Monday, 2 June 2014

Fudging & the Aleatory Element

"Lucky rolls!  I can't believe that he kept missing me!"
Some interesting counters to my arguments on Dragonsfoot

Apparently, my counters to Argument A do not counter Argument B, and my counters to Argument B do not counter Argument A.  

Therefore, my position is invalid.  

Also, because I only address the most common reasons given for fudging, and do not address every possible reason, my position is invalid.  

Likewise, an argument made to demonstrate that choosing not to fudge the dice is turned into imagining that the roll is “inherently special” and “fetishising the dice”…already answered of course by the context that the poster in question (Classicdnd) chooses to leave out.

Or an argument that the poster fails to see the difference between rolling a Find Traps check behind the screen, whether there is a trap or no, and abiding by the result if there is, and fudging the die roll.

On the other hand, I was very pleased to be pointed to this survey by Ulan Dhor. It is difficult to determine how many folks do not fudge, when things like adding house rules or altering a module are included in the poll, but if one assumes that the people who say they fudge in one case are largely the people who also fudge in other cases, then over 90% of the respondents do not engage in fudging.  That’s a hopeful sign, and suggests also that the majority of respondents have a good understanding of the problems inherent in the practice.

(While many may "fiddle with" the game, few fudge.)

EDIT:  As Predavolk points out here, the above numbers are more than a bit wrong, depending upon the number of respondents, which we do not know but can deduce is probably 36.  We know that Pred is wrong about his 92% as well, because 21 respondents is the highest number that agree they would alter a roll in any given instance (58.3%), and 19 the maximum that would alter a roll that is necessarily occurring during play rather than setup (wandering monster roll) (52.7%).  A good 38.8% are altering combat rolls.

(Including those who introduce house rules as "fudgers", for example, results in the skewed number Pred suggests.)

Whereas Ulan Dhor said that "This suggests to me that most people already stay away from fudging dice rolls. This suggests to me that the concerns about fudging are overstated. I think people already avoid the more egregious sort of fudging." the actual percentages in the survey, when looked at more closely (actual numbers rather than the rather misleading values posted by Ulan in the fudging thread), this cuts against my earlier optimism, which I leave in place, above, for the record.

Thanks, Pred, for the correction!

And still, of course, those assailing my position (with the partial exception of Spartakos) refuse to address these questions:  Do you tell your players that you fudge? When you fudge?  If not, why not?

"Whaaaa!?!  Why are you picking on me?!?"
For example, given the premise that the party fighter encounters a rust monster and beats it with a cudgel (not exactly thinking outside the box!) and brings it to within 1 hp of death on the third blow, why would the GM adjust the rust monster's hp secretly so that it finished off, rather than saying, "Well, it has only 1 hp left, and it can't really hurt you, so let's call it dead." I.e., why be secret about it?

In the above example, we are told that the fighter makes a cudgel by cutting a thick branch from a tree. How long did this take?  What did the rust monster do while the fighter was cutting through the branch?  Why didn't it run away when it became obvious that there was no meal coming, and it was getting beaten on the snout?

(In one game I ran, the party used the cudgel trick to instead beat a rust monster into submission, with the intent to use it as a weapon of their own.)

The rest of this post has nothing to do with whether you should or should not fudge, unless, like myself, you desire an aleatory element in your fantasy rpg.  If you do, I strongly recommend Dungeon Crawl Classics to you.

Folkways, by William Graham Sumner, 1906, p. 20:

There was an element in the most elementary experience which was irrational and defied all expedient methods. One might use the best known means with the greatest care, yet fail of the result. On the other hand, one might get a great result with no effort at all. One might also incur a calamity without any fault of his own. This was the aleatory element in life, the element of risk and loss, good or bad fortune. This element is never absent from the affairs of men.

I not only expect this aleatory element in a fantasy rpg, I have no interest in a fantasy rpg that fails to evoke it. IMHO, fantasy (novels, films, short stories, or games) is interesting specifically because it can evoke the more primitive, fundamental aspects of our minds....what lies below rationality....and then give it meaning within a framework that our rational minds can comprehend.

I expect a fantasy game to allow me to step outside modern modes of thinking, at least to some degree, and gain a wider appreciation not only of the rational process that created the game, but of the "mythic universe" as well. Likewise, I don't want a game that treats magic like technology; I want a game that treats magic like an extension of a universe that is rife with consciousness and will.

Anything less seems sterile to me.


  1. Fudging is about fear. Fear of what the dice can do to a game. Fear of losing control of it. I would posit that anyone arguing in favor of fudging has two lists. One is a list of things that can't happen. The other is a list of things that must happen. On the former, that item is almost always PC death. On the latter is PCs winning.

    It doesn't have to be this way. The players can lose, they can go to 0 HP (or whatever your game's equivalent is). Most unimaginative GMs think that means the end of the game. Sometimes, that's appropriate. The Funnel is one instance where handing out death mercilessly is fine. Climactic moments can be another another. But I often find that there are fare worse things you can do to characters when they lose than simply kill them.

    What's worse than death? Losing all of your gear, being tortured and disfigured in a permanent way, being captured. Revenge is a great motivation for players and, if they succeed, it creates a nice dramatic arc that they'll be talking about for a long time after the game does end. If they fail at exacting revenge, their death will sting that much more, and they'll be talking about what a bastard your villain was long after the game ends.

  2. Well, it should be pretty obvious that there are a few people on Dragonsfoot who would prefer not to address the topic honestly, and who would like to see the thread shut down. Nor is it unexpected.

    There are no conservation laws for identity; if someone feels a need to validate their game by claiming that it is the same in kind as a game where there is no fudging, that is their prerogative. If someone feels the need to "win" the argument so much that they will claim that they just can't grasp the difference between the GM fudging in secret and a player openly making use of a Luck-type system, that is also their prerogative.

    Cheating is born of low self esteem. The cheater tries to validate his life by "winning" at something, and if need be, he will cheat to achieve that. That goes for discussions as well as it does for anything else.

  3. Yes, Mock26, I am quoting you in the first two sentences of that last paragraph. You were jumping around on Dragonsfoot trying to get my attention, and I though you needed a little love.

    1. And yes, Ookla, you are right. I also thought that you saying cheating is born out of low self esteem was ironic. I was fairly sure, following web traffic, that most of the people reading the comment (at least this week) would know where it came from. Or, at least, you would.

      But, if you want to say I have very low self-esteem, who am I to argue? I'll accept your judgement that I am really just the humblest of guys. No real sense of self-importance at all. Actually....thanks!