Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Relapse -- and fudging in RPGs

Well, I relapsed.  After several months of staying away, I found myself drawn to ENWorld a couple of weeks ago after a Google search took me there looking for something else, and I stayed a little bit, got involved in some discussions, and made myself--at least a little bit--at home again.

Of course, it didn't take long for the banal and the pedantic and the passive aggressive trolls who are sadly too common there to make me wonder what I was doing.  Although the moderator who was the target of my disappointment last time around was a voice of reason this time around.  At least that's a plus.  This time, I got involved in a discussion about the merits (or lack thereof) of fudging as a GM.

My impression, and the impression of most who were posting in the discussion, I believe, is that fudging is inevitable, but its generally considered a bit gauche to show your hand and make it obvious that you're doing so.  You may find that a combat that you expected to be challenging turns out to be a cakewalk.  Or, a combat that you expect to be routine, turns out to threaten the lives of the entire party.  A major villain with months of build-up goes down like a chump to the first spell cast in combat.  In a rather routine maneuver, a PC really blows a low DC check of some kind and falls to his death.  Etc., etc.  The endless stream of scenarios that are totally unexpected in any RPG of any kind.

Many of these need to be expected, or at least the expectation that they could happen needs to be factored into the calculations of a good GM.  A good GM, if for whatever reason, is unwilling to accept all the possible results of a die roll, then in reality, he shouldn't be calling for a die roll.  Just use your "GM fiat" ability (not an automotive joint venture, despite the sound) to move the game forward, and then save your dice for when you are willing to let chance decide.  The element of chance is an important part of the game, and if the PCs feel too "safe"; i.e., you won't actually let anything too bad happen to them, then for most players of the game, that's a detriment to its fun.  However, not all of them.

And even in a more rigorous GMing environment, it's an important GMing skill to recognize when things aren't going in a way that's likely to be fun for the players and be able to make adjustments on the fly to correct them.  Sometimes that means that, yeah, you need to fudge a damage modifer to give a character one more chance to pull their bacon out of the fire.  Sometimes it means lopping a few extra hit points off an enemy combatant so they can drop when the combat is starting to get too long and tedious rather than exciting or fun.  On occasion, it even means something more drastic.  Hopefully very much on occasion, but there you have it.

On my GM Merit Badge banner over there to the side, I picked that I roll the dice in the open.  My interpretation of this badge is in regards to my general style.  I prefer to let the dice decide things, as I think that that's more fun.  I don't literally always roll out in front of everyone, because it's not very convenient from a placing standpoint; I'd have to stand up and reach over my screen every time I rolled any dice, which I don't do.  But I'm not secretive about my dice rolls.  I think putting your fate into the hands of the dice is a way to build tension--fun tension, not the other kind--in game, so I encourage it.  That said: I reserve the right to fudge on occasion if, in my estimation, it will improve the game for everyone involved.  And no, I probably won't tell you about it either, although after the fact, I might not care too much.

Again, it's my opinion that this is very common and in fact almost all GMs do this.  Scratch that: almost all good GM's do this, because it's a tool to allow GMs to improve the game.  That's the whole point of it, after all.  If you're sacrificing something that would be fun so you can take the moral high ground of playing a "purer game" or some such nonsense, that's a poor consolation prize, in my estimation.

Needless to say, there are a number of gamers at ENWorld--or at least a few very vocal ones--who find that notion inconcievable.  Which is fine; I certainly don't need to always be agreed with, and people can reasonably disagree, especially around issues of taste.  But many of these posters did not go in for reasonable disagreement.  They were posters who, in fact, insinuated passive-aggressively that people who want rolls fudged, should find some other term for their games, since they're clearly not "true" roleplaying games.  Who said that people who want their game fudged are--apparently--not adults.  Who said that people who allow some fudging here and there should stop playing D&D, because it's not the game for them.  Who created strawman arguments that if you're going to allow a little fudging here and there, then why even bother having dice at all, since clearly the GM is just telling his story to the players without any input or willingness to deviate from his foreordained plot.

Frankly, the absurdity of the discussion was quite frustrating, and reminded me again of why I left posting on RPG related messageboards in the first place, and why I shouldn't really have made a return, probably.  But I'm curious from the blogosphere: what's your position on fudging?  Do you allow it?  Frequently?  Infrequently?  Do you do it openly, or are you more discrete?

Yeah, yeah... I realize I won't get any comments.  Nobody actually reads this blog.  The only hits I have are from Google image searches.  I'm going to ask the question anyway, just in case.  And... here's an image of Selena Gomez in a bikini.  Just to keep those Google image searches coming.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fudging is fine as a GM, best done sparingly and best kept quiet unless you know all the players won't feel disempowered by it. It can benefit the enjoyment of the game enormously. It's good if you balance a pro-villain fudge with a pro-pc fudge - not exactly, but try to keep them close to 50/50 over the long run. Then your GM karma balances as well as improving flow and enhancing the experience.