Monday, April 10, 2017

The Fudging Talk

This is basically how I'd write it in any core RPG book:

Have you been fudging?

I don't know whether you've been fudging AND you don't have to tell me. If you really don't know what it is, I'll tell you: it's when a die result tells you to do one thing in the game and instead you do a different thing.

Now it's traditional at this point to tell you either one of two things:

-Don't ever fudge in this house! We have provided you all the tools to have fun and you don't need to go having extracurricular deviant fun by messing with the rules we gave you. Follow the rules and you will receive the exact amount of fun that is your due and such due which is appropriate to your players.

-Hey, you fudged? That's, like, cool, little pal. If the story is going to come out better if you fudge, go ahead and do it. Fudge all over the table.

Like most traditional RPG advice, these are both terrible--ok, well not terrible but poorly thought out.

The first piece of advice is just straight-up inaccurate: there is literally no game in the history of RPGs which has not been profitably fudged by some group somewhere.

The second piece of advice is just lazy, and leaves the GM with questions: If the rules don't always apply, why are we following them ever? What's the point? Is there a downside?

Well, yes, there is a downside: if you fudge enough then they will realize that certain outcomes--like dying in an early scene if they're not cautious, or escaping enemies even though the plot seems to want you to be captured for a scene or two--are off the table. This means they don't have to try as hard or think as hard as they would if the odds of things happening were what they were used to from using the rules all day. It's like telling the players that they only have to try to make the best choices sometimes. And that makes for a less nerve-wracking--and therefore less exciting--game. There are people who like a game that doesn't make them worry all the time--nothing I have written is for them.

Well what's the good advice then?

First, some clarifications:

No RPG Book is Gospel

This ruleset is very likely not ideally suited to your group's ambitions, just as the items of my game group's wardrobe is very likely not suited to your group's various frames. These rules are a starting point for people who believe their ambitions for a game might be similar to ours--and any RPG author who claims different is stupid or lying to make money off you. Despise them.

This book isn't infallible, it's just the closest I could get to infallible for the version of the game I want to play. That means I might've made a mistake but--even more likely--I probably made a rule that works for the game I want to play but not quite for the game you want to play.

This is to be expected, as humans are different. If you're constantly finding RPG rulesets perfect for your ambitions you're probably a really boring person.

So point is: some rules might not work the way you need them to.

Fudging Isn't The Same As Making A New Rule

Fudging is different than making a new rule (or "Making a Ruling" as we sometimes say).

Making a ruling is: you see a rule is not working for how you want to run the game. You decide to change it, you tell everyone at the table you're changing it (if they are the kind of players who care). You make sure they're all ok with that (if not, don't change it. You need consensus.). You then make a new rule which is better for your group than the one I wrote and use that rule forever after or at least until it fails and you go through the process all over again.

Fudging is just ignoring a rule's demands on the spot, but re-using it after that.

Fudging Isn't the Same As Ignoring A Convenient Randomizer's Result

If there's a table for an NPC's name, and you roll on it and don't like the name you got and pick another--that's not fudging. The NPC name table isn't really a "rule" --it's a tool you use to help think up ideas. The players are not relying on that table to make their own decisions, they may not even know that table exists.

Fudging happens when the rules which determine the way the gameworld actually works are suspended after making a contribution.

(A lot of people ask about random encounters. The question is: is the random encounter table you're rolling on merely the most convenient one to hand--there to provide ideas--or was it specially designed to describe the actual ecology of the area? If, in the Abyss, it's established you have a 1% chance of encountering Demogorgon and the players are in the Abyss, then when you roll that result, Demogorgon better show up. Otherwise you're fudging. If you just used the Abyss table because the players wandered into a summoning circle and you didn't have that area prepared and needed an idea, that's not fudging that's deciding the randomizer you used gave you a result that doesn't interest you.)

So What's The Good Advice?

Treat fudging like declaring bankruptcy: try hard not to, but if you really feel have to, learn something so you don't have to do it ever again.

Fudging means that either:

A-You invoked a rule when it wasn't appropriate and realized too late
B-I wrote the rule wrong for that situation
C-You wrote the rule wrong for that situation

If, for example, you have someone roll on their maxxed-out Local Knowledge and it turns out they don't know what street they live on, that probably means A. You made a mistake--feel bad about yourself, fudge, move on, try to have more discretion in the future about when a task is hard enough to require a roll.

If you have an 8 year old PC from Siberia with 2 Knowledge and they roll high enough to instantly know how to field-strip a WW2 Mendoza 7 rifle and nobody at the table can think of a reason why that makes sense on the spot without feeling the whole game is implausible and so taking it less seriously then maybe my Firearms rule is not detailed enough for the game you want to play and you should change it for next time. (Personally I'd be like "Ok, Olav's grandfather owned a gun-shop and made him strip antique rifles on the cinder-block furniture in the basement and hit him on the head with a ruler if he did it wrong. Cool." but maybe your childhood was less depressing than mine.)

Either way: fudging should be as rare as you can possibly make it, but if it happens, treat it as an opportunity to fine-tune either the way you roll or the tools you use to roll with.
And now, a word from our sponsor (which will include a version of this in the GM section):
Punch, or at least irritate, Nazis.The Patreon for my game Demon City is here.


Bruno el Vago said...

Where would you cross the line between Fudging and "ignoring a random table result"? For example, lets suppose we are playing D&D 5E, there is a level 1 wild magic sorcerer, and he rolls a wild magic surge on a Shield, and the dice lines with the "Fireball centered on the objective" on the entry table, the DM will probably ignore it and pick another effect, Or invent the effect by himself. At that point, isnt it the same as the DM just cherry-picking, or selecting the wild surge that its adecuate for the situation? and is that even wrong? keeping some resemblance of sense with the magic surge, an illusory Roc turns into a Summon Roc, make the surge influencied by the narrative. In the end, there is a lot of tables that can be ignored, (you could, for example, ignore the low end in the table "Results from Local Knowledge check" and just say that he absent mindely takes a wrong turn and ends up in another corner of the city). I Feel like "descriptive results" are the problem, instead, general result "Terrible-mediocre-normal-good-great" prevent the problem of "something happened that made no sense"

Jesse said...

In the interest of player engagement I am not above fudging - not actual die rolls but as Bruno points out, random tables and the like. If an encounter results in say 6 ogres and I see that a party has just left a room and hasn't had a chance to heal, I might knock it down to three, etc. I try to let the current table dynamics and situation determine the overall experience rather than the RAW from any rulebook.

Sean McCoy said...

I ran into this last night with a thing I'm playtesting. I had a played roll up a new contact, which they did - awesome, then I rolled their reaction, which was overwhelmingly terrible. And I was like, fuck, they just rolled this guy up, and we know he's a contact of the player, should we immediately shut this down because he's openly hostile? So I fudged it to where his reaction was closer to "considers options," and made a note that reactions for contacts of PCs is wonky and needs looking at. I'm still not sure if what I did was right or not, it feels off to me.

WrongOnTheInternet said...

Possibly another test for fudging: would it make the game less fun if your players knew you were fudging? In all of your examples, it looks like you're doing it out in the open where it'd be obvious to everyone.

Zak Sabbath said...

Sorcerer example is totally fudging if that table is there to describe how the power works (rather than a table of creative suggestions meant to stimulate improv).

Those rules describe how the gameworld works, the player kjnows they exist and you negated them.

It's bad bc you just violated the way the world's supposed to work to make things easier. If you genuinely can't live w/ the result then that rule should not say that thing at that point--a different rule should operate. Or else live w the consequences.

"Makes no sense" really depends on the GM's descriptive powers.

Some GMs are imaginative and can think of reasons weird results make sense, some cannot/

Zak Sabbath said...

That isn;'t just broadly doen in the interest of "player engagement" that's done (in your example) in the interest of "keeping the players alive by making the game easier".

Again: my suggestion is long-term engagement would be better served by either using a table more appropriate to the range of outcomes the players could actually suffer if you're bent on scaling encounters or just not scaling the encounter.

Unless that's the kind of table designed to be used for inspiration rather than to describe literally how the ecology of that environment works.

If the players could figure out that that place might contain 6 ogres, I owe them a chance of encountering 6 ogres, no matter how tired they are. That is the difficulty of the game they chose to play.

I may decide this is a terrible idea--but then i should be playing with a different table and I should acknowledge that.

Zak Sabbath said...

well it's a playtest.

Zak Sabbath said...

even if you hide it, players will figure it out over time

WrongOnTheInternet said...

I agree, but I think the fudging a lot of us are familiar with is the behind the screen "Oh you're just unconscious" variety.

Zak Sabbath said...

rolling behind a screen=i know yr fudging

Zak Sabbath said...

@strustured answer

you're banned for not addressing questions last time you commented--

you need to have the conversation you started there before being allowed to comment again

Venger Satanis said...

Since I tagged and talked about you in my blog post response to your article on fudging, here's the link:

Zak Sabbath said...

While it's good you told me rather than simply posting it behind my back, that's not a good response because instead of:

-stating why I argue for trusting the dice
and then
-making a reasoned argument against that and state why I'm wrong simply ignore the reasons i give.

It's not good to do that, it creates an incoherent conversation

MonteCook said...

I like your line about equating fudging with declaring bankruptcy. Good analogy.

In my experience, the vast amount of GM fudging comes from one of three sources:

1. The Wrong Player. The dice say that Bob's character dies. Bob's character dying means Bob will be sad or throw a fit, ruining everyone's evening. That's a social problem that you're trying to fix with a game mechanic solution. Instead, it can be fixed by either talking with Bob, not playing with Bob, or playing a different--less lethal--game more appropriate for Bob. All the players should sign on to the conceit of the game. If you're playing a game where you've got 2 hp and most things inflict 1d6 damage, you've got to accept that you very well might likely die if you get in a fight.

2. The Wrong Game. The dice say everyone's characters die. If that's a problem, play a less lethal game. This is closely related to point 1, but this time it's not really Bob's problem, it's the GM's. If you're constantly fudging to keep the players alive, you're at odds with the game rather than using the game. There are lots of game systems out there and each one presents lethality in different ways. If you're playing a game where bad luck or poor player decisions will bring the game to an end, and you're not okay with that, play something else. If you are okay with that, rock on and don't fudge.

3. The Wrong GM. You really want the PCs to all get knocked out and wind up prisoners in the Slave Pits but dammit Bob just rolled a 20 on his save. So you fudge to ensure that they're captured anyway. If the players live and die by the dice, so do you, GM. Again, there are games that give the GM more narrative control, or maybe someone more willing and able to deal with things not going according to plan should be the GM.
Preparing for a game = good.
Planning out a game = bad.

This is a topic that's often on my mind as a designer. In some ways, Numenera's Cypher System was designed for GMs who found that they were fudging a lot with more rules-intensive systems. The Cypher System mechanizes fudging in a way with GM intrusions. At the same time, I really enjoy games like OD&D and CoC, but only if there's no fudging.

Zak Sabbath said...

I think most of those are about noticing a long-term pattern of fudging--and I agree they indicate a mismatch.

I guess my post is more about those moments where it happens like once or twice a year, how to handle it.

Venger Satanis said...

I had both limited time and inclination to counter your argument in my post, so I simply blogged my own perspective.

Hopefully, I'll have some more time this weekend and will go into your trust for the dice.

Also, I don't mind incoherence... and that probably has something to do with our differences of opinion.

Zak Sabbath said...

It's pointless to publish competing monologues.

The internet allows for dialogue, not using it is just like

"Hey Bud is the best!"
"No, Michelob is!" doesn't help anyone or make any sense. It just wastes the time of everyone reading if you do that.

If you write a long post where you don't address rational counterarguments to your position, you've lose all that time people had and gain nothing in return.

Venger Satanis said...

I disagree, but one argument at a time...

"The first piece of advice is just straight-up inaccurate: there is literally no game in the history of RPGs which has not been profitably fudged by some group somewhere."


Regarding the downside: if a GM constantly helped the PCs with fudged die rolls session after session, then I believe you're correct. The game would lose it's sense of urgency and excitement. However, I'm not calling for constant helpful fudging to help the PCs.

I suppose, fudging should be "uncommon" in my mind. No more than a handful of times per session. You're comparison to bankruptcy seems like way overkill.

Menace 3 Society said...

A hostile contact is perfectly fine - if you look at drama, especially cop/detective kinds of tings, you see a lot of examples of people who are ostensibly working together acting with hostility toward one another. The contact is angry with the PC for some reason - maybe the PC knows why, maybe not, maybe the contact is angry about something else but taking it out on the PC. The point is that the PC needs to do something extra to make use of the contact, whether it's a small acknowledgement of the shared world (McNulty apologizing for his many fuckups) or a larger diversion that commits them to playing the game more (Marlowe finding his partner's real killer).

A slightly-fudgy approach might be to say that the contact is hostile to someone whose identity they don't know, but happens to be the PC (J. Jonah Jameson hates Spider-Man but employs Peter Parker).

Bruno el Vago said...

That...actually rises an interesing point: ¿Should the players know the random tables you roll? it raises the common expectancy, and adds transparency for the players.

Zak Sabbath said...

a handful of times per session is a LOT and i would instantly be like "This is one of those railroaded games and I am not being tested. I'm playing t-ball and can check out."

Zak Sabbath said...

depends a lot on what the table's for. if the gm is rolling on a table of interesting meals, I don't want to know, i don't need that metaknowledge. if it's the carousing table--ditto. im less in the moment.

if it's a table of results about spelunking possibilities and my pc is an expert spelunker then my choices are likely to be more tactical and knowing the table might make the game more rather than less fun

Sean McCoy said...

For sure. I'll need to put some more guidelines in the rules about how to handle the reaction tables I'm using. As it stands, it's just not very clear.

The idea is that these are heisters and they can reach out to contacts (weapons dealers, junkyard owners, dirty cops), to acquire items they need to do a job. It seemed bad to me that on a players first roll for their first contact on their first job that they'd run into a brick wall. But rethinking it, there's ways I could've handled it better - and the reaction table could be updated to include the fact that since these are PC contacts, starting off with a no-go situation maybe shouldn't even be on the table.

Venger Satanis said...

Jumping to the railroad conclusion seems to be one of those knee-jerk reactions that some gamers have.

What if the adventure is turning out to be kind of a railroad all on its own, but spur of the moment you decide to take things in a different direction based on something one of the PCs mentioned an hour ago? And that happens despite whatever the scenario states and what you just rolled...

Some people think that altering a Troll's stats before the game is fudging! So, opening that can of worms is a slippery slope which leads to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Basically, rule zero. That means the GM can never actually cheat, which means it's not fudging. So, if it's a great game, it's a great game. Everyone wins!

Zak Sabbath said...

First, don't introduce new, irrelevant tangents into the conversation while we're discussing a given point:

I didn't say railroading was "cheating" so please don't introduce that irrelevant concept.

You would be wholly incorrect to describe what I say as a knee-jerk reaction. It is a precise description of what is occurring from someone who you described railroading to.

People who think changing a troll's stats before a game s "fudging" are simply wrong. It makes no sense to bring them up either.

Now, on to the conversation we were having before you introduced the irrelevant tangents:

You changing the scenario on a whim doesn't make it "less" of a railroad (or necessarily more).

The only important thing is whether you've set up rules about how the fiction works that the players are relying on to make decisions and you change them mid-stream not because that's a twist in the tale (Ah! The Blue Elves cast illusions!) but because you saw the game not turning out how you want. that is railroading--or at least it is the second your players notice and decide they don't like it (otherwise it's "participationism" which is: "Railroading but your players are not challenge-oriented so they like it").

That is the definition of the word "railroad"--the plot is going where the DM sends it and ignores some number of PC decisions or meaningful die outcomes to get there.

It's FINE if that's fun for you and your players and I am not saying you aren't allowed to do it, but that's still railroading.

And that's not something that interests me or my players.


Please don't talk about what you're "allowed" to do--that isn;t important here.

Please don't talk about "cheating"--that isn;t important here.

Please don't talk about what "some people" say-that isn;t important here.

Please don't talk about what you like to do--that isn;t important here.

What;s important here is what has to be done to produce the kind of game I--and those like me--
enjoy playing. I have made arguments for it. In order not to waste time, you should address _those_ arguments.

Or simply go "Ok, I don't like the same kind of game as you" and then we're done.

Arnold K said...

My rule for fudging: use it to make the game more interesting or more common-sense. Don't use it to make the game easier or harder on the players.

Zak Sabbath said...

That doesn't seem to have any meat on it because "more interesting" is vague. It provides no hard diagnostic.

Do you think about the long-term? Or would you simply fudge every single roll all the time into the one you think would work in the moment.

I suspect you don't do that second thing, but the way you're articulating it doesn't really go into any helpful detail about _what makes_ play interesting and in what way and for whom and under what circumstances?

Venger Satanis said...

I couldn't get past your second paragraph because... 1) you brought up railroading first. 2) I never said that railroading was cheating. 3) Don't tell me what to do (unless you're my wife).

Zak Sabbath said...

1. Not a point at issue (it doesn't matter who brought up the railroading you do, we're talkig about whether its good to do it or not) so no need to make this statement

2. Neither did I, you introduced the concept of "cheating" wrongly in your comment above

3.You (like everyone else) are explicitly being told what to do here. The price of getting to post here is you have to make sense:

Half-conversations and evasions aren't allowed here, you need to address every point made and every question asked by whoever you're talking to or be banned.

You need to now address the rest of my previous comment or you never get to post here again.

Read it, decide if you disagree with any parts, quote those parts and describe why you disagree.