continued from [Dragon Age TTRPG] a brief review: GM Fiat and Fudging

edited December 2009 in Story Games
It came up in Ralph's thread on Dragon Age.

I blogged about it.

And JD replied:
Posted By: JDCorleyIt's just a skill, that's all, you start with none of it, you follow the directions as best you can, making some mistakes, you learn from others, you learn from reading, you learn from life, you grow, you gain some modest degree of mastery, then go on the internet and everyone screams that what you've done is a horrible mistake and a waste of time and if they hadtheirway, nobody would ever value what you value again. Thus the circle of life continues. Mistakes, growth, aspirations, wonder, and the internet destroying it all, squatting in the center like Kali with rabies.
Yeah, I agree. It is a learned skill to make up for games that either are being played for long term epic fantasy play when they are not meant to be or have put together poorly wrought mechanics where the terms for failure are poorly put together.

Shit, it was a skill I had, a skill I cultivated. I am not coming out of left field, not knowing what this alien practice is about. I used to fudge a ton and thought that any GM who didn't do so was foolish and setting themselves up for a big let-down because that is just it, all systems were a big let-down.

Now I am playing games where I can trust the dice to fall where they may.

The act of fudging and having to dance around the system took a tremendous amount of energy, energy that I have found is better spent doing other things.

Posted By: JDCorley

I bear a warning. The next generation will look at narration passing (or Your Favorite Mechanic) as the symptom of horrific weakness. They will disdain it. They will sneer at it. "Oh, look at those narration passing story games." they will say, sniffing haughtily, on the superInternet messageboards. "Aren't they amusingly primitive? And the fools who worked very hard to get good at narration, and passing things along and, what did they call them? 'Bangs'? Oh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Oh, it's not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just completely terrible design in every way and everyone knows it forever, I hope I never see anything like that again."
Dude, I hope so. I hope we continue to get better at this. I hope my current techniques are replaced by even better ones because as I get older, the gaming just keeps on getting better. I hope that continues.
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Comments

  • Posted By: JuddThe act of fudging and having to dance around the system took a tremendous amount of energy, energy that I have found is better spent doing other things.
    Fuck yes. "Dancing around the system" is exactly what drove me into the arms of "indie"/"Forgie" games in the first place.

    Deep down inside, I want to be a lazy GM. I want to make fun just happen without sweating for it. Fortunately for me, relaxing a bit and downsizing my workload really does make me a happier, more creative, better-contributing player. Having to continually paper over little pockets of Suck hiding in the rules is work, it gets in the way. I've tried letting up on the rules altogether and just BSing a lot, but that just made me a sloppy GM rather than a lazy GM -- not what I wanted at all!

    -- Alex
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: JuddThus the circle of life continues. Mistakes, growth, aspirations, wonder, and the internet destroying it all, squatting in the center like Kali with rabies.
    God, this is the best quote ever.

    Other than that, I'm not really sure what this thread is about. Judd doesn't like systems that don't work (i. e. don't provide the fun they promise), that's cool. But JDCorley seems to say that any game that requires specific dramatic skills is badly designed?
  • edited December 2009
    Matthijs --

    I've come to understand that Jason believes that every particular instance of gaming is a unique interaction of the (inevitably "drifted") game text with the participants and the participants with each other, and so to make pronouncements about "good play" or "good design" is to come face-to-face with the incommensurability of different gaming situations. I think that Judd, on the other hand, is decrying the tire-spinning energy-wasting "All you need is a good GM; system doesn't matter" mindset that sets up what is the definitely asymmetrical and arguably dysfunctional at-the-table group dynamic where the GM is responsible for bringing the fun and the players show up to be entertained.

    Now there's a real but potentially unresolvable debate here. I thought at first that you had to come to grips with the claim that you can't judge another person's game. But it may be enough to show that fudging the dice is consistent or inconsistent with a particular philosophy of play; then, depending on the extent to which you agreed or disagreed with that philosophy, you'd know whether or not fudging the dice was for you. On the other hand, if the at-the-table meaning (in the sense of its impact on play) of "fudging the dice" is fundamentally unknowable except within the confines of a specific instance of gaming (per my read of Jason's position), then maybe you do have to decide whether or not you can make judgments about other games before you can say anything about specific techniques.

    To sum up: Jason is a radical relativist of actual play ("You don't know me!"), and Judd is...what?...an actual play egalitarian: he's against the Cult of the Great GM.

    That's my take on it, anyway.
  • edited December 2009
    You know Judd, I similarly don't have much of an interest in fudging die rolls or playing games where I feel forced to do so, but I didn't realize how much it stressed me out until you just mentioned that. I remember avoiding die rolls because I dreaded them. In some situations in games, there are just outcomes nobody at the table wants. One I can think of recently was where I killed a couple of characters in a 4th ed. game with a random trap that was just supposed to be a simple obstacle, not a PC-killer of doomdeath. It was a shit scene and it took the wind out of my sails for continuing the game at all. It made me wish I was running The Shadow of Yesterday which doesn't stress me out because I don't have to worry about crap like that happening.

    I remember the days of bragging about making it through a game session without rolling a single die, and in addition to it being some "roleplaying, not ROLLplaying" mark of honor, it was also just a big relief.
  • Longer post trashed because I think the justifications of positions are what are making this all sound more like criticism than is intended. So just an opinion:

    I think fudging is a good and useful tool, and I welcome it at my table as I would any other good and useful tool.

    -Rob D.
  • Bret reminds me of something. Here is what I think a lot of the "all a game needs is a good GM" comes from. In a system where fudging rolls might be necessary to keep the outcomes in the realm of what the table thinks is acceptable, a much greater burden is placed on the GM. To come up with obstacles and challenges that are FAIR. Bret's example of a simple, obstacle trap taking out 2 players when it wasn't really designed to do that in 4th Ed is a good example of this. And yes, it killed the game (I think I was in that one) for Bret.

    How do we arrive at Fair? Because 4th ed d20 is based on a d20 and huge swings of luck can happen, (unlike the more predictable 3d6 for Hero or GURPS), and by the sheer amount of traps, monsters, spells, abilities to draw upon, the "Good" GM is one who knows all of these things, can juggle *just* how tough to make each obstacle. With 4th Ed, there are some guidelines that are far better than previous editions... but still, a trap that one team could waltz by (because of high thievery skills or magic rituals) another team could be stymied far beyond the "level" of the trap. The "Good" GM knows the PC abilites and all the myriad moving parts of the system. So, I think it is the GMs who can do this who get that label as "Good" and the myth perpetuates.

    But dang... is that boatloads of effort to become a "Good" gm. And d20 is not the only system that really relies on a GM being at the top of their game, Exalted with all of its crazy combos, I found Weapons of the Gods a bit tough, because running bad guys, they were very, very different from one another and abilities really ran a gamut of options...when confronting the PC's gamut of options... things could get crazy really quickly. Which is somewhat forgiveable in a genre like WotG... as it is over the top. And I think I was a "Good" WotG GM, but man, I poured over the rules time and time again, kept reading the powers over and over.. and my prep was nuts... i wrote out power blurbs for each NPC so I could access those abilities at the table quickly and seamlessly w/o going to the book. Judging whether I could put up some really tough powers versus my cast of PCs abilities and would it be a fun experience. Now, I'm a real fan of wuxia stuff, but shit that was a lot of work.

    On the flip side, a FATE game like Spirit of the Century or Diaspora...oh, the PCs and NPCs can be so very, very varied in Aspects and Stunts and such... but the rules boil down to the same bonus .... tag an Aspect, get a +2 (or a re-roll). One gets all the power of variation, without all the headache of different Feats, Abilities, whether a Shaman's power is Primal or Divine.

    Now, I've played with Judd... this is a man who likes prep even less than I do. So, I wouldn't recommend to him running d20...or just the other day he mentioned an interest in Warhammer RPG. Dude, play in that... don't run it. It doesn't play to your strengths and a lot to what you don't like about running.

    So in conclusion, to me, the Good GM is one who does a lot of work in their prep, knows the rules of a crunchy system really well and is good at balancing encounters and challenges. And those who are willing to do that, great, those can be really fun games. So the label isn't worthless, IMO, but it is not accurate in of itself. The label should be the "Crafts(wo)man" GM.
  • Hey Rob --

    Can you elaborate? That is, if it's a tool, what is it good for?
  • Lots of stuff, but I'm trying to figure out how to say as much without it sounding like a criticism, which is tricky since nerves are very near the skin on this topic.

    Most broadly, I think people bring more to the table than rules, and while I dont' think that's a controversial position, my conclusion that I'll trust the GM over the rules may be.

    -Rob D.

    PS - Though not to say I'm endorsing all fudging all the time. I've done it - Amber DRPG is a great lesson in the ups and downs of GM Fiat - and I'll be the first to say that if you have to fudge a lot, that's probably an indicator of a problem. But that's a very different beast than the occasional impetus to go off script, so to speak.
  • edited December 2009
    So, I've thought about this issue since high school when we called it by the much less pleasant name of "cheating". The idea was that if the game was adversarial in nature (as D&D often seemed to y young mind) then what was keeping the GM from cheating? And in this, I do not merely mean fudging die rolls, but also giving monsters more hit points, better abilities and generally screwing us coming and going.

    Over time, I saw some solutions to this come up, and one of the bigs one was removing the GM screen. The thinking was that so long as all the GM rolls were out in the open, he couldn't cheat, and there would be sunshine and rainbows for all.

    Except, it doesn't work that way. The GM could be 100% straight with the dice and still totally screw the players. He still designed encounters, determined the number and positions of enemies, control the opinions of NPCs and controlled a thousand other subtle things that directed play. Now, in time I got past this, and got to the point of realizing the GM and players were on the same side (and any chating that was goign on was probably pro-player), and all was well and good, but it never truly left my mind, and it comes up a lot in this context.

    The GM has PLENTY of tools to keep his thumb on the scales, even if all rolls are out in the open*. Some of those tools are constrained in some games, but plenty still remain available, enough so that if the GM wants to fiat things, then he can. I don't really need to get into the details of sleight of hand and confidence games to elaborate on how: it's doable.

    So I feel like the objection to fudging ends up lacking substance. If there is a genuine problem with how or why the GM is tipping the scales, then it should absolutely be addressed, but simply removing one tool seems like equating the tool with the problem. Worse, it removes a tool that is one of the most easily read barometers of what's working and what isn't.

    That's really not all - there's some personal stuff like I've never found it even vaguely tiring, so there's definitely some taste at work here - but that's definitely one big swath of it.

    -Rob D.


    * I leave GMless games out of the discussion for simplicity's sake.
  • Hmm. Hrm.

    I think, for me, this is primarily about responsibility. Who is responsible for the nature of the play session?

    If the answer to that question is "The GM", then yeah, there's a good chance he'll need to fudge his way out of whatever corners the group finds themselves painted into.

    If the answer is anything else, fudging seems sort of obtuse at best.

    I mean, think about how weird it would be if the responsibility for an exciting game of football lay with the referees.

    It's true that a really well-crafted game might not need much fudging by a super-responsible GM, but I think that's sorta missing the point. To directly address Judd's point, I'd suggest this:

    "If you are fudging die rolls, your social contract is failing you."


    Cheers,
    Roger
  • One of the eureka!/head-slap moments in my personal gaming evolution (and I don't recall, but I suspect it was listening to Judd and Storn's podcast) was realizing that fudging the dice is something that takes meaning away from the game.

    Because if the whole freakin' game is based on the actions of these fictional characters, and we've all agreed that success or failure those actions turn on the roll of the dice - blind, heartless, unyielding fate- then it sucks for the GM to just invent the results out of thin air when it matters the most (ie - dramatic, possibly fatal moments).
  • edited December 2009
    Has any GM ever felt tempted to fudge a roll in Mouse Guard?

    If yes, why?
  • Rob, that looks to me like a false binary.
  • Posted By: Rob Donoghue
    I think fudging is a good and useful tool, and I welcome it at my table as I would any other good and useful tool.
    Unsurprisingly, I land right where Rob does on this issue.

    Dice have no intelligence. They can't interpret. They can't react to the events at the table. And sometimes, you look around the table and see that everyone is dragging or not engaging or whatever. Maybe that's the system at fault, but maybe everyone's been shopping for the holidays for two weeks straight. You just threw down the dice and you see that the result means your players are gonna have to slog through another hour of play to get to their goal. You could go with the dice, then, or you could fudge, give the heroes their victory in the next five minutes and do a nice wrap-up scene before closing the game and not seeing each other for a few months while the holidays play out. Hitting the pause button for two+ months isn't going to work, not in the middle of things like this. You're not a dick. So you fudge the roll. The bad guy messes up badly, and the players spring into terminal action, the heroes take the day, and you get some tired and grateful smiles around the table.

    Nothing was broken about the system, there. Fudging was just the right move. Because you're the GM. YOU have intelligence. YOU can interpret. YOU can react to events at the table.

    So thinking about this, the crux I come to is here: You can view your dice a bureaucrat or as an oracle. The bureaucrat throws up his hands, proclaims those hands as tied, and sits there and lets the dice (the rules) tell him what happens every time. The oracle sees those bones land on the table, nods sagely, and interprets the fuck out of them. The same fall of those bones doesn't get the same interpretation every time, and that's a good thing. It's also fudging.

    (broad generalizing brush here) If anything, I'd say what indie games have done is remove the option to be a bureaucrat regarding the rules/the cards/whatever, and say it's okay, even desired, even supported by the system explicitly to do nothing BUT fudge the results. Sure, that fudging is dressed up in more acceptable terms, but a lot of the actual mechanics on the table do nothing to constrain narrative flexibility. (most) Indie games are simply unwilling to be rigid enough about the rules for interpreting randomization that "fudging despite the rules" even shows up as a possibility; instead it's "fudging *according to* the rules".

    At this point I expect some folks to have the usual forum reaction and wave their hands around proclaiming that fudging means going against the rules, so my entire argument is moot. If you're about to have that reaction, step back for a moment and pretend I used words that don't drive you crazy and look at my point: the narrative flexibility in these indie games is very similar to the narrative flexibility the GM occasionally imposes upon the traditional ones. I don't buy for a second that the latter is any worse -- or any better -- than the former. It's the same thing, just sitting in a different seat.
    Posted By: BWABecause if the whole freakin' game is based on the actions of these fictional characters, and we've all agreed that success or failure those actions turn on the roll of the dice - blind, heartless, unyielding fate- then it sucks for the GM to just invent the results out of thin air when itmatters the most(ie - dramatic, possibly fatal moments).
    Fudging (whether done in concert with the game rules or in opposition to them) is best when done to preserve the drama, not to steal from it, FWIW. I've seen drama get killed plenty of times by plenty of behaviors. If getting fucked by fate is what the players want, and they've communicated this to the GM, the GM shouldn't and won't fudge in the cases you're talking about. If the players want their characters to have a hard goddamn time winning and fickle fate dictates an anticlimax with a lucky shot that takes down the hardest opposition in a single blow, maybe the GM should fudge things and make that opposition just a little harder.
  • Posted By: iagoFudging (whether done in concert with the game rules or in opposition to them) is best when done to preserve the drama, not to steal from it.
    But if fudging is necessary to preserve the drama, then maybe the game system isn't right for the game you and the other players want (which is, I think, the main point that Judd and others have been making).
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: iagoSo thinking about this, the crux I come to is here: You can view your dice a bureaucrat or as an oracle. The bureaucrat throws up his hands, proclaims those hands as tied, and sits there and lets the dice (the rules) tell him what happens every time. The oracle sees those bones land on the table, nods sagely, and interprets the fuck out of them. The same fall of those bones doesn't get the same interpretation every time, and that's a good thing. It's also fudging.

    (broad generalizing brush here) If anything, I'd say what indie games have done is remove the option to be a bureaucrat regarding the rules/the cards/whatever, and say it's okay, even desired, even supported by the system explicitly to do nothing BUT fudge the results. Sure, that fudging is dressed up in more acceptable terms, but a lot of the actual mechanics on the table do nothing to constrain narrative flexibility. (most) Indie games are simply unwilling to be rigid enough about the rules for interpreting randomization that "fudging despite the rules" even shows up as a possibility; instead it's "fudging *according to* the rules".

    At this point I expect some folks to have the usual forum reaction and wave their hands around proclaiming that fudging means going against the rules, so my entire argument is moot. If you're about to have that reaction, step back for a moment and pretend I used words that don't drive you crazy and look at my point: the narrative flexibility in these indie games is very similar to the narrative flexibility the GM occasionally imposes upon the traditional ones. I don't buy for a second that the latter is any worse -- or any better -- than the former. It's the same thing, just sitting in a different seat.
    I see where you're coming from, but isn't the main issue of difference that in games with narrative flexibility, generally all players have some access to it, not just one player? And, since that flexibilty exists, it can be dealt with openly and procedurally?

    That seems a fairly large difference to me.
  • Posted By: BWAPosted By: iagoFudging (whether done in concert with the game rules or in opposition to them) is best when done to preserve the drama, not to steal from it.
    But if fudging is necessary to preserve the drama, then maybe the game system isn't right for the game you and the other players want (which is, I think, the main point that Judd and others have been making).

    Maybe so. Two things: One, I was responding in the sub-topic that's spinning off in here, here Rob said fudging isn't bad and Bill asked him to expound on that. Two, I have as yet to see any game in play that couldn't be improved by an occasional "fudge" in the sense of ignoring the rules and going for something that provides a more satisfying result. And I'm including games like PTA in the set of experiences I'm basing that on. From where I'm sitting, no system other than a pure-fudging freeform game is immune to the need.
  • Posted By: komradebob
    I see where you're coming from, but isn't the main issue of difference that in games with narrative flexibility, generally all players have some access to it, not just one player? And, since that flexibilty exists, it can be dealt with openly and procedurally?

    That seems a fairly large difference to me.
    That narrative flexibility exists in Don't Rest Your Head even when the GM chooses to run the game in a more traditional format. (The game explicitly directs people to play the game in the way they're most comfortable with -- whether that's GM authority narration or shared player narration.) So that difference is less stark for me than you portray it.
  • Sorry, I have no idea about DRYH, so I missed your point, I think.
  • edited December 2009
    When I run boardgames for family for the first time, I will handicap myself to make sure they aren't frustrated and have enough fun that they learn the game for themselves. Then as our skill levels even out, I will play more and more by the rules. Boardgames have no way of knowing how skilled we are. We need a human element to observe and adjust as needed.

    We will also modify the game based on how much time we have to play. Let's play to 8 victory points instead of 10 since the movie starts in 2 hours. In D&D this might mean cutting down hit points to make combats faster.

    When we playtested D&D 4E, we thought it was the end of having to fudge die rolls for combat. A big sell was that there was an underpinning to the system that balanced encounter design. I don't know if this was true. I think it was. But it failed in my opinion. We've found encounter design in D&D 4E to be unreliable. A difficult encounter might be extremely easy (but often long and boring). While an easy encounter might lead to a total party kill. And with every new supplement that is released, the problem seems to exacerbate.

    I don't mind fudging. Especially if fudging means customizing our play experience to our specific group. The game can't make complex observations and adjust itself as needed. But I don't want to have to fudge to compensate for very basic game features. That's why I bought the game. Double so if those features were selling points.

    In my own opinion, if fudging means customizing play experience to everyone's benefit, I'm ok with it. If fudging means making the basic game work consistently as advertised, then I think the game needs to go back to playtesting.
  • Posted By: Rob DonoghueSo I feel like the objection to fudging ends up lacking substance. If there is a genuine problem with how or why the GM is tipping the scales, then it should absolutely be addressed, but simply removing one tool seems like equating the tool with the problem. Worse, it removes a tool that is one of the most easily read barometers of what's working and what isn't.
    I certainly don't hate fudging itself. I really hate the play experience that I associate with feeling the need to fudge. So it's a barometer, just as you said.

    -- Alex
  • Posted By: jenskotI don't mind fudging. Especially if fudging means customizing our play experience to our specific group. The game can't make complex observations and adjust itself as needed. But I don't want to have to fudge to compensate for very basic game features. That's why I bought the game. Double so if those features were selling points.
    I think this is a well-made point, John. I think for me (and Rob perhaps) the "fudge friendly" stance comes from the notion that you want to put spin on results, to nudge them occasionally, to fit the play experience folks are going for. I'd certainly see it as a problem if it was done constantly, when we're talking about fudging as something done in opposition to the rules of the game, but then I see problems in anything that's done so excessively that it becomes the dominant note.
  • Yeah, you know what - we probably fudge all the time and don't think about it. I am mainly thinking of the times the system has driven us off a cliff and fudging is the only way to make things not terrible.

    Oh, and Judd totally fudged a die roll in Mouse Guard over the weekend. Sorry Judd, I am calling you out.
  • Maybe we need to define the term.

    I don't see it as the group agreeing to change mechanics before play in order to get at a certain kind of experience or vibe.

    I do see it as dice rolls having to be ignored because the results were not interesting or undesirable.

    I want my dice to be oracles screeching interesting wonderful and terrible outcomes and not humble suggestions generated to create the illusion of drama.
  • Posted By: Bret Gillan
    Oh, and Judd totally fudged a die roll in Mouse Guard over the weekend. Sorry Judd, I amcalling you out.
    Ha, what do you think I fudged?
  • I find it sort of interesting that most of the justifications for fudging seem to be equally valid for players as for GMs.

    So: Anyone on the "GM fudging rolls is okay" side of the fence want to take up the "Players fudging rolls is okay" banner? If not, why not?
  • Posted By: JuddI want my dice to be oracles screeching interesting wonderful and terrible outcomes and not humble suggestions generated to create the illusion of drama.
    Let's make that a more charitable metaphor:

    I want my dice to be oracles screeching interesting wonderful and terrible outcomes and not a barometric dramatic reading giving suggestions.
  • Posted By: Roger
    So: Anyone on the "GM fudging rolls is okay" side of the fence want to take up the "Players fudging rolls is okay" banner? If not, why not?
    I'm not on that side, but I will totally take up the banner: In a game where fudging your rolls is necessary, it is just a legitimate for a player to fudge rolls as a GM. I have done this in games with a high whiff factor because otherwise combat took freaking forever.

    yrs--
    --Ben
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: Bret GillanOh, and Judd totally fudged a die roll in Mouse Guard over the weekend.
    Everything I believed about gaming is a LIE.
  • Fred, your point on the dice being bureaucrats or oracles is fantastically insightful. These are not interchangeable approaches, though, because they fundamentally alter the nature of the game. You can play GURPS Special Ops with the dice as bureaucrats: at this point you're using them to simulate how your tactical choices pan out as realistic chances of success, and the "game" might be "outsmarting the GM" or "showing off my gun-porn know-how" or "reliving my time in the service". But using the same base rules, you could play GURPS Illuminati while treating the dice as oracles: the dice are interpreted with each roll and are read for degree of success strictly for flavour, as the "game" is for the players to invent crazy conspiracy theories and have engaging interactions with zany NPCs. You have to pick one approach and stick to it, lest you fundamentally change the game's assumptions mid-stream.

    Most "indie" / story-games I've seen and played use dice as bureaucrats for mechanical reasons like pacing, but attempt to make dice themselves very flavourful to act as oracles for the subsequent freeform narration. As you say, there is considerable overlap between "fudging" and using the dice as oracles in terms of thought process and procedures used. Notably, and as a bit of an exception to the "typical" "story-game "formula" (scare quotes galore here), DRYH doesn't give the dice much power over the fiction. Instead it gives considerable leeway to the GM to set difficulties and interpret as s/he sees fit, something I initially saw as a weakness but have begun to understand is central to the game's success as a horror-themed story-centric game. Yet I don't think people see this as "fudging", because this lack of dispassionate clarity is a feature of the system and clearly documented therein.

    My concern is with sitting down to play a game where the dice are clearly bureaucrats as inferred by very clear, procedural rules - let's say, a game like DnD 4E - and have them act as bureaucrats for 90% of the time and oracles for 10%, depending on the circumstances and results, by the ruling of any less than unanimous table agreement. Game rules ought to be reliable and predictable, even if the extent of the rules is simply "this game is unreliable and subject to the whims of the infallible GM, for the great benefit of all".
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: Bill_Whitethe tire-spinning energy-wasting "All you need is a good GM; system doesn't matter" mindset that sets up what is the definitely asymmetrical and arguably dysfunctional at-the-table group dynamic where the GM is responsible for bringing the fun and the players show up to be entertained.
    You know, I still think there's something fundamentally wrong with this concept: I don't think the situation is nearly as asymmetrical as it's made out to be, even if you accept the idea that "the GM is responsible for bringing the fun and the players show up to be entertained" is actually describing what happens. (And I don't accept that, not really.)

    If I set aside my godlike perspective on the game as a whole and just look at things from the perspective of a GM, what do I see? I see me, the GM, directing a lot of things. I'm making rulings on the actions of the PCs, I'm playing NPCs and assessing their motivations, I'm throwing plot hooks and complications around, and yes, I am standing up in the spotlight trying to entertain the hell out of everyone at the table. I am even, on occasion, fudging dice to make things happen that will be more entertaining. It is, no lie, a lot of work and effort being put into the game. So why do I bother?

    I bother because it's fun. Because the more entertaining I am for the players, the more entertaining the players become for me. I'm taking on a slightly increased workload for the game (only slightly, though), but the effort and attention I put into it is reflected and returned by the players when I'm doing it right. If I am entertaining, they are engaged; if they are engaged, their play is awesome; if their play is awesome, I have an easier time being entertaining; etc., etc., until we're all having a great time. That's the ideal, right there, and the asymmetry (slight as it is) actually contributes to the fun, because they are doing things that I can't do, and vice versa.


    If I look at it as a player, I don't see much difference. I show up (presumably thinking "I am going to be entertained"). If the GM is trying to entertain me and doing a good job of it, then I get to loosen up and play my character to the hilt; I can try to have my character do all kinds of things within the game, and know that something fun and/or interesting will come out of that. The more entertaining the game is, the more work I am doing as a player -- making plans, performing, etc. -- and since it's the fun kind of work, I don't mind doing more of it. I put in more effort, the GM responds in kind, and we both keep pushing each other until the session is over.


    I don't know, maybe I resent the dismissive "the players show up to be entertained" statement because it ignores all the work that goes into playing a game, by making it sound like the GM stands up on the table and does a frantic dance while the players all loll back in their chairs, slack-jawed and drooling; seriously, if that's what's actually happening at someone's game night, the problem is clearly not that the game they're playing has a GM role (or if he's advised to fudge dice rolls or not).

    What should be happening, and what I think does happen in the majority of games actually played with GMs, is that the GM and the players are entertaining each other, using different methods. That's not bad design. It's a different kind of fun than you get with a GM-less game, yes, but good lord, if there was one type of game that was perfect for everyone, we wouldn't need to keep making new games. We'd just all run out and buy a copy of The Perfect Game and play that and nothing else, forever, the end.

    edit to add: Thinking about this some more, it occurred to me that it's the players' efforts that tell me, as a GM, if I am "bringing the fun" or not. If they loll back in their chairs and give me nothing, I am not being entertaining: I am being boring. The more the players become a passive audience, the more I know that I am being a lousy, terrible GM and need to stop. When I am being entertaining, the players make their characters do things, they keep pushing me, and they work their asses off; I have to scramble to keep up with them, and it's exhilarating. I have so much fun as a GM when the players are doing that, and I don't think it's an accident that those are the games where I am told afterwards that I was an awesome GM who ran an entertaining game. How much of that success is my effort? It sure as hell isn't 75% or more, I can promise you that.
  • So here's my issue with "fudging":

    If we're playing a game, and you roll the dice, and then you don't like the result, for whatever reason, so you decide to say a different result happens, you just lied to me.

    Hyperbole for effect: YOU FUCKING LIED TO ME! Yes! You did!

    If the dice give you an un-fun result, why can't you just admit it? If you called for the roll, admit you made a mistake, or if it's written in the rules, admit the rules aren't doing what you want, and then everybody can agree to ignore that result.

    When I sit down to play, I have two things: the rules written down and an expectation of play. If those two don't match up exactly, then I want the rules to change so they are better suited to producing the kind of play I expect. Of course! I don't want to play by the rules if they screw up the group's fun.

    But the rule in Dragon Age is asking players (GM specifically) to lie. It's patronizing and insulting, and I don't want it in my games. You can just say "No, that die roll was wrong, how about we do this other thing instead, because it's closer to the experience we want from this game."

    I mean, sure, if you have players who want the GM to entertain them, and don't mind some fudging if it produces dramatic effects, by all means, do what you have to do. But you can't use that technique with everybody -- use it on me and I'll be pissed. And frankly, I think honesty is a better policy, and that it can be written into the rules. Sure, people make mistakes and life goes on like Jason says, but gaming skills can be communicated, and when they are, they are learned and improved upon much easier. We can improve on 1981.
  • Several thoughts here. This is all IMHO, of course.

    First, isn't this kind of related to "say yes or roll the dice" (aka Make It A Gimme, in Robin Laws' terms)? If I take dice in hand and consider rolling, knowing that one of the outcomes would totally suck for the game--then fuck it, I'm not going to roll. I'm just going to pick the outcome I want, right? So why is this roll in the mechanics in the first place? If there are circumstances where it wouldn't suck, the rules need to outline those and tell me when to roll and when not to roll. Leaving it up to individual GMs with only the vague guidance of "if it isn't fun" is bullshit design.

    Second, related to this, there are many rules in RPGs that people put in because they think they're supposed to be there. For example, a huge majority of RPGs feature character death as a result of random dice results in combat. Why??? Because that's how it's always been done. How many times is random character death fun, really? Why not have the mechanics exclude character death in the first place? Then you won't have to fudge. Sure, some games work well with it--but honestly, more often than not, losing a character you've been playing just because the combat rules tell you to is completely unfun. You lose all your investment in the character, which leads to less investment in future characters. I've been there. So! If you're using GM Fiat because you haven't thought through your design, that's bullshit design.

    Third, Vincent said once (I believe) that rules are there to bring about unwanted results. Now, these aren't "unfun" results of the kind I've just talked about; they are results you wouldn't have picked if you were just freeforming, but they don't ruin your fun. In fact, they lead to more fun by taking you out of your comfort zone or motivating you to do things you otherwise wouldn't. If you allow and encourage fudging, you undermine the very reason you have RPG rules in the first place, because you end up where you were without rules: freeforming in your comfort zone. So if you put Rule 0 into your game design casually and without much thought, chances are it's a bullshit design because it'll circumvent the whole reason you've got rules in the first place.
  • Posted By: JuddYeah, I agree. It is a learned skill to make up for games that either are being played for long term epic fantasy play when they are not meant to be or have put together poorly wrought mechanics where the terms for failure are poorly put together.
    Nonsense. Everything else you say follows from this, and it is nonsense. It is not to your taste but it is not poorly put together and it doesn't make up for anything.

    Let me try another way. I imagine Judd's Perfect Game. In this game there is never any need for the GM to adjust the outcome of the system because all outcomes are equally wonderful. Judd's group marvels at the drama inherent in both success and failure, their hearts pound with love for every turn of every card, the GM has nothing to do with it, all they do is relax and enjoy the wonderful outcome of the perfect system.

    Sure (from the gushing I've-flipped-through-it-and-the-art-looks-great reviews on the Internet) that I too will enjoy it, I purchase the same Perfect Game and present it, hands a-tremble, to my group, whereupon they declare it a disaster, the worst game ever invented, each and every outcome worse than the last, less interesting, boring, unfair, and of course I as the GM, following the rules, sit unresponsive to their disgust. Forty minutes into the session my wife stands and leaves without further word. The other players go too, except for my best friend who remains behind and shrugs, clearly willing to sacrifice his own fun if I were to continue, for the sake of our friendship he will put himself through the horrific misery of playing Judd's Perfect Game. Nobody ever speaks of it again. It is quietly eBayed through a false identity, just in case the buyer wants to come shoot me afterwards.

    "Oh," but you say, "JDCorley, come now, no game could ever be created that would satisfy every group in every moment of play forever, that would be insane, your criticism is silly." And thus you have conceded my point and I react only with unbearable smugness.

    The group must, must, must, shall, will always, customize the output of the system for their own satisfaction in some way. Sometimes all players have this power, sometimes one player does. It is not a mistake to make it one player. In fact, if one player, as Rob D notes, has absolute control over vast swathes of content creation, it is not a mistake to give that player the power to fix system outputs that would otherwise invalidate other sorts of control the system also gives them. You may not like it, and that is fine, some people don't like country music and others love it, but it is not a mistake, it is not bad design, it should need no apologia.

    In games where the GM-like figure doesn't have as broad a control over the game world (Primetime Adventures, With Great Power), then it stands to reason that less control over unsatisfactory system outcomes need be concentrated in their hands. And of course in games with no GM, that power is spread around to everyone.

    As for player fudging, my experience has been that most of the time the player is fudging to increase their own satisfaction, the other players at the table know about it long before I do, and nobody cares, so in that situation, it's a satisfaction-positive practice, so I support it and would not see it as bad design in such a case to include text permitting it.

    If someone else cares (for example, if the game has a PvP competitive element for them), then it's more serious. And I suppose the same is true if they really want to see the GM/game world as an antagonist, then GM fudging might be more objectionable. But in your typical fantasy RPG, as Rob notes, the GM is not really an antagonist or competitor. The power of the GM is just too great.

    However, this is not always true. D&D4 and Fantasycraft both have "budgets" the GM must stay within when designing opposition. Those numbers should not be fudged, or if they are, it should be put into a house rule. (Even if it's just "hey, I didn't work out every 100 XP in this, I just eyeballed it, it might be a bit high or low, but there ya go".) This is not bad design either, by the way.
  • Posted By: JohnstoneYou can just say "No, that die roll was wrong, how about we do this other thing instead, because it's closer to the experience we want from this game."
    Is there some reason you will accept this "in the moment" but not, say, preprinted in the game manual you have decided to use for play?

    Seems an odd distinction to me, but all right...
  • I've confirmed with Judd that my understanding of his position is correct:

    Judd isn't looking for a game to give him what he thinks he wants. He's looking for a game to give him something he didn't know he wanted.

    If you don't share his goal, then his advice isn't going to be helpful.
  • If I buy a toolkit that purports to contain everything I need to build a bookshelf, it better damn well contain everything I need to build a bookshelf. If I get it home and it says in the instructions, "Uh, this screwdriver we gave you? It's not the right size to handle all of the screws in this kit. You'll need to provide your own screwdriver for the smaller ones" -- well, I'm gonna be a bit upset, y'know?
  • Posted By: JDCorleyI purchase the same Perfect Game and present it, hands a-tremble, to my group, whereupon they declare it a disaster, the worst game ever invented, each and every outcome worse than the last, less interesting, boring, unfair, and of course I as the GM, following the rules, sit unresponsive to their disgust.
    I've had experiences like this.

    I wouldn't trade them for anything.

    I suspect it's an irreconcilable difference of tastes at that point.
  • edited December 2009
    Having had to modify a bookshelf recently to fit an oddly-sized corner, I have to say that I don't hold anything against the manufacturers for selling me a bookshelf toolkit that I needed to run through a table saw and buy some additional hardware for. They didn't know that I needed a bookshelf to fit that weird spot just next to the closet door. If that hadn't been the case, I would have been completely happy with the bookshelf kit they sold me; but no, I had the weird corner, and since there was no bookshelf toolkit that was perfect for it, I went with the one that was closest and just accepted the fact that I would need to make some modifications on my own to get exactly what I wanted out of it.

    And let me tell you, measuring a corner and picking out a bookshelf for it seems to be much easier than yearning for a particular game and picking out a RPG to make that game happen.

    (Now, if every bookshelf I ever bought required re-sawing and modification, all the time, I would totally hate the bookshelf manufacturer, and would stop buying from them. A bookshelf toolkit is bad if it is never able to make a bookshelf on its own.)
  • Posted By: Accounting for Tastebut no, I had the weird corner, and since there was no bookshelf toolkit that was perfect for it, I went with the one that was closest and just accepted the fact that I would need to make some modifications on my own to get exactly what I wanted out of it.
    The difference there is that you knew about this and planned for it. That's not the same as a toolkit that was knowingly designed icomplete.

    All games are toolkits.
    This does not excuse poor toolkit design.
  • Posted By: Ben LehmanRob, that looks to me like a false binary.
    I think it probably is, but I'll deflect the blame for that. i think it's much more rooted in "If you fudge then..." statements. We're getting much more accurate remarks when people start adding "Maybe"s.

    -Rob D.
  • I have more to say, but for now I would just like to call a moratorium on further carpentry metaphors. Let's all talk about what we're really talking about. Please. No good will come of extended forays into the figurative.
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: JDCorleyPosted By: JohnstoneYou can just say "No, that die roll was wrong, how about we do this other thing instead, because it's closer to the experience we want from this game."
    Is there some reason you will accept this "in the moment" but not, say, preprinted in the game manual you have decided to use for play?

    Seems an odd distinction to me, but all right...

    Jason, that's what I'm saying -- put that in the rules!

    But don't write rules that tell the GM to lie. It shouldn't be the GM's sole authority to fudge die rolls. It should be the whole table that says "No" to a shitty die roll.
    Posted By: JDCorleyThe group must, must, must, shall, will always, customize the output of the system for their own satisfaction in some way. Sometimes all players have this power, sometimes one player does. It is not a mistake to make it one player.
    If one player has that power, it's because the other players gave it to him. You can write one-player authority into the rules, and lose a part of your audience, or you can acknowledge the group and let players pick which dynamic they want to play by. And more people will play the game. Or just find a better way to express the sentiment -- "just fudge the dice if you don't like them" is weak, weak, weak.

    I'm not arguing with you about play dynamics. I agree with your comments after the second quote there. But when a game explicitly supports a specific play style, it should do it well. You're soft on game texts. I'm not. I demand more. There's always going to be crap rolls in games, whatever the mechanics, due to human error. But there are better ways to deal with human error than lies.
  • Posted By: RogerI've had experiences like this.

    I wouldn't trade them for anything.
    Then what amazes me is that you love them when a designer's horrific blunder creates them but not when your own, or another player's blunder creates them, it seems that the latter is far more likely to be productive, as an actual conversation can take place about it free of the poison of marketing and the acid of salesmanship, and whatever you might like about the first could be present in the second. Why despise what a flesh and blood person does at the table more?
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: JohnstoneYou can write one-player authority into the rules, and lose a part of your audience, or you can acknowledge the group and let players pick which dynamic they want to play by. And more people will play the game.
    Yeah. Some people prefer that one player have that authority at the table and will dislike if the responsibility devolves on more than them. My group has several such people. "I trust you to do this and I'd rather you make a mistake than me have to step outside my character's viewpoint to make story evaluations and decisions, your mistakes hurt me less than staying with my character benefits me."

    You're right that it's a preference, and as a matter of taste we can never argue them, but tastes go the other way too. I agree it would always be better for more games to have more options for different groups, in all circumstances, forever, but it's not a mistake to omit them, any more than it's a mistake for Primetime Adventures to lack a "if you don't want to narration-pass, here's another resolution method!" option. Wasn't there a thread here a while back where optional rules were decried as the crutch of bad design, horrible and always to be burned at the stake? Yeah, I thought there was.
  • Posted By: JuddHa, what do you think I fudged?
    For the benefit of everyone not in our living room forty-five minutes ago, Andy's mouse failed a roll to recover from illness and you bumped it from sickness down to angry. However! There is no some dispute about whether that's allowed by the rules or not. It's been awhile since I read them so it might be.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyYou're right that it's a preference, and as a matter of taste we can never argue them, but tastes go the other way too. I agree it would always be better for more games to have more options for different groups, in all circumstances, forever, but it's not a mistake to omit them, any more than it's a mistake for Primetime Adventures to lack a "if you don't want to narration-pass, here's another resolution method!" option. Wasn't there a thread here a while back where optional rules were decried as the crutch of bad design, horrible and always to be burned at the stake? Yeah, I thought there was.
    Oh of course. Preference is always going to be there in criticism of games. But even in the realm of laser-focused play-style games, I see a lot of room for improved text. If you write a game with absolute GM-authority, then you shouldn't pretend the dice are there for fair and random resolution mechanics -- you should just come right out and say that the dice, for the GM, are just suggestions for when he needs an idea. Do that, and I'll laud you for good game design. I might not play it, but I'm not going to call you an asshole for bad writing.

    And yeah, you give me clearly explained and articulated optional rules, I'll applaude those too.
  • I have some games that say only to engage the conflict resolution mechanic if both success and failure are interesting - i.e. avoid engaging the mechanic in this case. But is this fudging? I think the answer is: no, because we had fun in these kinds of games.
  • Posted By: JohnstoneIf you write a game with absolute GM-authority, then you shouldn't pretend the dice are there for fair and random resolution mechanics -- you should just come right out and say that the dice, for the GM, are just suggestions for when he needs an idea.
    Well, that assumes that your group will only be satisfied with a very very specific sort of game/narrative/whatever. I think the text that says that the dice are normally the arbiters but in certain circumstances they might not be are implying, and perhaps trying to train, people's preferences to be a bigger circle on the dartboard, easier to hit. If I play Dragon Age and follow the dice 99 percent of the time, it might be technically accurate that the dice are all just suggestions, but it seems unfruitful to call them that or for me to think of them like that all the time. That's not to say your idea is wrong, just that I'm not sure it's the best way to describe things.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyPosted By: RogerI've had experiences like this.

    I wouldn't trade them for anything.
    Then what amazes me is that you love them when a designer's horrific blunder creates them but not when your own, or another player's blunder creates them, it seems that the latter is far more likely to be productive, as an actual conversation can take place about it free of the poison of marketing and the acid of salesmanship, and whatever you might like about the first could be present in the second. Why despise what a flesh and blood person does at the table more?

    Despise a flesh and blood person?

    Where's that happening?

    Poison of marketing and acid of salesmanship?

    I do not understand what you are seeing.
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