Posts Tagged ‘Mutants and Masterminds’

Hitting the 30th anniversary of my first experience running an RPG feels like a bigger deal than I would’ve expected, possibly because this kind of game is currently a larger presence in my life than has been the case for many, many years. I have lost track of how many hours I must have spent GMing in all that time, but the total must be well into three figures. Obviously not many moments of that stand out, but one which does came near the end of my one big Vampire chronicle, back in 1996.


We were about six months in and the climax of the story was looming, but just prior to this we were resolving a little side-quest as one of the characters had inadvertently tainted herself by consuming the soul of her evil sire (ah, Vampire…) and felt the need to expiate this. During this, one of the group got into a fight with a Spiral Dancer, the dice were unfavourable, and the numbers indicated a PC with a key role to play in the conclusion was, in fact, a pile of ash on the floor.

‘Oh, looks like I’m gone,’ said the player, with a resigned smile on his face. Almost at once I stepped in and explained how his frenzy, or the significance of the moment, or something, allowed him to keep going, with enough strength to either escape the combat or hide or finish off the evil werewolf. I forget exactly what.

It was, of course, a classic dice fudge, one of those occasions where the GM steps in and over-rules the numbers for the sake of the story. (Note I say story rather than game.) It’s something I’ve found myself doing more and more as my style of gaming has become increasingly focused on stories rather than strict adherence to rules mechanics. You wouldn’t enjoy a movie where the protagonist slipped down a flight of steps and broke his neck on his way to the final battle with the villain, and you wouldn’t enjoy playing in a game where a character failed a Dex check and suffered the same fate twenty minutes before the end (this actually happened in a Call of Cthulhu game I was a player in).

I’ve never thought much about this, beyond contemplating different ways of trying to keep dice fudges from being too obvious, but then I was browsing a ‘how to be a better GM‘ discussion the other day and found someone arguing that dice fudging is not fair. The GM may justify doing it on the grounds that he’s serving the story and creating dramatic moments, but couldn’t a player justify disregarding a dice roll for exactly the same reasons? Why bother rolling dice at all, if you’re just going to stick with the story you have in mind? Isn’t this just another example of railroading the story?

Hmmm. Well, this gave me food for thought, and I would still defend the GM’s right to fudge the dice. Firstly, many modern games have a mechanism which gives players the ability to disregard bad dice at critical points, either by a reroll or something else. Every game I currently run has one – Mutants and Masterminds has Hero Points, the Cypher games allow XP to be used to buy rerolls, and the FFG Star Wars game has Destiny Points. Implicit in all these games is the idea that the GM can fudge, in the name of a good story, it’s just that doing so gives the players an increased ability to overrule the dice in response (the implication seems to be that the GM will always be trying to make the story more interesting, i.e. difficult, which doesn’t really include things like saving players’ lives from bad dice rolling and the like).

Also, the player-GM relationship is not really an equivalent or symmetrical one, in the sense that the GM has a lot more power over everything that’s happening. This is a truth of this type of game, where one person is basically the god of the story. The only exception is a game like Fiasco, which doesn’t have a GM or storyteller at all, and which is a rather different gaming experience. Denying the GM the right to fudge is, firstly, an almost impossible restriction to enforce, and, secondly, something which feels like a throwback to the days of wargame-style rules-implementation GMing.

So, on reflection, I think I’ll continue to fudge at key moments. The issue has become a little more complex of late, however, as I have found my own gaming style doesn’t really give me the opportunity to fudge the dice as easily as I once could. This is because I only roll a tiny handful of dice each session in most of the games I run.
This is a core element of the Cypher games: one of the mantras of the system is ‘the players roll all the dice’. I was initially a bit unsure about this, but I quickly became a bit of a convert, mainly because the vast majority of my Cypher experiences have been on roll20 where the last thing I need is to worry about how to use the dice rolling utility. It also makes sense, as it gives the players a bit more to do (one person shouldn’t be throwing almost 50% of the dice, as is sometimes the case in games where the GM rolls).

I’ve got so into the non-rolling GM mindset┬áthat when I was recruited to run a Mutants and Masterminds game I gave the system a minor hack so that I didn’t need to roll any dice there, either. (One of my players pointed out, six months into the series, that opting to have heroes roll damage against a villain’s Toughness-based DC meant they could use Hero Points to make villains fail their Toughness checks, which isn’t possible in the original rules, so I may need to house-rule that a bit further.) And this also seems to work pretty well and be popular with my players.

And it doesn’t mean I can’t fudge stuff, either: I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve decided to have a bad guy cave in when the players’ attack rolls haven’t quite justified it, simply because the battle was a foregone conclusion and it would have been dull to go through three or four rounds of the players just mugging someone. As long as the players can’t see your notes, you can always do that sort of thing.

However: now I’m hoping to run FFG’s Star Wars rules, a system perhaps most distinctive for its unique dice (and dice system). The nature of the game is such that I’m not sure it can easily be hacked in the same way – the way the dice are weighted means you can’t reverse the maths and easily turn an GM-rolled attack into a player-rolled dodge. At least, I’m not confident you can. But this will be a face-to-face game so at least rolling the dice will be easy enough.
But will it be easy to fudge? The whole point of the game is that everyone involved comes up with a way to interpret every dice roll together. (One wonders quite why FFG sells GM screens for these games, given all the dice rolls are supposed to be done in the open – then again, FFG don’t usually seem to have an issue with selling things which might seem at first glance superfluous.) The flow of information is still in my hands, and I still have my godlike GM faculties when it comes to NPCs and the game world, so I suspect I still have options. Anyway, we shall see how it goes.

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