Monday, November 28, 2005

Fudge Social Combat

Why let the sword swingers and gunmen get all the screen time? With the Social Combat rules, you can Bluff, Charm, Intimidate, Impress, and Persuade your way through the world with all the detail and suspense of physical combat.

Standard Fudge rules allow for detailed outcomes from physical combat - Skill, Strength, armor and chance all play into a well-defined outcome. Social skills on the other hand are not so well detailed. Often players and gamemasters choose to simply act out social interactions, but this can handicap shy players. If a slow, clumsy player can play a lightning-quick, expert swordsman, why can't a shy player run a charming con artist? Fortunately, the standard Fudge combat system can be adapted for social interaction. For the purpose of this system, I'm going to define three attributes, but other attributes may be substituted to suit the gamemaster's tastes.

  • Wit - A measure of mental agility and speed
  • Confidence - Presence and mental force
  • Ego - Mental and emotional toughness

Social skills as you might expect replace combat skills. The above Attributes are used as Offensive and Defensive Damage Factors (ODF and DDF). The various injury outcomes -- Scratch, Hurt, Very Hurt, Incapacitated -- have different definitions depending on what the character is attempting to do -- Bluff, Charm, Impress, Intimidate, or Persuade. The different social techniques include suggested Skills. Players should be encouraged to come up with creative uses for Skills, as long as they can describe a plausible effort. Alternately, the GM may simply use Bluff, Charm, Impress, Intimidate and Persuade as Skills. Choose an appropriate defensive skill based on the attack skill. For example, an attempt to Intimidate using Sword skill might be resisted by a Sword or other weapon skill. If there seems to be no appropriate Skill, simply set difficulty at Fair. As with combat, clever tactics and roleplaying should be rewarded with bonuses. To successfully use a social technique, the attacker must roll higher than the defender, just as in regular combat. In addition, the attacker must roll at least a Poor result. A failed attempt with a social technique doesn't necessarily have negative consequences. However, a roll of Terrible or worse should have repercussions. An effort to Charm offends, an effort to Impress does the opposite, etc. A failed effort to Intimidate always causes a hostile reaction. Add degree of success to ODF, and subtract DDF. If the result is positive, calculate the standard Fudge damage (Scratch, Hurt, etc) and check against the specific technique for the result.

Social Techniques

Bluff

As the name suggests, a Bluff is an effort to fake something, carried out through sheer force of will. While Persuasion may depend on logic or cunning, Bluff relies on confidence and chutzpah. Outcome depends in part on how plausible the bluff is and in part on how much risk the target takes in believing the bluff. Bluffing your way into a high-security base is difficult in part because the guards will face severe penalties for letting someone through unauthorized.

  • Skill: Acting is appropriate for pretending to be someone. Courtly Manners or similar skill for pretending to be a noble, appropriate academic skills for pretending to be a professor, etc.
  • ODF: Confidence
  • DDF: Wit
  • Scratch - The target will believe a plausible bluff, if there is no risk to the target.
  • Hurt - The target will believe the character's implausible bluff if no risk is involved or a plausible bluff if minor risk is involved.
  • Very Hurt - The target will believe a plausible bluff even at major risk, an implausible bluff at minor risk, or an absurd one at no risk.
  • Incapacitated - The target will believe a plausible bluff at severe risk (life and limb), an implausible bluff at major risk or an absurd one at minor risk.
  • Near Death - The target will believe an utterly ludicrous bluff.

Example: Jolene the Fair attempts to crash a noble's party by pretending to be an aristocrat. Met at the gate, she haughtily declares a noble title and demands to be introduced. Jolene is well-dressed and has a noble's manners, so the bluff is plausible. However, the doorman is at some risk in accepting Jolene's word, so the gamemaster decides a Hurt result is needed for success. Jolene has Courtly Manners at Great, while the doorman has the same skill at Mediocre. Jolene's Confidence is Great, the doorman's Wit is Good. Unfortunately, Jolene rolls a -1 and the doorman gets a +1. This gives Jolene a Scratch result - the doorman thinks she's a noble but insists on getting confirmation.

Charm

Charm means an effort to make someone like you. It can be helpful in avoiding trouble or helping set up a roll to persuade. An effort to Charm is likely to take some time, unlike other social techniques.

  • Skill: Seduction or similar skills are appropriate for romantic efforts. Carousing is appropriate for parties, Courtier for high society, and so on.
  • ODF: Confidence
  • DDF: Wit
  • Scratch - Target will be mildly more congenial. Efforts to Persuade are at +1.
  • Hurt - Target will be significantly friendlier than before. Efforts to Persuade are at +2.
  • Very Hurt - Target is likely to be friendly, even if initially hostile to the character. Efforts to Persuade are at +3.
  • Incapacitated - Target will be (temporarily) friendly even if the character is normally an enemy. Efforts to Persuade are at +4.
  • Near Death - Target is putty in the character's hands. Efforts to Persuade are at +5.

Example: Buddy the Cat is trying to convince his human owner to give him some food. He decides to use his Purring skill to Charm his owner first before making the attempt to Persuade. Buddy has Good Purring and Great Confidence. The owner has Mediocre Animal Handling and Good Wit. Buddy rolls, -2 for a Mediocre Purring Effort. Fortunately, his owner rolls -1 for a Poor Animal Handling result, and Buddy just barely succeeds. Adding his Great Confidence and subtracting his owner's Good Wit, Buddy gets a Scratch result, giving him a +1 to Persuade the owner to hand over people food.

Impress

Impress is an effort to awe or inspire someone. This could be dramatic oratory, a command in battle or any other similar effort.

  • Skill: Oratory for speeches, Leadership for commands. Other skills may be used to impress in limited contexts -- a minstrel might use skill with a harp to Impress a potential employer.
  • ODF: Confidence
  • DDF: The best of Wit or Confidence
  • Scratch - The target is mildly impressed.
  • Hurt - The target is moderately impressed.
  • Very Hurt - The target is very impressed with the character's abilities.
  • Incapacitated - The target is awestruck.
  • Near Death - The target is struck speechless with awe at the character's prowess.

Impress can be used as a complementary technique to Charm or Persuade, as described below. For dramatic speeches, check Persuade for results.

Example: Joe meets Jane at the high school prom and tries to Impress her with his Dance skill. Unfortunately, Joe has only Mediocre Dance skill, but Good Confidence. Jane has Good Wit. The gamemaster sets the difficulty of the attempt at Fair. Joe rolls a +1 for a Fair result -- not quite good enough to get a positive result, but at least he hasn't made a fool of himself.

Intimidate

An effort to Intimidate is like an effort to Impress, but with the deliberate attempt to frighten an opponent. If successful, it may handicap the opponent in combat. Unsuccessful efforts will lead to hostile reactions. This is the preferred social technique of tough guys and angsty superheroes dressed in black.

  • Skill: Anything that can be used to threaten. Weapon skills could be used to display combat prowess, Courtly Manners to imply you have powerful social connections, Streetwise to suggest friends in low places, etc.
  • ODF: Confidence
  • DDF: The best of Confidence or Ego

A character with a significant and obvious combat advantage should get a +1 to Skill, +2 for a Large advantage (for example, ogre vs. normal human). Likewise, a character at a significant seeming disadvantage should receive a -1 or more(a halfling attempting to intimidate a human for example). The advantage or disadvantage must be obvious to the defender.

  • Scratch - Target is mildly unnerved and will hesitate. If attacked, he will fight normally, but if attacking first, will be at -1 for the first round.
  • Hurt - Target is frightened and will be reluctant to attack. He will be at -1 in combat.
  • Very Hurt - Target is very frightened and will not attack first. He will be at -2 in combat.
  • Incapacitated - Target is terrified and will be at -3 in combat.
  • Near Death - Target is completely cowed and will either surrender or flee.

If using Intimidate to interrogate, check Persuade for likely results.

Example: Old West gunslinger Deadeye Crane finds himself confronting the self-named El Paso Kid, son of a man Deadeye killed many years ago. Deadeye doesn't want to kill the Kid, so instead tries to Intimidate him with a display of marksmanship. He points to a distant apple tree, draws his pistol and shoots away the stems of two apples. The GM decides that Gun skill is used for both attack and defense skill. Deadeye has Legendary skill (that's why they call him Deadeye) and Great Confidence, for an ODF of +2. The Kid has Good Gun skill, Good Confidence and Fair Ego. Since his Confidence is higher than his Ego, the Kid uses his Confidence for a DDF of +1. Deadeye's RDF is +1. Deadeye rolls a +1, giving him a result of Legendary+1. The Kid rolls 0, for a result of Good. Deadeye's degree of success is 4, +1 for his RDF, gives a result of +5 or Very Hurt. The Kid is badly shaken by Deadeye's display and will be at -2 in any combat.

Persuade

An effort to Persuade involves coming up with a logical, pseudo-logical, or otherwise cunning argument to convince the target to provide information or follow a certain course of action.

  • Skill: Diplomacy and Fast Talk are both appropriate. Other Skills may be used depending on the player's imagination and gamemaster's discretion.
  • ODF: Wit
  • DDF: Wit. However, if the attempt to Persuade goes against the character's principles, use the best of Ego or Wit.
  • Scratch - Target is willing to cooperate, if it's something he's likely to do anyway
  • Hurt - Target will cooperate with suggestions that involve no significant costs or risks, or actions he wouldn't mind doing.
  • Very Hurt - Target will cooperate with suggestions that may put him at minor risk, involve minor cost, or that he would normally be opposed to doing.
  • Incapacitated - Target will cooperate with suggestions that may put him at major risk or involve major cost, or that he is strongly opposed to doing.
  • Near Death - Target is completely bamboozled and will cooperate with truly ludicrous suggestions.

Example: Ragnar the Reckless is trying to talk a town watchman into letting him go after he was caught out after the city curfew. Ragnar hints that he is willing to pay a bribe to get out of trouble. The gamemaster decides this makes the suggestion one that the watchman is inclined to follow, and so Ragnar only needs a Scratch result. Ragnar has Fair Fast Talk and Great Wit. The Watchman has Fair Guile (used to resist Fast Talk) and Fair Wit. Ragnar gets a +1 and the watchman rolls a -1, giving Ragnar a result of Very Hurt. Ragnar gets away with breaking curfew, at a reasonable price.

Repeated Effort and Complementary Techniques

A player may attempt the same technique on the same target, but at a cumulative -1 per effort. Alternately, a player may follow up one technique with a different one. If the first technique is successful, the player might get a bonus to the second technique as follows:

  • Scratch: +1
  • Hurt: +2
  • Very Hurt: +3
  • Incapacitated: +4
  • Near Death: +5

For example, if a player gets a Hurt result using Charm, he may follow it with an attempt to Persuade at +2. In the example above from Impress, if Joe had gotten a Scratch result he would have been at +1 to Charm Jane. It is up to the gamemaster to decide whether a given technique is complementary. On the other hand, a failed attempt gives a -1 penalty to a complementary technique. With these rules, social combat can be as detailed as physical combat. Why let the sword swingers and gunmen get all the screen time? This system certainly isn't necessary for Fudge, but can add a lot of detail for diplomats and con artists.

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Fudgemon: Pocket Monsters

Pocket monsters, or "mons," are quite literally what you'd expect: tiny, living, breathing, and other... natural... bodily functions, that are small enough to fit in a pocket, palm, or purse. Where did they come from? Why are they here? What good are they besides increasing your tab at the local tailor due to their blasted little claws? They barely talk, don't eat lint, and usually cause rashes or worse. A warning to guys in the audience: never forget to feed your mon!

Pocket monsters, or "mons," are quite literally what you'd expect: tiny, living, breathing, and other... natural... bodily functions, that are small enough to fit in a pocket, palm, or purse. Where did they come from? Why are they here? What good are they besides increasing your tab at the local tailor due to their blasted little claws? They barely talk, don't eat lint, and usually cause rashes or worse. A warning to guys in the audience: never forget to feed your mon!

They Didn't Come From Storks, Bub

Where pocket monsters come from is entirely dependent upon your game world as well as how realistic you want it to be. They could be magical constructs, alchemical or created beings, natural inhabitants, aliens, or simply mutated and tinier versions of existing beasties. Possibilities include:

  • Similar to helper monkeys, your pocket monsters could simply be intelligently designed robots. Originally developed for altogether different purposes, such as spying on foreign embassies, eating up oil spills or providing video relay of a dark pipe, they became perverted from their initial intent by enterprising hackers. Today, with programmable robotic vacuums, crazy metallic dogs, and road signs that call out marriage proposals or the crowd favorite "0wn3d", we're not that far off.
  • Magical pocket monsters, however, could also fall under intelligent design. Whether it's a wizard, warlock, or witch scratching an itch with a custom-order familiar, or a fakir and illusionist creating the appearance of a tiny elephant from a ball of dried clay, there is still a singular intent. Unlike robots, however, familiars and fakir-golems can often be destroyed by killing its creator(s). On the other hand, dragons, trolls, and slimes aren't "created" in most back stories, so why should magical mons? They simply exist: as recognizable as faeries and as hard to catch.
  • No magic, no technology, no problem! Pocket monsters are the platypuses of your world: bastard mixes of multiple animals with no rhyme, reason, or intelligible forethought. They could be rare and secretive like the recently rediscovered ivory-billed woodpecker, or communal and protective like a town of prairie dogs. Alternatively, your mons were accidentally created, whether by ingestion of sewage or other chemical waste (mutation), through creeping development (evolution), or strong community belief (legend).
  • Ok, so they did come from storks. I dunno what kinda storks are living in your world, but they may have brought pocket monsters from a foreign land during migration, are crossbreeding fools whose every new birth is an entirely new phylum, or who were deemed the dominant life, abducted by aliens, and returned a wee bit "off". Don't worry about the science. The concept of pocket monsters, at the outset, is rather ridiculous, as are talking swords, a missile coalescing from dead air, or the incredible capacity for an inn to be a plot device (how many adventures have YOU started from the local coffee house?)

Representing mons within your game, physically, is quite easy and cheap. Unlike creating embarrassing cardboard swords or forcing your players to wear a Halloween costume, suitable mon designs can be found in pewter game figurines, M.U.S.C.L.E.™ toys ("Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere!"), or already painted models from games like Mage Knight™. These work best when you're not already using same-scale figs for combat or dungeon-delving purposes.

Mon Rarity, Desirability, and The Collectors

Besides the standard traits available in your game, each pocket monster has two additional measures: Rarity and Desirability. The Rarity, ranging from Poor to Superb, is indicative of how common the mons appear in your world. A mon with Poor Rarity is quite common, and you'd be able to find or buy one with only a few hours of searching. Mons with Superb Rarity, however, are extremely "short packed"* - waiting outside a known nest, or even having someone on the "inside" keeping an eye out for you, doesn't guarantee a victory. Often, you'll find yourself paying exorbitant prices, trading a mon of equal value, or going on lengthy and difficult quests. Traveling carnivals or sideshows may occasionally have the most desirable mons, but only locked away behind many layers of glass and protected by a number of condescending guards.

The other trait, Desirability, indicates whether the Rarity actually means anything. Some mons may have Great Rarity because of Poor Desirability: they may be too cranky, have too many faults, are impossible to handle without special consideration, or are simply variants of another strain (an always-blue Retrievimon, for example). A Poorly Desired mon with Poor Rarity, on the other hand, may be as common as a tribble: once they're everywhere, they're quite boring, easily foiled, and merely a nuisance.

Regardless of Desirability or Rarity, there are groups of people, collectors really, that care little for discussions about either trait. To them, every mon has Superb Desirability, and Rarity is merely a measure of how fervent one should be pursued. Their goals of collecting every pocket monster available, Legendary or otherwise, can often be considered a Fault (Obsessed, Devotion, Greedy, etc.), and is usually complemented with a Gift of Tireless, Unfazable, or Wealthy. Collectors will connive, steal, trade a fake (a self-painted blue Retrievimon), or lose sight of the big picture (leaving group combat to run after an escaping mon).

Pocket Monsters Love Pocket Monsters

And not much else. Sure, they like the idea of being fed, petted, and hauled around to locales that their little feets, wings, or wheels could never take them, but it is a bit degrading to be roughly grabbed and displayed to any onlooker at a moments notice. For that reason, some mons deliberately try to avoid hunters, and a GM should assess a +1 or +2 penalty to that monster's Rarity for the purpose of capture. This penalty should NOT be applied to collectors, due to their experience at tracking and the familiar, soothing smell of the dozens of mons probably on their person at any one time.

Pocket monsters communicate with each other in a series of unintelligible noises that are usually specific to each individual type. While every pocket monster can understand every other pocket monster regardless of their sound or type, we've yet been able to determine what they're really saying. Mons are expressive, however, and it is very easy to tell how they're actually feeling, be it sad, angry, ecstatic, etc.

Mons can and do mate with each other (which inevitably creates a new breed of some sort; if this child does not continue the line, Rarity jumps to Legendary and it earns a Gift of Unique) and can occasionally be violently territorial. Many a pocket has been destroyed due to a mon accidentally placed in the wrong location with the wrong companions at the wrong time. Thankfully, there are usually outside forces that cause this behavior, and careful attention to training and team-based mon interaction can reduce this threat.

Some Example Mons

Herein lies the rub: why would anyone want to keep a tiny little monster, full of animal, mutant, or electronic thoughts, tucked away in a pouch as if it were a stick of gum or copper piece? For every negative aspect of a filthy beast calling your linens home, they make up for it by their very nature: they're small, easily hidden, easily forgotten and, for enemies, nearly always a nasty surprise. Here are three examples of the veritable hundreds available:

  • Retrievimon (Fudgedex #24; Rarity: Good; Desirability: Good; Gift: Faithful; Fault: Irritable Hook Syndrome). The chameleon-like Retrievimon suffers in the Desirability department because, for full effect, you really need at least five to accomplish much of anything. At rest, the Retrievimon is a flattened globe, like a piece of wrapped sampler cheese. Put enough pressure on either of its flattest sides however, and up will pop a barbed hook which impales the intrusion. A number of Retrievimon scattered on a walkway will impale the foot of the first person to step on one, which usually causes the person to fall forward onto the rest of the mons scattered about for further entanglement. Being Faithful like a dog, the Retrievimon will dutifully return the "stick" to their owner (which is why quantity is important: the more mons, the quicker they return). Unfortunately, their Irritable Hook Syndrome causes sudden and involuntary flexes of their stabber which can cause quite some consternation to the owner of a pocket who has been impaled.
  • Splitbeemon (Fudgedex #138; Rarity: Great; Desirability: Good; Gift: Stinger; Fault: Unreliable). So dubbed because of the Split Bee Troupe, the team that first discovered and trained the mon, its ferocity is hard to beat. Once instructed, the Splitbeemon will slam itself again and again into its target, using its sharp Stinger to inflict small amounts of damage in large quantities. Each successful sting injects a tiny amount of tranquilizer - individually, the amount is harmless, but combined with hundreds of payloads, is enough to cause a grown man to be lulled into a sense of complacency, unwilling to stop further attacks or circumstances. While incredibly effective, the user can expect absolutely nothing roughly half of the time: the same venom that causes indifference in its victim runs through the veins of the mon as well. Be sure to have a backup plan ready when your Splitbeemon just isn't willing to perform.
  • Frlockmon (Fudgedex #176; Rarity: Great; Desirability: Superb; Gift: Eats Wood; Fault: Untrainable). When it comes to feeding mons, there can be nothing better than finding one without the picky tastes so many collectors and trainers have lamented. The Frlockmon eats, nay, devours, wood which is naturally and readily abundant. It also is an excellent lock picker, able to slide its spindly arms into the smallest orifice, manipulate the tumblers, and unlock a door or chest in comparable time to any master thief. Insanely Desirable by any but the most principled adventurers (and many justify their ownership with "concerns" about being locked out of their own homes and treasure), the Frlockmon has one big problem: in most cases, locks are surrounded by wood. Wooden chests, wooden doors, wooden boxes, wooden what-have-you. Combined with its Untrainable Fault and uncontrollable appetite, you'll be able to unlock doors with a minimum of fuss... with the difficulty of concealing the fact that the lock itself has fallen to the floor due to consumption of the surrounding wood.

Episode Guide

What follows is a partial Now Playing (from Carnivore Games) episode guide for the show "Fudgemon-o-theism" on your local cable network. Oddly, the show takes its mature cue from Japanese animation and, though bubbly and humorous, deals with complicated themes not normally suitable for children.

  • 101 - The Hatchling. A team of well-liked investigators discovers an egg in the middle of a pasture, with a human female claiming to be its virgin mother.
  • 102 - Can or Able? Faced with the apparent suicide of a pre-teen child, the team has nothing to go on until another egg is found. The virgin mother returns, holding a newborn mon and claiming the second egg as a gift from above.
  • 103 - And Baby Makes Three. The two mons, now hatched and each three weeks old, mate. A third egg is laid and begins to hatch. Whither the virgin mother?
  • 104 - Exsanguinating Circumstances. The baby, appearing unlike either of the two mother mons that laid it, cuts it own throat. Instead of blood, forth hundreds of mons do swell.
  • 105 - Frightened New World. The virgin mother returns, and is carried to the east by a cadre of Retrievimon piercing every few inches of her body. Facing downward, her blood leaves no trail, and our team is called out on other duties.
  • 106 - Invasion, Part 1. With dozens of unaccounted mons, our team of investigators is sent to catalog and collect each one for further study.

Fudgemon-o-theism is currently awaiting word from above regarding its future.

Footnote

* - "Short packed" refers to the inclusion of a low number of collectable items (such as action figures) shipped to stores, in comparison with the quantity of other figures from the same collection. If a company shipped out ten each of Ratman, Sparrow, and The Poker in every case, but only included three Piddlers in expectation of lower sales of that figure, then the Piddler was "short packed."

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Post Fudge

Ever get that feeling where nothing is going right and the only way things could get thing worse would be for there to be an apocalypse? Well, guess what? It's here - Fudge style. The world as you know it is gone, replaced with the shattered husk of it's former glory. The things you loved now compose the myths and fantasies of men. Electronics and chemical combustion are gone and the cities are uninhabitable or missing all together. The apocalypse has come. Are you ready for it?

"And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death..." -- Revelations 6:8

Introduction

The basic premise of a post-apocalyptic (here on PA) game is that civilization as we know it has fallen and the world is in chaos. Back in the 80's there seemed to be a good deal of PA roleplaying games (such as Gamma World) and movies (such as Mad Max). It was probably the scare of the Cold War and all those nuclear missiles that the Americans and Russians were building. The genre's popularity has decreased since then, and may not be for everyone, yet it still presents a game with many fun and interesting (and perhaps dark) adventures.

Tone of the Game

Post-apocalyptic games come in many shapes and sizes. In one commercial game the PCs are cute, mutated animals fighting an oppressive human nation. In another the PCs are hard-core military types trying to survive in the aftermath of WWIII. If the players come expecting a dark, violent world, and the GM presents them furry, lovable mutants, the players may be disappointed. The tone of the game decides much of how the game is conducted and should be addressed when designing a PA campaign (or any campaign for that matter). Often the tone is linked to the degree of realism.

On one extreme is a world similar to our own, but only with some details missing, many of which are superficial. The threat of extinction is largely missing from this type of game. PCs realize the world has changed, but don't feel the immediate threat to the remaining civilization. On the other extreme is a world where survival is an almost daily battle. Finding find food and water could be an imperative task. Terrible, violent actions are likely an everyday encounter in this predominantly anarchist world. PCs are often running and scared. Actually roleplaying the true horror of the apocalypse is not likely to be a fun game, so a happy medium between the two styles is likely.

How did it happen?

Perhaps the next subject to address when designing a post-apocalyptic world is: How did it happen? This has a great effect on what is left in the world and may effect how the story develops. For instance, in a world ruined by nukes, many areas may be uninhabitable. While a nuclear war is the typical method of destruction, other ways can make for an more interesting "not-traditional" game. The actual method of the destruction may or may not be of immediate concern for the players (they just know destruction happened), but it does help the GM define the world. Below are some sample ideas of how it all started.

Nuclear War

The old standby. In an alternative timeline the Russkies and US duked it out. Or terrorists were able to get some missiles and start WWIII. The effect is mass destruction of life, property, and land. Radiation can also linger for years in bombed areas. In a more fanciful game, the radiation could lead to mutations of all sorts.

World War

A variant of the nuclear war. Worldwide war occurs and destruction is rampant, but without the deadly use of nuclear weapons. The United States is invaded by China leaving the government in shambles. Or civil war erupts in the aftermath of the world war and the PCs' country is torn into several smaller countries.

Biological Disaster

A new plague has hit humanity, whether by design or accident. Mass human life loss occurred, but material goods were basically left intact. Perhaps the PCs have immunity to the new disease.

Ecological Disaster

Pollution is left unchecked, until finally humans are driven almost to destruction. Humans are forced to build protective cities from the deadly chemicals in the environment. Or global warming slowly kills off a large portion of the world's plants, which cuts off the supply of oxygen, which kills off a large portion of the animals. One possibility is to run the game many years after the pollution when life is starting to rebuild.

Alien Invasion

Alien forces invaded Earth. An all-out war occurred, leaving many dead and much of the world in ruins. Maybe the alien forces only came for resources and then left. Or perhaps they have established a colony on earth and still have task masters running the planet. They may have brought technology with them that the PCs could have access to. One popular roleplaying game uses the premise that dimensional-traveling creatures have caused the holocaust.

Technology Gone Awry

A particular technology was developed, but eventually turned on humanity. A robotic army as in Terminator is a good example of this. Another example is the nano threat. Nanobots became self-replicating and in the process ate at many of the world's resources, creating similar situations as the 'Ecological Disaster' category.

Apathy and Decay

People became apathetic and lazy, eventually forgetting how to manage the technologies they designed. Maybe television left the masses in a state of contentment and general indifference. With constant entertainment, why progress?

Other ideas

There are many other ways that the fall could have happened- too many to list. A few include economic disaster, energy resource loss, or natural disaster (i.e. earthquakes).

Technology

Loss of technology will likely play a big part of your game. People may have turned to simple tools to survive. Animal-driven farming may be the norm. On the other hand, remnants of technology may still exist as some still know the 'forbidden' arts or have access to gun powder or combustion engines. Finding lost wonders is a popular adventure in a PA world. Keeping track of the available technology is important since it distinguishes a PA game from other games. The technology is there or was once there, but must be rediscovered or forgotten.

One idea is to come up with a simple tech level rating, perhaps between 1 and 6, with 1 being the Stone Age and 6 a futuristic world with laser weapons and the like. This helps distinguish parts of the world from each other. Illiterate nomadic tribes that hunt with spears may be at tech level 1, while those living in the lost city of Denver with their bicycle factory may be tech level 4.

For some this may be too much work and not needed. If everyone has the same general technology level, then there is no need to distinguish technology levels. If the PCs don't venture outside their own tribal lands, then there's no need to establish that a neighboring community has a refinery to make gasoline. In any case, knowing what is and isn't available helps shape the GM's and PCs' perception of the world and certainly adds flavor to the game.

Skills

Skills are the basis for just about every game and are useful to distinguish characters from each other. In a fallen world, certain skills may be more useful than others. Knowledge of astrophysics may be interesting, but finding fishing ability could be more vital. There may not even be anyone to teach astrophysics. Many skills from a modern setting could be available, but the GM may feel the need to limit available skills or develop new ones. For example, new skills such as History or Use Unknown Device may be very important to the campaign.

Without the benefits of mass education, learning could be seriously hindered. Lack of free time could also be a problem; if the day is filled with farming chores, time to study is limited. One way to handle the educational loss in a PA world is to increase the difficulty to learn certain skills. Taking the Reading skill may take twice as many points/slots as a Brawling skill. Or in Fudge terms, the Reading skill may be Hard, while Brawling may be Easy. Another way to model the decreased time available for learning is to decrease the number of available skills. For example, instead of a Five Point Fudge game, give the characters four or three points.

Character Types

Below is a list of sample character types. The great thing about Fudge is that anything can go, so imagination is the only limit.

  • Mutant -- your newfound abilities have led to being hunted by others.
  • Lawman -- one of the few still trying to keep a sense of order in the community.
  • Mechanic -- you fix whatever is left that you can find.
  • Explorer -- the unknown world beckons you.
  • Escaped Slave - you survive by laying low and avoiding trouble.
  • Ex-Gladiator -- a physical giant once forced to fight.
  • Scientist -- your hope is to bring back the forgotten knowledge.

Adventure Ideas

Many of the basic plots/ideas for a typical roleplaying game could be incorporated into a PA scenario. Again, imagination is the only limit here.

Sample Plots

  • PCs are sent to explore an area with rumored treasures.
  • People in the community are disappearing. Mutants are behind the kidnappings.
  • A gang of thugs has declared war on the PCs' tribe.
  • Slavers are moving into the territory and the PCs are asked to stop them.
  • A hostile nation has found new energy source and must be stopped from using it.
  • Rumors exist of a utopian society and the PCs are trying to find it.

Twists and Turns

While the typical PA storyline pertains to a future Earth, there are many other ways to incorporate the PA ideas discussed into a game. Probably the simplest idea is to base the game on another world than Earth. Maybe the PCs are space-faring nomads and become trapped on a destroyed planet, either temporarily or permanently.

PA fantasy is variation. Rather than science being the driving force for the destruction, magic may have led to the downfall. The Fifth Age of your favorite fantasy world could be the fall of that world. An Earth-based game with magic causing the annihilation would present an interesting variation. Another idea that could be fairly easily incorporated into an existing game is a selective apocalypse. Maybe only certain parts of the world have been destroyed, while others are left more or less intact. The PCs may travel to these shattered parts and have some adventures there.

Conclusions

The suggestions here have provided a framework for setting up a PA game. There are still questions to answer, but filling in all the details is beyond the scope of this article. So what's the next step? Go watch your favorite PA movie, call your friends over, and then start Fudging it.

Resources

  • Gamma World (RPG)
  • Darwin's World (RPG)
  • Twilight 2000 (RPG)
  • After the Bomb (RPG)
  • Rifts (RPG)
  • Red Dawn (movie)
  • Mad Max, et al (movie)
  • Post-Apocalyptic at Wikipedia
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Monday, November 07, 2005

A Treasury of Magical Weapons

Are you tired of yet another +1 sword? Have you given out a +2 sword only to have it wreck your campaign? Fear not, there's a better way to create more imaginative weapons that won't unbalance your game!

It's Only a +1 Sword...

Many games describe magical effects or items in terms of "plusses" to attack, damage or defense. While this is easy to quantify and requires minimal effort from the GM, it can result in very bland items that mean little to players.

New Fudge GMs and players often try to do the same thing in their Fudge games, only to discover that it can throw things way out of balance. In Fudge even a mere +1 can be very powerful. This can leave people at a loss to convert their favorite adventures or characters, and may even convince them that Fudge is hopelessly "broken."

I went through this same process in several Fudge games and learned the same lessons. This set me on a search for alternatives and sparked discussions on the Fudge List discussion group. The result is in this article.

Having cut my teeth on D&D, I am personally fond of random tables and lists of things. Since this article is targeted primarily at other GMs who come from such backgrounds, I have presented it as a set of tables you can roll on or pick from.

Try the Handy Dandy Sword-o-Matic!

For an instant item, roll one or more properties from the following lists, or just pick something that looks like fun. These lists can easily be expanded by looking in your favorite FRPG... especially AD&D.

(You do have a d30, don't you?)

Basic Abilities

  1. Magic weapon can strike otherwise invulnerable creatures (JH)
  2. Unbreakable artifact
  3. Never rusts or becomes dull
  4. Grants 1 Fudge Point per combat
  5. Grants Great weapon skill (not useful if you are already Superb)
  6. Wielder is never affected by wound penalties during a fight
  7. Tiebreaker power, ties go to the wielder for one point of damage (JH)
  8. Automatically parries one blow per round
  9. Silvered weapon, can strike were-creatures (PM)
  10. Cold iron weapon, negates magical spells & defenses
  11. Glimmers in the presence of specific enemies
  12. Intelligent talking weapon
  13. Floats on water; handy if you can't swim!
  14. Boomerang ability (when thrown)
  15. Truthful weapon, wielder can see through lies and illusions
  16. Shatters opposing weapon (or shield) on any "tie"
  17. Grants two attacks per round; also lets wielder run quickly
  18. Grants +1 armor to wielder
  19. Grants the ability to see in utter darkness when wielded
  20. Holy weapon: wielder must serve a god, but gains the ability to work miracles, possibly other powers. It is not wise to abuse these abilities.
  21. Wielder can become invisible by spending one Fudge Point
  22. Legendary blade, impresses NPCs who wish to help the wielder
  23. Legendary blade, dismays certain foes, causing fear and possibly flight/surrender
  24. Holy Blade, wards against evil enchanted creatures
  25. Grants Legendary strength to wielder
  26. Immunity to fire/acid/cold/whatever (pick ONE)
  27. Grants Superb leadership
  28. Exudes a palpable sense of dread (Great will to resist, causes -1 morale)
  29. Cleaving: no penalty when facing multiple foes

Damage Bonus

  1. Grants +n advantages; each advantage negates one '-' die (MW)
  2. Grants +n bonus dice; each bonus die ignores '-' results (B)
  3. Grants +n re-rolled dice (MW)
  4. Roll n dice, count only the highest four (E)
  5. Has a 1/6 chance to do one bonus point of damage (MW)
  6. Grants flat +1 bonus (this is a very rare and powerful weapon)
  7. Cleaves through armor like butter.
  8. Makes solid blows, all grazes are treated as wounds (JH)
  9. Flaming, double damage versus "cold" creatures; also useful as a torch, or for lighting fires
  10. Frosty, double damage versus "hot" creatures, grants wielder immunity to temperature extremes
  11. Destiny, weapon will slay one specific creature with a single strike, but after that becomes non-magical
  12. Drinks souls, each five points of damage dealt grants the wielder one Fudge Point
  13. Bane, any of the above damage types, but only against a specific class of creatures
  14. Scale-piercing, ignore Scale difference, wonderful against dragons and giants
  15. Delivers painful wounds, wound penalties are doubled
  16. Any natural roll of +4 automatically severs a limb
  17. The weapon finds a "chink" in armor and bypasses it on any relative degree of +2 or better.
  18. Sunblade, weapon glows so brightly it causes permanent blindness to foes. If they avert their gaze, wielder may strike unopposed at difficulty Poor. Wielder is immune to the light and can see normally.
  19. Might, wielder gains +2 scale for the duration of the fight.
  20. Peacemaker, weapon causes loss of consciousness on any successful strike (even if it does no damage) as if incapacitated. Unconsciousness lasts one round, plus a number of rounds equal to the relative degree of the hit.
  21. Hammering weapon, stuns foes for one round, they can defend but not attack
  22. Darkenblade, wounds inflicted never heal
  23. Holy blade, double strength bonus against evil enchanted creatures
  24. Inflicts disease on any Superb strike (resisted by Health)

Curses

  1. Always appears in your hand in a fight, whether you want it or not
  2. Constantly sings or murmurs to itself
  3. Forces the wielder into battle (Great Will roll to resist)
  4. Drives wielder berserk in battle (Great Will roll to resist)
  5. Causes hostile reactions in potential foes
  6. Destined to betray wielder at inopportune moment
  7. Backbiter, on any naturally rolled result of Terrible or worse, weapon strikes wielder with relative degree +2
  8. Causes bad luck in non-combat activities
  9. Weapon is watched by powerful evil entities
  10. Weapon is the "focus" for some evil god, who demands service
  11. Weapon has an evil reputation, causing distrust
  12. Weapon turns wielder into undead, very slowly
  13. Frost weapon, causes wielder to be uncomfortable in warm weather
  14. Once taken up, cannot be sheathed until it draws blood
  15. Weapon drinks blood, no game effect other than to horrify any onlookers. Bonus: it is self-cleaning.
  16. Practical joker weapon sometimes makes embarrassing comments, like "Help, I've been stolen!" or "You're ugly, and stink too."
  17. Weapon powers are unreliable, and sometimes they do not function
  18. Special powers only work for one hour after weapon has tasted blood, or for one day after killing someone
  19. Weapon is very heavy, requiring Great strength to wield (and reducing damage bonus from strength by two points)
  20. Weapon is absurdly decorated in gold and jewels, and it seems like people are constantly trying to steal it
  21. Owner attracts the attention of members of the opposite sex only when unwanted, but never when desired
  22. Weapon merges with the wielder's hand and can never be removed without severing the member
  23. Very powerful weapon leaves wielder weak and fainting after being used
  24. Destined to slay wielder's beloved
  25. Grants wielder an undesired or embarrassing skill at Legendary
  26. Wielder takes on appearance of weapon's infamous creator and is fated to fulfill the same destiny; is mistaken by everyone for the original, and even magical creatures are fooled by it
  27. Wielder afflicted by seemingly unrelated events; random nosebleeds, attacked by chipmunks, etc.
  28. Wielder becomes vulnerable to silver, cold iron, asthma, etc
  29. Wielder has -1 on all spell resistance rolls
  30. Dancing weapon, forces wielder to dance

Credits

B - Bill E - Eppy JH - Johann Hibschman MW - Mitch Williams PM - Peter Mikelsons

Using a method like this virtually guarantees that no two weapons are alike, so each one should be a rare treasure. Very powerful weapons can be balanced by severe curses. But minor weapons can still be interesting: a magic sword which detects lies and illusions and which glimmers in the presence of enemies is still very useful, especially if that's the only magic weapon the party owns. Also weapons are more interesting if each one follows a "theme" and has assorted minor powers that fit that theme.

Conversion Tips

If you are converting an existing item, the first question to ask is "why am I converting this?" It if is something in a module, consider just tossing it out and creating an entirely new replacement. If an items already has a history in the campaign however, you may need to convert it.

Often in a game supplement, a magic item will have a grandiose name, a cool picture, a vivid history... and then note lamely that, "this is a +2 sword," or, "a staff of striking." In other words, the mechanics often don't fit the description. So toss the mechanics that were a kludge in the first place, go back to the original description and devise something unique and cool. This is Fudge; you are limited only by your imagination. For that matter you may not even need mechanics, just take the plain text description and picture and use that. Undefined and mysterious magic is by far the most intriguing.

For arms and armor, consider how it is used: does the character use it primarily for offense, for defense? Does he use some abilities and ignore others? Does he have a reputation for rolling well or poorly when using it? Does the item tend to play a major decisive role in the game, or is it just another tool? What you want to do is capture the flavor of the item. Give it powers that reflect how it is actually used, and how much difference it makes. A +4 sword sounds powerful, unless the warrior already has +17 in bonuses from other sources, in which case it is almost negligible.

Also consider how the rest of the campaign is converted. How do character abilities and enemies compare to the originals? Have you rebalanced the campaign in any way? Be sure to rebalance any items in the same degree, otherwise a strict power-for-power conversion may be unbalancing.

Finally, in some games characters carry a virtual arsenal of generic, nameless, and often expendable magic items. Consider "thinning" the arsenal to a handful of the most salient items. What is it that identifies the character? That is what you want to focus on.

Once you have decided what to discard and what to keep, and how much it needs to be rebalanced, give it a name, a history, a reputation, a theme, some quirks. Do this before doing any conversion. It needn't be elaborate, a paragraph is fine, but each item should have its own unique personality. Now, keeping in mind the character who wields it, the general power level, how it is used, and the theme/history, give it unique powers that support and reinforce each of these. And as a final touch, throw in a quirk or two, something very minor that doesn't affect combat balance, but that makes it even more unique.

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