Monday, September 26, 2005

Roleplaying Large Scale Battles

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be in the middle of a huge battle?

The tension as the armies face each other for the first time, the clash of cavalry on the soldiers lances, the whiz of arrows overhead, seeing friends and fellow warriors fall to the sword, facing off against your arch-nemesis in the chaos of the battle, bloodshed filling every sense, the battle on the brink of defeat...

Have you ever imagined trying to roleplaying it?

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be in the middle of a huge battle?

The tension as the armies face each other for the first time, the clash of calvary on the soldiers lances, the whiz of arrows overhead, seeing friends and fellow warriors fall to the sword, facing off against your arch-nemesis in the chaos of the battle, bloodshed filling every sense, the battle on the brink of defeat...

Have you ever imagined trying to roleplaying it?

While how to run small pitch battles and skirmishes is commonly described with a myriad of rules and advice in as many RPG rulebooks as you can find, similar advice and rules on running a large scale battle in a roleplaying game are rare. I'm not talking about the PCs playing the generals of an army, but the PCs embroiled in the conflict as soldiers on the ground, as defenders on the wall, or as champions riding out to face the hordes. Of course, you can always grab a set of miniatures, buy a complex rulebook and play it out that way. Although this method is probably by far the most exact simulation, you lose the experience, drama and fun of roleplaying a character.

The Way of the Solider

It doesn't really matter if the battle is set on a medieval fantasy world with elves and giants, or on a planet far, far away with drones and genetically modified beasties, much (if not all) of this advice still hold true. The secret is the same for running anything. A battle is just another story and so you should focus on your PCs, what happens to them and their impact (if any) on the overall battle. Treat it as a complete self-contained story; it is a series of events, has a beginning, middle and end, but can sidetrack just as easily as any other roleplaying adventure.

An event as large as a battle should be a major denouement in your chronicle. It is not something that happens every other week. If it happens too often, you'll not just wear out your PCs, but also the players. and that is something you really don't want. Big battles should be tense, dramatic affairs with the real possibility of death for the PCs (and any NPCs that are involved).

90% of War is Logistics

Plan your battle before you run it. Decide the outcome and how it should progress before running it. Don't try to fudge it. A battle often appears chaotic on the ground, but it is not. Various plots and events do happen without any PC interaction with them. If the PCs can affect everything that happens then it is actually a skirmish (regardless of the number of foes) and the normal advice found in the majority of roleplaying books for running combat holds true instead.

As with planning any story, consider your PC's specialties. If not all your PCs are warriors, make sure there is something for the others to do during the battle: a healer might have to save many wounded even as the castle walls crumble around him, a wizard may have to face his own battle on the magical plane or what have you, or the socialite may discover the king has betrayed his people at the worst moment.

When designing the battle, don't ever make the opposing force a pushover. If one of the PCs can take on the entire enemy army and defeat them easily, it is just slaughter. The enemy should be more powerful (even if the battle is 'equal', the enemy should still seem as if they have the upper hand). You can always make the enemy appear weaker initially, and then dramatically reveal their real strength. This can give a desperate feel to the fight.

There are many other factors you can include when planning: morale of the warriors (what happens when their king is killed, or their greatest warrior falls?), varying strategies of the armies (an army of supernatural demons would have very different tactics than an army of noble, mortal knights), the nature and appearance of the warriors (monsters would have a powerful fear factor), the weapons (modern warfare is very different from medieval, and supernatural weapons might be very exotic indeed), natural and manmade defenses, and what the battle is over (holding the castle, defending innocents or even resisting an invasion).

The PCs can have an influence on any of these factors, such as taking up the mantle of the fallen King, planning some unorthodox but clever strategies, or getting to choose where the battle will happen. How much PCs can swing the battle is a very powerful influence on the feel of the event. The more heroic you want it, the more impact the PCs can have on the outcome. If you want dark and gritty, then the PCs should have little impact on the outcome and be just trying to survive. If you want the type of mythological heroism, the very presence and actions of the PCs should swing the battle at the last moment.

In the Heat of Battle

Battle never lets up, so the pacing should be relentless regardless of where the PCs are in the battle. There is little chance for rest in the heat of battle.

Therefore, all extended movement during a battle is dangerous, be it running down a street in the besieged castle, or attempting to dash across the battlefield to defend your king. In such cases, it would get a bit weighty if you went into a full contested combat with each attack that flies at you. You can treat these minor attacks as static obstacles (i.e. uncontested rolls). However that doesn't mean they can't harm, maim or even kill the PCs.

In general there are two approaches to take when running (and planning) a large-scale battle.

The Open-Ended Approach

My favored approach would be to plan the general progress of the battle and then just dump the PCs in the middle of it and focus the narrative entirely on them. Give them a goal; do they hold the bridge or defend the civilians? What can they see, what are their orders, do they see their friends chopped down, do they try to save them, etc. Set things up and then see what happens.

War of the Dark and Light

In this example, the PCs are warriors of the Gods of Light. The Dark Gods have gathered a large army and intend to stomp all over the PCs' home, but unbeknownst to the players, the GM has planned a surprise. The Dark Gods have managed to create a "tear" and plan to bring forth terrible monsters during the battle.

The feel of the campaign is mythic heroic, with the PCs pulling off legendary feats regularly. The PCs are the champions of a medium-sized army and are expected to lead the charge to stop this invasion. If any of the PCs are magically inclined, there is room for attempting to close the tear and banishing the monsters.

This is how the GM would plan to run it:

  1. The armies face each across the battlefield. This is meant to set the tension as the armies evaluate each other.
  2. The champions of both armies ride forth to meet each other. This is an opportunity for some roleplaying.
  3. At an unspoken command, the infantry of both armies rush out and clash, led by their champions.
  4. The PCs' army will gain the upper hand yet, quite obviously, the leader of the Dark Gods' army does not engage in the battle.
  5. The wizards of the Dark Gods open the tear and huge black dragons rage onto the battlefield, followed by the leader of the Dark God's army. It will be a devastating blow to the PC's army, destroying their morale even more so than men could.

In the normal course of events, the Dark God's army would win, but the GM wants to leave the window open for the PCs to swing the battle. Some possible ways they could swing the battle are:

  • The PCs take down one or two of the dragons and bring back morale to their army.
  • The PCs manage to maim or kill all the enemies' champions or their leader and so break the Dark Gods' army's morale.
  • The PCs manage to close the tear and so send the dragons back to the darkness.

The Scripted Approach

The open-ended approach may not suit everyone's style. A more static method is to create a list of events and associated possible encounters.

For each key event, the GM should generate a list of possible encounters. These encounters may also have a list of even more possible encounters.

The Last Stand

In this example, the PCs are mortal warriors and members of a Celtic tribe. The campaign has only a slight supernatural tint that is more for flavor than any sort of practicality. The PCs' tribe has been at war with an enemy tribe for most of the campaign. This enemy tribe is dark and exotic, and does not fight like the Celts; they are able to fight at night as if it is day.

In a previous adventure the PCs managed a secret raid and killed the enemy leader (but failed to kill their morbid oracle). This has given their enemy a powerful rage, but their direction is erratic. It is obvious that the assassination will drive the enemy to a full attack on the PCs' fort.

In the previous adventure,, the players spent the session discussing and organizing tactics. They plan a range of different traps to slow and harass the enemy. The GM considers these traps the PCs' saving grace. The enemy tribe has overwhelming numbers, but has decided that the preparations by the PCs will be enough to reduce the threat so that the Celtic tribe will survive and even triumph in the end.

In essence, the PCs must just survive to the end.

  1. Key Event: The enemy runs into the elaborate traps
    • Encounter: Shooting arrows at oncoming enemies
  2. Key Event: The enemy swamps the walls
    • Encounter: Direct charging attack
    • Encounter: Saving friend NPCs
  3. Key Event: The Celtic Chief is killed
    • Encounter: Defeating the enemy who killed the Chief
    • Encounter: Defending the body of the Chief from being stolen
    • Encounter: Rally the warriors
  4. Key Event: The enemy breaks the walls
    • Encounter: Chasing runaway enemy warriors through the fort
    • Encounter: Defending/Saving the non-fighting NPCs
  5. Key Event: Cleaning out the enemy survivors
    • Encounter: Taking down their surviving warriors
    • Encounter: Surprise enemy pretending to be dead

You can't have a fight in a vacuum!

A large-scale battle will work best if there is a build up to it over the course of a few sessions. If you plan to have a battle as the climax in your campaign, make sure you include it in all your plans, possibly foreshadowing it quite early.

If the battles are part of an ongoing war, you want to have the feel of the background of war in your campaign. Like a battle, a war progresses with and without the PCs interaction. The PCs at least should pick up news of how the war is going elsewhere. Resources, trade, and law in any land will be influenced by war.

Like in battles, how much influence the PCs exert on the war affects the feel of your campaign. But also how much involvement they have in the war, be it as agents, spies or just civilians.

Arch-nemeses make perfect NPCs in battles; with the real possibility of PC and NPC, death they give an edge to the drama. But like the device of war, they have to have had more than a few run-ins with the PCs previously so that the players know how frustrating and "bad" they are.

The Commandments of Battle

While it may seem like a daunting task to GM a big battle, if you remember some key points, it can make things easier or at least give you some grip on it:

  • Remember it's a story like every other.
  • Focus on what the PCs do.
  • Plan and decide the outcome of the battle before running it.
  • Try to build up to it in previous sessions.

Large-scale battles are a wonderful climax to any heroic chronicle. PCs can face heroic deaths, overcome old enemies and find hope in the very face of despair. I hope this article provides you with enough to plan and run your own dramatic battles.


Thanks to the folk on the Fudge List and on the forums for their input and advice.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Fudge: the Gathering

Summon powerful creatures. Cast hundreds of spells as magical energies fill your body. Dominate schools of magic with various effects and powers. Choose your movements carefully to maximize defense and/or attack, but don't forget your opponents will do the same!

This article introduces a magic system for Fudge based on Magic: the Gathering™ cards. Use it as a way to define and handle magic in any fantasy game while introducing great deal of strategy and randomness.

1. Introduction

This article will let you see your old Magic: the Gathering™ cards with an entirely different point of view: as a complete magic system for your Fudge roleplaying sessions!

So dust off your cards, write down a few skills and gifts on your character sheet and soon you'll be ready to cast powerful spells and summon awesome creatures!

2. The basics

The play of the magic system is very similar to playing the original Magic: The Gathering game with a few adaptations for a roleplaying setting. The main aspects which are handled differently than Magic: The Gathering is drawing cards, interpreting creature attributes, and the added roleplaying mechanics of actually casting the spells.

In that this approach creates five different magic schools, standard fantasy games should provide at least one gift for each specific school. Each school of magic from the original card game is used (i.e. White, Black, Blue, Red and Green magic). The description of each specific variation of magic is intentionally left out of this article as you can read it in the original instructions or online.

Like many magic systems based on Fudge, a wizard must have at least one Gift or Supernormal power to do any magic at all. A magical Gift of a given colour is required to use spells of that colour (e.g.: Gift - Blue Magic Caster). A wizard that doesn't have a Gift to cast spells of a specific colour must immediately discard any card she draws of that color, but that drawn card will still count as a validly drawn card. That is, she can't draw another card to replace that unusable one. Cards without cost, mainly lands, are always valid cards to draw because they can be used to generate generic mana. Each specific gift will also have a related skill which is Very Hard to learn (the first level, at Terrible, will cost one skill level). Of course, the gamemaster can choose to make it cheaper.

Only one deck of cards is used, which is shuffled before each use. All wizards, both PCs and NPCs, will draw cards from this deck (through the gamemaster) in order, and act accordingly. This allows the gamemaster to introduce as much or as little powerful magic as he wishes by tooling with the cards in the deck.

The cards are kept by each player (hidden in his or her hand) until they're used, at which point they are revealed.

Each wizard keeps her own pile of cards she has discarded, called her graveyard. Once all the cards have been drawn from the deck and none are left, all the graveyards are shuffled together to create a new deck. Each wizard's graveyard must remain set apart until that moment because there are cards whose conditions depend on the amount of cards and/or specific cards buried there.

3. Mana energies

To cast spells using this system you need to gather the magical energies of the world. This energy, called mana, is generated by land cards and other special cards. The total mana that you can generate from these cards is called your 'available mana pool'. Anytime you draw one such card you may play it and accumulate one mana of the appropriate color to your pool. You may also choose to hold the card in your hand for later use. Generic mana can be gathered from any source.

As mana has different sources it also has different colors. In most cases you'll need X points of a specific color mana and Y points of any other (generic) color mana, so it's easy to see how you can choose your mana sources to be able to cast the specific spell you want. When the type of mana required is not specified (colourless), any generic mana will suffice.

3.1. Mana generation variants

Depending on the effective power of magic the gamemaster wants to achieve, and the strategic way in which he wants to establish its foundations, he can choose one of the two following options:

  • Mana-on-the-fly: a wizard holds her mana-source cards until she has enough of them in her hand to cast the spell she wants, at which point, she can play them at once and cast the spell or summon the creature she wants from her hand. The mana cards are then discarded to the graveyard once they're used. This way her opponent can't affect her mana cards with cards of his own. This provides a quicker and less strategic feel to the magic system.

Example: A wizard who has six points of mana ready to use in her hand, between red mana and generic mana cards, plays the six appropriate land cards all at once and casts a fireball to her opponent. Her opponent may also play cards (islands, or similar) in response to this spell, in an attempt to gather enough blue mana to dispel the spell before it strikes him.

  • Resource gathering: you can't play more than one mana card per round (see Speed of Magic below) but you can keep mana cards in front of you to use as you need, as per standard Magic: The Gathering. Mana sources replenish themselves (untap) on your next round, no matter how many drawing turns we're using per round, so don't waste all your mana too quickly. You might need some later in the same round! This allows an wizards to use their own cards to destroy their opponent's mana sources, use creatures which receive bonuses for specific lands, etc. It also makes magic much more strategic (almost as much as in the original game) but might slow roleplaying down. So think carefully if you want that in your game!

Example: After six drawing rounds, the above mentioned wizard has already played three mountains and two other mana cards. In this moment she can play another land and use the six mana points thus gathered to cast a fireball at her opponent. If her opponent doesn't have enough cards in play he risks not being able to stop the spell! On the other hand, she might have already unleashed havoc over her foe's mana sources, destroying some of them so that no countering spell could have been cast.

3.2. Spell ease factors

Most spells you cast will have a color. When casting a spell, you have to roll your magic skill for that specific color against an ease factor which will depend on the total amount of mana needed to cast the spell, regardless of colour:

Mana cost Ease factor
1 Automatic
2 Poor
3 Mediocre
4 Fair
5 Good
6 Great
7 Superb
8+ Legendary

Colorless cards, such as artifacts, count as color cards of the color of the most numerous kind of mana used to cast it. In case of a tie, you choose the colour you want.

Example: Summoning an artifact with a cost of four generic mana points by using two red, one blue and one white mana points would cause us to roll against our Red Magic skill for Fair or better (as if all four points were red). If we had used two red and two blue mana points we could choose either our Red Magic or our Blue Magic skills, probably choosing the one we have a better score in.

Some Gifts allows you to cast spells with a higher mana cost to strengthen your creatures or make them swifter. When this is the case, ensure that the extra cost is counted when seeing if you can cast the spell!

Remember than in the Mana-on-the-fly system each card used to generate mana is discarded as soon as it is used.

If a wizard fails the roll to cast a spell, usually nothing bad happens. The spell fizzles, the creature being summoned fails to materialize, etc. However, the mana spent is lost (and the cards buried or can't be used till the next round, depending on the variant).

Only if the wizards botches the attempt should something worse happen, which should be decided according to the specific circumstances.

Examples: Bury or remove some or all the lands the player had played, or destroy one of his creatures. Perhaps some of his own creatures attack him, or the spell strikes him instead of the chosen target, etc.

While a wizard is casting spells, she can't offer an active defense. She is not a sitting duck however, and hitting her isn't automatic. If a wizard is hurt, the wound penalties apply to the next roll she has to make, which may make it fail. Thus it's pretty obvious that beating wizards to a pulp is a good way to avoid being turned into a frog, and that's a strong reason why wizards prefer casting spells at long range.

4. Speed of magic

The number of cards each wizard draws per roleplaying round determines the speed and potency of magic. There are a few alternatives to measure speed in this style of magic. You can either pick up a single magic card each round, get a fixed amount of them, get a number of cards depending on an appropriate skill or pick cards till you can cast at least one spell. Regardless of the variant used, there is no specific maximum to the number of cards a wizard may have on her hand.

We'll try to see the advantages and disadvantages of each option, so you can fine tune the speed of magic to your taste.

Note: no matter the system chosen, there are some common points. The wizards involved draw cards in turn (called a Drawing Turn), according to an Initiative roll. Each time they draw a card they may play a land or cast spells and summon creatures if they have the required mana. If a wizard has more drawing turns (can draw more cards during a round than his foe can), he will draw one at a time and his opponent will only be able to react to spells cast at him with the cards she currently holds. Also, if casting spells outside of combat, the length of time it takes to complete an entire round of Drawing Turns is up the gamemaster.

4.1. Slowest magic

Draw one single card per round. This method might be good for a low magic world, as it makes each spell hard to cast and easily disrupted (by distractions or physical harm). For a high magic world, this might be useful for areas in which magic energy is scarce.

4.2. Middle ground

Draw a fixed number (GM's choice) of cards per round. This might be a good alternative because it lets you choose the specific amount of magic energy available in your world. A good amount could be five cards per round.

If you prefer an amount which depends on your skills, a fast and simple rule would be to draw cards per round equal to two plus the number of magic schools in which you have gifts.

Example: A wizard with the Red Magic, White Magic and Blue Magic gifts could draw 2+3 cards each round.

If we want to link the number of cards to skills instead, it's a bit harder because there are at least five different skills. We might use either the best skill score or an average value, rounding down, using the following table in both cases:

Best Magic skill or average value Cards per round
Terrible 1
Poor 2
Mediocre 3
Fair 4
Good 5
Great 6
Superb 7

With this approach, the better you are, the faster you can handle magic.

Example: A wizard has a Red Magic skill of Good, a White Magic skill of Good and a Blue Magic skill of Mediocre. Using the average value, which would be +1+1-1 / 3 = 1/3, rounded down is Fair, would allow us to draw four cards per round. This can also be calculated by using the above table: five cards (Good Red) + five cards (Good White) + three cards (Mediocre Blue) / three skills = four cards drawn (rounded down). On the other hand, if we use our best magic, skill we would draw five cards a round. Which to use (average/best) is up to GM discretion.

Note that in the example we've divided the average skill level, not by all the skills available (five, one per school) but by the number of Gifts possessed. A wizard is already penalized if she doesn't have a gift in each colour magic because there are cards she can't use, which slow her magic down quite significantly.

4.3. Fastest

Each wizard draw cards in turn until any wizard can (and wants to) cast a full spell. This alternative is very useful for wizard duels. It's also a good alternative for magic-filled worlds, as wizards would be quite able to finish their enchantments as quickly as a warrior swings his sword. In fact, with this alternative, all spells need only one round to be cast no matter the amount of cards drawn.

5. Casting spells

Unless obviously stated on the card, most spells will only affect one target. There are too many cards to give a hard and fast rule, so you'll have to fudge things a bit when determining number of targets. Most cards should be obvious in their number of targets.

Example: A fireball spell can obviously have multiple targets, while a lightning bolt has only a single target.

5.1. Summoning creatures

Many magic cards summon creatures invoked to fight against the wizards' foes. In this system, that concept will still be used without many changes. We should just think about the origin of such beings. Are they invoked from another plane? Are they paradigmatic creatures from the myth of perfect ideas? Perhaps they're just summoned from another place in the same world and forced to fight for a wizard? Whatever you choose, those incredible beings usually won't be seen in your games except through magic. It's likely that most weird creatures you find in Magic will be beings rarely seen in the wilds, or perhaps never seen at all.

In game terms, you will need to gather enough mana of the appropriate colors to summon a creature. As soon as you have gathered it you can cast a summoning spell and bring a creature from your hand to the world. The round (or drawing turn, depending on the variant) you invoke the creature it is confused, so it can't attack (though it can defend itself if needed). After the duel is over, all creatures fade out and return to wherever they came from (and anything they brought with them, too).

No matter how many drawing turns we have in a round, a creature can attack only once per round except in special circumstances. So it's wise to keep some creatures ready to protect you physically against those of your foe, or to fight for you later in the round.

5.1.1 Creature attributes

We could run creatures as full characters and keep all Wound levels for them, or, as the minions they are, we could use a reduced list of levels, like the usual Ok, Wounded, and Out of the Fight. The second option is good to keep the fight agile enough, but choose what you like the best.

The creature attributes will be as follows:

  • Strength is Mediocre + the creature's power.
  • Health is Mediocre + the creature's toughness.
  • Attack skill is Fair, which you can enhance with more magic.*
  • Defense skill (dodge) is Fair, which you can enhance with more magic.*
  • Initiative is Fair, which you can enhance with more magic.*

(*)See Gifts (section 6) below.

All other attributes are Fair unless they're clearly inappropriate for the creature in question. Keep in mind these creatures are intended mainly as fighters and thus are barely useful for anything else.

Large creatures might have Fair Strength, but use Mass scale equal to the card power. Also, if a card has power/toughness larger than 5 (Legendary Strength or Health in this case) we ought to move the extra points to Mass scale. In some case we might even move more than those points to Scale, decreasing Strength or Health to Great to keep the amount of points the same.

5.1.2 Creature abilities

What is more interesting about summoning creatures is the special abilities they have. Just like in Magic: The Gathering, if a creature has to tap to use it's special ability, it can't attack the same round and vice-versa. Some creatures do not tap to attack, and they can use a special ability and still attack that round, so long as they attack first. If the special ability has a cost in mana you have to pay for it before it can be used.

Some creatures have specific types or subtypes which may have specific uses or effects in certain circumstances. Apply them as you see fit.

Many creatures have a special ability (or are affected by spells) that disallows others to interact with them either via choosing them as targets or blocking them, etc. In those cases, the summoner may choose the creature's opponent at will. Once the summoner chooses an opponent, the summoned creature can be then fought by it's opponent normally. Example: Shadow, Phase.

Creatures with the ability to create copies of themselves (clones or duplicates) are counted as two (or more) summoned creatures of the same type. If the base creature was summoned with magic bonuses, the copies do not receive those bonuses. If the bonuses were given with cards, the bonuses remain on the original creature, like the cards would in Magic: The Gathering.

Flanking creatures impose a -1 penalty to defense to creatures without this ability.

Flying creatures have a base flying skill of Fair. As expected, they can usually fight any flying or ground-based foe, while only opponents which fly or have some power (i.e. ranged attacks) are able to initiate a fight with the flyer.

Fortifiable creatures are able to grow stronger or tougher with magic or if other conditions are met. To simulate this effect, simply modify the creature's attributes to the new scores as soon as the power is used. The same should be done when creatures or spells make creatures grow weaker. Regardless of the effect, apply the new attributes as soon as possible. This includes instances where creatures have bonuses against other specific creatures or against specific subtypes (i.e. +1/+1 against Merfolk), usually reducing their opponent's Strength and/or Health or increasing their own attributes. Play these as described above.

Grouping (banding) creatures have enough leadership to coordinate the attacks of others. Usually X creatures can be grouped if X-1 of them have this special skill. Apply bonuses to their attack as you see fit, as flanking or swarming can be very advantageous. Generally any result is appropriate if it could come from acting as a highly cohesive team. Allowing one member of the group to take a hit for another member of the group at no penalty, or removing maximums and/or penalties for cooperative skill rolls are both good examples.

The Morph ability is used by paying the appropriate costs for the desired creature version and modifying the attributes of the creature to the new values it should have after the morph. This ability, in a nutshell, describes a creature with two different sets of attributes and/or abilities.

Regenerating creatures are able to heal all damage by paying an specific cost. If that includes mana, you have to pay for it with your own mana. In most cases the creature has to spend one or more rounds doing nothing for this effect to work, but can be regenerated even if killed outright. Even so, there are cards and powers which annihilate regenerating creatures (for example, Disintegrate), so this skill isn't too unbalanced.

Trampling creatures are so powerful that they can damage more than one foe at the same time. They roll at full bonus attack against the first enemy then with a -2 penalty to each adjacent foe. The damage bonus is the same against each opponent.

Landhoming creatures can't attack a foe if she hasn't used a land card of the appropriate type. Also, landhoming creatures dissipate if the wizard doesn't have at least one land card of required type, either in his hand each round (Mana-on-the-Fly variant), or played (Resource Gathering variant).

Landwalking creatures have a +1 bonus to attack and defense if your foe has used mana of the color of the specific land it can traverse (e.g. blue for islands). If we're using the Resource Gathering variant, this also applies if your foe has played a copy of the named land type.

Wall creatures can't attack but can defend others. They have a base defense skill of Great.

5.2. Casting spells

Many protection spells create unbeatable defenses against a specific color of magic or creatures of that color. When attacked by those sources, the being thus protected is usually unharmed or unaffected. These spells last one round or until dispelled, though they may require extra mana when attacked by the affected color more than once. There are too many specific cases which could generate confusion. When in doubt, use common sense.

All non permanent spells are one use only. Once you cast them, they're buried in your graveyard. Permanent spells can be played in front of you or associated to a creature and may last many rounds.

Many spells do damage to creatures or directly to wizards or both. The base damage in Fudge : The Gathering will be two plus the damage the effect does. You can fine tune this base damage to be less lethal (base damage +0) or very deadly (base damage +4).

Example: A fireball of four points of damage would cause a total damage of +6, which would cause (unless somehow reduced by armor, Health, Scale or appropriate gifts) a Serious wound to its target.

If you wish, you can take the degree of success you had in the magic roll and add it to damage. This can make magic even more deadly!

5.3 Special abilities

Card retrieving: some abilities allow you to retrieve a played card. That card returns to your hand as soon as the ability can be played.

Example: Some creatures can be played, fight for you, then return to safety to your hand.

Card theft: some effects let you steal cards from your opponent. Usually, you'll steal cards in play (lands, mana sources, creatures or artifacts), though in some cases you can take cards from your opponent's hand.

Discarding: in some cases you'll have to discard one or more cards. Do so when prompted.

Extra cards: in some cases you are allowed to draw a card if some conditions are met (discarding another, for example). Draw that card as soon as you are able to, even if you are out of turn. Conversely, if you're forced to discard one or more cards, do so when you're forced to.

Interruptions and /or fast effects: these can be played any time you want, as soon as you meet the prerequisites.

Prevention and Redirection of Damage: some attacks specify that damage can't be avoided nor redirected. Treat the appropriate damage the same way.

Tapped condition: we have to remember what is tapped because it disallows special abilities and other actions. Tapping occurs after a creature attacks, the card uses an ability that requires it to tap, or when the thing acts in a way which is inappropriate (such as a creature fumbling an attack roll). If the tapping of a creature is caused by a spell or another special ability, the creature can't attack or act that round. If an artifact or object causes them to become tapped, you can use them only once per round. So, just like in Magic: The Gathering, while an entity is tapped, it is unusable.

Cards which don't get tapped when they act, may roll for defense as often as needed, but only once for each specific foe.

Example: Usually a summoned creature can fight till dispelled or dies; it doesn't have to wait random pauses. However, if it had the special ability X which can't be used if tapped, it can't be used if the creature has done other important actions this round. On the other hand if a spell "tapped" the creature, it loses all remaining actions this round as if it were confused or slowed down, as interpreted by the spell.

Umbral condition: this applies with the same meaning as in the original game. If you don't know what this condition is, don't bother to look for it. It means that you don't have cards which are affected by it, so why bother? It's merely used as a triggering condition for some special abilities.

6. Gifts

Now I'll introduce some specific gifts.

Adaptable magic: if you draw a card that you can't use because you don't have the appropriate Gift, you can discard it and draw another one in it's stead. Without this gift you are forced to bury the unusable card and wait until your next drawing turn to get a better one.

Black, Blue, Green, Red or White magic gifts: those gifts are bought individually, and they allow you to do magic of the specific type chosen and thus allow you to get levels of the related skills.

Creature Enhancers:

Enhance creature's attack: the summoned creature gets a +1 attack bonus for the cost of one extra mana.

Enhance creature's defense: the summoned creature gets a +1 dodge bonus for the cost of one extra mana.

Enhance creature's flight: the summoned creature gets a +1 bonus to its flying skill for the cost of one extra mana.

Enhance creature's initiative: the summoned creature gets a +1 bonus to its initiative for the cost of one extra mana.

Enhance grouping ability: allows the summoned creature with the Grouping (banding) ability to band with one extra creature which doesn't have it, for the cost of one extra mana.

Note that all creature enhancers can only be used when the creature is being summoned, because you have to calculate the total mana involved before rolling for it.

Hasty magic: for the cost some mana, you can tinker with magic more quickly. For each mana point spent on this gift each round, you get a +1 bonus on your Initiative roll for magical activities. Thus, as soon as you get mana generating cards in play, you can burn them to act before your foes. The drawback is that this boost has to be paid every round you want to keep it!

Land mastery (only for the Resource Gathering variant, see 2.1): you can play an extra land per round to boost a spell or finish it quicker. Also, very useful to counterspell magical attacks. Note: if you're in your drawing turn you can effectively play two lands at once, but only once per round. If you're counterspelling, it allows you to bring one extra mana point to your side.

Example: You have played three mountains and then drew and played a swamp. You need to play another land to cast a spell in your hand, so that you can defeat your foe. You can play another land in this moment and finish the spell quickly. If you didn't have this Gift, you would have to wait another round to play the other land you need.

Another example: Your foe casts a fireball at you and you can't dispel it with the few islands you've already played. Fortunately, this Gift allows you to play another island and gather enough mana to shield you from the the worst effects of the spell.

7. Example of play

Now I'll show an example of a magical duel, using the Middle Ground rules for number of cards drawn per round and the Resource gathering variant. Degree of success in spell casting won't be added to damage in this fight.

In one corner we have Endria the Green - an elven sorceress with the gifts of Green, Blue and White Magic. In the other corner we have Ash the Black - a Black, Red and Blue goblin wizard.

Endria has a Great skill in Green Magic, and Good levels in Blue and White. Ash has a Superb skill in Black Magic, Good in Red magic and Fair in Blue.

This example uses the Resource gathering variant, and to see how many cards can the wizards draw each round, we'll use their gifts. In this case both wizards have three schools of magic each so they can draw 2+3 = 5 cards per round.

The duel starts with an initiative roll won by Endria. The deck is shuffled and she draws a Celestial Lion, a 3/1 white creature. Fortunately she has dabbled before with white magic so she can add it to her hand. It has a cost of two points of generic mana and one white mana, so she'll wait for now.

Then Ash draws a Ghostly Soldier, another white creature. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't have the gift of White Magic, so he has to bury this card and thus starting to his graveyard.

Endria draws another card and gets an artifact which she could use to make her creatures stronger, if she could summon any! As an artifact it is colorless but its cost is four points of mana, so she just keeps it in her hand.

Ash now draws a swamp, which he gleefully plays to get his first mana reservoir ready.

Endria gets lucky and draws an island, which she also plays.

Ash now draws a Mind Bolt, a blue spell which costs one blue and one generic point of mana, and which causes two points of damage. He adds it to his hand and waits to get an island.

As her fourth card Endria draws a Forest which she adds to her land pool.

Ash now draws Shadow Skeletons, a 1/1 black creature with regeneration and shadow consistence, with a cost of two points of black mana. He can't summon them yet.

Endria's last card this round is a Dire Lettuce, a 2/2 green creature costing 2 green mana points and one point of generic mana to summon. This creature can be made stronger with green mana, paid every round (+1/+1 per point).

Ash now draws an island, which he plays quickly. With it he casts Mind Bolt (tapping the swamp and the island) against Endria. With a cost of two mana, it is an easy spell, so he has to roll Poor or better, which he easily does with his Fair skill. The total damage would be 2+2 (the damage of the spell) but Endria is allowed to roll against Willpower to reduce damage against this mind spell. With an incredible Great roll she reduces damage to two and thus she is only scratched by the spell. The Mind Bolt card is now buried by Ash.

This the first round is finished. If there were other players doing things, they could also have acted this round. Alternatively, someone could have sneaked up and stabbed any of them to break their concentration. Without external interferences, the turns only have meaning if a wizard can draw more cards than an opponent. For example, if Ash could only play four cards per round, he wouldn't have able to cast that spell in the first round and Endria still would have added the Dire Lettuce to her hand.

The next round starts and all mana sources become untapped again. Ash has his swamps ready again.

In the second round, Endria draws a Forest, which is quickly played in front of her player. With this second forest she can summon the Dire Lettuce. That card is played in front of her, but can't attack yet because it is confused by the summoning of the spell.

With a worried look, Ash draws another card. Fortunately for him, it's another swamp. He plays it and summons the Shadow Skeletons to existence, though they're also confused this round.

Endria draws another card, a plain, and plays it. She'd like to make the Dire Lettuce stronger but right now her Forests are depleted of mana until her next round. She can only order it to attack Ash, or his Skeletons - but they're shadowy creatures, so her veggie monster can't attack them. So, she commands it to attack Ash. As a 2/2 creature, the Dire Lettuce has Good Strength and Health, and a base Fair attack skill. The creature rolls its attack against Ash, but only scratches the tough goblin. Now that the Dire Lettuce has attacked, it can't use special abilities (if it had them) but can defend itself normally.

Note: if there were other foes, like Ash's bodyguards, Endria might order the Dire Lettuce to beat them to death. Conversely, the goblin pests might attack the plant monster out of turn.

Ash then draws a Fireball spell but can't use it until he gets two mountains to complement the two generic mana points he already has. He can, however, attack with his Shadow Skeletons. He orders them to attack. They could attack Endria because she has no creatures ready to protect her; and what's better for him, they might not be able to stop his shadowy minions! But he just wants to destroy the lettuce before Endria can make it stronger, so he chooses the greener target.

The Skeletons are 1/1 only so they have Fair Strength and Health. They hit the Lettuce but don't harm it.

Now Endria draws a Ray of Light, a white spell which causes two points of damage to undead. With her plain she's able to cast it with ease (it is an automatic spell) and she aims it at the skeletons. A Fudge damage of +4 is too much for the skeletons, so they're destroyed. Fortunately for Ash, they can be regenerated with generic mana. He taps his unused island and with its blue mana, the skeletons regenerate fully. Note that if the Skeletons hadn't already acted this round, they wouldn't be able to act until next round - like as if they were just summoned.

Ash now draws a Disaster card, which is able to destroy all islands if he pays a red mana point. Without a Mountain, he must wait for now.

Endria now draws a swamp, which she plays as a source of generic mana, and waits.

Ash draws finally a mountain, plays it. In a burst of self destructive behavior, he plays Disaster, burying all islands (including his own!)

Endria draws a Lovecraftian Horror, a very powerful black creature, but she has to bury it immediately since she can't use black cards.

Finally Ash draws a Sea Serpent, a 3/3 blue creature he can't summon for now (cost two Blue and two generic mana points).

The round finishes and all surviving lands are untapped. The third round begins.

Endria draws another card, another Forest! She then taps all her forests and makes the Dire Lettuce grow to humongous size (from now until the next round it is a 5/5 creature). Looking for a quick victory, she orders it to attack Ash. As a 5/5 creature it would have Legendary Strength and Health, but it is reduced to Superb Strength and Health, scale +1. Ash orders his skeletons to protect him, though the Lettuce is too strong for them and they are blown to pieces again.

Ash taps a swamp and the skeletons regenerate. No creatures are left, so unless either of the two wizards draw one, they won't be able to hurt each other except by spells until next round.

As a side note, if not fed with more green mana on the next round, the Dire Lettuce will become a 2/2 creature again. For now, it keeps its increased attributes. However, as it has already attacked, it can't use special abilities (if it had them) and can only defend itself normally if attacked later in the round.

And so on... hope this example was worth the effort!

(Magic: The Gathering™ is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, Inc.)

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Still Human

Over the last few years, the cinema has seen an uprising in zombie activity -- from Resident Evil and 28 Days Later, to the remake of Dawn of the Dead and the recently released Land of the Dead. Indeed, it seems as though we're in the midst of a zombie reawakening.

Fudge, with its fast pickup and ease of use, is an ideal system for zombie one-shot adventures similar in scope to those found in the movies. All you need is a few characters, some zombie statistics, the layout of a shopping mall, and a GM that doesn't mind frequently groaning "BRAAAAAAAAAINS...."

Of course, that's very cliché and limited in scope. Supposing your group wanted a more involved and detailed zombie RPG -- something with more campaign potential. Something that does more than put the players against hordes of mindless undead searching for their next feast of fresh, human brains. Suppose, for a moment, your group wanted to play the zombies, not the humans. Well, now we're talking.

Over the last few years, the cinema has seen an uprising in zombie activity -- from Resident Evil and 28 Days Later, to the remake of Dawn of the Dead and the recently released Land of the Dead. Indeed, it seems as though we're in the midst of a zombie reawakening.

Fudge, with its fast pickup and ease of use, is an ideal system for zombie one-shot adventures similar in scope to those found in the movies. All you need is a few characters, some zombie statistics, the layout of a shopping mall, and a GM that doesn't mind frequently groaning "BRAAAAAAAAAINS...."

Of course, that's very cliché and limited in scope. Supposing your group wanted a more involved and detailed zombie RPG -- something with more campaign potential. Something that does more than put the players against hordes of mindless undead searching for their next feast of fresh, human brains. Suppose, for a moment, your group wanted to play the zombies, not the humans. Well, now we're talking.

First thing we'd have to do is make the zombies interesting, more than a lumbering column of fetid flesh that has trouble with the concept of doorknobs. They'd certainly have to have some intelligence left over, and all zombies are preternaturally strong. We'll start the zombie "template" with a Reason of Mediocre and a Strength of Good.

There would have to be a reason for zombie player characters. Something more than, "the dead have arisen and are eating the living -- those that are bitten rise up as one of the undead". We could say that after years of experimentation, a government subsidized pharmaceutical laboratory made some stunning advances with regards to life-after-death. They perfected a serum that, when injected into a corpse, would bring the body back to a semblance of life - it was able to stand, walk, and move about of its own volition. Higher reasoning was a challenge, and if the body had been dead too long, the newly arisen "zombie" was a monster living off near animal instinct alone, a hunger for living flesh guiding its every move. More testing identified the brain as the key to higher functioning - a recently dead brain was more capable than a long dead brain. Subjects who had the serum injected before death arose with their personality and memories largely intact. However, as the brain shriveled away, all the test subjects wound up reverting to cannibalistic, animal-like ways. Therefore, a new serum was devised. This serum, when injected at regular intervals, kept the brain fresh and functional complete with personality, memories, and an abated hunger for human flesh. Mix in some formaldehyde and the body is preserved as well. The government embraced these advances, seeing in these newly created undead a tireless workforce, able to labor ceaselessly with blatant disregard for any existing labor laws -- they were dead, after all. They were evicted from their homes and driven out of their neighborhoods into government labor camps -- which is where the players find their characters at the start of the game.

There would need to be a way to simulate the descent into monsterhood in Fudge terms -- an attribute like Humanity might be in order, and the zombie "template" could start with a Humanity of Mediocre. We could say that every week without an injection of the serum requires a Great Humanity roll -- if the roll is failed, the character loses a level of Humanity and Reason. When the character has a Humanity of Terrible and fails a weekly roll, the character loses everything that makes them remotely human, operating from the instinct to feed on human flesh alone. If a character that loses a level of Humanity and Reason from the lack of serum injections begins receiving the injections again, there is no Humanity roll required for that week, and they instantly regain one lost level of Humanity and Reason. Note that no amount of serum will raise a character's Humanity and Reason past their initial levels.

Wow, this sounds pretty depressing. Why would anyone want to play a dead person dependant upon the government to keep their humanity intact -- the same government that forces them to work inhumane hours, believing their dead status to confer no inalienable rights? We'd have to add some sort of hope for the characters. Something like an underground zombie resistance movement that works to free the enslaved zombies, providing them a place to live away from their dreary existence of endless toil. This group would be ideal for player characters, and would provide the GM with innumerable scenario options -- a truckload of new zombies is being brought to the local labor camp, for example, and the player characters must waylay it and free the "workers." Or a new labor camp is being built, and the player characters must organize and take part in terrorist-like operations against the living who are building it. For a more political campaign, these resistance groups could have made contact with living sympathizers who rally for zombie rights in the legal arena -- maybe one of the characters himself was related to a politician of no small renown when he was alive, and has made contact after death. That sounds better.

Oh, wait. There's a problem. What keeps the freed zombies from degenerating into a monstrous state? Certainly the government won't freely deliver the serum to escaped zombies. Granted, an enterprising GM could craft many scenarios around obtaining the serum by whatever means necessary, but that would quickly get redundant and many GMs wouldn't want to subject their players to the tension of realizing it's time for their injections and there's no serum at hand. So there has to be some sort of temporary stop-gap. Ah, we could say that the serum was based upon chemicals naturally occurring in the human brain. We could also say that early escapees discovered that in lieu of the serum, the ingestion of a fresh human brain could forestall the loss of that which makes them more than a ravaging, undead beast. However, in doing so, they are engaging in monstrous behavior that further separates them from the living. In game terms, a zombie character that consumes a fresh brain in typical zombie fashion as a substitute for the serum still needs to make a Great Humanity roll. If that roll is failed that character would only lose a level of Humanity and not Reason -- their intelligence is intact, but they are moving further and further away from the human norm. A character that has a Humanity of Terrible but an otherwise intact Reason and fails a Humanity roll becomes a sly, cunning monster whose main goal is the destruction and overthrow of the living as a way to secure the food source for the obviously superior living dead.

Now we have a zombie campaign with interesting potential. The characters are zombies, beginning with a zombie "template" granting initial Strength at Good, Humanity and Reason at Mediocre, which could be increased in line with whatever character creation system the GM is comfortable with. There's lots of stuff to do -- escape from the labor camps, join with a resistance cell, fight against the enslavement of other zombies, and try to keep from becoming a ravaging monstrosity.

El Purgatorio -- Sample Labor Camp

After years of mucking about with immigration problems, the state of California finally reached an agreement with Mexico: California created a "guest worker" program - including benefits and legal driving privileges - for Mexican "undocumented workers" in exchange for land grants in Mexico.

Located a few miles southeast of Tijuana, in an area of land granted to the State of California, El Purgatorio is located in the flatlands of Baja California. Completely self-contained, El Purgatorio has underground facilities that feature zombie powered generators, pumps, and sewage management. Above ground, the compound is host to numerous office buildings, apartments, factories, farms, and warehouses where the "workers" are stored between shifts.

One chain-link fence surrounds the entire compound. Additional fencing runs through the middle of the facility, separating the office buildings and apartments from the factories, farms, and storage warehouses. Tall guard towers spot the landscapes, giving decent views of the "worker quarters".

Zombie "life" at El Purgatorio is horrid. Shifts are long and hard, interrupted by regular injections of the brain serum and formaldehyde to keep the body preserved. There are no rest breaks as they don't need to rest; nor are there any lunch breaks as they don't need to eat. Those that decide to cease working are denied the brain serum and/or formaldehyde, forced to witness their body rotting away and feel the hunger for human flesh grow in their bellies. The few that don't return to work after the experience wind up as cannibalistic monsters, powering the generators and pumps underground as mules often powered wagons in the early days.

Juan Pedro de Sandoval is the Director of El Purgatorio. The "workers" call him El Jefe Diaboloico, "the Devil boss." He is assisted by Anthony Hernandez, who is head of security and internal affairs. Both Juan Pedro and Anthony Hernandez are fairly average NPCs. (Physical and mental attributes should average out to Fair, as should Skills. They both have the Mean and Nasty fault.)

Todavía Humano -- Sample Political Sympathizer Group

Todavía Humano, "Still Human," is a group that started in Tijuana shortly after El Purgatorio was first built. It began as a group local to Baja California, but quickly spread to the other Mexican states where the USA built zombie labor camps. As of late the group has garnered interest from liberal Americans who have taken an interest in the "inhumane" treatment of the living dead that occurs at El Purgatorio and other camps.

The current Todavía Humano spokesperson in Baja California is Roberto Bonita. While Roberto is a very passionate, animated and outspoken individual, he does not condone any direct action towards El Purgatorio by any member of Todavía Humano. He prefers to fight his battles in the political arena. Unfortunately, not all Todavía Humano members see eye to eye with him. Roberto is smart but not a very physically endowed person, and his traits should reflect that. (Mental attributes should be in the Good or Great range, whereas his physical attributes should center around Mediocre or Fair. Roberto should have Social/Manipulative skills in the Good or Great range as well, and he has the Gift of being a Smooth Talker.)

Adventure Seeds

  • It's a hot and stifling day at El Purgatorio. The characters are all working around the receiving gate when a truck of "new recruits" drives up. The claxons sound as the zombies are herded back from the gate by the El Purgatorio guards. Suddenly, the truck accelerates at alarming speed and smashes through the fence, killing human and zombie alike. The truck door flies open and a zombie riddled with bulletholes in his chest jumps out. He screams at the zombies to run away before the tower guards put a bullet in his brain - as he falls to the ground, many zombies get the idea and begin to run through hole in the fence. The tower guards try to shoot them down, but there are too many escaping. Undoubtedly the characters should be some of the zombies that get away, and they must find their way to a safe haven with the El Purgatorio guards hot on their tails.
  • Time has passed since the characters have escaped El Purgatorio. By now they should have fallen in with a Todavío Humano cell or another group of friendly undead. They should have also found out that they are in desperate need for the preserving serum, but maybe not yet found out about the human brain subsitution. They receive a tip-off that a truck containing a decent supply of the serum will be making its way to El Purgatorio via the back road that the characters haven happens to be close to. They'll need to organize a raid to waylay the truck and recover the serum for their group.
  • Word is delivered to the characters that a Todavía Humano sympathizer has taken a job in El Purgatorio, and is willing to sneak the characters through the camp close enough to El Jefe Diaboloico to exact revenge. They'll need to figure out a way to get back into the camp, make contact with the sympathizer, and get to El Jefe Diaboloico. Of course, the sympathizer could be a plant by El Purgatorio or the U.S./Mexican government to capture the rogue zombies, but they don't know that.
  • After escaping from El Purgatorio, the characters discover information about a zombie refuge in Northern California. They'll have to figure out a way to travel across the border and through California to find the commune. Of course, Immigration agents are well trained at spotting escaped zombies, and the federal government is searching for the commune as well. Can the characters make it to the refuge before it moves to a new location or is seized by the government?
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Monday, September 05, 2005

Naval Combat in Fudge

Imagine, if you will, your musketeers are in hot pursuit of their most hated opponent, after a few impressive combat sequences (most of which involved swinging from chandeliers), the villain has escaped by ship. What can our heroes do now? Wait around the port hoping to encounter their arch rival again? Of course not! Set sail with these rules for naval combat in Fudge and prepare to shiver some timbers. Perfect for a swashbuckling game, but the rules can be easily modified for any setting where large ships try to destroy each other.

Whether you're a pirate looking for fame and glory on the high seas, or a merchant looking to make an easy profit, combat on the high seas during the Age of Exploration was a fact of life. These rules provide a quick and entertaining resolution to any naval combat.

Building a Ship

Before you can engage in naval combat, you have to have a ship. A ship can be built roughly the same way a character is, with a set of Attributes, and even Gifts and Faults. There are 5 main Attributes for a ship as listed below.

  • Hull: The strength and size of a ship's Hull. A better Hull can both carry more cargo and is more resilient to damage. If a Hull's level is ever brought below Terrible, the ship is sunk.
  • Guns: The number of cannons that can be fired at an opponent. For simplicities sake all cannons are assumed to have enough gunpowder and shot.
  • Speed: How fast the ship can go. This is an abstract Attribute, and cannot be converted directly to knots.
  • Maneuverability: How effective the ship is at changing direction. This Attribute goes hand in hand with Speed most of the time. A more maneuverable ship is a more dangerous one.
  • Crew: The quality of the people manning the ship. Used to determine the fighting strength of a boarding action and effectiveness at making repairs.

Based on your assessment of a ship's Attributes, you can call the ship what you will. A ship with high levels of Speed and Maneuverability could be called a Sloop. Ships with Great Hull and Guns could be called a Galleon, it's up to you to decide how descriptive you want to be.

The Combat

The ship is built and ready for some combat. Naval combat can be broken into three distinct aspects: rounds, turns, and actions. Each round is the time it takes for every ship to have at least one turn. During each turn a ship can perform a certain number of actions. Once those actions are complete the turn for that ship is over and it's the opponent's turn. Once every ship's turn is over, that is the end of that round, and a new round begins.

Pre-turn Information

Weather gauge

According to the dictionary, the weather gauge is, "The position of a ship to the windward of another. (b) Fig.: A position of advantage or superiority; advantage in position." At the beginning of every other round, or less often depending on the whims of the wind, roll 4dF. If the end result is negative, the enemies have the weather gauge; if positive, the PC's ship has the weather gauge. This advantage increases the ship's speed rating by one level.

Tactics Check

At the beginning of every round the captain of each vessel makes an opposed Tactics roll, the winner of this roll gets to take the first turn this round.

During the Turn

Performing Actions

Every turn allows for at least one action. However skilled captains can increase the number of actions he can take by two or even three. Before making any actions, the captain of a ship can decide to risk doing multiple actions during his turn. The captain needs to make a successful roll against Tactics, Captaining, or similar. If the result is Great, he can make two actions in the turn. If the result is Legendary he can make three actions. However if the result is Mediocre or worse, the captain made an error in judgment and loses all actions for his turn. So trying to take more actions is risky, but may be worth it.


  • Move: You can either move away from your opponent or towards her. If the opponent doesn't want you to move, you must make an opposed Speed roll, with the winner getting her way. For simplicities sake, there are three ranges in this type of combat: "out of cannon range", "within cannon range", and "within boarding range." A successful Speed roll will allow you to move from one range to the adjacent one. A ship can move from "within cannon range" into either "boarding range" or "out of cannon range", but a ship that is currently "out off cannon range" cannot move directly into "boarding range" in a single action. Regardless of how many actions a ship can take it can only move one range increment per turn.
  • Sailing Away: Very rarely will you find two naval combatants willing to fight each other until both ships are destroyed; often one ship will try to make a run for it. In order to successfully flee naval combat, a ship has to stay out of cannon range for three consecutive rounds. For every full turn that a ship stays out of cannon range that ship gains a temporary +1 level to its Speed Attribute. After three turns it is assumed that the fleeing ship made it over the horizon. It can still be tracked, but for the time being the combat is over.
  • Maneuver: Make an opposed Maneuverability roll, with the faster ship getting a +1 bonus. The victor of this roll was able to out maneuver his opponent, allowing for a bonus on the victor's next action. This bonus equals the Relative Degree of the opposed Maneuverability roll.
  • Attack: You attack your opponent, if you are within cannon range. You can choose to target a part of the ship in an effort to disable that part. For example, targeting the sails of a ship will decrease its Speed. Your Guns roll must be equal to the Hull level of your target, and for every level beyond that you can take another level off of targeted Attribute. If the Hull ever drops to below Terrible, the ship is sunk. If the Crew is reduced to below Terrible, the entire crew is either dead or wounded, and will no longer be able to resist.
    If you want a little more randomness in this system instead of allowing a captain to target certain aspects of the ship roll 1d6 and use the resulting number as the area of the ship that was hit,
    1- Hull
    2 - Guns
    3 - Speed
    4 - Maneuverability
    5 - Crew
    6 - attacking captain's choice
  • Barrage: A barrage is a special type of attack. You can only perform a barrage when you can take multiple actions during the turn. By giving up the multiple actions, you get to add a +1 bonus for each action you could have taken to your Guns roll for this turn only.
  • Boarding: Many ship battles end with a boarding party trying to take over the other ship. In order to board a ship, the ships must be within boarding range. Make an opposed Crew roll, with the winning ship landing her crew onto the opponent's ship. If the roll is a tie, the assault was repelled and can be tried again next turn. Once the boarding party is on board, normal Fudge combat rules take over.
  • Make Repairs: The crew of a ship can make quick repairs on parts of the ship during battle. Make an unopposed Crew roll of Great or better to repair one Attribute of the ship, aside from the Crew itself. Each successful roll will repair one level of the Attribute; however these repairs can only bring up an Attribute one less its original. For full repairs a ship has to go to the docks.

PCs in Naval Combat

It is assumed that all PCs and important NPCs survive the naval combat, no one gets killed by incoming cannon fire, and if the ship happens to be sunk, all the PCs miraculously end up clinging to the same part of the broken ship.

Naval combat may not be very much fun for most PCs. Aside from giving advice to the captain, there isn't much that the heroes can do. However there is a risky alternative, each PC can choose a part of the ship to assist, any of the ships Attributes can be aided. At the beginning of each turn, the PCs that want to help can choose an Attribute to aid. Whenever a roll is needed from that Attribute the player can make another roll, and the better roll is taken. A bonus can be added for PCs that have skills relating to the area that they are helping in, for example someone with Great Leadership may warrant a bonus when working with the Crew. However there is some risk to this assistance. Anytime that part of the ship is attacked, the PC must make a Good or better survival roll against Fortitude, Health, Luck or similar. Failure means that the PC is knocked out for the rest of the combat, or possibly mortally wounded.

Deciding victory

A ship is considered victorious when the enemy ship is sunk, its crew is incapacitated, or they surrender. An optional rule to consider when plundering ships is to take into account how much damage was dealt. If a ship's Hull was reduced to Terrible, that probably means a lot of the cargo was destroyed, so many pirates use the threat of violence instead of actually destroying their opponents. It's much more profitable that way.


Now you are ready to sail the high seas looking for adventure using Fudge. As with Fudge itself, there are numerous options that can be added on. With a little modification, this system could be used for space opera combat. I will, however, leave those modifications as an exercise for the reader.

Additional resources

  • GURPS Swashbucklers - The book that made me want to run a swashbucklers campaign, now an e-book at e23.
  • Sailing Ships Archive - A nice little site that has got information on various sailing ships, and has a picture gallery as well.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean - Yet another fine website for learning about pirates and their ships.
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