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[Fudge] why I am reluctant to be a player

Started by ffilz, September 18, 2004, 05:18:40 AM

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Sugar and spice, I thought I'd relate a bad gaming experience also.

One of my players invited our gaming group to a Fudge playtest session with here room mates. The young couple and I decided to check it out. I dug out my copy of Fudge and we headed on over.

The GM and one of his brothers were wildly adjusting their notes on the scenario in preparation for the playtest. After a few minutes of introductions, they handed us a 2 or 3 page intro to the campaign world.

The other players included another brother, and a friend (so we had GM, 2 brothers, couple, friend, me, and the player who invited us [henceforth the hostess]).

I got lost after the first few paragraphs with descriptions about how poorly people who used magic were looked upon. The scenario was laid out that this caravan leader was going to make one last run, and was hiring a bunch of his old buddies, so our goal in character design was to create someone he would hire.

Then came the attributes. We have Body, Mind, Spirit, and Resources. Body then had Durability and Power as secondary attributes; Mind had Kinestetic, Visual, Logic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Linguistic; Spirit had Vitality, Force, and Grace; Resources had Status, Wealth, and Relationships. You shifted points around between the primary attributes (with some restrictions) and then between the secondary attributes udner each primary (but you couldn't shift points say between Power and Logic). After that we got 2 Superb skills, 3 Great Skills, 10 Good skills, and as many Fair skills as we wanted and made sense.

I decided on being a scout and after some discussion with the player who invited us fairly quickly settled on my skills, though I really wasn't sure what the granularity of skills was (no skill list was provided).

One trouble arose almost immediately in that all of this overwhelmed the wife, and I think even the husband was a little confused (well, so was I). I think in here the issue of the husband helping the wife started to arise (they kept pressuring her to make her own decisions).

So finally we're ready to go. Serious play basically starts with us setting up camp one night.  One of the brothers is playing the caravan leader (basically an NPC). The other brother, the friend, and the hostess are all playing young newbloods. The friend also has a scout type. The leader sends the two scouts to the top of a hill to look for trouble. With my Superb Vision I spot some rustling in the bushes. No one else can see it, but it starts heading for camp so I raise the alarm. The leader sends the two scouts out to check it out.

The trouble turns out to be a few goblins who seem rather scruffy and undernourished. Their antics immediately suggest they are young and not really looking for trouble (they kept pushing each other out in front "No YOU take the lead..."). I tried to communicate to the GM that I wanted to try and intimidate them, but somehow that didn't work (partly because the GM was acting out their actions, so I tried to do the same, not really knowing how the GM runs his game). Eventually our leader shows up and runs them off. He sends the husband (whose character is basically a thief off to follow them, all night if necessary).

In the morning, the hostess and the leader spar off and the hostess's character appears to have some kind of mystical power.

There is a long break while the GM works with the husband to resolve his following the goblins. As the day wears on, the leader seems to be getting ill. At the end of the day, we arrive at an inn we expected to arrive at. The leader is getting concerned and the wife (who created a healer) is tending to him. There is some confusion at the inn, and eventually it turns out that the inkeeper and his family are gone (but someone met us at the door and vanished somewhere along the way).

At this point, the leader collapses. The hostess and I carry him upstairs to the best room and tend to him with the healer. Just before he dies (as a player, I pretty much read the symptoms as a heart attack), he passes the leader hat to me. The husband shows up and says he's searched the place and no one is to be found. The hostess and the other brother run down to the basement and start searching. Suddenly all hell breaks loose and arrows start pelting the building.

The two in the cellar have discovered a trap door leading to a tunnel (which was filled with swamp gas that blew up in their face when they stuck their torch in). The hostess's character revealed mystical power again and bamfed out of the way (though my character didn't witness this). After more confusion, we eventually get going down the tunnel just before the attacking horde arrives. We leave a keg of oil set to explode in the basement and make good our escape.

Now through this whole thing, I hardly got to do anything because everything was running so freeform. The husband had started to get suspicious of the hostess's character and was accusing her of murder. I had tried to get a First Aid check in to have some idea what happened, but couldn't get the GM's attention.

So now we're going down this tunnel, without light because it's filled with swamp gas. Eventually we come to a junction, but there's a pit (filled with shit - it's a sewer system). There's a light above. The hostess bamfs up to the shaft above and eventually gets out (after waiting for someone to use the facilities). So we start waiting for her to return with a rope or something. Meanwhile, the husband is going off on a paranoid rampage about her, fueled by the other brother's character (at one point I said my character smacked him, but that didn't really do anything). After a long wait, it became clear the hostess wasn't returning.

So we tried to find ourway out. And we spend over an hour painfully trying to navigate in almost pitch black (we did find some glowing fungus). Eventually we did make it out. We came out into a ruined town, and I started looking for a place to hole up. It became quickly obvious the ruins were occupied so we snuck out.

We got back to town and reported the bandit activity. We heard about the inn burning down (and kept quiet as to just who was responsible for it burning down). We raised a larger force and went out and defeated the bandits (this part was quickly resolved with a roll or two, and was rather anti-climactic).

So what didn't I like about this? Oh, bunches of things. Freeform without sufficient communication to establish a common ground just doesn't work. The madhouse with no attempt to make sure everyone got a chance to do actions really pissed me off. And then the GM let us stall in the sewers for way way too long. On top of this, it seemed like the brothers, friend, and hostess all had subtle advantages (not the least being that they had already played the scenario). The anti-climax at the end was quite a let down (and I didn't even manage to recover my trusty horse). It also felt like there really was only a single path through the scenario, and it didn't seem like our decisions really mattered much (as far as I can tell, we had no hope of saving the leader). The pacing started off well, but died when we got in the sewers.

I also had a serious reality check as to why this unfortified inn existed out in bandit and goblin country. The sewer system seemed a little contrived also.

I guess I should have stepped in to help the couple, but honestly, the hostess (who was actually the first person to talk to them enough to find out about their learning disabilities and tell me about them), really should have taken care of that. The wife fell asleep somewhere in there (she really contributed almost nothing, and was way more lost than I was).

The young couple were ready to never play Fudge again, but I convinced them that it could be run differently (for one thing, even though I like some complexity in my system, it didn't need that complex an attribute system). They did communicate to me (we drove over there together so we had a chance to chat on the drive back) that they appreciated that I took their abilities into account.

What was good about it? Well, it did remind me that Fudge might be an interesting system. The players were all cool. The early pacing was good, the first encounter built up tension, and then the panic at the inn.

This wasn't the worst game session I've ever played in, but it sure reminded me of why I don't like to play. I'm not real assertive and so when the voices raise, I disappear off the radar screen. I'm having trouble thinking of times I played and really had fun.

So one of my questions is how do I build trust in playing?

Frank Filz


QuoteSo one of my questions is how do I build trust in playing?
If you mean, "how do I build trust as a player, given all that is against me in this situation," I have to say there's not much you can do.  If the scenario hasn't been run before, and the GM is weak (as it seems here), then you could try to be the helpful one who ensures that the GM's desired plot runs as he intends.  But since in this case the scenario has already been run once before, you don't have that option.

I was in a game like this not long ago, for a whole damn campaign.  Everything I tried to do simply established that, yes, the GM had a strict plan and that no matter what was done it was set in stone.  The GM never really trusted anyone, in the sense that he wouldn't allow PCs to do things that were well off his planned track, and he would give not very subtle hints of who was right and wrong all the way along.  He trusted me, as a person, but I think what's really going on here is that he -- like your GM -- doesn't trust himself.  He simply cannot see that if he lets go and allows players to let loose, he can still engineer things so that there is a good adventure happening and, probably, he can reach the end he wants.  He thinks that unless his script is followed, the thing won't have a nice structure and excitement.

My inclination here is to run a session -- since you say the players are pretty good to deal with -- in which you are maybe not so freeform moment to moment but are actually much more freeform about where things go.  Run a session in which you actually don't give a damn what happens next; this is what Fang Langford used to call "no myth" GM-ing [do a search on the Forge for "no myth" and go back to Fang's posts -- try the big Star Wars one started by Eric something].  My sense is that the players will be interested and excited to find that they aren't blocked or forestalled, and that when you bring things around to an exciting climax at the end they will think you planned everything and are the slickest GM ever.  Later on you can let on that actually you didn't have anything planned and you let them just run with what was fun, but for the moment this might excite the current GM to let players roll with things.

Anyway, this session you describe brings up ugly cold shivers of some sessions I've been in and hated.  Thanks for bringing it up, though -- just give me a paper-cut and pour lemon juice in it, thanks a lot....  :>
Chris Lehrich


First off, I wouldn't form any opinions about a system based on a session like this.  There were obviously some enormous problems introduced by the GM and, to a lesser extent, the other players and they could have messed up any system that way.  What you describe are mostly social contract kinds of issues and they're pretty common in demos and convention scenarios because nobody knows what to expect from the others and nobody ever states a social contract up front for these kinds of games.

Second, I think trust is always earned the same way: tell someone you're going to do something and then do it (with two variations: sometimes they tell you what to do, and sometimes you just do something where there's a perceived need).  This is true for jobs, relationships and gaming.

As a GM, this generally involves delivering the kinds of things people want - what kinds of pacing they want, how much control they want to have, how well you provide them with information, how consistent/logical you are with the setting, and how fairly you treat people.  (I think your example GM pretty much screwed up all of these at some point).  In general, I see the GM like an elected leader - he provides the main impetus for things, but does it for the benefit of the followers.

As a player, I think you're mostly comitting to cooperating with the style of play (and/or CA) of the group, helping others to have fun, and reacting to challenges the GMs puts forth in the spirit of the game (i.e. not trying to rules-lawyer a victory and not trying to break the scenario).  A player takes a much more supporting role instead of leading.

Obviously, I'm approaching this from a fairly traditional power dynamic... but not only is the most common, I think it's the most successful.  But obviously, if a group calls for lots of creative input or leadership stuff from a player, he should do that.

Third, I think you probably hit upon an important realization - that you don't usually stand up when people disagree about things and that you haven't enjoyed very many games.  One of my mantras about players is that they have a responsibility for their own fun.  Communicating what they want (and making it happen) is part of their job.  Of course, this is the kind of advice that easier to give than it is to do...
Justin Dagna
President, Technicraft Design.  Creator, Pax Draconis

Ron Edwards


Wow, there is so much to talk about here! About seven or eight years ago, I ran a fairly off-the-cuff Fudge game for a friend and his pals in very similar circumstances, up to and including the couple with the not-too-gamer wife. Before you started talking about the fantasy setting, I was even wondering if you were one of the folks there! (Turns out not; my game concerned characters who were all undead and it became a pretty hard-core "right to die for good" kind of game.)

1. Fudge offers one, single thing: reduced handling time. That means, when you look at the dice, it is rock-and-roll easy to see "what happens."

1'. Interestingly, nearly every modification of the basic system in the book represents the gutting of this principle (scale and damage, in particular).

1''. Another issue is its insistence on skills and attributes for no apparent reason at all except "that's how it's done." It plays far better if one uses HeroQuest logic (or to be pedantic, Castle Falkenstein logic) and sets "everything average except what's noted." If you don't do that, then the game is vulnerable to turning the relationships among its totally arbitrary character-part divisions into a major feature of character creation, which adds loads of time into prep as well as loads of confusion about what to use.

1'''. And finally, as with many low-Points-of-Contact games which facilitate Simulationist play, Fudge is shockingly deficient in IIEE procedures. This is a highly jargon-ridden paragraph which I hope the Glossary will make clearer.

It seems very clear to me that all of this played a big role in the game you're talking about. Derived attributes in Fudge?? Good God.

2. Your points about the issues of freeform are near and dear to my heart. When there's no procedure for knowing when you can provide input, then you only get to provide input when the GM lets you, about what he wants. All role-playing relies on IIEE.

So let's see, these guys took Fudge, rendered it massively more complex with their (clearly lovingly constructed) modification of character creation, then railroaded y'all into the scenario and made sure you wouldn't fuck it up.

Fun? Oy. My sympathies are wholly with the wife, who I think responded to the situation in the only reasonable way.

I like Callan's (Noon's) and Chris' (clehrich's) input a great deal.


P.S. Chris, as I understand it, "no myth" doesn't refer to letting outcomes go where they will; it refers to letting the features of the setting and situation be mutable until they enter play. Another thread topic, I think.


Thanks for the pointers to the glossary. I'm not sure I understand those yet, but that was the kind of response I've been hoping for.

Your whole point about Fudge is why I bailed on running Fudge. Why take this elegant system and dirty it up with pervy mechanics? Is that a correct use of pervy? Hmm, I think it's clear that I do like pervy systems, which I guess is fine, but does make it harder to recruit people.

On the derived attributes, I think where I would go with what they were all hyped up about (their mind derived attributes) is to use the mind derived attributes and one more - body. And make a game about exploring the different aspects of the mind (or maybe even ditch body, and let you take gifts or skills to reflect that if necessary for your character). But that was their game, not mine, and not a model I'm interested in designing (but if well done would be interested in trying out).

I got into an interesting discussion on the Fudge list over this same game session, and the same issue of IIEE and players sticking up for themselves. My big thought on there is that while each individual is ultimately responsible for their own fun, success of a group depends on the group's responsibility for everyone's fun. In addition, the typical GM as special player role increases that player's responsibility for group fun. I would also argue that a host or anyone who invites another to an event has an elevated degree of responsibility.

Obviously the wife took care of herself pretty well. I was close to walking out, but the husband seemed relatively engaged, and things weren't bad enough for me to pull the plug and say: "I drove, and I'm tired, so we're leaving now."

I definitely didn't dismiss Fudge as a result of this. With more exposure to Fudge, I have decided it's not the right system for me to run a game in, but I might still be able to enjoy playing, if I ever come upon a GM who doesn't immediately trigger my "this is going to suck" thoughts. Of course if this was the first session in a campaign, as opposed to a play test session, I might talk to the GM and give it another try.

Oh and Ron, if it was a game you ran, or anyone who I knew was on this board, I would be up front in stating such. I'm less willing to share other folks names (and especially the young couple's names since I've shared information about them that is somewhat sensitive - though the world would be a better place for all if such knowledge wasn't so sensitive).

Frank Filz


I ran a game once where a player told me (after the game) that he felt his character got stepped on by another player hogging the actions. I thought about it and admitted that I'd found the other guy's play more interesting to me--and it was a big group so my time-slicing abilities were stretched.

I also told him I'd wished he'd slipped me a note during the game. It'd have gotten my attention.

Speaking up a little assertively is, IME, a really good solution to being talked over (because many generally well meaning or, especially, excited people will behave thoughtlessly unless its brought to their attention--clearly in the game I was running I did. I was very disappointed in myself for not realizing what was happening--but the fact is, during the game, I didn't catch myself). If that doesn't work then something is pretty dysfunctional and other steps (leaving) may be necessary.

So on a practical level: come to the game getting ready to speak up, call a "Time out" (with hand gestures) and be assertive with the GM.

Secondly: it's my experience that a lot of IIEE issues can get resolved if play is slowed down a bit and the GM is asked to pay a lot of attention to proper timing (searching a desk takes a few minutes, replacing the car's engine could take a few hours--if I said I search the desk and player B says he repairs the car, most GM's, IMO, will, when it's pointed out to them, give me a few more actions before Player B gets to act again).

Even in a pretty free-form system, so long as you aren't up against someone with a powerful agenda, you can do well just by taking complex situations where you think you aren't getting a fair shake and slowing them down (if you feel this is always the case then, again, maybe a new group or new game is in order).

JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
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I think the GM was trying to create tension by rapid fire resolution. That certainly is effective, but it means that a character's coolness under fire is a player attribute not a character attribute.

Of course this raises the interesting issue of which skills are character skills, and which are player skills. Most people acknowledge that intelligence should be a player skill (though some are willing to make "intelligence checks" to remember things, or get hints). A lot of people expect interpersonal skills to be player skills. In wargamy combat systems, people generally expect tactics to be a player skill.

Of course the ideal game (for an individual) makes those skills the player is good at, and that the player wants to exercise, as player skills, and the rest as character skills.

I definitely prefer a system with a clear turn order when it comes to fast paced action. It may slow things down a bit, but it assures that everyone has am opportunity to play.

Of course a non-stress, dialogue heavy, negotiation or puzzle solving activity can leave the quiet person out also. Here of course a metagaming solution may be the GM (or other players) asking the quiet person "what do you think?" An in game solution would be to have the character's react to the quiet character, for example, the NPC might ask "So what does the dwarf think?" or the NPC might step back from the dwarf and look warily at him (thinking "is he being quiet because he's watching for a misstep and is going to let loose with his axe if I say the wrong thing?").

Of course these problems usually become smaller once the players get to know each other. Still, it suggests more structured rules delineating IIEC is probably better until a group gets to know each other.

Frank Filz