I’m writing this post to get a few things out in the open. 1. D&D is a game, not a novel. 2. If you are the Game Master and you feel that you need to fudge the die rolls to beat your Players, then you are playing the Game wrong. 3. If you are making ANY of your game up on the spot, for any reason, fudging your dice rolls is just unfair.
First things first, of the multiple reasons and excuses to fudge dice rolls in a game, wanting to tell a Story with character development and overarching plot lines is the least egregious. A GM that is proud of his or her campaign and wants to share the breadth and depth of the world with his or her players wants to tell a good story. That Game Master wants everything to according to a script. Fudging dice does not make the Game a Good Story. Fudging Dice makes the Game a Poor Game.
Not to dismiss White Wolf and the Storyteller System, but if you running a Game, then you are not telling a Story. The Players are not telling a Story. Story is what happens in the space between the GM and the Players. The GM reveals the setting or stage, if you will, and the Players strut about upon it. The Story is what happens as the Players strut about and run up against the setting. NPCs, Big Bosses, the Environment are setting. Players send their PCs into the setting to tear things down, to change the view, to build new structures out of the existing pieces , or to hit their heads on the Setting. If you want certain things to happen in your game setting and you want the PCs to do it, you are not running a Game. You are trying to write a short story, a novel, or an epic and are using the PCs as the protagonists and it is not fair to your Players.
Telling a Story takes the danger out of the Game. If you are running a Lord of the Rings, a Wheel of Time, or a Game of Thrones and the PCs are needed to fulfill some destined role at the apex of the story arc, then any combat, trap, or natural disaster is just fluff. There is no danger, no chance of failure, until the final Big Boss and, even then, it may be a joke, if you want a Glorious Ending for the Party. Roll the dice, let every combat make a difference. Have your villains and your set pieces and know that the Players may go the path you hope they will trod or they may make a mockery of your well laid plans. If the paladin, whom you wanted to slay the Lich-King and restore the kingdom, gets killed by a lucky roll of a goblin bandit, DEAL WITH IT. It is a game and there is chance, in any combat, that the PCs will come out the losers. If you fudge the dice in their favor, then the defeat of the Tarrasque, the death of the Lich-King, and the overthrow of the Arch Devil are ultimately meaningless. The Players will never know for certain, if they truly won day through good luck and planning or if you threw the Game for the Story.
Secondly…This one is just sad. You’re the Game Master. You can always “win.” You know all the secrets and plots of the campaign. You can create NPCs with more power, more magic items, and more numbers than the PCs. If you need to fudge the dice to kill off PCs or even to just challenge them, then you are thinking on the wrong scale. You do not have to fudge the dice to best the players.
This point is doubly troubling to me. It presupposes that there is a conflict between the Players and the Game Master. This is a false assumption. The GM certainly runs the challenges and plays the agents opposing the PCs, but he or she is not out to defeat the Players. The GM is there to provide the setting, to offer plot lines, to fold what the PCs do into the over all working of the campaign. There is no win or lose clause between the Players and the Game Master in D&D or any other Role Playing Game. This is not football or chess. If everyone at the table has fun, then it is a win. If one person has fun and everyone else is miserable, then it is a loss. Even Total Party Kills can be fun, if the Game is played fairly and for enjoyment. A good GM makes Awesome happen for the Players. Here is a good example of that in DMing with Charisma. The play is the thing.
Lastly for this post, this point is, mostly, for me. As I said before, I create much of my game on-the-fly. It seems to me that if I’m making things up and fudging my dice, my Players don’t have a fair stake in the game. If I decide to suddenly drop a vile dragon into a game and then regret it because it is too powerful or too weak to oppose the PCs, I might be tempted to fudge the dice. Others may say, “So what? As long as, the Players have fun what is the difference?” If I do that, then I take away the Players’ power in the game. I’m no different than the Storyteller in my first point. If the Players decide to explore a series of caves that I have not filled in yet and I decide that goblins own the caves, it is not fair for me to fudge the dice, when the PCs start wiping the floor with goblin guts. If I do that, then I am acting like the GM in point #2. If I have to or want to make it up on the spot, then I’ve got to let the dice be the arbitrators of the outcome; otherwise the PCs are no more or less than puppets on strings. The Players never have a chance to shine. There is no challenge. Players have the right for the GM to treat them fairly. The GM has to be honest in all things. It is all too easy to for GMs to overpower the Players in the game. Keeping the dice honest gives the GM the power to drop challenges, too great and too small,l in the PCs path on a whim and let the Players decide what to do with that challenge. It lets everyone at the table have fun.
Until next time, Game On!
Here’s a follow up post, I wrote on this subject.