So, this comes up a lot. It was never my intention to be provocative, contentious, or just damn rude. In fact I always have and always will call my little game “foo”. It never entered my mind that “F – U” might mean something else until after I had shared it. I guess I just don’t swear enough! 🙂 So, why the hell is this game called FU?

I guess it goes right back to my glorious youth and my fascination with GURPS. I was an avid game magazine reader (back then they were mostly about tabletop games, not video games!) and I vividly recall reading an article in GM that recounted how the crew at Steve Jackson Games were working on their “Great Unnamed Role Playing System” which ultimately became the Generic Universal Role Playing System, or GURPS. It has always stuck with me and when it came time to name my rpg design project, I decided an acronym was the way to go. The “universal” in FU is definitely a homage to GURPS.

I think the fact we call GURPS “gurps” is why I always say “foo” – nobody ever calls GURPS “G-U-R-P-S” !

This is the GURPS I grew up with. Is this where you started?

Okay, so it’s an acronym, but why the hell is this game called FU?

It’s pretty simple, really. When I first wrote the game it was two things – free and universal. Now, I could have made the acronym FRAU (FRee And Universal), or FUN (Free UNiversal), or even FURPS (do I need to spell it out?) or any number of other longer names. However keep in mind that there was already a GURPS, FUDGE (Freeform Universal Do-it-yourself Game Engine), Fubar (a free set of wargames rules) and TWERPS (which looks and sounds nothing like the others, but was definitely an inspiration). So I kept it simple – F and U.

In hindsight, I could have saved a lot of confusion (and a few complaints) by calling the game “Fu” instead. It makes sense and most people are going to read it the way it should be said – just like in my example above, “kung-fu”. But you know what they say – hindsight is 20/20 and I wasn’t to know!

Is it still free and universal? Yes, but…

See what I did there?

A long while ago I changed the game’s “official” name from FU: the Free, Universal RPG to FU: the Freeform / Universal RPG. It was about the same time that I released the rules under a Creative-Commons-Attribution licence. The change came about for a few different reasons:

The first was that I had intentions to one day make a “new and improved” version, fully tricked-out with more detail, advice, art etc. It would be a game that I would sell as it would be the kind of thing that takes more than a month to make and costs money for editing, layout and art. I didn’t want to lead people down the garden path with a game called “free” that would actually cost them money. So I changed the name.

(It is worth noting that FU is still 100% pay-what-you-want and if you want to grab it for free go right ahead! There will always be a free option available, even when a new and improved version comes along.)

The second reason I changed the “free” to “freeform” is that it better evoked what the game offered to players. Something that is freeform does not conform to “a regular or formal structure or shape” (thank you Oxford Dictionary!), and is often associated with improvisational art forms such as improv theatre and jazz. The core of FU was built upon my experience with improv theatre and inspired by other “indie” games that focused on collaborative storytelling in the same way musicians might “jam” together.

Finally, the word “freeform” is also a nod to my Australian roleplaying roots. There is a form of role-play similar to LARPS called “freeforms” that have a focus on collaborative play with an emphasis on character and mood over specific mechanisms of resolution. They are very popular in Australia and there is a strong evidence that this form of play even originated here. (Check out this article about the Australian role-play scene in the 80’s and 90’s). It is a subtle reference, but it is an important one for me.

This is an excerpt from the “Arcanacon 1983” con guide. Arcanacon is an annual convention that runs in Melbourne, Australia. Click the image to go to the complete convention guide.

Hey, where did the forward slash go?

Astute readers will notice that I have stopped referring to FU as the “Freeform / Universal” RPG, in favour of just “freeform universal”. This is mostly just because it is quicker and easier to write! To be honest, I’m not even sure why I chose to seperate the words with a forward slash in the first place. I think, maybe, I wasn’t sure whether there needed to be a comma between the words!

I am also thinking ahead, to that mythic day when another FU product is unleashed upon the world. What will it be called? FU2? FU- the Quickening? FU+? Or maybe just Freeform Universal… I’ve got no idea! Work on FU2 is already underway, and you can read the Beta doc here.

So that is the story of how FU got called FU. It turned out to be much longer than I realised! Feedback and comments are always appreciated – leave your thoughts below!

This article was first published on June 3, 2016

This article originally appeared on a website dedicated to Freeform Universal. I have consolidated that material here in order to bring everything into one easy-to-find location.