Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Experience-free Skill Advancement

by Edward Beingessner (beinges @ bigfoot .com)

In a long running campaign, character improvement is essential, but as Steffan O'Sullivan points out in his "Recent Thoughts on Fudge," experience points do not work very well in Fudge. Advancement is too granular, either too quick or too slow. In fact experience points in any gaming system seem misdirected. With most experience systems, there is no relation between what the character does during the game and how he advances. There is a relation with how fast a character advances, but not what skills he advances in. For example, in the AD&D experience system a thief could gain all his experience back-stabbing monsters. Then when he gets his next level, he can suddenly climb walls better. It does not seem to follow. The same problem arises in the GURPS system. You get points to improve your character, but can use them to buy skills never used. For example, a character who was awarded character points for slaying a dragon could use them to buy a skill in picking locks.

This article is about an alternative to using experience points for character development. The system will be focused on improving skills. Improving Attributes and gaining Gifts will be left for subjective character development. The main objectives of the character development system will be:
  1. There should be a direct correlation between the skills a character uses and the skills that improve.
  2. It should be easier to improve low-level skills than high-level skills. Experience systems are structured this way because it gives a more satisfying feel to character development. Our system should be able to simulate this feeling. This shall be referred to as the concept of diminishing returns.
  3. The system should not require a large amount of book keeping. Fudge is not about accounting, and this would be a distraction from the flow of the game.
  4. Finally, the system should use the same core dice mechanic that all of Fudge is based on.
So what would a system of character development look like that did not use experience points? The Basic Roleplaying (BRP) system has an ingenious example. In BRP, if you use a skill successfully during a game session, you have a chance to improve it at the end of the session. Notice you only have a chance of improvement. To succeed at a skill, you must roll under its value. So the higher the skill, the better the chance of success. To raise a skill higher you have to roll over its value, so the higher the skill the less the chance of improvement. So the BRP system is comprised of two steps. First a skill must be successfully used during the gaming session, then at the end of the session a roll is made to see if the skill improved. We shall refer to these steps as a Skill Success and an Experience Feat.

This system works well in Fudge. First, assume all characters are Poor learners. If a character successfully uses a skill during a gaming session (a Skill Success), at the end of the game session they get a chance to improve it. They must make a feat roll with their Poor learning attribute (an Experience Feat) to improve. The difficulty of the Experience Feat is their current skill level. For example, if a character was a Fair swimmer to start with, they would need a Fair result on an Experience Feat to become Good. Since their learning attribute is Poor, they need a +2 result on Fudge dice (18% chance). Difficult skills could get a -1 to learn, while a character with an aptitude for some types of skills might have a +1 chance of improving. Skill aptitudes could be taken as Gifts by characters; however, they give a very large bonus to character improvement, so should be used sparingly. Note that if characters are Poor learners, they can never improve beyond a Superb skill level (unless you have an aptitude for that skill). Getting a Legendary skill level would be impossible, but could be appointed on a subjective basis as is suggested in the rules. Alternatively, you can treat any +4 on an Experience Feat as an automatic success, improving a skill one level. Note that Fudge points should not be used during Experience Feats, or improvement becomes too predictable and we lose the sense of diminishing returns.

To be counted toward character improvement, a Skill Success has to be under stress or further the plot in some way. In other words, we should call it a Significant Skill Success instead of simply a Skill Success. Don't let the players try their skills in nice safe situations and get chances to improve. They have to be gaining useful adventuring experience to get a chance to develop. To avoid this type of munchkinism, limit the number of skills that can be improved in single session to the two or three most significant skill successes. For example, the killing blow on a dragon would be more significant than bargaining down the price of a 10 foot pole. This also eliminates having to keep a list of all the Skill Success's during the session. The players and GM should be able to remember the most significant events of a session without writing them down. At the end of the session, it is only against these Significant Skill Successes that the character tries an Experience Feat.

This system can be used to gain new skills. If a character has a Significant Skill Success with an unknown skill at the default level, they deserve an Experience Feat. For example, if a character landed a jet plane with instructions from the control tower, the character can make an Experience Feat to get a pilot skill. If the default level for a jet pilot skill is Poor, they would have to make a Poor Experience Feat. If they succeeded, they would get a Mediocre jet pilot skill (i.e. Poor + 1 = Mediocre). The chances of succeeding at default skill levels can be very difficult, but players can spend Fudge points to help their chances. So indirectly, Fudge points are used for character development.

You can use a characters imaginative play to invent new skills in this system. For example, a character with a Good quarter-staff skill uses their staff to pole-vault into a kick to knock someone off a bridge. You might assign a penalty of -2 to their quarter-staff skill for this feat. If this was a Significant Skill Success, they could take a new skill in pole-vault-kick at Fair if they make their Experience Feat (i.e. Good - 2 + 1 = Fair). This gives players an incentive to try new things and be descriptive during play. Adding new skills in this way keeps characters improving when their skills are so high that improvement is unlikely; thus, making character development less granular. We had four objectives for this character development system. The first was direct correlation between the skills used and skills improved. If only Skill Successes can be used for improvement, this objective is met. The second objective was diminishing returns, which is satisfied by the Experience Feat becoming more difficult as the skill is improved. The third objective was simple book keeping. Since only the two or three most Significant Skill Successes are important, and character development takes place at the end of every session, no book keeping is required. The last objective was to use the the core Fudge dice mechanic, which is exactly what an Experience Feat uses. So we have met our objectives, and done so without using experience points. The system allows characters to develop as a direct result of their actions taken during play. This gives players incentive to play their characters well, which is the entire reason for character development.

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

A Non-Linear Wounding System

By Helge Lund Kolstad (helge @ nvg.org)
Most RPG damage systems have a linear way of regarding wounds, i.e. hit points, a wound track, or a similar mechanism. The idea is that if you sustain enough small wounds, you will eventually die. This is fine for most games, but is nevertheless somewhat unrealistic. I present here an optional damage system, inspired by Fantasy Flight Games' Synergy game system.
The system is based on the assumption that you don't die if you sustain several non-mortal wounds. You might be hindered, feel bad and look unwell, but you won't die from it unless your condition somehow worsens. Likewise, it's fully possible to die from a single wound, no matter how tough you are.

The Health Conditions

The conditions a person can be in is connected to how much damage he has sustained, but there is no direct correlation. You might stumble around and fight back, even if you're spilling entrails and slipping in your own blood. Or you might be concussed and out like a light, but otherwise fine.
Pretty self-explanatory. The subject is not hindered by any wounds he might have sustained.
The subject has sustained some wounds, and is feeling it. An arm might be numb, a blow might have caused dizziness; in any case, this is reflected by a penalty to all rolls one makes.
The subject is reeling from pain and shock and takes a round of ouch time. This is a temporary condition. While stunned, one might stumble away from immediate danger and dodge a few blows, but is otherwise incapable of coherent action. Defence is at -2.
The subject is out cold, but his or her condition is not life-threatening. No action can be taken.
The subject is down and has sustained serious body trauma. He can take no action and will die unless the injury is treated. How long that takes depends on the injury and how nasty the GM is feeling; however, it is not too late...
But now it is. In a fantasy or science-fiction campaign, it might be possible to raise the dead, in which case the body's condition may be a factor.

The Wound Levels

This is of course what it all comes down to. When playing, players might keep track of wounds by keeping differently-coloured counters. For example, the GM might give them a glass bead for each wound, or the player might fasten laquered paper clips to the character sheet.
The wound levels describe:
  • The amount of damage sustained from the attack that caused the wound.
  • The Resistance roll. When a wound is sustained, one rolls against a relevant trait; Damage Capacity, Health, and Resolve are all good choices. The GM decides what he likes best. This roll is not affected by any wound penalties.
  • The penalty. This how much each wound hinders the subject. All penalties are cumulative, except as noted above.
Type Damage Nature Roll Penalty
Flesh Wound 1-3 This might be a graze, a flesh wound, a sprained ankle, or something similar. The injury is painful and might hinder action, but is not very serious. No roll is needed for flesh wounds. The subject grunts/screams in pain/does not flinch (whatever is appropriate) and is otherwise unaffected. The subject receives a -1 penalty for every two of these babies. Only one flesh wound will not hinder one. Much.
Severe Wound 4-8 This is something more noticable - actual fractures, a punctured lung, a concussion, or something similar. The subject is severely hurt and needs medical attention, but the injury is not in itself life-threatening. If the subject fails the roll, he is Stunned for one round. Success means he grits his teeth and fights on. The difficulty is Good. The subject receives a -1 penalty for everysevere wound sustained.
Critical Wound 9-14 These are life-threatening injuries, usually because the subject's vital organs have been damaged. His stomach might be cut open and his guts spilling out (always a bad sign). Failing the roll means the subject is Dying. Success means he is still able to act; however, he might be permanently crippled at the GM's discretion. The difficulty is Great. For sustaining this kind of injury, the subject earns himself a -2 penalty.
Traumatic Wound 15+ This is the kind of damage that can kill you in an instant - standing within the blast range of an exploding bomb, for example. The subject will likely be crippled for the rest of his life, and should count himself lucky to survive. If he can count at all. Failure means the subject is instantly, messily Dead. Even if he succeeds, he will be Dying and barely alive. The roll has a Superb difficulty. For every 3 damage above 15, another level is added to difficulty (Legendary at 18, Legendary+1 at 21, and so on). A traumatic wound incurs a -3 penalty to all rolls.


Even after the wound is sustained, the danger is not over. For every day spent wounded, there is a risk that the wound might be infected. At the end of each day, the subject rolls against Fair (use Health, Damage Capacity or similar trait. Resolve might not be as relevant here). Failure means the wound has become infected.
The roll is influenced by any first aid administered to the subject. The environment might have adverse effects as well. In a jungle, for example, wounds are likely to fester.
If a wound is infected, its severity goes up by one level, i.e. a flesh wound becomes a severe wound. The subject then has to succeed at a Resistance roll or suffer the consequences of the new wound. It is possible for a wound to be affected by infection more than once as the infection gets worse.

Treating Wounds


If a wound is allowed to heal normally, its severity will decrease by one level every two weeks. Hospitalisation will reduce this time by half. The Gift Rapid Healing will further reduce it by half. Even an infected wound will get better. Yes, it is unrealistic for a bomb victim to be completely healed after four weeks in hospital, but this is where some realism has to be sacrificed for playability.

First Aid

A subject who is Dying will, well, die without immediate medical care. A successful First Aid roll will change the subject's condition to Incapacitated and put him out of immediate danger. If he gets sufficient rest, he might wake up and be merely Hindered; however, the wound level is not reduced by first aid.

Other Nastiness

Being wounded might have other consequenced than that mentioned above. The subject might be cut by a poisoned blade, creating a seemingly innocuous wound that will not heal and gradually gets worse as per infection. A particularly grievous wound might cause the loss of a limb, an eye, or other body part. This is all up to the GM, but playability should be kept in mind. It might be appropriate for someone who survived a direct hit from a 19th century cannon to lose a leg or an arm, or both, but players might be a bit miffed from losing an hand to a severe wound in a cinematic campaign.


Ugly Joe is in an old-style Wild West duel with El Hombre. Fingers twitch as the clock atop the church tower approaches 12. The two shots ring as one. Finally, Joe makes a gurgling sound and sinks to his knees.
In this example, Joe gets a Fair Revolver skill result, while El Hombre gets a Superb one. El Hombre's revolver has a damage rating of 7, while Joe's heavy duster gives him 1 armour. Total damage is 9, which is a critical wound. Ugly Joe now has to make a Resolve roll against Great difficulty, but rolls only Good. He falls over and is now dying.
Bad Luck Betty has been in a firefight, and taken three hits. One merely grazed her arm. One passed through her side, but failed to hit any vital organs. The third bullet, however, entered very close to her throat and has shattered her collarbone. Although in pain, she bit the bullet and managed to escape with her life. Bandaging her wounds, she decides to cross the desert and search for help in the first town she can find.
The first two hits are flesh wounds, but the second one is obviously a severe wound. Betty made the Resistance roll, however. Two flesh wounds mean a -1 penalty to all rolls, and the severe wound another -1, for a total of -2. She has made her First Aid roll, but it will have no effect other than lessening the chance of infection.
Jean-Pierre Brisset and his partner Pascal Dufresne are searching the Amazon jungle for the Lost Idol of Quetzalcoatl when they are surprised by hostile natives and forced to flee. Jean-Pierre has taken two massive spear wounds while Pascal has only a relatively innocuous wound from a blowpipe dart. Of course, as seasoned explorers they both know about the danger of poisoned darts, so Jean-Pierre desperately tries to suck the poison out. However brave, the attempt to alleviate Pascal's pain fails, and Jean-Pierre has to watch his partner die only a few hours later. The next day, one of Jean-Pierre's own wounds hurts considerably more and is looking rather worse. He gets a fever and considers his own prospects pretty bleak. However, Lady Luck smiles upon him as he is rescued by a friendly tribe just as he is about to pass out.
In this example, Jean-Pierre has sustained two severe wounds and Pascal only a flesh wound. However, Pascal's wound is poisoned and the GM decides Pascal's player has to make a Health check every hour against Good difficulty. Pascal fails the first roll, which is bad since his next roll will be modified for a severe wound, not a flesh wound. Meanwhile, Jean-Pierre tries to suck out the poison, which the GM rules will be a Medicine roll against Superb difficulty to shake the poison effects of the wound. Jean-Pierre doesn't even have the Medicine skill, so he fails. Although Pascal lasts for a few more hours, he ultimately fails the poisoning roll and the critical wound roll, and Jean-Pierre can only watch his dying partner writhe in agony.

Meanwhile, the day passes and it's time for Jean-Pierre to make his infection roll. He is in a damp jungle environment with lots of insects and bacteria to make his day worse, so the GM decides the roll will have a Superb difficulty. However the wounds have been treated with Pascal's First Aid skill, so the difficulty is lowered to Great. Jean-Pierre is in Good Health; however, his two severe wounds lowers his effective rating to Mediocre. His first two rolls are Great and Fair, which means one wound stays uninfected while an incredibly nasty South American insect lays its eggs in the other. Jean-Pierre now has one severe and one critical wound.

The French explorer shambles along all day and night, and it's time for infection rolls again. This time, his effective skill is Poor (Good -1 for the severe wound, -2 again for the critical one), and the difficulty is still Great. The rolls are Terrible and Fair - not even close. Jean-Pierre now has one critical and one traumatic wound. Although he fails the Resistance roll for the critical wound, he succeeds with the traumatic one, so he doesn't die outright, but passes out as his life slowly seeps away. Fortunately, he is found just in time for treatment.
Ted the ninja trainee has already become legendary for his ineptitude and bad luck. One day during katana practice, he trips and skewers himself on his own sword. His sensei carries him to the hospital, shaking his head. Florence the ninja nurse takes very good care of him, so what seemed at first a rather horrid wound quickly heals. After only two weeks, a rather embarrassed Ted is ready to resume practice. He has, however, fallen in love with Florence, which will cause him no end of trouble.
In this example, Ted first sustains a severe wound from his own sword. He is quickly carried to hospital, so one wound level will be healed every week. He still has to make infection rolls, but in this clean environment the difficulty will be Terrible. Even with Ted's Mediocre Health, he passes with flying colours. After one week, his injury has receded to a flesh wound, and after two, it is completely healed. He has acquired heartache, though, which is not covered by this system.
By the cover of night, "Dead Meat" Hamish and the other soldiers wade ashore from the landing boats. They have been making silent progress across the landscape when the soldier next to Hamish suddenly steps on a mine. Hamish is flung 10 metres in the air and lands brutally, alive but not looking it. Groaning painfully, he rolls onto his back - and triggers another mine. Again, he is flung several meters across a ridge and lands in front of an enemy truck. He is then run over. As Hamish is lying there, smeared across the road, He thinks "not again!" as he loses consciousness.
This is an example of multiple wounds. As his mate is killed by a mine, Hamish sustains 16 damage, which is a traumatic wound. Hamish's player rolls Health against Superb difficulty and makes it - the unlucky soldier shielded most of the blast. Then, Hamish is blasted by another mine - a direct hit. This time it's 20 damage and Legendary+1 difficulty. Since Hamish has Great Health, The player wins it again with another lucky roll. The GM rules Hamish hit the trigger with his knee, and his left leg is blasted off. He is then run over by a military truck, crushed for 17 damage by several tonnes of vehicle. His chest and most of his internal organs are crushed, but his heart still lurches on, since the Resistance difficulty is "only" Superb. The player can be glad no wound penalties are applied to the Resistance roll or he would be in trouble. Hamish is still very much dying and in enemy territory, though.

Monday, March 1, 2004

Curses for the Gramarye

By Tony Spallino (aspallino @ nc . rr . com)
Since February had a Friday the 13th in it, it seemed appropriate to include an article about magical curses. Note: This article uses the Gramarye magic system designed by Carl Cravens for its sample spells. These spells can be easily adapted to another magic system of your choice.

Curses can be used in a variety of games, but the more traditional types are found in fantasy games. Some curses can have a humorous style to them while others can be downright deadly. Who's casting these devastating spells? Typically angry or evil wizards or witches. They may cast these to take revenge on a particular person, especially if this person has somehow wronged the magician. The witch may have been hired by someone to cast the curse on this fellow's rival.

How are they casting them? These spells have high mana requirements! Curses just can't be cast cheaply. Aside from suggested props, the use of a ritual is strongly encouraged. The magician must be willing to invest some serious time in order to cast these curses. It's an extremely difficult task to alter a victim's situation on such a drastic level. A simple ritual will add +1 to a mage's mana bonus, so the mage will benefit from more elaborate rituals to be able to cast these. [Editor's note: Recall that the ritual bonus is for prepararing the caster's mind and body to cast the spell and comes before casting of the spell itself. I recommend a maximum bonus of +3 mana for the most involved rituals, such as spending three days meditating in a sweat lodge without food to open the caster's mind to the spirit world, or whatever is appropriate to your game world.]

How can the curse be broken? In a typical fantasy style game, there could be a spell such as Remove Curse (Break Magic) that would erase the curse. For game purposes, there may have to be a condition such as only the wizard who cast the spell may dispel it. Other wizards would need to find other methods.
There are some great roleplay possibilities here. A whole evening's adventure could center around the breaking of a PC's curse. Perhaps they need to travel to a dangerous area and gather a particular herb. Literature is filled with stories where the character must accomplish a particular task in order to break the curse. They may also need someone's help to accomplish this. An attribute such as Willpower could be used to allow the character to break the curse. This could be done at certain times, such as once a day or during a strenuous task.

Let's examine some of these curses.

(Rules Note: For our purposes, a 1-year duration, costing +20 mana, is considered "permanent".)

Bad Luck Curse

Control Spirit, Great effect (+9), one target (0), short range (+1), 1 month duration (+8). Total mana = 18

This curse will cause the character to suffer a -1 to -2 (at most) to any critical Fudge die rolls. The penalty will only occur during an important skill roll. This curse could possibly affect an Ability roll such as Dexterity, if necessary. The player will also notice smaller bad things happening to them, such as a ripped shirt more often than usual, the barkeep "accidentally" spilling a drink on them, and other roleplay possibilities. This could work especially well if the player doesn't know he's been cursed yet.
Possible props:
  • Collected hair and fingernails of the victim - this gives a kind of voodoo feel to the spell (-6)
  • Using a symbol of bad luck when casting the spell (-1)
Note: The use of Spirit assumes that luck is a spiritual quality that can be somewhat controlled through magic. If the use of Spirit in this way doesn't fit your campaign, please feel free to change this. Perhaps a Luck Realm would fit better in your campaign? Other possibilities could include the Realms of Mind, Body, and Magic. These could have rationales as follows:
  • Control Mind - The victim has bad luck because their mind does things subconsciously that does them harm.
  • Control Body - The victim has bad luck through unconscious movements of their own body.
  • Control Magic - Luck could be a magical quality that can be manipulated.
These other choices will depend greatly on your personal worldview.

Dancing Curse

Control Body, Great effect (+13), one target (0), long range (+2) 5 hour duration (+5). Total mana = 20

This curse will cause the target to start dancing and they will be unable to stop. At first, it will be more embarrassing than anything else, but it will then become tiring. Since the victim cannot stop, he will start to hurt from this constant strain on his legs and body. After a half an hour of this, one point of damage is taken. Each half an hour after this, another point of damage is taken until the victim reaches Incapacitated and collapses from exhaustion. He will stop dancing, but his feet will continue to twitch. Whether the curse starts up after he awakens or not is up to the referee.
Possible props:
  • A shoe belonging to the victim (-6)
  • Playing a silver whistle or flute during the casting of the spell (-3)

Shapeshifting Curse

Transform Body, Great effect (+11), one person (0), extreme range (+4) permanent duration until condition is met (+20). Total mana = 35

This is one of the classic curses of literature. It will cause the victim to change shape into an animal of some sort. The animal should be something relatively small and harmless, such as a frog or mouse. With an increase in effect, the victim could also be transformed into something original but bestial. The victim will still have his normal intelligence, but will be unable to speak. He will be limited to the senses and abilities of the animal he is now changed into.
Traditionally, these sorts of curses require some sort of condition for them to be broken. Victims could spend years in their new form trying to get someone to break it for them. A kiss from a princess, true love, or finding a magical object are possible conditions for breaking the curse.
Note: This curse would normally qualify for Good effect, but since it's such a massive transformation, Great effect seems more appropriate. Carl has noted that the Transform samples are under-valued and that Transform should not be permanent. Both are changed in the revised Gramarye rules he is currently writing.
Possible props:
  • A small totem resembling the animal (-1)
  • The same totem carved from a precious stone or cast in precious metal (-3)
  • A living animal that the victim will turn into, which must be sacrificed when casting the spell (-3)
  • Casting the spell in the environment of the animal desired, such as a cave or swamp (-1)

Sleeping Curse

Control Body, Great effect (+12), one person (0), long range (+2) permanent duration (+20). Total mana = 34

This curse will cause the target to fall into a deep sleep and not awaken until a certain condition is met (the kiss of a Prince?). The target will not age while they sleep, so it's a kind of suspended animation. The person could conceivably be sleeping for years! Again, I have used a permanent duration in the spell. This will keep it more in line with the classic literature.
Possible props:
  • A pillow or other sleeping item belonging to the victim (-5)
  • The sacrifice of an animal that hibernates, such as a bear (-3)
  • A golden "sleep mask" designed to be placed over the victim's face (-4)
There you have it, a variety of curses to make your players remember Friday the 13th! They are very expensive spells, but if your wizard can cast these successfully, they will certainly never be forgotten.