Posted by: Opinicus | February 23, 2011

Grab Fate by the Balls: Using slight of hand and bluff at the table.

Just little ol’ Opinicus here again. This article’t topic is a very controversial one: when is it okay to fudge the rules and die rolls, if ever? Below is a hypothetical example of where a GM might be tempted to fudge a roll (in order to save a character and keep the plot going).

Paladin: “Foul despot! I have finally found you! Tonight you will drink deep of the sharp blade of justice!”

Boss Villain: “You have slain my minions and foiled my plans. But what is worse is that you slew Desthera, my Drow lover. I would’ve just slain you before, but now… Now I will crush you and everything you hold dear. I will put you through the same loss you have put me through, and know that in the end, it was I that brought about your fall. MEN! Attend to this cur while I ready my arms!” Boss Villain starts chanting into his sword.

Paladin: “You think I’ll give you the chance? Have at you!” Charge past low level minion to attack Boss, incurring an AOO

GM: Minion attacks you… nat. 20! Confirmed…with another 20? Back that up with a… 19? Uhhh….

Player: Is that a coup de grace?

GM:….yeah…. can you make a… rolls dice, adds up numbers… DC 38 fort save? Please say yes.

Player:….If I roll a 20, I make 31…. so no way in hell.

As most table top games have that element of chance to them, many times things just don’t go the way you want them to, as either a player or as a GM. Now this also really applies to why type of game you’re running. Are you running a story-based game, where there is an overarching plot you want the players to delve into and progress? Or is it a module based game, where the enjoyment is almost entirely derived from playing within the rules? I’ll also go briefly into what if you are a player, not a GM. When is it okay to dance around the rules in that situation? (Quick answer; Never you cheating dog!)

The types of games that I really enjoy are the story-based ones. I love having long running plots, re-occurring villains, and deep character interactions. I derive my enjoyment from planning multiple paths the party could take, and coming up with a story based around the decisions of the party. This leads to the the players, and the GM, to develop strong affinity to these PCs. If a well established PC dies, let me tell you, there are few things as disruptive to an on-going story as a character change. Now it can be done right, but there will be that moment of awkwardness where you then need to shoe-horn in a new character, and the inter-party bonds will have to be re-established. Most of the time, this is difficult, and unless you have some really great players, I really get a bad taste in my mouth with the new character, and it’ll take me a few sessions to get used to him/her. Now I’m not saying to avoid killing the characters all the time, lest the party become overconfident and realize that the are practically invincible as the GM will always do something to save a character from death (or only throw weak enemies at them), I’m just saying that I personally feel that if a minion, or trap, or some random encounter just happens to very likely kill of a plot-centric character, feel free to report damage just short of death, or it just happened to roll a 2, not an 18 on that last hit, or perhaps just failed to confirm that x3 critical. Save that death for something that means something. Of course, on that same vein, is it okay to make that 2 into an 18? Here’s where I get antsy. Usually I say “No! Never cheat the player out of something.” Cheating to save them, well, that’s not really hurting the player. It’s not too scrupulous, but for the greater good of the game, I usually let it slide. Another option you could do, is tell the player that just got critted for double his current HP by the orc with a great axe on that his character just died, but that you could make a deal with him. You will negate the crit, but in return, you can call for his death when ever you fell like it, which would be in a very rememberable moment, such as boss fight, or some other fancy point in time. The flaw in this is that the player now plays with the knowledge of the shadow of death hanging over him. If he is a really good player, her will ignore it, perhaps help you out by setting himself up for this tragic, heroic death. But that is if you’ve got a good player.

Let us say you are running a combat intense game, not too much plot. If a character dies, that doesn’t rock the boat too much. When would it be okay to fudge stuff? Well, reporting a lower roll to save a character wouldn’t be necessary. Characters come and go just fine. Reporting higher than roll is even worse in this case than in the story-based game. This game is players vs the game (not you, remember this important point). If you cheat for the game, it won’t too fun for the player when the enemy always rolls 15’s and up. Now the big thing to remember is, this is for everyone to have fun. Not just you, and not just the players. Everyone must have fun. Now, if the monsters were trouncing the players, a GM might take enjoyment out of that, since he’s “winning”. But the players won’t have fun if they keep getting into fights where they have no chance of victory, or the fight was just so abnormally difficult that they shouldn’t even fight. No one likes going into a fight where you only hit on an 18, and the monster has fast healing, and hits you ever round. But on the same token, I don’t find it fun for 1/2 way through the first round, before the monster got it’s turn, it’s already dead. The players that failed initiative sit back and shrug as they got to do nothing, and the GM, who took the effort to make the monster and set up the encounter, didn’t even get to play his own encounter. My proposal in this is a rule that I’ve taken from Akal, and have implemented in every game above 5th lv if I’m running a party of experienced players. Double all the monster’s HP, if not triple it. The party will be hitting just as normally, and the monster can actually get in a round or two before getting chopped into so much chum. Every player will get a turn or two and feel useful, and the fact that they can have an idea of how much HP they were dishing out makes the fight seem that much more challenging. In that same vein, I also avoid using monsters with DR. the heavy one-shot characters will punish their way through, while the dinky, multi-attackers will watch as all their damage is absorbed and they feel impotent.

Now, a few points where faking a roll or making up a ruling would be really tempting, but you should never do this. The main one is; Death spell on the re-occurring villain. He shows up to taunt the players and start a plot going, and BAM! Hold person! he rolls a 1. He’s screwed! If you fudge the roll, you are outright robbing the players. If they actually see your roll, not only are you robbing them, but they will know it. And then no one’s happy. Another one is to fudge a roll to hurt a player. That’s just mean, even if the player was being a prick. They’ve come and put their enjoyment in your hands. You have a responsibility, and taking out-of-game ire with in-game actions is not only childish, but also pathetic. Of course, in-game ire being taken out with in-game actions is an entirely different matter. Up to your discretion, but again, remember, your goal is for everyone to have fun.

Now onto cheating/rule bending from the player. Generally, this is a No-no. If your character just rolled a 1 on a Save vs. Death, suck it up, be a man! You play the game to play a game, not to roll dice and have the GM tell you how awesome you are. Remember, if the GM is going through all the effort of running a game, which is much harder than just playing a character, he’s going to want some fun out if it too. If you make all your saves and always hit and crit every other hit, imagine how you would feel if the monsters were doing that to you? That’s what the GM is going through right when you fake a roll and make a save. I know the temptation to lie about making a save is strong, especially when it’s a life or death matter, but then you’re not playing a game with people, you’re just in an exercise in self satisfaction. Now, there actually is options for rule bending that is allowed for players, but these instances always involve the GM’s knowledge and approval. These are usually for flavor or are some sort of nifty idea that the rules are either missing, too vague, or too restrictive to do normally. In these instances, ask the GM about it. If it’s a good idea and the GM’s cool, you’ll usually get your alchemist-fire-bolas, unique armor, 3rd party class, or what-have-you.

Pretty much, I would be okay with cheating only if it would benefit the enjoyment of everyone present. You have much more freedom with this as a GM, since the enjoyment is based of of what you do to the party. Now I’ve said before, and will continue to say again and again (until some people get this through their thick skulls), Dungeons and Dragons, and other role playing games, in fact all social games, are just that, games. Just enjoy them and have fun!

Opinicus rolling out.

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