Innocence Lost: The Price of Omnipotence

A funny thing happened at my D&D session last week. The PC’s were fighting a dragon that was extra-tough due to being all Dark and Corrupted™. I figured a level 4 elite green dragon with enhanced stats should be at least somewhat challenging for a group of 5 level 2 characters. I was wrong. They were mercilessly kicking its scaly butt. I didn’t know what to do. The exciting combat encounter I had planned – complete with NPC intervention after a few rounds to remove the corruption so they could kill the beast – was going to be over even before I could do anything. So I decided to cheat. That dragon now had unlimited hit points until I decided otherwise. And I decided to make him get bigger and do way more damage to make them all think they were going to die. Then, I had my super-cool NPC show up and he removed the corruption and…….

Well, it was lame. I the PC’s hit it a few more times, and then had their next hit kill it. In retrospect, I’m reasonably sure I violated the Code of Good DMing – Article 5 Subsection 34e – which states that the NPCs should not be more important to the story than the PC’s. As it happens, it’s not my mistakes that weigh heavily upon me this week. Those have been acknowledged and will hopefully improve with practice. My mind keeps going back to my dragon, kept alive only by dark DM magic. The players were rolling dice in earnest, hoping their combined powers could defeat this fell beast, and it was for nothing.

 

You Can Never Go Back

 

I started thinking about hearing some of my more experienced DM friends talking about adjusting hit points and fudging die rolls. As a DM, I didn’t have to follow any rules, and I could just make it up as I went along. How much of the combat my characters have participated in over the years was real? (And yes, I understand the duality of this term used in this context. Please do not make a TV movie about me and turn me in to Fox News for trying to cast Mind Bondage on my dad.)

Talking to my best friend (and former DM) Dante officially Did Not Help. “Don’t feel bad about cheating,” he said. “If you don’t let on, they’ll never know.” He confirmed that many fights had been Adjusted and that many dice had been Fudged over the years. Well, that’s just great. All those memories, suddenly put under harsh fluorescent lights. This was worse than when I found out there was no Santa Claus. How could I ever go back to being a player again?

 

I Have Seen The Matrix. Put Me Back In.

I asked Dante how he deals with this, as he’s been a player in a few campaigns with me. He confirmed that being a player was different for him after being a DM. He also made a crude analogy about it being like going to a strip club, and not caring what was fake. (He always knows how to make me feel better.)

Even so, I’d been wrestling over the last few weeks with the general feeling that combat was just getting in the way of storytelling. It was frustrating before. Now, it was false. Useless. A waste of my players’ time, and a breach of their trust. It was good to see all the melodrama exercises I’d been doing were paying off. Still, I had no idea what to do in order to make combat OK again. I kept thinking about how much effort had been put into balancing the combat in the various editions of this game and other RPGs, and all the millions of hours spent by players over the years rolling up character stats that effectively meant nothing.

I have to admit, I was not expecting to enter the “existential quandary” phase of my DM career before my fifth session. So it was that I once again turned to the ever-cryptic wisdom of Dave Chalker. Even he admitted to fudging.

The fights might not be fair, but that’s not really your job. Your job is to create an exciting story for them to take part in. You’ll just have to make sure their actions mean something.

That’s great! But how? How do I do this?

Wax on, wax off.

Renovations on Dave’s bathroom should be finished by Gen Con.

 

The Way Home?

I’ve gotten some good advice on this, but I’m still shell-shocked. I’m still going to keep DMing, of course, and trying to make this game as fun for my players and myself as humanly possible. Half the fun is just getting together with your friends, after all. I can’t believe I’ve been playing this game for this long and none of this ever occurred to me. I place a high value on good memories, and seeing them all in a new light was jarring. On a purely cognitive level, I can understand that I’ve played under some excellent DMs if nobody ever noticed and we all tell epic tales of battle years afterward.

I don’t know whether or not I would erase this part of my memory if given the chance. Since I find this prospect incredibly unlikely, I will file it along with my desire to time-travel back to before I asked that girl out in high school starting with the words “if your mom says it’s OK” and replace it with something way smoother.

In the short term, I have a plan. Since the “cheating” aspect of running combat is what’s disturbing me so badly, I’m not going to use it unless I have a damned good reason. That reason will always be “it makes the game more fun.”  Wait, isn’t that why I was doing it in the first place? Yup, I’m screwed. (Note to my players: from now on we’re handling all combat via competitive eating contests. Anybody know where I can buy hotdogs in bulk?)

As if all this weren’t enough, I learned one final brutal lesson last week: it’s a terrible idea to get all sugared up on E.L. Fudge cookies when you’re trying to DM. It is really hard to concentrate. You have no idea how disappointed this makes me.

 

 

Photo Credit

 

Comments

  1. TheJollyLlama875 says:

    Don’t sweat it so much. I once had five level one PCs fighting an owlbear in Pathfinder – I started rolling hot, and after the second crit confirmed on the third round, every single roll in the fight was fudged. In fact, most of the campaign that followed went much the same way. To me, it never really comes off as dishonest – it’s just better pacing, which makes things more exciting.

    After all, the Great Gygax himself once said, “A DM only rolls dice for the noise they make.”

  2. Cheating… It has a bad ring to it. Why do we call it cheating? Is the DM’s job simply to read a die roll and administer an action associated with it? Or are we DM’s called to create epic stories, told one week at a time in fantastic adventure? Or is it both?

    How can we do both when the dice lie, oh so badly? (Pun intended)

    If your boss creature is fumbling too much, which job takes priority?

    If your players crit too much, how much HP does that monster really have?

    Do you think that is air your players are breathing?

    We DM’s create grandoise campaigns full of mysterious adventure and new wonders at every turn. We work on it for weeks, months, years sometimes. We make up everything to ensure our players have a great time, as often as possible. What’s the harm in making it up round by round?

    It’s not cheating, it’s our job.

  3. I remember fudging extensively in 2e…as well as occasionally having the baddies inexplicably alter their tactics to give the party healer one last shot at getting someone else up and prevent a wipe.

    But the last decade has seen almost all of my gaming take place online, usually in play-by-post games; and it’s interesting that the first thing to go in those situations is fudging. It’s not impossible to run the game by doing all DM rolls in private text…but I’ve never seen that as the convention. In fact, most of the games I’ve played in for the last year+ have taken to providing players will all the pertinent information on npcs, including their attacks and defenses, because the critical thing in PbP is usually time of arbitration.

    And, yeah, it does lead to the occasional full-on wipe.

  4. Let the dice fall where they may. Most of the time, this will result in a TPK for your monsters, and that’s okay. It’s also okay to keep throwing bigger badder nasties at a party who is too good for their own good. If they really ought to run away and get wiped out instead… Well, the dice don’t lie unless they’re hiding behind your screen. The DMs job is not to make things up, it’s to interpret the results of the tea leaves. We are oracles, we are prophets, but we are not gods, even if we play one every now and then.

  5. Gargs454 says:

    Fudging is one of those long standing issues with DMs. Some groups are fine with it, others hate it. Same holds for DMs. My personal take is that the most important thing is that the entire group (DM included) has fun. For some fights, that occasionally warrants fudging (in my opinion). Other times, its not really necessary. I will say that when the party comes up against a boss fight, I want it to feel suitably challenging. Having the party steam roll over the big bad final encounter of the adventure or steamroll the BBEG that they’ve been chasing for year (real time) tends to be a let down. So in those cases its often acceptable to either fudge stats, die rolls, etc. or simply give your BBEG an out.

    My group just went up against a beholder in its tower for instance. Before setting off for the tower, the group was complaining that nobody in the area had done anything about it before and the basic response from the NPCs was “We tried. It kicked our tails.” Obviously, it would have looked bad if the party went in and wiped the floor with the beholder (how bad is the local militia?). Fortunately, the encounter proved to be very challenging (and entertaining) without any fudging needed and afterward, the party had a better perspective on the attempts of the locals before hand and on their place on the power curve. Great times were had by all.

    That being said, if you are simply lookly at a more run of the mill standard encounter, its often good if the party just rolls right through it. It lets the PCs feel like the heroes that they are. Although I firmly believe that each encounter should contribute to the overall story of the campaign, that doesn’t mean that each encounter needs to be difficult.

    Finally, I don’t necessarily have a problem fudging things to help the party out either. TPKs can be disruptive and even a single character death can be disruptive to the overall story. The trick here though is that the players need to know that there truly is a threat to their characters. If nothing they do would ever result in them dying, then they lose a lot of the fun in the game. Its a dicey situation and I tend to reserve fudging in these cases for when I “messed up” on an encounter and unintentionally made an encounter a lot more difficult than I intended. Sometimes certain combinations of monsters, hazards, traps, etc. prove to be exceptionally lethal even if it falls within the XP Budget guidelines and in those cases I think its more acceptable to step in and help the party out.

    Regardless I try to keep fudging at a minimum but always strive to keep the game fun. Unfortunately there’s no black and white answer to the question though. 🙁

  6. SHaNiNaTOR says:

    I agree that you shouldn’t sweat it too bad. I know this may not seem very useful now, but over time, you will get much better at balancing encounters with 4th Edition. It’s the easiest edition to scale that I’ve found so far. With that being said, I don’t believe scaling is always the solution.

    Challenging the players is alway important, but it should never override fun factor. Were the players enjoying that they were whooping the dragon’s ass? If they were, you make the wrong call. An easy encounter is necessary every once in awhile to remind the PCs how bad ass they are anyhow.

    Act surprised that they are whooping your dragon, they will pick up how bad ass they are, and they will start bragging. Let them have their moment in the sun, because you have the chance to kill them in the cold dark later.

  7. Don’t bother!

    As DM you are part storyteller and part impromptu game designer. Never forget that your job is to provide a fertile breeding ground for adventure. You are the conductor for the game experience.

    In game design we have to keep “FLOW” (Csikszentmihalyi) in mind. To keep it short and simple: things shouldn’t be to difficult/frustrating or too easy/boring. It is absolutely appropriate to nudge the difficulty while playing. After all, it is about the experience of fighting against the dragon and not whether or not you were able to predict what numbers would achieve that job.

    Of course you could go with it: let them kill the dragon easily, but have some consequences pop up afterwards. You know, the dragon might have uncorrupted babies who might need some care; someone wanting to exploit the characters and so on.

    BTW, this “problem” (you cannot really anticipate the difficulty of any encounter) led me to come up with a different storytelling style altogether. Well, I’m not really DMing D&D a lot, but I rather like to keep the mechanics interesting instead of having the numbers nailed down permanently beforehand. Hopefully this idea is somehow understandable ^^

    Take care & good luck DMing and playing!
    -Georg (@zydake)

  8. SHaNiNaTOR says:

    “BTW, this “problem” (you cannot really anticipate the difficulty of any encounter) led me to come up with a different storytelling style altogether. Well, I’m not really DMing D&D a lot, but I rather like to keep the mechanics interesting instead of having the numbers nailed down permanently beforehand. Hopefully this idea is somehow understandable”

    Zydake: I agree with you wholeheartedly with any other game, but changing things on the fly in a 4e D&D game can seriously piss off players. lol, trust me. Is because the game involves players staging numerous status effects, and trying to drop daily powers. My players will pay attention to the enemy Reflex defense. “A 17 doesn’t hit? It hurt earlier when Daken used his fireball?”

  9. I only cheat to lose. If I’ve made an encounter to easy and the PCs cut through it like a hot knife through butter I let it happen, and learn from it. On the other hand if an encounter that wasn’t supposed to be hard starts killing the PCs then I will start fudging (first by not using the NPCs devastating powers, and then fudging dice rolls if that doesn’t work).

  10. For what it’s worth, I almost never fudge die rolls, and I only fudge HP to lower them. However, I often fudge monster powers to do new and interesting things depending on the story and situation.

    Now change my tires.

  11. D&D is about that fine blend and balance of storytelling and game, and for that reason alone I tend to loathe fudging and house rules.

    Always seeking game balance, to me, is critical. Who wants to play in a D&D game where the rules are inconsistent?

    That said, I very rarely take an approach similar to Dave’s, with the addition that I “fantasy up” or otherwise make more interactive and engaging the Features of the Area, whether no-longer-so-mundane dungeon dressing or truly fantastic terrain or similar elements.

  12. If you feel bad about fudging stats and rolls, a compromise comes to mind. If they’re doing so well, you can make a behind-the-screen deal with yourself. The monster gains HP (for example) in exchange for some extra reward the players get.

    Perhaps the dragon magically summons a jewel with magical healing properties from a hidden horde. After using all of the jewel’s magic to heal itself, it discards the gem. After the battle, the PCs can grab the still-valuable powerless gem as extra treasure. Or perhaps the PCs are doing so well that the dragon has to beg its corrupt master for a period of invincibility, which could reveal information about the powers behind the dragon or even make a later challenge easier due to the power that’s been used up.

    If there’s some price to your fudging, then the players get that fun experience while still getting something useful in exchange for their prowess.

  13. Drakkar says:

    To be totally honest I feel you’re looking at this the wrong way, it isn’t cheating because you wanted it to be a challenging encounter but you made a mistake, you’re just fixing bugs at that point. No player enjoys a boring as hell grindfest with easy bosses and weak DCs, you’re an entertainer man. :p

  14. iserith says:

    I roll in the open and let things fall where they may. I can and do, however, adjust combats on the fly if I think they are going wrong. This requires a certain measure of knowledge regarding the characters that are in the combat and how much more or less they can take. You also have to know what effect a given monster will have on combat. That comes with doing the DM thing… getting your ass kicked repeatedly for years.

    You generally can’t go wrong by adding a wave of minions if your elites or solos are getting a pounding (aid attack or defense anyone?). Sometimes, I completely make them up off the top of my head (and with liberal use of the DM chart available on Sly Flourish). I go in with the expectation that my elites and solos are going to be subject to the worst the PCs can dish out and thus attempt to throw some wrenches in the works to keep the challenge interesting. At-Will’s Worldbreaker rules (or ideas to that effect) also help a lot. I know that my players at this point are quite scared of solos and elites in my campaign because they’ll know I’ve tweaked them a lot.

    Focus on set-piece encounters – combats that are important to the story. Boxed text or skill challenge the rest. By doing so, you can really put your creative talent into making a dynamic encounter with lots of options, interactions, and change-ups. A good set-piece encounter can tell a story in and of itself and since you like good story over combat any day of the week, you can’t go wrong with this method. Don’t forget the great ideas that come with “combat outs” that were mentioned here and on Sly Flourish in recent weeks. Players love finding those and exploiting them for an interesting, non-kill-everything, victory.

  15. Her Geek says:

    What Drakkar said…

  16. I also roll in the open, and let the dice gods decide (to some degree) the fate of the game. You can always make encounters easier by manipulating monster tactics, defenses, vulnerabilities, hit points, etc.

  17. I really love this blog series. I often post thinking I have a solid answer, then find myself reconsidering it or adjusting it. It is a nice thought-provoking series.

    I like to think back on our influences that lead us to game and what we model our gaming after. For me, it is a few books and many movies. When I game I am trying to recreate that feel. You want some of those tropes. You want the action. You want the heroism, the excitement, and the story.

    In writing a campaign session, I try to capture a particular feel. If I have an epic dragon fight, then that is a big deal. It is the equivalent of the big scene in the movie or that chapter you can’t put down in the novel. That vision is almost the most important thing at the table. You have this beautiful scene you are orchestrating, and you owe it to the players to make it happen.

    The only caveat is that _the_ most important thing at the table is the players having a great time and honoring their vision. To that end, our vision should have room for theirs. Having a fight go their way or against them based on their actions is important.

    It is a delicate balance and part of being a DM is owning up to the responsibility to make the decision which way to lean for any given encounter.

    The rest is just details and somewhat arbitrary. Whether you fudge a roll or add double hit points… these things really don’t matter. You want to have some options like this and use them to fulfill your vision of story, but not to such an extent that the PCs can’t see theirs. The more you DM, the more you gain a feel for how to make players happy. But, even the most expert of DMs will make the wrong call from time to time.

    In what you described, the only thing I don’t like is that NPC. If an NPC will save the PCs, it should be for a very good plot reason. For example, maybe the taint is too great a challenge for them, and maybe the NPC will eventually become a foil. (I can see it now, standing before the King, the NPC says “I slew the dragon, not they! Why should they be trusted with…” and then I can see the scene where the PCs gain enough might to finally slay a larger dragon and prove their worth). PCs want to be the heroes.

  18. Uncle Gary once said: The only reason a DM should roll dice (behind the screen) is for the sound they make.

    Like Vanir and I discussed on IM, I’m not a fudger of stats and dice… or if I do, I tend toward Dave’s approach. I do tell players, when it’s late at night and a fight drags on that I have trouble seeing low rolls from afar so can they please toss the dice closer to me so I can see what they just rolled… 🙂

    What I shamlessly fudge with is the Story… Like Favreau in Ironman. I have absolutely no qualms with changing relationships, agendas, villains and situations on the fly… never to cheat players but to keep them on their toes.

    Oh, so that Corrupted Dragon was a wuss and the PC killed it too early? Well that’s easy, the corruption grew too strong, beyond the Dragon’s body ability to contain it… and the PCs helped it along.

    But as it dies and as the NPC that was supposed to save the day comes, the dragon explodes in corrupted gore, dropping a few drops on PCs (Plot hook) and a Facefull on the NPC who falls in a coma and slowly starts a “The Fly” transformation

    Mwa HA HA!

    Story took another turn… let’s see it unfold.

    My 2 cents

  19. Gargs454 says:

    @Chatty: Excellent observation about fudging the story instead of the die rolls. It kind of reminds me about when I change (or even forget) some detail about an otherwise well known monster type. Maybe I forgot initially, or maybe I did it intentionally, but when the PC asks “I thought *monster type* was vulnerable to *X* energy type.” I can simply respond with “Yeah, that IS weird isn’t it?” Now there’s a ready made plot hook.

    The only problem with turning the NPC into a Fly-like transformation is that knowing my players they’d just start hacking him to bits. :p

    BTW, one of the easiest ways to fudge in the favor of the PCs is to simply use less than ideal tactics. When my PCs recently went up against a beholder and the swordmage threw her mark on it the natural instinct would/could/should be to toss the petrifying ray at the swordmage (especially since she was the only defender). However petrification a) sucks big time for the player and b) may well have resulted in one or more pc deaths in this particular combat, so I decided that the petrification ray only came up on the random attacks until the beholder was down to less than a healing surge worth of HPs, at which point it targetted the strikers with it. It was subtle but enabled the fight to continue to be challenging without forcing the PCs to run for their lives (which is also ok from time to time). This worked particularly well since the PCs didn’t roll a single crit the entire fight while the beholder rolled at least 5.

  20. Man, a lot of great advice coming out here. I should freak out more often.

    After the initial shocks of “OMG I’M TERRIBLE” and “OMG MY LIFE IS A LIE”, I’m finding it endlessly interesting that I am plowing headlong through some of these mistakes because now I understand why a lot of the “bad” DMs I’ve had over the years were tempted to make them.

    I picked up a copy of Sly Flourish’s DM Tips, and I’m digging the HELL out of @gamefiend’s Worldbreaker series. Chatty’s advice to make story hooks and opportunities and to let the players write the story from there are definitely in the forefront of my brainpan as well. If it goes south again, it won’t be due to lack of prep!

    P.S. I’d be remiss without pointing out Dante’s take on all this:
    http://www.stupidranger.com/2011/04/its-not-cheating-its-really-not.php

  21. Drakkar says:

    Also, if all else fails never forget mid-combat parley, it can stop players dead sometimes and it starts to make them wonder if they have to fight everything that looks scary, so when they do…well, it’s even more fun. :p

  22. Lots of good advice.

    GMing is an art, so I never feel like there is one true way. Some GMs alter things constantly to optimize the story flow (improv Style GM), other GMs write the story and stats ahead and let the chips fall where they may(Plotter style GM). And a lot of GMs, most I would say, fall somewhere in between.

    One thing that is true is that like acting, or sales, once the PCs know that you are fudging/improv/changing, it will change the game forever. Not always badly, but the dynamic and the trust level alter, as well as the lethality. Once the players know that their GM has changed things on the fly a few times, every PC death, every rough turn, every plot hook will be examined, consiously or subconsiously, in terms of GM fudging and the blame that comes with it.
    The audience in a play normally has no clue if someone skips a line or changes the wording. But once someone does catch a miscue or flubbed line, they are looking for those mistakes from then on. I remember a GM friend of mine who lost her group because she was running a published module and the players found out later that she had added a few more opponents in, and even though she told them she had preplanned it and it was not done on the fly, she always looked back at that moment that the immersion/trust was broekn between her and that group.
    So understand that there is a player attitude shift if they are aware you are responsible for changing stuff on the fly.
    Some groups do well with this, some out and out rebel, but it changes the subconsious flle for the game for every player.

    Secondly, creating encounters and whole adventures is a skill unto itself. You are going to get better at this as well. Sometimes the PCs are going to roll well, sometimes you are going to roll well, but your ability to create the right feel in writing the adventure and plot will improve. Happens to everyone.
    I will recommend something I advise a lot for combat-oriented games, and that is adding 1 ‘modifier’ note to every encounter while in the writing stage. Basically, its an increaser modifier Because you prewrite them, they will flow better, work within the plot better, etc.
    For me, my preplanned difficulty increasers are normally minions or allies that would logically be close or have heard the conflict, though there is some magic use or especially magic item use that can be used. I had one session where I heard one player complaining humorously to another that he, “Missed the old days when monsters didn’t work together”.

    This is less of a GM dilemma than a writers/plotter’s dilemma, when you have to change things around. It is not cheating to make the game better and to use inspiration; but changing things on the fly does mean the plots and notes and story you prewrote was not good enough.
    I personally get more satisfaction out of a game I don’t have to fudge; when my notes and storyline and adventures are ‘good enough’ so that my job is to play the rest of the world as it reacts to the players. But every GM is different, and every GM who’s players are having fun is ‘doing it right’.

  23. One way to ensure DM accountability: Play in a venue where there are multiple DMs running multiple games, and a Campaign DM to oversee everything and approve adventure modules before play starts. Use a system that preserves all die rolls and records attempts to tamper with them.

    Sound impossible? The Wold has been running this way for almost 15 years online, using a custom-programmed PBP system with die roller.

    It also helps that we have policies for DMs that govern when and how fudging is allowed. Bottom line: DMs may NEVER fudge rolls against players. We kick out DMs who do that, and with the ability to edit and monitor die rolls, the admins know if it happens.

    For what it is worth, we are currently looking for players and DMs — although you have to play for six months before volunteering as a DM. Take a peek:

    http://www.woldiangames.com

  24. TheMainEvent says:

    One thing about fudging tough battles: you never know what PCs are capable of until you push them to their limit, perhaps even farther than they think they can go. I’m not for or against fudging, but I think if you have a legitimately challenging combat, with open die rolls and solid trackable defenses, it increases the tension and sense of accomplishment when finishing an insanely hard fight.

    I also think that plot-villians and other campaign long story forces should be fudged with greater care. Theoretically, they will crop up time and time again and act as rivals/antagonists beyond one adventure. So, if you fudge once you have to mindful that later uses of them are consistent.

  25. Vanir, there’s a lot of meat in this article. There are several points that I would like to address, starting with this: there wasn’t one mistake, there were two, and the second was a direct consequence of the first. The first mistake was over-estimating the combat effectiveness of your dragon, and while you dismiss that as “lesson learned”, I believe it to be fundamental to the problems that followed. If you had correctly anticipated that the PCs – if using effective tactics – could whomp the Dragon’s ass, there would have been no problem, you could have sat back and let nature take it’s course. Or you could have made the dragon tougher. Again, no problem. The only reason you stumbled through the looking glass was in attempting to fulfill expectations – yours and your players.

    That’s the key to what followed. The measures you contemplated in order to meet those expectations clashed with your game-table ideals, forcing you to choose between two aspects of the game that you support – the principle of fairness, and the principle of providing challenge/entertainment. To the good GM, these are questions of morality, and each person will have their own take on what is acceptable.

    Why does this problem arise in the first place? Because no game designer of anything anywhere near as complex as D&D can possible run every permutation and combination of abilities, group composition, tactics, and opponants to determine the correct power levels of opponant for any given situation. They have to address the problem in more abstract terms, and with greater reliance on general principles and what “feels” right, and then leave the messy fine-tuning to their commanders in the field – that’s you and me and the other GMs. A number of recent discussions have suggested that cooperative tactics on the part of the PCs in 4e are far more overwhelmingly successful than the designers of the game expected; yours is simply the first case I’ve seen written up where the potential problems actualised.

    How to restore faireness to your combats as a player? The advice offered by the other comments is excellent. I would add one more general principle: Always assume that the PCs will be twice as effective in battle as ‘the book’ says they would be, and design your encounters accordingly. Then you can fudge in the PCs favour with a clear conscience if you have to – but it’s astonishing how often this overestimate will be right on the money.

    From that starting point, I would look to individual monster tweaks; for example, I’ve always thought that Dragons should be terrifying encounters even for demigods (very old-school of me) and so I always give them a power-boost, and a significant one. I always make sure the players know that in advance, as well. What they don’t realise is that for every creature type that I boost in this way, there is another that seems overpowered and that gets its wings clipped, just a little.

    The secret to restoring your respect for combat as a player is to determine exactly what the goal is of the participants – and by that, I mean the players and GM. If the goal is to function by-the-book regardless of how boring combats might become as a result, then manipulation by the GM is “cheating”; but if the goal is to ensure that there is risk, and the rewards that come from risk, then manipulation is entirely acceptable, and the players have to trust that the GM will only cheat in their best interests (and not those of their characters). The artistry comes in concealing such manipulations from the players as violation of the suspension of disbelief is just as toxic to a campaign, and it is in that artistry that the real difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ GMs can be found. Once your mindset adjusts to this new perspective, your satisfaction as a player can be enhanced, rather than diminished, because now you can see the artistry behind the screen. The true price of this knowledge is that tolerance for Bad GMing becomes harder to find within yourself, either as a player or as a GM. Ultimately, you will abandon your place behind the screen only to make way for the best – or to permit a neophyte to make his own tentative steps through the looking glass.

    Mike Bourke’s TwitterID: @gamewriterMike

  26. mbeacom says:

    For me, fudging dice is a last resort, but I’ll do it if I have to. Heres how I think about it. I personally plan each encounter and design it to be a certain difficulty. Some I design so the playeys have a cake walk. Some I plan to very nearly kill them all. In order to achieve this, I generally design my monsters to have certain HP, certain damage, certain effects, etc. In a perfect world, i’d design this perfectly to begin with. However, in the practice of the game, I sometimes realize my planning was incorrect. Had i known during the planning stages what I learn at the table, I’d have designed the monsters a bid differently, perhaps theyd have more HP, or perhaps they’d hit harder, etc. So have no problem making those changes on the fly. Since I made up the stats to begin with, how is my changing them cheating in any way? It’s not. I just figure sometimes you tweak things the first round or two in order to get it where you want it. Obviously, I’d never change a monsters defense such that is was noticeable. Thats the kind of thing that you need to have trust with your DM. As far as I’m concerned, once a player learns something about a monster, that stat needs to be fixed. No ripping rugs out form under the players.

    Having said that, once you do this more often, you’ll eventually get to the point where you’re plans “require” little or no fudging to keep the feel you were trying for. Just keep up the hard work and you’ll find that sweet spot where you’re successfully giving the players the experience they want without feeling like you’re betraying their trust.

  27. Train yourself to stop cheating. Wean yourself off the addiction. Tell the players the target numbers. Tell them how many hp the monster has left. You’ll be a better DM, and most players appreciate a genuine challenge.

    If they don’t, use a proper fudge mechanic like WFRP Fate Points. But stop with the cheating. Last night a player told me he’d never play with DM X again: since he discovered DM X was a fudger, all the thrill was gone.

    No player will ever say that about me.

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