An Accounting of an Obsession

Current Downloads

The current version of EZFudge is the "Essentials Edition," first published in 2018, corrected in 2021, and updated in 2022.

Current Releases

Backstory (or, "Let Me Tell You About My RPG Design")

In summer 1980, I spent most of my chore money on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (aka "First Edition") hardcovers and dice. It fascinated me, but I never found a group, or a group never found me, one of those or maybe both.

In April 1981, I got into a group playing Metagaming's The Fantasy Trip (TFT), and I loved it. There have been many games since, but TFT fixed in me a lot of ideas about an RPG should be. Mind you, we didn't play TFT by-the-book at all. In our group at that time, RPGs were for free-wheeling action-adventure play. Save the rules for the board game nights.

There were many other game systems, of course, over the next decade-plus. And I saw Fudge not long after it hit the net in 1995. But I didn't understand it then. It was admirable, and the writing was clear. I just didn't see what was in it for me. So it faded to the background.

In 1997, I fell in with the Plainlabel Game System crew, and it became my game obsession of choice for many years. After that was Risus: The Anything RPG. And then I looked at Fudge again, and I got it. Here was a toolkit with which I could build a game that suited how I wanted to play.

The first version of EZFudge, in the year 2001, was about 2000 words of essay and a character sheet that actually had all the meaningful rules on it. There followed "expansions" for vehicles, and magic rules, and some setting seeds that could be used for inspiration. Oh, and a conversion for Star Trek, of course. Elsewhere on the web, others were developing spin-offs of Star Frontiers, Gamma World, and other games or worlds using EZFudge as a base. I wish someone had told me then. It would have been very exciting. (Perhaps the worst failing of EZFudge is that I've only made one world to use with it.)

In 2006, my skills and ambition had grown, along with my understanding that (under the Fudge license) I could use the text of the base book, trimmed down to fit my design frame. So I did that. This was the first version subtitled "Roleplaying Basic Rules." I adapted some of my older material for the new publication style; some I let go by the wayside.

In 2012, I came back to the idea of getting the rules out of the books and onto the table. So the Ultimate Edition was born. Flowcharts and reference sheets became the order of the day, and I adapted the notion of weapon and gear cards from Plainlabel. It was a big bunch of playables, and I liked it at the time. Later, I came to rue it. It was just too much clutter, too many things to print, too much stuff.(This was the first version under the OGL instead of the Fudge license.)

In 2018, I resolved to make the design focused again. The references and flowcharts climbed back into the book, and the book was designed for digest-sized pages as all good game books are. I also changed the Fudge Ladder to be more similar to what was being done in Fate Core games and in The Princess Bride Roleplaying Game. And then I made one more portentous decision. Following the inspiration of Marvel Super Hero Adventure Game, Blue Rose, and others, I determined that only the player makes dice rolls. For my pet Star Trek setting, I dared to write character sheets for the Original Series crew, character sheets that did not cheat. (I'd long been irked by the sample characters in the licensed games, characters who could not possibly be created by application of the written game rules.)

In 2020 and 2021 I started getting actual feedback on people using EZFudge Essentials. It wasn't bad at first, but then a series of mail exchanges made it clear to me that I'd done the combat rules completely wrong to meet my player-roll goal. So in 2021 I updated the booklet to correct those oversights. Then I found ways to add tactical variety (removed in the stripping to Essentials) again. And put in notes for damage roll options. And then I noticed I had lost a lot of the flavor of Fudge in my mania to simplify down to numbers, so I wrote some notes about that. And then I took a year off, very unhappy with myself for those failures.

In early 2022, I thought I might revise the book to fold all the new material back in. I discovered some new (minor) mistakes. I found the tattered edge of the action rules that I'd never properly finished in the text. That set off terminology issues across the book, and obliged me to recreate the flowcharts (10-year-old files for software I no longer have). And when I tried to update the booklet file, the file fought back in ways I didn't want to argue with. My publishing tools have never been elaborate, and sometimes they are just wrong for the job. If I wanted a new release, I was going to have to prepare it a new way.

It took much less time than expected to extract the text from the original rulebook file and reformat it. I was able to put elements back into their logical order (instead of wiggling stuff around to make pages flow right). If you're reading this, I'm still in middle of this process, restoring some lost sentences from earlier editions and making sure everything is neat and tidy and maybe a little friendlier. I'm keeping it in HTML, for my future convenience. It's Open Content, so I'll leave it to anyone else who is interested to remix it for other delivery modes.

The Final Frontier booklet is unchanged, but I have remastered the character sheets — same data, just new sheet design and a few minor typography corrections. (Why didn't somebody tell me about those flaws sooner?)

Let me add a note of gratitude. Every time I ran into a design question … how do I do this? … it was only necessary to go back to the Fudge core book and read closely. Most of the time what I wanted was in the 1995 version, and this happened so often that the other versions, as nice as they are, just stayed on the shelf. That's the amazing power and persistence of what Steffan O'Sullivan and the original Usenet contributors made. If, for instance, I hadn't been so obsessed with "tactics cards" in the 2012 edition, I would have heeded the other, simpler rules for allowing for tactical choices that now appear in the 2022 edition. So, to Steffan and to Ann Dupuis the current keeper of the flame, if you read this, thank you. It's been great playing with your toys, and I hope I haven't scuffed them up too badly.

Copyright 2022 W. Robert Portnell. All rights reserved.