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Fudging Designers

It sucks that Jeremy Crawford fudges and advocates fudging. That really goes to show how difficult DMing is in the trad framework. Not my jam.

The existence of fudging frustrated me for a while because it forced me to come up with so many ways to be radically transparent to the dorks. Rolling openly, open tally of hitpoints etc. Sometimes showing parts from the module.

But now that I have all those ways, those fudgy judges out there are no longer a problem for me. A problem for their own group? Maybe, but that’s not for me to decide.

It does become kind of a problem when the main architect of the game builds it on the presuppostion of, and recommendation of, fudging. Imagine if boardgame designers would make games that only worked if you cheated. That’s messed up.

My own favorite way to play is to have the “experience creation” hat on when writing modules and dungeons, but then throw that hat out the window once play starts and instead be a strict and neutral referee.

But, it’s frustrating when Crawford, the guy that makes the classes, the monsters, and the mechanics, is running the game in a way that makes all those things kinda meaningless. It doesn’t matter what spell I use or how I approach a dangerous monster when my char’s life or death is getting decided by (or overruled by) what the DM wants to happen. Lumpley described this as Rules vs Vigorous Creative Agreement and some groups use rules so that Unwanted things can happen, while others really want creative agreement instead and that’s completely and totally fine, but, it becomes problematic when the guy we turn to to make the rules (Crawford, in the case of 5e) are conflating the two. There’s no need for me to slog through 500 pages of classes, weapons, spells, and monsters if the outcome is going to be decided by, or even just tempered by, what the DM wishes would happen.

Now, I know most fudgers don’t decide every single thing in the game: the rules are a great source of story fodder for them, and they only intervene to prevent total disaster or introduce an otherwise missed opportunity of awesome. But it would become a problem for me, someone who doesn’t mind disasters and doesn’t want injected awesome, if the rules were made in a way such that they don’t even work without such interventions, that they depend on them.

I’ve long suspected that one of the reasons Magic (and some video games) became popular at the expense of roleplaying games in the nineties was that players were starved for having experiences that happened, not just were created. You’re down to your last life and you manage to draw that Wrath and turn the game around. A memorable moment that really happened (in the game, I mean—last time I talked about this, people thought I was onto some Mazes and Monsters steam tunnel trip).

But, again, my preference for non-fudged shouldn’t matter to any other table. They can find their own particular alchemical balance that’s perfect for them. What does matter is what the creators of the rules do and say, and if they’re saying “these rules are broken and fights are meant to be illusory” then that kinda sucks.

(This isn’t new to Crawford; Cook and G*gax also both advocated for fudging.)

People who started with D&D (or a similar game) often find that fudging solves a lot of problems.

I’m coming from the other direction, I started with FKR and freeform and story games, and I found that introducing rules added a lot of tension and stakes. Values that would get squandered by fudging.

Since introducing all those rules came at a heavy complexity cost, that’d be pretty pointless. I’d be taking on complexity weight for no purpose.

While those who started out having all those complex rules, for them all that fudging and loosening up is just making the game easier to wrangle at no additional cost. They’re shedding complexity weight.

They’e doing that at the cost of the tension and stakes I love, but if they don’t value that as highly, moving gradually towards rules light can feel like a step in the right direction for them.

For me, adding in all these rules but then invalidating them by fudging, it’d be like strapping a car to my back while biking uphill. The point of the car was to actually use its engine. But for those who started out saddled with a car that doesn’t run the way they want to, adding some pedal power might be just what they’ve been looking for. (I’d argue that maybe they should ditch the car if they’re gonna bike everywhere anyway, i.e. switch to a story game.)

As DM, I do need to make interpretations and rulings all the time, I’m not just reading out loud from a CYOA book, we do things like “but if I drop a pile of bones on the leftmost floor tile, what happens?” and such. Actually most of our gameplay is like that. Which only makes having prep even more important.