May 08 2014

MMP #111 – Atomic Marvel Dice Masters and Fudging Part 2


      1. 111-Atomic-Marvel-Dice-Masters-and-Fudging-Part-2.mp3

Atomic Marvel Dice Masters and Fudging Part 2

Hey Folks. This is part two of episode 111 where we get into the workshop to chat about Fudging and make our way to the geekery to chat about all things geek.

Sponsored by Level 99 Games

2:40 – The Workshop: Fudging

40:13 – Geekery



  • Arrow’s last episode was amazing
  • Atomic Robo


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  1. Shawn

    I’m sorry if things got uncomfortable. That was not my intent. I personally enjoy these discussions, especially when there is a difference of opinions, because I learn a lot from smart people who are invested in the topic. I also learn when I make a statement and people call me out on it. It helps me either see a different view or helps me clarify my own views. I love the podcast because you guys delve a little deeper into topics of game design and game mechanics, and that deeper delving sometimes leads to differences of opinion.

    When Chris said that quote about people who fudge not being educated enough to make competent decisions, all sorts to warning bells went off in my head. It wasn’t just that the statement was essentially calling me uneducated and incapable of making competent decision–I stopped taking such things personally long ago. It was that I really wanted to discuss it past the knee-jerk reaction to find if there are kernels of truth in it. It is, on the surface and by definition, an elitist statement. I think we are all elitist in our own ways about certain topics, so I don’t necessarily equate “elitist” with “bad person.” I have made too many elitist statements about different things, and I would probably stand by them while admit they were elitist.

    I am still not convinced that fudging in a game means anything about the rules at all, any more than using a set of paints and brushes well or poorly says anything about the tools–it is about the artist. I am still believing that fudging with a rules set that tends to be stricter and more binary is using the rules incorrectly. I think those rules are made to be fudged with based on the needs of the DM and players, just as some of the narrative-driven games codify the fudging rather than let the fudging be more freeform.

    If people would like to discuss that with me, I would love to hear more. I just don’t want anyone to take my comments as personal attacks.

  2. Chris Sniezak

    Ok. Last message. I said I didn’t care if you fudge at your table. If you listened to the show you heard that. I also think that reading and understanding more games will lead you to finding games where you don’t have to fudge as much so you can produce a better experience at the table for you and your group.

    I don’t usually get into these debates in the open because I know the feeling of the gaming population for the most part. A lot of people think fudging is ok. I’m pretty ok with fudging at your table. I used to fudge but I don’t anymore. Why? Because I found games which produce an experience the group desires, me being part of that group, that don’t require it. The whole purpose of this show is to help you find better ways to play while entertaining you but I don’t say things to be inflammatory. I say things because I believe them to be accurate. Chris Simms called me elitist on twitter. Fine. If I’m elitist so be it but all I want you to do is think about what I said. Better yet think about these questions:

    What does the game system do well and what does it do poorly? Be honest with yourself.
    How does that help the group produce the play experience you all want?
    Is there another game that could do it better?

  3. Ian Ramsey

    I could not disagree more. Fudging is what a DM does to tell the story. The point of an RPG is to tell a collaborative story*- this isn’t a boardgame or wargame where the point is to compete. If the DM feels that the story** is better told with a fudged roll, then it that is the most correct decision the DM could make. Dice add tension, and create a choice within the system (because if the outcome is guaranteed, there is really very little to think about), but do not tell the story.
    Fudging rolls is no more cheating or unreasonable than if the DM were to grant a circumstantial bonus for the player making a badass move, or roleplaying in a stunning manner. More to the point, fudging is no more cheating than when the DM does anything that is not written down in the rulebook- letting a PC take a feat they normally wouldn’t, adjusting the core rules (eg falling damage), or modifying monsters outside the standard guidelines. All of these adjustments, like fudging, are DM fiat- choices made by the DM to better tell the intended story.

    I have one caveat- the players should not know the DM fudged the dice.

    *obviously there are RPGs which represent an exception to this rule. But most RPGs are a group of players telling a story along with the DM, who facilitates and spins the story.

    **obviously I mean the story the game is about, both the story the players and DMs want and the one the RPG is about. If the DM fudges a roll to keep a PC alive in a Forthcore/Torchbearer game, that’s probably the wrong decision because in those games the story is supposed to involve lots of random PC death.

    1. Chris Sniezak

      I think the game has failed you if you need to fudge. The game hasn’t provided you with the tools to facilitate the story and the rules of a role playing game should help facilitate the telling of the story. As soon as you fudge the game has failed you if that was something you didn’t want to happen in the game or the game your playing isn’t actually the game you want to be playing. Lets take a look at some of these statements:

      The point of an RPG is to tell a collaborative story*- this isn’t a boardgame or wargame where the point is to compete.

      If you’ve listened to any 10 episodes I’ve said the same exact thing more than once but there are rule sets out there which allow the GM to facilitate without having to resort to fudging.

      Dice add tension, and create a choice within the system (because if the outcome is guaranteed, there is really very little to think about), but do not tell the story.

      So then the dice should provide the GM with an option to push the story forward. In Ax world games it’s a hard move which is just the GM having more narrative control and a selection of moves to choose from. In fate it could be a variety of things depending on the action taken. In D20 games it’s pretty binary, you either succeed or fail and maybe because you do you don’t make the jump and miss by more than 5 so you fall to your death. If you decide the pc grabs the edge anyways why not play a game which facilitates that play instead. I just don’t understand. I mean I do but I don’t understand why my statement is so upsetting to people.

      Fudging rolls is no more cheating or unreasonable than if the DM were to grant a circumstantial bonus for the player making a badass move, or roleplaying in a stunning manner.

      I don’t think so. Circumstantial bonuses are what are given because the player gave input while fudging is done to off set something you didn’t want to happen but the rules allowed for.

      To be clear fudging is when you on the fly adjust something in the game like a die roll, hit points, or do something that breaks the rules. If the rules and the engine behind the rules are understood, which are the tools the GM has to run the game, are used to make these judgments then that is not fudging. It’s using the tools.

  4. Alphastream

    Hi my name is Alphastream, and I fudge dice rolls all the time! I change my mind on DCs after the PC makes a roll. I have monsters autosucceed and autofail. And, here’s the key: people have more fun because of that.

    That’s the really key piece. We aren’t following an RPG’s rules just to execute rules steps. We are using an RPG’s rules so as to have guidance in how to create a joint make-believe experience. That guidance isn’t perfect, so we can and should make changes. I like what Numenera says: “That’s not cheating, that’s awesome.”

    Here’s an analogy. What if a film’s director had to always work from the script and could never deviate from it? That would be pretty bad, right? With RPGs, the DM acts as director and benefits from the freedom to make adjustments. But, this is even more true with RPGs, because we are usually starting
    from an imperfect initial state. I write adventures all the time, and I usually get to run them at several tables. While the challenge level is often appropriate (I work hard to pull that off), if I run it six times it probably will be too easy at one table and too hard at another (and correct at the others). The funny thing is, there is no “truth” to the encounter I wrote. It was a guess, using judgment. That judgement is no more perfect back then than it is as I run it. In fact, it’s worse. When I’m in the moment, running the encounter, that’s when I know whether the challenge is right and how to tweak it. It’s just like the playtest process, but real-time. And I’m not always adjusting editorially (-5% adjustment to how often PCs will hit my monster), but as a single correction (this attack hits now). That’s okay, because it makes the end result more fun.

    RPGs are about trust, but that trust should be that the game will be run not as written, but with the DM’s best judgment in the interest of fun. Season 2 of D&D Encounters had one of the hardest encounters in D&D history as session 1. The encounter is a lesson in how to build a TPK, but more importantly in how DM approach plays out. Some DMs said “this was a terribly written encounter, but I had to run it as written, so I TPKed everyone and now they won’t come back next week. WotC, you suck.” Others said, “I decided to fudge it in this way”. Guess which ones made the right choice? DMs have to own the responsibility of using their judgement to make changes when changes are needed. And, if they so choose, to make finer adjustments when it improves play.

    1. Chris Sniezak

      We are using an RPG’s rules so as to have guidance in how to create a joint make-believe experience.

      You’re all saying the same thing as me. I’ve said this tons of times but certain rules sets don’t do something as well as others so people fudge for that experience instead of finding a game which allows that kind of game play on a more consistent basis.

      RPGs are about trust, but that trust should be that the game will be run not as written, but with the DM’s best judgment in the interest of fun.

      The rules should facilitate the experience with as little stress as possible on the GM. When you fudge the game has behaved in a way you didn’t want or didn’t want to chance. Is that inaccurate? That seems to be what everyone is saying.

      1. Alphastream

        While I do agree that too few gamers try a variety of RPGs, I’ve tried a pretty wide variety and I tend to find that I am seldom talked away from the core games I liked early on. In particular, D&D continues to shine on many levels. Rather than find that I want to play something else, I find that I want to bring something from another game into D&D. A lot of people (I would guess the majority) lean that way, rather than actually switching systems. (Many will try another RPG for a while, but few will truly stay away. I’ve taken breaks from D&D to play Shadowrun and L5R and Spycraft, but those games couldn’t become my main game).

        I recently tried Numenera, which very applicably has a rule for “intruding”. Whereas in D&D I might think to myself that it would be best if I speed up play by having a PC swallowed up by a sinkhole so they find the lost caverns, in Numenera the DM _offers_ the player the intrusion. If the player accepts they get XP for themselves and another player. And XP is pretty hard to come by in the game, so it is a big carrot. In my play I find two things. One, I find myself mid-change and suddenly remembering that I’m supposed to offer this intrusion. I’m running a very open fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants and respond-to-players campaign, but I’m also steering it around the plot of the “Search for WondLa” novels (awesome, by the way). In theory the intrusion system is perfect. In practice, none of us really find it very useful. We find it actually breaks immersion (by calling it out) and is clunky (the player pretty much always accepts unless the intrusion is personal and counters what the PC wants).

        it’s an example where I don’t need a rule for fudging. Everyone seems better off without the formal rule. Whether a plain road or one with a sinkhole lies ahead seems best as the domain of the DM. Maybe with more practice I’ll come to love the Intrusion system, but not thus far. Someone else might love it, of course!

        Back to your question, fudging isn’t about the game misbehaving in a “bad rules” kind of sense. It is just about the way things end up sometimes. If I’m filming Raiders of the Lost Ark and suddenly I get the idea to have snakes pour in from holes in the walls… I mean, I’m the DM/Director… I should be able to do that, because it will be awesome! If I see a system for “intrusions” or whatever, and I like it, cool. But it is perfectly fine for me to wing it and isn’t indicative of some shortage of skill, bad decision, cheating, or the RPG being sub-par in some way.

        A final example. I find the level-attribute-adjusted d20 vs Defense to be one of the best systems ever. That doesn’t mean a particular die roll will do the scene justice. I really truly think that in special situations the DM/director should get to say “cut” in their brain and change the result to fit the scene. It isn’t because D&D sucks and needs compensation. Many other systems add layers of realism or ways to nudge the dice on the player side and still fall short. (Karma/Edge, Luck, Destiny, Fate… can all still fall short for all they try to address these situations. Further, developers fall prey to making these things mean too many things, and thus they have too high a currency for advancement and don’t just get used as a way to nudge dice. Numenera is a good example.)

  5. Claire

    D&D rules are not supposed to be a straitjacket. If you read the introduction chapters of most versions even state that they are a guideline not hard and fast rules. Playing the game requires trust. Trust that the DM is there to run a fun game that can adapt to the game style of the players. If that means fudging so the lowest level PC still gets to have an impact or the story is more dramatic so be it. It is not a game like blackjack where the players are trying to beat the house.

  6. Shawn

    To quote Chris: “Fudging is what you do when you are not educated enough to make a competent decision about what games you should be playing to produce certain experiences.”

    Wow. I could not disagree more. I understand the point that different games create different experiences, and that “the right tool for the right job” fits just as much for game selection as it does for other things in life. However, to say that people who fudge parts of their games are uneducated or incompetent is insulting. I have run hundreds, if not thousands, of players through different D&D games at conventions. My job as the DM changes a little based on if it is a one-shot, part of an OP campaign, or something else entirely. Even the players within each of those categories have different wants and expectations. The fact that, with the right DM and the ability to fudge, the game of D&D (in any of its iterations) can accommodate several styles of play at the same time is a testament to its power and not an indictment of it. DMs who are skilled enough to manage diverse groups of players, or even diverse players within the same group, and create certain experiences within the rules, do not deserve to be called uneducated and incompetent.

    1. Chris Sniezak

      Fudging is cheating. House ruling is something else. If you cheat the game then the game isn’t working. If you house rule the game then the people at the table have made a rules agreement. As I’ve said before D&D encourages a certain style of play, the more your add rules or change rules the more you’re diverging from D&D but if your using the tools given to you to make calls then you’re not cheating or fudging, your using the tools of the game to provide an experience. D&D next is fantastic for this because of how broad the application of the tools are. d20/3.X is so specific that tools hinder providing any experience than the one prescribed without cheating the system. Basic also had broad ranging tools which allowed for more flexibility and also not the best rules to make a judgement. 4e is a great tactical skirmish game but the tools need a greater deal of understanding to make use of them for other things in the game, ala the structure and ideas behind skill challenges, because they’re poorly explained in the rule book.

      I’m sorry if you feel insulted by my statement but I made a very solid argument for why it was true and I never said anyone was incompetent. I said uneducated which if that comes off as being mean or belittling then what am I supposed to do. I’ve been yelling that rules are important for a very long time now. Saying fudging is ok, which I said do whatever you want at your table, is about as hypocritical as I could be. Rules are the setting and tone of your game. Messing around with them does a disservice to the game. Knowing more games means you can make a better decision about which games you should play to get the experience you want.

      On another point. I’m tired of the D&D does a bunch of things stance. Any game can do a bunch of things but they tend to only do a very few things well. D&D does a narrow range of things well. If you don’t agree nothing I’m going to say is going to make you see it any different. I respect your opinion I just don’t agree with it. I don’t think DW or Fate or CoC or Mouse Guard or whatever game is universal in applicability. I think the D20 engine (3.x) is just a tactical combat engine with, generally, a way to specific skill list, and is far to invasive to telling stories. A lot of people like it but how many people really know it, and what it’s trying to produce as an experience even from 3.x game to 3.x game.

      1. Shawn

        Fudging is not cheating, and any generalizations that you make based on the concept of cheating equaling fudging are invalid to me. I am running a game of D&D, and one of the PCs rolls 12 damage to my BBEG. If he takes 13, he become bloodied, which triggers a plot point in the story/battle. Due to the timing of the attack, it would be best for that plot point to happen now instead of after the next PC hit, so I am adding 1 point of damage to the BBEG, bloodying him, and triggering the plot point. If the story is better for it, I would be doing the game a disservice by not fudging in that circumstance. I can think of a thousand examples of times I fudged to improve the pacing, story, fun, etc. of a game. I do not consider that cheating, and I do not consider that a flaw of the rules set either. Not any more than I would consider offering a compel in Fate or making up my own hard move for a monster in Dungeon World.

        While we are discussing it, I do not agree that rules are the setting and tone of a game. I agree that rules can have an effect on the setting and the tone, but they are not equivalent. I do not believe that form follows function either, so I know I am shrugging off decades of conventional wisdom.

        I’m sorry you are tired of the “D&D does a bunch of things” stance, but it happens to be true. Now I never said it was a perfect system, and I have some of the same issues with the different iterations of the game that you do. In fact, in some ways that fact that D&D does have to do a bunch of things is a problem with it. That is the price you pay for being the industry leader. Again, I am not talking about being the industry leader in terms of quality per se, but in terms of what the general population looks to when they look to RPGs. In fact, WotC got itself into trouble when it tried to stop doing a bunch of things and start narrowing down focus. As soon as AD&D and Basic/Expert/etc. came out and moved OD&D forward, the complaints started. The complaining really kicked into gear with 3e/d20 and 4e, because the cries of “you stopped supporting roleplaying and storytelling” started. By focusing on doing the one thing really well (tactical combat), the people who played differently felt abandoned.

        One more point I want to make about other types of game systems is that, at the risk of really oversimplifying things, they pretty much just codify fudging. Fate points or bennies or other point economy systems simply say, “Yeah, we know all RPGs need fudging to work, so we are going to make rules that incorporate fudging.” Fail forward, or succeed with consequences, has been something that good DMs have been facilitating since 1974. Hard choices, the same. Countless articles from old Dragon magazines and other places have talked about how to do it. I do it a dozen times in a 4-hour D&D game, and I don’t need a rule to know how and when to do it–I just need experience as a DM and player, as well as an understanding of what players want.

        Now to be clear, I do understand that in a game like Fate, fudging is different because it is codified and there is an economy between the player and GM. I understand that Fate encourages the passing of narrative control between players and GMs, as do systems like Burning Wheel/Mouse Guard. But to think that those didn’t have their roots in D&D is missing a lot.

        Part of what gets me so fired up about this topic is the double standard that is used against D&D in the RPG world. If D&D tries to come up with rules that facilitate a more narrative-driven game play, people rail against it and complain about the company trying to tell them how to roleplay. But if they leave those narrative-driven game play elements out, the other people dismiss it as WoW or a miniature skirmish game and worse yet say that if you use it as a basis for a game that balance combat-focused play and narrative-driven play, they are uneducated and playing the wrong game.

        Thanks for the discussion!

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