Title: Fudge Expanded Edition Author: Steffan O'Sullivan, editted by Ann Dupuis Creator: Steffan O'Sullivan Publisher: Grey Ghost Games Year: 2000 128 pages Product Rating: 3 (***) Game Play Rating: 3 (***)
Review by John H. Kim (Copyright 2004 John H. Kim)
cf. other reviews by John
Fudge is an acronym for "Free-form Do-it-yourself Donated Game Engine". It is a universal system whose complete core rules are freely available on the Internet (cf. www.fudgerpg.com). Compared to the free download, this edition offers nice layout along with binding, illustrations, and a 40-page supplemental section ("Fantasy Fudge") that implements Fudge for the fantasy genre.
Fudge has been fairly accurately described as a "game design toolkit" as opposed to a directly playable game, because it is so full of options and variants. The rules are broken up into two broad categories: subjective and objective. The subjective rules are mostly advice on how to run the game mechanicless: i.e. dice are rolled, but the meaning of the roll is purely based on the GM's opinion. Even the objective rules, though, leave much in the hands of the GM. An example from the objective combat rules: "Initiative can be rolled once for each battle or once each round. Perhaps a character could trade skill for initiative: attack hastily (+1 initiative that round) but be slightly off-balance because of it (-1 to attack and defend that round)."
Phrases like "can be", "or", and "perhaps" are found throughout the rules. This makes it hard to review the rules as such. They may work well for you, or they may not work well, depending on your choices and your approach to using them. To some degree, then, this review must comment on the whole style of "freeform" play rather than just analyzing how well the rules work.
The rulebook is full-size (8.5x11) and 128 pages. There is a somewhat detailed 1.5-page Table of Contents, but no index. Pages 1-71 are the core rules; pages 72-87 are various optional addenda; and pages 88-128 are a detailed fantasy-genre "implementation" of Fudge which includes a 4-page sample adventure and 9-page bestiary. There are occaisional black-and-white illustrations which are generally good but have no unifying style, being a mix of historical (public-domain) etchings and modern contributions.
The mechanics are based mainly on rolling and adding 4 "Fudge
dice", which are special 6-sided dice numbered (-1,-1,0,0,+1,+1). If
these dice are not available, there are close alternatives using
normal d6's or percentile dice. The result of this (-4 to +4) is
added to your appropriate stat and compared to difficulty. Stats and
difficulty are both rated on a 7-step scale, which are described by
adjectives as follows:
Terrible (-3)If your stat plus the shift indicated by the roll is equal to or greater than the difficulty, then you succeed. The higher you roll, the greater your degree of success.
There are two outstanding features of the core mechanics. First of all, with only 7 steps the scale is fairly grainy compared to most RPG systems. There are 4 steps inclusive between the average attribute (+0) and human maximum (+3), and 6 steps between default skill (-2) and human maximum (+3). Most published RPGs have more steps than this. For average to max, White Wolf's Storyteller system has 4 steps for attributes and 9 for effective skill (i.e. attribute + skill). SJG's GURPS has roughly 7 steps for attributes and 14 or so for skills.
Second, the roll is quite random on this scale. Someone who is "Fair" (i.e. average) has a 14% chance of matching someone who is "Superb" (i.e. max) in a contest. So a lot will depend on the die roll. Of course, this is also true of many other popular game systems -- especially ones with open-ended die rolls.
Character creation is divided into two separate systems: subjective and objective. In both cases, there are no pre-defined attributes or skills. Instead, the GM and players make up whatever stats they feel are appropriate, possibly having different stats for each character. Subjective character creation has no points or rolls. Instead, it is done by negotiation with the GM and other players. While many other RPGs make clear that character creation requires GM approval, Fudge goes further. It demonstrates that this is all that is required for character creation in the first place.
Subjective creation is in principle just to "write down everything about the character that you feel is important". However, it acknowledges that the group may want to give some guidelines for what power level the PCs should be. It suggests simple limits, like "one Superb skill, two Great skills, and six Good skills". Of course, this basically amounts to a limited point or priority system. Objective creation is explicitly point-based, though there is a short token section on random-roll creation.
Ostensibly, the attributes and skills can be as broad or narrow as desired. They may be freely created. i.e. One character may have "Melee Combat: Great" while another character has "Broadsword: Great, Axe: Good". This is in principle supposed to be freeing from the arbitrary restrictions of a skill list. However, there are two potential problems with this:
Fudge combat is divided into three types: "Story Elements", "Simultaneous Combat Rounds", and "Alternating Combat Turns". Story Elements is an abstracted narration method where combat is resolved with essentially a single roll. "Simultaneous Combat Rounds" is a simplified method where an exchange between two opponents is handled as a single opposed roll. "Alternating Combat Turns" handles each action as a separate roll.
Combat is overall fairly standard, including a wide variety of options which cover the usual range of combat systems. There is also an interesting wound track system which allows accumulation of wounds without being strictly ablative hit points. Scratches can accumulate into larger wounds, but one big wound is worse than two half-damage wounds.
Magic and Psionics
There are several added systems included in the Fudge book. "Fudge Magic", "Fudge Psi", and "Fudge Miracles" are all part of the standard free Fudge edition. This expanded edition, has in addition four types of medieval-style magic: Innate Magic, Hedge Magic, Scholarly Magic, and Hedge Magic.
All of these are low on details -- emphasizing basically how to set up the roll, and then instructing to scale the difficulty with how powerful the effect is.
While it is very flexible (at times to the point of being more of a menu than rules), Fudge does represent a distinct approach to game design. It represents an approach where rules take back seat to intuitive understanding of setting and story. The rules in Fudge adapt and conform to what is desired, rather than guiding what play should be like. A number of people have expressed that this sort of common-sense approach to resolution was revolutionary to their prior ways of thinking. On the other hand, some GMs will simply see this as a grab-bag of ideas which generally have already appeared in other games.
If you really want to come up with a complete and hard-and-fast set of rules, then Fudge may be useful for ideas -- but you're probably better off doing a variant of another system rather than assembling a "complete" Fudge system.