On Fudging It

The game systems that we play tend to shape our thinking about other games, about how systems are constructed, etc. etc. etc.. I’m sure Thomas Khun would be proud of this analogy, if I could piece it together.

I used to design RPGs back in the day. Once you start looking at the underlying systems, they’re quite interesting to break down and analyze, but one of my all-time favorites is FUDGE. And not just because of the food reference.

FUDGE uses, essentially, fuzzy logic to go ahead and determine the outcome of actions. There’s a scale of relative adjectives that it uses to rate … well, just about everything, really, and I’m finding that I’m using it more and more to describe Warcraft.

So here you go:

  • Superb
  • Great
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Medicore
  • Poor
  • Terrible

You assign an adjective to a task or a skill. Let’s say your character is good with a pistol, which represents their average skill over time. You can make a Good shot more often than not.

Fudge uses funny dice – d6s with 2 +s, 2 -s, and 2 blank sides. You roll 4 (or 1 or 6 or 10 or whatever) and tally up the plusses and minuses when adding random chance into an action. You modify the quality of your action accordingly – if you have a net +1, your shot goes from Good to Great. If you get a net -3, it’s a Poor shot.


FUDGE is a great RPG, hugely flexible, but the remarkable thing is that I find that I can describe most other game systems with it.

See, a lot of the mathematical exactness that game systems strive for can yield counterintuitive results. They can also bog players down in too many numbers or rules (Laws of the Night Revised edition, I’m looking at YOU) that take away from the RPG aspect of the game.

So when a game starts going cattywumpus – c.f. Warcraft characters at level 84 – I revert to the FUDGE scale to see what’s going on.

For example, the problem with leveling from 79-80 in Wrath, and then again at 83-84 inf Cataclysm, is that your Superb characters rapidly decline down the scale to Fair, or even Mediocre. Good toons go Poor. Fair toons are Terrible at 84. The scaling is brutal, and only the gear available at level 85 starts bringing characters back up to their former selves.

Going from “I kiled the Lich King!” to “I am having problem handling 4 Dragonmaw Orcs at a time” may be mathematically necessary to handle stat inflation, but it introduces cognitive dissonance and player dissatisfaction. It’s not that the 80-85 leveling is hard, but rather that our characters feel lessened by the experience.

I’m going to refer back to the Fudge Scale a lot, so now you know what I’m babbling about when I trot it out.



Filed under Cynwise's Field Notes

6 responses to “On Fudging It

  1. Snack

    Well, Cyn, if I can use a strained analogy.Don’t look at each expansion as it’s own direct continuation – think of it as a new D&D Campaign.Part of the expansion’s story is the lead up to killing whatever new Big Bad is standing in front of us – this time, Deathwing. We’re farting about through the Twilight Hammer and the Firelands, but ultimately, our adventure is going to take us to Deathwing.I’ve not played a lot of D&D, but it seems like games that run for long times with the same characters would grow stale without some kind of story between massive boss encounters.In our case, we have four Dragonmaw Orcs. We have Grim Batol’s Erudax.Blackwing Descent’s battle with Nefarian is an epic encounter that is a taste for the upcoming battles – same with Cho’gall in the Bastion of Twilight, Al’akir in Throne of Four Winds and Ragnaros is the Firelands.the path is meandering, but there is very much a course through the campaign.Besides, some of these final boss fights don’t get less complex, even with overgearing (hai dere Arthas, Yogg-Saron, Kel’thuzad)

  2. Cynwise of Stormwind

    That’s essentially the model that Warcraft uses – there’s a soft reset of the power curve at every expansion, since the acquisition of power through levels and gear is the whole game. You go from Fair (maybe Good) to Good to Great to Superb to Legendary and then you’re facing the big bad all over again.In D&D you keep on going until you’re a supreme badass walking the planes and dealing with demigods and elemental forces and Orcus himself. Each “boss,” which is really a story-based objective, grows in strength, but also in scope, importance, and your characters reflect that. By level 20 you are leading armies, you’re some of the best heroes in the god damn world, time to move on to other planes of existence!The course is there in Warcraft, should you chose to interpret it kinda like this:C’thun took 40 Great Heroes to kill him. (Legendary)Illidan took 25 Superb heroes to kill him. (Legendary +1)Arthas took 10 Superb and Legendary heroes to kill him. (Okay, maybe 25 Superb heroes, Legendary +2)Deathwing will require Legendary (Superb+1) heroes. (Legendary +3)The problem is actually not with the raid bosses. You could make an argument for slow ramp, or of no ramping at all between these fights – story wise, C’thun should probably be harder than Illidan. The problem lies with the questing in between. D&D would be story driven, perhaps action driven, but the questing in between big bosses changes. The difficulty constantly increases through variety. Instead of killing orcs in the forest, you’re killing demons and elementals. Vampires and mummies instead of skeletons and zombies. I think my own meandering point is that you don’t *have* to reset the character’s power in between expansions. If you look at stat scaling, what essentially happens is that there is Good, Great, Superb gear available at any given level, but because of scaling, those qualitative ratings decay. And that’s kinda hard to accept from a story perspective. Why should my Great gear suddenly become Fair, if it’s not damaged? (D&D: why did my +5 Vorpal Sword suddenly become a +1?). If the stats were replaced with adjectives, we’d see this directly. “Why is my Iron Counterweight only giving me Good Haste? Two levels ago it was Legendary!?” Players would go woah, do not want. They’d see that an epic geared character at 60, 70, 80, and 85 are roughly equivalent (or not, depending on the gear in question). So instead of raw power, the game would have to change to encourage people to acquire new gear. Perhaps T12 has Superb Fire Resistance on it. Perhaps T10 was Frost Resist gear – or had special bonuses against Undead. Or gave Frost damage. People might be holding on to their BC sets because they had special powers against Demons or Elementals, and hot diggity, we might NEED those again.Consider that without scaling, every raid could be an interesting, at-level raid.I don’t really think I have a point, or am arguing for any changes. Warcraft is what it is, and I’m okay with that. Just interesting to think about it in different ways, in ways that are more story-based and less … grindy.

  3. Druidis4fite

    I think we just have ot believe that Dragonmaw Orcs are substantially more dangerous than say, Deathchill Cultists, not that they’re substantially more dangerous than the Lich King. I mean, if I brought Tirion Fordring and 24 friends, and spent several months planning the assault, I assume I could get those four dragonmaw orcs. 😉 The story line falls apart in other places – you’re the only person who can save Ashenvale, even though you’re level 22, and you know there’s more powerful guys running around who could just kill the raging Big Bad with passive AOE. The perennial problem of Gnomer being kept by level 30 troggs. I imagine maybe “lore wise” you’re fighting the “shadow” of previous raid/instance bosses, which is why C’thun feels so much easier than Arthas who feels easier than Cho’gal. After all, C’thun is already vanquished, you’re just clearing the place out.

  4. Cynwise of Stormwind

    @narci: Yeah, it falls apart in all sorts of ways when you apply logic about phasing/non-phasing.This game is really kinda strange when you stop to think about it too much.

  5. Druidis4fite

    I think it’s actually pretty amazing how well the game holds up to scrutiny. The wow blogosphere is huge and voracious and has a certain element dedicated solely to ripping holes in Blizzard. The fact that those of us who are part of it can still enjoy the game, let alone enjoy the game MORE because of it, is a real testament. Can you imagine millions of words by a million of writers on tens of thousands of blogs on Angry Birds strats or Farmville Lore? *… okay, I can’t stop laughing at Farmville Lore.

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