Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Fudge by Steffan O'Sullivan

Fudge is a rules-lite generic roleplaying game system by Steffan O'Sullivan that was germinated around 1992 and became first released in 1995 with the requirement that it remained free. Fudge is now caretaken by Grey Ghost Publications (with Steffan's blessing) and the latest version is the 10th Anniversary Version (2005), which can be downloaded a attractively typeset 107 page PDF document. The PDF version is the one I will be reviewing, although I believe it's very close to the Steffan's original.

The Fudge system

Characters are made from Traits: skills, attributes, gifts, faults and supernatural power; each being described by one of seven adjectives, each with a modifier associated with it: Superb (+3), Great (+2), Good (+1), Fair (0), Mediocre (-1), Poor (-2) and Terrible (-3). An extra level 'Legendary' is included but this is to be used sparingly, as the book humorously suggests:
If someone really has to begin play as a Legendary swordsman, strong man, etc., doing the GM’s laundry for half a year or so (in advance) should be sufficient bribe to be allowed to start at that level.
The types of traits (such as Strength, Speed, etc) are decided by the setting in which you want to run but examples are given in the core rulebook. Typically, attributes are core characteristics and skills can be learnt. Gifts are special benefits and faults are the antithesis. Examples of different traits are included throughout, which helps both prospective GM and anyone trying to make their own setting. XP is called Fudge Points and is used as luck in game, modifying die rolls, succeeding in tasks, reducing wounding and so on.

Characters are constructed using a points based system, which like any other, is open to abuse. These abuses can be solved with a well rounded setting and a common sense approach to GMing! All this is mentioned in the rules, rather than being assumed, which is good for the GM who is new to gaming. For hackneyed old GM stalwarts, we can nod our heads in sagely agreement. Supernormal powers account for Supers games as well as magic, psyonics and the like.

Action resolution can be performed in a number of ways, depending on the dice you wish to use (or diceless). The different techniques are based on target numbers with the traits assisting your roll. Most of the outcomes are descriptive through adjectives and from this it gets it 'lite' moniker. Cynics would point out that the words really replace numbers and you end up doing simple mathematics anyway. Combat is performed in a similar way and damage is a simple series of wounds, you collect before you shuffle off the mortal coil.

Throughout the rules are a smattering of black and white images. I would like the cover image given on the website (see above) to be the first page of the book itself but I would imagine that it's used for the printed version (more later).

Resources and Addenda

At the end of the book is a plethora of compiled hints, tips, a bestiary, example characters and more. There is also an example Magic System, Miracle System and Psyionic system. There is also a series of alternate rules included by a series of credited authors. A compilation of extras that is very impressive indeed.


The Fudge book is very well put together. The writing is of a high level and explanations are well constructed. However, given the simplicity of the mechanics, 59 pages of explanation seems very excessive, especially as so much is required by add-on settings to specify. The separate dice mechanics are included to give more choice and to include a 'Fudge Dice' version that strives to be so different that it requires six sided dice with special faces. I think that it confuses the system to have so many different mechanics in a single book. It would be better to stick to one system and call that Fudge. The book sometimes refers to cultural specifics, such as "Groo the Wanderer". More mainstream examples of characters (Indiana Jones, for example) would be more useful for the new GM. GM tips are mixed in with the raw mechanics, which is not to my taste. I would prefer all over the GM hints and tips to be extracted and put at the back with all of the other hints tips.

The humour is refreshing and often pokes fun at the gaming hobby, such as a spell use example for 'Create Pizza'. It makes the large book very easy to read. Well done to Ann Dupuis for doing an excellent typesetting job as well as keeping the game going.


Free generic systems are impotent without a setting or two and there are many Fudge settings to choose from (far too many to choose from here). It's worth noting that most of the ones I could find need to be bought and are not free. There are free ones out there but they are not nearly as numerous. The range of settings is testament to the flexibility of the system.


As Fudge has been around for more than a decade, it means that it has a large following. Online guides and a rather quiet community forum that is a good place to find settings and resources, most of them commercially available. There are so many resources online that they need aggregating, a sadly now defunct webzine called Fudge Factor did a good job of supporting and reviewing material but closed its doors in 2006. Fudge also spawned the free Fate system, which is a more story driven version, subject for another post. The community doubts its own activity but there are still those creating and updating.

Final thoughts

Fudge is large and popular, generic enough to handle just about anything. You can download the 10th Anniversary edition for free (107 pages) or buy the extended version (320 pages). The rules need boiling down and refining to reduce the size of the book and better compartmentalisation would be beneficial for the quick understanding of what is essentially a simple system. If you need a system for the setting you have been dreaming up then you could do much worse than Fudge. Its community spirit will only help in finding players. If you are looking to run a Fudge game, find the setting first and the rules will follow. Due to the pay-options for Fudge, it treads a fine line between free and commercial. If it can stay fresh and alive, then I'd imagine it will keep going for years to come.


JM said...

Goodness, I think I remember seeing FUDGE advertised or reviewed in Dragon Magazine years ago! I'll have to sift through those old mags to check, but what a flood of memories this post just triggered!



Rob Lang said...

You're welcome, JM. I often find it remarkable how long some games have been around. I can only urge you to check out Fudge once more, there's a lot more to it these days!

Stan said...

I like Fudge but it seems to attract people who like to fiddle with rules more than it attracts people who actually play.

I think part of this is the presentation. Instad of "These are the rules." It's more "You can do this, you cna do that, or maybe both, or a third option." which gives it an unfinished feel. For people who want to grab a game and start playing, Fudge is not among the top choices.

Rob Lang said...

That's a very interesting point, Stan. I had not considered the culture that surrounds the game and the affect of its presentation on that culture. I'll make a note to consider that in the future.

I think all generic systems have an element of attracting fiddlers to some degree. Perhaps phraseology in Fudge might help in bedding it down in the real world. I think the same could be justly said about d20 at the start.

Where free generic systems really get their flavour is in the setting. It is the setting that makes it runnable. The setting in these cases are much like the glue. It's certainly true for Yags and Jags (review soon).

To extend your point further, do you think that presentation-for-tinkerers is indicative of games released under open licenses?

The books are trying to snag people into extending and getting involved in the open gaming projects and to do that the presentation needs to be different from a "closed source game". I'd agree with you that it's not necessarily the best way of delivering a game whose sole purpose is to be played.

Stan said...

I'm not sure about the open license and tinkerer relationship. I haven't thought about it much but I've noticed it on the little time I've spent on Fudge forums.

To use a totally different analogy, you know how there are artists in most fields who are not generally known except that they are admired by other artists? They're sort of an artist for artists instead of the public. I feel like Fudge is appreciated by GMs but not so much by players at large. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the elegance of the mechanics but without lots of the character generation toys players like to play with. This might be why it has a long standing fan base but it has never been a popular game.

I like the concept of fudge dice because it gives you a mean centered on the ability level with roughly normal variation around it.

Michael Taylor said...

Well said Stan and I couldn't have written it bette myself.

I've just always felt that Fudge was a good 'skill system' with the rest just 'tacked' on.

At best, I think Fudge is an "RPG Creation Toolkit" rather than an actual RPG.