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.