Game Mastery

I like my games with a side of fudge.

by on Jul.30, 2009, under game theory

One of the more controversial topics in table top RPG gaming is the fudging of dice. Some GMs feel it necessary to adjust dice results. Other players would leave the table if they found out the GM even thought such a practice could ever be acceptable. There’s no right answer to this debate and it seems like almost everyone has an opinion, so here’s mine…

I prefer fudging in my RPGs.  Both in the ones I play and the ones I run.  Here’s why:

  1. Character depth.  I like original characters.  I write elaborate backstories.  I except my player to write elaborate backstories too.  In fact, I require it of them. Aside from the fact that it sucks to lose a character to an overeager d20, it really sucks to lose a character with emotional attachment, especially if it’s a meaningless loss.  As I mentioned, I’m demanding when it comes to backstory.  I’ve had a lot of players who don’t want to write them.  If a player wrote five pages for their character and I killed off that character, do you think they’d write five pages for the replacement?  Hell no.  The game is supposed to be fun, not homework.  And it’s going to become homework if I assign a 3-5 page backstory once every three weeks.
  2. D&D is one of my only hobbies that doesn’t take place on a computer of some sort.  Much as I like D&D itself, I can’t play it on a computer.  Video game RPGs aren’t roleplaying, they’re multiple choice.  When I play a game in person I want a person running the game.  I don’t want a system of random numbers to determine what happens.  Randomness can influence the game, but ultimately I’m looking for a story to be told by a person.  Not by random numbers.
  3. Some would argue that you shouldn’t roll the dice at all if you aren’t going to use the result.  Fudging fixes the results and who wants to play in an RPG with fixed results.  As I mentioned previously everything I know about GMing, I learned from pro wrestling.  Clearly I don’t have a problem with predetermined results for fights.  Especially if those results lead to greater drama in the context of a story.

What all these points are leading to is that I like story more gaming.  I know I railed on GNS theory in the past (and I’m deliberately not linking to the article – it was nitpicky over some minor points even though the actual theory seems pretty reasonable) but the more I think about it the more I like it.  I prioritize narrativism over gamism.  I prefer RPGs that have more story than game.  And I run that kind of game too.  I’d rather make a PC live through an inconsequential fight and I’d rather make a boss fight more dramatic than a badly failed saving throw.  That’s narrativism right there.

Once again, being happy in a game comes down to knowing what your own playstyle is and communicating that to your players.

This seems like a good point to end the article, but I have a few more thoughts on fudging.  While I do feel it can enhance a game if done right, it can certainly kill a game if done wrong.  I don’t think this is a problem inherent in dice fudging – there are myriad ways a bad GM can kill a game.

I fudge a lot of my encounters.  I do this because I have a limited amount of time to prep for game.  I can spend it all designing a perfect encounter and have no plot.  Or I can spend it designing a flawed encounter (to be fixed at run time) and writing a decent plot.  Unsurprisingly I go for plot.

Knowing that my encounters are flawed, they’re either going to be too hard or too easy.  I always aim for too easy.  It’s easier to fudge up than fudge down.

Any time you pull punches your players are going to know.  If the ogre falls when his HP total is still in triple digits your players will know.  If the dragon hits one PC with each attack instead of focusing on a single PC , your players know you’re trying to keep from killing them.  And doing this takes the fight away from them.

Fudging up on the other hand is harder to detect.  They may have dropped your BBEG in the second round, but they’ll never know you just doubled his hitpoints.  All they’ll know is that they threw everything they had at him and he kept coming.  They might feel doomed, but they will never feel that the fight is worthless.

Finally, here’s a technique I came up with  if you don’t want your players to know you’re fudging.  I haven’t had to use it much, because my players like fudging (and even suggest I do it more often) but this might be useful if you’re dealing with gamists.

The trick is to reveal your dice when you roll well or poorly.  Get a GM screen and three similar dice.  Set a die to 1 and another to 20.  Put those in the corners of your screen.  Roll with the third die.  Any time you need to show a 1 or 20 that you rolled, pull the screen away revealing the appropriate die.   It’s simple, but it works.  Here’s a diagram:

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    3 comments for this entry:
    1. Crowbar

      I completely agree with you. I frequently make up results off the top of my head to move things along or make things more dramatic.

      It’s a lot easier when you’re running games over the Internet, something I do a lot. “That Pandoran just did 8 damage? Bugger that, he did 2.”

    2. Heatwizard

      Point; ones and twenties seem kind of suspicious. I see the dramatic value of a timely crit(in either direction), but if your goal is to avoid suspicion of your cheater dice, then I would go with 18 and 3. Both are high/low enough that you can use them when you need to, but when a PC’s life depends on an attack whiffing, a sudden 1 looks TOO convenient, whereas a 3 would just be, “oh, phew”.

    3. sagotsky

      Yeah, that many ones and twenties could look weird after a while. The game were I did this didn’t go on for very long so I never needed to switch things up. TBH if I ever use this technique again I’ll probably swap up which results I have ready with each session.

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