Recently on Facebook, I came across this post by Frank Mentzer, which reflects upon this blog post. While the blog post is too long to quote in full, both are worth reading, and I suggest that you do. Clearly, Frank Mentzer believes that a GM can and should fudge the dice, and can run a "player character" in the same milieu in which he is GMing.
Frank writes "Some good points are always made, but every one of these commentaries incorrectly presumes one vital point: Yes, some DMs ARE good enough to avoid the negatives that are described. Some DMs can and DO ignore die rolls (for the right reasons), and some can and do play a character (for the right reasons)."
I don't think that any one of those commentaries (and I assume he would include mine as well, as we have butted heads before) assumes that some GMs are not good enough to get away with it, merely that their game would be better if they did not.
The problem here is that, while Frank asserts that some DMs are good enough to avoid the negatives described, he offers no practical solution to those negatives. Nor, in fact, does he offer any evidence to support that claim. Nor does he answer the obvious logical problems with a position that a person with full knowledge of a situation has when attempting to play from a position wherein gaining knowledge of the situation is a primary goal. This is not dissimilar to the player who wants to read the module before playing, because, yes, some players ARE good enough to avoid the negatives of doing so. In fact, the problem is exactly the same: the person, while playing the dissociated game, pretends to play the associated game.
(Add to that the problem of fudging die rolls, and decided aforehand that you want certain outcomes to occur, and the question begins to arise quite quickly whether or not the "DM PC" is especially favoured or the only one that the GM feels uncomfortable fudging for. Either the GM fudges for his PC, or does not, at points where fudging only benefits that PC. That silence on what occurs in these cases is all that one hears is not surprising.)
What we get continually are comments like "Your inexperience is showing; a good game master can have both. (Sorry you've never seen a game that good.)", which are an attempt to argue by authority rather than from a reasoned perspective, and "Sorry, I don't exist to obey dice." which is a straw man argument. If you decide when to to roll the dice, what dice to roll, and what the various outcomes will mean, following the results of the dice doesn't mean that you "exist to obey dice" but that you have knowingly added a random element. If you are unable to then use that random element, which you knowingly added, and still have a fun game, perhaps you shouldn't be so certain that your definition of a "good game master" is as firm as you would like to believe. Or, maybe, when you roll the dice, you don't do it knowingly, but that still doesn't make you a good GM.
The point is not that Frank Mentzer is a bad GM. The point is that he is making a lousy counter-argument. Indeed, his counter-argument is meaningless in terms of actually countering the argument he presents it in opposition to.
I am no where near as absolute in my thinking as the writer of the blog post. It may be true that "some DMs ARE good enough to avoid the negatives that are described." I, for one, tend to believe that some GMs are not skilled enough to make a game work without fudging dice, and if you are one of these, then you should fudge...because that really is the best you can do. I also believe that, so long as you can get a single player, you should run whatever game you want however you want. But neither one is an indicator of quality.
The closest we get to a reasonable position is "From this POV, if you follow the rules and the dice produce an encounter that will wipe out the entire party, then you wipe 'em out. That's the rules of the game. But the game is supposed to be Fun, and that's not. So I fudge it."
I wonder what game Frank is playing where rolling an encounter automatically wipes out the entire party. I have never played it. In fact, I have never played, on either side of the screen, an RPG where such a thing was remotely true. I can just imagine the response to the GM who says "Sorry, guys, I rolled an encounter with 200 orcs. You all died." without any input from the players as to how they handle the encounter.
If you have ever played in such a game, I am fairly certain that the problem is not that the GM didn't fudge his die rolls.
The line of thinking which makes "choosing to roll the dice and then following the results" is "existing to obey the dice" is actually similar to writing a scenario, and then determining that following your dungeon notes makes you a slave to the written word.
Likewise, in the comments, some have likened this to relegating the GM to a computer, which is utter nonsense. In a computer game, the computer can only respond to players following pre-programmed responses. If 200 orcs are encountered, and that encounter can only be responded to by fighting, then, sure, there is a problem. But the problem is not in the 200 orcs, but in the way the computer can respond to the choices of the players in reaction to the encounter presented. IOW, fudging the die rolls to eliminate encounters that you previously allowed on the encounter table because you cannot imagine how the players can respond to them without a TPK, and because you cannot respond to the ideas of the players in a way that keeps the game moving, you might want to reconsider whether the non-fudger or the fudger is responding more like a computer.
Which is not to say that a TPK is a "bad" or "unfun" outcome, even when it is the result of a random encounter. I would have a long, hard think before I determined that an encounter that wipes out the party is not "Fun", and I would have a long, hard think before I determined that "Fun" was the be-all and end-all of all game play. The limits we impose on our failures are also, perforce, limitations imposed on our successes.
"Some DMs can and DO ignore die rolls (for the right reasons), and some can and do play a character (for the right reasons)."
I look forward to the post that explains exactly what these right reasons are, and why fudging the dice and trying to run a PC ('cause no one is arguing that the GM cannot run an NPC) are the best solutions to whatever problems these reasons arise from. But I expect that I shall not be reading such a post any time soon. It is easy to explain the problems caused by fudging dice; I have yet to read anything that supplies a benefit to fudging dice that does not break apart on even surface examination.
"[E]very one of these commentaries incorrectly presumes one vital point: Yes, some DMs ARE good enough to avoid the negatives that are described."
No. Every one of these commentaries correctly presumes one vital point: While some GMs may be good enough to avoid the negatives that are described, the odds are good that you are fooling yourself if you think that you are one of them, and the odds are even better that it would still improve your game if you didn't fudge or play DM PCs, even if you ARE that good.