Friday, July 16, 2010

Willow & Tara: FUDGE


Fudge is a “Universal” RPG, designed to emulate any world, any genre and put the focus back onto characters and story rather than rules or rolls of the dice.

To me Fudge, and it’s younger sibling Fate, were just another one of those “games without a soul”. By that I don’t mean it is a soulless monster, but rather if you held it up to a mirror it wouldn’t reflect anything. At least not to me.
This puts it, in my opinion with GURPS, Action! and Fuzion.  They all do what they do well, and a lot of things good, but maybe not "great".  All these games have some similarities, and even similarities to d20 and Unisystem, but what I feel they all lack is a cohesive theme or look and feel. Tri-Stat in BESM is very much “Anime” flavored, as Unisystem is modern horror. Action! is a little bit better, but True 20, GURPS, Fudge, and Fuzion seem to lack a theme element. 

Because of this I never cared much for these games. That is until I looked into a Fudge based game called “Now Playing”.

I liked it.
I then looked into other Fudge/Fate games and I’ll detail what I found in them later.
In particular I'll talk about Fate when I do a big long review on The Dresden Files RPG.

About Fudge
Fudge used to be known as FUDGE, the Freeform, Universal, Do-it-yourself Gaming Engine. Created by Steffan O'Sullivan, back in 1992 it is notable as being one of the first game systems to be released for free on the internet. It even had an open licensing agreement (though not as open as the current OGL which Fudge now uses) which is interesting since it was released in a climate when most game companies were still trying to figure how to use the internet and control their IP.

Reading the basic (and free) Fudge rules is better than reading the d20 SRD. It is reminiscent of another “universal” game, GURPS. While the SRD is not d20 nor is it D&D, Basic Fudge is a fully playable (if soulless) game. This is where games like Now Playing and Heart Quest can shine. Like Unisystem (there’s that Universal thing again…) what really makes it work are the settings. While I am fan of most Unisystem games, I do have my favorites (namely WitchCraft, Ghosts of Albion), Fudge is the same way. I should note that there is a Fudge SRD as well, it reads like Basic Fudge but is twice as long.

Heart Quest
I mentioned Heart Quest when I discussed Anime RPGs a while back. It is still a good choice and it's different tenor plays off well with Now Playing to create the series I want.  More on that in a bit.

Now Playing
Now Playing is a Fudge based RPG that claims it can emulate any TV show or style with their simple ruleset and guidelines. They might be right. While the Buffy RPG is the Gold Standard when emulating a supernatural drama television show, Now Playing handles everything else rather well. Action shows, Sitcoms, Reality TV, cops shows, lawyer shows, Sci-Fi, and yes Supernatural Drama are all covered in this book.  There is a newer version out now called "The Unexplained" and it looks very similar, but maybe a touch darker.  I don't have it and I have spent all I can on my RPG budget. I would love to have a look at it in detail, until then I'll stick with Now Playing.

Since I want to focus on this game as my premier Fudge game, I’ll turn back to mechanics.

This one is so simple that it barely is worth mentioning, but I will just to illustrate the point.

Now Playing/
The Unexplained/         
Brawn Strength
Agility Dexterity
Stamina Constitution
Reasoning Intelligence
Perception Perception
Will Willpower

Follow these up with the level conversions above and a Brawn of Fair is Strength 3. You almost don’t even need a new sheet. This illustrates Fudge conversion abilities well and Now Playing’s ability to emulate most TV shows and TV show games.

Luck Points vs. Drama Points
The mechanic differs slightly, but the intent is the same, allow the player a chance to “re-write” the scene. In general for conversions sake, 5 Drama Points = 1 Luck Point. Of course there is a higher level of danger in a Horror Drama than a Situational Comedy, so it might be about the same realy.

As mentioned before Fudge is flexible when it comes to Skill lists. Now Playing offers something that looks like a cross between Cinematic and Realistic skills. Now Playing has 91 some odd skills to chose from compared to Buffy’s 18. Yikes! Skills can be bought the exact same way, though some start out as Poor or Non-Existent. Anyone can try a skill with a level of Poor, but you need training to use a Non-Existent skill. Training is reflected in the 30 points given to characters to improve skills. Without getting too deep into the math this about equal between the games, with the edge going to Now Playing characters. Skills though can be grouped together.

Skill Conversions
For a truly cinematic game my advice to Now Playing characters is to take the 91 Now Playing Skills and group them into Buffy’s 18 skills as Skill Groups per the Fudge rules.
Buffy skills are listed first, with Now Playing Skills in parentheses. For example, does anyone really care which type of Kung-Fu Kim Possible or Batman uses (they both know many kinds), no, just that they can kick some butt.
Buffy players can use these groups to specialize in one or more areas.

Acrobatics (Acrobatics, Balance, Jump)
Art (Perform, Photography)
Computers (Computer Use)
Crime (Breaking & Entering, Escape Artist, Forgery, Gamble, Haggle, Hide Traces, Pick Lock, Pick Pocket, Shadow, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Streetsmarts, Surveillance)
Doctor (Autopsy, Diagnose, First Aid, Surgery)
Driving (Drive , Pilot , Ride Animal )
Getting Medieval (Weapon )
Gun Fu (Weapon )
Influence (Bluff, Hypnosis, Interrogate, Intimidate, Oratory, Pantomime, Persuade, Seduce, Tall Tales, Uplift Spirits)
Knowledge (Area Knowledge, Business Sense, Culture , Etiquette, Gather Information, Knowledge , Nature Lore, Primitive Tools, Profile, Psychology, Religion , Research)
Kung Fu (Brawl, Martial Art )
Languages (Decipher Script, Innuendo, Interpret Language, Language , Read Lips, Write)
Mr. Fix-It (Craft , Demolitions, Disable Device , Engineering , Repair Device )
Notice (Direction Sense, Navigate, Notice, Sense Motive)
Occultism (Cryptozoology, Occult Knowledge, Parapsychology, Ritual , UFOlogy)
Science (Science )
Sports (Climb, Fish, Run, Sail, Swim, Throw )
Wild Card - anything

There are others that didn’t quite fit. Some are dependent on the situation used. For example Appraise in NP would part of Art if it is used to appraise a piece of art, but part of Occultism if used to appraise an ancient occult artifact. Animal Care could be a Wild Card, or part of Influence. There is a whole “animal” axis of skills as well as some social skills that could be covered by Unisystem qualities.

Directors of either game will have to re-parse out Skill points to accommodate for the reduced or increased number of skills.
When converting characters have a Now Playing character take the max or average of the skills in a skill group to represent their Buffy skill and for Buffy characters they should record their Buffy skill level in each of the Now Playing subskills, re-distributed based on character concept. No Now Playing skill should be higher than its Buffy skill counterpart.

Skills in Fudge work differently than Unisystem. In Unisystem a “Skill roll” is the skill + an attribute. In Fudge it is just the skill. All Unisystem skills start at 0. Fudge skills have different starting levels, some can’t be used untrained others can, but at the lowest possible level.

Qualities and Gifts
Qualities convert to Gifts and Drawbacks to Faults like outlined above. I am happy to note that Resources converts to Income very nicely. In fact Buffy players should look into Now Playing’s income ticket mechanic for purchasing items based on income/resource level as opposed to actual money. A good model of “TV Economics”.

Now Playing adopts, mostly, Fudge’s magic system. To me this is where it falls flat. There is a Magical Aptitude Power (roughly equal to The Gift, Sorcery or Magic Qualities) and a skill roll (again, roughly equal to Occultism). Already I see two separate checks to see if the magical power can be gathered and then used. This doesn’t really work for me. Let’s look at some magical TV shows. I don’t recall Piper, Phoebe or Paige needing to go through all of this. A “Power of Three” spell (their most powerful) does require a ritual (grasping hands and reciting the spell) and sometimes it does not work (Cole was able to break free at one point), but no gathering of mana. And I don’t believe that Samantha or Sabrina even did that much. So a simpler mechanic is really needed to mimic the Cinematic Unisystem magic system better.

Now I’ll be honest. The magic system in WitchCraft is the best I have ever used or read. The magic system in Buffy and Ghosts of Albion runs a very close second. So in my mind anything else is going to need work. Hell, I think the Buffy RPG does a FAR better job of explaining magic and how it works than the Buffy TV show. That being said here is a way to convert Buffy magic to Now Playing.

Magical Aptitude is a Power with the default level of Terrible. It effectively combines the old Magical Aptitude and Handle Mana Skill. It can be taken in levels (Terrible to Legendary) just like a skill or attribute. In order to cast a spell the character needs to match the level of the spell cast (also Terrible to Legendary). Some things can adversely effect this, such as concentration during combat (usually -1 to -4), stress, fatigue, or other factors. Other things can help such times and places of power (as described in either book).
So to cast a Legendary spell or a simple spell with Legendary effects, one must have Legendary Magical Aptitude, or at least be able to roll up to that. The same rules apply to critical failures and success. To convert a Buffy Spell take it’s Power Level and use the conversion matrix above. So a starting character with MA of Terrible (0 in Unisystem terms) only has the appitude, they can’t cast a Poor level spell (1 in Unisystem terms) unless they roll at least 1 +.

Putting it all Together

I used the Now Playing rules, with some cues from Heart Quest, Shoujo Anime and other Fudge games to create a new Series than can be run under Fudge or Unisystem. As usual I will stick with something I know well.

Using the Now Playing guidelines on spin-offs I created a Buffy-spin-off, or actually a spin-off of my spin-off. “Willow and Tara: Generation HEX” is a spin off set around 2006 or 2018 with the two lead characters Willow and Tara.  I did this with "The Dragon and the Phoenix" and "Season of the Witch", but this one has a bunch of new rules. 

I have often wondered what a supernatural/horror series would be like in the hands of Television master David E. Kelley (“Boston Legal”, “The Practice”, “Ally McBeal”, “Picket Fences”…). So in DEK tradition, I moved the Series to Boston (something I was doing anyway for a variety of reasons, but this works well) and  made it less about two witches fighting the supernatural and more about two women, who happen to witches, trying to lead a normal life while also dealing with the supernatural.  Also, given the events of "Season of the Witch", Tara was pregnant.   I did say it was going to be a new series.  I debated on whether to do it right after Season of the Witch or later when the kids were teens.  I ran part of it using Mutants & Masterminds and it was right after.  The Now Playing stuff was written with 2018 in mind.  Still don't know where to go on that yet.  

Demons have been over-done, so I focused instead on other types of supernatural creatures: ghosts, spirits, faeries and the like. Heart Quest has quite a bit of guidelines for dealing with these types, Now Playing deals with your typical Cryptozoological beasties (much like Conspiracy X or Dark Matter) as well as faeries and spirits. Between the two there are plenty of creatures, threats and distractions so I never have to use a vampire or a demon. After all the point of a spin-off is to establish it’s own identity. 

Let’s borrow another page (or two) from Heart Quest and set the series in school, maybe a school of girls, but certainly a school where magical things are happening. This would work well with the Magical Girl and Teen Romance options. Tara has been offered a job as a teacher and youth councilor (Girls Councilor if the school is co-ed). We can extend the DEK metaphor more and use “Boston Public” as a guide. 

This type of setting allows more play than just a “girls fighting monsters”. My players tend to like social issues, so I’ll take a dramatic turn then. Dealing with the supernatural has become easy, almost cliché really. If it’s evil  then kill it or send it back where it came from. What do you do if your character is sued by parent because their daughter claims the Cast Member made unwanted sexual advances at her? It’s not true, but it still a problem and you can’t just kill the student or parent. Now let’s say your character is a lesbian. How does that play out? How do you fight that battle? Certainly a courtroom showdown will be in order, complete with an impassioned monologue from the cast and their defense attorney. 

Life though is not just drama, sometimes it is mundane. Sure we can do episodes of Willow recalculating her mortgage or Tara working in the garden, just like real life, but that would not make a fun game. Though the other moments in life are equally important and worthy of games. Life is funny, sad, calm, hectic, reflective, sedate, often loving, sometimes pornographic, but all in all much richer than what is on TV (or even should be shown on TV) but a game can reflect all of those facets.

Willow Rosenberg
Leading Character
Brawn: Mediocre Reasoning: Superb
Agility: Mediocre Perception: Great
Stamina: Fair Will: Superb

Luck: 3 Income: Great* (Willow sold her security firm for 7 figures).

Skills: Acrobatics (Fair), Brawling (Poor), Business Knowledge (Good), Computer Use (Legendary), Craft, electronics (Great), Crime, general (Poor), Cryptozoology (Great), Dechipher Script (Good), Engineering, electrical (Great), Engineering, mechanical (Good), First Aid (Mediocre), Handle Mana (Legendary), Influence (Fair), Knowledge, general (Legendary), Languages (English, French, Latin, Greek), Magical Rituals, most (Legendary), Melee Combat (Mediocre), Notice (Good), Occult Knowledge (Legendary), Parapsychology (Legendary), Religion, Jewish (Good), Science, general (Great)

Gifts: Ambidexterity, Attractive, Wealthy

Faults: Ambitious, Enemy, Minority (Lesbian, Jewish, Wicca)

Powers: Awakened, Anamchara, Magical Aptitude

Props: Brownstone House, Bike, Computers (servers and laptops), Subaru Outback (special hybrid converted model), Doll’s Eye Crystal.

Real Name: Willow D. Rosenberg
DOB: August 1, 1981 (Age 24 in 2006)
Identity: Public, but unknown as a witch
Occupation: Part time computer instructor; Private Computer Security Systems Analyst; Witch
Height 5’3”, Weight 110lbs, Eyes Green, Hair Red

Tara A. Maclay
Leading Character
Brawn: Mediocre Reasoning: Great
Agility:Mediocre Perception: Superb
Stamina: Fair Will: Superb

Luck: 3 Income: Great

Skills: Acrobatics (Fair), Art, creative writing (Good), Art, painting (Good), Art History (Great), Brawling (Poor), Computer Use (Good), Crime, general (Poor), Cryptozoology (Good), Dechipher Script (Fair), Diplomancy (Mediocre), Driving (Fair), Handle Mana (Legendary), Influence (Good), Knowledge, general (Great), Languages (English, Japanese, Latin, Greek), Magical Rituals, most (Legendary), Melee Combat (Poor), Notice (Good), Occult Knowledge (Legendary), Parapsychology (Legendary), Perform, dance (good), Perform, singing (Good), Profile (Good), Psychology (Great), Religion, Wicca (Good), Science, general (Great)

Gifts: Attractive, Wealthy

Faults: Code of Behavior, Enemy, Minority (Lesbian, Wicca), Soft Hearted

Powers: Awakened, Anamchara, Healing Touch, Magical Aptitude, Sense of Empathy

Props: Brownstone house, Bike, Occult Library (includes the White Codex, Journal of Tamara Swift and The Journal of Megan Maclay).

Real Name: Tara A. Maclay
DOB: 11/07/1980 (25 in 2006)
Identity: Public, but unknown as a witch
Occupation: Youth Counselor and Art instructor; Witch
Height 5’5”, Weight 125lbs, Eyes Blue, Hair Blond

Depending on when this is set they also have their daughter Brianna who is either 1 or almost 13 (depending when I decide to set this; gotta find some new players first).

Notes: As usual, I am going with “The Dragon and the Phoenix” versions of these characters.
Briefly: Tara is back from the dead, Season 7 never happened, they defeated the mad god Leviathan. This would be the start of my Series 3 with Willow and Tara.  I used the Now Playing rules as the dominant feature in these conversions, but converting to Heart Quest (or any other Fudge game) should be easy.

1 comment:

Gaming Ronin said...

I personally love FUDGE.

I would hard pressed to say it is soulless. Because it is not a single system. The system can change based on the setting. Rather than other generic settings that the setting is shoehorned in to the system.

I have ran fudge games with just 3 attributes and a hang full of skills. Ive ran it with nothing but skills. Ive ran it with just attributes and a list of what your character are skilled at.

The true beauty of fudge is having a character with a good charisma and great dexterity rather than chr 13 and dex 16. Although I am fine with numbers. I love the descriptions too.

I have never had a new player look at a FUDGE sheet and get confused.
Knowing that a fair strength is not as good as a good strength. And that a great strength is even better. is pretty easy concept for any one to grasp.