Is it acceptable for the GM to fudge dice? This is a question that has divided the Tabletop RPG community for years in the past, and will likely continue for years to come. And for the most part, it’s a fairly even divide.
— Roll4Network (@Roll4Net) October 21, 2019
However, when you dig into it deeper, when the GM is allowed to fudge dice varies wildly from one group to another. Even to many that feel the GM should never fudge dice, there still may be some circumstances where fudging may be okay.
Since fudging dice is a widely debated topic, it would be another great thing to discuss between the GM and players in a Session 0. It really depends heavily on the play style on the group, both the players and GM. It also depends on the session being run, because there is a pretty big difference between an RPG League event and playing a nice one-shot with your friends. Either way, discussions are a must with fudging dice.
However, before we get into it, let’s discuss the Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule of Rolling
“No person should roll if the outcome has already been determined.”
This is something that should be the standard of all Tabletop RPG’s. We’ve already discussed how we feel about Natural 20’s that still fail, but in the GM hot seat, you already know the outcomes. If you know there is only one possible outcome that makes sense narratively, or there is something you need to happen to build suspense or drive the story, then in the immortal words of Nike, just do it.
So when is fudging dice OK? To many, the answer is never. However, there is one situation that I believe fudging is not only acceptable but can be a good choice. And that’s when the Game Master makes a mistake.
It happens! I’ve been known to forget character names, plot points, or items from time to time, but I admit it to the group, they get a good laugh on me, and we move on. We’re all human. However, when it happens in the middle of combat, or during a skill challenge, you want to keep the momentum going.
A lot of times, this is going to be for homebrew adventures. In pre-written adventures, if your players make poor decisions, and run into something they can’t beat, that’s on them. But what if you accidentally copied over the stats and abilities from an Aboleth, instead of an Acolyte and don’t realize it until half-way through the battle? That’s an entirely different problem.
Though a bit of an extreme example, these are the kinds of situations when the GM will need to backpedal. In our opinion, this is a good time to start fudging some dice and shifting around some stats. It’s not your player’s fault that this ¼ CR monster just wiped the floor with them.
Although, this option is heavily dependent on the group as well. We recommended this solution because this is how our group handles these situations, to everyone’s agreement. But just because that’s how the Roll4 crew usually resolves these issues doesn’t mean it’s the best solution.
A point was brought to our attention by @JacobSKellogg that this exact situation isn’t a decision that the GM has to make alone. In fact, it’s a decision that the GM shouldn’t make by themselves, but instead as a group. It’s important when a mistake is made that the group can come together to find the best solution for their circumstances.
For the Aboleth/Acolyte example above, there can be a number of different solutions that the party feels appropriate. If some players feel like they took way too much damage in error, then perhaps restarting the combat would be the best way to handle a mistake. Alternatively, if the players had been rolling amazing in the combat, and want to continue forward after you shift some stats around, then that’s great too.
If your players are just feeling “done” with the combat after not being able to keep up, then end it there. Describe how the acolyte had been running on pure adrenaline, and when it finally runs out he can’t sustain consciousness. Maybe have a few healing potions available on him if anyone feels like they sustained more damage than what they should have in the battle.
Other Situations from Twitter
One situation brought up was the early game. Traps for low-level characters can be extremely deadly, instantly dropping them to 0 HP. If your GM is especially nice, they may flub the roll in the player’s favor. While we understand the merit in this method, to us, house ruling the traps to be unable to one-hit KO is a better option.
The final question that we had was when the players were rolling amazingly or awful! Well, if they’re rolling poorly, we recommend the Fail 3 Rule. On the flip side, do you let the BBEG get taken down with the party only sustaining minor scrapes? The community was pretty divided on this front, and in reality, this final situation is one that keeps us at Roll4 torn as well.
We understand the frustration of the BBEG rolling poorly and the players kicking butt entirely shattering the tension. However, with a bit of foresight, some of these problems can be fixed by implementing Combat by Scene.
This would also be a good topic to bring up with your players when you know that an epic fight is coming right around the corner and you want to be prepared. If your group lets Fate decides all outcomes, epic or not, then your decision is made. If your group prioritizes the story they want to see unfold, then you may want to discuss Rolling for Suspense.
Dice Rolling for Suspense
I’ve seen some responses over the years that say if a result destroys the narrative, then the GM should fudge that result. In our opinion, this should also be covered by The Golden Rule. If the outcome is predetermined, then don’t roll it! If there are only certain outcomes that you find acceptable, then let the die reflect only those outcomes.
A direct challenge to the Golden Rule of Rolling is what I call Roll4Suspense. (Oh yes, I’m not above making that joke). There are some GM’s that will roll dice with a set outcome in mind, using the roll as part of the theatrics of the game instead of for a result. In this case, the dice roll purely doesn’t matter, there is no fudging, it’s just disregarded. Which, if this is what your group loves, then, by all means, continue going for it. However, if your players aren’t actively shouting “Yes! We want to be lied to for the dramatic effect!” and waving banners, then this is something you should also avoid.
And yes, there are those that are okay with dice rolling theatrics! In fact, my players are firmly in this camp at the end of major story arcs. Only the end of major arcs. To paraphrase Logan: I want it to be epic, I don’t care how much I’m lied to. However, it must be mentioned that this was agreed upon by the group multiple times.
In reality, the acceptability of fudging rolls will vary from group to group. And you know what? That’s OK. The primary goal of any RPG is to have fun.
But that’s enough from us. We want to hear from you! What situations, if any, are fudging rolls OK?