"Freeform" is a word I used back in 1992 to describe what I wanted
Fudge to be. It has since been used by other folk for
other meanings - such is life. By freeform I meant a game that didn't
use a rigid structure, that left a lot of decisions up to the GM, and
that nothing ever had to be looked up in a book during a game.
Looking Things Up
This last point is one thing that bothered me about GURPS.
In fact, I once had a great role-player who was sort of twisted by that
aspect of GURPS. I mean, she used to just play the role,
which is what it's all about, I think. But as she learned more and
more GURPS rules she fell into the mindset that playing
by the rules was more important: she became a rule-player as opposed to
For example, her character was in a tense situation in one
GURPS game, and I, as GM, said, "What do you do?"
She replied, "I pull out my gun and shoot him repeatedly!" I
asked her to roll the dice, but first she wanted to know the snapshot and
recoil penalties. I said, "Don't worry about it, just roll the dice,
quick, he's aiming at you!" But she had to pull the rulebook out,
look up the various penalties (which I was just going to waive) and only
then roll the dice. I found it sad. I still do.
So a big design goal was never to have to look anything up during play.
This was actually not a hard step to take, once you analyze what goes
on in a role-playing game, anyway.
So what does go on? Well, you're trying to simulate either the real world
or some non-real, fictional world. Wouldn't it be helpful to have rules
for every contingency? Well, yes and no:
- Yes, it would be helpful to
have easily-remembered meta-rules that covered every contingency.
it wouldn't be helpful at all to try to have specific rules to cover
every contingency because the undertaking is impossible. Any list you
could make would be incomplete and would fail at some point. In addition,
you'd constantly be interrupting your game looking things up, and the GM
would never feel comfortable just winging it to keep the game flow going,
because it might turn out that the rules contradicted her.
So, meta-rules: these are actually easy, and many games have them.
GURPS has excellent meta-rules, for example: roll 3d6
and compare it to your modified ability. If it's equal to or lower
than your ability, you succeed. If not, you fail. That's beautiful,
and what attracted me to GURPS in the first place. So
Fudge has similarly simple meta-rules that are easily
remembered and put into practice. They're different from
GURPS, but of the same level of ease of use.
But why doesn't Fudge have rules for common things, such
as falling damage, or how much damage it takes to knock a door down,
or time to drown, and so on? Don't these things come up often enough
to make it worth your while to include them?
My answer is simply: no, they don't. If they came up often enough, you'd
never have to look them up. If they only occur now and then, you'd have
to stop the game to look up the rule, then calculate the damage, etc.
In the meantime, the role-playing mood is broken as index-searching,
rule-reading, and technical calculations are made.
In short, that's not role-playing, that's simulation. And here's
where Fudge fails the "good game" test for many players:
it's aimed at role-playing rather than "realistic simulation."
Many GURPS players don't like Fudge for
that reason, and that's fine with me. Because, simply put,
Fudge is made for role-playing, not to simulate exactly
how much damage you'd take if you fell off the roof of a two-story
house. And if this makes a game unenjoyable for you, then you won't
enjoy Fudge - be warned.
Of course, since all that information is already found in
GURPS, you could just use your
GURPS book to look things up like that, if you wanted
... But you may as well just play GURPS in that case, to
Ease in Role-playing
So a major design goal of Fudge is to be a vehicle for
good role-playing. This includes:
- not looking things up,
- not having to make calculations when using dice,
- the ability to return realistic results so as not to break the willing
suspension of disbelief,
- a character sheet you can understand without
having to translate everything into English, and
- minimizing out-of-character actions and statements.
I've already said you don't have to look anything up while playing
Fudge, and Fudge Dice require no mental gymnastics to
What about returning realistic results? Can it do that? I've just
said above that it doesn't do "realistic simulation" - but can it return
realistic enough results so as to be believable? Yes, if the GM is
So here we have another limitation of Fudge: you need a
good GM to enjoy it. Since I frankly don't enjoy any game with a
poor GM, I don't find that a very heavy burden, myself, but your taste
may differ - be warned.
At any rate, if the GM is good, it's easy to return realistic results.
Since you don't have to worry the book will contradict any ruling you
make, you're actually relaxed enough to think logically when called on
to make a ruling.
"Hmmm - how much damage would I take if I fell off a
two-story roof? Would I be Hurt, Very Hurt, Incapacitated? Or would
it be just a Scratch? Or, more importantly, how much damage would an
active, physically fit, acrobatic hero in a cinematic story take? Well,
I guess it would depend on how he landed, so I'll ask for an Agility roll.
But he was pushed off, so I'll make the Agility roll at -1. If he gets
a Good or better result, it's just a Scratch. Mediocre or Fair result,
he's Hurt. Anything worse and he's Very Hurt."
All that actually takes longer to read than to think, and the GM simply
announces, "Make an Agility roll at -1." When the player says the
result, the GM instantly replies with a believable answer, and the game
continues without interruption. Or so has been my experience.
Personal note: A carpenter friend of mine once fell off a
two-story roof. He was Hurt (sprained one ankle), but actually got rid
of his torticollis by grabbing the gutter on his way down and yanking his
spine straight, so he figured it was a net gain. As an adult, I once
fell out of an upper story barn window. I had just spent three days
practicing Aikido falls, though, and walked away with minor bruises -
"just a Scratch," in Fudge terms. However, I have read of people
dying from falling off roofs and out of barn windows, so you never know.
It's why I like some randomizing element in my games instead of diceless
The next things I list for supporting an atmosphere conducive to
role-playing are the character sheet you can understand and minimizing
out-of-character actions and statements. Can Fudge handle
those? Yes, Fudge does these very well through the use of
Adjectives instead of numbers.
It always bothered me in GURPS that players would ask
each other, "What's your Stealth skill? Oh, 13? Mine's 14 -
I'll go sneak up." In certain other games you'd hear, "I'm
fifth level, let me go." It always broke the mood for me - yet
it happened a lot. In a Fudge game, however, you hear,
"What's your Stealth skill? Fair? Let me go, then - I'm Great at
Stealth." It's still not great role-playing, but it's easier to stay
in the mood with that type of conversation going on. Likewise with the
wound track, discussed above: in Fudge nobody ever says,
"Help! I've only got one hit point left!" Instead you'll hear,
"Help! I'm Very Hurt!"
I once had the perfect experimental subject as a player in a
Fudge convention game. A young woman was not only at her
first game convention, she was also playing the first role-playing
games of her life. She played in my Fudge game on Sunday
afternoon, after having played three other role-playing games that
weekend, using three different systems. She started laughing one minute
after reading her character sheet. Well, it was a humorous game,
so I wasn't totally surprised, but I asked her if everything was okay,
just to be safe. She said she was laughing because she understood
who her character was, what she was capable of, what her strengths and
weaknesses were, and what motivated her - and it was the first time she'd
been able to understand any of that all weekend. She told me the
character sheets in the other games she'd played were just gibberish to
her, even by the end of the game. The only thing she wasn't certain of
on her Fudge character sheet was what I meant by the IRA.
When I said, "Irish Republican Army. Did you see the movie Patriot
Games? Yes? The bad guys in that movie," she was satisfied.
And played the role brilliantly, I might add!
You can check out some sample character sheets
to see what I mean. And those are mostly crude ASCII sheets - it's even
clearer when they're slicked up a bit, such as the Adobe Acrobat Bunny
characters (except that you might not understand all the terms if
you don't know the genre - but that would be true in any game system).
So I personally think that everything about Fudge
contributes, in some way or another, towards ease in role-playing.
Another major design goal was the game needed to be customizable to an
individual GM's tastes. I felt this one was obvious, and am still
amazed to find people complain about it. Why on earth would you
complain that I think you should play a game to your tastes? But some
people, it turns out, want to be spoon-fed. They want it all set up
for them in advance, and they want it to their tastes.
To these people, I can only say, "Good luck!" You need to find
a designer who is not only a good designer, but also has identical
taste to yours. Personally, I've never met such a person, but you may.
I wish you the best of luck in finding them.
At any rate, even its detractors admit Fudge is very
customizable, so I don't have to go into much detail here. I'll just
give two examples you might not have thought of. These address two
complaints I've heard often enough to warrant some discussion:
However, one possible downside of customizable is that it
actually requires some customization. I say "possible" downside
because many people find such customization to be enjoyable.
Others don't, however, and are put off by it. I'm sorry, there's
not too much I can do about it. I did write Five-Point Fudge to help
you make a character easily, but that's about as much as I can do.
Others have customized Fudge in ways that suits them -
you might want to check
some of them out and see if any have tastes similar to yours.
- Some people want numbers, not adjectives, for their character's
traits. Fine with me - that's taste, and it's not up to me to dictate
your tastes. Me, I prefer adjectives, but if you would rather have
numbers, go for it. Instead of Terrible ... Fair ... Superb, you could
use 1-7, for example. Or even ...
- Some people really do think Fudge is too grainy (see the
next section, Real Math). If you're willing to use numbers, you
can simply expand the trait possibilities: 3-18 (or 1-20), for example,
with 10-11 being average. This doesn't hurt Fudge at all -
it's resilient enough to withstand changes like that. (However, if you
do expand the range for traits, I recommend going to numbers rather
than adjectives - it's hard to remember more than seven adjectives, and
very hard to be able to make a clear progession using more than seven.)
[Note, Summer, 2000: Ann Dupuis has now written and
published an already customized version of Fudge suitable for
the fantasy genre - no GM-tweaking required (though still possible,
of course). This is called Fantasy Fudge and can be found in
the Fudge Expanded
And by the way, you folks who like the objective systems in the book
owe a lot to Ann Dupuis. Between the December, 1993, edition and the
June, 1995, edition, I was tempted to rip out most of the objective
systems since I don't use them, and in some ways they foster attitudes
that go against what Fudge stands for. But Ann convinced
me that doing that would not be serving my design goal of Customizable,
so I left them in. Gotta provide for as many tastes as possible, after
Real Math, or, Where Did You Get Those Weird Scale Numbers?
Is there any real math in the game? Not during play, but quite a bit
in the design process, yes. Aside from a few dozen spreadsheets on
various dice and card probabilities, there's some real math in the
I'm sometimes asked why I chose such an awkward set of numbers for the
Strength and Speed scales. Why not some more common logarithm? The
answer is: reality test. I did a lot of research into human strength
and speed, and found that the strongest human is about five times as
strong as the average human, and the fastest human is about twice as
fast as the average human. This is based on lots of data gathered from
lots of countries over the last fifty years - well, if you work in a
library, as I did when writing Fudge, you have access to
lots of data and usually know how to find it ...
So if the strongest and fastest are Legendary, and the average is Fair,
that means Legendary Strength should be five times stronger than Fair
Strength, and Legendary Speed twice as fast as Fair Speed. Once I set
those two numbers, the math followed easily.
Obviously, those are approximations, though, so if you feel like changing
the Scale numbers to something more easily remembered, please do so.
Just make sure Legendary isn't too far from the figures in the
Oh, there were other areas where I dealt with a lot of math - damage,
of course, though I declined to reality test that, thank you. In that
case, I just kept playing with the numbers until I was happy with
game results. Again, if this bothers you, use your own numbers.
Just don't reality test them on me, please ...
What about that "graininess" - doesn't that bother me? Nope. I think
it's an illusion.
Let me first explain what is meant by grainy. Fudge has
only seven levels to describe your ability with a skill or attribute.
Some people find this too few - it feels "grainy," like granular sand
as opposed to fine sand, which they somehow feel their other games are.
But this is an illusion because most games have de facto
graininess pretty close to Fudge's.
By this I mean that a 3-18 scale system, for example, rarely uses most
of those numbers. Most stats will be in the 12-18 range. This is
no wider a spread than Fudge has. True, true - many
Fudge players don't use the bottom two levels, either, so
that can be a problem. However, Joe Gill ("snowgen" on the fudge-l
mailing list) came up
with the following after a post Carl Cravens had made to the fudge-l list.
Carl was having problems with his players not wanting skills below
Fair, but he finally managed to define "Mediocre" positively enough
to convince his players that Mediocre was an acceptable skill level
for PCs. Joe had a different and more amusing solution to this problem:
renaming the levels. So the levels would look something like:
This works because of the psychology of roleplayers: most of them don't
want to have low-sounding skills, so they shy away from them. By shifting
the names down, you expand the levels people feel comfortable listing
on a character sheet, reducing the graininess. You could do this too,
if the supposed graininess bothers you. In fact, why not go further,
if you really want to?
- Pretty Good
Or whatever ... but we've strayed from Real Math into Psychology -
- Very Good
- Pretty Good
[Note added August 2011: I've actually now shifted to playing
something similar to this. See VG Fudge.
So How Is It?
Well, I can't say - I'm too close to it. I like it; I know that much.
I translate every setting I have any interest in into Fudge
and run it that way. (I estimate that this year  I have passed the
400 mark: over 400 sessions GMed (or played in) using Fudge.
And I still love it - I consider that a successful design.)
So far, I prefer it to any other game out there. But that's really not
surprising, since I wrote it to my tastes.
Oh, I steal from other games quite a bit. But that's the norm in this
industry, you know: everybody's influenced by the games that came
before. In my case, though, I'm able to be influenced by the games
that come after. This is because Fudge is specifically
designed to incorporate new ideas - that comes under the "customizable"
So when something new comes out and it has a great idea, it'll probably
show up in a Fudge game of mine at some time. For example,
I once ran a Fudge Groo game at a convention using the
Groo Trading Cards as action resolution tools as explained
in Everway (which came out after Fudge).
I found Fudge was able to handle it just fine.
So though I'm not impartial enough to give you a final verdict on
Fudge , I will say this: it would be very hard for me to go
back to a rigidly structured game at this point. I just couldn't do it.
The freedom I find in Fudge is addictive.
And by the way, I have never made any money off of Fudge.