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In Praise of Dice

I don’t think I need to convince anyone that dice are cool. But for those who feel dice are only useful for looking pretty and making a clattery sound behind a GM’s screen, I disagree.

dice-2788986_960_720.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Fudging Dice Rolls​

Recent years have seen an explosion in all manner of gorgeous artisan dice and special editions. It seems every convention I’ve been to I’ve had to add another set to my already over developed collection, whether it was some rainbow dice during Pride at Origins or a set of cool Eldritch Cthulhu dice the next year.

In such articles, the conversation is about taking control of the story and making sure the results do the best thing for the adventure rather than accept a random result. It makes sense, and in many games I’ll ignore my dice (as a GM that is, for a player that’s called cheating) to work in the best interest of the story to get a more satisfying outcome for the players and the game.

But while I do agree with the odd fudging, I have to also council against it, and suggest your story may be a lot better because of the randomness so often eschewed by ardent story gamers. Quite simply, a random result will not only test your storytelling but also get you out of a rut.

Digging Out of a Rut​

We all fall into storytelling ruts. Many players have a certain type of character they love to play, and GMs do the same thing with favourite types of encounter and NPC. There isn’t especially anything wrong with this if that’s what you enjoy playing. But if you are finding your game seems have become a little samey, you need to go a bit random. Instead of choosing character options, roll them by the book and take whatever you get, no matter how unoptimised or odd. Then take all that randomness and make it fit together. Not only will you get a character you have probably taken a lot more time to think about, but also something you don’t usually play. You might hate it, but if so, you can always create a new character, and at the very least you may have gained few interesting ideas you’ll want to use again.

The same goes for the gamemaster. It doesn’t hurt to let fate take over the driving seat now and again. While it might not always take you down the best route, a random dice roll will take your game somewhere unexpected. When the game slides onto a path even the GM didn’t predict, you are all suddenly on a mystery tour. As a GM I find that exciting, because I want to know what’s going to happen as much as the players do. It may mean a little more improvising but that can be part of the fun. Either way, just like creating a random character you will go somewhere you don’t usually go, and tell a story you don’t usually tell. If it isn’t working you always have the option to pull the adventure back onto more familiar ground by fudging the next dice roll. But give it a chance before you do as sometimes the most jarring paths can take you to a very interesting place if you take just a few more steps down that road.

The Glory of Failure​

It’s at this point I should add a note about one of the best things about dice, failure. Failure is good, and possibly one of the best storytelling devices you will ever find. Sure, it might suck to be the thief who fails to pick a lock or the group who fails to take down the villain. But such events only start new stories. If the lock can’t be picked, the party isn’t going to just go home. They must find a new way to get past the door. If they can’t defeat the villain, they won’t just give up (or shouldn’t if they are true heroes). Instead, they will come back again, and how much more satisfying to overcome a problem that seemed insurmountable the first time.

I even include expert characters in this. While your thief might be a world-renowned locksmith, no one has a 100% change of success every time. Even experts fail now and again. So, don’t get hung up on the idea that it is part of your character that ‘they never fail to pick a lock’. Embrace the fact they are imperfect and can have a bad day and ask yourself how they deal with the fact they have failed.

As it often does, Pendragon offers a model for this with the personality traits. Even the most Chaste or Brave knight might fall victim to the charms of an enchantress or be struck by cowardice before a big battle. They are human, it happens. The question then becomes how do they cope with this failure, and how does it affect their position in the group? Can they make amends, will they overcome the lack of confidence, and what will they feel the next time they are called upon to face a similar test?

So, in short, don’t always take too much control of the story. Let go a little and see what fate brings you. It may take you somewhere you never even dreamed possible, and you get to roll a few more of those gorgeous shiny polyhedrons you spent all that money on.

Your Turn: How important are dice in shaping your game's narrative?
 
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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

Is fudging required? No.

Has anyone said that fudging is required? No.

Is fudging the occasional roll more efficient and effective at entertaining the players than other methods? I say yes.

Can this be measured or proven? No. Probably because there is no publicly available Funometer.

shakes fist at patent office
 

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Is fudging required? No.

Has anyone said that fudging is required? No.

Is fudging the occasional roll more efficient and effective at entertaining the players than other methods? I say yes.

Can this be measured or proven? No. Probably because there is no publicly available Funometer.

shakes fist at patent office
Alright. So we agree it's not required, merely that it is a tool which can be used to achieve some desirable ends (such as smoothing the play experience or preventing premature/unsatisfying story-ends.) That's good. If I've understood correctly, you also make it a serious personal effort to assure that your players remain unaware of your fudging. Why is that? Are you concerned about their reaction, if they should learn that you do or have done it?
 

Are you concerned about their reaction, if they should learn that you do or have done it?

Absolutely! That would be terrible!

For them I mean, not for me. Because once you know how the magician levitates their assistant, you may still be able to appreciate the artistry, but you will have lost some of the sense of wonder. I would never deprive them of that.

You can never believe in Santa Claus again once you actually see your parents putting your presents under the tree.

This is why there is always an odd little intimate melancholy when you are running a game, and you know one of the players has been a DM themselves. Because you both know they have seen the man behind the curtain, and know there is no Wizard.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
I think the dichotomy here is between good and bad GM's, trust issues, not as much about dice or NPC's etc.; except that players have learned to build walls around themselves to protect from bad GMing. So that saying fudging can elicit a negative or positive response based upon experience.
 

Campbell

Legend
You see, this is what we always face without fail - a raft of assumptions that what we're doing is pre-deciding without even consulting the dice... for everything. You're assuming that the determination was used ahead of time when it might have just been a case of, once the roll is seen, "ouch, not that one".
And you're apparently oblivious to the idea that "why roll at all" being the extreme end opposite of "never fudge" when more moderate positions might be "accept the roll for most stuff, but if the GM is on a hot streak of crits, maybe it's time to ignore a natural 20 or two" or "I'm rolling for wandering monsters, but rather than using the warband of 40 orcs I got, I'll bump it down to their scouting party of 5" or even "I rolled a crit on this 4d8 attack, if I shave off a couple of dice instead of rolling all 8d8 the point will still be made"
It's not that everything is false, it's that the die roll is considered like any other input in the GM's side of the screen - subject to edits.

I do not think it's all that helpful to frame this as if we are dealing with political positions. This mostly comes down to a different view of what a GM's role is. When I sit behind the screen I view myself fundamentally as playing a game with the other players. It's not my job to entertain them, make sure the experience is fun for them, or guide play. It's my job to bring it, play the world with integrity, and play to find out what happens. That's what I want when I'm a player too.

I generally do not believe what is happening on the GM's side of the screen should necessarily be subject to edits. That varies from game to game. I personally prefer games where if prep is done, NPCs are statted, or a scene is framed the GM stays committed to it.
 
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Kannik

Adventurer
That's...actually a pretty interesting concept. It reminds me distantly of the Escalation Die from 13th Age, just for a purely roleplay context. I wonder what other things could be done by using dice as held or presented props?

I love props, so I would say many things... :D I'm enjoying hearing all the examples that people have of specific dice they use for specific instances (fireball, potion dice, monster dice, etc).

How would you respond, then, to my assertion that it is entirely possible to achieve every aim fudging achieves, without actually fudging? Again, using my specified tripartite definition thereof (a mechanic or narrative element is invoked into play, and the DM overrules that mechanic/element secretly, and the DM prevents any possibility of discovering the overruled mechanic/element). Weakening or removing any one of the parts ensures it isn't fudging, and there's a reason I've said there isn't any situation that actually requires you to fudge. Not speed of play, not permitting stories to play out in a satisfying way, not adapting to cool ideas from the players, and not counteracting the rare but meaningful periods where randomness just completely goes against the players. What need is there for this "middle way" when--if my assertion is true--there is no need to take one of the paths at all, to any degree?
I would say that is still a matter of the middle path, because you’re still choosing when to forgo a result, even if you announce or declare it. Or if you choose to do it preemptively or choose to alter the upcoming situations. Or how you used that example from your DW game, tweaking how the opponents worked. It may not be the same as a particular, specific, definition fudging, but it’s still adapting and altering for effect, and extremes of this can still lead to lessened experiences. There are many angles and avenues in the metaphorical toolbox, and this is just one way. A way that I don’t find any better, or worse, than any other way. Any of the ways can be used to great effect, and any of the ways can also be used (or overused) to poor effect. And using combinations of them is often best… which is its own kind of middle path.

It also pays to note that what will work best and the amounts therein will be different for different groups and, as I alluded to in my original post, different for different games, game styles, and campaign tones. Using your second and third tests as you define them for what constitute as fudging, being up front and declaring what you’re doing rather than secrecy or deception can certainly work fine. In one of my groups though, in many situations it works even better if I fudge lightly such that the party pulls off a perilous win. It’s very akin to your DW example; the players feel great, and that’s what they want out of the games.

(As an aside, that’s an interesting question, how do people feel/react if it isn’t the dice that are being fudged, but something else (hit points, tactics, damage, world facts, number of obstacles to the destination, etc)? Is it dice specifically where certain vehemence (for those who have such, and not meaning that with any negative connotation) comes in? For you (again, with no negative connotation) it seems to be.)

Perhaps I am projecting, but I find that most DMs who proudly engage in fudging--and especially those who will explicitly lie to their players' faces about whether they have fudged--do not do this kind of self-reflection. I am, of course, willing to be corrected on that front. But my distinct impression has been that fudging is treated as obviating the need for such reflection; if something has gone wrong, I can just fudge it away and maintain the illusion of error-free DMing.
I don’t know if it is common or not, which is why I mentioned it and invite such retrospection. :)
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
IDK, do you take the fiction seriously or not? Fudging rolls mostly means you don't (only mostly, not always). People taking the dice at their face value means they respect the process. Mostly.
 

Kannik

Adventurer
Oh, also, drumroll please... the great, and only, d100 (aka Zocchihedron)!

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(That, as I noted before, I've rolled exactly thrice and needed to be reassembled :p)

As for favourite dice, I have a set of clear light blue super sharp dice I call my laser dice. They're old school crayon-fill dice, which I never filled in to keep their pristine crystalline look. Bit tough to read, but I love 'em. :)
 


My feelings on fudging:

I've been running the same 3.5 campaign for over 7 years (!) and I have not had any player character deaths yet. Not for lack of trying. And as some of you may know, 3rd edition is generally considered more deadly than 5e. It has lots of save or die effects and monsters can hit hard.

During those 7 years only one or two situations have come up where I had a monster switch targets to not outright kill a pc. They were first level at the time, so I went easy on them. No fudging though. If I don't want a monster to kill a pc, he does not have to attack him. But as soon as I grab those dice I am commiting myself to the outcome.

And at high levels I DO try to kill them. The challenge rating will always be suitable to the strength of their party, but I don't go easy on them. If say, they encounter a dragon, it will try to kill them. And if they flee back to their ship, that dragon burns the ship. Flee back to town? The dragon burns the whole town down to the ground!

Sometimes I may rule that a monster dies without rolling any dice. That guard that was just pushed off the bridge into the lava pit? I think it's fair to have him die a cinematic death, without the dice telling me he still has 3 hp left after that fall. I don't roll. Those last few hp will not get in the way of a cool cinematic moment and I don't want my combat to drag on forever.

But if I decide that the dice should determine the outcome, I should then also accept the outcome. That monster does not need to attack, and those scripted reinforcements can be adjusted, or erased entirely before they appear. There are plenty of tools at my disposal to adjust the difficulty without the need to ignore or change the outcome of a roll.

I've also learned to trust my players to save themselves. They have plenty of special abilities to force a reroll, deflect or half damage, or cancel a deadly outcome. I can't track all their hp and remaining abilities, but I know they have plenty of both. Even in a game like 3e, it takes quite a lot to actually kill a high level character. More so in 5e.

Those few moments where they do clutch it out, are genuinly suspenseful moments. When last week that Fire Giant rolled a crit on his Smite Good, they were terrified, but they managed just fine in the end. You've got to have a little faith in the game. Besides, if in al those 7 years not a single character ever drops to 0 hp, then I'm not challenging them enough. Plus, it's not like 0 hp is instant character death.

And note that by core 3e CR rules, my encounters are considered pretty deadly. My players are level 18, but I throw a horde of CR 18 monsters at them, with a CR 20 boss. And yet they do just fine. No need to change the outcome of any roll.

So to those who fudge in 5e, what are you so worried about?
 
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Are you concerned about their reaction, if they should learn that you do or have done it?

Absolutely! That would be terrible!

For them I mean, not for me. Because once you know how the magician levitates their assistant, you may still be able to appreciate the artistry, but you will have lost some of the sense of wonder. I would never deprive them of that.

You can never believe in Santa Claus again once you actually see your parents putting your presents under the tree.

This is why there is always an odd little intimate melancholy when you are running a game, and you know one of the players has been a DM themselves. Because you both know they have seen the man behind the curtain, and know there is no Wizard.
Okay so...

What if you could actually have that Santa? Because that's what I'm advocating for. A world where you don't fudge, but you still accomplish all the things fudging is meant to do. Where there need not be a loss of wonder, because there is no falsehood to break it. Because there is a proverbial wizard behind the curtain. The agency is real, and the mechanics are real but not inescapable.

Now, maybe (like Kannik) you consider the things I'm advocating for "fudging," because you have a broad definition of the term. If you consider any situation where you ignore or modify the numbers to be "fudging," regardless of context, well...I guess my argument just boils down to "try only use the parts that don't require parents putting the presents under the tree, but which still ensure presents arrive there?" But it sounds like you use the term "fudging" the way I do: that it's about secrecy and illusion, projecting the appearance of agency (for the players) and objectivity (of the world) when neither really applies. If that is how you see it...again, I'm just wondering why it's worthwhile to have the risk of revealing your proverbial Santa isn't real, when a little bit of effort would mean he IS (proverbially) real.

It just seems like the trade is "well I save a small amount of effort on relatively infrequent events, in exchange for having to maintain an illusion that would be terrible for my players if it ever broke." (And which you admit must break, if a person ever decides to sit behind the DM screen for a while before going back to being a player.) When instead it could be, "I spend a bit more effort on relatively infrequent events, but my players can be certain that their agency is real."

Faced with such a decision, it's just...really hard for me to see why one would choose the former when you could choose the latter. Further, I don't really see any reason that the implied assertion wrapped up in it--that there's only a small difference in effort between "fudging" as I've defined it and these other tactics I've described--is incorrect. This is, obviously, a squishy value-judgment. But it's just really surprising to me that pro-fudging people don't seem to really care to check it out.
 

Zander

Explorer
Why is it acceptable for you to present untrue things as true, but unacceptable for others to present untrue things as true?
Also in response to @zarionofarabel (the multi-quote function is broken)...

By 'others', I assume you mean 'players', not 'DMs'.

Two reasons:

1. When players fudge (cheat), it's almost always for their own aggrandisement. They are seeking to make their character save, hit, do large amounts of damage etc more often than the other characters. They are trying to become the hero of the show, leaving the other characters as sidekicks or spectators. That isn't fun for the players of the sidekicks/spectators. Very few people play D&D to be nothing more than a witness to someone else's success.

2. If the players fudge (cheat) it removes a control mechanism I have as DM to maximise the overall fun. There are then too many unknowns: the results of fair dice rolls are known unknowns but the behaviour of players (when they will/won't cheat and by how much) is an unknown unknown.
 

"Faced with such a decision, it's just...really hard for me to see why one would choose the former when you could choose the latter."

That question I can definitively shed light on.

It's because I have actually experienced both methods. on both sides of the screen.

And from that actual experience I have made an informed decision about which one works best with my group (s) for the goal of maximizing player enjoyment.

Or in other terms ... I have tried both the chocolate fudge and the peanut butter fudge. Peanut butter fudge is better!

Have you tried the peanut butter fudge?
 

Still cannot understand how the GM dice fudge is considered good for the game but a Player dice fudge bad? Either all dice are respected or all are not.

Why roll if you aren't committed to accepting the result? Better to just declare what happens and save rolling for when you're going to respect what it tells you.
These two statements sum up my opinion on the matter. If it's important enough to your story to have a certain outcome, don't roll dice! Dice are specifically meant to create an amount of randomness that can change the narrative of the game. If a secret door or hidden container needs to be found for the plot to advance, you just let the party succeed.

PC death should have consequences, even against a random encounter. In my last campaign, on session 1, the party ran across a band of kobolds as a random encounter (not that the players knew that). The paladin was particularly brash, and charged straight in while ahead of the party. The kodolds were next, and they surrounded and killed him, since the ones in the back couldn't reach the rest of the party anyway. This enraged the rest of the party, who not only killed them, but tracked them back to their lair to begin a campaign of terror against the kobold tribe, exterminating them to the last. The paladin was avenged!
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
"Players who fudge dice are cheating and that is seen as a bad thing, or at least that is pretty much how it has always been presented to me. If it's wrong for players to fudge die rolls to get the results they desire, why should it be okay for the GM to fudge? Why is a GM fudging not cheating if the players are cheating if they fudge?"

That's a good question , and it hangs on whether at your table the players roll openly and the DM rolls behind a screen, or whether everyone rolls openly.

If the DM rolls behind the screen, then - from the players perspective - the results are undetermined until announced. Whereas the results of the players rolls collapse the wave form as soon as they stop rolling.

If a player rolls a 6, they have rolled a 6. To say that they rolled an 8 is observably false. That can be defined as "cheating".

If a DM rolls a dice behind the screen and then says "It's an 8" it is not observably false. It is also not observably true. Whether it is cheating or not is not determinable and therefore is not relevant.

(To clarify something that I think is unclear: I would never fudge a roll AGAINST a PC. Not because it's wrong, that's irrelevant, but because it's not the best tool for the job. If the monsters are not putting up an exciting challenge I can just add more monsters!)
But what happens if the players find out about the lie? Does it then become relevant?
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
Also in response to @zarionofarabel (the multi-quote function is broken)...

By 'others', I assume you mean 'players', not 'DMs'.

Two reasons:

1. When players fudge (cheat), it's almost always for their own aggrandisement. They are seeking to make their character save, hit, do large amounts of damage etc more often than the other characters. They are trying to become the hero of the show, leaving the other characters as sidekicks or spectators. That isn't fun for the players of the sidekicks/spectators. Very few people play D&D to be nothing more than a witness to someone else's success.

2. If the players fudge (cheat) it removes a control mechanism I have as DM to maximise the overall fun. There are then too many unknowns: the results of fair dice rolls are known unknowns but the behaviour of players (when they will/won't cheat and by how much) is an unknown unknown.
But how do I know that the DM is cheating in my (the players) favor? How do I know the DM isn't cheating so they can railroad the players? How can I trust the DM to not cheat rolls during any roll?

What if the fudging is during a non-combat encounter, is it okay to fudge a roll to make sure the PCs don't discover that an NPC is lying, thus preserving the GMs preplanned story???
 
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You don't.

The only thing you know - the only thing that matters as a player - is "Did you have a good time."?

If you did, it doesn't matter if the DM fudged the die rolls. If you didn't, it doesn't matter whether the DM used dice as rolled.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Since I am running my game today, I thought I'd snap some more dice related pix while I set up.
139538297_149725733621346_8001390302943120820_n.jpg

My dice tower (I got it off Etsy)


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I own many dice, but here are some I keep ready for play in an old box a wallet came in. I used to use the top as a rolling tray before I got the tower, now I use it as the place where I keep my set ready for play. I tend to choose dice based on what the adventure theme or ambience is supposed to be - so blue watery dice for sea adventures and red and orange dice to fight the fire demon, etc. . .

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This drawstring bag hold more back up dice. Mi abuela made two like this for me in the mid-90s from the pant legs of a pair of corderoys she cut into shorts and hemmed for me. I used to use them as my main dice bag(s). One fell apart and this one I keep safe for sentimental reasons as she passed away in 2008.

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Here are four dice examples. My "reaction" die. A d10 with a "10" instead of a "0" and my "dino dice" which I got at a con in the 90s and have used to represent small dinos and other lizard opponents when necessary.

139845999_902509163879427_8819702608814897949_n.jpg
139548722_403597244238690_7134697977465213865_n.jpg


A player got me this d20 mug a few years ago. It is too oddly shaped to actually drink out of without spilling all over yourself (which is too bad, because the cover is a great feature to keep your coffee warm), but now I used it to hold gaming odds and ends - like right now it holds extra bases for minis.

P.S. I think people who really want to continue the fudging discussion should move it to a different thread.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
You don't.

The only thing you know - the only thing that matters as a player - is "Did you have a good time."?

If you did, it doesn't matter if the DM fudged the die rolls. If you didn't, it doesn't matter whether the DM used dice as rolled.
To me it matters. If it doesn't to you, that's good. But to me it does.
 


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