The impetus for my previous post was an odd serendipity between an actual play report by BigFella and a post by Maliszewski. Maliszewski presents us with a quote from a 1987 period RPG publication that encourages fudging to the extreme. Not just ignoring or changing the outcome of a dice roll, but actively re-interpreting the scene to make things go the way you want them to go. The line he emphasizes states:
Yes, a gamemaster is supposed to be neutral, but you know how you want the adventure to go, so make it work out.
Meanwhile, in BigFella’s play report, he mentions a scene where his character was on the cusp of death. The only thing between him and inevitable doom was the party magic-user and a lucky thrown dagger. From his report:
The hit was SO fortuitous that I had to get confirmation from Paul, for which again I apologize, since it IS poor manners to accuse a DM of fudging, especially if it benefits you. Paul doesn’t run that kinda game though, and this is Old School gaming, baby. Fudging is for bake sales! He showed me the HP tally and by golly it was those 2 hps that made the difference.
OK, I was pretty proud that I stuck by the book there. BigFella’s character is one of the few that remains from the original party, and darn it I’d be pretty sorry to see him go. What would I have done if the dice hadn’t fallen just so and saved his bacon? The fact is, I have no idea.
Dice fudging is something I constantly have to fight against. 1987 was pretty much around the time I seriously got into GMing. As much as I dig the old school these days, silver age D&D really is my background. There was a time when I would have read Maliszewski’s quote up there and agreed with it 100%.
My previous post may have been a bit more flowery and forceful than my usual postings here. Perhaps to some degree I’m trying to convince myself. There is a certain irregularity introduced by not fudging. Sure, you have moments like above where it’s simply astounding that a lucky shot saves the day. On the other hand, you have the party henchman who manages to save the day in a glorious fight against an owl bear, where his death would have held real dramatic impact, but manages to stay alive only to be cut down in the very next battle in a random fight with some troglodytes.
But I think the pay-off is worth it. Knowing that anything really can happen makes the moments that do sing, sing even louder. Sure, you’ve got to grimace through the bad parts too, but what’s the alternative? Something thoroughly scrubbed by the GM that eventually feels so false that it falls completely flat. Even if I did fool every player, the fact is that I would know I cheated, and that would make the game less exciting for at least one player: me.
I guess I just have to keep fighting that demon that tells me when it’s not the time for someone to die. Maybe I should start rolling my dice out in the open.