible to convey the feeling of horror the characters would experience.

The Battle

Shortly after the discovery of the butchered bodies, the Neanderthals arrive back at their village, having gone hunting some more. The Neanderthals will attack the player characters. The battle should be harsh and long, but the Neanderthals lack the technology and resources to be much match for the player characters with their comparatively advanced weapons and techniques.

Sample Characters

The following are example characters using this setting. The first is a hunter, the most likely player character choice. The second is an example of making non-humans an important part of the story.

Paleo-Indian Hunter

Name: Thunder Voice

Tribe: Hunters of the Wolf

Background: Thunder Voice is named after his very loud voice, and he is quite proud of it. His people, the Hunters of the Wolf, worship the wolf spirit and model their hunting behavior after this sacred animal. Thunder Voice is a hunter, and a very experienced one at that.

  • Attributes
    • Strength: Great
    • Agility: Fair
    • Intelligence: Fair
    • Constitution: Good
  • Skills
    • Spear: Good
    • Knife: Fair
    • Hunting Tactics: Good
    • Leadership: Fair
    • Tracking: Fair
    • Rituals: Mediocre
  • Gifts
    • Respected by his tribe.
  • Faults
    • Afraid of drowning.
  • Equipment
    • Clothing: A leather tunic, and leather pants, both with wolf fur decorations.
    • Weapons: A spear with a bone tip (+3 ODF) and a flint-blade knife (+1 ODF).
    • General: A leather tent with tent posts, a fire starting kit, and enough food to last him through a month.

One-Eyed Wolf

Name: One-Eyed Wolf

Background: This wolf has been the bane of the hunter Walks with a Whisper. The wolf came and attacked his family while they were bathing in the stream after a hunt. The wolf was a rogue and was very hungry. He mortally wounded Walks with a Whisper's wife and her child. Walks with a Whisper fought off the wolf, managing to take out its eye with his knife. Since that day, Walks with a Whisper has been hunting this wolf to get revenge.

  • Attributes
    • Strength: Fair
    • Agility: Great
    • Constitution: Good
  • Skills
    • Hunting: Great
    • Stealth: Fair
  • Gifts
    • Wolf: +2 to all sensing rolls (except sight), natural weaponry (+1 ODF teeth), and can run for fifteen or twenty miles non-stop.
  • Faults
    • Rogue: This wolf has been kicked out of his pack and must start one of its own.
    • One-eyed: -1 to all sight rolls.

Bibliography

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Monday, July 11, 2005

From Brain to Palm: Portable Gaming Without the Paper Mess

Keeping track of copious amounts of information is a task all gamemasters face. Reams of paper notes scattered across a table behind a shabby barrier to shield it from players' eyes is the norm. But gameplay should be about interaction and creativity, not flipping through pages looking for information. And whether you are of technical bent or not, a silicon solutions exists to make your gaming cleaner, neater, and more organized - smooth-flowing and more fun.

The Setup

The players are gathered. The snacks are laid out nearby in all their sugary and fattening splendor. The catching up on each other's week and the early socializing has thinned to a humming trickle. The game begins.

A mischievous gleam lights in the Gamemaster's eye. Oh, the devilry he has planned for them tonight! What mystery! What challenge! What happened to his notes!? But the party grows impatient. Oh well, on with the fun! Summoning his every last wit, every last memory, the GM forges ahead. Surely he will remember enough details to fake his way through Room 3B. One page of notes, that's all. Maybe the party won't even make it to the third floor tonight, what with that 3-headed Wumpus and the horde of undead lawyers on level two.

But, alas, he failed to reckon that Sally, who plays the party's Cyborg Paranormal Investigator, is a second-year law student, who cleverly evades the undead lawyers with a Writ of Habeas Corpses. And a lucky roll of Trans-Legendary +3 by Whitman the Archer finished off the feared wumpus in two rounds. Now the intrepid adventurers are on level three, opening the door to - yep, you guessed it - Room 3B. The gleam in the Gamemaster's eye fades. "Let me run upstairs and print up my notes." Good thing they're not playing at Sally's place, as was the original plan before her roommate got sick.

The Problem

Paper notes can be a pain to keep up with and organize, and expensive to print if you're very detail-oriented and have a lot of pages. The computer is a great help, but if you are not near the machine at the time, or worse, if you're playing at someone else's place altogether, then the computer's usefullness ends with the planning phase, or very nearly so. But without fairly detailed notes, all but the most inventive Gamemasters will find their hard work resulting not in a session of great collaborative storytelling, but in stumbling and mumbling about.

As a rule, Gamemasters (and other roleplayers, for that matter) are creative types and often given to stereotypically artistic mentalities, and may or may not be apt to organizing information along carefully structured lines. The better organized your information is, however, the smoother your gameplay is likely to be. For many, the tradeoff is that the more structured their data is, the less flexible it becomes.

Example 1: Kate is a meticulous and detail-oriented GM, organizes her notes by the following general categories: PCs, NPCs, Monsters, Treasures, Maps, Puzzles, Equipment, Races, and Magic Spells. Good. But now she is leading her players (PCs) through a maze (Maps) where they run into a griffin (Monsters) who insists they answer a riddle (Puzzles) before they can get past it to retrieve the Orb of Spiders (Treasures). Kate can either duplicate all the information necessary from these five sources into one place (which I would recommend for ease of reference) now giving her a tenth set of notes, or she can tediously cross-reference between five or more stacks of paper. Ugh.

Example 2: Bob the GM, who sees the world as a stream of events, rather than as discrete chunks of data, has written out his adventures as stream of conscious-style dialog. He envisions the players going through a derelict spaceship room by room and so he has a hand-written list of each room and what creatures and item it contains, along with whatever details he thinks will be necessary in each room for any potential combat. But the PCs don't cooperate and Daisy the Spy sneaks through an airduct to another room, surprising the deranged ensign who has been living alone on the ghost ship for a month now. He overpowers Daisy and runs off, instead of being subdued by the party. He makes it to an escape pod and leaves. Bob has the brilliant idea of having this lunatic as a recurring villain who returns to wreak havok on the party for evicting him from his imaginary kingdom. Nice touch, Bob. Now Bob has to sift through his notes and copy everything to do with the ensign and then he has to place them in future notes. Otherwise, he can use Kate's multi-stack system that has left her gaming table a torrent of paper. Eek.

A Solution: GM's Second Brain + Plucker

Phase 1: Creating your notes

Enter the computer: cross-referencing, hypertext, and cutting-and-pasting. Oh my. And if you are a database designer, or proficient in programming, you are all set up to make full use of these marvelous capabilities (you could get by with a good grasp of (X)HTML, if your thinking is structured enough). But if all you are doing is keep your notes in a text editor or word processor, you are only making use of a small amount of the power available to you. If you do not expect to be near your computer, then you still have to print all this up, and then you're back to the problems faced by Kate and Bob.

A great assistant to the GM is the GM's Second Brain, or GMSB. This handy application is written in Java so it will run on just about any system and allows you to organize your notes as a web of ideas, with each note containing as many links to as many other notes as you need. (Oh, and it's free.) GMSB calls each note a 'node'. Create a node with the notes for the room your players are to explore. Want to include an important item? Create a new node for it, categorize it however you wish, and link it to the room node. Now when your reviewing the room, you will see a list of links, including a link to the Item node you created earlier. Is there an NPC present? Create a node for her, too. Are the item and the NPC related to each other, beyond being the same room? If so, it's simple to create links from the NPC note to the item note. However structured or scattered your thinking may be, GMSB makes it easy to navigate through your notes so that anything you need is just a click away.

Further, the GM Second Brain comes with a sample 'web' that will walk you through the details of using the application. Oh, did I mention it's free?

Phase 2: Making it portable.

If you're playing near your computer, your job is just about done. If you need to take your notes with you, GMSB can help with that too. You can navigate your notes using GMSB, or the Second Brain can export the files as XHTML to view in your browser of choice, or as XML if you know how to use it.

Now, make it more portable. Take it to your PDA. Don't have one? An older model can often be found for $60-$80 US. If your needs aren't elaborate, an older model will do fine. Admittedly, for some of us that's a lot of cash to drop on a gaming accessory. But you'll use it for lots of things. I only had mine (an ancient relic in tech terms, a Palm IIIxe) for a week before it become indispensable to me. I am not by nature an organized person, so now I can hardly live without the darn thing. Also, in addition to the topics covered here, I've found lots of other RPG tools available for my PDA, including a Fudge Dice Roller.

How to get your GMSB "web" to your PDA? Enter the next player in our little production, Plucker. Plucker consists of an e-book reader for your PDA and a desktop application for converting HTML files into Plucker documents. I won't weigh down this article with descriptions of how to download, install, and use Plucker - that can be found on the Plucker website. But the tools can be downloaded for free (notice how I love that part?) for both the PDA and your desktop machine, and they are available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

By the by, a wealth of literature is available for free to download at sites such as www.pluckerbooks.com.

The Process

Okay, now to put the pieces together.

  1. Compose your Notes: Using the GMSB, create your adventure, module, campaign, what have you. Take full advantage of the numerous ways you can link and cross-reference your information.
  2. Convert to HTML: Use GMSB's built-in export function to do this.
  3. Convert HTML to Plucker: Use the Plucker Desktop tool to do this.
  4. Load the Plucker Documents: Use whatever PDA synchronization program came with your system.
  5. Enjoy: Take your incredibly organized notes with you just about anywhere. Forget the muss-and-fuss of reams of paper notes which inevitably get lost, shuffled, folded, spindled and/or mutilated.

I also use Plucker to keep track of playing notes under other GMs. I play a very crunchy game with some friends and could never keep track of the GMs rules and lists until I Plucker-ized them.

Conclusion

Though it's a little tedious to set up the first time, the Brain2Palm system can free you up and organize the sometimes overwhelming amount of information that GMs deal with. The ultimate purpose: smoother gameplay that lets you and the players focus on exactly what Fudge is meant for: fun interactive storytelling.

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Monday, July 04, 2005

Their First Fudge Game

Say you have a few folks itching to try a new roleplaying game, and some have little or no tabletop experience. Just how do you avoid the common complaints which drive away most newcomers: that the rules are too complicated or that roleplaying games are "frustrating?" Read on for one gamemaster's take on introducing new gamers to Fudge...

Say you have a few folks itching to try a new roleplaying game, and some have little or no tabletop experience. Just how do you avoid the common complaints which drive away most newcomers: that the rules are too complicated or that roleplaying games are "frustrating?"

The first concern certainly has merit: the slender, stapled rulebooks from the late 70s and early 80s have today become 300 page technical manuals. While newer books contain more unified mechanics and better GM advice, their sheer size can be daunting for someone new to the hobby. It's also easy to see how a new player could find even a good game frustrating. If you didn't know what to do next, were railroaded into an undesirable plot, and your character died, wouldn't you just watch a movie instead?

Over the past year, I've been able to run several Fudge sessions with new players. I've done some things right, and I've messed up a lot. These experiences have led me to compile some thoughts about how to make a new player's first experiences simpler and (hopefully) more fun. Though you may have heard some of these suggestions before in various rulebooks, I've tried to tie them to the Fudge mechanics wherever possible. Most of these suggestions should be easy to adapt to any roleplaying system.

Simplifying the Rules

Character creation is the first place to begin streamlining. For a first game, I use five skills, ten hit points (Damage Capacity), and five Fudge Points. You can always add attributes, gifts, and flaws later. My skill list is only 10 to 15 items and I try to combine skills whenever possible. For example, in a space opera game, the skill "Aim" can easily cover both personal blasters and starship weaponry. For now, treat magic or superpowers like any other skill: opposing characters can use one of their own skills to avoid damage, capture or whatever. After players pick their five skills, they should rank them from best (Superb) to worst (Mediocre) and place them in the boxes provided below. Anything not listed is assumed a rank of Poor. The streamlined character sheet looks like:

Name  
Skills (Rank/Name) Hit Points
Superb   [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]
Great    
Good   Fudge Points
Fair   [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
Mediocre
 
 
Poor X  
Terrible X  

To simplify even further, you can also use pre-generated characters. If you do, consider using archetypes. Most people get into the hobby to spend more time in their favorite fictional universe, so let them play Luke Skywalker or Buffy. If you want to run your own setting, you might model your original characters on familiar heroes. For example, in a superhero game, you might give the player their character sheet and tell them: "He's a grim martial artist out for revenge, a lot like Batman." This puts the new player on familiar ground and can help encourage them to think like the character rather than themselves. Pre-generated characters also allow the GM to balance out the group's skills.

Before play, be sure to buy or make some Fudge Dice. New players have no trouble understanding how to read dice marked with a black marker, but asking them to remember "Ones and twos are minus one..." only adds another layer of complexity. Before the session begins, do a quick sample roll to show players how to read the dice and determine their level of success or failure.

Another possibility for simplifying the game is to avoid modifiers, especially in combat. Instead of worrying about whether a pistol gives +2 to damage or armor gives +1 to protection, just use the relative degree of success. While this is more cinematic than realistic, most new players have no problem with it. For villains, simply decide if they are a Good fighter or magic user and leave it at that. If you find players are interested in continuing with Fudge and learning the system, add modifiers during your next session.

Avoiding Frustration

Many new players are unsure how roleplaying works and have trouble adjusting to the idea that their character can really try anything they'd like. To help them, think about the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. At the end of every section, they gave you two or three choices to move the plot along. Don't be afraid to do the same thing when players seem stuck. For example, in a horror or monster-fighting game, you might ask "do you want to take the hair sample home and look at it under your microscope, contact your friend over at the university's biology department, or do you have another idea?"

It doesn't really matter how they find out that the hair came from a were-gorilla, just so they know to use bananas in their trap. The third choice, "another idea," keeps players from being confined to just a few options. Consider rewarding even mundane ideas with a free Fudge point. This encourages new players to start taking the initiative instead of relying on the GM. I like to use bingo chips to represent Fudge Points, which makes the reward even more tangible.

Once players make their decisions, it is important that they do not fail consistently. While they shouldn't succeed continuously either, if they can't get through the adventure they are unlikely to return to the table. To avoid consistent failure in unopposed rolls, consider making all difficulty levels Fair. For new players, Fair is probably hard enough, and it keeps the GM more focused on describing events rather than setting difficulty levels. Even if a character is untrained in a particular skill (Poor), they still have about a 1 in 5 chance of success. Admittedly, setting all difficulties to Fair means that players with Great or Superb skills will succeed almost all of the time. However, that is what new players expect: a Great star pilot should be able to get the ship through the asteroid field without catastrophe. The players don't need to know that the difficulty level was only Fair: the GM can make the journey as suspenseful as possible ("Oh, you scraped the paint on that one!") I've formatted the chart from "Fudge in a Nutshell" to show the probabilities for achieving a Fair result at each skill level. If you do want to include some Good, Great, or Superb challenges, you may need to remind players that they can use Fudge Points to achieve very difficult tasks. Use this chart to assess the probabilities:

Player's Skill Level Chance of Fair Good Great Superb
Superb 98.8% 93.8% 81.5% 61.7%
Great 93.8% 81.5% 61.7% 38.3%
Good 81.5% 61.7% 38.3% 18.5%
Fair 61.7% 38.3% 18.5% 6.2%
Mediocre 38.3% 18.5% 6.2% 1.2%
Poor 18.5% 6.2% 1.2% 0%
Terrible 6.2% 1.2% 0% 0%

Of course, the ultimate type of failure is death. To avoid this, consider making your villains a little weaker than you might in other games. Use colorful descriptions to make them challenging. Give your Fair fighter NPC fangs dripping with saliva and a blade that looks like it could cut through dinosaur bones. If they ask for his rating, just look at your notes and say "This is trouble." Some other ways to make combat less deadly are:

  • Eliminate wound levels (sometime called the "death spiral") and just use ten hit points. When they run out, the PC is unconscious until medical help arrives.
  • Reward teamwork with a +1 bonus for each additional fighter (the FATE implementation of Fudge suggests this). This could be the group's first introduction to the concept of a modifier.
  • Reward creativity by lowering the rating of the villain. If a player tried to throw a rock and knock the magic sword from the Superb villain's hand (and is willing to sacrifice some Fudge Points to succeed), bring the villain down to Good. (Hey, he was depending too much on that sword anyway).

A final way to avoid frustration is to keep first adventures short and rewarding. To keep the session short, use a problem that can be solved in a few scenes: call to action, find some clues, beat some thugs and get more clues, defeat Big Bad and save the day. Think half-hour action cartoon rather than fantasy trilogy. You can leave a clue dangling to entice them to come back next time, but try to have some closure to that first session. That's a reward in and of itself. Also, allow all players to increase one skill by one level at the end of the adventure. Don't worry about experience points and variable cost of raising skill levels. Many players will be used to "leveling up" from computer games and will appreciate the comparison.

Conclusion: Aren't You Stacking the Deck?

Yep. However, following some of these suggestions should increase your chances of getting players back for future sessions. As you go on, you can gradually start adding things like attributes, gifts, flaws, and wound levels to taste. I've even had players want to read the rulebook. As with all things Fudge, the suggestions in this article are possibilities, not edicts. Use the ones you like, ignore the ones you don't, and add your own. Here's hoping you find some brand new players across the table from you sometime soon.

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