Monday 2 August 2021

On Fudging The Dice

 Been a while, hasn't it? And now Ya Girl is back with her hot opinions.
I'm doing discourse. God help me.

here is a photo, because the algorithm likes that.

So. Dice fudging. It's been in the conversation lately and everybody has very strong views and I cba to try to fit mine in a tweet so here we go.

First up, let's define our terms. Dice Fudging is when you roll a dice for some mechanic, and the result is rubbish so you pretend you got something else instead. You generally see it discussed in the context of the GM doing it in order to keep the story flowing or anything too weird happening.

So, right off the bat I'm going to say that the "never fudge, let the dice fall where they may" people are wrong. Not because that's not a valid style of play, but because they're being absolutist about a matter of subjective taste. I'd also say that the (less common) people who say that a GM has an obligation to fudge to keep things on track are making the same mistake.

In practice, how you handle this is going to vary wildly from group to group depending on tastes, priorities, the system being used, etc etc.

The question isn't really about the GM getting to ignore the dice, it's how you relate to the game mechanics as a power structure. If following the mechanics and dice rolls to the letter results in a naff outcome, do you overrule them? And different play cultures have different answers to that question. Assuming everybody else shares your culture of play, or that a single culture of play applies to all the games you use, will lead to less interesting results.
If I'm playing Call Of Cthulhu and flub a Notice roll to get that vital clue that moves the investigation to its next step, then the GM tweaking things so the investigation doesn't stall out is pretty justified. On the other hand, if I'm playing B/X and fail a save vs poison and my PC dies, the GM shouldn't be tweaking that because unexpected lethality is part of the intended experience. Different priorities in different games.

I mean, hell, even as an OSR GM I've done this now and then. Mostly for random encounters, if I roll an encounter and it makes no sense for it to be there (perhaps I get a large predator in a tomb without enough prey to support it), I ignore that result and re-roll. I'm prioritising keeping the fiction internally consistent over obeying the whims of the dice.

On the other hand, I'd never fudge things like combat or traps. If you die, you die. Play smarter next time. Otherwise, if I tweak things to save one PC, that sets a precedent for similar situations in future. Bad vibes.

Ultimately, it comes down to having a robust social contract in place. If everybody's on board with that style of play, it's fine. If they aren't, it's not. Just make sure everybody's on the same page, and be open about what you're doing. 

A lot of the time, fudging the dice is a corrective mechanism. Perhaps you called for a roll when you didn't really need one, and realise after the fact that actually, no, you already know what should happen. Perhaps the game mechanics are flawed or don't cover this situation, and produced an inappropriate result. Nudge things back on track, and move on.
No RPG is perfect (except the ones I write, obvs). Some amount of maintenance will be needed on the fly. Sometimes, fudging dice is just a way to account for those flaws without having to take the whole game apart and houserule it to be better, which might be more effort than it's worth.

So far, so milquetoast. Now time for a 1000 scoville take.

If the GM can fudge the dice, why can't the players?

This is one of those questions that gets people really weirdly angry. Like asking 'if you eat meat and that's okay, why isn't it okay to kill animals for the fun of it'? It exposes those little irrational biases that make people uncomfortable, I suspect.

And the answers I mostly get generally take the same form.
"Oh, you can't trust players, they don't know what's best for them."
"If you trust the players with that, they'll abuse it."
"The GM's job is to make the game fun, and players don't have that responsibility."
"What's to stop the players fudging every roll and winning everything?"
...and so on and so forth.

And I dunno. I find this perspective fucking infantilising. It treats players like selfish assholes with no impulse control who just want to win at all costs. The GM has this paternalistic duty over the players, who will ruin everything if you let them, because they don't know what's good for them. Urgh. 

Here's another thing. 
"No, the players can't fudge! That's cheating!"
Is it? Is it though? If everybody at the table is cool with it, if it's explicitly an option, then you're not violating your social contract.

(See also the question asked of many polyamorous people: "If you hook up with somebody else, aren't you just cheating on your partner?" No, because no agreement is being violated, and they're fine with it. Jeez. Okay end of stupid aside.)

What this comes down to is power structures. The GM is given power. They can ignore the rules, if they want to, because they're in charge and it's their prerogative. Rule 0 means what the GM says goes. Players can't, though, because we don't allow them that power.
Fuck that noise.

You want to know a dirty secret? I've fudged dice as a player sometimes, too. And you know what's fascinating, and counter to all the arguments I hear on the topic? I've never done that to make myself succeed.
But sometimes, I want to fail and the dice won't let me. Sometimes I want to RP having that trauma and paranoia, and want my investigator to fail her San check. Sometimes I think it would be more fun to fail my self-control roll and accidentally blood bond myself. Sometimes I want my Dread character to knock over the jenga tower and go out in a blaze of glory.
Sometimes failing is fun, and the dice won't let me.
And this is a playstyle that so many people in this discussion just... don't seem to account for. They see it in terms of 'winning' and 'unfair advantage' because... 
Well, look. Because D&D is often played as a game about violence and winning, and they assume that's how all RPGs work.

You know what? If we've decided that we're going to override the mechanics sometimes to make the game more fun, then that power probably shouldn't be centralised in only the GMs hands. Players should get their own creative input.
Heck, sometimes people ignore the dice because, look, they've had a shitty day and they just want to feel powerful, and if they do so fucking what? We aren't playing poker, money isn't on the line. Heck, it probably isn't even a PvP situation. Just let them have it. It's not a big deal.

Why are people so mad about this?
Because it questions the unspoken, unchallenged assumptions about GM authority. And that makes them uncomfortable.

And look. High GM authority games where the players don't have that control can work fine. Plenty of mystery or exploration games, for example, rely on hidden information to function, and the GM is making calls with info the players aren't privy too, and bringing the players behind the curtain to make these calls would spoil the process of discovery.
It can work really well. But it's not the only way of doing these things.

I feel I should probably clarify that I tend to favour games that don't fudge dice, either as a player or a GM. But also, I favour games which only roll dice occasionally, in high-stakes, uncertain, dramatic situations. Mostly you can handle things with the conversation loop, letting the fiction evolve without needing randomness to get involved.

Anyway in conclusion, it's a complex topic that largely comes down to individual taste, and also our default assumptions about GM authority aren't the only way to do things.

Addendum: a friend described dice fudging (when used in healthy ways) as basically a retcon. Something went wrong - either the mechanics were flawed or a bad call was made - so we're going to go back and undo that mistake. Which I think is a good way to look at things.


  1. It's interesting that D&D 3e had a "you can always choose to fail a saving throw" rule, which I think was intended to make sure that your caster buddies could always use spells on you if you wanted them to.

  2. I don't fudge rolls, but I do change the list of potential outcomes before I roll the dice. Yes-or-No is meh; Yes-and vs. yes-but is a lot more fun. However, it does require you to be quick on your feet with the improvisation.

  3. Honestly, you make a pretty good argument in favor of player fudging. Like, it isn't fitting for the playstyle I prefer, but I recognize that it's absolutely valid. Also, I probably only feel this way because I'm really invested in an idea for "how D&D should be played" that's been with me my whole life, and I'd probably quite enjoy trying this other philosophy that's outside my comfort zone.

    So yeah, 1000 scoville take ended up a lot tastier than I would have expected. You totally changed my mind about something in pretty much just a few sentences.

  4. I tend to fudge when the outcome is just going to end up with something boring and unfun, or when i clearly wasn't reading things correctly (most recently, misreading how traps in a section of a funnel worked that, had I gone through with it, would have wiped one player's entire group in the first encounter of the night. That got super fudged.)

  5. Completely seperate to the should you/shouldnt you argument, id put forward something that doesnt often get talked about: fudging dice as a baseline is because the group doesnt trust the system that is being played.

    Ofc this could be purely from a 'this system gets us closer to how we want to play so sometimes we fudge to put up with the 5% of exceptions', but quute often it can be from it being the wrong system for that specific group or, even more insidiously, the group not actually fully understanding how all the systems components fit and mesh together.

    That said, i tend to think that the average rpg system isnt all that well designed when it comes to intentionality so fudging, based on what youve said, makes a lot of sense as a bandaid solution to keep the party going.

    Really, maybe a better way to get my point across is to churn out my own hot take: simple and small rules are better than large complex rules purely because they are easier to rank and rate accurately, and that quite often enjoyment of a game (and the need to fudge) is a function of system mastery and buy-in than it is one of system accuracy or story requirements

    1. I think that's fair. The more crunchy and complex and all-encompasing a game's mechanics are, the more likely they are to accidentally spit out a bad result that needs fixing.

  6. I've never fudged rolls to be honest; until now I never thought there might be reason to. Interesting take on something I never really questioned, definitely resonates on the social contract point, and rolling less and for more important things.

    Wonder if handling things in the conversation loop is fudging in some people's minds?

  7. I've never fudged as a player, but I have as a GM. In the past it was because I was afraid of player death, and didn't realize a PC was so close to it. More recently it was for story (the random encounter was the same boring one as before, let's find something new and interesting).

    I love your ideas about player intentionality, and there have been nights when the cleric with his mace of disruption rolled serial 1's against the undead. A fudge on one or more of those would have fit Rule-of-Cool and moved things along much better. In fact another party member asked for the cleric to get inspiration because "no one should have to put up with that" and I agreed, and it ended the bad streak (and made the game more fun for the cleric player).

    I think my biggest fudging issue as a GM is rolling for something, or asking for a roll (or assenting to a roll) when I don't know what a success should be...and then trying to decide what the dice mean.

  8. > the "never fudge, let the dice fall where they may" people are wrong […] because they're being absolutist about a matter of subjective taste.

    So… you're being absolutist about people expressing their choice over a matter of subjective taste? Oh well, maybe I've missed a /s mark.

    More on topic, I'm with trollsmyth here: if possible, I rather adjust the potential outcomes before than fudge the roll after. If I'm not going to accept the dice outcomes, I'd question whether that roll is really needed.

    I like the retcon analogy, though.

    1. if somebody is saying that X technique is *always* wrong, when that's a matter of subjective taste, then they are fundamentally mistaken about how subjectivity works.

  9. "Fudging" dice rolls isn't a matter of individual taste. It's a declarative statement that the rules don't matter.

    If someone can't abide the results of a die roll, then either A) the die roll probably isn't one that should be made, or B) the game being played may not be appropriate for that particular individual.

    1. sure, fudging is almost always a response to something going wrong. Either a flaw in the game's mechanics or a bad call being made in play.
      In practice, we live in an imperfect world and sometimes things don't work how we'd want. When that happens, patching over the problem is fine. That doesn't mean that the rules are worthless, it just means that the rules and people using them aren't perfect.

    2. Hm.

      Hm. There’s a lot packed into that comment that (I suppose) I disagree with, right down to its fundamental presumption that “something going wrong” has occurred and that this somehow justifies one’s choice to fudge.

      But I’m kind of tired of negativity at the moment and I don’t feel like contributing to it by penning my (potentially) inflammatory thoughts.

      I wish you (and your gaming table) well. Really.

  10. I find what you are saying to be really interesting Cavegirl. I am not sure I agree with all of it but it is less that I disagree and more I need to think about the ramifications and how I could make particular parts of it work.

    I recently ran the final session of what was one of the best campaigns I've run in years...until the final session. There were places - points in the scenario as it was unfolding - that I really should have fudged some of the rolls. I didn't. It caused certain choices by the players and myself to steer the game to what I felt was a disappointing conclusion narrative-wise.

    If I had the chance to do it over I would have fudged and it would've resulted in a better product.

    1. P much. Just be honest with your players. "That was rubbish, lets do something else" in response to an inconvenient roll works fine.

  11. Fudge is ok but I prefer a good brownie. It can't be too cakey, it has to be in that magic zone of between cakey and fudgey, with a slight bit of chewy. But fudge is fine at Christmas time or if you're on vacation in one of those places that specializes in fudge-making.

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  13. Replies
    1. but that's wrong
      'Cheating' is a violation of the game's social contract. What the social contract forbids will vary from group to group and game to game.
      I have, for example, played games where the social contract forbade making plans with other players between game events. In these games, meeting to plan with other players was cheating. However, other games don't forbid - or actively encourage - this behaviour. So what counts as 'cheating' varies from game to game.
      In a similar way, if a game's social contract allows you to override or retcon the results of a dice roll, then doing so is not cheating. If the game's social contract doesn't allow that, then doing it's cheating.

      So. Cheating is subjective, in that what counts as cheating will vary from game to game.
      Your personal tastes are not objective facts.

    2. Um. What constitutes cheating may vary from game to game, sport to sport, table to table, but that doesn’t make it “subjective;” simply VARIABLE by activity. Once a set of rules have been agreed upon, cheating (that is, violation of those established rules) becomes an objective and verifiable fact.

      So, no. Cheating is NOT subjective. Personal taste regarding rules preferences are subjective.

      (apologies…I know I said I’d leave off in my last comment)

    3. Personally I'd say Cheating is Objective once rules are established. Determine what the rules are and then know that violating them for personal gain is cheating.

      If once such rule is 'It is OK to Fudge a roll', thenFudging isn't Cheating. RPGs are mutable and flexible and nearly all of them open with a 'these are guidelines', 'change what you don't like type jam.

      Improve it. It's Jazz, man.

    4. Sorry for my grammar and spelling. Writing quickly on my phone is never optimal.

    5. that's exactly my point. If the group has agreed that fudging the rolls is fine, then it's not cheating. If they've agreed you shouldn't fudge roll, it's cheating.

      Subjective taste enters into the equation because whether to allow dice fudging is a choice for individual groups to make. Some people prefer games with it, some people prefer games without it. So, whether a group allows fudging will come down to that group's subjective taste.

  14. Replies
    1. I'm pretty sure this is spam but I appreciate the compliment.

  15. This is an excellent explanation and exploration of a mindset I myself have arrived at--with help from the more experienced, especially Johnny Chiodini--in regards to this.

    A weird tangent: Caravan to Ein Arris instructs the GM to pretend to use dice, at a specific point in the adventure, to determine what is in fact an inevitable outcome favoring the players. What do you think of *that*?

    1. I don't like it, since it's fundamentally dishonest.
      If you're to fudge, do it openly. Say to your players "that was a 2, and that's rubbish, do we want to go with a different outcome?"
      Does that make sense?

  16. "I WILL NEVER FUDGE DICE! I WILL NEVER LIE TO MY PLAYERS! I ROLL IN THE OPEN!" I scream as the osr elites drag me away from the gaming table into a backroom to harvest my adrenochrome.

  17. As someone on the outskirts it's kinda interesting to see the ripples this post caused in a community that seems to be pretty much built around taking rulesets apart and keeping/discarding the ones you do/don't like.

  18. I think the word "Fudging" normally implies some level of deception or dishonesty. You rolled a 3, but you tell everyone you rolled a 10. If you are open and honest about retconning a situation, I normally wouldn't call that fudging.

    For me, I think retconning things is awesome. Both GM's and players should do it all the time. Everyone should feel empowered to say "Can we retcon that?" when something isn't working. I don't see any value in hiding it, though.

    For your COC example, I would say: "Sorry, I shouldn't have made you roll that investigation check, this should be information your character can find easily. Let's say you succeeded." I think trying to hide the dice result in this situation usually makes for a worse game than just being honest about the retcon.