Should GMs Fudge Dice
Let Them Stand or Make A Better Hand
Where is the line? Do you cross it? Do you fudge your rolls?
I have heard arguments on both sides of the answer to this question and both sides make some good points. I know where I fall on this, but I also know my game and my group very well, so there is no question as to if it happens or not. We all know the score and live by it, but I wonder what would happen if we changed games or even if I changed groups. Would I fudge my rolls?
The arguments for fudging are mostly about avoiding the truly abnormal or unreasonable. Keeping characters alive in circumstances where an unlucky roll would cause their instant demise at the hand of nothing foes or a terrible mistake. Keeping a major bad guy from making a fatal error on his first appearance, so he can come back later to be the foe he is supposed to be. Stopping some random major disaster (like a typhoon) from happening in the middle of a story or a random dragon from showing up in a dungeon crawl entrance hall.
Those all sound reasonable, but the question comes as to where the GM draws the line. Huge mistakes that can happen if the rolls are just that incredibly random are one thing, but how about changing smaller things for the sake of simple drama or story? Like fudging the rolls to make a group of bad guys seem like more of a challenge then they turned out to be. What about keeping a character from dying because they made some really stupid decision you tried to warn them about. What about allowing a dramatic escape of the bad guy when he actually failed to do it.
The downside of doing this too often to save the characters or the story is that it often starts to feel like they are invincible, and that can lead to players doing more and more dangerous stuff they wouldn't have normally done. It can also make things start to feel more "railroaded" and forced, even if that's not entirely the case. Nearly every player can agree that railroading is one of the worst things that can happen to a game, so you don't want to feel that way.
Fudging the rolls is a dangerous game and requires the GM to set some rather strict rules for themselves as to where that line is and they can not cross it. It can also help keep game killing events from happening and stories from being completely destroyed because of a bad roll.
On the other side of the coin are those who stand hard and fast against any kind of fudging. These are the "let them fall where they may" people. They firmly believe that the game has to have a completely even and arbitrary playing field between the players and the GM. Most of them also want to have all rolls done out in the open, so there is no chance of fudging at all.
I can't speak for all of them, but I know that several I have spoken with the past that hold this strong belief also tend to be the same people that view RPGs as a more of a conflict or contest between the players and the GM (as opposed to a joint effort). They see the GM as the enemy and they have to do whatever they can to get the upper hand over them. Not allowing them the "special power" of fudging rolls (usually suspected of being used against the players, as opposed to help them) is just one of these things they can do to keep thing fair.
There are also those that see the rules of the games as absolute and want to roll with whatever happens because of them, good or bad. They think that any outcome can work with the story, and possibly even create new and unexpected opportunities for story hooks. They are not seeing things as a contest against the GM, but just as being in the game together and the rules should, well, rule things.
No matter the reason, there are a lot of strong arguments as to how this is a good thing and should be the only way to play. The rules are there for a reason and should be followed when playing the game. This doesn't take into account the fact that many games (especially older ones) also have a mention about how any rule can be optional if the group doesn't want to use it.
In the end, as usual, it always depends on the group you play with the social contract you have with them. Even if you don't discuss the idea of a social contract, most groups actually have one. They are the agreed upon rules of the group you have, from starting time and date of games to areas of content you don't delve into (such as no rape, slavery, or child killing allowed in our games). How die rolls are handled should be part of this too, mostly based on the style of play you have and the role of the GM in your game.
Personally I see no problem with fudging to keep the greatly abnormal from happening and ruining the flow of the story, but not to keep lesser mistakes and oddities from happening for or against the players. The big bad guys can still fumble and screw up, just like the players though, but sometimes I just see the only way to save the scene is to fudge a roll here and there. My players know this and accept it, since it's not done specifically against them (usually more in their favor, if you want to know the truth).
I know my stance on this is not the same as all others out there, but it works for my group and it doesn't get over used. Keep it in your pocket as an emergency tool, along with all the other GM and general gaming tricks.
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