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Recipe for Fudge, part 2: Fallout

Posted By Kurt "Telas" Schneider On April 26, 2010 @ 8:25 am In GMing Advice | 26 Comments

Don’t you just hate it when your fudge falls out?

This is a continuation of Wednesday’s article on fudging. In that article, the events that led up to the fudging, my rationale for doing so, and the actual fudging was laid out. This article covers the reaction from my players, and possible reactions that you may face if you decide to fudge.

Clarifications

One point that was raised in Wednesday’s comments was taking the party prisoner. 20-20 hindsight found a reason for keeping the party alive and in chains, but it didn’t really seem valid at the time.

Another point not fully addressed was how it went wrong. The players used reasonable tactics, but did not “bring their A-game” as it were. Dice rolls and initiative cards definitely favored the GM, but the party did not fight as a team, did not focus on individual opponents, and did not use their fullest abilities at critical junctures. I’m not blaming the players at all (not every group can be perfectly efficient), but this encounter called for synergy, concentration of fire, and aggression.

Reactions

Probably the most surprising thing about my little incident was the reaction from the players. Player 1 goes through characters like Lady Gaga goes through hairstyles. P2 enjoys playing his characters, but is not especially attached to them. P3 and P4 seem to have a somewhat stronger attachment to their characters. P5 is very strongly attached to his characters, to the degree that he was visibly uncomfortable with the idea of a permanent injury.

We had a discussion afterwards, which continued online. Anyone who’s read my advice knows that my default answer is to communicate, so I put everything out there and asked for feedback. And thanks to my excellent players, I got it.

I expected the first two players to frown at the fudge, but everyone else to be fine with it as a story-saving device. I was wrong. P1 and P3 were strongly anti-fudge, and might consider it a deal-breaker in future sessions. P2 and P4 weren’t keen on it, but understood my rationale. P5 was the most comfortable with the fudge, but I even got the vibe that he wasn’t entirely happy about the GM assisting with his victory.

I was surprised, to say the least. Perhaps I expected the players to share my own level of attachment to characters? Perhaps I felt that they were at least as invested in the story as I was? I don’t know, but I did expect less resistance to the fudge.

So if you are looking to pack some fudge into your game*, be aware that it’s not for everyone. Talk about it first, and (if it’s overt fudging) again afterwards.

Got something to add to the discussion? Sound off in the comments and let us know!

* Yes I went there. Do you know how difficult it is for someone with my one-track gutter to write multiple articles about fudge and not use the word “pack” at least once?

About  Kurt "Telas" Schneider

Kurt Schneider played D&D in 1979 at summer camp, and was hooked. He lives with his wife, daughters, and dog in Austin TX, where he writes stuff, and tries to stay get fit. Look for his rants under the nom de web Telas or TelasTX. Quote: “A game is only as balanced – or as good – as the GM."




26 Comments (Open | Close)

26 Comments To "Recipe for Fudge, part 2: Fallout"

#1 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On April 26, 2010 @ 8:28 am

Sorry this is a bit late, but I had to de-ice the wings on my iPad.

(Seriously, I just need to learn the difference between the “save” and “publish” buttons.)

#2 Comment By theEmrys On April 26, 2010 @ 9:14 am

Interesting to hear the reactions. I used to do more fudging for the “story” side of things but I found it too easy to slip into the “my story must go on” mode.

Now I do almost all my rolls in the open (except some where they can’t see the results just yet) and our group likes it. We’ve been very up front it with and are big on the “let the dice roll as they may” and it’s worked. Actually, I think they’re probably MORE attached to their characters because of it. There’s more of a sense of pride for their accomplishments, especially if it’s a bold move that they pulled off. Also, if they die, they accept it realizing it was their time. They’d rather have a good story of how they died than to lose the feel of challenge in the game. Each group works different of course, but my group has moved more this way and we love it.

#3 Comment By Roxysteve On April 26, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

I think what’s at the heart of the player reaction isn’t so much the attachment to the characters but the knowledge that they didn’t win through by their own efforts.

I realize this makes as much sense as something that doesn’t make much sense at all when you consider the results were actually the results of dice rolls (in this case), but the problem is by admitting you stepped in and saved the day you’ve intruded on each player’s inviolable inner picture of what happened.

Not only that, you’ve stepped over the DM shield and become a player. A player who gets to see everything and can just “make it didn’t happen”. You’ve become, in a very real sense, the ultimate munchkin minmaxer and joined the party uninvited.

I’ve recently changed-up my DM style in Call of Cthulhu to reduce the body count (CofC is so very, very lethal otherwise), but I’ve done it (by fudging) secretly and I never considered letting the players know.

For the most part they are having a ball, though in the interests of full disclosure I should admit the game had a messy departure as the result of one player’s general dissatisfaction with the game in general, which involved a rather vitriolic comment on how boring the campaign was. Since the view wasn’t shared bu anyone else I put it down to “bad fit” and moved on.

It’s not just the character a player identifies with, its the things they do. If you tell them after the fact that they didn’t do them after all you force a massive disconnect.

That’s how I see the events you describe.

Thanks for sharing. Very thought provoking.

Steve.

#4 Comment By Roxysteve On April 26, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

@Roxysteve – Gah. Too many “generals”. Thanks again, so-called “brain”.

#5 Comment By allen On April 26, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

I’m sort of surprised as well. I find myself wondering along with Roxysteve whether the responses were to the visibility of the fudge rather than whether or not the fudge took place.

I don’t fudge dice rolls (actually, my players roll against themselves so that the monsters are affected by their own hot or cold streaks, and they are welcome to use whatever dice they feel roll low)- but I DO sometimes invent mechanics on the fly (such as a vulnerability stemming from a certain status effect) to try to tone down an encounter that is headed for a TPK. I find that so long as I do so in a way that is consistent with their experience so far, my players feel clever for finding the weakness, and assume that the reason the encounter has been so hard so far is that they were supposed to discover the achilles heel.

I suspect it depends to some degree on who you play with. I’ve met players in the past that really love the wargame at the center of the D&D mechanics, who try to act as auditors of the GM, and would probably get very upset if they caught me in the act of doing that. In all honesty though, I wouldn’t really care to DM for those players, and wouldn’t really have a problem with just killing their characters if that is what they wanted.

#6 Comment By Scott Martin On April 26, 2010 @ 5:52 pm

Sounds like it went as well as can be expected, particularly when it’s made obvious. I know that as a player I’m willing to ignore the truth or just assume the circumstances dictated what happened, but it’d be much harder to ignore with the GM telling me what happened.

It sounds like you have a green light for letting the dice fall where they may from everyone but player five, and even he seems to lean towards accepting it. That clarifies things and gives you a clear path forward, which is a great result. [It also seems to match the advice to beware the retcon… your group is quite consistent.]

#7 Comment By Sarlax On April 26, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

“Perhaps I felt that they were at least as invested in the story as I was?” I don’t think that’s a valid interpretation.

The only interaction a player has a game (in most campaigns/systems) is through their PC. If you take away their power over their PC, they are no longer playing the game: they are simply watching it. Once the players’ choices are negated, the *player* characters aren’t PCs, they’re NPCs.

The assumption behind most (if not all) instances of fudge seems to be this: the GM knows better than the PCs what’s fun. Most defenses of it seem to follow claims such as, “I only do it to heighten the drama,” or, “To keep the storyline going,” etc. All justifications end up going to the same place, that only the GM truly knows how to maximize fun at the table.

I don’t know the group, of course, but I’d wager it’s more fun to charge in recklessly and truly risking life and limb (of PCs) than it is to have an encounter’s outcome preordained and narrated.

#8 Comment By Patrick Benson On April 27, 2010 @ 8:16 am

I do not think that fudging is about the GM knowing better than the PCs what is fun. I think that fudging when done well is the GM knowing better than the game what is fun for his or her group.

As much as I would love for RPGs to be a science the truth is that they are an art, and occasionally we as GMs have to make some on the fly changes to our games. Now I roll my dice in the open as well, but I will fudge stats if I realize that I have miscalculated what the PCs were capable of. I won’t fudge things because the players are having a string of bad rolls, because that is just luck. Sometimes the PCs fail, and sometimes I as the GM failed in my planning and need to adjust on the fly.

In all my years of gaming there are no absolutes. “Fudging is never acceptable!” “Never split the party!” “The Forge says .” Yet there is always an exception to the rule, and I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing: running games and learning from each one what I do well and what I need to improve upon. So far so good. :)

#9 Comment By evil On April 27, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

@Patrick Benson – I agree. It’s not about knowing the game better than the players, but knowing the game better than a random flop of the dice. As with all of my games, I have a few house rules that I sometimes institute, and I let players know about them before they ever sit at the table with us. Of course, there’s always the old fallback saying….if you don’t like it, why don’t we trade places? This is usually a pretty definitive argument for our group.

#10 Comment By Roxysteve On April 27, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

Reading the article, it wasn’t at all about the DM knowing what was best, it was about the DM knowing what was *next*, and wanting the player-characters to get there with enough oomph to have a fighting chance.

The error wasn’t in putting the fix in, it was in ‘fessing up to the players what had been done after the fact, because that broke continuity in each person’s inner movie of events.

All IMO of course.

#11 Comment By Patrick Benson On April 27, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

@Roxysteve – I agree with the idea that if you fudge don’t tell the players about it. Furthermore, I would say that if you fudge something it should be because you recognized a mistake in your planning, and the fudging is a quick duct tape and chicken wire type fix. You might get through the session with a fudging patch job, but longterm you need to address the real issue and correct how you plan for a session.

#12 Comment By Roxysteve On April 27, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

@Patrick Benson – Oh yeah, I needz teh RPG duct tape all the time.

I should also clarify that I fudge reaction rolls, NPC enemy skill rolls and such like. I hardly ever mess with combat rolls unless we are in “first round initiative-holder NPC Cultist fires shotgun and scores critical hits on several PCs before they have chance to get in the game” country.

Call of Cthulhu can kill everyone before they even realize they are in danger. If they are in the blender because they have been repeatedly thick as planks despite my gentle guidance to the contrary (I fudge the helpful NPC advice too) then they are shoggoth-bait and Azathoth help ‘em. But if the dice just hate ‘em that day despite their play smarts, I give ‘em a leg-up behind the green curtain. It is *much* better for the characters to shoot some vile cultist and see just how deadly the combat can be than for them to find out by dying because:

1) The characters will probably have broken many laws by doing this shooting, maiming and killing, which means you, the DM, have them by the dangly-bitz and can hound them from pillar to post with local police and the FBI.

2) Rule 0 – “If you kill them, you can’t drive them mad”. Mad is scads more fun for the GM than dead, and ends up meaning the same as far as removing PCs from the game.

But if someone actually felt strongly about it I would roll openly and we would return to the “so lethal everyone had to run two or three concurrent characters” days before I learned better and started working subtly *for* the players instead of staying rigidly neutral.

#13 Comment By Sarlax On April 27, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

“I think that fudging when done well is the GM knowing better than the game what is fun for his or her group.”

“It’s not about knowing the game better than the players, but knowing the game better than a random flop of the dice.”

Unfortunately, the *game* doesn’t take a position on what is or isn’t good for the group’s fun. When fudging happens, it’s the GM deciding that the rules by which everyone agreed to play are no longer in effect. Such a thing is an act of a GM who thinks he knows better than the players, because before that act of fudging, they’d agreed to a set of rules.

For instance, in the posting example, the game was Savage Worlds. This is a game in which you can Ace (known as dice “exploding” in other games). In a battle, a monster could Ace several times, leading to tremendous damage in a single strike. By agreeing to play SW, everyone agreed to play a game in which they could be brought down outright in a single strike.

More broadly, by playing any game with random elements, the players (which includes the GM) are deciding to accept the randomness which dice or cards bring.

When the GM decides to fudge, he’s deciding that the agreement the players made to use the rules and accept randomness doesn’t matter. He’s decided he knows as an individual what’s better for the group than the group itself decided.

Case in point (possibly): The very example that prompted this post. It seems every player disliked the fudging to some degree, and two of them thought it bad enough that they might not play if it happens in the future.

So much discussion about fudging happens between GMs. I wonder how many GMs actually ask their players if they are okay with fudging, and ask it in a way that a player doesn’t feel required to answer “Yes.” I’d be curious to know what fraction of players accept it and how many won’t tolerate it.

#14 Comment By Patrick Benson On April 27, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

@Sarlax – As part of my group’s game charter there is a section about fudging, and it was debated and agreed upon that each GM may or not fudge as they see fit for the game that they run (we rotate GMs).

We use this approach because we feel that the social activity of gathering and enjoying each others company through the act of role playing (not necessarily the game) is what matters the most to us. I’d much rather have any group that I belong to use that approach instead of the approach that you advocate. I as a player do not care if the GM fudges or not.

The odd thing is that I fudge less and less as I GM more and more. I have fudged dice rolls in the past, and I have fudged stats as well, but I cannot remember the last time that I did so. I know that I am not fudging though because I do note it when I fudge something. I will write something like “Altered BBEG’s armor by -2. No one was able to hit. Check PC stats again.” and move on. I’ve been keeping these notes in the The Keep software for the last year plus, and it seems that I just do not fudge anymore (but I will if I feel it is needed for the game).

So is it that better GMs do not need to fudge? Or perhaps GMs become better through keeping the campaign going no matter what and eventually develop the skills where fudging is not necessary? Or perhaps I am not pushing my boundaries hard enough as a GM because things are going too smoothly?

Personally, since I don’t care about fudging as a player I see nothing wrong with it. As a GM I will not fudge if the group does not want it. Good GMs know their groups, and resolve these matters through communication (just like Kurt did, for he knows not to fudge with this group again). So why restrict yourself by some ultimatum of never or always?

I’m curious – would those against fudging do so if the group said they would rather have what is best for the story instead of what the rules decree?

#15 Comment By JoeyD473 On April 27, 2010 @ 9:05 pm

In my group, if I fudge in their favor they normally don’t care. I am attached to any PC I have ever made. The one guy hates his characters dieing or getting seriously hurt, but not because of attachment, but feels if his character got seriously hurt I made an encounter too challenging. One player is attached to his characters, but if it gets hurt (or even killed) it isn’t a big deal. And the other player is currently playing a character made by one of the other players and is becoming quite attached and I fear when this campaign ends and it is time to make new characters isn’t going to want to let this one go

#16 Comment By Sarlax On April 28, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

“We use this approach because we feel that the social activity of gathering and enjoying each others company through the act of role playing (not necessarily the game) is what matters the most to us. I’d much rather have any group that I belong to use that approach instead of the approach that you advocate.”

What approach is that? My position is that which matters most in the game is that everyone has fun. It’s not as easy to have fun if someone’s not playing fair. If a group openly decides amongst themselves that they accept the GM fudging, it’s fine, because there’s a fair an honest agreement between all the players. It’s when the GM decides for himself that he has this right and the other players aren’t given a say that there’s a problem.

“I’m curious – would those against fudging do so if the group said they would rather have what is best for the story instead of what the rules decree?”

This is the eternal false dilemma of the fudging debate. It’s not correct that Anti-Fudge = Anti-Story. Rather, being at against fudging (in my case) is about rejecting the idea that the GM always knows what’s best for his group’s fun. Not to keep picking on Kurt, but his posts suggest the he stumbled the exact problem of fudging: He may have actually made the game less fun by doing it, because he misjudged which outcome the players preferred, and assumed that achieving the preferred outcome (killing the enemy) was more important than the means by which it was achieved (through tactics and luck rather than GM manipulation).

It’s not just the transparency that (may) have caused the players’ grumpiness about it. GMs are often less subtle about fudging than they think. With three to six people watching you, it can be hard to tweak numbers on the fly in secret.

Again, my beef is with the presumption of the GM’s right to fudge. If there’s an agreement beforehand among all players (including the game master), then it’s fine. It’s really more of a house rule: “If random outcomes begin leading the party to an outcome which the GM isn’t prepared to accept, the GM may by fiat change outcomes or alter statistics, to the extent necessary to preserve his intended outcome.” I wouldn’t like it myself, but I have no objection to groups who elect to do it amongst themselves.

#17 Comment By Roxysteve On April 28, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

@Sarlax – You obviously feel passionately about this, but unless the players and GM agreed that the dice would always be rolled openly – and that raises all sorts of issues with, say, a Disarm Trap roll or a Charm Person spell in which crucial plot points can hinge on the players’ (mis)perceptions of what is going on – they are none the wiser for having been spared and not hurt one way or the other.

No-one is suggesting that the characters should lead charmed lives, but for my part I feel that killing someone in the first five minutes of a four hour session in which there is no rational way to have a new PC join the group just because the stupid dice chose that warm-up combat to go ultra-stupid is far worse than simply making it didn’t happen behind the screen.

Your example actually points up what I feel to be one of the great weaknesses of the Savage Worlds system, one that breaks immersion far more than any fudged die roll would in my opinion: at any point the whole carefully crafted scene can turn into a ridiculous cartoon as unfeasible dice results cascade into the lower stratosphere.

However, that isn’t germane to the point at hand.

I would counter your strong argument in opposition to the fudging of dice in certain circumstances by pointing out that the players in question *didn’t* actually object to anything _until_ Telas had ‘fessed up and told them what he’d done. Up until that point they had presumably been having the usual good time. The lesson here would seem to be that whether or not it is “good” or “bad” to fudge the dice, it is unforgivable to tell people you already did.

#18 Comment By Roxysteve On April 28, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

@Patrick Benson – Fudging stats? Here’s an example from real life: I recently ran the Conan D20 adventure “Tower of the Elephant” for some first-time Conan players. I did what I call character skeletons – partially finished pregens which can be tweaked with a few skill points for an individual touch.

Realizing what everyone knows but almost never admits to – that no-one wants to play a disadvantaged character in a S&S scenario – I just bit the bullet and used a spreadsheet to generate stats using 2D4+10 as the basis for every one. This guaranteed no stat mods less than 1.

I published this scheme as what people who would prefer to gen their own should use and got ZERO objections, even though it “broke” D20 convention and fudged super-heroic characters in every case.

I use 2D6+6 as the baseline for Call of Cthulhu characters instead of 3D6 for the same reason – I can’t stand player bleating and in the end it’s their enjoyment that is at stake.

I guess that the fudge tastes better in some places than others. :o)

#19 Comment By Patrick Benson On April 28, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

Then if a game includes a rule 0 (something to the effect of saying that a GM may use fiat and may ignore rules as he or she sees fit) and the group agreed to play that game but did not specifically agree to disallow rule 0 to be in effect then fudging in any form is okay.

Yep. I like that. :)

Game on!

#20 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On April 28, 2010 @ 11:10 pm

Interesting and lively discussion, but I’d like to clarify a few things.

I’ll address overt vs. covert fudging in the next installment. It’s too much to discuss here, but in my game, there’s almost no way to covertly fudge in combat; almost all dice are rolled in the open.

@RoxysteveNot only that, you’ve stepped over the DM shield and become a player. I’m not sure what you’re saying here. I play everything that’s not a PC, sometimes to the benefit and sometimes to the detriment of the party. Do you mean that I took the player’s side in the combat, instead of cheering on the monsters?

@Sarlax – What I saw at the table and what I see in your comments are so disparate that I’m having trouble replying.

But I’ll try:
-I did not take away anyone’s power over their PCs.
-The outcome was not “preordained and narrated”.
-I had a choice between fudging and a TPK; I’m pretty sure both would have left a bad taste in the group’s mouth.
-We actually discussed fudging before we started gaming, and the consensus was “rare, if at all”.
-In addition to the group choosing Savage Worlds, they chose me as the GM, which does grant me some control of the game. I’ve always said that the GM is a bigger factor in a game than the rules used.
-I never attempted to hide the fudging; it was obvious.

To reiterate the original Act of Fudge: I dropped a demon out of Berserk, which removed a +2 bonus from his Toughness and his Fighting and Damage rolls, and made all his Wound Penalties affect him again. That was enough for the two PCs still vertical to take him out.

Almost all of the party is suffering injuries (more debilitating than wounds), and they’re deep in enemy territory, have been sighted, and have no place to retreat without an hours-long ritual. They are not out of the TPK just yet.

#21 Comment By Patrick Benson On April 28, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – That makes me wonder if the issue here was the execution of the Fudge. I wasn’t there, so I have no idea how the game played out exactly.

I probably would have done something like drop the out of Berserk because a player hit with an exploding die and I would have said “You hit, and it looks like you removed some sort of enchantment that the demon was using to increase its fighting prowess.”

Now that may or may not have worked. It might have been perceived as a planned part of the encounter, or it might have had even worse results. My point is that if we as GMs are going to fudge something regarding the stats of an encounter we should try to attach it to an event that takes place within the game.

In the end though I still think that taking action when your GM sense starts tingling is always better then taking no action at all.

#22 Comment By Roxysteve On April 29, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – [Stepping over the DM screen] I think I was clear and said what I meant to (for once), but I’ll try and rephrase the thought: When, in running a roleplaying game, one is forced by one’s overall agenda to adjust script-wrecking die rolls, one is being a responsible DM.

If one then tells the players what one has done, one violently retcons each player’s internal movie of what went on. Now the players know one was working *for* them all along, much as an unseen, unknown extra member of their party would have been, and robs the victory of that much sweetness. And that unseen member of the party was omniscient and omnipotent into the bargain, diminishing the players’ roles even more in their minds.

I’m saying that fudging is OK, just like eliding over obvious misprints and editorial errors in a store-bought scenario or campaign is, but telling the players that fudging has occurred breaks immersion after the fact to the same degree that telling them how one fixed printer’s screw-ups does. Both are unnecessary never-need-to-know items in a DMs paint box. All the revelation does is drag the vision of the epic adventure of men vs evil in a Word Gone Mad back to five people sitting round a dining room table, with the internal sound effect of a record stylus being dragged across the disk.

Standard Websoapbox Boilerplate:
It should go without saying (but never actually seems to do so these days) that this is all in my opinion, that your mileage may vary and anything you do in your game only has to satisfy you and your players.

Nice to see your words in print again. I’ve missed our exchanges over “DM of the Rings” episodes. I like what you’re writing about and GS in general. You’re a good fit for this site.

#23 Comment By Roxysteve On April 29, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

@Patrick Benson – Every player I’ve ever known, well, every player bar one, has understood your Rule 0 to be in effect no matter who is running a particular session.

But then, 99% of the players I know are DMs too.

#24 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On April 29, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

@Roxysteve – That’s where I knew your name! Cool, and thank you.

I get what you’re saying; I’ve potentially become Gandalf from DMotR, always dragging the PCs’ collective fat from the fire.

Which is why I talked about it afterward. The way I run Savage Worlds, I really have very limited ability to fudge. When I did, it was instantly obvious.

I wanted to explain the fudge because I felt that everyone wanted the story to continue, and (at the time) I had no other way to have that happen.

Since then, I’ve come up with a reason to keep the party alive, but Shh! don’t tell them that…

#25 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On April 29, 2010 @ 11:34 pm

Tonight was the first post-fudge session, and it ended in a TPK.

Irony, how I love thee…

#26 Comment By Roxysteve On April 30, 2010 @ 9:34 am

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – [Laughing Hysterically] Gandalf. Good one.


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