Monday, 7 April 2014

Breaking Down the Fudge

Greg Barry writes:

Daniel-san... I will go back to the Lich example provided... If I randomly decide to roll for an encounter and the Lich comes up against a 3rd level troupe... You feel I should not reroll and let the lich slay the party ( I am nasty with monsters and those that think - will beat the party 50% of the time)... the other example I will make is an Item that they will need to move ion in the dungeon suffers fires damage ( and roll indicates its destroyed) should the game end because they can go no further
Now, letting a player fudge a roll involves less consequences and I will not allow that (I also enjoy a game of Toon and some of the best laughs come from a botched roll)
Also, if you are running a game and not telling a story, you are doing a poor job at Role Playing. I was in a marvel game at a con and the GM insisted that all players do a character pose at the table when they did a grand action... It was simple but it added so much to the role playing and drew some of the players out to really participate
A story do not have to have definite route in mind, and the story may not be what it appeared to be at the start of the play... in fact it may have transformed to a much different story then the ones the players set out on
90% of the time players do not know I have fudged a roll... the other 10% I actually announce that I fudge a roll and the players appreciate it because it means I did not wipe out the party in one roll most times...

So let's break it on down, shall we?

In paragraph #1, Greg describes a possible encounter with a lich and a 3rd level party.  I absolutely feel that the encounter should not be re-rolled, but the second half of the equation (and let the lich slay the party) does not follow.

Now, I cannot say what Greg would do, and I obviously cannot say what Frank would do, but I can tell you what I would do.  Having read the fiction that inspired the game, I know that, for example Gardiner Fox begins his Kothar stories with a lich encounter, and Kothar certainly could not beat the lich.  Without a question, the lich beats Kothar.  But Kothar is not killed, because the lich has a purpose.  And, if I was to have a lich wandering about the campaign milieu, I would know who he is and what he wants.  If I was for some reason winging it, and using generic wandering monster tables, my knowledge of Appendix N literature would come to the forefront, because it supplies many ways in which an encounter with an overwhelming force can be framed so that it does not result in a TPK or a hollow victory due to fudged dice.

The second example, "an Item that they will need to move ion in the dungeon suffers fires damage ( and roll indicates its destroyed) should the game end because they can go no further" suffers from different problems. First, it assumes a design in which the destruction of a single Item can halt all forward progress.  Second, it assumes that halting forward progress is a bad thing (if the PCs cannot move forward in the dungeon, in my game, they can do something else).  Finally, if you are in the habit of creating dungeons that Must Be Solved and that can Only Be Solved with a single Item, fudging so that the Item cannot be destroyed isn't helping anyone.  In fact, if the Item is destroyed in Dungeon #1, and maybe in Dungeon #3 as well, perhaps the players will take a little more care by Dungeon #4, and you will have some real tension about what happens with said Item.

If you keep fudging these rolls, that tension will never arise (or it will quickly evaporate when your players catch on).

Either way, though, the question remains:  Why are you rolling to determine if a result that you cannot live with comes to pass?  What is the purpose of the roll if only a success counts?  The answer is contained in the final paragraph:  "90% of the time players do not know I have fudged a roll."  The GM is attempting to create an illusion of impartiality, and he simultaneously believes that he succeeds in creating this illusion and that the players are appreciative that he is not impartial.

That may be the case, but I regard the assertion as one that should be taken with a large grain of salt.

Overall, I do not see either example as a case where the rolls should be fudged.  These are examples where the GM or players have the opportunity to "up their game".

Meeting a lich never automatically ends in a TPK, and even if combat ensues, the lich should have more than ample means to capture and/or control, to meet its own ends.  Only if the GM reduces each encounter to the shallowest possible outcome does a problem occur....and this is far from the "game that good" that Mr. Mentzer suggests includes fudging.

In the event of the single Item, now the players have a new problem to face - how to get past whatever barrier exists without that Item.  Even in a module that states "Only X can open this door", there is always a possibility of bypassing the door.  These adventures are not meant to stifle creative play, but rather to avoid rewarding a "Rinse, Spin, Repeat" cycle of using the same answers to problems encountered.  One need only read some of the early GenCon tournament reports to realize that creative play was intended to be rewarded (and, indeed, was rewarded).  At least one (G1) can be found in The Strategic Review.


Secondarily, we have the issue of Story.

Doing a character pose is not telling a story.  When Greg writes "A story do not have to have definite route in mind, and the story may not be what it appeared to be at the start of the play... in fact it may have transformed to a much different story then the ones the players set out on" I believe that he has a very different idea of "Story" than what is being discussed in this blog:

[I]f you running a Game, then you are not telling a Story.  The Players are not telling a Story.  Story is what happens in the space between the GM and the Players.  The GM reveals the setting or stage, if you will, and the Players strut about upon it.  The Story is what happens as the Players strut about and run up against the setting.  NPCs, Big Bosses, the Environment are setting.  Players send their PCs into the setting to tear things down, to change the view, to build new structures out of the existing pieces , or to hit their heads on the  Setting.  If you want certain things to happen in your game setting and you want the PCs to do it, you are not running a Game.  You are trying to write a short story, a novel, or an epic and are using the PCs as the protagonists and it is not fair to your Players.
Emphasis mine.

You will note that the blog poster agrees that Story occurs, but that it occurs not because of the orchestration of PC reaction to events, but because of the synthesis of the setting (including NPCs and their goals) and the PCs.

It is not the function of the GM to tell the players how to run their characters.  Gary Gygax talks about this in his Insidiae, and I quote here from pages 50-51:

It should be hammered home by now that the role of a game master differs significantly from that of a fiction author. The job of the game master does not involve revealing to the players the private thoughts or motivations of NPCs and monsters, nor will a good GM dictate what the players’ characters feel or how they ought to act – because he doesn’t know that. In general, a player should not be forced to explain his character’s actions, or to justify his actions to another player even if asked, unless the character’s normal demeanor has drastically changed, or the action threatens the entire party’s success or survival. Likewise, the denizens of a campaign world are known by their actions, their natures and private thoughts kept secret by the GM – unless learned by guile in play, ripped from them by magic or torture.
Also, no single antagonist or creature should become more important to the plot than the heroes. In other words, the game master should not make any NPC absolutely central to the unfolding story, because nothing controlled by the GM is more important than the development and advancement of the PCs through their interactive play. It is apparent, then, that the game master is far removed from being a “third person omniscient narrator”. Sure, he might be omniscient in regard to the details of his chosen milieu, but because he cannot know the future actions or thoughts of the PCs, he cannot be called a “story-teller” in the fullest sense.

I used this quote in a previous, recent blog post, but it bears repeating:  "It should be hammered home by now that the role of a game master differs significantly from that of a fiction author."  If you want to argue on the basis of authority, I see your Frank Mentzer and raise you Gary Gygax.

Now, if you go through all that Gary wrote, you will discover that, on the issue of fudging, he waffled.  There is never, on the other hand, a point where he suggested that it was a thing to do lightly.  Indeed, even the most "pro fudge" quotes from Mr. Gygax suggest that, for the most part, it is a bad idea.


  1. My players (all 1st level characters) ran into a lich at the last game session. I don't have a game report up. It was pretty funny. They survived the experience, although I doubt their underwear and small clothes did.

  2. You've got it exactly right! Well stated and laid out argument and I completely agree.

  3. I guess this makes rolling in front of the players more amicable when, if you do that, removes the option to fudge. Unless there is a roll where you can't reveal it to the players. However, I was wondering if there was a time where you did fudge a roll, and if so, could you explain why and what would the outcome have been if you hadn't.

    1. 2nd Edition AD&D strongly encouraged fudging, and I gave it a manly try. As I have said, I am always happy to expand my horizons. The outcome was, that while people still wanted to play, the game itself was the worst that I have ever run.

      A lot of people imagine that they can fudge their rolls and no one will be the wiser. In truth, even if the players don't catch on, victories are meaningless in the face of a game smoothed over by fudging. This is similar to what happened with 3e, once the community standard assumed that the PCs should be able to defeat anything that they encounter. The game goes from a textured landscape where the players need to think, and their choices matter, to one which is less so. I have no doubt that a good GM can still make it a game worth playing; I also have little doubt that it would be better if the fudging did not occur.

      A game with a fudging GM may have more vitality than a game with a non-fudging GM, if the first GM is much better than the second, but I don't think that there are many GMs whose games are actually improved by fudging. In other words, both GMs have a more vital game if they choose not to fudge, and the first GM in my example's game would be simply "more better" than the second GM's game in comparison to the fudged version.

      I do grant that there might be GMs out there who are so bad at all the other aspects of play that they cannot run a playable game without fudging. But I don't honestly think that they are ready to run a game, either, and would be more likely to improve if they tried it without fudging, so that they could understand the consequences of how they set up and run their game milieu.

    2. That was 2e in Toronto, I should say, rather than the 2e game I ran in Venice Beach, California, which pulled no punches, and was well received. The experience with fudging in Toronto resulted in a game so joyless that I almost quit gaming, and took a hiatus that lasted a couple of years. Luckily, 3e's release drew me back in. While that system has its own problems, it did lead me into actually studying the design of RPGs, and how to best get what I want out of them.

    3. Mr. Oliver, there were several times in my "Giants in the Earth" campaign where I fudged. One session, I had the party encounter a minion of the Great Dragon Menethesis. The NPC, whose name escapes me at the moment, was an improved auruk draconian from the D&D 4E Draconomicon." I had let the dice fall where they may in an earlier session and the PCs had, miraculously, killed off the strong (and willing to flee), but not overly powerful Menethesis. The NPC was trying to take from the party, some item that he thought could restore his late master. This encounter was not planned as a combat encounter, but the PCs noticed the NPC before he made his move and took the fight to him. Between the the time I had statted up the NPC and he had assaulted the Party, the Players had come up with an overlapping suite of powers that REALLY upped their defenses. This gave me about a 20% chance per combat roll to hit the PCs. I took to fudging about ever 3rd roll, hoping to roll a crit and really threaten the Party. It turned the encounter into a torrid slug fest. It made the whole evening boring.

      If I had not fudged and the NPC kept missing all of his attacks, I could have had him parley with the Party. They had had mutually beneficial dealing with the draconian before. The NPC could have exchanged favors for the item desired. He could have revealed the location of his late master's lair, for which I had secrets and plot ideas; secrets and ideas that could have enhanced the game. If I had not fudged a forced the illusion of a near even combat, I may have been more willing to think about other options. As it was, I forced a combat that was boring to me and my players and now I will never know what I could have done.

      If you are interested in the end of my "Giants in the Earth" campaign and the comment one of my players left, here is the URL:

      Gregory Guldensupp

  4. It's hard for me to read the arguments in favor of fudging as anything other than bad GMing. In the Lich scenario above, why would the Lich simply kill the players? He will absolutely paralyze them, knock them unconscious, use their bodies for rituals and experiments, and likely their souls too, but that's all a long process! Liches, after all, are not concerned with making haste with their plans.

    So in that scenario, If I rolled a Lich encounter, it would stick. The players could (foolishly) go to blows with it or try to escape. Should they lose (and they likely would), the first thing I would do is have the Lich trap their souls in Soul stones, effectively removing them from their bodies. Then the players could try to break out of their Soul Stones. Success means they now walk the earth as a spirit or ghost in search of a body. Hell, if they managed to break out fast enough they might even be able to recover their bodies.

    Again, losing an encounter doesn't have to mean dying.

  5. "It's hard for me to read the arguments in favor of fudging as anything other than bad GMing."

    Something we can agree on!

    In the originating thread on Facebook, I note that Frank Mentzer went from having a "game that good" to not considering D&D or other forms of fantasy role-playing to be games. As a follow up to a post that said that, if you are doing certain things Frank is doing, you are not playing a game. Which Frank apparently disagreed with when he wrote his initial comments, but seems to be agreeing with now.


    1. Yeah, that's called shifting the goal posts and is a pretty good indicator that the person arguing is either not presenting a coherent argument or they have lost and now want to change the conversation.

    2. "Shifting the goal posts" relies upon establishing a threshold of proof and then moving that threshold as evidence is supplied. That is not what is happening here.

      This might be ignoratio elenchi (an irrelevant statement made in refutation because the speaker doesn't understand rational argument) or, even more likely, a red herring (something that misleads or distracts from the relevant or important issue).

      In either event, yes, it shows the weakness of the argument presented.

  6. I can't help but notice how his examples all rely on false dilemma's and poor DM design (along with some level of rail-roading).


    Not surprising...but interesting.