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You’ve Lost That Motherfudging Feeling…

If you’ve kept abreast of the latest round of fudge-related articles penned by Kurt (here [1], here [2], oh, and here [3]) then you’re no doubt aware that this topic tends to fuel some, ahem, passionate replies at the Stew. In this particular case there was one specific bit that stood out to myself as rather unfortunate and it really has nothing to do with the fudge in question.

It’s all about the attitude, silly.


Kurt wrote:

As mentioned on GnomeStew’s Facebook [4] page, I committed an act of fudge last game. I’m not terribly proud of it, but it’s done, and has given my group a lot to talk about (and given me a lot to write about).

This strikes me as unfortunate. That a GM feels in some way shameful for making a decision that, at the time, seemed best for the players and the game. Now to be clear Kurt followed up in a later article [3] noting some mistakes, not the least of which that the fudging act was done for the wrong reasons. “I fudged to save the story at the expense of the fun of the game.”

Fair enough, but that aside, it’s a telling commentary that when a GM tries to do the right thing in a game and feels like crap for doing so.

It’s Lonely at the Top

Being a GM isn’t a hallowed calling [5], the pay stinks, and so do the long hours, but many of us do it out of the sheer enjoyment of helping craft a good game. A good story. A memorable experience. All in the name of having fun.

Being human — or at least until the RPG Robot Overlords are ready to take over running our games for us — results in our having games with missed rules, honest mistakes, and the occasional lapse of judgement. One would argue (and I shall) that it is this fallibility that makes RPGs the unique experience that they are. No two games shall ever be alike, even with the same ruleset, adventure, and characters. We infuse them with bits of ourselves, our personalities, and our flaws both as players and as GMs.

In this case we have a decision to try to turn the tide of a campaign for the betterment of the story. Do the ends justify the means? In my mind, yes. I wouldn’t begrudge any GM who, in a moment of alarm or clarity, deems it necessary to make a change for the betterment of the game. They run the game and have been given de facto control of it. The tacit contract between the players and the GM says, “hey, you’re in charge of making sure we all have fun. We trust you.”

Part of that trust is understanding that the GM is fallible and, at the end of the session, is doing the right things for all the right reasons.

And that, my friends, is something you should never be ashamed of.

Agree or disagree? Have some great GMing faux pas that you would like to confess? Do so below!

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "You’ve Lost That Motherfudging Feeling…"

#1 Comment By mougoo On May 5, 2010 @ 4:38 am

Part of what I don’t like about newer game systems, like 4E, is this concept of DM fallibility. That’s why I stick to OD&D, so I can always be right.


Truth be told, my old-school cred only goes back to the red box. And Don, you’ve hit something important here–it is very much a common occurrence at our gaming table for the GM to say, “Hey, I screwed this up. Here’s a course correction.”

#2 Comment By jr37 On May 5, 2010 @ 5:21 am

Good God, embarrassed by having to fudge? The gaming session is rare, very rare indeed, where I don’t have to fudge something, in some way or another. Since I tend to run systems where encounter balance is so formulaic and easy to calculate, I quite frequently have to ‘downshift’ encounters. And I don’t even want to start talking about cases of ‘how did we decide to interpret that rule last time?’ Thank heavens for one of my player’s obsessive note-taking, because my notes leave much to be desired. (I know, bad GM, no GM cookies.)

#3 Comment By jr37 On May 5, 2010 @ 5:22 am

Correction: “is NOT so formulaic and easy to calculate” (I really shouldn’t try to be coherent pre-caffiene.)

#4 Comment By Roxysteve On May 5, 2010 @ 10:17 am

I spend so much time on my Call of Cthulhu game clues so I can occasionally get the response I did a few weeks ago when one of the players opened a deed, and as it began to crumble in his hands said “Oh! Sweet!”

Of course, one hardly ever gets that sort of response from one’s bunch of unobservant, die-roll adicted whiny ingrates so the time taken, third degree toaster burns, indelible stains on my skin and so on are really suffered under a labor of love.

I’m thinking of running a “lost in the multiverse” sandbox D20 game so I can drive the whole thing from a handful of generic tiled dungeons and never have to take notes on where people have been since they’ll never be able to go back there.

No work ahead of time, hardly any in-game effort and no need to track anything whatsoever. With half a dozen clone bad guys to populate the places and some on-the-fly roleplaying from yours truly (well *someone* has to do some occasionally) the players will be happy as hogs in a truffle patch and none the wiser.

#5 Comment By Scott Martin On May 5, 2010 @ 10:45 am

You’re right: if you act as best you can for the good of the game, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Adjusting on the fly is a “closest fit” solution, not perfection– missteps are part of the deal.

I’ve felt that same struggle though– when you’re trying and it just doesn’t feel like you’ve done enough. Cut yourself some slack– and remember that half the time they won’t notice a thing.

#6 Comment By valadil On May 5, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

I screw game up at least once a session. It happens so often I don’t even bother counting it anymore. But writing around the screwups is part of the fun. That’s why I run RPGs instead of write novels. As a writer, all my characters do what I tell them to do. How boring. As a GM the PCs go wherever they please, often in the direction I least expect. Improvising a story around the curveballs they throw me is awesome. It’s my favorite part of GMing. That I can generate curveballs too by messing up the rules or my notes occasionally makes it that much harder to predict where they’re coming from.

#7 Pingback By Tweets that mention You’ve Lost That Motherfudging Feeling… – Gnome Stew, the Game Mastering Blog — Topsy.com On May 5, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrew Ambrose and Adam Weber, Stewed Gnomes. Stewed Gnomes said: GMing got you down? Don't be, you special, unique snowflake! [6] […]

#8 Comment By Sewicked On May 5, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

There are times when you don’t exactly remember the rule for X and it would break game flow to look it up. There are times that your players do something that isn’t even covered in the rules. That’s when you fudge, with a ‘we don’t have time to look this up right now, so for now I’m ruling that X works Y,’ or ‘for right now I’ll rule that X does Y and make a final ruling later’ comment and keep moving.

One of the earliest skills that I had to learn, and it was difficult for me, was how to fudge. I bombed (as in flames, explosions and roiling smoke cloud) my first GM’ing experience. Because I didn’t know how to fudge. It was so bad, that it took years, bribery & threats to get me to try it again. Once I learned to fudge, both the how and the when, my GMing improved by leaps and bounds.

BTW, one solution for the ‘um, what did I rule last time this happened?’ is to get an Obsidian Portal account and keep your notes there. I am desperately trying to convince the GM of our upcoming game to start with an Obsidian Portal entry/account. I am trying not to sound like a wild-eyed fanatic but looking at notes for our 5+year Forgotten Realms game, I heartily wish that I’d know about Obsidian Portal when we started. It would be so much easier to remember what we did where & when.

#9 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On May 5, 2010 @ 3:08 pm

[7] – It’s not so much ’embarrassed by having to fudge’ as it is ’embarrassed by having to save the storyline with blatant fudge’.

And thanks for writing this, Don. The ability to get over our GMing imperfections is critical.

#10 Comment By GiacomoArt On May 6, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

Heartily agreed that the GM needs to be allowed to make mistakes, because making mistakes goes hand in hand with making personal judgment calls.

I would go so far as to argue that (no matter how much some gamers would rather not see it) the farther we get into the information age, the more the whole point of having a GM becomes the fact that he CAN fudge.

If you want a game without fudge, more and more, there’s simply no contest between one with a human GM and one with a computer moderator. The computer does it faster, prettier, and with absolute accuracy and impartiality. If you really want to test your mental-mettle in the land of make-believe these days, you hop aboard an MMORPG. But at the end of the day, any dyed-in-the-wool tabletop role-player is going to find a big piece missing from that experience.

We long for the flexibility, adaptability, and imagination that are the hallmarks of the human game master. We want someone who can pull that rabbit out of the proverbial hat when we hit her with our wildest imaginings and our craziest ill-conceived schemes; someone who will conjure up a troop of goblins to throw at us, not because some algorithm says “goblins should spawn here now”, but because she noticed we’re itching for some action, and because she knows we think fighting goblins is cool. We want someone who doesn’t need an exhaustive list of contingencies in place to cover every possible move we’re allowed to make. We want someone who’s ready to wing it when the published adventure presumes the party will shut down the vampire’s bride lottery by force, but one of the PCs offers herself up as the sacrificial victim instead.

Do we still like to feel a sense of accomplishment at the gaming table? Yes. Do we still want to feel that was CAN lose if we screw things up badly? Yes. Accepting that it’s the GM’s job to fudge doesn’t mean we don’t want some game in our game. But any GM who isn’t looking forward to being shoved aside by the next edition of Windows and a good broadband connection would do well to always give the rules of good storytelling precedence over the cold calculations of dice and charts.

#11 Comment By Don Mappin On May 6, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

Hey, it’s a good session in my mind if I’ve kept my mistakes in the single digits. Last encounter I ran I forgot to kick off an on-bloodied power and also a situational when-an-adjacent-target-starts-turn-to-critter power that I forgot. Neither would have materially affected the end-result beatdown, however.

@Kurt: No problem, man. Gnome power!

#12 Comment By Alnakar On May 8, 2010 @ 2:01 am

Awesome article Don.

You said exactly what I couldn’t quite express after having read Kurt’s articles. I didn’t realize exactly what was gnawing at me as I read his articles, but it’s so clear now.

I’m definitely guilty of fudging too much, but usually for the right reasons (I hope).