Fudging rolls and player agency

Lots of replies and interesting ones, in this topic! :slight_smile:

I think the basic framework /ruleset of an OSR game (6 Ability scores, Roll high/random element, explore and build words, adventures of all kinds) can work for almost any type, feel or style of game.

From the most combat heavy, hyper-violent, realistic, dark setting and game to a barely any rolls, little structure, very positive/upbeat, collaborative story telling, non-combat, NPC-interaction heavy, dreamy almost child-like (in a good way) game.

I have run both, and really enjoyed both. But I always run each style only people with that enjoy or ask for such games. Especially a really dark one I would hesitate to run with most people and some themes I would not do or simply skip over very fast in terms of description. After all, most people play RPGs to relax and even grow, not to get bummed out. But I also wouldn’t run a dice-less and XP-less, 0 Combat, 0 Dungeon-delving campaign for more than one or two sessions in a hurry. People like some progress, collecting things, a sense of risk or danger, milestones, a sense of goals and accomplishment. These are cool and natural impulses as well, so I like to provide for them in my game and narrative.

As for the board games vs RPGs thing, I personally sort off dislike vast majority of board games yet love RPGs! What I dislike about most board games is that they are very procedural, usually adversarial (there is only one winner at end of board game, rest all lose in game mechanic terms), low on story-telling and or world-buidling (usually have none). The rules are far more rigid than in RPGs, no GM discretion etc. Your options (both in what you do next or how the “story” develops are usually severally limited compared to an RPG. Besides that I don’t even think the playing field is level in most board-game sessions.

For instance: usually by the time you are third or half way through the game, you know! who is going to win. The person who drew a few good cards or had 2 good rolls at a critical junction, or even just because they had the better starting position at the outset. Or, the person who owns the game/is most experienced is far likelier to win…

In these very common circumstances, the other 3 players often know it too, that their chances are very small, so they are there more or less there for nothing in terms of being the “winner”. I mean if everyone still enjoys the game, great! But it is not my bag. I want EVERYONE to win. :smiley: That is how I define a game as ‘cosy’: everybody “won” = had a great time, some valleys and lots of peaks and everyone is thoroughly invested throughout the entire game and afterwards everyone feels amused and elated, not down in any way. Fortunately, the OSR really engenders and often even heavily favours this style of play, sure it can be gritty and your character can die, but that is all the more reason to work together and not try to go only for personal glory or backstab your friends.

I think the OSR allows for everything and it is a very personal preference. The “duality of man” and “it takes all kinds” come into play. For example, I LOVE UFC and MMA, I train a tiny bit, yet I don’t want that kind of violence in my game necessarily, or rarely. I also love Kittens, dogs and cute stuff all day! And I like having some of that in the game too, it makes people vulnerable and child-like sometimes, which is one of the very best things about playing games as an adult for me.

I think every GM has experienced this when you introduce a cute familiar or NPC, people really bond with this imaginary creature sometimes and want to take care of it or delight in any of it’s antics. I can’t think of any other game almost where these type of things happen on the regular, so I never want my game to be devoid of this, but I also don’t want it to be 75% + of my game. I, and my current players (3 out of 4 of which love cute and cosy stuff) would get bored.

In terms of the style of play and nature of RPGs, I am always reminded of my favourite qoute about D&D::

"The remarkable thing about D&D is that everyone has to play together. Even the DM, who plays all the monsters and villains, has to cooperate; if he doesn’t—if he kills the entire party of adventurers, or requires players not to cheat on life-or-death dice rolls—the chances that he will be invited to run another session are small.

Here I am tempted to advance a wild argument. It goes like this: in a society that conditions people to compete, and rewards those who compete successfully, Dungeons & Dragons is countercultural; its project, when you think about it in these terms, is almost utopian. Show people how to have a good time, a mind-blowing, life-changing, all-night-long good time, by cooperating with each other! And perhaps D&D is socially unacceptable because it encourages its players to drop out of the world of competition, in which the popular people win, and to tune in to another world, where things work differently, and everyone wins (or dies) together."

All the considerations in the qoute above also apply to the cosy vs dark RPG game thing. If you are always running a dark, scary and especially a full-on depressing game, people are not going to enjoy that for more than a few sessions, unless they are hyper-edge lords, which I don’t want to play with anyway. In such pitch-black stories the players are also likely to cooperate less and tend to become more chaotic or evil, which is a bit strange if you are a party of adventures trying to meet challenges together…

You can be very, very dark yet funny, out there, surrealistic or thought-provoking and I think that can work for groups! Examples of such stories would be Horace and Pete and Bojack Horseman. They, on the face of it, are some of the darkest and most depressing shows and stories I have ever seen. However, at the end of watching them I am often smiling, because they are funny, “real” and make me think. And they have their very cute or redeeming moments as well. Balance in all things is good.


I just did a double take on this. Are you suggesting that cheating on rolls, by either referee or player, is fine?

Well, I didn’t write that sentence myself, was quoting and article. But yeh! Under certain very rare, specific circumstances I might fudge a life or death roll. The author wrote “cheating” which is not the best word/what I mean.

An example from actual play: I had player who had lost a character not too long ago. Was getting really into their new character, 3rd level, was being very careful and smart about trying to stay alive, but one session really everything was against this person, just terrible luck and rolls. Lost equipment and plenty of GP and was largely ineffective in combat (two, maybe even three, forget, critical misses within a single 4 hour session. He had battled valiantly and played smart but just couldn’t catch a break, I could see him getting really glum which was totally out of character for this person.

Fortunately, I reserve the right to roll any dice roll for the player/behind my screen, I tend to let them roll as much as possible of course. But on occasion when I think it makes more sense game mechanic, or story-wise, or fun! wise, I say I will roll and let him know what happens.

In this case he was on his last few hit points, fighting off the effects of some gas, trying desperately to not die and his buddies were also trying to help him. I rolled the save for him. He/I missed, by one point. Now, I instantly shouted out that he rolled the exact minimum nr he needed, it was low, like an 8, but yeh In actual fact I had rolled 7. All the players cheered and were elated because they were super invested in keeping him alive due to some story reasons.

Mind you, I do this maaaaaybe once in every 4 sessions, one single die roll! that I fudge. And in terms of a life or death roll that I fudge, it has maybe happened 2 times in 100s of sessions.

Sure, I could have let him die and roll up a new character. That would have been playing by the rules and not “cheating”/fudging, but the entire party was nearly dead, were at total low point. It would have halted the game while we dealt with his death, he would have to roll a new PC and I felt there was a good chance he would lose hope or no longer find the game fun, possibly even quit all together, because losing 2 character in very few sessions and rolling horribly way more than statistically was likely to happen,… is just no fun. Also his death would have served 0 purpose, been ignominious and actually messed up the session and campaign in a not so fun way.

If even one of those things was not the case, I likely would have let him roll and let him die. But in this case the “Rule of cool/fun” seemed more important. Anyway, sorry for this long aside/off-topic.


Yeah, I think you explained yourself well, and thanks for providing an actual play example! (maybe the moderators should split this thread? @thekernelinyellow). I don’t want to sound too confrontational, but I genuinely think you robbed that player of the outcome of his choices. The fact that they liked the moment doesn’t remove the fact that the moment wasn’t true. You lied to your player.

I think real player agency happens when they make actual choices and live with the consequences. If this doesn’t happen, if you’re playing for story or other types of protagonism, then I would just change game to something that doesn’t provide these undesirable outcomes (for example, Dungeon World, but could be anything), and where the actual choices can be about something else (answering thematic questions, for example).

If I play B/X D&D, characters die. It’s a part of the game. Don’t get attached. That’s how it works. I don’t cheat, and neither should anyone. (and again, sorry if this sounds harsh, I’m not trying to spoil your fun, just to explain my point of view).

Eh, totally fair POV! I am totally at peace with “lying” to my player in this one, single circumstance. I don’t play D&D 5e, too overpowered/too hard to die/too many hit points. But, I also do not play B/X D&D ! Too lethal for a my group of newbs many of which have only been playing for a few weeks with me. I play Basic Fantasy RPG, which in my mind finds a really nice middle ground, PCs are very weak compared to 5e and die way more often, which is exactly what I want. But it is not going to happen on my watch that they die all! the time, especially if it means everyone has less fun or enjoys the game less or possibly people stop playing. A game that is rigged, one way or the other (too lethal/too easy) in a way that does not suit the group, is not one I want to GM. I want to challenge the hell out of my players and they are going to die, but within reason. YMMV! Which is completely fine, different GM, different players, different styles.


Oh, I don’t really know Basic Fantasy RPG – it’s not really popular where I’m from, so I don’t have a good line of reference to judge. But it is fair that if you don’t like lethality you would go for a more lenient game system. I still think that every time you feel the need to fudge or cheat it’s the game system failing on you, and that should bring some sort of reflection: am I playing the right game? Should I introduce some sort of house rule?

(I’m also not a big fan of 5E; for similar reasons as you)

One very light way that some games solve this problem is to introduce some ‘hero’ points that players can spend to occasionally tweak die results in their favour. Another way is to change the rules on what happens when a PC hits 0 hitpoints. Maybe a PC has some sort of long-term consequence but doesn’t die right away, unless the hit was particularly fatal. Maybe you roll on a table for that consequence (I’ve seen this applied).

PS. (pretty please @thekernelinyellow split? this is a really cool discussion).


Stop writing as I split, I’m already too slow!

On a more serious note, this topic started out as a bit confrontational and, while it’s doing well, it’s the kind of discussion that often heatens up, so please be careful with your word choices, everyone :grinning:


Sorry about that, blame my enthusiasm and excess of zeal. Thanks!


A post was merged into an existing topic: The bounds of OSR

This really highlights why I only run and play in groups that do (pretty much) all rolls out in the open. At my home table I have a dice tower and hexagonal tray in which all dice are rolled if they are too be counted. Online I roll all dice publicly. I also run a highly transparent game myself and also do rolls like weather checks, luck tables and random encounters out in the open. I like to give my players as much information as I dare and then let the consequences fall wherever they may but my players also know exactly what is being rolled for so it’s all fair game.


It is all good Froggy, I for sure respect your stance and tbh with experienced players I would roll everything open and not fudge either! :slight_smile: So it has to do with the type of players and game. And possibly also because we play every 3 weeks on average. If we spend a lot of that scant session time dealing with death and rolling up new characters that is almost a shame/waste of the playing times (my players and myself don’t necessarily love the aspect of building a character, we just want to play).

I like the hero points thing, I think I will start doing that!

But the way I look at any RPG is that no matter how good or suitable for your group/the GM the system is, it will! fail you sooner or later. But that doesn’t matter. The GM can in theory pick another system or houserule or tweak endlessly, but instead I sometimes simply choose to step in and do what I think is right or most fun. The longer I play, the fewer rules (especially etched in stone ones) I want to use. Always rulings over rules when I feel the rules are getting in the way of fun, speed, or even realism sometimes. Of course that has to do with this group. I have played with very strict/more rules based/crunch groups and that can have it’s fun moments and appeal, but it is not really my preference.

At the end of the day, whatever group is having the most fun, is winning! in my book, no matter what rules they use or how strictly they stick to them. :slight_smile:


Fair, but ask yourself,… why! is there a GM screen at all? … It is not just to obscure GM only info. Why do the vast majority of GMs have a screen and roll at least some, if not a lot rolls behind it,…? :slight_smile: Yet I do agree with you in a way, i am tending towards rolling fewer and fewer rolls behind the screen, id say atm I am about at 20% of my rolls behind the screen, down from way more when I started. I figure with a very experienced group that wants that, in future, I will likely roll everything out in open. But not in this newbie group, at least, not yet! Maybe in a few sessions.

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Well, I’ve played a good number of games from different eras, genres and “scenes” and a good chunk of them don’t have a use for a GM screen at all and many (including some OSR games) don’t have the GM roll for anything at all. I would say they are useful for certain agendas of gaming and less useful for other agendas. I started off my OSR gaming just in the last few years and I stuck with the full GM screen deal and being careful about hidden rolls like Hide in Shadows but we always rolled all combat and immediate effects out in the open.

However, the last few months I’ve been toying with some of the non-retro clones like Maze Rats, Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland and Mausritter. Between the advice in Bastionland that leans highly into transparency and this blog post my table is enjoying a whole new way of playing that’s really revolutionized our (virtual) table. Also, just to be clear, there’s no judgment here for how you run your tables. I think the town is plenty big enough for multiple playstyles.


A very good conversation. I don’t want to lie, even if it’s for players’ own good. Yet I do, mostly after rolling on a random table, then realizing none of the results fit. I feel bad afterwards, feeling like I cheated.

As a rule, I try not to roll at all if I’m not willing to accept the results. In those cases I think it’s better to straight up dictate what happens.

A potentially lethal roll (like a damage roll or a Save) is made openly, and i make sure players understand what dice result is needed for them to survive. This brief conversation builds the tension and prepares us all for what might come.


One big thing I’ve learned from the OSR, is that the DM is a player too. I’m entitled to some fun, some unpredictability, getting to go on a rollercoaster ride with the other players, not really knowing what will happen. When fudge rolls, I ruin some of the fun for me, and it gnaws at the illusion that the world exists without the players, neutral. I want us to feel like we’ve wrested our rewards from the hands of an uncaring world!


That’s something I learned in OSR too.

I’ve been having conversations in another forum, more focused on story games, about how the OSR and the story games scene converge on certain themes. One of the strongest point of contact is the fact that both, in their own way, had (re)discovered certain elements of play.

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I don’t think re-rolling or fudging on a random table – if used for dungeon generation – is the same thing as fudging a die roll for damage, conflict or task resolution.

Random tables are oracles for inspiration. Sometimes the results can’t fit the established fiction in any way. Do your best effort to make them fit, but if they don’t, choose the next result or re-roll.

Even game texts that are pretty hardline on “roll in the open, GM can’t fudge rolls” (Blades in the Dark, Ironsworn come to mind) indicate that random generation table results are for inspiration only and can be re-rolled if they don’t fit.


Good comments! But I think we also always need to remember that most of us here are people who either got into the Old School play-style organically or, we even grew up with it! We are used! to lethality, even if it sometimes can feel unfair or less than logical, the idea is that playing the game is super risky and you are more likely to lose (die) rather than win on a long enough time line of say 3 to 10 sessions. We all also know how to make a new character quick. We are not playing our first character ever, and can detach a little. We have probably had at least one of our characters die before.

And now there is an influx of new players! An unprecedented amount of new people super interested in trying D&D for the first time. If they have any exposure at all to the tropes, mechanics and risk level associated with D&D it is very likely to be with 5th edition and what they have seen in play-throughs of famous GMs on Youtube or TV shows. In those games the power level is much higher and typically characters die seldomly. That is not my kind of game and I stopped playing 5th for exactly those reasons.

But, if I want to bring in new players into the OSR style of play and gaming systems, I always try to factor in their lack of experience. To, slowly introduce them to the fact that OSR is more deadly and risky and that we play different. Because I know if I slaughter half or even the entire party within 2 sessions, the odds of them all coming back or even playing any RPG ever again, are drastically reduced. I have found players who play with me longer, become way more open to trying new rules or upping the risk and challenge level. Again, I feel the need to re-state, I almost never! fudge life and death rolls, once every few years perhaps on average and only with inexperienced players and for very good reasons. It is not my go to.

It is a bit like if you show up at a gym to learn how to box, if an experienced person you trusted to show you the ropes instead goes full throttle and messes you up during sparring, did you really have fun and did you learn a lot? Will it make you want to come back?

I see your argument, but at that point is it not better, more honest and more pedagogic as well to let the lesson be learned, and then openly tell them that you’re going to change the outcome to a less extreme one to be lenient, rather than lying about the result of the dice?

Either that, or directly implement the death leniency mechanics that I suggested above, so that a meaningful price can be paid without affecting the character’s survival. For example, instead of killing a character you might take them out of the fight and give them a permanent scar.

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I think it is far more pedagogical if the rules and dice rolls aren’t altered at all but the difficulty of the adventure (the types and number of adversaries, the fiendishness of traps and puzzles, etc.).

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