This guest post by TT forum moderator and veteran GM Patrick Benson (AKA VV_GM) comes at the topic of fudging die rolls from a new angle, with solid results. Thanks, Patrick!
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The topic of fudging die rolls seems to be one of those hot button issues that bring about heated debate amongst gamers. Why is that? Is it really that big of an issue whether or not a GM fudges a die roll?

It is not as if someone will be physically harmed as a result of the GM’s decision to ignore the rules and go against the roll. On the other hand, choosing not to fudge die rolls does not mean that the players and GM are mindless slaves to the system either. To fudge or not to fudge is just a decision as to what tactics a GM should use. Yet this relatively minor point seems to unleash ferocious attitudes amongst some gamers.

Perhaps the issue is not with fudging die rolls itself, but with what fudging die rolls implies about what is actually happening in the game. Whether or not you fudge die rolls is an indicator of what you are trying to accomplish at the table. Are you playing a game, or are you playing a sport?

Obviously all RPGs are games, but for the purpose of this article we are focusing on the mental attitude that a player or GM is bringing to the table. First we need to define what a game is and what a sport is:

Game: An activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime.

Sport: An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively. (For our purposes we will drop the “physical exertion” part from the definition of a sport.)

Going by the definitions given above a person who views an RPG as a game can easily justify fudging dice rolls if it adds to the entertainment value that the RPG is providing him or her. The rules and the system are merely methods that are used to provide the entertainment they seek. A roll of the dice or a rule that conflicts with this goal should be ignored so that the game may be as entertaining as possible.

Yet if the person views the RPG as a sport he or she has a very good reason to oppose the fudging of die rolls or the ignoring of a rule. The sport needs the rules to be observed to maintain the challenge and competitive factor that the person playing a sport desires. A player or GM cannot test his or her skills against the system and the other members of the group without the fair and level playing field that the rules and rolls provide.

Regardless of what side you are on in how you play RPGs, it will benefit you to know what the other members of your group are playing when they sit down at the table. The person playing a game may not enjoy a night of rolling dice and crunching numbers while testing strategies and tactics. The person playing a sport won’t be satisfied with waving away the rules and decisions made based on personal interpretation of the scene instead of the established framework of the system.

As both a GM and a player you need to understand the motivations of others in your group. You don’t have to agree with them, but you need to recognize that they exist and that they are valid to the person that holds them. If all of the members of your group are on the same side then you can begin to tweak your game to achieve the maximum effect that all of you are striving for. If there are conflicting reasons amongst players as to why they play RPGs then take a moment to work out the details of how you will handle those conflicts. Perhaps combat will be done by the book, but social situations will be handled with a focus more on role-playing than on stats and rules.

In the end it doesn’t matter if you are playing a game or a sport, but that you work out the best approach that allows everyone to play at the same table.
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Thanks, Patrick!

For more TT discussion on the topic of fudging rolls, see Fudging Die Rolls, a blog post from 2005 that provoked a heated conversation, and the now-closed forum thread Fudging revisited.

What do you think of Patrick’s analogy?