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The FooFoo Factor

Started by Jason Lee, February 23, 2003, 12:48:52 AM

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The 'foo-foo' level of the 1st editions star wars game was spectacularly high.  There was actually a statistically measureable probability of surviving the detonation of an entire planet!  We calculated that some tens of millions of surviving souls were left floating around in space after the planet Alderaan was shot out from beneath their feet by the Death Star....

 But the neat thing about the game was that the foo-foo level was easily modified because all the damage was routed through a single multipliter chart. Modify that one chart and the game could be made extremely deadly or as sanitized as a GI Joe battlefield by changing a handful of numbers.
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I'm wondering if you can also have a high Foo Foo game that does not tweak the damage rules, but rather the chance of being hit/targeted. With this type of Foo Foo the PCs will be less likely to die because the nobodies around them will be getting killed instead. They don't have more hit points, but rather a better relationship with lady luck. The result is a game with the same mortality rate with different rules for luck. Is this another take on Foo Foo, or am I missing your point?

Ron Edwards

Hi Fletcher,

The NPC system in Hong Kong Action Theater does this. The thugs might be able to run faster, shoot better, and generally have "higher DEX" than the portly, aged crime boss who's Behind It All, but the portly crime boss is much harder to hit. The difficulty of hitting a character is directly proportional to his or her "plot importance," absolutely regardless of the character's in-game physical abilities.

Oh yes, and one of the other neat Foo Foos in that game is that explosions do no damage to the main characters. At all.


P.S. At the outset of the thread, I was thinking that Foo Foo was going to be a relatively not-useful term (due to its possible associations with "realism" which definitely is problematic), but you know? I'm thinkin' that it's bucking for Forge Jargon status, big-time.

Mike Holmes

Actually, that's a pretty standard response, Fletcher. In many games you just bump up the power level of characters vis a vis their opponents, and that does the trick. Dodge scores. Etc.

The Riddle of Steel (TROS), does an interesting thing in that it gives the player extra dice to survive combat as long as he's addressing some issue that he cares about. This means that normally the character is pretty realistically vulnerable, but becomes "hard to hit" when he's fighting for something he cares about. Reinforces dramatic situations.

All one would have to do to make TROS really "high foo-foo" would be to allow Spiritual Attributes to go higher than they do, and to have more given out.

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Walt Freitag

I think it's a mistake to limit this concept only to adverse consequences of combat. How about adverse consequences in general?

If I'm imprisoned, will I be able to escape? If I'm framed, will I be able to clear my name? If I'm cursed, will I be able to lift the curse? If I pass through a dimensional portal, will I be able to find my way back? If my true love leaves me, will I be able to convince her to return to me? If I've lost the heavyweight title, will I be able to win it back? If I drop the floppy disk containing the only known copy of the plague cure formula into a lava pool, will I be able to find another copy? If I'm disgraced at court, will I be able to return to favor? If my pop sound has gone out of style, will I be able to return to the charts? If an orc takes away the One Ring, will I be able to get it back?

I don't see any fundamental difference between those questions and, "If I take a bullet, will I be able to recover?" Yet usually only the latter is expected to be addressed by an RPG's core system. And I gotta wonder why.

I think the real question at hand for combat "foo-foo" is, "Can I die in a meaningless shooting?" (High foo-foo answer is "no" or "almost certainly not;" low foo-foo answer is "yes" or "yes, if you're unlucky.") And that's a question of outcome expectations. Cause and effect rules are invariably poor at establishing answers to questions of outcome expectations, though when combat is concerned that's not readily apparent for some reason.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere


If we go with Walt's idea of Foo-Foo factor(the triple "F"?) being more than simply damage  and combat, would it make sense to define it as rules or mechanics that favor protagonists and antagonists over other characters?  (or, likewise, give other characters less of a chance?)


Ian Charvill

Seventh Sea has at least three kinds of foo-foo.  The first rates characters as brutes, henchmen or Heroes/Villains.  This affects how easy a character is to put down, brutes go down like nine-pins, Villains take quite a bit of effort.  Additionally, player character mortality (as opposed to being knocked-out) doesn't exist within the domain of the fortune mechanic - PCs only die as the result of a player-initiated drama mechanic (actually, Brutes only die or not in combat as a result of player choice - players can always opt to just knock them out).

Secondly players have a store of drama dice that can be used to affect the outcome of a roll - they boost rolls, effectively.  This goes to Walt's question about non-combat foo-foos.  They get used in combat, sure, but they can also be used to pick locks, persuade magistrates or woo women.

Thirdly, there is an optional rule: Karma dice.  These exist as a pool for the entire player group, and cannot be used to affect a player's own character.  They affectively allow a player to make a fiat "you succeed" for another character (or a "you fail" for a villain).  Again these can be used in or out of combat.  I like these a lot in terms of ensuring player character protagonism, but I wouldn't recommend them to any GMs who care much for their own plots or NPCs.
Ian Charvill



I think you're onto something. While there has been a lot of discussion about the Foo Foo Factor in relation to combat [to the extent that 3F seems to have be an actual mathematical entity with relevance to damage scaling and mechanics], I think suggesting that 3F is some measure of the gap between protagonists, antagonists, and, um, mooks, is a good one.

What I've been wondering about is fear, to be honest. I mean, you've got to wonder where the FFF Dial is when the heroes don't run away, and the monsters don't run away either.

Perhaps we could link the Foo Foo Factor to the, um, deadliness of the rest of the world? Though that's a little combat specific, which I, personally, am eager to avoid.

What I'm trying to say is that when 3F is high for a particular character they've got no reason to back down from a fight, no reason to be afraid of a bullet, and they're unlikely to be cut down without it meaning something. When 3F is low, they'll run if confronted, perish if attacked, and are effectively disposable to the action.

I'm now wondering if 3F can mean Foo Foo Factor and Fear, Fatality, Focus. I think I'm on the verge of digressing, so I'll stop.

- drew
my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A

Walt Freitag

Rather than saying that mooks and protagonists have some particular relationship or gap between them (resistance to damage, accuracy of shooting, fearlessness, likelihood of benefiting from luck or coincidence, or whatever), I prefer to imagine the distinction as mooks and protagonists having a different relationship with "fate" -- that is to say, with the metagame. Two of the three mechanisms that Ian cites for Seventh Sea are obviously metagame, and I think the other (damage resistance and immunity from mortal surprises) makes the most sense interpreted as purely metagame as well.

This is something I've said before in Fang's Genre Expectations discussion: that reliably meeting outcome expectations requires metagame causality; in-game-world causality won't do it.

Which raises serious questions about the generality of the "absence of the metagame" as characteristic of (especially) high-concept Simulationist play, where outcome expectations can become a major motivator in play.

Metagame causality doesn't necessarily require overt metagame mechanisms; it can also be achieved via contract with the GM. In the vast majority of games it's completely within a GM's power to reliably assure that if a character jumps through a dimensional gateway, he able to find his way back home, or that if an orc gets hold of the Ring of Power, the protagonists will be able to get it back again. (That's not to suggest that all GMs actually exercise such power.) Again, it seems a little out of kilter that the conventions of (especially) Simulationist play require that it be beyond the GM's power to assure that if a player-character enters a combat, he will survive. Yet that's the way it's usually, at least in theory, supposed to work.

Overt metagame mechanics are a more attractive option for discussion, for a variety of reasons -- but there, the same comparison can be made in reverse. If there's a mechanism that a player can use to guarantee that a character will survive a fight (that is, maintain an element of the status quo) unless the player wants the option for the character to die (that is, experience a dramatic change or resolution), it should also be usable to make sure that when Indiana Jones loses the Ark he can get it back (maintain the status quo) unless the player wants the loss to be permanent (a possible dramatic change or resolution). An in-game-world causal rule that just allows the Ark to be designated as un-take-away-able is clearly a poor substitute, just as "this character will survive because he's invulnerable to damage" is a poor substutute for "this character will survive because the player (or GM) has a measure of control over his fate."

Hence, Drew, I'd suggest that the effect of the FFF dial should be to give some metagame agency (most likely the player) increased control over the effects of the character's fear, rather than making the fear itself go away.

The same turn of the dial could work against the protagonist too, when the genre expectations suggest it. For example, in some high-FFF situations a villain should be able to knock a protagonist unconscious at will (by drugs or a blow to the head) as long as it's by surprise.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere


Walt, I think I was confusing myself by applying the 3F dial to characters, and not the game, though, looking at it, I'm not so sure that that approach is a bad thing. I also think I'm missing something, because the first time I read what you've written I replaced 'metagame' with 'system'.

Until now, I'd been reading the Foo Foo Factor as having some relationship as to how likely a character was to remain intact, and having read what you've just written I'm now thinking about it as having the character remain unaffected by what's going on around them, and I'm not sure that that's what's being discussed.

You mentioned control over the effects of things, fear being the obvious example, and I'm not sure how that dovetails with the idea that, when the Foo Foo Factor is high, characters can walk through hails of bullets.

Perhaps I'm just struggling with the idea that the control you're talking about is expressed [in the examples we're discussing, anyway] when the gun is fired. If the Foo Foo Factor is low, then the gun being fired is significant, and if it's high, it isn't? At a basic survival level? Does that make sense?

Let me restate my assumptions:

Initially, I thought the Foo Foo Factor was a measure of how likely a character was to survive something.

What Walt said has led me to consider that it's a measure of the character remaining intact.

Does that distinction make sense? I suppose you could call it the difference between someone walking into a gunfight knowing that they're bulletproof, and someone walking into a gunfight knowing that they've got story immunity.

Are these different things? Or is this gap what Ron was talking about when he mentioned 3F as a candidate for inclusion in the Grand Unified Theory?

Help! Anyone! Please!

- drew
my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A

Jason Lee

Quote from: erithromycinInitially, I thought the Foo Foo Factor was a measure of how likely a character was to survive something.

What Walt said has led me to consider that it's a measure of the character remaining intact.

Does that distinction make sense? I suppose you could call it the difference between someone walking into a gunfight knowing that they're bulletproof, and someone walking into a gunfight knowing that they've got story immunity.

Are these different things? Or is this gap what Ron was talking about when he mentioned 3F as a candidate for inclusion in the Grand Unified Theory?

Well, the way I was using it was super abstract:  general larger-than-life-ness of the character, setting, or plot (ideally variable between individual elements thereof).  Which, as Ron pointed out, has the potential to be interpreted as the 'realism' of the system - something we'd best avoid.  It also doesn't necessarily have to be about protagonization either - a character can be the center of the story without being able to dodge bullets.

The rules of any game system will create a certain 'feel' out of the events and actions in the story.  Just an example:  If Chtulhu is pants wetting scary (reinforced by fear checks and the fact he could breath on you to kill you), you'll have a bunch of running for your life in the game - low end Foo Foo.  If Chtulhu is just another slimy ick to blast away (reinforced with the bottomless pocket full of shotgun shells from Army of Darkness and the fact that Ash fears no ick), you'll get highly cinematic action - high end Foo Foo.

A lot of the Foo Foo Factor stuff that's been brought up before Walt's post is lethality of damage, strength of the characters, potency of kewl powerz, and chance to hit.  Maybe because I'm thinking about action scenes (mostly combat), and maybe because that's pretty much the most common differences between game systems.

Walt brings up a real spiffy point about all the out of combat cause/effect relationships.  I was going to bring up that most of that stuff often falls outside the system, but he mentions that in his next post.

There's that Immersion (as a term) quality clouding us up a little.  In that it's about 'feel', and one man's Foo Foo Factor 5 is another man's Foo Foo Factor 7.  Plus, Cthulhu could be scary and you could never run out of ammo (though this is going into the incoherent feel realm, for me anyway).  

I don't think anyone'd disagree that conveying the correct feel through your game system makes for better design.  You obviously cannot make all of the 'feel' elements adjustable, else you'd have a different game once you're done adjusting.  However, you may well want the Foo Foo Factor adjustable without GM fiat.

I'm really grooving on the Hero Points/Drama Dice/SA's approach to a Foo Foo Factor dial.  I've got an example of what I was thinking (without attached system).  Nothing special, just your standard player control mechanic.  This is assuming things like radiation poisoning and suffocation are just some form of damage.  The broad coverage of the tokens should give you room to scale down damage, reduce hit chance, succeed on fear rolls, or a make a variety of other adjustments appropriate to the character (in the event that you want two villains to be equally Foo Foo, but you'd rather one be impossible to hit and the other be immune to damage).

Player Control Mechanic:
Three colors of tokens: red, blue, and green
Dump the tokens in a bag, draw randomly
Red: + 1 to roll, - 1 to penalty, restore/soak 1 Health/Fatigue/Mana
Blue: + 5 to roll, - 5 to penalty, restore/soak half Health/Fatigue/Mana
Green: auto-succeed roll, invalidate penalty, restore/soak all Health/Fatigue/Mana

The Foo Foo Factor part (this has zero playtesting, but seems like it'd be a nice analog dial):
Just adjust dump more blue or green into the bag before a token refresh when you want to up the Foo Foo Factor.  If you want to dial it down, just dump in more red or blue.  You could attach a token dump to character, plot, setting, or player mood reasons.  For example:  Up the Foo Foo during situations of extreme importance to the characters, during moments you want to be more heroic, when switching to a more Foo Foo setting, or when the players are cranky and you think a stupendous victory will lighten their mood.

What was really bugging me before is I couldn't think of how to work things like knockback and ammunition into this.  My idea thus far is at the beggining of a conflict each player has to toss out a token for their 'impact level' and 'resource management'.  This could be extended to 'plot relevance' and 'script immunity', but I haven't really thought how you would do that mechanically.

The character's attacks deal knockdown.
Normal ammo rules.
The character has only the items he wrote down.

The character's attacks deal knockback.
The character does not run out of ammo clips, but still has to reload.
The character has whatever items seem appropriate.

The character's attacks deal knockback and cause explosions (waves of energy, or whatever).
No ammo rules.
The character has bottomless pockets full of whatever items he needs.

Hell, you could even adjust the mix in the bag as an alternative experience point system.  The higher the 'level' of the group or the closer you get to the story's climax the more blue or green you dump into the bag.  Though, I think you'd want to skip the 'impact level' and 'resource management' bit to actually use it as an experience system.

The real bummer about the token approach is your Foo Foo can run out, and be dialed back down.  Something I'm not too keen on if you want to link the Foo Foo Factor to a setting.  It also means you cannot go any less Foo Foo than having zero tokens.  But damn, is it a simple solution.
- Cruciel