on fudging (part 1)

This is the start of a grand adventure, me talking about fudging for several posts. Can’t wait

what is fudging

No. Don’t do it, don’t fucking do it.

Adam Koebel, Office Hours Episode 70

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have very strong opinions on the idea of fudging. I have spoken at great length with people on what I think about it, so I wanted to have something written down. Maybe in a few years I’ll look back on these posts and think “wow I was completely off the mark”, but until then; I’m setting sail for blissful confidence in the things I’m going to write. This is the first of probably many posts, so BuCkLe Up.

Imagine a scenario where you are playing a TTRPG, say D&D 5e, and a player is about to be struck by a kobold wielding a spear. This is the first session of your campaign, perhaps even the first encounter – your players are excited to start a new adventure, you are excited to be dungeon mastering (DMing) for them. All is well. As the campaign has just started, you’ve created a series of (what you believe to be) easy encounters; stuff for the players to ease into character, get used to the game mechanics, and socialise with the other players. All going well, by the end of the day, your players will have triumphed over some minor challenges, taken some XP and gold, and be thirsting for the next session.

The first encounter comes up, a trivial scenario with three spear wielding kobolds. You roll initiative, and two of the kobolds are going first. They move forwards and stab at the nearest player character (PC). The first, rolling a solid 16, scores a hit and a chunk of damage is done. You describe in visceral detail how the kobold surges forwards, finding a gap in the armour of the player to devastating effect. The second kobold now comes at them, and you roll for the hit.

A natural 20, a critical hit.

This attack is going to knock their character unconscious, and may even lead to their death. Is this a bad thing? Are they going to be disappointed that the very first thing that happens to their character is being knocked unconscious, possibly slain? Are they going to be leaving the session thinking “wow, loved how I got to lie on the floor for that first combat, great”. Will they even come back for a second one?

Two options immediately present themselves.

  1. You deliver the blow, explain to them that this “just happens sometimes”. You hope that they understand, with any dice based game, random chance can give you unpalatable situations. Maybe you go easy on the floored character for the remainder of the session, making the enemies attack other players unless there’s no way around it. This was meant to be easy! Now you might have to rethink the next scenario, you didn’t think they’d be so low on health! You move onto the next characters in the combat, and hope they fair better, while pretending that you’re not uncomfortable with this series of events.

2. You tell them that the kobold missed.

The second option here, is fudging. You have rolled the dice, seen the result, and decided that you are going to ignore the result on the dice in favour of a different outcome that you will choose.

This is what the series of posts will talk about, and why I think that it’s the worst thing a dungeon master, game master, or keeper of arcane lore can do.

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