Friday, 30 May 2014

Even More on Fudging: Honest Answers

Nothing to do with fudging
"Good" and "bad" are not objective terms, but one can determine rationally whether or not something is "good" or "bad" if there is some particular objective one is trying to meet.  A watermelon might be good if I am trying to find something to eat that will cool me down on a hot day.  That same watermelon is bad if I am trying to find something to use as a replacement for a flat tire.  You cannot counter an argument that watermelons make poor car tires by pointing out that you like to eat watermelons.

Likewise "good" and "bad" are not black and white.  A lousy spare tire may get me to the mechanic; it may be good enough for that limited purpose, even if it is a bad tire overall, but that doesn't make it good.  You cannot counter an argument that you should probably get a better spare by pointing out that you made it through by the skin of your teeth this time.

Going back to my original thesis, I make two broad assertions:  (1) playing with fudging is a difference in kind (not merely style) from playing without fudging, and (2) fudging is not a good solution to the problems that pro-fudging people usually claim it to solve.  That is not to say that there is never a reason that you should fudge; for example, I agree that Yora [on Dragonsfoot] should continue to fudge if that is fundamentally important to his enjoyment of the game.  

Also nothing to do with fudging
Nor is examining "best practices" a tyranny.  Examining ways to make the game better in general is only of interest to those who want to make their game better.  Improving the game might mean not fudging, but it might also mean fudging, if a better rational case can be built for it.

But any case that we build, either pro- or anti- fudging is going to have to take into account the salient fact that, by and large even the pro-fudging people agree that if the players are aware of the GM's fudging it detracts from the game.  Yes, I know that there are a few people who would contest that, but if you go back through the thread [on Dragonsfoot], you will find pro-fudgers repeatedly claiming that it is important that the players not know you are fudging.

We begin with an agreement that harm is done, or potentially done.  This raises obvious questions:  (1) Do we need to do this harm?  (2) What are we hoping to accomplish by doing this potentially harmful thing?  (3) Are there ways of accomplishing the same without causing harm, or reducing the harm cause[d]?  

If we are seeking to drive nails and have a hammer and a screwdriver, we generally do not use the screwdriver merely because it is there.  We seek the best tool for the job.  We only use the screwdriver if no hammer is available.  Improvement, in this case, would probably mean buying a hammer, or using screws instead of nails.

The back-and-forth in these arguments also raises an additional question:  (4) Are we being entirely honest in our motives for fudging?  Saying "I find the alternative boring" seems to me an honest answer.  Attempting to come up with ever-more elaborate scenarios where a screwdriver is better at pounding nails than a hammer suggests otherwise....especially when the more elaborate scenarios arise when, again and again, the hammer is shown to work just as well or better [in the previous scenarios], while the potential harm of using the screwdriver still casts its lingering shadow.

The foregoing, of course only takes into account the potential harm that we (nearly) all agree exists with fudging.  It doesn't even begin to examine other, less obvious, forms of potential harm, such as the tendency to flatline the game experience to the default expectations of the GM (i.e., if low troll hp are always bumped up, the variation in trolls is reduced to a flatter curve).

Yes, I am well aware that arguments are made about how a person does not fudge all the time, and so attempts to ameliorate the risk or degree of harm done by fudging.  There are many statements to that effect in this thread alone.  That some of those same people then go on to ask why fudging is bad......Are you honestly asking what the harm is with fudging while explaining how you attempt to mitigate that harm?  Either you are disingenuous in the question, and actually understand the problems involved, or you do not understand the problems involved, and therefore are probably less effective in resolving them than you think.  You cannot have it both ways.

Still nothing to do with fudging.  Have you played through FT 1: Creeping Beauties of the Wood yet?
The difference between selecting the hit points for a troll, or rolling the hit points and then fudging the result in-play is that I can say to my players, "I select the hit points for some monsters when it seems to make sense within the context of the game milieu.  For example, I selected the hit points for that troll." and no harm is done to the game.  No feelings are hurt.  Creatures in the game milieu may attempt to trick the PCs, and not everything will always be what it seems, but the players can trust that I am not out to trick them.  

If you happen to roll low hit points for that troll, and are then honest with your players about fudging the roll to increase the troll's hit points, there is no difference between what you are doing and what I am doing, provided that your players knowing about your fudging does not harm your game.  Otherwise, there is the difference:  My players can trust me to fairly arbitrate their experience with the game, and their faith is well founded.  Your players may also trust you, but the foundation of their faith is the level of your skill to successfully lie to them.

(Cross-posted from Dragonsfoot; slightly modified [in brackets] for clarity.  Also, I added pictures.)


  1. Fudging dice rolls is weird. If there are unacceptable possibilities then don't roll, pick a number (or adjust roll so unacceptable results are not possible). Dice are specifically for RANDOMNESS. Fudging dice rolls is analogous to bulimia.

    By definition fudging doesn't have any place in old-school games. Part of (my) OS definition is randomness, bad stuff happens. But for something like heroic style pathfinder it is needed. Common for me is to double or quadruple big bad's hitpoints after players do enough damage to kill them in the first round. Cause it wouldn't be fun if every battle (esp against the big enemy) was a pushover. Challenge is fun. And Pathfinder is such a broken exponential power system DMs get caught pants down and need to fudge like that *sometimes*.

  2. "if the players are aware of the GM's fudging it detracts from the game." I couldn't agree more. I was talking to my DM after a session and he revealed to me that the only reason we survived was that he fudged a bunch of rolls. It completely pissed me off and put a taint on the game. If you don't want to TPK us then don't design a session were there is a real possibility of TPK.

    And as you say, if you have an idea for how many HP Your Troll should have (Min or Max) then why are you rolling? If it's too low you fudge if it's too high you fudge. Just give the troll the HP you want and don't leave it to "chance."

  3. It's weird that so much fudging is going on with Pathfinder DMs. It really does seem common in that culture (with, of course, some valiant holdouts that are vehemently opposed to it). At the same time, on the player's side, every rule is measured carefully and charop abounds. Hours are spent perusing optional classes in extra books and discussing the best feats to pick and what tiers classes are. If they only knew that they're only boxing against their own shadow since so many GMs change hitpoints on the fly or even change or misrepresent die rolls.