Up until a few years ago, I’d never played with a GM who rolled all of his dice in the open. After a few sessions with one who did (Mark Serrahn, in his Banewarrens campaign), I was hooked — and I’ve made nearly all of my rolls in the open ever since.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach, as you might expect. Let’s dig into some of the pros and cons of rolling your dice in the open.
First we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages, then at ways to get the best of both worlds — and lastly, some advice on which approach might be best for you.
No fudging rolls allowed
Gets everyone involved
Adds drama to important rolls
Players know they’re getting a fair shake
As a player, nothing kills the drama of most RPGs for me than knowing that the GM fudged an important roll — any important roll. This is doubly true in games where the threat of PC death is part of the excitement (like D&D). And as a player, I get much more nervous and excited about the GM’s rolls when I can see them — and I know that she’ll be letting the dice fall as they may.
As a GM, even though rolling in the open takes away one of my tools to influence the game (fudging rolls), I love it. I generally find that the whole table watches key rolls, and I get to share in the drama of particularly good or bad results. Plus it lets the players know that while I’m going to try to deliver a fair game, I’m not going to cheat on rolls to do it.
I’ve also found all of the above to be even more important with a new group. The folks you’ve played with for years may know that if you say “I’m not going to fudge any rolls,” you mean it — even if you’re rolling behind the screen. But a new group won’t know that, so you have to show them.
No fudging rolls allowed
Players gain metagame knowledge quickly
Kills the drama for some players
Fudging rolls can be a pretty handy part of your GM’s toolkit, as it allows you to subtly — or not-so-subtly — guide the game in certain directions. PC gets killed by a lucky roll in a random encounter? Fudge the roll. Sounds like more fun if the big bad monster hears the PCs walking by its lair? Fudge the roll. There are lots of situations where this can be useful, and by rolling in the open you give up the ability to alter them.
When you’re rolling in the open, it’s easy for the players to figure out what kind of bonus monsters get to hit, how good the starship captain’s saving throws are and so forth. For some GMs — and some players — this can be a big deal: sometimes the drama hinges on not knowing what one’s enemies are capable of. For folks who are used to keeping player knowledge and character knowledge separate, it’s not a problem at all.
I’ve also found that rolling in the open reduces the level of drama for some players. For them, the drama comes in waiting to hear how I, as the GM, describe what happens — and not in watching the actual roll.
Splitting the Difference
In the intro, I mentioned that I roll nearly everything out in the open — the “nearly” is important, because it lets you sidestep some of the disadvantages to this approach. As a general rule, I roll all of my combat dice and saving throws in the open, as well as most skill checks and miscellaneous rolls. But if I don’t want the players to know something is about to happen, I’ll quietly roll behind the screen. The same goes for keeping, say, an NPC’s mental powers or keen hearing a secret from the players.
Which approach you use — rolling everything in the open, keeping all of your rolls a secret, or something in between — depends on your game, of course. If you’ve got several players who hate having the dice rolled in front of them, don’t do it. (You can always decide not to fudge rolls anyway — although I’ve found the temptation is much higher when I’m rolling behind the screen.) Similarly, if you don’t like the loss of control that comes from rolling in the open — whether due to keeping secrets or retaining the ability to fudge die rolls — don’t do it.
Rolling your dice in the open is also an approach that works better for some styles of game than others. It’s great for traditional D&D, with its focus on characters vs. the environment, but perhaps less appealing in a game with a strong narrative focus, where telling a good story is more important than impartiality. Give this some consideration before you decide how you want to handle your die rolls.
And if you’re on the fence, or if you’ve always used one approach but think another method sounds interesting, just give it a try! Let the players know what’s going to change before the session starts, and then sound everyone out about it afterwards (see “Getting Player Feedback” for some suggestions on this).
This is just my experience — your experience is probably different, maybe even wildly so! Do you roll your dice in the open? All of your dice, or just some of them? Do you love or hate this approach, either as a GM or as a player? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post in the comments.
Good essay. It squares with my experience almost exactly. (I roll all my dice in the open, except for the occasional roll that they shouldn’t see.) I do find that when the players see a die roll that you can still describe the result in a thrilling, compelling way, which seems to mitigate the loss of experience for those who live for the description sans roll.
I’m currently playing a D&D campaign, and the DM doesn’t use any screen, so all of his rolls are on the open. As a player, I think this adds some drama (specially to the fights, because the danger is there and it’s real. I think the DM enjoy that too.) However, sometimes I feel like the attention to the story is lost in the mechanics of the game.
When I DM, i take a combined approach: I roll all my dice behind the screen, but I leave the most important ones in the open. For example, in a combat I roll all the attacks, initiatives, etc behind the screen. But when the encounter gets to a critical point where a spellcaster tries a desperate spell, and the success of the whole encounter depends on the success of that spell, then I roll the salvation on the open. That way, everyone can jinx the roll and participate. And the result is a surprise, even for me.
Excellent. I get to be the voice of dissension. In essence, I vehemently disagree with every point. I’ll just cover the “advantages” first. These comments aren’t directed at any one individual.
No fudging rolls of allowed
Yes, for the GM who dislikes responsibility, this is an advantage. “I didn’t kill the player, the die roll did.” “Oh, the red dragon shows up just like the random encounter chart says.” “Darn the luck…the Big Bad made his save for the third time in a row. Too bad for you.”
I don’t get the mindset that fudging rolls is a bad thing. How is gently nudging the story, so that everyone can have a good time, bad? Mostly, I think it appeals to those who don’t want the burden of being responsible for their games. It’s much easier to just point and the dice and divest yourself of the results. You’ve spent hours or days crafting an interesting and challenging adventure with memorable NPCs…you really going to just leave it to fate to determine the outcome?
The comment was made that the “temptation” to fudge rolls is greater with rolls behind the screen. So? Again, why is this bad? If missing the secret door is so bad, then why have them roll in the first place?
Gets everyone involved
If getting people looking at the GM’s die roll is “getting them involved” then that game needs help.
Adds drama to important rolls
No it doesn’t. Another popular fallacy. Once that 1 comes up, there’s no drama. Nothing you say or do takes the players to a moment where they question the results. They, in essence, tune out everything from that point. They already know the result and you’ve lost them. This engenders a playstyle of totally focusing on the mechanics at the expense of drama. This is about as dramatic as playing russian roulette — it’s great until you lose.
You want to know what’s dramatic? Rolling the dice in that suspenseful moment, looking up at the eager group of players, waiting to hear you describe the results, not knowing if they live or die. Everyone is focused on your every word, waiting for the description. Time seems to stop for a moment. That’s drama.
Oh, and you really think you’re sure you know when the GM is fudging rolls? I’d bet not. I’d challenge my players to identify when I’ve fudged rolls.
Players know they’re getting a fair shake
How, exactly? Because the all-powerful, all-knowing GM who has limitless resources rolls in front of them? Underscoring how helpless they are and have no control over the situation? Laughable. Actually, I find it insulting for that very reason. Rolling in front of the players essentially says, “here’s the roll, and there’s nothing you can do about it — or even myself at this point.” It reinforces that the “heroes” are just fate’s bitches. There’s nothing heroic or fun about a TPK where the party did nothing but be the victim of bad die rolls. (Yes, seen it happen.)
Role-playing is a game of trust. I trust the GM to craft good adventures and run a “fair” game, but I also trust them to exercise good judgement. If the guy next to me hasn’t made a roll all night, nothing is going his way and he clearly isn’t having fun, I’d much rather have the GM fudge a few rolls and make something happen for the player than toss fate in their face and dismiss it as bad luck. I don’t need to know “I’m getting a fair shake” — I don’t play with people I don’t trust!
Finally, to answer the question of whether I roll my dice in the open or not, I’d wager you know the answer by now. =)
If it bugs my players that I’m “cheating” or that they’re “not getting a fair shake” then there’s the door. If you don’t trust me enough to run an enjoyable game for everyone and tell a good story, then you should find another GM or play a computer RPG; the computer won’t fudge rolls either. =)
In my experience the vast majority of people I play with favor “hidden” rolls by the GM. I don’t know if that represents the population of gamers as a whole, however.
Sorry for the thesis and the passionate reply! =)
“I donâ€™t get the mindset that fudging rolls is a bad thing. How is gently nudging the story, so that everyone can have a good time, bad? Mostly, I think it appeals to those who donâ€™t want the burden of being responsible for their games.”
Well… no. I’ve fudged in past campaigns, while I don’t fudge in my current one. I like not fudging better.
The entire reason D&D has dice rolls is to add an element of randomness. By embracing that randomness, the DM becomes a co-player in the game and avoids railroading. It forces me into role-playing situations that I was not expecting, which can be a great thing! Having to use DM fiat to mitigate an unexpected situation rather than fudging the roll to suit your needs is the epitome of taking responsibility. And if a player dies because of one of my rolls, it’s because I put them in a situation where the roll could kill them – which puts an even higher burden on me to plan a well-balanced encounter.
“You want to know whatâ€™s dramatic? Rolling the dice in that suspenseful moment, looking up at the eager group of players, waiting to hear you describe the results, not knowing if they live or die. Everyone is focused on your every word, waiting for the description. Time seems to stop for a moment. Thatâ€™s drama.”
If it’s an extra-suspenseful moment, you can always block the roll with your hand, and then lift your hand as you’re describing the outcome. I like to describe something really outlandish, and then lift the die up and show the 1 I just rolled. It generally gets a howl. For most rolls it’s a non-issue, and if your players are only looking at the dice and ignoring your descriptions then you’re probably not making your descriptions very exciting.
“Rolling in front of the players essentially says, â€œhereâ€™s the roll, and thereâ€™s nothing you can do about it â€” or even myself at this point.â€ It reinforces that the â€œheroesâ€ are just fateâ€™s bitches.”
Well, no, it says “Anything can happen.” The players don’t have the safety net that if they get in over their heads, you’re going to automatically bail them out.
It’s not like roll fudging is the only way to get yourself out of a bad situation. I had an encounter where the enemies were beating the crap out of the PCs and still had a lot of HP left, the PCs had killed a couple but it was pretty clear to me the fight was grim, on top of that it was getting late and one of the players was not feeling well, and the encounter was starting to drag. So I slashed the HP of the remaining enemies to put them within 1-2 hits of death, the party ended the combat 2 rounds later, and everyone was talking non-stop about their amazing comeback. All with open dice rolls.
You can also use it to build suspense. I had a hit squad of bad guys all attack a single PC until he was down, then demand that the rest surrendered. This was 5e, when the characters had 3 death saves. He failed his first death save, then when the others hesitated I had the enemy strike him again, putting him a single open dice roll away from death. You’d better believe that knowing his fate was coming down to a public 50-50 roll ratcheted the suspense up to 11, and it really affected the way the players reacted in a way I think hidden rolls never would have (they ended up surrendering, btw.)
Fudging in itself is neither good nor bad, it’s just a tool DMs have. Right now I prefer not using it simply because not using it makes for a swingier, less predictable game, which really suits the nonlinear campaign we’re playing.
From my experiences, I roll all my dice in the open, except for the occasional roll that the players shouldn’t see. The player’s don’t get to fudge important rolls for the sake of the story, so why should the GM?
Abulia – I can see fudging rolls for the game’s sake, but if you’re going to fudge rolls because you’re afraid to leave it to fate to determine the outcome, then why roll dice at all? You’ve already decided the broader outcome of the story before the game even starts. It sounds like to me you need to forgo using dice altogether and just arbitrarily decide the outcome of every dice roll. I think I’ll hit the PC this round. I think I’ll have the vampire fail his save against the player’s Fireball. That’s why there are dice in the game. Chance.
I agree with Abulia.
We play D&D to relax and have some social fun, we’re not gathering around for a game of chance only.
True, fate has something to do with the game and drama is something that is somewhat linked to this ordeal of dice rolling.
But as a DM, I do view myself holding some kind of responsibility to both the game and the players. I will never leave the entire game to be decided by a roll of a die.
I roll almost everything behind a screen. Not because I like fudging the die, but because I like to keep my players on suspense. I sometimes roll the dice just to grab a small attention from them and I noticed that it keeps them focused on the game.
I think a DM should pay close attention to their game and players and decide for themselves how to conduct the dice rolls.
It’s interesting to see different viewpoints on this topic — that’s one of the main reasons that I wrote this post. 🙂 A good follow-up might be a post on the role of fudging rolls — I’ll have to give that one some thought.
I mention the role of fudging rolls because it relates to a point that both Don (Abulia) and DM T brought up (in slightly different ways): letting the dice rule the course of the game. I don’t think anyone would argue that the dice shouldn’t help to decide the how things turn out, but there are times when they shouldn’t be in control.
So how do you get around that? I get around it by trying to make sure that encounters where the dice carry a lot of weight — like combat — are as thought-out as possible, and then by manipulating other things behind the scenes.
That’s why I mentioned that the ability to fudge rolls is just one tool in a GM’s kit — there are plenty of other ways to influence outcomes, like changing the nature of encounters, adding or removing elements on the fly, etc.
(And welcome to TT, Bill, Borghal and Raineym!) 🙂
…perhaps less appealing in a game with a strong narrative focus, where telling a good story is more important than impartiality.
I have to disagree here. I find fudging is only helpful for a narrative focus when you’re using rules that don’t support the narrative focus you’re looking for.
For example, let’s take PC death as an easy one. If PCs shouldn’t die randomly in your game, you should either play a game where death isn’t random, or else make houserules to eliminate that.
Not random doesn’t mean “never happens”, for example, in HeroQuest you can be reduced to Dying, which, depending on the group, either puts the life/death of the PC into the player’s or the GM’s hands, but never is it a random roll that actually carries you to Dead. Dying could be “in a coma for months” or it could be “holding on as lifeblood leaks out”, but it’s never an accidental thing like instant-critical-oops-you’re-dead. The PC is only dead after someone declares it so- not because the dice said so.
Fudging rolls has become a standard practice because most games support outcomes in random rolls that don’t jibe with even their OWN concept. That is- if we’re playing 4-color comics-code superheroes, it doesn’t fit that one person gets shot in the head and instantly dies.
Fudging has also become standard practice as a way for GMs to railroad actions, which goes into a whole other topic altogether.
Me? I’m against fudging rolls. If I’m going to override that roll anyway, why would I try to make the players believe otherwise?
Posted by Chris
I think the point that I’d underscore is that rolling in secret allows for fudging a roll, but you don’t have to; I’ve had many sessions where I’ve never fudged a roll because there was no need.
Rolling in the open removes that option from my bag of tricks. I’d prefer to have the option, even if I never exercise it. Plus, as I argued earlier, I believe it to be more dramatic to describe events, rather than have the players look at the roll before I’ve had a chance to describe what happens.
I’m not advocating removing chance from the game; I’m advocating adding choice to the game.
(I can no longer post w/ my Blogger account? Ass!)
Posted by Don
I’m trying to find an alternative to Blogger’s default comment setup — one that includes a comment box and doesn’t involve the default comment page. It’s caused a bit of weirdness, including listing you and Chris as anonymous for the above two comments.
Those are the types of problems you run into when you’re a sell out and “go commercial.”
(Don) Those are the types of problems you run into when you’re a sell out and “go commercial.”
Along with the absence of categories, three-column templates and native trackback, the weird posting system is one of the things I don’t like about Blogger — but let’s not veer any further off topic here. 😉
Put me squarely in the fudge category. I dont use it to warp the storyline to my own ends, but theres times where I see it as necessary.
Regardless of the fudge factor, some rolls have to be secret in D&D 3.5. The Bluff/Sense Motive mechanic is simply not going to work with rolls in the open because the player will instantly know if the NPC is lying or not when the dice come up.
As for the Fudge:
For one, DM’s are people too, and we make mistakes. What we think was a “tough challenge” on paper turns out in practice was beyond the players capabilities, it’s time to fudge the rolls unless you want to go “gee guys, sorry I made that TPK inducing mistake”.
Another scenario I’ll put up is we had a brand new player to the genre and he was eating it up with both fists. He never played a paper RPG game before. Well, they were on a ship fighting pirates doing one of my “not so random” encounters since I dont do random encounters anymore, but I believe a bit of combat keeps things lively. Anyhow, my dice were white-hot and the new guy got killed outright with a pair of devastating hits. The party had 2 other memebers taken down, and the last fighter had single digit HP. Only 1 in 5 were unscathed. Next game the new guy misses, then comes back for a battle with the first major “boss”. Again- my dice heat up and I hit a critcal thats just off the charts. I had to mentally struggle to guess about how much HP he had left, because I know I had just hit him for over double what he should have. I fudged it to a guess that left him at -5 (dying) because I didnt want to discourage an absolutely new player and no one else in the party had died permenately.
So, I think some bending is needed to keep the fun-factor. I’ve played RPG games on a computer, which is merciless, and it’s definitely less fun then paper for that reason (among others). If you played the “Gold Box” games from SSI, you know what Im talking about.
Two cents by the DM mentioned in Martinâ€™s original post.
Abulia asks, â€œHow is gently nudging the story, so that everyone can have a good time, bad?â€
My answer: For most players (with rare exception), the game needs the real possibility of failure in order for the successes to be meaningful (i.e. drawing genuine emotional response as opposed to merely fun like playing cards or board games). Fudging (whether dice rolls or the mechanics of the bad guys), even if done subtly, infrequently, and (somehow) without the playerâ€™s knowledge, compromises this.
First, with respect, claiming that running a fudge-free game â€œis for the DM that dislikes responsibilityâ€ is simplistic. Deciding not to fudge dice rolls requires a much greater level of responsibility on the part of the DM as the DM must consider (and usually have ready before gaming begins) options if the party misses that critical secret door, doesnâ€™t figure out that important clue, or gets into a fight that is more than they can really handle, rather than deciding behind the DM screen that the party always finds the door, always figures out the clue, and never faces a challenge they arenâ€™t going to win. In short, adventure design requires a higher level of attention to detail: a goal generally needs more than one way that it can be accomplished (which a solid adventure should have in most cases anyway). However, if the player characters are always going to find that critical secret door thanks to fudging, you can get away with less adventure preparation. Furthermore, thereâ€™s not much reason to play characters with high Search or Spot skills (or compensate for that weakness if they have terrible Search/Spot scores), for example. If the characters are going to win against the big bad guy at the end, as a player why spend time on tactics or using expendable magic items, for example? If an NPC is going to step up to explain a clue the party doesnâ€™t figure out, why think? Why bother with dice, character sheets, and interacting? Ultimately the players are acting out the DMâ€™s script or outline and their genuine participation in events is reduced: once the DM has removed risk from the game, victories are hollow. Role-playing in character is in danger of becoming an exercise in playacting rather than any kind of meaningful interaction. The DM may still weave a great story, but thatâ€™s all it isâ€”a story. Maybe it would make a good book: after all, the players will ultimately only have about as much control over the story as they would at home reading a novel.
Over time, all but the most oblivious players will pick up on the fudging, even if the DM is skilled and judicious in its use. Many players wonâ€™t say anything about it, at least to the DM either out of respect to the position as DM or because it usually works in their favor, but theyâ€™ll know â€“ those who know the mechanics will realize that a roll of X resulted in a failed hit last round, but the same roll missed this time, for example. Others will notice certain challenges are always overcome regardless of what the party does. Even if somehow the DM manages to pull the wool over the playerâ€™s eyes (impossible in my experience, but for argument letâ€™s say it happens), fudging alters the core dynamic of the game: character choices of mechanics and paths taken through role-playing become less meaningful as the DM secretly robs them of their significance from behind the protection of the DM screen. Patterns conforming to what the DM wants (and what the DM thinks the players want) will manifest over time, even if the DM only â€œgently nudgesâ€ the action along in a particular direction. For example, one â€œround-robinâ€ game I was a part of in college highlighted this particularly well for me. One DM in particular would skillfully fudge combats so that on her rotation as DM none of the PCs would die and the epic, final battle of her adventure was always a nail-biter. She did it well, but with a round-robin DM campaign, her fudging started to show through as other DMs would kill PCs off or run adventures in which the PCs failed if thatâ€™s the way it went. Over time, when the fudging DM would run, all the players knew they could hold back a little: whether consciously thinking it or not, we all knew that (for example) we might as well save that scroll for the next DM, since weâ€™ll somehow beat the bad guy without it. We could do a frontal assault on the bad guyâ€™s lair with this DM, knowing that if there was a deathtrap, sheâ€™d help us out of it (while other DMs would kill us all off). Eventually fewer folks would show up because the adventure was already effectively predetermined and thus much less exciting when she ran an adventure. This prompted a discussion and her admitting that she did fudge once or twice an adventure, sometimes just a little (â€œHmmmâ€¦the partyâ€™s about to get toastedâ€¦well, the bad guy didnâ€™t really roll a 20!â€) or a lot (â€œThe party tore through half these guys in two rounds: time to double the other half of the guardâ€™s hit points!â€). She was as confident as Abulia in thinking the party was clueless and was shocked when we called her on it. (The whole group switched to rolling in the open and the games really improved tremendously).
One could argue that the DM who doesnâ€™t fudge can simply step back and say, â€œSorry Bob, the dice killed you, not me!â€ but itâ€™s a poor argument to make, other than to diffuse an emotional player in the heat of the moment (which Iâ€™ve doneâ€”Iâ€™ve had players literally cry at the table over a character killed). A player could blame the DM for having a challenge that was simply too tough (and might be right, due to bad adventure design, or wrong due to bad luck with the dice). Then again, what if the player selected Dodge instead of Great Fortitude and just missed that â€œsave or dieâ€ Fortitude spell: is it the playerâ€™s fault? I argue that in a well-run game without fudging, you wonâ€™t face these questions because everyone is playing by the same rules. Players will lose characters because of bad luck: thatâ€™s not bad, itâ€™s realistic and adds a level of believability to the gaming world. But as DM, once you fudge and save Tomâ€™s characterâ€™s life but let Billâ€™s character die, youâ€™re playing favorites with the players and/or characters. And woe to the DM that fudges and has a significant other as a player!
In my opinion and with respect to Abuliaâ€™s opinion, to answer his question, â€œgently nudging the story so that everyone can have a good timeâ€ is in itself, a symptom of one of these situations:
1) The players want a â€œstorytellerâ€ mode game where the playerâ€™s control the actual risk (i.e. the player really decides if his or her character dies, since he/she knows that the DM will fudge on his/her behalf). There are D&D games that run like this without a problem and thatâ€™s perfectly fine.
2) The DM has decided without the consent of the players (i.e. without specifically asking them if they want him to or mind him fudging) to nudge the story, however, the game is new enough where it has not impacted it yet, or the players realize it but are sticking around for other reasons, or the players are dissatisfied and/or leaving.
In my experience, the DM shouldnâ€™t go after the party either and fudge things against them (or hold the dice over them, relishing in what the results might be, as Abulia alludes to): just let the dice fall where they may and explore the good with the bad. Most people learn more from their failures than their successes: doing so can be one of the greatest experiences of role-playing. Often what might seem as bad, such as a character death or the failure of a mission, can result in a much stronger game and experience for a player as long as the result is arrived at fairly, even if the player(s) go through a â€œbadâ€ evening of crappy dice rolls. (And if an evening of crappy dice rolls is really interfering with a playerâ€™s enjoyment to such an extend that the DM feels he must intervene, thereâ€™s more going on than meets the eye). Lastly, in D&D in particular, even a terrible failure is not necessarily permanent: characters can be returned to life (sometimes requiring some very cool adventures to do so, if the DM is willing to work that in) or otherwise revived, or a failure can move the campaign in a direction that is much more rewarding (perhaps giving the players the feeling they control their own destiny more, rather than playing out the DMâ€™s script).
The only two exceptions to no-fudging I could agree with would be a situation in which the DM makes a gross screw-up in adventure design in which the outcome of the dice will not change the fact that the PCs are going to all die (i.e. no matter what the party does, including simply turning around and leaving, will result in their destruction). This needs to be a DM mistake, not poor choices on the players: if the players elect to have their four 1st level characters attack the ancient red dragon, they get what they deserve (no fudging). If the DM sets up the scenario so that they have no choice (the dragon randomly attacks; the party is trapped with it and have no way to reason with it or flee other than killing), then fudging makes sense. After all, there are situations where it might be the only solution because of an inexperienced DM or a lack of prep time, or just bad luck. A wandering monster chart is the perfect example of this: personally, I find they are often disasters waiting to happen and if I run a published adventure, I usually ignore them or, if the players are itching for a fight, have a â€œwandering monsterâ€ encounter prepared that I can just drop in anywhere instead of rolling.
The other exception to no-fudging are group agreed fudges: that is, â€œhouse rulesâ€ that everyone is aware of and accepts even if they cheat. For example, in my group we have one player who has had terrible luck with new characters in the past: they show up and are promptly killed during the same evening of gaming they arrive. We now have â€œThe Greg Ruleâ€ (named after the player), which means that a new character canâ€™t be killed during the first night of gaming, no matter whatâ€”as long as it isnâ€™t abused (i.e. â€œHey guys, my new Fighter canâ€™t die â€“ Iâ€™ll check for traps by walking in to them!â€). Everyoneâ€™s aware of it and it helps the enjoyment of the game, plus my players are mature enough not to abuse it, knowing that the â€œsafeâ€ night of gaming helps them learn the mechanics of their character for the next adventure when they can die (especially helpful for new players and for higher level play: many players find bringing in a 14th level character much harder due to the many options than bringing in a new 1st level character).
About the only item I do agree with Abulia is that, â€œIf getting people looking at the GM’s die roll is “getting them involved” then that game needs help.â€ Iâ€™m 100% with Abulia on that point: a game is much, more than dice rolls (fudged or honest) and if thatâ€™s all the players have to look forward to, the problems with a particular game going far beyond the scope of this conversation.
Iâ€™ve (obviously) a strong supporter of rolling in the open and playing fair with the players (more of the â€œDM as neutral partyâ€ than â€œDM as storytellerâ€ model) having converted from rolling behind the DM screen long ago. For DMs who fudge, ask your players what they think of you fudging dice rolls behind the DM screen before your next game. Just flat out say, â€œThere may be a few timesâ€”you probably wonâ€™t even noticeâ€”that Iâ€™ll ignore the dice rolls and just make up the results. Sometimes it might help you; sometimes it might not. What do you guys think of that?â€ See how many realized it (bet youâ€™ll be surprised!). Be honest when they ask for past examples and be open-minded to their feedback, good and bad. No matter what the response, youâ€™re bound to get some good feedback and an interesting discussion out of it as well as a stronger game.
Sorry for the ardent reply and apologies to Abulia (no offense intendedâ€”weâ€™re just on different ends of the spectrum on this issue).
Thanks for posting Martin – very interesting topic and great responses all around!
If I was using a system where there was a result that I wouldn’t want to have happen, I would do one of the following:
1) Not roll- “Ok, then X happens”
2) House rule to override the rule if it was common “Ok, no one dies unless the player says so, but you might be laid up for weeks or months healing!”
3) Roll in a completely different manner (“We know you’re going to win the fight, roll to see how well.”
The big thing is- notice that all of these rules make it clear to everyone playing what’s going on- there’s no illusion that rules are being followed when they’re not, or basically deception going on.
I mean, if the point of fudging is so that everyone can have fun, why would I hide the fact that I’m doing something to make things fun? Wouldn’t that be something that ought to be agreeable to everyone at the table?
#1 is the same as fudging, except it’s quite clear I’m ignoring the resolution system.
#2 drifts the rules to something that works, except instead of it being “GM fiat”, it’s clear to everyone at the table, and it becomes a social contract (like most other rules).
#3 also drifts the rules, but in a way that few people really recognize as a drift- it’s basically the Primetime Adventures resolution model- “Declare Stakes you’re willing to accept, then roll dice to see how the Stakes turn out”.
The key point that I disagree with fudging is hiding it from the players. If it’s all fun and gravy, why not just put it in the open?
Mark, I counter your anecdotal evidence with my own anecdotal evidence.
Deathmatch by lirpa at noon!
On fudging rolls:
The dice & fudge factor that I do are 95% about the damage amount a character would/should suffer.
I don’t pre-decide the outcome of an encounter/adventure/campaign, but if I get a too lucky strike, let’s say an orc has critically wounded a 1st lvl char with a BIG AXE and I got a lucky 36 damage, I might scale the result and tell the player that he got critically wounded and drop him to -7 or -9 and not grief the player with a -23, cleaving the char in two.
It might be fun for some, but I think that it’s just crude. Of course if someone deliberately jumps off a cliff stating that he’ll sustain only 49 points of damage and won’t die, there’s no fudging to be done here… it’s a 4d6 rolled once for each ability and enjoy you new character.
This thread seems to be turning into a “No fudge period” vs “Liberally Fudge everything” debate. I believe it’s like the dessert: best in small quantities and that most people fall in the middle ground.
I’ll add one more tale, of “Campaign with zero fudge”: We had a large party- 8 players, and the DM was known as the “Fundamentalist DM”, because everything was “by the book”. Anyhow, our first task with our level 1 characters was to role play buying our startup equipment, down to the last torch and climbing spike. Some players might applaud this level detail, but I assure you, the bulk finds this brutally boring (recall: 8 players buying every piece of gear!). Finally, as I’m starting to fantasize about playing Command and Conquere on my PC (its 1997) the adventure begins with us going to the city sewers. Some mutant crap creatures jump out of the muck. Im the fighter up front and the battle goes like this:
DM: [roll]”Your surprised…” [rolls]”Your critically hit…”
[rolls]”You take 15 points damage and it grabs your body. You take another 5 points”.
This kills my character outright, even with the -10 hp rule. Everyone was shocked, some offered to try and do “raise dead quest” and I said “No…dont worry about it, it’s just a level 1 char”
The DM had the audacity to say “Well, you can roll up a new character if you want…” and I said “Uh, no thanks, gotta go!” and ran home to play with my PC. Not only had I basically wasted a sunday afternoon buying equipment thats usually purchased before the game even commences, the character was snuffed out instantly. This is NOT FUN and shows the downside on no fudge I hope. I never played with this DM again btw.
that was “Crab creature” above. That must have been a mental slip in reference to that so-called “campaign”.
I agree, in many games, instant death sucks.
So why use rules that give instant death as a possibility? Why not play a game that doesn’t have that as an option, or throw in some manner of house rule to prevent it?
It takes 5 minutes to hammer out a rule on not instant death- such as, “You can’t die unless you choose for your character to”, or “You lose a level, but you don’t die”, “Lose X amount of XP, but you don’t die”, “You can only die if I roll a 20 after you hit -10”, etc. etc.
Everytime you fudge, you’re saying the rules aren’t doing what you want. Why use that?
The DM had the audacity to say “Well, you can roll up a new character if you want…” and I said “Uh, no thanks, gotta go!” and ran home to play with my PC. Not only had I basically wasted a sunday afternoon buying equipment thats usually purchased before the game even commences, the character was snuffed out instantly. This is NOT FUN and shows the downside on no fudge I hope.
Nooo! You had fun! It’ exciting to roll all dice in the open with no fudging, remember? You were in charge of your own destiny! Fate dictated that your character should die! Hey, at least your GM gave you “a fair shake,” right?
Think how much more exciting that game would have been had the GM made all the rolls in front of you? Whoa!
Hello? Hello? Still there?
[/tongue firmly in cheek]
The rules weren’t the problem, Chris.
When the rules aren’t the problem, fudging isn’t the answer either 🙂
A GM rolling dice in the open, IMO, turns the game into “roll playing” instead of “role playing”. It’s the GM’s universe and, therefore, everything that happens should be at the GM’s discretion; if this means that the GM fudges some, many, or all rolls – so be it.
“Role playing” has nothing to do with whether a game sticks with the rolls given or fudges: the latter is a sometimes useful tool for misfires of game system that easily becomes dreadfully contrived and frankly has nothing to do with what a lot of people go to a _game_ for (I notice it’s amazing how many people like to emphasize it’s role playing and ignore the fact its also a game).
The bottom line is, for me, if you’re using a system you really desperately feel a need to preturb the results of all the time, you’re probably using the wrong system. If you don’t want PCs to die sometimes, don’t let that be possible; if you only want it to be when dramatic, you can do that too. But using a system that says PC death (or any other failure) can be a result of bad luck, and then intervening when it occurs is just backwards as far as I’m concerned.
(Colonel Dave) A GM rolling dice in the open, IMO, turns the game into “roll playing” instead of “role playing”. It’s the GM’s universe and, therefore, everything that happens should be at the GM’s discretion; if this means that the GM fudges some, many, or all rolls – so be it.
I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at, Dave. By “everything,” do you mean that player choices shouldn’t have any impact on the game — go play a novel, in other words?
(Nightshade) But using a system that says PC death (or any other failure) can be a result of bad luck, and then intervening when it occurs is just backwards as far as I’m concerned.
I think a lot of folks are pretty used to this, though, and that’s probably why the idea doesn’t raise too many eyebrows. 😉
(And welcome to TT, Nightshade and Colonel Dave!)
I’m coming close to considering rolling more in the open, though part of me still wants to keep the monsters ability hidden (though the PCs can determine AC).
If one puts the onus of honoring die rolls on the players, one can even do information and charm type rolls in the open (and D&D is more organized now that a failed knowledge check just gets no information, not false information – probably for this reason – though I think there is still some room for false information).
(Martin) I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at, Dave. By “everything,” do you mean that player choices shouldn’t have any impact on the game — go play a novel, in other words?
Not at all. The GM’s universe would be any empty place, indeed, were it not for the players; it is they who give life to the GM’s vision.
The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion are the results of the universe created by J. R. R. Tolkien and, although role playing systems have arisen therefrom, they are static because the audience has no input into the course of events therein contained. The GM’s universe, conversely, expects the players (i.e., the audience) to provide anima.
There is a caveat, however, as it is the GM’s universe and, therefore, the players choices are limited significantly by the GM’s vision. A good GM will, of course, pick and choose from the players’ desires what will be incorporated into the universe, but that doesn’t mean that the ultimate direction of any given campaign is not the GM’s design. If the players have put forth an effort to more-or-less fully create characters (as opposed to simply rolling PC’s for hack ‘n’ slash) and worked with the GM to do so, then they have very much impacted the game.
Once the characters are in the GM’s universe, however, reducing what happens to them to mere rolls of the dice is, IMO, doing everyone a great disservice. Yes, the “rules of the game” must be followed, as it is not simply a group narrative that is being undertaken, but neither should it be a crap-shoot.
The players roll in the open because their characters must rely on their abilities and the players trust that the GM hasn’t dumped them in too far over their heads. The GM should not be constrained by the abilities of the NPCs and “monsters”, however. A good GM knows when the crit just rolled is going to doom the campaign and should be able to direct the course of events without showing the players that they have narrowly avoided disaster due to deus ex machina.
I don’t want to know when events have been altered to keep me in the game, but I certainly don’t expect to “win” every “battle”, either.
Hm. I’ve blathered longer than I’d expected and I’m not entirely sure that I’ve answered your question. Have I come close?
(Frank) If one puts the onus of honoring die rolls on the players, one can even do information and charm type rolls in the open (and D&D is more organized now that a failed knowledge check just gets no information, not false information – probably for this reason – though I think there is still some room for false information).
I try to do this in my games — let the players know that I trust them to see the results of traditionally hidden rolls (searching for traps, etc.), and to roleplay their actions accordingly. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but when it does work I find the whole experience to be more interesting overall.
(Dave) Hm. I’ve blathered longer than I’d expected and I’m not entirely sure that I’ve answered your question. Have I come close?
Quite clear now, thank you for expanding on that. 🙂