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I have recently started playing (as GM) tabletop RPGs after a several year hiatus because I was no longer finding it fun. My current game, which uses Hackmaster 5E, has been running for about 6 months and I am enjoying it and my players seem to also be enjoying it.

However I have an issue with one player. This player gets upset whenever things don't go the way they want with their character. For example if their character (a fighter) misses too many times in a row. It gets even worse if the character starts getting low in hitpoints and the player feels like the character is threatened. I personally find this kind of behaviour on the part of a player to be stressful. I have started fudging die rolls in the character's favour occasionally, just to keep the peace.

I have been playing with this player on and off for more then a decade both as another player and as GM/DM. She is the type of player who always plays a similar character — a fighter. I had always thought she just plays because her boyfriend and most of her friends play (she played D&D 3e for years but still never seemed to understand many of the rules) until she told me it is one of her primary forms of stress relief (she has been having a hard time lately).

My question is this: Is it unfair to everyone else if I just keep fudging stuff for this character (not too much, just enough to make sure they don't die or anything) just to save myself the headache and make the game smoother and more enjoyable for everyone? I don't want to ask the player to leave the game because that will cause me problems with my social group. I just want to have fun and enjoy the game and I want everyone else to have fun as well. Obviously the other players get a bit protective of their characters but no one else is even close to this intense and upset about it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The title is fine. By all means do discuss the semantic tangles of English in the chat room Dale M thoughtfully created, though. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 5 '15 at 14:24

12 Answers 12

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No, it isn't unfair.

Definitely and explicitly, no. Roleplaying games in general, and DnD in specific, are storytelling games. If you fudge rolls or set up situations to favour one character, that is definitely not unfair on it's own. Fair in DnD and so on is based on making sure everyone gets to;

  1. Roleplay their character

  2. Get an equal or sufficient share of the spotlight time

  3. Not justifiably feel attacked, belittled, insulted or otherwise socially harmed by other players or the GM

If fudging rolls or setting up situations enables those things to happen, it's fine. If it causes those things not to happen, then it's not fine.

In this situation, the following factors are relevant;

  1. the character is a Fighter, one of the least powerful classes in 3e in terms of problem solving

  2. the player has little interest in the rules and is therefore likely unoptimized compared to the rest of the party

  3. 'stress relief'; says to me the player is there to kill orcs and be strong, and not to roleplay the intricacies of her character's dead boyfriend and the twilit idylls along the banks of the river shadowheart - ergo the player wants the spotlight time (success, awesome moments, roleplaying) to occur on the battlefield

Based on all that, assuming my assumptions are correct - feel free to fudge dice rolls and set things up specifically for the fighter to smash. Generally if I have a fighter in the group, i'll put things in combat for them to do - orc minions to slaughter, rope bridges to fight across, put the annoying cultist leader somewhere a bit dumb where he can be stabbed to death, etc, etc, because they get so few things to do anywhere else in the game in most editions of DnD, even if the player is a heavy roleplayer and getting spotlight time and fun in other areas.

In this case, shifting things around a bit so her character is more of a God of War than the stats would otherwise indicate seems perfectly fine. Spotlight-stealing is a problem, ruining others' fun or roleplaying is a problem, playing a character doesn't fit into your world (so you feel you have to stop them roleplaying the thing they want to play) is a problem, but fudging dice rolls and letting people win isn't really a problem, just a logistical issue.

Feel free to hammer the other characters still, make them scared for their low hp etc, but if this person wants to not have that, and you have the skill required to give them their victory while making the party feel scared, then you lose nothing by doing it. And potentially gain a bunch of fun, which is the entire point.

Note, when setting up encounters, my typical strategy is to put as many things in there for my players to kill as I think they physically can. Very rarely do I run 'single big monsters', and when I do they are more like a boss monster in a shooting game, a puzzle involving different kinds of attack and movement more than a big pile of hp with a strong attack. My general answer to 'a player wants to kill stuff' is 'have a bunch of stuff that is there specifically to flail and die'.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding factor #1: the game being played is Hackmaster 5e, which is not D&D 3e. I don't know how powerful the fighter is in Hackmaster 3e, but it'd be a coincidence if they are just as bad as the D&D 3e fighter. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Jacobs Jul 18 '15 at 9:51
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So I notice that most of the answers to this question have approached it from the angle of what is best for the group of gamers as a whole. To be honest, this is the approach I would normally take, but I do feel sometimes that this can ignore the bigger picture, and a recent personal experience as GM really hit this home.

I run a game with a very settled group of players who have known each other for a while. One of those who I didn't know so well started having issues with attendance, and it was getting rather frustrating and annoying to have to plan around things. My thoughts immediately turned to the kind of advice I would normally give to others on this site in that situation - talk to them, be open, think of the group etc. I was talking to another player in the group who I know very well, and they immediately told me that would be a really bad approach, as the player in question was going through some really difficult stuff and was quite ill. Coming to the game even the few times they could was a really important release and get-away for them, and even suggesting I might be considering asking them to leave because of their extremely patchy attendance might trigger serious problems.

So with this extra information, I have decided to accept their lack of attendance and work around it. Yes, I know this is having a detrimental effect on my enjoyment of the game, and likely those of the other players but you know, there are sometimes more important things.

The reason I bring this story up is that you mention the player is going through a really hard time at the moment, so you are clearly worried about the impact of approaching them about this. For this reason, my answer is based on the approach that you know your group of friends better than we do. It is based on the idea you have judged that protecting this player is important to the extent that it is worth the risk. On this basis, my answer follows.

I was accidentally and unknowingly protecting a player in a group not that long ago. The way I found out was when the one of the other players nearly left because they were unhappy with the concessions I was making to the player in question. The real question you have to ask, and I'm afraid it's one we really can't know the answer to is what would happen if your protection of this player became generally known to the rest of the group? I also wouldn't necessarily make the assumption that this player would be happy knowing what you are doing. It could come across as extremely patronising.

The relationship between players and GM in any RPG group is based on trust on a number of levels. That foundations behind that trust can vary considerably, and usually involve some kind of explicit or implicit social contract. This can define such things as whether it is OK for the GM to fudge dice or kill PCs without agreement.

As a result, different groups could respond very differently to sudden knowledge of this kind of behaviour, ranging from it breaking the group up there and then, to a shrugging of the shoulders and carrying on as if nothing had happened.

I would also be very wary of any kind of assumption that you will definitely be able to keep this behaviour secret. Its amazing how this kind of thing has a tendency of being noticed whether you like it or not.

So my answer is that it's OK as long as you can square it away with your own conscience for as long as you can keep it secret from the other players. However, if and when it becomes know, all bets are off, and only you can have any idea about how your players might respond (and even then you might be well off the mark with your prediction).

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Protecting such a player's character is unfair... to you

The DM must manage the entire campaign except for the PCs. The player has put you in the situation of also managing a PC. The player's job, like yours, is to have fun, but by being so overprotective of the character that you must adjust the space-time continuum's rules to accommodate that player, you have to sacrifice your fun for the player's.

That's not fair.

You have three choices.

  1. Avoid confrontation. Accept what's happening and make no effort to change things. The game continues running exactly as it's running now. This is totally valid given the other choices.
  2. Passive-aggressive confrontation. Whatever you were doing in your head or behind the screen for that one player's character, codify it in writing as rules and offer it to everyone. Remove from you that responsibility, shifting the burden for the player-characters back onto the players where it belongs.
  3. Direct confrontation. When the player next complains about the character's status, ease into explaining how that complaining makes you feel: like a bad DM, like you can't offer reasonable challenges, like offering reasonable challenges makes you dread complaints so you're second-guessing every encounter, or whatever. Explain that you're sorry but that you just can't take that anymore—it's hurting your enjoyment of the game. Then try to move on.

In any campaign, the DM also needs to have fun, and that includes having fun with the players at the table, so ask yourself Is this fun? If not, make it your responsibility to be fair to yourself first and make that fun happen.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The DM can have fun in a campaign where the players are winning with a bit of dice-fudging. It is not necessarily unfun, or even requiring much intervention on the DM's part. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Jun 3 '15 at 13:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zibbobz O, I totally agree. But the situation the querent describes sounded to me like more than a little bit of fudging and that the situation was preoccupying the DM, infringing on his fun. Were this a minor issue, I don't think the querent would've solicited advice from outsiders. But it's entirely possible I'm misreading the situation, everything's actually pretty okay, and I'm overreacting. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 3 '15 at 14:03
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Yes, it is unfair to give one player special treatment for no in-game reason. Why wouldn't it be?

The real question is, is being unfair a problem for you and your group - And that's a question we can't answer, because we don't know enough about your group to do so: Some groups are fine with and expect fudging, others see it as a betrayal; Some don't mind unequal treatment if it means everyone is having fun, while others see unfairness as grossly unjust. You need to ask yourself, what kind of group is yours?

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If nobody else is complaining about this, and you don't have a problem with it, then it's perfectly fine and you should keep doing it. As long as all the players and you are having fun with your sessions, there's no reason to change things to be 'more fair'.

If one of you, including yourself or this player, does have a problem with it though, you need to address that specifically.

I would not go about asking them each individually if they have a problem with it though - assume that they do not unless one of them speaks up.

If you have a problem with it, make sure you address it outside the session, one-on-one with the player, so that they don't feel singled out during the game.

Some players come to a session just wanting to have a nice cathartic experience. It's okay to give them a little bit of a challenge, as well as fudging things for both this player and the other players as needed. Ultimately, if it's not going to be fun then don't do it, and if it helps everyone have fun then absolutely keep doing it.

Of Course, You Should Ask How They Feel The Campaign Is Going...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I definitely disagree with 'assume everybody is happy with it unless one of them complains'. Many players think "whatever the GM says goes: if he says too much, his players go"; so if you just assume everybody's happy whatever you do (and fudging in favour of one player is definitely abnormnal, though not necessarily wrong), eventually your campaign will collapse and you won't know why. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Lymington supports Monica Jun 4 '15 at 11:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimLymington There's a 'within reason' there that should be explicit, but I guess isn't. If everyone is clearly happy, I.E., talking about actually enjoying the game on a regular basis and not throwing any hints at any sort of problem with the way things are run, rather than just assuming everything is hunky-dory even though all your players are dead quiet whenever you bring up how the campaign's going. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Jun 4 '15 at 11:50
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Personally, I find fudging to be more subjective than a strict formula. If a player rolls poorly for something they're good at, I might give a secondary skill a chance out of pity. Or if I just wanted to shake them up a little by making them roll for an unknown threat, any number will do. Sometimes the NPC, especially a minor one, will roll an extraordinary damage and I'll hedge it a little because this wasn't the big fight.

However, consistently coming to the aid of one player says to me that the game you are running may not be the right game for them. At this point I would suggest games with a much lower lethality rate or something more freeform so they aren't worried about their next dice shaming post.

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    \$\begingroup\$ About the lethality - for some reason the people in my gaming group are convinced that the game system is high lethality, but I haven't actually killed a player (I don't think I've even come that close). I think it is because a couple of the more experienced players are familiar with an earlier version of the game which I'm pretty sure was more lethal. \$\endgroup\$ – MichelleJS Jun 3 '15 at 8:00
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It is unfair. It's unfair that she effectively is throwing emotional fits at setbacks in play. Maybe she'd have fun playing a game where setbacks or loss is different, but that's not the game you're playing.

It's also a behavior pattern that you've identified over years, so it's not about her "having a hard time". Usually when people have a long term pattern like that, they're pretty committed to it.

Is playing with THIS person worth it for you, emotionally?

I can't answer that for you, but you'll need to think about it. If the answer is yes, then the second question is:

Does she add to the fun for other people playing?

Because if the answer is no, that is unfair to your group. If the answer is yes, then you can think about how to make it work in play.

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I think it is OK used judiciously.

Whether you will be successful with it depends on how good your judgement is.

There will definitely come a time when the character you are favouring appears "too lucky" if you are not very very careful. So the sort of fudging I've done has been letting them off disasters occasionally, rather than giving a general run of good luck in mundane things.

You job as GM is to make the story unfold in a way that is entertaining for the group of players. You can and should do "whatever it takes" for that to occur. Be aware of the risks of fudging. Be aware of the risks of doing what the dice say blindly. Both might result in player unhappiness if you don't navigate skillfully.

But let's face it, it might simply not be in the interests of the story for a character to die. Or, as in your case, not in the interests of general enjoyment.

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The real question is, should you do it?

Is it fair? No, of course not, it's something being done for one and not another, by definition it's unfair.

Does it help keep the peace? Apparently so. So you are balancing justice and peace, and deciding on the peace side of that equation.

I think the biggest concern is that - just as in the rest of life - catering to people who pitch fits to get what they want reinforces their behavior and they just do it more. And others see that and maybe pick up the same tactic.

It is very unlikely that you can do this with "no one noticing." Other players may notice and get disaffected. That player may notice and ramp up her whining so she gets even more. "We don't get enough treasure WAAHHHHH!"

I think that in general it's bad practice to allow people's negative or hostile social tactics to succeed, as it may ease short term pain but increase long term. Instead you should sit down with this player and say "You know, it looks really bad for you when you get petty and angry when things don't go your character's way. It's a game. Please consider playing using good sportsmanship."

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A lot of these answers have to do with whether the game is fair or unfair, but I think there's another way to approach this issue: Could there possibly be a way to plan games so you don't have to fudge as much?

As someone mentioned above, because she doesn't know the rules, she's probably not optimized (either when it comes to stats or gear). If she's missing or getting near death more than your other players, her feeling frustrated during the game is very understandable since part of the fun of Tabletop is feeling like an effective part of the group.

I don't know Hackmaster at all, but I feel like you have a couple options here:

  • Build a few things into your next game that play to her strengths-Obviously don't ignore the other players, but if there's a way to work in a skill she's good at or an enemy/terrain/whatever where she has an advantage, then put that in. Do your encounters favor other kinds of fighting (ranged, magic users, whatever)? Put in a enemy or two that's more susceptible to good old fashioned stabbing.
  • Guide her character growth- Don't take the power out of her hands, of course, but on her next levelup, you could point out feats/skills/stat increases that might help round her out and make her level with the rest of the team.
  • Give her something shiny - Next time your party does something cool and worthy of reward, give her a weapon that would help her in battle, instead of just gold. Or if she has a lot of gold she doesn't spend, point her towards that weapon. If it's particularly good, give it a cool backstory or flavortext abilities (if she plays to blow off steam and feel cool, nothing does the trick like a great and mighty weapon of legend--as long as it doesn't wiff all the time)
  • Change her stats - I know this is probably controversial, and I'd only suggest it if she was massively misbalanced in comparison to the rest of your party, but if she's doing badly because she built her character badly, you might want to change a point or two to balance her better. Don't give her unfair boosts or higher stats than she should be able to get at her level, but help align her with the kind of fighter she actually was trying to build. Many video games allow characters to reroll their points if they realize they have been building their character wrong (Diablo and I think Torchlight II to name a couple) and it's better to have to do that then fudge all her rolls.

I don't know if you've already tried all that, but it seems like it would be better to address the root cause (she's not as effective as she'd want to be) then to keep putting a bandaid on it.

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If a player has trouble dealing with things going wrong, you really aren't doing them a favor outside the scope of the game by encouraging or coddling this trait. You really should consider how to face it dead on. Can this player deal with frustration in general, and if not, isn't this a good place to learn?

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It sounds like you are improving the results of someones rolls because they can't enjoy the game if they have too much bad luck. The other answers already extensively explained that this may or may not be a bad thing, but here is something else to consider:

Fudging can go both ways

Did you just help the player out by pretending there were not three missed hits in a row? Then you shouldn't feel guilty to prevent her from hitting the next enemy 3 times in a row either.

It may not be trivial to balance this out perfectly, but you don't need to. If you can find a simple way to get rid of the 'bad luck stress' without structurally helping the player, it should be sufficiently fair for your setting.

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