While Martin covered this topic  before, no “hot button” column worth its salt wouldn’t tackle this question: Do you thin it’s appropriate to fudge dice rolls or consequences? For those of you not up on the clean-shaven Keebler forest gnome lingo (oh, come on…they’re way too short to be elves! And if it’s fudgy and delicious, it was obviously made by gnomes!), fudging is whenever the GM covertly breaks the rules to attain a desired result.
In my experience, fudging usually pops up when a PC’s life is threatened. Some players really identify with their characters and the GM doesn’t wish to risk the loss of the player’s emotional investment. In other instances, the GM may have pinned major plot elements to the PC and doesn’t want to lose them. And, in far too many cases, a heroic PC destined for greatness just died like a punk because of botched roll.
In another common scenario, the GM may fudge because an NPC is about to be cut down before her spotlight moment, or because a large portion of the plot is about to be derailed by an astute observation or chance “impossible” skill check made by a player.
Throughout my GMing career, I’ve gone back and forth on fudging. While fudging can preserve characters and continuity, it can also feel like (and technically is) cheating. There’ve been many times when I’ve seen a GM get caught fudging and have it not be appreciated by the players. Heck, I’ve seen players leave games over it. I’ve also found that player knowledge of fudging often leads to sloppy play.
On the other hand, I’ve used hidden modifiers to ensure that PCs don’t die like punks or adjust dice rolls to preserve elements of an adventure. I’ve saved a character’s life when it would be inconvenient and plot-stopping to kill him. I’ve stripped the power level of a daunting villain on the spot when things start to go south for the PCs. In all of these cases, it improved the adventure.
Currently, I don’t fudge (although only because I fall into my exceptions below), but I have in the past and it’s likely I’ll do so again.
What say you? Do you routinely fudge in your games? Do you hate fudge, think it’s always creamy and delicious, or only in the mood for it once in a while?
1. Many games build chance manipulation into their games with mechanics such as action points, drama dice, hero points, etc. Technically, this isn’t “fudging” because it is part of the game.
2. Anything overtly agreed upon at the table is also not fudging. For example, my wife hates character deaths. In my games that include her, it’s agreed upon at the table that any character “deaths” merely put the character out of commission for a while.
3. I realize that the Golden Rule (Rule Zero, Rule One….any variation of “if the rules trump fun, ignore the rules”) applies to fudging. However, it might not be “fun” if the players feel its a cheat.