Saturday, January 11, 2014

Savage Worlds Interludes and FUDGE

I have been re-reading my Savage Worlds rules lately. Mainly because of the attention the system gets from the guys on Happy Jacks Podcast. It's a great rule system with a lot of unique and innovative rules. The particular rules I've been liking lately are the Interlude rules.

The other interesting thing lately is a rekindling of interest in the Fudge RPG system. This is mainly due to a post on Google+ from Teo Tayobobayo. With that it was off to necro old threads about Fudge and Savage Worlds.

One interesting post uncovered was this post back from ten years ago! from Alcamtar...
Having played both extensively, and considering that they are probably my two favorite systems at the moment... I'm pretty solidly in the Fudge camp. That's not to say SW isn't great -- I love it -- but in the end, Fudge does more.
When I first encountered SW, it really grabbed me. After playing a long campaign with it, I realized it had warts, but most of the warts were with the way the dice worked and the overall balance. Once I sat back and really looked at it I realized that what grabbed me were the ideas and the overall organization. And I also noticed that you could easily stamp that structure onto Fudge and end up with nearly the same thing.
SW freely borrows from many other games, and it is not the new mechanics but the synthesis that is compelling; you can graft the same things into Fudge. In fact, SW itself is surprisingly similar to Fudge. Try sitting down and playing Fudge, but using the SW attribute list, skill list, edges and hindrances. Substitute Fudge Points for Bennies, "Fair" for "4", fudge levels for raises, scale for size. Redefine "Scratched" as "Shaken". Assume all the skills and systems interacted the same with each other. It works. It's the same system, only using polyhedral dice and cards, and with a fixed structure. Even the skill levels map over directly: d4 = mediocre, d6 = fair, d8 = good, d10 = great, d12 = superb. Levels and XP are a metagame concept that work as well in Fudge as SW: each 5 XP gains you a level, each level gains you two skill levels or one Gift, etc.
SW can almost be seen as a subset of Fudge, a "custom build" using different dice. Given that, Fudge does more for me. The adjectives are more meaningful than numbers, the dice are more predictable, and the whole game is more customizable. (To be fair you can customize any game, but it feels easier and more natural in Fudge.)
The one thing in SW that is really innovative -- the "Shaken" system in combat -- is easily implemented in Fudge. Just say that Scratched (or Hurt if you prefer) is now Shaken, and you're all set. Balance will be slightly different from SW, but that's easily tweakable, and most importantly the flavor is there. The rest of combat in SW is remarkably similar to Fudge. For example, damage >= Toughness+Armor+Size is analogous to damage >= Armor+Scale, even moreso if you use the Damage Capacity rule. A broadsword does +3 in both systems, and chainmail is +2 armor.
In the end, the unique things SW offers are
(A) Ready-built structure to build characters with, providing very fast setup and character creation married to a crunchy skirmish wargame system. As described above, if you like this it is easily defined in Fudge terms, or you can steal parts of it. Once you've spent an hour mapping it over, you can quickly setup and play crunchy wargames in Fudge just like you can in SW.
(B) Shaken results in combat, reducing bookkeeping and making mooks easy to handle. This is so easy to port into Fudge it's really just a special case of (A), but worth mentioning separately because it is an innovative, major feature.
(C) Polyhedral dice. If you like'm, play SW. If you like a bell curve, play Fudge.
(D) Ready-to-run adventures. If you tend to buy and use them, might be better to stick with SW rather than porting into Fudge. OTOH if you tend to brew your own, this is a moot point.
So that leaves us with overall equivalence, but IMO Fudge does more. There are four things in SW that I find limiting.
FIRST, SW is not free, while Fudge is newly OGL. That means I can write my own stuff and publish it on a web page or even sell it if I want. The rules are forever mine, and my kids and grandchildren can continue to use them. Not a big deal for many people, but it is to me. Shane is a great guy of course and I wish him success, but SW is his baby and he doesn't hand out licenses liek candy.
SECOND, some things in SW are a little clunky. I'm not fond of card-based initiative, or the way really big monsters are nearly bulletproof, or how powerful tricked-out PCs become at high levels. The exploding dice are fun, but sometimes annoying. Magic doesn't feel very magical, and lacks the detail I'd prefer.
THIRD, it takes a lot longer to create stuff in SW than in Fudge, and frankly I'm spoiled. Not nearly as bad as d20 of course, but I've sat down and converted some modules for D&D and GURPS to SW, and each NPC or critter takes a bit of thought -- there are a fair number of mechanics to define and a full stat block is fair-sized. Edges and monster abilities and powers have to be looked up (at least until you've memorized them). Most SW supplements do ignore things like prerequisites for Monsters, which helps, but Fudge is lightning fast by comparison.
FOURTH, that very same rigid structure that attracted me to SW is also limiting. Sure I can build upon it and add skills, but that's not really the SW way. Fudge already has a lot of optional systems ready to use, many of which I really like. I really love simultaneous combat in Fudge, for example, or I might want to use Aspects or Gramarye or any of dozens of other fan-created variants. Creating a new combat or magic system in SW would be more complicated, because of it's existing metasystem, and would really kind of miss the point anyway: SW is designed to be a fast pick-up game, light and streamlined and not worrying too much about the rules. Pick an existing rule that's "close enough" and use it.
Therefore I prefer Fudge, because it does not have these limitations. If I create an exact SW-clone in Fudge it of course has ALL these limitations (including the "derivative work" legal aspect). Fudge has a lot of options, and I like to use different rules and different options for different campaigns, to tailor the feel and simulation to match the genre.
Also, Fudge is borg-like. It is the nature of Fudge to embrace and extend. I can import my favorite bits of SW, alongside my favorite bits of Ars Magica, D&D, Traveller, or whatever, and use them all together to create something new and tasty. I can combine SW character creation and levels with Ars Magica spells, D&D monsters, add a Shaken result to Fudge's simultaneous combat, and I'm ready to roll.
Fudge has limitations of course, but they don't really bother me That's really the key to choosing an RPG, in the end: which game has limitations that don't annoy you, or even that you find enjoyable? There are a lot of folks that love AD&D precisely because of the quirks that make other people shudder.
I"ll certainly keep SW around and play it from time to time. For a gritty pickup skirmish game it can't be beat, and I think it would adapt very well to playing with green plastic army men in the backyard grass. And like any game, it has a fine flavor of its own that is worth savoring on its own merits.
For a general purpose game I prefer Fudge. 
I'm latching on to this idea that Savage Worlds can be viewed as a distant relative of Fudge. This post illustrates the strengths of Fudge in a clear way. Great stuff.

Sa-Fudge Worlds!    sorry.

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