Friday, August 13, 2021

"F" Is For "Fudging"

This is going to be my last post on this stupid, stupid subject. I really have other things I'd rather work on.

[for my prior posts see this and might also want to check the comments as they elaborate on some of my thoughts/points. I mean, if you care about the elaboration of these things...]

"Is that a note of frustration I detect in your blogging, JB?" Yes. Yes you do.

BA wrote his own blog post on fudging yesterday, in which he lists many examples of which NONE I find to be "fudging," not even the one he claims least it is not "fudging" in the way the term is generally used (and the way in which the original blogger of this subject intended the use of this term). However, in the comments on BA's post WQRobb gives a perfect example of fudging:
In my last gaming session I fudged a couple of to-hit rolls by the monsters the PC's were fighting because everything was just going so freaking badly for players that session. In the end the players still had a rough time and barely came out on top, but showing a small bit of mercy in the name of fun and keeping a game going isn't that big a deal in my mind.
THIS is what is meant by fudging. The DM made a decision that things were going "freaking badly" for the players that session, and so "fudged a couple of to-hit rolls by the monsters" (presumably calling attacks misses when hits were rolled) in order to show "a small bit of mercy in the name of fun." As WQRobb explicitly writes, in his own mind this wasn't a big deal. And BA would seem to agree.

I agree with BA that fudging one (or more) dice roll will not result in "The End of Days" nor prevent a person from getting to their particular afterlife. But I absolutely disagree that it's not a deal...a big deal...when it comes to a game that uses a fortune mechanic (i.e. dice rolling) to determine objective outcomes of play. WQRobb's fudging on behalf of his players has several effects:
  • It declares that the result of the dice don't really matter.
  • It declares that the rules of the game don't really matter.
  • It declares a lack of trust in the players to deal with game consequences.
  • It prevents players from learning from the experience of game play (becoming better players).
  • It denies players a potential victory on their own earned merits (i.e. a real victory).
  • It can break players' trust in a DM to be fair and impartial (depending on how aware they were of the DM's fudging).
  • It can generate false feelings of accomplishment leading to poor play in the future that will in turn require more fudging (reinforcing the above points).
And even if these things aren't said out loud at the table, the action of the fudging itself will certainly plant these concepts in the psyche of the participants (certainly that of the DM who knows the fudging has taken place). And for a DM who has declared the dice results and rules don't matter (because they can always be fudged as needed)...well, they're just more likely to fudge again and again in the future.

When what should probably be happening is the DM should be learning their own lessons from the incident. Not a lesson of "crisis averted, fun had" but lessons of how to be a better DM:
  • Maybe the players were having a hard time because monsters appearing were inappropriate (too tough) for their characters.
  • Maybe the DM was failing to communicate the necessary information to the PCs that would allow them to escape death or determine a path to victory.
  • Maybe the DM needs to develop a different mindset then "attack until all the players are DEAD." Maybe the monsters should have offered quarter, agreed to take a bribe, sought to have prisoner for ransom, or requested the PCs perform some task (like aiding the monsters against a different foe) in exchange for their lives.
  • Maybe the DM needs to be a better teacher of the game to the players.
And it's certainly possible that after the session WQRobb took all those thoughts to heart and will adjust his methods of running games in the future to account for all these things. Possible...but probably not. After all:
"...showing a small bit of mercy in the name of fun and keeping a game going isn't that big a deal in my mind."
or so he wrote. Which to my mind sounds like a justification to just 'keep on keeping on.' Though I admit I'm making an assumption that the comment reflects his honest attitude and outlook.

I've gone back now and read Cavegirl's post multiple times, and the more I read it, the more asinine I find it. She has two main conclusions that are just...awful. I just want to address them one at a time:

#1 Fudging isn't inherently bad because it's a matter of individual taste whether or not one wants to fudge the dice.

Let me substitute something else for "fudging" and see if that logic makes sense:

Drinking and driving isn't inherently bad because it's a matter of individual taste whether or not one want to drink and drive.

Or how about:

Kicking your dog isn't inherently bad because it's a matter of individual taste whether or not one wants to kick their dog.

Or how about:

Posting hate-filled rhetoric on a personal website isn't inherently bad because it's a matter of individual taste whether or not one want to post hate-filled rhetoric.

But JB, you argue, that's different! You're hurting (or potentially hurting) people in all those examples! Am I?
  • To my shame, I've driven many times when (probably) over the legal limit for alcohol consumption...never crashed, hurt myself (or anyone else), and never been pulled over. 
  • A person's dog is their personal property, and I am legally allowed to euthanize the animal at any time. Would that be preferable?
  • Hate-filled rhetoric? Don't read it if you don't like it. 
But okay...maybe all those examples are too despicable for the subject at hand. How about voting for a political candidate that's a climate science denier, anti-vax/-masker, who wants immigrant children jailed in caged isolation to teach their border-crossing parents a lesson? That's just a matter of personal opinion right? Nothing wrong with helping to get that guy whatever means necessary. Just exercising my right to vote. You can't tell me my choice is a poor's just a matter of individual taste.

#2 Players should be allowed to fudge dice rolls because default assumptions of GM authority (i.e. traditional allocations of narrative responsibility) is kind of bullshit and anyway if the GM can fudge, why can't players? What's the big's not like they'll wreck the game or something.

Setting aside the underlying worthlessness of the premise (the given: "fudging is okay for GMs")...while I can see SOME logic in the conclusion ("why can't they fudge when I do?"), this is still a preposterous doubling-down on rule violation with regard to many RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons in particular. AD&D, at least, is explicit in that final control and authority lies in the hands of the DM. There are other RPGs where this is not the case (even games without a "GM" figure: see Fiasco, Polaris, Blood Red Sands, etc. for examples). In games where narrative authority is not firmly established in the instructions...sure, reasonable minds might agree to portion out some responsibilities to the players. But, again, it is the underlying premise ("fudging is okay!") that derails the whole of the discussion.

And that last bit gives me a chance to segue into the end of this post on a dumb subject (and to be clear, when I said it was stupid, I mean I'm being stupid for even writing about it...I sincerely doubt I'm going to change many minds here). There are many role-playing games other than D&D on the market...perhaps folks should be taking a closer look at what's out there.

Because a lot of this fudging subject seems to be a "D&D thing" or an issue for procedural RPGs of D&D's ilk. Does it not dawn on folks that D&D was designed a particular way to accomplish particular objectives? And that if you want it to play differently than the solution is to redesign the thing to meet your specific parameters? Why do folks continue to try pounding square pegs into round holes? 

All that means: change the rules, not the dice results.

Fudging is BAD. Fudging is WRONG. Fudging, by definition, is violating the rules of the game, which is the epitome of CHEATING. Regardless of whether or not fudging is okay with your "personal taste."

Have I fudged a die roll before? Yes, more than once. And on BOTH sides of the screen. And for all the usual stupid, wrong reasons. I've done LOTS of bad things in the past that I'm not proud of. As I get older and (somewhat) wiser, I'm trying to do better. To not do wrong. That's the best I can do. 

Not fudging dice rolls any more is one of the easier fixes.


  1. Agreed on all points.
    I think the motivation to fudge the dice, bend/break the rules, is best served by finding some other form of make-believe... a different RPG or maybe just playing outside... 'I shoot you'... 'you missed'... 'no I didn't!'... 'yes you did!'... 'no I did not!'... (proceed to fistfight and wrestling in the dirt).

  2. Disagree on many points (not surprising) but especially on your analogies.

    For you (and others), fudging dice may be akin to 'drinking and driving' or 'kicking your dog' but for!? That seems more than a tad much.

    Look, I don't agree with the Player Fudging idea either, though I'll admit I've never even considered it before and I find myself wondering about it now. Hmm. What would the rules be to allow Players to bend the rules?

    These kinds of game theory questions intrigue me, though it doesn't guarantee they work.

    OK, you don't like the idea of Fudging. Cool. No one is making you. I'll be over here where A) all my players who also GM (except one) have admitted to Fudging rolls at least once and B) really, really don't see it as a big deal. You can be over than making sure no one cheats and everything is mathematically sound. No harm, no foul.

    Just...deep breaths man. The tension's gonna kill ya.

    1. Trust me: the tension’s been released. “Venting” is (pretty much) the point of these blog posts…it’s not really about convincing folks they’re wrong.

      Though I’d HOPE…if there are people on the fence about “fudging” …that explaining *my* point of view would be helpful.

      I know, in the end, that people make their own decisions. I can accept that. Just not unchallenged.
      ; )

  3. I agree with your points, especially the point about people in favor of fudging possibly needing to find other games. I think a real problem in the hobby is that people get into RPGs through D&D and try to make D&D fit whatever playstyle they want, no matter how much they have to fight the game to get the experience they want.

    However, people have been massively dragged on Twitter for making this very sensible suggestion. There is a segment of new players who view D&D (especially 5e) as *the* game and get offended at the idea of exploring the rest of the RPG universe.

  4. For what it's worth, JB, I agree with you completely on all counts. And, in hopes of adding something constructive to what is indeed a stupid, stupid debate: these days I am very open about dice rolls (other than things like secret door searches and thieves' move silently rolls, the stuff that you pretty much have to keep behind the screen), enemy ACs, enemy hit points, etc. Because once you establish something like "you need an 8 to hit this creature, and it has 21 hit points remaining," it becomes impossible to fudge the rest of that combat — on the recognizance of the DM and all players present. A policy of "table glasnost" works wonders for keeping a game running smoothly, by the rules, and (best of all) tense — since the players know and know well that the DM literally cannot fudge dice rolled in the open.

    1. Perhaps it is a lost art being rediscovered.

  5. Okay.

    I’ve watched people dance and dance their way around one part of this subject and I can’t keep quiet. Take a bit of the quote JB gives:

    “In my last gaming session I fudged a couple of to-hit rolls by the monsters the PC's were fighting ...”

    Did WQRobb TELL the players he was “fudging” the dice? No. Did he say to them, “Friends, things are going so freaking badly, and I’ve just rolled a hit by the monsters; I’m going to just count that roll as a miss; you’re welcome”?? No, he did not. He Did NOT Confess His Action.

    Whatever his reasons and justifications ... and whatever the other reasons put forth in JB’s three posts on the subject, such as “why even roll” or what it teaches or denies the players ... the core of this matter is that we use the word “fudging” as a euphemism for what we’re really doing. Using the euphemism makes it easier to invent rationalisations and excuses for doing something which we know is Dead Wrong.

    One way we know that all the DMs doing it, and describing it, and justifying it, know that it’s Dead Wrong is that they’re using the word “fudging” instead of the accurate description of what they’re doing.

    They’re lying. To their friends. And while they have “reasons,” none of those reasons include admitting directly to their friends, at the moment of doing it, what they’re doing. They’re lying, they’re inventing an innocence for themselves while lying, an innocence they don’t need to defend to the targets of their lying ... and then they’re going on the internet and telling other people that they should also Lie because they’ll be Innocent too.

    This is what has JB, and others, infuriated.

    If you are my DM, and you lie to me, and I find out you’ve lied to me, then you won’t be my DM. And if you don’t show a real sense of legitimate remorse for your lying, then you won’t be my friend any more, either. And I mean I will end the friendship right there and then, without hesitation.

    If you are my player, and you make a roll that you fudge, and you I catch you? You better expect your ass to kiss pavement. Because I’m not waiting for you to walk out of my house under your own power.

    And you know why? Because I don’t care if it’s a game. I don’t truck with liars. I don’t fraternize with them, I don’t work for them, I don’t make excuses for them. Your country, the one on the other side of the line from my country, elected the world’s biggest LIAR and then decided, “hey, that’s cool.” Result: you’re looking at the end of your country. The end. Period. While the liar continues to go around lying, with his lies recorded as he continues to lie the country into another insurrection.

    Because this is what liars are. If you’ll lie to me about dice, you’ll lie to me about that little bauble you saw in my bathroom, that you decided to keep. You’ll look me right in the eye and say, “No, I haven’t had anything to drink,” as you set out to drive me home. Whenever you want anything from me you think you won’t get by telling me the truth, you’ll lie. You’ll make up whatever bullshit you need to invent to satisfy your selfish, inconsiderate agenda met. I grew up around alcoholics. I grew up around abusers. I grew up around bigots and frauds. Liars, every one.

    For the record, I don’t care what you do. Lie. Call it whatever scudgy, scatological equivalent you want (because that’s what “fudge” is, right?) ... but don’t do it in my company. Don’t do it inside my reach. And don’t imagine that there are consequences for what you’re doing, because there are. Consequences well beyond the seven points JB makes. Your consequences will be to spend the rest of your life around people JUST LIKE YOU. People who will rob you, lie to you, ruin your life and burn your ass to get what they want.

    Oh, and they’ll have justifications for why they were right to do it. All kinds of justifications.

    Count on that.

    1. I mentioned to my children today that this was the subject of my blog posts this week. They couldn’t believe that fudging was even a “thing,” let alone cherished and championed by some folks.

      It’s just another name for cheating. Or lying. Even a child can see that.

    2. I realised while reading the third post that I think your infuriation is the lying and what that says generally about the person doing the fudging. Alexis is 100% correct in identifying the problem and its wider significance for American society. The UK's not that different on this point either.

      People lie to avoid the consequences of the truth and playing D&D and the fate of the dice is as good an example of that in practice.

      There's now an all-pervasive sickness that because there are so many lies being told that it is hard to see the truth. I really despair.

      Rather than fudge/lie just set up luck points (1d4) when creating the character and allow a player to expend a point of luck to re-roll their fate. Make it clear that when your luck runs out that's it.

    3. I wouldn’t even be super-averse to a set number of (PC) re-rolls each session. Simply ends up being another resource to manage.

    4. Me too. I appreciate it as an honest solution.

  6. @Adam: But the question remains. Why bother rolling at all if you're just going to change the roll? Why not just make up something you like every time?

  7. Hmmm . . . forgive me if this shows up twice. I thought I posted a comment earlier today. Commenting on certain blogs from a mobile device sucks. Anyway . . . you wrote:

    "When what should probably be happening is the DM should be learning their own lessons from the incident. Not a lesson of "crisis averted, fun had" but lessons of how to be a better DM:"

    This! This point, along with the bullet points that helped explain this comment, seem (in my opinion) to be often overlooked or ignored by people stressing the fun justification, the narrative justification, and other justifications for "fudging" rolls.

    1. Yeah.

      But I don’t really think MY stance on the issue needs justification. It’s just, you know, playing by the rules.

  8. I agree with what you wrote (here and in your previous posts), but you bring up an interesting counterargument: what if the GM fudged dice rolls because he felt that HE screwed up, made the encounter too difficult etc., and didn't want to punish the players for HIS poor choices? (Admittedly, that was not what the other author said, but that MIGHT, maybe, be a reason for fudging, if it turns out that the five 3rd level PCs really WEREN'T ready for a pair of liches, despite what the DM thought ...)

    1. @ Tony:

      There's a chance the DM felt it was his fault and his "fudging" was out of some form of guilt...although I believe that MOST of this particular type of fudging occurs simply because DMs see character deaths/failures as "un-fun" (too much time out from game play, too much time spent in advancement lost, too much effort to create a new character, too much derailment from carefully constructed "plots" (including subplots linked to PC backstories!), etc., etc.).

      However, when I read WQRobb's quote to my ten year old, he asked "why didn't he just have the monsters run away?"

      Which, while a bit ham-handed and perhaps not appropriate for the circumstances of WQRobb's game, still points out that even a ten year old can see that THE DM HAS CONTROL OF THE SITUATION, WITHOUT THE NEED TO FUDGE DICE ROLLS.

      Instead the DM decided the "appropriate thing" was to continue the attack but CHEAT in the players favor in order to give them a "victory" in battle. How empty the achievement! How pointless an exercise! The DM might as well simply NARRATED THE RESULT OF COMBAT:

      "After five minutes of hard fighting, your opponents lie dead at your feet; each of you please roll 1d6 to see how many hit points your character has remaining."

      But NO...instead he gives them the illusion of success and lucky dice? That's deemed better?


  9. A mathematical side note: if one is really worried about a string of bad rolls, then one could introduce a "balancing" mechanism by, say, using a deck of cards with aces through 10s (with red suits counting as 10 plus the shown value, so 11 through 20) ... then, when a die roll is required for an enemy attack, then draw a card BUT DO NOT REPLACE IT. Do this until 20 cards have been dealt without replacement, THEN reshuffle [or use 30 for less randomness, or 10 for more randomness]. This would reduce variability without required fudging.

    This has nothing to do with the main point about whether fudging is justified, but it might be an approach to making it so that fudging isn't needed to address the cases of concern.

  10. Rolling in front of my players has been a huge blessing. The tension in tight combats is palpable.

    Also fudging makes another assumption - that a specific result e.g. winning a combat, is the best result. Over the years as both a player and DM, the stories of failure and subsequent redemption are much more memorable, fun, and compelling. Winning that epic combat against a dragon, meh. Falling from a magic carpet after getting hit by a giant's boulder, breaking all the bones in your legs - epic.

    1. And how do you learn not to initiate a charge against a block of hobgoblins with pole arms? Sometimes you've got to take your lumps.

      [sorry...that was an example provided by my ten year old from one of his actual, memorable experiences]

      I agree, Jojo, and I'd probably go a step farther: ALMOST dying in an RPG isn't nearly as memorable as ACTUAL dying. In my experience, folks can more easily remember all sorts of glorious and ignominious character deaths than "hard fought victories"...unless, of course, the latter was sprinkled with actual character deaths.

      Of course, we're talking D&D here. Other RPG have other objectives of play.

  11. I think it helps that I think about role-playing games as a special kind of board game. Which makes me curious...

    Do people who think fudging in RPGs is not a big deal be fine with fudging dice rolls in board games? Or pretending they drew a different card? Of course, most board games are competitive, but what about explicitly cooperative games - would they be okay with pretending the last crucial roll made in Eldritch Horror or Red November actually succeeded so that they win the game?

    1. @ Ynas:

      I don't know, man, but your comment (and Alexis's above) reminds me of just how AWFUL cheating is. How terrible I've felt when I've caught someone cheating in a game (board game or card game)...even a game JUST FOR FUN with no stakes on the line. Even a person you respected/thought highly low your opinion immediately sinks!

      [I'm not talking about little kids, BTW...I'm talking about teens and older, who should have already learned such lessons]

      It's only happened to me a couple times (that I can recall) but both times I felt so my association with that person had some how tainted me. In both instances I immediately decided to never play games with those people again (and never did).

      Maybe for some of us who grow up playing (with kids who don't know better) develop bad "kid habits" of fudging that we take into adult life and consider to be "okay/part of the game." Maybe that's the problem...we mentally separate RPG play from other types of game play, giving it different standards.

      I will say this: in my pre-teen AD&D days, there was one member of our group who was always bringing new PCs to the table that were stat-ed out and stat-ed up in a way that could only have been done by cheating. Because he was a friend (and because we were kids) we generally let it slide with an 'oh, well, that's just Matt'...but my co-DM and I would generally find ways of killing those characters (no quarter given!) and more than one of them died in PvP violence from other party members.

      As an adult, I always make players roll their characters in front of me. I don't want to give players even the temptation of "fudging" their rolls.

    2. Men & Magic is clear enough on the subject of character generation: the ref rolls the stats and then turns them over to the player, who then selects a role.

    3. Agreed. But that’s not the edition I’m playing these days.
      ; )

  12. Not to sound like the jerk at all, but why does it matter what other people do at their own table?
    Someone fudges a dice roll in their game? Ok.
    Someone has pizza rolls instead of chips at their table? Same level of concern...that is to say none at all.

    1. @ Timothy:

      You're not a jerk to ask. I ask myself "am I the jerk for even harping on this subject?" and I go back-and-forth on the subject. In fact, the answer *I* keep coming to (for myself) is both yes AND no.

      It's "yes" because the reality is that it doesn't really affect my table at all, no more than any house rule or preferred edition or preferred GAME that anyone wants to play. Love Dungeon World? RuneQuest? The latest monstrosity of Vampire Middle Ages? No skin off my nose...more power to you! Play what you like! Support those other companies! Cool! I'll keep playing my own game (AD&D).

      BUT (and here's the reason it's a "no," or maybe just a "yeah, but it's worth talking about") I think that fudging IS something that's been seen as permissible in RPGs in MANY circles for MANY years. It's a school of thought, a pervasive, insidious philosophy in gaming that this kind of cheating is 'okay' least when a DM is fudging in order to "make the game better."

      And while others may be satisfied to say, 'hey others want to cheat, that's fine, that's them, I don't cheat or play with cheaters, let them be,' ...well, when someone starts proclaiming loudly that this is GOOD AND RIGHT I am not one to let that stand un-challenged. It is NOT good and right; far from it, for all the reasons I've laid out.

      It's like this, man: some people are asshole racists. That's their problem. But when they start saying "hey, racism isn't bad, it's just a matter of opinion and personal taste, you do you and I'll do me," well, you can either turn a blind eye or you can stand up and shout from your own pulpit (assuming you have a pulpit) NO.

      And I have a pulpit (my blog). And, no cheating at an RPG in the comfort and sanctity of your own home...or even blogging about it...isn't as "big a deal" compared to many of the various 'problem things' (take your pick) going on in the world. But this falls under MY particular sphere of influence (such as it is). And while me shouting about it PROBABLY won't make much difference to how others play their games and DEFINITELY won't make any difference to what happens at my own table...well, I'm not one to stand silent when there's a SLIGHT CHANCE my shouting might make SOME difference.

      Hope that answer makes sense. Thanks for reading.

    2. Yes it does. And yes This is what blogs are primarily for.

  13. Your last word on the matter, JB, is all that needs to be said—and I only got through your bullet points.

    What’s terrifying and rewarding, in equal parts, to players: Roll the dice in front of the screen. They know there is zero chance the DM can fudge the roll. It’s all on them to handle the situation, using their characters’ abilities and their own wits.

  14. This is fascinating to me. I was taught to play with die roll changes by the DM as just another DM tool to keep things fair, fun, and moving. Now I would never dream of cheating a monopoly die roll, or card game, or taxes...but I have always read that the DMs perogative to veto any die roll outcome was just part of the game. Now I am rethinking it, as ya'll've presented some very good points against it here...
    anyhow, this is a new perspective on D&D to me...I previously looked at the game as if it were a direct decendant of refereed kreigspeil type wargames many of which used dice and tables to determine combat outcomes, but just as often rely entirely on the referee to use his experience to dictate the outcome of a given situation...for good or bad (Japanese wargaming of the Midway battle is an example of referees ignoring the die rolls and declaring an outcome the felt was more likely by the way, leading directly to the IJ navy being unprepared for US bombers)...

    1. In a war game involving (presumably) hundreds of imaginary soldiers some narrative hand waving is definitely needed. But D&D operates at a much smaller, drilled down, level where one can actually observe/play out how the particular fortunes affecting individuals (dice rolls) can help determine success or failure, life or death.

    2. Taking note that Japanese wargaming for the Midway battle was a total bloody disaster ...