Monday, March 27, 2006

A Learning Experience

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

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

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

Gift Based Improvement

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

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

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

Wish List Progression

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

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

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

Lucky Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning from Failure

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

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

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

Min-Mid-Max Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rank based Experience

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Monday, March 06, 2006

What's My Motivation?

Does it sometimes seem like the characters in your games just aren't living up to their descriptions? Do they seem a bit more like their player's personal avatar instead of what's written on their character sheet? Chances are that they have no rational drive, no concrete purpose... no Motivation. Read on, and see an easy system that will add that third dimension to your characters.

Many gamers aren't very good roleplayers. Most RPGs don't try to teach good roleplaying habits. Most new players just focus on the system, and play characters that fit that system, with personalities that enable an easy power grab. Everyone reading this has seen characters who are just a type of game-piece, to be steered towards power and fortune by a crafty player. At the extreme, this gives you an entire group playing sociopaths.

Motivation is a system to encourage & reward good roleplaying. Specifically, a melodramatic, soap-opera style of roleplaying. This system was designed for Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic book style, and it does not encourage subtlety.

The idea of the system is simple: A character's personality is described by Motivations. By following his motivations in the face of hardship, the PC is rewarded with Fudge Points. This is more than just a generic extra-XP-for-good-roleplaying rule. The system tries to minimize GM judgment calls, making the rewards more reliable. Also, there are rules to avoid abusive, antisocial motivations. I don't believe in the "just playing my character" excuse.

Motivations are the elements of a character that will drive his personal story. They can come from within, like a moral value or a personality quirk, or they can be imposed from the outside, like having an enemy or being a target of bigotry.

The GM's Outlook

The PC's Motivations are a useful source of information to the GM. Figuring out a reason for the PCs to go adventuring together is a simple matter of finding compatible Motivations. A list of Motivations is essentially a list of plot hooks. More than that, Motivations determine what themes and issues the game will deal with. A Player's choice of motivation is a way of communicating what type of game he'd like play.

Player's Outlook

Choose one or more Motivations for your character. Choose them from the list below, or invent your own. Be sure to check your choices with the GM. She might set a minimum or maximum number of Motivations, or declare some choices restricted or obligatory.

Many of the Motivations in the list involve a relationship between your character and an NPC. It's up to the Player to detail this character. Usually a name and a profession will be enough.

Fishing for FPs

GMing is a big job. A GM can easily forget to hand out a Motivation reward. Players should feel free to speak up, but remember there's a line between a friendly reminder and blatant begging.

Awarding Fudge Points:

So when does a given action merit a reward? Naturally, the action must match one of the PC's Motivations. If it's not on the character sheet, there's no reward.

Unexceptional actions don't merit rewards. A PC motivated by Altruism shouldn't get a reward for every little old lady he helps across the street, and a PC motivated by Lust shouldn't get one for making a pass at a random NPC. The two yardsticks for a reward are Coolness and Grief.

Coolness

Does the PC's action make the game cooler? This is best determined by the opinion of the gaming group as a whole. If the weight of opinion holds that a player is derailing the game, hogging the spotlight, or being otherwise antisocial, there should never be a reward. On the other hand, if a player's action gets a round of applause, cheers, or high-fives around the gaming table, it's probably worthy of reward, even with little or no Grief. Most actions are somewhere in the middle, and are determined by Grief alone.

Grief

Does the PC's action make his life more complicated or difficult? A character's motivations are the things he's willing to struggle for, the burdens he must bear, and the tragic flaws that will lead him to trouble. A PC who only plays his motivations when there's no real risk or cost isn't trying hard enough.

Player-to-Player is extra Cool

In roleplaying, the best scenes are often played out between the PCs, rather than between a PC and the GM. GMs should be a bit more generous in these Player / Player scenes, especially if a Player takes the initiative in establishing the scene. If nothing else, it will make the GM's job easier.

Baiting your PCs

If Players aren't taking the initiative in making their Motivations part of the game, try dangling a carrot. Point out the opportunities. Let a PC know before he makes a decision that there is a Motivation reward involved. After a while Players will start looking on their own.

The Grief will come

Give a reward now or later? There are many cases where the Grief resulting from an action is delayed. A GM can either reward the player immediately, or when the Grief manifests. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

The Big List:

  • Altruism [aka Compassion, Charity]: The character is moved to help those who can't help themselves. The essential heroic motivation. Practically mandatory in some genres.
  • Ambition [aka Power, Glory]: The character is driven to elevate herself in the world, to seek power and authority. A very traditional tragic flaw.
  • Anger: The character seeks to vent his rage, either verbally or physically, and doesn't much care who the target is. This can cause all manner of Grief.
  • Authority [aka Law-abiding, Law]: The character respects the will of authority figures, even if she personally disagrees. Like a good samurai, she will loyally serve a dishonorable master. (See Fidelity.)
  • Bond (with who?): There is a person who the character feels very strongly about. (See also Family, Fidelity, Idol, & Love)
  • Cause (what cause?): The character is part of a social or political movement, and seeks to advance its goals, discredit its enemies, and proselytize others into the cause.
  • Code [aka Vow] (what code?): There is code of behavior that the character follows, from the code of chivalry to the code of piracy.
  • Discovery [aka Curiosity]: The character seeks out new information, either in a scientific sense or simply snooping into the private lives of his friends.
  • Fame: The character wants to be famous. Whether his reputation is good or bad doesn't matter as much as simply being known.
  • Faith (what faith?): The character is devoutly religious. Faith can show itself in many forms, from acts of charity, to slaying infidels.
  • Family: The character is loyal to his family, who pop up pretty frequently in the character's life.
  • Fidelity [aka Duty] (to who?): The character has a master, lord, or boss, who he has sworn to serve.
  • Friendship: The character deeply values his friends, and is wiling to make sacrifices for them. Conveniently, this works to hold the PCs together in a game. Like Altruism, this motivation is very common in heroic genera.
  • Greed: The character seeks money and material things.
  • Hatred (who?): The character hates a certain person, ideology, or class of people. This seems like the least heroic motivation, but many classic heroes have very personal grudges against their enemies. (eg: Hates criminals, Hates Nazis, Hates Dr. Evil, etc.)
  • Idol (who?): The character idolizes a certain person, and struggles to be like his hero. Your idol might not appreciate your devotion, and might not live up to your idea of her.
  • Justice: The character is driven to protect the innocent, and punish the guilty. This can get you caught up in all sorts of Grief.
  • Love (who?): The character is in love. He seeks to be with and protect his love. The object of his affections may or may not return his affections. If not, the love-stricken PC will try to change this attitude.
  • Lust: It's like love, but a lot less picky. The Grief potential is infinite. As is the potential amusement value to the other players.
  • Nemesis (who?): Someone has a grudge against the character. The PC can try to avoid or confront the foe, but either way there will be Grief.
  • Peace: The character values peace and seeks to avoid violence and conflict.
  • Pleasure: The character is a total hedonist, seeking personal pleasure. The degree of Grief this can bring depends on the character's favorite indulgence.
  • Pride: Like they say, it goes before a fall. The character seeks to prove himself, accepting challenges to prove his superiority.
  • Quest (what goal?): There is a specific, tangible goal that the character is driven to achieve.
  • Rebellion: The opposite of Authority. The character is instinctively suspicious of authority figures. Often he dislikes being in any team or organization that has a leader, unless he personally trusts the leader.
  • Rival (who?): The character is in competition with someone else, either professionally or romantically.
  • Secret (what and why?): The character has a secret to keep. There has to be a big reason why the character has the secret.
  • Stigmatized (why?): The character is part of some minority group which is feared or distrusted greater society. Naturally, this is very much dependent on the campaign. Individual groups will have to decide who would be considered stigmatized in a given setting.
  • Truth: The character's word is bond. The character will make every effort to keep his promises.
  • Trust: The character believes in trust, and is quick to trust strangers. This can be simple naivety, or a willingness to make a leap of faith.
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