Sunday, 1 June 2014

More on Fudging: Point the Gun, Even When it is Pointless

Mock26 wrote a post on Dragonsfoot ( which I have reproduced below. In my version, I have broken the wall of text into paragraphs, but you are welcome to read the original if you think that I have changed anything salient.

DM is running a campaign with a long story arc (say, a group is going to Mordor to destroy a magical ring). One of the problems to overcome is for the group to discover where Morder is, because it is only a rumored land far to the North.

The DM plans the campaign and decides that one evil NPC knows where there is a map to Mordor. The group tracks down this guy and confronts him. The NPC, however, is going to try and resist and plans on actually trying to get away. But, if he cannot get away and takes a certain amount of damage he would surrender and reveal the information.

They all meet and the NPC starts to talk, trying to buy time so he can escape. But, the group wants nothing to do with this and right off the bat the PCs attack, before even speaking to the guy. They win initiative and the two fighters both roll critical hits, both roll near maximum damage and right away the NPC is at just above half his hit points. The mage then launches a lightning bolt and rolls 5s and 6s on all his dice. The NPC fails his saving throw and is suddenly at -15 hit points.

Well, the information was not written down and was to be relayed orally. So, the DM ignores the damage and puts the gut at 1 hit point and has him fall down to his knees and he then blurps out the information.

The next round the DM wins initiative and has the guy get up and feebly try to attack one of the fighters. The fighters roll their attacks, the DM rules they both hit (even though on actually missed, but adds in a +4 to hit because the guy is so weak) and he says the guy falls down dead. He then forestalls the cleric and the priest and says that they did not lose the spells they had been planning to cast.

Now, setting aside that the DM could have set up the situation a lot better, how is his fudging in this situation bad? The end result was still the same, the group managed to defeat their opponent (and the DM actually did have a possible escape plan set up but never got the chance to use it), it was just extended by one round.

No one took any "extra" damage from the extra round. Neither of the spell casters used up any additional spells during the "extra" round. And they got the information that they would have gained by defeating him.

Use your reasoning to prove that fudging is wrong.

And by proving that fudging is wrong, I mean just the actual fudging part. The set up of the scenario, which can be chalked up to mistakes by the DM, is not fudging. That is bad/poor/inexperienced DMing.

As for the actions of the Players, that, too, has nothing to do with the fudging. It was just a quirk of the dice.

And, Yes, the DM should have had the information written down and then the group could have found it on his dead body or if they searched him when he was captured, but the DM messed up. The entire encounter could have been set up better, but it was not. And the DM did not realize this until the guy dropped dead. So, he fudged the dice.

By doing so he did not have to come up with another scenario (and possibly a new NPC) to reveal the information that the group was searching for. He salvaged what ended up being bad planning made worse by lucky dice rolling.

Again, how is his fudging bad? (And remember to only talk about the fudging!)

In a like vein, Ravendas points to DM of the Rings as a shorter version of the same set up (

Mock26 clarifies his intent (, and again I am breaking this down into paragraphs for clarity:

It is really quite simple, not sure why you cannot see it. The reason I asked that you not address the situation is because that is not the issue.

The issue is you claim that fudging the dice is wrong. If you address the point that it is bad for the DM to have the rest of the campaign hinge upon this one piece of information, that has nothing to do with fudging being bad. It has to do with the DM making a bad decision.

If you address the point that the information could only be given orally, that has nothing to do with fudging being bad. It has to do with the DM making a bad decision.

While those bad decisions by the DM led to the DM fudging the dice those bad decisions have nothing to do with whether or not fudging is bad.

You can say, "With my vast knowledge of the stories in Appendix N I would have handled it this way," but that again addresses the issue of the DM making a bad decision. It does not address the issue of why fudging is bad.

You can say, "If the DM had done this and this and that then there would be no need for him to fudge." While that is true it again only addressed the DM making bad decisions. It has nothing to do with why fudging is bad.

That is why I asked that you not reference the situation, because the situation, while it led to the DM having to fudge the dice, has absolutely no bearing on whether or not fudging is inherently bad.

So.  That’s a lot of reading to get through before I respond, I know.  But bear with me.

The easiest response is to point out that in this post (, Mock26 says that

When done right, though, the Players never know that the dice were fudged, so they did in fact succeed. Or rather, they have the perception of having succeeded and for a game like D&D that is pretty much the same thing.

And how can it be a net loss in fun if the group is unaware of the fudging?

As for looking them in and telling them that you never fudge a die roll, do not tell them that. My Players know that on occasion I may fudge a die roll or two to enhance the game and make it more fun for them. And you know what? They still somehow manage to enjoy playing the game. In fact, they enjoy it so much that they keep coming back to sit down "at the table" and let me be the Dungeon Master for their game. Do they know when I occasionally fudge the dice? I do not know, because it almost never comes up. But, I do not believe so. On occasion they have asked me if a particular situation involved me fudging the dice and every single time I have been able to truthfully look them in the eye and say, "No," because they have never asked me about a situation when I did in fact fudge the dice. And if they did ask about a particular situation where I did in fact fudge the dice I would still look them in the eye and say, "No." And I would not consider it a lie, because I see the DM as primarily being a storyteller who uses the rules, the dice, and his judgment to tell a story to entertain the Players, and in that situation that "lie" would simply be part of the story.

So the idea that fudging is harmful if detected is already pretty well established, even by the person asking the question.

Do they know when I occasionally fudge the dice?... On occasion they have asked me….And if they did ask about a particular situation where I did in fact fudge the dice I would still look them in the eye and say, "No."

We also have a confirmation of the basic claim about how this can erode the relationship between players and GM, and about whether that relationship is on a firm foundation or not:

And I would not consider it a lie, because I see the DM as primarily being a storyteller who uses the rules, the dice, and his judgment to tell a story to entertain the Players, and in that situation that "lie" would simply be part of the story.

This is obviously not the position of everyone who advocates fudging.

Okay, so here’s the situation.  The PCs are heading to Mordor to destroy a magical ring, but they don’t know where Mordor is.  It is only a rumoured land far to the North, where they are from. The GM decides that one evil NPC knows where there is a map to Mordor, but the PCs kill the guy. What then?  Should the GM fudge to allow the NPC to blurt out the map’s location, or should the GM shrug and go with it?

Apart from the (im)plausibility of the NPC just “blurping” out where the map is, and then attacking ineffectively and dying, let us point out the obvious:  The PCs simply attack the NPC without thought to the consequences.  That they cannot kill the guy and get the information should have made the encounter interesting; these players seem pretty confident that they can do whatever they feel like, and the information is going to get to them anyway. And they are right.

This is different than in the “DM of the Rings” version, where “Legolas” doesn’t know who he is shooting (Gollum).  Nonetheless, the outcome is the same – Gollum knows a secret way into Mordor that, if killed, Frodo and Sam cannot later use.

Why does Legolas shoot the unknown creature on the river? Why are the PCs in Mock26’s example not worried about accidentally killing their target?

Because there are no consequences for this behaviour, while not killing every foe has consequences. By fudging in this instance, the GM not only reinforces the “kill it on sight” mentality of the players, but by doing so he increases the chance of feeling the need to fudge again in future situations where the players are confident that the GM will make sure needed information falls into their hands no matter what they do.

The problem is not that the situation is badly thought out. The problem is not that the information is not written down.  The problem is that the players, never having experienced the consequences of thinking things through before acting, do not think things through before acting.  And why do they not need to think things through? Because experience tells them they will get the information anyway.

The players are not at fault in any way.  Their characters live in a milieu where rashness is rewarded (or at least not punished), and without some reason to avoid rash behaviour, the easiest and safest way to deal with a threat (or potential threat) is immediately and finally.  Hear something on the river?  Dude, the longer you wait, the more the chance that you are attacked by it. 

Interesting choices (see, etc.) require that the “right” answer isn’t obvious.  By fudging, this GM is making the “right” answer obvious, even if it is not what he wants the answer to be.

The important thing to remember is that the players here are acting rationally: their characters live in a world in which things try to kill them on a regular basis, and those things don’t always announce themselves more than “You hear something on the river”.  There is no reason not to attack, and not to attack to kill.  Unless, of course, the occasional negative consequences are not fudged away.

The GM did not salvage bad planning made worse by lucky dice rolling. There was nothing necessarily wrong with his plan. There was nothing wrong with the dice. The only thing that was wrong was the willingness of the players to use lethal force. The GM didn’t salvage that; he reinforced it.  And, had he not reinforced it earlier, he might not have had to worry about it now.

It will later in the thread be suggested that, had the GM not fudged, he would have had to found some other way to convey the information, or would not have been able to continue with the adventure.  This last may be true if the adventure was such a narrow railroad that nothing existed outside the tracks, but otherwise there is no reason whatsoever for the adventure not to continue.  The players have made things harder for themselves.  It is they, not the GM, who needs to find some other way to get this information into their hands.

The wise GM does not fudge the result; rather, he makes certain that the context (that the PCs slew their potential informant, and deprived themselves of information thereby) so that the players think twice the next time.  Or the time after that.  Or however many times it takes.

Because we can be certain in this case that fudging removes consequence.  And we can be certain that, with negative consequences removed, the players not taking chances is the safest, most rational course available to them.  Fudging begets more situations where fudging is needed.

When anti-fudgers imply that GMs don’t learn from fudging, this is what they mean. Rather than poor planning or dice rolls, what occurs is the obvious consequence of the type (not style) of game that the GM in question is running.  And Mock26 clearly does not see the obvious relationship between fudging away consequences and the players not taking those consequences into consideration.  

Not only has the GM set himself up for more of the same, but in selecting this as a good example of why fudging can be positive (or needed), the individual in question demonstrates that he hasn’t learned from his previous experiences.

But he might look you in the eye and tell you he has.  And he might not consider it a lie.


  1. If Gollum was shot dead by Legolas, there would have been another way for Frodo and Sam to find Mordor. Fudging may seem like a quick fix for the DM but it limits the gaming experience. It's better to roll with the die. The results provide more opportunity for creative game play.

    1. Yes.

      And, more to the point, if you ask why there is an assumption that the GM who fudges to "correct a mistake" doesn't learn from his mistakes, the answer is right here. It is because of posts like Mock26's, where he is clearly unaware that the fudging reinforces the "mistake".