Thursday, 25 February 2010

Fudge You

There are two attitudes towards dice which I, like, totally get:

1. Dice are sacrosanct. Whatever they say goes. You roll the bones and whatever comes up comes up and cannot be changed.

2. You don't use dice. Either the game is contrived so as you don't have to use them (Amber DRPG), or you just treat the exercise as one of cooperative storytelling - a group of friends sitting around and taking it in turns to say "what happens next". (Two old friends and I did this once in Salamanca's Plaza Mayor for an entire day, taking it in turns to say one word at a time. It's more fun than it sounds, trust me.)

There's a third attitude towards dice which I think is like, totally stupid:

3. You follow the form of dice rolling, and generally speaking accept the results, but fudge them when it doesn't suit. This never made any sense to me. If "story" is so important than you feel the need to fudge dice rolls to further it, then you really may as well just stop rolling the dice entirely and adopt attitude 2, above. (Which is fine, by the way.) On the other hand, if you actually want to leave what happens in the game up to the gods of randomness and fate, you really don't have any business meddling in the decisions of those gods and sullying the purity of the randomness, thereby destroying the suspense and excitement which playing a game provides.



  1. I know what you are saying even though I think it's quite a hardline stance to take.

    I like a stance which is similar to your third approach (the one you dislike) whereby dice scores are "soft" - roll the dice, if it looks good it is good but the difference between, say, a 14 and a 16 is totally arbitrary.

    I often do this when I want to shortcut the rules in a game and just make up a ruling based on a single die roll. There's no guarantee that a 12 on this roll will match the 12 on the previous one.

  2. While I generally feel that if you don't want a random result, you shouldn't throw the dice, I think it's perfectly legit to override the dice if they cough up a nonsensical result. It's not really different from applying a modifier to the roll, except you wait to see whether you even need to figure it out. With purely binary results it's hard to see why you'd bother to roll if you're only going to accept one of the possibilities, but the more possible results the easier it is to imagine having a good reason to say roll, but exclude that possibility, and this other one. To me that's just part of being a good GM.

  3. It's just a case of constructing suitably balanced conditional probabilities, Noisms. Usually you're happy with randomness, but occasionally you need to tip things in favour of your long-term semi-deterministic model.

    I rarely fudge dice, but sometimes I do for a lot of reasons, and they're not all about "story". For example, if the party have really been looking forward to the final battle with the big giant, and the first spell of the encounter puts the giant to sleep because it rolled a 1 on its save, I reroll, because I know the party will be disappointed by an easy battle. This isn't about your much-maligned "story", but about making the game fun.

    Equally, if I've done that and subsequently it looks like the party is going to be toasted, I moderate the giant's rolls a little because he should already be dead.

    Also sometimes I make a super-cool monster I really like, and hype the threat to scare the players (fear is a great way of enhancing the fun of the game), only to have them roll well and make the scary monster seem easy. In this situation I up my own rolls to make it hurt them some before it dies, to justify their fear.

    It's about effect as much as getting what you want. Particularly once the characters get raise dead/resurrection powers, or lots of money, so the main concern in the game is making it challenging for them.

  4. See, that would annoy me as a player. If you're not going to inform me in advance that a sleep spell won't work against giants via the rules (e.g. sleep has no effect on creatures larger than 4 HD) or campaign lore (e.g. learning from tales that giants are immune to sleep), then at least tell me you're going to arbitrarily deny it a chance when I announce I'm going to cast the spell. Otherwise you're just cheating.

  5. Definitely agreed. Either narrate what happens, or leave it up to chance. Rolling dice and then ignoring the result and going back to narrating what happens anyway is sort of a waste of time and/or dumb. :)

    I think anytime you'd think to fudge the dice to make the game "more fun" you should just narrate what happens. If you think that wouldn't go over well and the players wouldn't like it (eg. say it's not fair) then you definitely shouldn't fudging the dice.

  6. I don't do it often, but—for whatever reason—sometimes I don't know what I think a judgement should be until I roll the dice.

    And when I do do this, it is almost always a roll that I've improvised ad hoc rather than a by-the-book mechanic. When I'm just using the dice to aid my judgement process, I really don't see any issue with it.

  7. Hell, it makes perfect sense to me. The issue is that a lot of people don't have a clear-cut plan for this sort of thing. They're in the habit of just throwing dice all the time by default and all willy-nilly-like without really considering what those dice might read until after the fact.

    The trick is to have a little bit of a gameplan/coherent philosophy worked-out in advance and (most importantly) NOT forgetting it immediately once the actual game starts.

  8. well jamused and Stuart, to paraphrase a famous line, I know the mettle of my players, and they would be really pissed if after solving the puzzles, getting through the lower order defences and lining up against the Giant (or whatever) they knocked it out with a single spell. It's happened before. They kind of relish the challenge.

    I'm not sure how this conflicts with overriding the dice "if they cough up a nonsensical result". To me, struggling through several sessions of complex adventure to get to the big scary boss who is much tougher than you and knocking him down with a first level spell in the first round of combat is... nonsensical.

    But I cut my teeth on Rolemaster, a system which I suspect no DM alive has ever played without gaming the dice considerably. And I usually run systems where instant death is a regular event, so this kind of judgement, particularly about what will piss the players off most, is important.

  9. I don't fudge a roll if I've made it, as it does strike me as cheating, even if it's "for the players", but I'll only roll if there is some fun to be had in the uncertainty of the action, otherwise I won't bother and I'll just narrate the result.

    So I suppose I use a combination of 1 and 2.

  10. Its quite easy to put your players in a situation where they can't win. I run a lot of wfrp, and if you accidentally overwhelm them with enemies who keep rolling for maximum damage, then its kind of my fault as a dm. I'd never dice fudge in my favour, because that would mean I've failed to plan for something the players are going to do, and really should narrate it. But if I've accidentally overwhelmed the players then I shouldn't punish them for that.

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  12. One of the elements of old school gaming that always annoyed me as a player and a Gm was that randomly rolled results penalize the intelligent gamer.

    If a player comes up with an idea or solution for defeating a difficult opponent or puzzle and than rolls crappy why put in the effort. Just swing your weapon or make guesses until you roll well.

    For me, I use the first approach more often than not and almost always for my NPCs (good and evil). I use a variant on the third approach that is essentially an unseen or unmentioned bonus to the players die roll based on how creative, cool, sensible and well thought out his or her action is.

    My players are aware that I do this even if they don't know the exact number(s) I'm adding. Therefore, if they need a 5 and roll a 3 (just an example off the top of my head) but the idea for their move rocks, they're probably still going to hit because I've added a +2 for using their head.

  13. "To me, struggling through several sessions of complex adventure to get to the big scary boss who is much tougher than you and knocking him down with a first level spell in the first round of combat is... nonsensical."

    How so? I suppose I can see your point if the assumption is that tabletop RPGs should follow the logic of most genre fiction and videogames, where the prime antagonist (or "boss" enemy) has a special hard-to-kill status, either by virtue of author fiat or game coding.

    However, that's not the only option that can make sense. Remember that numerous people, often strong men in their prime, are killed by single freak punches in casual fistfights every year. Other healthy people manage to die as a result falling distances little greater than their height.

    Plus, there's the old adage that the ability of tabletop RPGs to surprise by producing results directly in conflict with the cliches of most other media is, in fact, a strength and not a weakness.

    And as much as we like to flatter ourselves as Game Masters, which scenario are the players *really* most likely to reminisce fondly about in the years to come: "Forced epic Hollwood 101 battle #72762" or "the time we critted the Evil Overlord to death on round one."? :)

  14. "To me, struggling through several sessions of complex adventure to get to the big scary boss who is much tougher than you and knocking him down with a first level spell in the first round of combat is... nonsensical."

    If there's something wrong with the mechanics of the game, I think you should change that. If you don't want the Ogre to go down from a Sleep spell, make Ogres immune to Sleep spells. Or make this one have some item / potion / maguffin that makes him immune to sleep spells.

    But the players should be able to figure that out in advance if they put in the effort, so they're not wasting their resources thinking they might be able to use Sleep on the Ogre when in reality they can't.

    If you didn't anticipate the players would use Sleep on the Ogre (or maybe some other less obvious spell) I think they should be rewarded for taking the risk and getting the lucky result.

  15. If players are looking forward to a tough battle against a 'boss' type monster, such as the giant mentioned, and they want to have fun by having a challenging fight...

    Why would they throw a save-or-die spell out in the first round?

    If they're trying to instant-kill the 'boss' then I say let them, if that's what the dice indicate. If they really want that tough battle, they shouldn't be throwing spells that could end it before it starts.

  16. I often fudge attack and damage rolls as a DM, purely because I tend to "design blind" when creating dungeons.

    I've been running games since 1993 and I *still* have no idea how wimpy or deadly a foe is going to be in gameplay!

    So I'll follow the dice most of the time, but if it's going to make the story more exciting or tense when we're in the heat of the moment, I'll fudge.

  17. I agree with Stuart and Will.

    Re: random encounters, I operate a policy of substitutes. If I get a duplicate encounter I will often put a cross next to that entry and bring in a monster off the sub's bench to fill in for that number if it comes up again.

  18. I am in total agreement with Noisms.

  19. Agree with Will. Had a thief, with a few helpful sneaking devices looking around a corner to see what monster was there. Against all odds, he failed and was spotted. That moment became immortalized as an accidental blurting of "Holy crap this troll has two heads!"

    Then there's the time when the burly fighter and every other character just couldn't force open a door. The wimpy mage somehow managed to kick it in, only to be immediately clubbed to death by the ogre waiting on the other side.

    Good times. Good times.

  20. I'm in the "occasional bump of +1-+2 for players, occasional antibump of -1 or -2 to enemies" camp, myself.

    The bump for players is because I don't disclose circumstantial modifiers beforehand because I don't want to fall into a precedent trap of "this previously provided a +2 and so I will now do it forever and always." It is an unrepentant "Oh that was clever" bump and, as such, it doesn't mesh well with the idea that things ought to be perfectly transparent the the players.

    I generally only bump monsters down when the distinction is relevant but not crucial - that is, if the ogre's second blow would hit but not kill a player who's having a bad night and whose enjoyment I know would be hindered by that second tag. It spares them an injury that would be irrelevant in the long term and hopefully makes their evening more enjoyable. Obviously you never mention this sort of thing.

    I avoid bump-ups for monsters because I already have enough trouble as a DM with my instinct as a writer - I don't want to make it worse by overruling the dice to the detriment of the other human beings at the table.

    I haven't yet had a major fight so anticlimatic that I felt the urge to call a reroll. I've had some that stung my narrative instincts but I endeavored to swallow that and enjoy the amusement of anticlimax.

    That said, in many games it would be quite hard to pre-emptively prepare for all of the anticlimax-success methods available to the party in order to give them "fair warning" like Stuart suggested - if I intended to do something like that, I'd do it in a game with a concrete "DM Fiat" system, something like Mutants and Masterminds, that lets me be honest with the players.

  21. My main comment on the comments here is that I simply don't understand the attitude that fudging the dice is somehow 'cheating'. As a referee, how can you 'cheat' in a game that has no winners or losers? Your job is to make sure the players have fun, and your decisions should be based on that, not some misguided belief that the die roll is sacrosanct.

    My $02.

  22. Anyonmous: Love it.

    Five Eyes: Bumping by +1 or +2 is something I can take an ecumenical approach towards. I'd prefer to leave it in the hands of the players though - like maybe every session each player gets the opportunity to bestow one +1 bonus and one +2 bonus on another player's roll if they like what they've done? That way it's transparent and as the DM you don't have to worry about precedent setting.

  23. Giving players (or monsters) a "bump" or penalty due to creative thinking or whatever is not anything like deciding what a die roll means, rolling the dice, and then doing something else.

  24. I think the key question here is not what power dice should have in general, but rather what's best for each particular set of players. Some players want that thrill of knowing that the dice stand, no matter what they roll; and some players want to throw everything they have at the boss and JUST scrape through by the skin of their teeth, no matter how effective their initial attacks are. A group's desires can even change from night to night and from case to case.

    So when I DM I try to do a little bit of everything. Sometimes I'll fudge, sometimes I'll go with the dice, sometimes I'll throw in a modifier or two... whatever seems most fun for my players at the time. If a character dies at the beginning of the night from sheer randomness rather than any decision a player made, I'll probably make it cripple them instead so they can keep playing. Gives them a handicap to play around ("oh no! my knee is crushed! how will we make it to xyz in time?") and saves my players from an activity they find tedious, character creation.

    Some players, of course, are really committed to character creation in the case of accidental death. If I were running for people like that? Guess the dice would probably stand, in that case.

  25. 1.
    I’ve never fudged a die.
    Take a look at this chart, it helped me with some of my GM:ing problems:
    (I didn’t make it!)

    I would GM some mixture of styles, often breadcrumbing my way into »Participationism«, sometimes just playing the world (which could sometimes be character driven »Story now«, or sometimes just a sandbox to explore. Which sometimes led to boredom).

    But I never fudged a roll. I sometimes did ye olde »whichever door the players open first will lead to the monster« trick, which I don’t think I would today. I don’t want to play an illusionist style with my friends.

    The one who wants the giant not to sleep or ups his rolls for »scary monsters«. How is that not for the sake of story? The tension of a fight is either the game mechanics (which you’ve sidestepped by fudging) or story.
    A GM who ups his own rolls or changes a player’s sleep spell from success to failure I would never ever trust.

    The one who wants to reward the cool ideas.
    If you think the player has an idea that really awes you, either just go with it without dice, or say »I’ll give you +2 for that« before you roll. The GM in the game I played in did that—said things like »oh, I like that idea, I’ll lower the difficulty to this-or-that« before the dice hit the table. Or he just went with it.
    Sometimes even with the lowered difficulty I would fail (we played WFRPG which is the whiffiest game of all time) but I still felt like the GM had explicitly acknowledged my cool idea, which felt good even though I didn’t get what I want. We did all rolls open.