Wednesday, October 10, 2018

GM 101 - Why I Don't Fudge the Dice

Last year, I wrote about fudging dice rolls, but this topic has resurfaced due to a video Matt Colville put out the other night. In Matt's game, he is free to do what he believes is right for his group, but I think his take is bad advice for new Dungeon Masters. I think he glosses over potential problems at the table that may result when a DM fudges the dice.

Fudging die rolls can remove player agency and break the trust between a DM and the players. I'd hesitate to use this as a tool. It's unnecessary, as there are multiple other tools in a DM's toolbox to mitigate an evening of bad luck... and even a night of bad rolls can be fun and epic.


  1. Google+ comments:

    Noel Mock - 2018-10-10
    While I understand, and in practice I rarely do it (maybe .1%), I understand how it could be a technique that could be used to great effect. I usually prefer to explain what the low roll or high roll means in terms of probability working out in your favor or against you...

    Robert Ringrose - 2018-10-10

    If you are working with the players to tell a story, sometimes the roll of the dice does not tell a good story.

    ...and sometimes you have made a mistake, and what you thought was balanced is not fun. Either overwhelming the players and having a TPK, or having cakewalk, is only the right thing to do when thematically appropriate.

    Theo Brinkman - 2018-10-11

    I have fudged a roll exactly once in all my years as a GM.

    We were playing the Dawn of Defiance campaign for Star Wars Saga Edition, and in the very first encounter, designed to draw the players into the greater plot, I rolled a pair of 20s when stormtroopers attacked the Wookiee PC. In Saga Edition, a 20 is a crit. No need for confirmation rolls, max damage. A
    Stormtrooper’s blaster carbine does 3d8 damage. A soldier (like the Wookiee) starts with 30+Con modifier hp, and you’re irrevocably dead at -Con.

    Session one. Encounter one. Round one.
    Two attacks. Two crits.
    32 HP, 14 Con.
    48 damage.

    I fudged the second roll, for what I think should be obvious reasons.

    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear) - 2018-10-17

    +Theo Brinkman I get it. I do. That's a crap stroke of luck right off the bat and any DM would have to weigh in that moment whether they show the roll. Since I roll everything in the open, there's no decision for me to make. All the players see and know that I was being impartial, even if the result sucks.

    On the other hand, if you have a Session 0 with your players and say "Hey -- if you get shot by a blaster, there's a good chance you could die" and everyone understands the stakes of the game, the expectation is that you will not save them in the case of bad luck.

    With a potentially high lethality game, I always have the players make 2 or 3 PCs for just this kind of issue.

  2. Kevin Priest - 2018-10-10

    I don't fudge dice rolls either. In fact, I usually make all dice rolls right out in the open rather than behind a screen.

    Theodore Minick - 2018-10-10

    If you're doing something that you shouldn't tell your players you're doing, you probably shouldn't be doing that.

    Alan Kellogg - 2018-10-11

    Or maybe every now and then some spirit or the like decides to fudge your character's life for some silly reason.

    Dave Sherohman - 2018-10-11

    If you say you're leaving it to chance (a die roll), then leave it to chance.

    If you're only willing to accept one possible result, then just declare that result without going through the charade of rolling dice that are (unbeknownst to your players) meaningless.

  3. OldSchoolDM - 2018-10-10

    I have a homebrew fudging method that increases agency for both the PC and the DM - allowing each to decide what rolls are important enough to their part of the story to modify...

    I have yet to have a player (100 or so to date) ever have anything but praise for this system, even when the DM says - You saved, but just barely? Nope, I use 2 fudge tokens... But they TRUST me because they understand that I have the same freedoms and limits they do.

    Your video properly focuses on table trust, but overly restricts the idea of trust to a very specific RAW (as you perceive RAW) point of view.

    For me, it your rings a bit hollow given how many DM judgements (set DCs, allowed actions, monster choices, etc.) are made every session, and how many can be interpreted by players as either too harsh/lenient therefore decreasing "user agency" and DM trust - using your words.

    I don't think Matt's players think of him as limiting their agency, nor as untrustworthy as a DM. A bit presumptive for you to imply that about them, just sayin'

    For me, I like my fudge token system because it is symmetrical, unlike DM-is the-only-one-who-can-fudge. But I don't condemn those who do/don't. I'm not at their table.

    Matt Colville isn't wrong (as you say he is). Neither are you. Neither am I.

    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear) - 2018-10-10

    My issue with Matt is not that he fudges at his table. That's his game (as I noted in the blog), but he is also a teacher of D&D to new players in his videos, and he does not highlight a single drawback of fudging in his video -- loss of player trust, loss of agency, a victory that is not earned but given, or even worse, a defeat that is undeserved.

    If you are using some kind of bennie system to alter rolls, that's not fudging. The whole table has agreed and accepted that as a mechanic. It is not hidden. It is not lying. It is available to both DM and player. That's similar to the Advantage or Luck feat in 5e. Everyone has access.

    That's not fudging.

    Fudging is changing the outcome of a die and hiding the result from the players.

  4. Randy Ward - 2018-10-11

    The dice always have their own story to tell. Respect that and find a way to work with it. I never fudge the dice. Bad dice situations create opportunity for creative game play.

    OldSchoolDM - 2018-10-11

    If that works for you, great!

    But, dice don't talk and they don't "tell stories." They generate a random value, interpreted by the reader, and influenced by the rules.

    The interpretation is the result of a difficulty setting, often set by yet another interpreted judgement of rules and reasoning.

    We DMs and players alike "tell they story." Dice rules are one of many inputs.

    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear) - 2018-10-11

    +OldSchoolDM That's a fair statement, but one can interpret the dice without altering them.

    The DM has so many tools in the tool box, there is no reason to cheat the mechanics. It's akin to using a sledgehammer for a job that requires a thumbtack.

    The players all agree to abide by the rolls of the dice as part of the social contract. The DM should not be given exception. The DM can help interpret those results by setting DCs and what not, but the DM should not have to power to change the outcome to suit their desires any more than the players have.

    As I note, your mechanic for sharing bennies or tokens works because it is not secret and it is available to the both the players and the DM to utilize.

    I don't believe the DM should have a carte blanche "NOPE" card on any outcome.

    Jesper Bisgaard - 2018-10-11

    I find it interesting that this topic keeps resurging. I personally don't understand the strict adherence to the rule of the dice. If you don't like fudging then don't, if you don't mind it then use it. Be honest with your players, about doing it. If they don't like it then roll in the open for this group, if they don't have an issue with it then who cares. Its your game not the entire internets, for most of us at least. I find that it's a very academic discussion which resolves nothing.
    It's fine that you don't think a dm should fudge but you are not playing in every group so why can't another dm do so if their group is fine with it. I think each group should play the game that's fun for them.

    Randy Ward - 2018-10-11

    +OldSchoolDM Well that's what you think. My experience begs to differ. Although you're probably just arguing semantics just to argue because you don't like my romanticized interpretation.

    J Zoshak - 2018-10-11
    Please forgive my strident tone, but this is a huge, central issue for me, and one that I feel is actively dangerous to the development of new dungeon masters.

    If you don't fudge, you might as well just buy your players copies of the latest CRPG for their laptops and go have a beer. You're not doing your job.

    "Loss of player trust" is easily mitigated with honesty at the beginning of the campaign regarding your dice policies. If a player wants pure die result honesty, that is their choice, but they don't have to find it at your table.

    "Loss of agency" is nonsense; there are two possible outcomes to each die roll: success and failure. The dice alone ensure PCs experience both of these without DM interference and without player input, and no one complains about a loss of agency.

    "A defeat that is undeserved" is the sole purview of a truly terrible dungeon master whose sins greatly outweigh simply fudging die results.

    And finally, for chrissakes, if you think victory is earned at the table by die-based random number generation, I weep for your players.

  5. Randy Ward - 2018-10-11
    I will say this and leave it at this. My most memorable times gathered around the table occurred because crazy/tragic/unexpected things happened when dice rolls went south.

    You don't just throw your hands up in the air and say 'well that's that, tough shit' to the players. You let the players get creative and you provide opportunity for their outlet Have some contingencies in your mind ready to go if needed. You'd be surprised what can come out of a session role playing a special way of getting a dead/near dead player's soul back to their body or how a completely botched job/encounter can turn into something completely different, a whole new adventure even.

    What you don't want is the players having a feeling that nothing matters because they can always fudge something, ignore it, or the DM will bail them out. The players shouldn't be playing with an attitude of entitlement and feel that anything is ever deserved or undeserved. The best adventures are the ones that don't go according to plan.

    And finally, it's not about 'victory'. It is about telling a story and having a grand adventure. If you think the game is about 'victory conditions', then I weep for your players.

    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear) - 2018-12-11

    +Jesper Bisgaard I think it comes up again and again because DM's that fudge usually don't tell their players that they are a fudging DM.

    I also think that if you let your players know you fudge as part of your session 0 discussions, and they are ok with that, that might change the equation somewhat because the whole table has agreed to that play style. However, I don't believe that conversation comes up very often with other DMs.

    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear) - 2018-12-11

    +J Zoshak I very strongly disagree and have a very recent example.

    I was just at PAX Unplugged for an Adventurers League game. To his credit, the DM admitted up front that he sometimes fudges to the benefit of the player. I wasn't really keen on that, but it was not an event where I could switch tables.

    It was a several hours-long adventure, and there were a few times where I am almost certain a die roll was fudged in our favor a few different times in order to not needlessly complicate the outcome of our plans (the adventure was a heist with multiple places along the way where things could go disastrously wrong).

    I felt cheated.

    The victories were not earned, and the ones that were earned lost most of their relish because I could not be certain he wasn't cheating in our favor in those cases as well.

    All of the successes in the game were cast into doubt because I (and others at the table) didn't know whether he was cheating in our favor most of the time.

    I would much rather have had every roll thrown in the open and he allow us to react accordingly. We weren't playing our adventure, we were playing the one he had pre-scripted in his head because he had already determined certain outcomes would be successful regardless of what the dice rolled.

    Complete loss of agency.

  6. J Zoshak - 2018-12-11

    +Marty Walser
    Sorry, this gets long.

    First of all I need to state that this example being an AL game puts me in uncomfortable territory. I don't run or play in organized RPG play -- I made that decision four years ago and I've stuck by it since. So I don't feel qualified or entitled to comment on dungeon master style in AL.

    That said, if I were running a campaign alongside co-dungeon masters, I would make sure our position on fudging was unified, and if that were not possible, I would not fudge, because I agree that is the baseline state.

    Similarly, if I were running a one-shot for experienced players I would likely never see again, I would ask about their opinions on fudging and resolve to match them with my actions before proceeding.

    Finally, however, I keenly understand the difficulty inherent in delivering a complete and fulfilling scripted experience in a time slot too short to accommodate it, for the characters of strangers who might have invested months if not years of time and money in their development, and I won't excoriate a fellow dungeon master for taking liberties in an effort to accomplish said.

    You can derive from that what you will.

    there were a few times where I am almost certain a die roll was fudged in our favor

    I'm honestly sorry this experience was ruined for you, Marty, but to be clear it wasn't ruined by fudging dice -- an act of which you appear to have no actual evidence -- but by an absence of trust between you and the dungeon master, which is exactly my point.

    I similarly wouldn't last three sessions at your table, because I'd have no trust in your ability to tell a compelling story, bound as you would be by the numbers showing on your dice.

    We weren't playing our adventure, we were playing the one he had pre-scripted in his head

    I think this assessment of your dungeon master is ludicrously unfair, but even if we allow it to stand, in your preferred version of events, you /still/ aren't playing "your" adventure, you're playing the adventure randomly generated by die results.

    As soon as a die is rolled, player agency no longer exists. Probability is the only thing that matters. If your fighter has a painstakingly earned 20 STR, and you roll a 1, neither your character design nor your intent are any longer relevant.

    It's all an illusion. It's just a matter of which pretty colors you prefer.

    Jesper Bisgaard - 2018-12-12

    +Marty Walser I get your point, but if a group is having fun, regardless of knowing about fudging or not, then isn't that the most important factor? If the group is bored as a consequence of your modifications to the dice rolls then ofc. you should change the way you run the game.
    I have always been honest about the game I play and I do on occasions mod the dice roll. My big issue with this discussion is the fact that both sides want to dictate whats the "right" way to play. Which I must say, none of the sides have the right to do. Each group of rpg games adhere to their own style of play and we can argue why our group prefers one style over the other but not which style is fun to play in general.
    I have played both styles and enjoyed them both, for different reasons.

  7. Brian Ashford - 2018-10-10

    I haven't watched either video yet. Is Matt Coleville on the side of "If fudging the dice makes your story better, absolutely fudge those dice, but only occasionally"?

    Because that's the usual line, and I couldn't disagree more.

    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear) - 2018-10-10

    +Brian Ashford Partly yes. He has another point that says that in summary says "the dice are too random at times and therefore bad arbiters for the story."

    That's probably an imperfect summary but was what I most strongly disagreed with. The dice are part of the game mechanics that everyone at the table has agree upon.

    I also think he does not consider the trust factor. I don't like a DM lying to me, and I don't like to lie to my players. If a specific outcome is desired, don't roll.

    Brian Ashford - 2018-10-10

    Agreed 100%. If your dice aren't working for you, use a different system. Also if you know the GM is going to prioritise the narrative, even just a little, the game losses some of its dynamic nature and you will lose some of the unique nature of RPGs.

    TDW_ Tudy - 2018-10-11

    #NoFudging. All combat dice in the open. There are better ways to help the PCs not die, if you really really feel you should help them - but this shouldnt even be a thing if you are running hooks, not plots.


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