Recently, it feels like every time I comment on someone else's blog, it's almost always some super-negative, ranty bit of spite and bile. Which (and I'm sure I've written THIS before in multiple blog posts) isn't all that helpful/constructive: telling someone "you suck" is a good way to get them to ignore you and continue on their merry way, wrong-headed or not.
Also...ugh...I don't need to swim in the negativity. I already spend too much time swimming in that particular sea on a mostly daily basis. And my life is awesome! Jesus H, I have nothing to complain/worry about...why I bother getting worked up about shit like climate change or racist politics or folks dying of some disease that I'm vaccinated against. Shit...why should I care? I bought a share of Moderna stock back in February when it was around $150...that bitch just hit $492 yesterday! Life is good, the weather's sunny (again...been a lot of that this summer). Probably grill up some steaks for dinner tonight while the family reclines in front of our flatscreen, checking out some mindless show like Holey Moley or Family Game Fight.
This morning I read this post from Cavegirl on fudging dice that...well, I just found her conclusions to be stunningly bad. Which is to say, I disagree with most about every sentiment expressed in the post. Which is...um, fine? Everyone's entitled to an opinion? Something-something-or-other?
But me being me, there's some stuff I can't just let "sail by" unchallenged. And rather than post some sort of ranty, batshit comment on her blog, I'll scribble it up here:
What the F?! What are we doing here? I mean, what exactly is the point of playing these games? What is the reason for designing them and writing them down and selling them and buying them and running them? What is the point of including randomizers and fortune mechanics like dice and card draws and coin clips? What is the reason for establishing rules and boundaries and limitations?
Why don't we just hang out with our buddies, sipping tea (or beer or vodka or whatever) kabitzing about interesting shit and having a grand old time? Why don't we just watch a movie? Or read a book?
Are we out of money? Are we out of ideas? Are we out of options? Or are we just some sort of delusional idiots going through monkey-see motions, an ancient ritual of play long-ago established in our formative years and repeated now like a superstitious canticle to ward off the specter of boredom or the miseries inherent in daily life? What the actual hell?
Let's think about this for a moment...I mean really think about this. About what the point of it all is. If it's pointless, well, okay then, Do As Thou Wilt shall be the whole of the law. But then...why are you bothering to play such-and-such game? Why are you wasting your time with this? You may be dying of cancer and not even know it...isn't there some other way to enrich your life?!
But if we want to play a game...any game! Pick your poison!...I assume it's because this particular game (any game!) is one that we want to play. And the game has rules. And the rules are part of the game. And we like the game (that's why we want to play) and we like the parts that make up that game (including the rules).
Ugh. Words are failing me at the moment. It's like trying to explain elementary principles like, I don't know, how to breathe or something. "You suck air down your throat, and then you blow it out again." Something. My brain is melting here. Maybe I'm the one that needs a deep breath.
I'll try this a different way: in a role-playing game that uses a fortune mechanic (like a die roll), the mechanic is presented for a particular reason and that reason isn't simply to give the participants a physical action to perform while sitting around the table.
[at least not in an RPG that's had some thoughtful design go into it]
Instead, the fortune mechanic is provided to give a random chance of some particular in-game event occurring: success or failure, a spread of potentialities, a degree of achievement, whatever. In my experience, thoughtfully designed games generally have sensible reasons for calling for a particular die roll (i.e. for the use of a fortune mechanic). If the system/setting/design would deem use of the fortune mechanic to be inappropriate or nonsensical, then no such use of the mechanic is preformed.
In other words: don't roll dice if there's no question about what's supposed to happen in a given instance.
As an example: these days I've been playing AD&D. Many of the die-rolling mechanics found in AD&D pertain to combat. That's because the game models battle to be an iffy, chaotic affair that could result in death or defeat for either side depending on tactics, abilities of the combatants involved, and the whims of fate. The "abilities of the combatants" provide the probabilities (a high level fighter is more likely to hit and damage an opponent) while the dice account for the "whims of fate." Tactics, however, can influence both of these things: striking from ambush increase the probability of success (a bonus to attack rolls) as does use of weapon (more or less damage) and may even negate the whims of fate altogether (cutting the throat of a bound prisoner or sleeping opponent results in an auto-kill without dice rolling).
I can totally understand that some people may not enjoy the "iffy-ness" of AD&D combat. They are certainly welcome to play other games that are more to their liking. They are certainly welcome to modify the AD&D system to their liking, creating their own game...perhaps one where PCs automatically hit or where damage from monsters can never "kill" a player character, only knock them out or something. That is fine and dandy, so long as everyone at the table can come to an agreement that THAT is the game they all want to play.
Because games have rules. When we sit down to the table, we are agreeing to play by the rules of the game being played.
There is never a reason to "fudge" the result of a die roll. There are times when dice are rolled by mistake ("oh, wait, I didn't need to make you roll for that...that's automatic") and a DM who has made a mistake in calling for a die roll at an inappropriate or nonsensical time has two options:
- fess up to the error and reverse ("retcon") the events that occurred due to the die roll, or
- plow ahead with the results.
Generally, option #1 is recommended unless the result of the die error was either A) trivial in nature, and/or B) provided a favorable result for the players at the table. But if the die roll was made appropriately (i.e. not a mistake) then there is no reason to not stand by the result of a die roll.
A die roll expresses a number of possibilities: it should be used only when a range of different possibilities are needed. If my dungeon has a balrog wandering the halls of the 6th level and I want there to be a chance of a dithering bunch of adventurers encountering said balrog while they debate the best choice of a particular crossroads to take, I may roll a die to see if such an encounter occurs...given that there is also a possibility that such an encounter does not (because the balrog is in a different wing of the level, perhaps dining on some corpse the party left in their wake). On the other hand, I may know with absolute certainty that no balrog will be encountered at all (because it was called away on a mission for Sauron or something) OR that it will be 100% encountered (because it has no interest in eating corpses but incredible interest in slaying interlopers and its keen sense of smell allows it to track the bloody bandages of wounded party members), and in such cases no die roll is needed at all. In these latter cases, even rolling a die would be a mistake on my (the DM's) part.
Rules are present in a game for a reason. Secret doors make some things difficult to find (unexplored sections of a map, special monsters, super-cool treasure, etc.). If a DM wants something to be absolutely definitely found by the players, then it shouldn't be located behind a secret door. If there is a clue that the DM absolutely must have the PCs discover, then don't hide it, and don't assign a "random chance" of discovery. Just have them find it. It's not really a "clue" at that point, but a piece of exposition ("the bandits will be meeting at the old church at midnight!") which the players can then choose to ignore or not.
Don't complain about die results: design and run your adventures better.
"Playing by the rules" is not something "subjective" or "a matter of taste." If I'm running out of money in a game of Monopoly and I fudge my die roll to not land on my opponent's hotel (or if I slyly gift myself with a no interest "loan" from the bank funds) I am failing to play by the game rules, clear and simple. Yes, it IS cheating...literally, "violating the rules" is a definition of "cheating." Choosing to ignore the result of a die roll is just that.
Now, rather infamously (since I mentioned AD&D) Gary Gygax wrote in his DMG (with regard to rolling dice) on page 110:
Now and then a player will die through no fault of his own. He or she will have done everything correctly, taken every reasonable precaution, but still the freakish roll of the dice will kill the character. In the long run you should let such things pass as the players will kill more than one opponent with their own freakish rolls at some later time. Yet you do have the right to arbitrate the situation. You can rule that the player, instead of dying, is knocked unconscious, loses a limb, is blinded in one eye or invoke any reasonably severe penalty that still takes into account what the monster has done.
The emphasis is added by me. Note that Gygax is not advocating for the result a die roll to be fudged; he is instead arbitrating a penalty more-or-less equivalent to death (remember characters can be returned to life in D&D), in order to allow a PC to survive...albeit maimed, blinded, captured, etc.
Earlier in the same section, Gygax writes it is the DM's "right" to "control the dice at any time," a phrase some might interpret as authorizing the fudging of dice results. I disagree. For me, "controlling" the dice simply means the DM is the one who says when and how (and by whom) the dice will be rolled. Gygax also writes that the DM "has every right to overrule the dice at any time if there is a particular course of events that you would like to have occur." Again, I see this as a mandate to call for there to NOT be a dice roll (when a desirable result is a certainty) rather than a call for the DM to fudge actual dice results.
There are so many problems in the world, and here I sit, complaining over the way someone wants to play their particular game. Stupid of me. Oh so stupid. And writing all this up (or any of it) won't make a whit of difference as to how people play their games...I'm just, once again, pissing all over their "fun" and telling them their way of doing things is bad/wrong. They will cite references found in all manner of RPGs saying things like "never let a bad die roll get in the way of telling a good story." And they shall remain unmoved by one old man's ranting on the internet.
You know what else you shouldn't let get in the way of telling a good story? Wasting time with a game. Just go tell your story! You don't need a game to do that! Find a damn writing group. Get your friends to collaborate with you. Start a community theater thing, or some shared oral storytelling tradition or something. Theme it with tropes from your favorite RPG setting if that's what floats your boat. But why waste time with dice and instructions ("rules")?
This is a stupid thing to rail against...I admit that. It's stupid to get worked up about...and I am worked up about it. And, no, it has nothing to do with challenging "assumptions about GM authority." The GM shouldn't be "fudging" (i.e. cheating) to get a more desirable result any more than a player. And (sorry Cavegirl) I really, REALLY disagree that the subject is "subjective" or a matter of "individual taste."
There's playing a game by rules. And there's cheating.
OR (I suppose) everyone can agree that the rule of the game is "there aren't any rules, at least not when they inconvenience one or more participants at the table." In which case, you're not really playing a game; you're simply playing. Which is fine, by the way...but you don't need dice for that.
Okay. Spleen vented. Sorry about all that.