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I run a small game with 4 new players. This is my first ever homebrew campaign (we are only 4 sessions in). I don't fully know how to reach the end since I wanted to make a more open world campaign. I make encounters in the moment. And sometimes just to make it more fun for the players I fudge the dice rolls/save DC/enemy health, such as making it easier to avoid the charm effect, or making the kobold die faster to make the combat more interesting.

Am I a bad DM for this?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Fudging rolls is super contentious, with opinions ranging from "fudging is fine" to "fudging, even once, is lying to your players and makes you a bad DM." It's very opinion-based and what works for one group won't necessarily work for another group; there's no singular answer as to whether this makes you a bad DM. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shivers
    Nov 17, 2022 at 2:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please don't make questions click-bait. Ask the real question so you can get real answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Nov 17, 2022 at 5:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is still clickbait and has not been materially improved despite all of the edits. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 18, 2022 at 0:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ As this question currently stands I don't think it is enough opinion-based anymore to warrant a close. Still it should stay closed as it is basically a duplicate of rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/30671/… \$\endgroup\$ Nov 18, 2022 at 2:58

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Randomization is fun until it isn't.

The ultimate point of playing a game with your friends is to have fun. Part of the fun is the risk, but at the same time, it's not always fun when pure random chance does something weird. And even when everything is working normally, you have to have a sense of pacing; there's a point where the players are getting bored and the best thing is to move along to the next thing rather than stretch out a scenario just because everyone's rolling badly.

I fudge things at my table all the time. Usually it's about HP -- either offing a monster early or having it hold on after it technically should have died. Usually it's for dramatic reasons -- I can tell the fight is dragging and it's better to end it now than take another four minutes to get those last few HP, or sometimes I want to let a particular character get the kill, or I want a chance to show off a monster's special ability at least once before they just gank it.

I also fudge monster attacks sometimes, usually in the players' favor. I had a fight earlier this year where a sahuagin baron was just rolling ridiculously well. The third time he rolled a crit against the same character, I just decided to skip it and called it a normal hit instead. It left the paladin with 2 hit points instead of laying on the floor, and made for a more dramatic finish.

Sometimes I fudge DCs, allowing somebody to pass a check that they maybe technically failed because failure wasn't interesting or the game was dragging. That's less common, though -- usually task rolls just are what they are -- but I go even further than that sometimes and don't even set a DC before they roll. Somebody wants to do a thing that should take a roll, but which I didn't predict? I don't necessarily set a DC, I just ask for the roll. 60% or 70% of the time, it's either so high or so low that the exact DC wouldn't have mattered, and the rest of the time I can kind of just judge it after the fact. In that case it's in service of keeping the game rolling, I don't need to take the few seconds to figure out a DC when I can just say "Roll it!"

Some people get very upset about fudging, but it's not a trait of a bad DM. Or at least, not inherently. It's a tool, and like most tools, it's how you use it that matters.

You can fudge for good, in service of the story, the fun of the game, or efficiency. You can also fudge for evil, to make the game unwinnable for the players or otherwise screw them over. But in that case, it isn't fudging that makes a bad DM, it's the fact that they're using the game to be cruel to their friends.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The problems with fudging isn't limited to when you're using it to screw the players over and fudging in favour of the players isn't guaranteed to sit well with the players, a lot of players would consider manipulating things "to let a particular character get the kill" unacceptable so you can't assume that if you're fudging for good (in your opinion) then players will be ok with that, imo fudging rolls is something that a good dm will discuss with the party during session 0 \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 17, 2022 at 9:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, yes -- one of the key rules to fudging is that nobody finds out you're fudging. You absolutely have to maintain the illusion. But that's really a larger discussion than just dice fudging. There's a ton of DM tricks, like having a character or even a whole location show up in front of the PCs on whatever road they decide to take, that are functionally the same kind of thing, twisting the game-world to make a story happen. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17, 2022 at 14:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate your perspective and that you acknowledge some people do not like it. I am strongly in the camp that most fudging is bad. It makes the dice meaningless. With that said, I sometimes adjust the HP of monsters behind the scenes if a fight is dragging, especially if the monster was homebrew to start with. But to me that feels different from fudging a dice roll. But, this is very much an area where opinions vary. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17, 2022 at 17:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "You can fudge for good, in service of the story, the fun of the game, or efficiency." \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Nov 17, 2022 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I probably wouldn't mind some fudging for (especially homebrew) encounters that end up being much harder than intended, if we're otherwise risking a TPK. But in almost every other case, I would see it as a kind of railroading by the DM. We're no longer playing the game that we agreed to play. We're not collectively telling a story anymore, I'm just a spectator to the DM's story. That's all completely fine if this was agreed beforehand, but I would likely walk away from the game if I found out my DM has been doing this in secret. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 21, 2022 at 14:31
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Being a good or bad DM is complicated.

There's more to being a DM than a single slice of your behavior. That's not to say that there's nothing that would singlehandedly make me consider someone a bad DM, but it's always going to be for me. Personally, I'd prefer that my DM fudge as rarely as possible; I would rather play the dice as they lie. Other people may just not care. Other people yet may actively prefer fudging.

Ultimately, there's no hard spectrum from "bad DM" to "good DM." If you gave me two identical DMs with the caveat that one fudged and one didn't, I'd take the one that didn't fudge. Does that make the other DM a bad DM? Maybe they're a worse fit for me, but that doesn't inherently make them a bad DM.

There's no universal consensus on fudging rolls.

Fudging rolls is very contentious. You'll find camps that say "fudging helps the game by allowing the DM to avoid unfun outcomes," camps that say "fudging is inherently dishonest and undermines the entire point of playing a game," and everything in between.

There's no singular answer as to whether fudging is inherently good or inherently bad: it's going to depend on how the people in your group feel about it, and the only way to get that answer is to ask them. If you're concerned that they may dislike it, continuing to fudge in secret risks them finding out (either conclusively or as a long-term suspicion) and being upset by what they can perceive as deception.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Its less about me being dishonest, and more about me just wanting to know if the community thinks that this could be making it more fun or not \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17, 2022 at 2:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, I'll tweak that bit. At that point you're definitely into the opinion-based parts, and we can't really answer that since it's going to depend on your players. Some random people here liking/disliking fudging won't help if it turns out your players are the opposite. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shivers
    Nov 17, 2022 at 2:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is a good answer, I just wanted to throw in the comment that in this case, it sounds like OP has a general grasp of the difference between reasons to fudge that are healthy for gameplay at his table and reasons that are unhealthy. With this in mind, remember that RAW, a DM fudging can't be dishonest unless you're doing it to 'win' over your players, because the DM is the final arbiter of all outcomes regardless of everything else. 'Cutscene' moments are a great way to be honest about these situations without worrying someone will feel you're being sneaky. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17, 2022 at 5:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TheFallen0ne The dishonesty is separate from whether you're using it to screw someone over, such as if the players don't think you're fudging, you know they don't think you're fudging, and you know they don't like fudging. A DM can be dishonest regardless of whether or not their intentions are pure, and even if a DM thinks they're doing a good job hiding the fact that they fudge, that doesn't mean players won't suspect or outright realize it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shivers
    Nov 17, 2022 at 22:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ To put it more succinctly, people can still be hurt by well-intentioned white lies. I think it's important that the DM and players mutually understand the situation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shivers
    Nov 17, 2022 at 22:47
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"A DM only rolls dice because of the noise they make"

Gary Gygax, who gave the titular quote is considered one of the greatest DMs in the history of role playing games. Given his historical importance for the genre, this is easy to understand, but many of his players also attested that playing under him was a fantastic experience.

So, fudging die rolls by itself does not make you a bad DM. Fudging them for the wrong reasons does - when you do it to be adversarial to the players.

That said, over many years I have come to the conclusion that you only need to fudge rolls in exceptional circumstances, where failure for the players would lead to lasting, undeserved downer. Going with the dice can take you to interesting situations.

Gary's actual views on this also were of course more thoughtful than the tongue-in-cheek comment quoted above:

"If mere chance is the cause of the impending failure, I modify the situation to have the adversarial side be likewise blighted by ill fortune. If I over-powered the NPCs/monsters I do indeed reduce these capacities in some way so as to enable the party to succeed." (Emphasis mine, post on Dragonsfoot Q&A forum)

"I do indeed find over-powered and badly played PCs annoying, so if the player with such a character foolishly allows his PC to get into a situation where loss of potent magic item, levels, and/or life can occur, the dice are rolled in the open; whatever occurs from the result stands without any "judge fudge" to prevent it." (Fixed typos, Post from ENworld Q&A forum)

From these you can see that he mostly used roll fudging to prevent lasting, undeserved loss to the players. Which is as it should be.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you would like to flesh this out with a more primal position by EGG, (Strategic Review, Volume 2 Number 2 (7th and last SR), article "D&D is only as good as the DM." (p. 22 of same issue) He alludes to DM "intervention" ... This is not to say that you should never temper chance with a bit of “Divine Intervention,” but helping players should be a rare act on the referee’s part, and the action should only be taken when fate seems to have unjustly condemned an otherwise good player, and then not in every circumstance should the referee intervene \$\endgroup\$ Nov 17, 2022 at 18:59
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No.

There are great DMs that fudge rolls, and absolutely terrible ones that don't.

Fudging rolls being seen as bad is part of a complicated failure of perception on the role of the DM. It is clung to because it is part of D&D but not obviously a soft skill - writing, storytelling, acting, psychology, and social interaction. People who want to find something to blame rarely like thinking about complicated things like soft skills, and prefer to find a simple, binary trait that they can blame things for. Not sticking to the outcome of the dice roll is also cheating in games of chance or board games, and there's a false equivalence of that to altering the die roll in a cooperative game like D&D.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Reminder that if you disagree with an answer, the appropriate response is to downvote it and/or post your own answer, not argue with the answer's author in comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Nov 17, 2022 at 19:12

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