This is Our Game: Do you fudge the DM dice?

Every month our group of contributors circulates a point about running a D&D game, or some other RPG-centric problem to address. We all stew and think about it for a while, then write up a response. At the end of the month we compile our responses for your reading pleasure.

This month’s question is: Do you fudge the dice to help/hinder the players?

Geek Ken – Way back when I used to fudge dice rolls to help the players if needed. AD&D was pretty unforgiving and making a combat challenging enough at times was tricky. I’ve completely dropped that mentality with 4E.

I think a big plus about D&D now is the limited chances a character can die out right with a single bad die roll. You can still suffer from a string of bad rolls, but that is just it, you need to make quite a few flubs before your character kicks the bucket. There are a fair amount of redundancies in death saves, and each character has several healing options available (healing suges, healing potions, some class abilities).

I also think building fights is a little more structured and is less unpredictable. I can get a good feel if characters will have an easy, fair, or hard fight with XP budgets as a guide. So if I am throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the group, I can expect someone to go down (and likely not get up). If anything, fights might be easier than expected for the group.

I just feel more comfortable with the system and letting the dice fall where they may. This has come to my philosophy with skill checks. I make the assumption that with every check I need to be prepared for the players to fail. Failure has to be an option with skill checks. If I can’t visualize an alternate outcome due to a failure, I don’t have the players roll.

I think 4E allows for more room in failure also, particularly with healing surges. I don’t have to make that failed athletics check climbing up a cliff result in a deadly fall. I can say the player loses their footing 1/3 of the way, they fall losing 2-3 healing surges, only to make the attempt again and finaly succeed. I’ve found docking healing surges a great workaround if players fail certain skill checks, giving a slight penalty and still allowing the story to move forward.

Thadeous: Nope, I don’t fudge dice rolls. I have adopted the “Failure is not the end of the story” mindset. So if my rolls are not always in the favor of the players they might suffer defeat from time to time, but I don’t treat that defeat as something that ends the adventure.

Failure can often move the story along in unexpected but often exciting direction. A TPK does not mean that the party ends up dead, they might just wake up in prison with escape as their new goal. For me the idea that fudging the dice saves or enhances the fun of a game is discrediting the fun that can be had with a little failure now and again. A failed skill challenge to gain entrance to a kings court does not mean the party can’t see the king, it just means they need take a more dangerous rout through some tunnels that lead directly under the kings “throne” room.

I also feel like I enjoy playing on my side of the DM’s screen when I don’t fudge. I get to enjoy my crits just like the players do. If I made them up or discarded them when ever I want they start to loose meaning. It adds the excitement of not always knowing what’s going to happen even though I’m the DM/GM. I wouldn’t condemn any DM who thinks differently; we all have different views and play styles.

I do however use a DMs screen to keep my players guessing. I don’t want them to know for sure that I’m being 100% honest; a little mystery goes a long way.

Arcane Springboard: When I first began DMing in BECMI and 2e, I fudged the dice quite a bit, mostly at the early levels though.  I did do all that behind the screen of course, and while my players never called me on it, it’s pretty obvious it’s happening.

However, with the advent of 4e, I rarely pull my punches and have only fudged the dice a handfull of times.  However, now it’s more to keep the challenge up by boosting the monsters.  One time I do admit that I converted a hit to a critical for one monster, just because the power that it had was just too cool not to be displayed.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.

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About Geek Ken

Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.
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3 Responses

  1. I fudged in 3.5. I stopped when I started GMing 4e. 3.5’s CR system was so broken I couldn’t figure out how a combat would play out. In 4e, they play out at the difficulty I expect.

    Now that I’ve gotten used to sticking to the dice, I couldn’t go back to fudge. Fudging removed aberrant results. I felt like I had to normalize things or else my players would assume I was cheating. As such we ended up playing an averaged game and extraordinary results were silently dropped. I have no idea why I thought that was a good idea. The most dramatic combats we’ve had have been the ones where the dice misbehave.

    The only downside to giving up fudging is that now I mind GMs who fudge the games I play.

    • I agree that it is easier to structure appropriate fights in 4E over older editions (if anything, the players can find a combat too easy streamrolling over the monsters). Allowing the dice to just play out does make for some tense combats at times, and at least for skill checks, potentially force the PCs to think of a plan B.

  2. So I must be in the minority here when it comes to fudging the dice. Not only do I view fudging the dice as actual rolls I view it in a broader sense. DC’s and Defenses. Adding misc bonus’s for certain RP bonus’ the players do that is what I think is a moment of greatness.

    I do not see anything wrong with fudging especially when I end up rolling a few 20’s in a row in combat and suddenly a combat going in their favor moments ago suddenly sees half their numbers in down or bloodied and it is just going to get worse.

    I have already had a one TPK despite wanting to have that “Failure is not the end of the story” mindset the players can and will dictate whether or not they want to continue with those characters even if I give them an out, which I did via some players who did not attend that session.

    I think I fudge at least 3 rolls a session because I do not want another TPK from happening. If you think I am running my encounters to tough, they are 2-3 levels above some of this stuff, and the crazy thing is the minions are the ones who school them if you can believe it.

    I am also of the belief that 4e put the kiddie gloves back on in some respects. Level drains and death penalties while sucky for a player did add some risk for certain actions. Now I get, oh well I will make a new character or hey just get me resurrected! No big deal they do it all the time. If anything, that is where I view 4e like a video game.

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