Every now and then I delve into an indie game and report back with musings about what I found. Today I look into a small generic engine for narrative roleplaying:
FU: Freeform Universal
Pay What You Want PDF, by Peril Planet
I enjoy my fair share of generic roleplaying games. Everything from the crunchy and simulatonist GURPS, through middle-the-road Savage Worlds, to a very narrative FATE. All of those games have their fair share of strengths and weaknesses., but if you are aware of them, you can run a very successful campaigns with those RPG engines. I know I did.
As my time becomes more and more limited, I tend to use more rules-lite systems for my games. Especially when it comes to one-shots or short campaigns. Games like Risus and The Pool (oh, I need to post my musings about those) were good for certain games, but when it comes to quick and lite games, FATE ruled supreme. Well... now I can say that FATE was dethroned, by a small and very simple game - Freeform Universal, or FU.
FU is a deceivingly simple game. You roll some D6s, choose highest (or lowest if the odds are against you) and narrate the outcome based on this value. There, I basically explained the system in one sentence.
However, the beauty of FU lies in something else than its simplicity. It is how it merges the mechanics with the narrative. Firstly, to check how many dice you will roll, you look up what traits from your character applies to the task. You check your character's "aspects", equipment and any situational advantages to add positive dice. For each obstacle you add negative die. This very fluid and does not take you away from the narrative as there are no numbers. This wall is [-steep] and [-it's raining], but you have your [+climbing gear]. You have one positive, two negative traits. They cancel each other out, to leave you with a single negative. So you roll two dice (you always roll one as a freebie and add more from the descriptors) and choose the lowest (because the leftover descriptors were negative). That's pretty cool that you can roll without considering charts and/or numbers.
Yet, this is not the best aspect of the game! When you have your result, you follow a simple "ladder of outcomes", to answer the question: Did I managed to do it? FU does not give you a binary Yes/No like many other systems. It gives you more narrative outcomes. Stuff like Yes, but... or, No, and. I have written about this before here. This makes the game much more fun and much better suited for improv or pick-up-style game.
I think it is a brilliantly designed game, great for one shots, or even no-prep games. Sadly, while FU seems popular, there isn't much in terms of hacks and rules exploration like it is in Apocalypse World,, FATE or even Savage Worlds. It baffles me really, as the game is not only build for expansion and exploration, but is also released on the Creative Commons license. I secretly hope that more people will start experimenting with FU. I for one am designing a (little more crunchy) survival game based on FU with some Gumshoe system mixed in. I hope more games will follow...