One of the great characteristics of our hobby is that there is so much variety amongst game systems. Some gamers play every system that they can get their hands on, while others stick to a core system that suits their particular styles. Yet no matter what system is your favorite you can always get fresh ideas by exposing yourself to a new system. Sometimes just learning about a different approach to game mechanics can spark your own ideas for your current system of choice.
One of my favorite systems is the Fudge system. Fudge was developed by Steffan O’Sullivan with input from the members of the rec.games.design newsgroup on the Internet. From the beginning the system has been free to all to download, and the 1995 edition it is still available today as a PDF via the Grey Ghost Press, Inc.’s website and other sites as well (although Grey Ghost Press, Inc. does publish a 10th Anniversary Edition with tons of great content). There are some great games like Spirit of the Century that use Fudge as the underlying system. These systems greatly reduce the cons of playing Fudge at the cost of its flexibility. That isn’t a bad deal for some groups.
What makes Fudge different from many other RPGs is that the stats are all in the form of adjectives. Your character doesn’t have a Strength attribute in the form of a number, but instead you assign a one word description such as Fair or Great. These adjectives are listed in the form of a Ranks Ladder (the “official” Ranks Ladder is Terrible, Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good, Great, and Superb). Fudge uses special six-sided dice* to then shift the rank of an attribute along this ladder. So your Fair sword skill may result in a Terrible attack or a Superb attack depending upon your dice roll.
There are pros and cons with being the GM of a Fudge game. As a GM you will want to weigh these against each other before deciding whether or not to introduce your group to a Fudge game.
Fudge is incredibly easy to run, and just as easy to teach others how to play. Once stats are assigned to the characters the GM just needs to determine when and what type of roll is needed throughout the game. You can call for a straight roll where the resulting rank describes how well the action was performed. You can also assign a target rank that the roll must equal or surpass. Finally there is the challenge type roll where two people both roll the dice and determine the results of each roll with the winner being the person with the higher rank.
Fudge is ideal for storytelling and narrativist styles. As a GM you decide what a roll of Terrible means in the game when the PC attempts an action like jumping from one rooftop to another. Maybe the PC falls to his or her doom, is barely hanging onto the edge of the target building, or whatever you determine is “terrible” for that particular situation. That is a lot of creative control for a GM to have, and you can share that with the players by asking what they think should happen if the results are at either end of the spectrum before the roll is made.
Fudge is not really a game. It is more of a game designer’s kit. If you enjoy tinkering with game mechanics then Fudge is a wonderful system. This is also a huge plus for when you may encounter situations in the game that no existing rule covers. The Fudge system is so simple at its core that once you are comfortable with it you’ll be designing your own rules custom fitted to your game in no time.
As with many things in life the strengths of Fudge are also its weaknesses. While Fudge is incredibly easy to run it does require either a flair for improvising or additional prep work. If you go with the improvising approach you will have to be ready to make make up not just encounters and characters but rules as well. If you decide to invest in the prep work then you encounter the same issue of needing to define certain rules before the session, and what if those rules just aren’t fun? You may not find out until after the game is played. The good news is that there are plenty of fans out there who have already designed rules for you and posted them to the Internet, the bad news is that now you have to choose which ones to use.
Fudge is highly subjective. What exactly is the difference between a Great dragon’s breath attack and a Superb one? Should a Mediocre attack cause some damage to a PC with Good armor, should it just damage the armor (and by how much), or should it just be ignored completely? For certain games one of these approaches may work best and for other games none will do. It all depends on the genre, setting, the level of verisimilitude that your group is aiming for, and who knows what else. At least with D&D you know what you are getting into with a well-rounded rules book to refer to, but with Fudge the text provided is more akin to guidelines and helpful suggestions. The real rulebook is in the GM’s head. Some players won’t like that.
Fudge can do anything and everything, but that does not mean that it will always do them well. With a little time and effort you can tweak Fudge to cover any game situation (and that is half the fun for some GMs who run Fudge games), but out of the box you might not enjoy the Fudge system for certain types of games. Start off with simple low-level power games to begin with, and then expand your Fudge settings to include more profound powers.
Why? Because that is where Fudge is broken. Not because of a flaw with the system, but because the members of your group will probably have different opinions as to what the various levels of power are in a game and Fudge doesn’t really define such things so as to provide a point of reference with. It is like comparing Superman to Spider-Man in terms of power. Some say Superman is the standard and that Spider-Man is a weak superhero with puny abilities, while others will claim that Spider-Man is incredibly powerful and that Superman is just an over the top character with no value. It is an argument that cannot be won, but tell me that you can’t imagine two gamers heatedly debating each other all night over the matter…
Yeah, that visual isn’t pretty now is it? Better to start closer to the norm of human potential and well established fictional creatures before branching off into the more powerful stuff. That way you can manage expectations much better.
Fudge isn’t going to be the game system for everyone, but it is a system that has a strong following amongst many gamers already and that following will continue to grow as new games are published using the Fudge system. As a GM you will find that Fudge is a versatile system that empowers you to define the in-game situations. You will also find that with great power comes great responsibility, and that Fudge puts that burden squarely upon your shoulders.
For me the Fudge system is a damn good one. Its pros are what I want from a game system and its cons are the types of challenges I enjoy tackling. If you happen to like game design Fudge will give you plenty of opportunities to stretch those design muscles while still providing a playable system. If that sounds like fun to you then download the free PDF and check it out.
That is my opinion on the matter, so what is yours? Leave your comments for others to read and share your own experiences with me and other members of the GnomeStew community. And no matter what happens, don’t forget that the GM is a player too! Have fun with it!
* This site provides an excellent tutorial on how to create your own Fudge dice using pipped D6s.