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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