Author: Steffan O'Sullivan
Company/Publisher: Grey Ghost Games Playtest Review by Jeff Freeman on 08/18/97. Genre tags: none
This is my first ever review of a game, so bear with me. Just so you know, I am eminently qualified to review role-playing games, based on the fact that I can read, write and form an opinion on almost any topic.
I thought it might be a good idea to actually play the game, not just to read it and look at the pictures, since playing a game is really the only way to see if what looks good on paper is really all that swift in action. For example, The space station Mir probably looked really good on paper. I figured with a good group of creative, experienced role-players, I could just play the thing and give an accurate review based on that.
Unfortunately, I don't know a good, creative and experienced group of role-players, so I just had to round-up my own friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, friends of acquaintances, and so on. That was easier than I thought it would be, mainly because I just called one friend of mine, Ed, and asked him to do it. I told Ed that I wanted to play a game so that I could write a review and he positively leapt at the opportunity. Of course, we could have been sacrificing goats to ancient Babylonian gods and if rolling dice and role-playing were involved, then Ed would leap at the opportunity. Ed's funny that way.
FUDGE, written by Steffan O'Sullivan "with extensive input from the Usenet community of rec.games.design" claims that it is a role-playing game in the introduction, but then goes on to explain that it's really a role-playing game "engine." That is, with a bit of work, any experienced, competent referee can create a role-playing game based on FUDGE. In fact, FUDGE stands for 'Freeform Universal Do-it-yourself Gaming Engine.' Since I wasn't keen on the idea of putting any real work into this, I just told Ed that I thought it would be best if he ran the game and gave him a copy of the rules. The price was right: The basic rules of FUDGE are available on the internet via anonymous ftp at ftp.csua.berkeley.edu, although the book-form from Grey Ghost Games is prettier than an ASCII-text print-out. While Ed figured out how to play, I watched the Elvis Movie Marathon. One Elvis movie after another, and I'm positive that as the thirty-hour movie marathon progressed I could actually see Elvis swell.
In the middle of the movie marathon I had another labor-saving idea. Since FUDGE claims it can be used with any gaming genre, and since I hate sitting around watching other people create characters, I told Ed that he should just have everyone show up with their favorite character, convert them to FUDGE on the fly, and go from there. I was shooting for getting this over with in about four hours, including a test of the 'multi-genre, universal' aspect of the game, leaving plenty of time to get home for the latest exciting episode of Baywatch. It turns out the episode was a re-run, or at least I think it was. It's actually quite difficult to tell whether any given episode of Baywatch is a re-run, or even if there is more than one episode, mostly because I always watch with it the television on mute. Regardless, Ed assured me, having read the FUDGE rules book about eight times by then, it would be no problem for him to quickly and easily convert characters from any game system to FUDGE.
"We'll see," said I, skeptically.
That sentence is just to demonstrate my writing talent, lest you're starting to think I watch too much television.
I showed-up at Ed's about an hour late, hoping to give him time to have everyone else's characters converted to FUDGE. No sense waiting around for that, especially if it meant being sociable with a group of people that I didn't even know. Also, there was an episode of Gilligan's Island that I wanted to see again. It was the one where they almost get off the island, but Gilligan goofs-up at a crucial moment and spoils their plan. It's a lot like Baywatch when you think about it, except they wear more clothing and Skipper doesn't try to suck-in his gut the way David Hasslehoff does.
So I showed up an hour late, and everyone tried to pretend that they weren't annoyed. That was nice of them, but they weren't very good at it (pretending, I mean, they had 'being annoyed' down pat), so that worried me. After all, how good could they be at role-playing if they couldn't even pretend they weren't annoyed? Ed had done the character conversion in about 5 minutes and explained the FUDGE-version of their character sheets in two more. They all waited patiently while Ed and I generated a character for myself, since I hadn't bothered to bring one. It turns out that generating one from scratch takes a little while longer than converting an existing one, but mostly just because there are all the annoying details of 'character concept' and 'background' to work out. If I had put some thought into it ahead of time, we could have whipped-up the stats in about three minutes. Finally I just told Ed to go work on it, setup whatever else he needed to, and call us when he was done. I flipped-on the television and reviewed what snacks everyone else brought.
Gigi (and that's not really her name, I changed it for this article. It was something really stupid like that though, I promise) was a 'friend of a friend' of Ed's, or so she said. I didn't realize Ed had any other friends. At first, I thought maybe she was a prostitute, since it really isn't beyond comprehension to think that Ed, short one player, would just rush out and 'hire someone' to fill a seat. And Gigi was dressed sort of trashy, like a prostitute might dress if she were going to hang out with real people, or even gamers. But once I saw her playing the game I realized she was a 'true role player' of the most annoying sort, and wished that Ed had hired a prostitute instead of inviting her. Gigi, being a 'true role player', probably wished the same thing about me.
For a snack, Gigi brought fat-free, salt-free, taste-free pine-cone flakes. I nibbled on a few of them, just to avoid hurting her feelings. Gigi was an ultra-skinny, pale-skinned girl with a boyish figure and black lipstick, fingernails, clothes, eyes, bruises, etc. She had really, really short hair, but only on one side. It was buzzed so short that you could see the tattoo. The other side was longer, so I guess she could comb it over and pretend like she had hair on both sides of her head, the way balding men sometimes do. Only she didn't do that, she just let the long-side dangle. Gigi also had a lot of metal in her face. I figured there were about four pounds of metal altogether, and that's not counting metal in places I couldn't see. I asked her about all the stuff in her face, something tactful, yet direct, like, "Why do you have all that metal in your face?" She said she was making a statement.
No need to elaborate. That statement is loud and clear. Something like, "I have no career goals" or "Upward mobility is not important to me" or maybe even "Welcome to Seven-Eleven."
I asked Gigi what sort of character she was going to run and she showed me the FUDGE character sheet, because she didn't really want to talk to me any more. I hadn't actually taken the time to read the rules, but there was no need for that. FUDGE characters seem be described in plain English words. Gigi's character was "Good" and one thing, "Terrible" at another, "Fair" at a few more. Whether stats, like "Strength", "Agility" and so on (FUDGE allowed Ed to choose which stats to use and what to call them) or skills, everything was described in normal English words.
The normal English words on Gigi's character sheet described a vampire, which was somewhat depressing. Ed was much better refereeing fantasy adventure and sci-fi games than those awful, dark, neo-gothic things. I was hoping for something new and fresh. Angst-ridden, melanin-deficient, red-wine-drinking... oh yeah, the stereotypical vampire of vampires. I made an annoying hissing noise through my teeth and handed it back to her, shaking my head - body language she seemed to take as a personal insult. "Those wood-chips made me thirsty, did anyone bring any cola?" I asked.
Tim had brought some cola. I rifled through Ed's cabinets, found a glass, poured myself some coke and made friendly conversation with Tim. He was a big, big man. And he was almost completely covered in fur. Well, actually I couldn't see whether he was completely covered in fur or not, but most of the parts I could see were pretty hairy. He had a beard and a mustache and thick bushy eyebrows. He even had hair on the back of his hands. "So I suppose you're a vampire, or maybe a werewolf?" I asked dryly. Tim looked confused, let me look at his character sheet. Then I looked confused, at his character sheet. Tim's character was something from Macho Women with Guns. "Uh." I said. This was going to be interesting.
Before I could get around to meet the last member of the game, Ed called us back to the dining-room table and handed me a character sheet. Apparently he was more miffed at my tardiness than I thought. He'd given me one of those interstellar crab-like "Hiver" creatures from Traveller. "Enjoy." he deadpanned. I smiled as if to say 'Bite me' and said, "Bite me, Ed." Then Ed laughed, which is something he doesn't often do. Ed only ever laughs at his own jokes, which means he's the only one laughing on those rare occasions. He took away the space-crab and gave me a well-armed punk-teenager sort of character straight from Cyberpunk. Well, at least I could blow something up.
"I was just kidding," he explained, "the Hiver is going to be an NPC in this game." and he didn't laugh, so I knew he wasn't joking. A Hiver, a Vampire, a macho-chick and an urban-punk. I looked at John, the last member of our team, and wondered what sort of thing he was running, but Ed launched into a long boring oration explaining the 'background'. I usually just wait for a fight to break out before taking any real interest in a game, and that means I don't need to pay real close attention to the 'background' or 'setting' or 'descriptions'.
I never did find out what John was running, but I'm pretty sure he did have a character because he had a character sheet. Once or twice, Ed was even able to get him to speak, but for the most part he just sat there, watching and listening, although I have no earthly idea why. He could have been anything from a star-pirate to a storm giant. Maybe he was a mime.
Anyway, Ed finally shut-up and propped up the 'referee screens' that were supposed to keep us from looking at his secret background notes. I once made Ed very angry by pointing out that since no one ever listened to or cared about the parts of the 'background' that he revealed, we sure as hell weren't going to sneak a peek at the rest of it. Still, he labored under the delusion that some players actually like to know what's going on in between fights, and propped-up his cardboard.
For screens, Ed was using the cover of a module - "The Keep on the Borderlands" - that came with the basic D&D boxed set. I sincerely hoped that was not the actual adventure he was going to run, and suddenly wished I had paid more attention to the background.
Our characters wandered through the forest (or maybe it was a city) for a while and we fought some monsters (or people or robots or something), so finally I got to do something. FUDGE combat was pretty simple, flexible, and used the same 'mechanic' as task-resolution or stat-checks, so there was really only one rule to learn in order to play the game. We rolled four dice, numbered from negative-one to positive-one, and totaled them up for a score ranging from negative-four to positive-four. This was applied to a stat, a combat factor or a skill-rating (depending on what we were attempting). That is, a plus-one made a 'Good' into a 'Great', for example. It was so simple that I never did really learn how to play FUDGE, I don't think, because I didn't need to. Since we didn't have to spend any time at all learning how to play, we had more time for role-playing, character development, and all that sort of thing, even though we were total novices with FUDGE. While the characters continued wandering through the forest, I wandered into the living room to see what was on television.
I was just in time to catch the thrilling conclusion of a re-run of The New Adventures of Flipper. At least, I think it was a re-run. It just occurred to me that the new Flipper is also very much like Baywatch, except on Flipper they wear less clothing (if you count Flipper, since he doesn't wear any clothes at all). Happy they finally rescued Flipper from the muddy pond his family kept him in on the old show, I shared some more of Tim's cola and drifted back to see what was happening in the game. Also, I wanted a snack, and John had been holding out on me. He had cheetohs.
Tim, Ed and Gigi were having a fine time. John looked interested in the game, but I still had no clue what his character was or what he might be doing. I watched him for a while and gathered nary a clue. Maybe he had spoken while I was out of the room, and his character was pretending to be stuck in a big box. I sat down and tried to follow along, watched Tim and Gigi take turns doing things, using skills (or trying to), rolling dice and counting as high as two, and occasionally three. If one of them had gotten especially lucky, they might have had to count as high as four, but even Gigi could handle that. In fact, and I know I've already pointed this out - the game was so simple and so flexible that I'm left with almost nothing to write about, since I never did get around to reading the rules.
During a lull in the 'action', I think it was when Ed was describing something in clever detail that had the other players enthralled, I decided it was time for a little smoke-break. Rather than disrupting the game, which would have been rude, I just used one of Ed's cups for an ashtray and lit my cigarette right at the table.
Now, I know that smoking is worse for you nowadays than it has ever been. I know that no one likes smoke, cigarettes, smokers or the tobacco industry. I know that cigarettes are on their way to being prohibited by law and all the smokers out there will have to buy their smokes from guys with names like 'Lefty' and 'No-nose.' I know all that, but I'm a smoker anyway, for now, and it is still legal, for now. So I wasn't prepared for the reaction. I lit a cigarette, and Gigi acted as though I'd set the curtains on fire.
"Oh, God." she cried, holding her nose so that her normally nasal voice was even more annoying, "Please put that out."
I looked at the cigarette and gave her my estimate - that it would be safely consumed and dropped into Tim's drinking glass within seven minutes. She whined some more, "I'm allergic to cigarette smoke." I puffed again and pointed out that she couldn't be allergic to cigarette smoke, there aren't any allergens in it.
Now she was actually up from the table, backing away from the smoke-cloud in horror. "I have asthma," she insisted, "I'm very sensitive to indoor air pollution."
"Oh," I said, suddenly understanding, "That's why you don't wear any perfume... or deodorant," and she seemed to take that as some sort of personal insult, too.
By then Ed was jumping to her defense, speaking in his authoritative game master voice, or it might have been his 'this is my house, I make the rules'-voice, telling me to put it out or take it outside. Suddenly big ol' Tim looked like he was getting up to enforce this Ruling From On High. "Fine, fine!" I waved my hands, "Sorry! Excuse me for breathing!" and decided that I needed to get outside pretty quick. Tim was almost up, and it was such a long trip for him that I figured once up, he'd be pretty hard to get back into his chair. Having gone to all the effort to actually stand, he might figure it'd be best to go ahead and pound me into dust while he was up, versus wasting the trip.
So I stood outside and watched television through the sliding-glass door. It looked like an episode of Baywatch, since watching through the glass was like watching with the sound turned off, except that David Hasslehoff wasn't in it. I think it was the show with Hulk Hogan and the speedboat.
We finished playing the game, fought some more bad-guys and monsters (but mostly we just 'role-played' for the longest four hours of my life). As I said, I never did learn how to play, or read the rules, and I didn't enjoy FUDGE at all. Ed and the others liked it. He, Tim and Gigi play every week now. John is there too, every week, but it would be generous to call sitting there like a lump, 'playing'. Or maybe he was just shy, and now he speaks. They never invited me back, so I don't know.
And that's it for my first game review. I have to stop now because Hercules' Legendary Journeys is coming on. I've noticed that it's a lot like Baywatch too, except there's no beach, and Kevin Sorbo doesn't have to suck-in his gut.
Style: 3 (Average)