Articles Comments

The Douchey DM » Featured, General Gaming, Opinion » Three Questions a GM Should Ask Before “Fudging” a Die Roll

Three Questions a GM Should Ask Before “Fudging” a Die Roll

When a GM uses a screen, the only one watching over him is his own conscience, and there are times when we, for the good of the game, decide to ignore or modify a secret die roll. Perhaps we don’t want the paladin to get one-shotted by a lowly kobold. Maybe we want that secretly rolled perception check to succeed, even though we rolled a critical failure.

Whatever the reason, and however justified we feel about what we’re doing, we are violating the rules of the game. Yes, I know some games explicitly say the GM can ignore any result he or she wants. Yeah, I get it, the rules sometimes say you can cheat, but here are some things to think about before you do it.

1. Am I Betraying My Players’ Trust?

With RPGs, we allow one player to have an enormous amount of power over what is at its root a collaborative game. The GM acts as arbiter and judge on one hand, yet comes up with the antagonists and determines their tactics and strategies on the other. We trust that the GM will handle these two rolls (as arbiter and opponent) fairly. We hope that rules adjudications won’t favor the GM in some misguided attempt to “win” the game.

We may also trust that any GM fudging of dice rolls will be in the players flavor, or at least for the good of the game.

When we fudge rolls, we are skating on the edge of betraying that trust. It’s often justified, and many, if not most, players realize that fudging might happen and they’re okay with it.

2. Am I Nullifying the Ramifications of my Players’ Decisions?

Unless you’re playing a hack ‘n’ slash, kill and loot sort of game, players make decisions to go into combat with certain assumptions. Depending on the system, they might not choose to let an encounter degenerate into combat lightly.

Consider a situation where the players decide to go up against a superior force, in a situation that is tactically in the bad guys’ favor. When it comes to a decision point, and the party can decide to either turn tail and run or stand their ground and fight. The players are making this decision with certain assumptions. “We know we may die, but this is what my character would do,” is a phrase we often hear.

If you as the GM nerf your rolls, you are robbing your players of the ramifications of the weighty decision they just made. Perhaps this was an attempt to make a noble, heroic sacrifice, and by fudging die rolls in their favor, you might be robbing them of a heroic end for their character.

At the very least, you are robbing them of the complications that may result in making dangerous decision.

3. Am I Ignoring an Established Game Mechanic?

Games like Savage Worlds have game mechanics that allow players and GMs alike to reroll bad rolls. Since the GM is given a limited number of bennies, there is at least an implication that the rules assume honest die rolls from the GM. If you ignore dice rolls in favor of what you want to happen (whether in the players’ favor or not) aren’t you messing with the balance of the game?

I am not saying a GM should never fudge a die roll (far from it), but I think it should be approached with some gravity.

There are times when the dice are just a prop from some GM theater. We’ve all rolled the dice out of the blue just to create a little tension and have the players stare at us to see what’s going on. Sometimes we even know how a scene should (or will) pan out, and we roll the dice simply to create some tension.

Ultimately whether or not we should fudge is up to each GM and his or her conscience.


Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

Filed under: Featured, General Gaming, Opinion · Tags: , , ,

9 Responses to "Three Questions a GM Should Ask Before “Fudging” a Die Roll"

  1. shortymonsterNo Gravatar says:

    Nicely done. I think you’ve got a great list there, and it’s also nice to see some one who realises the use that a fudge can play in a game provided it’s not overdone, and used with responsibility.

  2. JimToNo Gravatar says:

    I think my ideas on dice fudging by PCs are pretty well known at this point. My thoughts on GM dice fudging are almost exactly as written here. This is, without a doubt, the best article I’ve read of yours Stu. Good info, laser-focused, and makes a person think. Well done.

  3. BlazfeemNo Gravatar says:

    You know, I tend not to fudge rolls myself. In fact, I will go so far as to roll out in the open for events that the characters know are happening, to keep myself honest. For me, that’s where the story comes from – the confluence of the actions taken by the characters and the results on the dice.

  4. shortymonsterNo Gravatar says:

    If you’re looking for more feed back on this one, I enjoyed it so much, I linked it on Reddit, their RPG page, and it’s looking like a well read article as a result. Last time I checked, it was second highest on this page.

  5. JackNo Gravatar says:

    In general I agree — the only one I’m not sure of is number one. I think you’re right that there’s a trust relationship between the players and the DM. But another good piece of advice for DMs is: only roll dice when it matters. And by “matters” it’s meant “either result is interesting.” It’s a judgement call, but if the game can’t move forward if they fail to find the secret door or if the paladin is shot dead, then maybe a responsible GM shouldn’t let those things happen.

    I tend to be in the camp of “you knew the risks when you took the job,” but the more complicated the situation gets, the less that holds true. I like to let the dice fall where they will, but just as playing a STR 8 Fighter isn’t interesting, I recognize that sometimes certain action resolutions aren’t fun, either.

    (FWIW, as a player I’d rather die to the kobold than get the feeling the GM was going soft on me; I want appropriate consequences for my actions.)

  6. JCNo Gravatar says:

    I’m printing this out for my GMs to read. Sometimes, they forget this.

  7. JazzIsBluesNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent thoughts as always Stu, and very much (again as usual anyway) much in line with my own approach.

    While I understand and respect the gm who says, “The dice fall how the dice fall and that’s the end of it,” There are points at which the event is so meaningless that for a pc to die there because of a die roll is in my opinion detrimental to the game and more importantly to the enjoyment of the players.

    This is a very grave situation in any case and one that must be taken with great care.

    I have fudged die rolls in favor of the players. I will NOT fudge dice in favor of the npc’s no matter what.

    We’ve all mentioned the “trust” factor between the players and the gm. I think we might be mis-using that word. Not that there should not be trust between the players and the gm’s quite the contrary but that the trust is not that the gm will not bend a rule ever, but that at the end of the day the enjoyment of the participants is paramount and the gm will take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that that goal is met.

    As always, just my 2 krupplenicks worth, your mileage may of course vary.


  8. […] Three Questions a GM Should Ask Before “Fudging” a Die Roll ( […]

  9. TomesNo Gravatar says:

    Agreed with others. Gotta say though, one reason I’m loving the Apocalypse World Engine… all dice rolls are those by the players. There is no need to fudge, as failure and success are all part of the beauty of the game, and the narrative. But yes, for traditional RPGs and the whole d20 genre, this is a great, great list, and should be required reading for all GMs.

Leave a Reply