Monday, November 21, 2011

Fudging Dice

Before we get started, a couple of announcements. First, you should head over to my MoSpace and support Movember if you haven't already. Donate now, and decide what silly thing I do with my moustache for the last week of November. Details are here. Also, over the next month I'm going to be migrating the blog to a new domain, so there might be a bit of downtime. You'll have to update your bookmarks and your rss, and I'll be putting an automatic forward here just in case. I'll keep you posted here, and you can find updates on my Twitter. Now, on to fudging dice.

Fudging dice, for those not in the know, is the practice of rolling one thing and claiming that it's another. It is, in essence, cheating in most games. However, that doesn't mean that it might always be impermissible, and there have been lots of arguments made about occasions when it's okay.

The practice as old as the hobby itself and likely older, and I've heard a lot of arguments for it which all seem to boil down to the same argument. It is permissible to fudge dice when the consequences of not doing so are pass a certain undesirable threshold. Whether that's the GM fudging dice to avoid real world reactions from a player (this seems to happen more often when the player concerned is a partner or younger than the average), or fudging in order to preserve some character essential to the story. The basic idea with this argument seems to state that there is something at stake which is more important than fairness in dice rolls, and when that thing is at stake, one ought to weight the dice rolls in order to preserve this. It's a pretty good argument, but seems very contextual. If we're locked up by the guy from SAW, playing D&D of Death, what's at stake certainly outweighs the need for fairness in resolution methods, but in an everyday situation, this seems problematic for two reasons.

The first is that we would never endorse this practice in other cases, despite the fact that it uses the same argument. If something is going to have bad consequences, we think that we ought not to lie about it. We have a word for people who tell the truth only when it is convenient to them, and that word is "Liars". We admire honest people because they tell the truth when it goes against their favour. The stakes being perceived as high doesn't seem enough to merit breaking the convention for honest discourse. And we can see this in the game, because if a player fudged a die in order to save their character from a negative consequence, we would regard that as bad practice.

The second problem with the argument is that it doesn't take into account the entirety of the stakes. As the GM, people rely on you for fairness. As any other player, we realize that there's a certain amount of the honour system in the game as well. Fudging dice trades that commitment to long term fairness for a momentary reprieve from consequences and, if it comes out, then it undermines all other consequences, even the fair ones. If one or two die rolls were fudged, their situations resolved through the will of the GM rather than the fall of the dice, it becomes reasonable to ask what other situations the GM has resolved this way.

What I'm saying is never fudge dice. And we all do it from time to time, I know I have. The best way I've found to keep myself from being tempted to do it, because as the GM I have the most opportunity, is to simply roll everything in public. Everyone can see it, and everyone can see that it's fair. It's a simple method of accountability, and it's the same kind of accountability that's expected from every other player. This does give them access to a bit more information, making it easier for them to deduce what a monster's numbers are and gauge the difficulty, but I haven't found that to be too much of an issue so far. What do you think? Should we fudge dice, and if so, when and why?


  1. I don't like the idea of fudging dice... especially at a player level... you're a player, don't do it.

    But that said, I've always been open to GMs being "god" and doing what they want. After all, GM screens were invented for a reason. Additionally, players don't necessarily know the target number that a GM needs for all their rolls... so even rolling in the open can be "fudged"

    Still from the GM's perspective, I don't think a dice roll is always a matter of "fairness" but sometimes a matter of "result". eg: "I want to give the players some knowledge, but how much?" This is still handled by targets though... a target of 1, for a little info.

    I think for me, it comes down to consistency. Is the GM constantly fudging rolls? Then there's a problem. Every now and then? Fine, for all I care a GM doesn't ever have to roll. Does their fudging tend to favour a certain character who isn't learning? Now I've got an issue.

  2. It seems as though fudging always favours a person. The person doing the fudging. If the GM gets to fudge, why don't they just decide what happens? That's what they're doing when they fudge dice, after all. "This result is undesireable, I'd rather have this one." What's the ethical distinction between the GM doing that and another player doing that?

    We can take it to be a matter of consistency, but if the act itself is unethical, then does its frequency make it more or less permissible? If it's not unethical, then why shouldn't players be permitted to dictate their own results? There are lots of games where they do exactly that (freeform, for instance) and that works just fine, so it can't be a question of practice.

  3. I think I can just understand a GM who decides to cap certain rolls they make... ("Whatever I roll, the result will be between 3-8.. that way nothing catastrophic or too grand happens) But I still think it should favour a party, rather than an individual.

    Or, say a situation where a GM wants to knock people out and not kill them... they want to do damage and won't let their rolls kill anyone. BUT, the players deserve a chance to fight back, so instead of just saying "They overpower and knock you out." The GM still needs to roll combat and damage to see if the players can fight off their assailants... it just means if the GM rolls a "you dead" result, they simply say "You're knocked unconscious.

  4. You raise an interesting point about managing results, but it seems like it would be better to allow those results. If players make choices which lead to something catastrophic or grand, how does it respect those choices to remove their consequences?

    Your second point seems strange. Most games have mechanics for unconsciousness, so it appears that it would be better to use those and follow the rules than simply using fiat, but let's set that aside for a moment. It seems like you're saying that players deserve a fighting chance, and then simultaneously saying that it's okay that they don't get one. Let me try to clarify my confusion.

    A fighting chance implies that the outcome isn't set. The possibility exists that, if a person fights hard enough, they can overcome their situation. Similarly, not having a fighting chance means that there is no chance of victory. So if the GM decides on an outcome, then it seems like the players do not have a fighting chance. There is no method by which they can avoid that outcome. If it is also true that the players deserve a fighting chance, on which we agree, then the GM has directly denied them what we agree they deserve by deciding on an outcome.

  5. not saying the fighting chance comes down to a roll... I just meant fight out the combat as usual, but any death results = KO.

    though you're right, most games do have the mechanic built in. I was using it as a general example.

  6. I remember my old GM clearly several times fudged roles, and you could tell by the look on his face after a random encounter. To his credit, he levelled with us on occasion and would tell us that the role we got would royally screw us. In those cases, we often got a little bargaining in to turn the tide to slightly less screwing us.

  7. @Dave: Given your qualification, that doesn't seem like an example of how one ought to fudge dice, rather the GM is fudging results. It does seem like a fishy policy, though. Let's imagine you and three friends are at a casino, and you come up to a roulette table. You each bet everything you have, and so do several of the other people at the table (NPCs, for the sake of argument). Everyone loses, but the croupier gives you and each of your friends half of your chips back. One of the things this tells you is that the stakes aren't the same for you. They've been artificially modified to reduce the risk for you and your friends. You went up to that table prepared to risk it all, only to learn that that was never a possibility despite the risk clearly being stated at the outset. How does this affect the way you see the game, and the croupier? Should the croupier have done that?

    @Intelligent Designs: Everyone does it. I know I have. My worry is that it's often embraced as a part of practice, a kind of GM's prerogative, and I think that's problematic. Similarly, we all tell lies now and again, but we don't want to endorse lying as practice.