Behind the Screen: Fudging for Fun and Profit…

2007 August 26
by Dante

While I was at the Mastering Your GM-Fu seminar this year, the topic of how to right-size your encounters came up. I had some thoughts on the matter, but the seminar was a little chaotic so I didn’t get a chance to say my piece.

The way I handle this in my campaigns is by Dante’s Patented Fun Barometer (patent pending, this means you!). Essentially, it all boils down to whether or not the fighter of our group is yelling “oh yeah!” as they slay opponents, if I see smiles or not, and if our wizard is still sizzling bad guys.

A perfect example of this happened in the campaign that I am co-DMing with my friend, Eric. We were both coming up dry on ideas for the coming week’s session, so he found a module in his archives that we decided to dust off. This module took our group several sessions (it got old fast, but that’s another topic), but in the end there was a puzzle that would teleport party members that chose wisely into the final confrontation with this possessed wizard. The other teleportation options would result in disintegration or massive skull trauma.

I wasn’t that surprised when the progress of the party ground to a halt when one of our members chose poorly twice and got heavily damaged THEN disintegrated on his second try. What did surprise me was that our fighter, whose player was mild mannered and tended to drift to the background, launched out of his shell and said “screw this, I’m not standing here and thinking about it all day long” and ran toward one of the other teleportation panels.

At this moment, I sent the rest of the group with our other DM to puzzle over the panels some more, or to sweep up the dust of their disintegrated comrade. The fighter had chosen wisely and was about to battle the Big Bad all by himself (unless anyone else decided to run for that same panel).

No one did.

When he made for the wizard in unexpectedly heroic fashion and pulled off back-to-back criticals (he made his die rolls right in front of me, I couldn’t believe it) I had decided that this wizard had met his match. Normally, this encounter should’ve been able to floor a single PC but when I saw our fighter’s player light up and literally roll up his own sleeves to fight this guy I wasn’t about to let him die trying.

I did, however, fight him to the brink of unconsciousness and never let it show one bit that I was doing anything but fighting it out with everything at this guy’s arsenal. I even summoned a giant spider to aid the wizard in his efforts.

Right before the end of the battle, our other DM messaged me via AIM and told me that the rest of the group had elected to wait and see what happened and was considering going back to town to look for a ressurrection for their buddy, so I allowed them down to watch the end of the encounter after they all decided they weren’t going to pursue the teleportation options any longer.

The fight was so good that the rest of the group was cheering our fighter with every strike, and even the players that were disengaged from the actual encounter were excited and involved.

In the end, our fighter staggered his way back into town to find his friends and was met like a true hero for having dispatched the evil wizard all by himself. It was one of those great D&D moments, and it wouldn’t have been possible if I stuck directly to my NPC’s character sheet and made all my die rolls in the open.

In short, reward your players when they get out of their comfort zone even if that means deviating from the plan. I really wish situations like this happened more often, because it was one of those rare moments of group cohesion and excitement that make it fun to be behind the screen.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Yax permalink
    August 26, 2007

    Fudging is great when it triggers classic D&D moments.

    I remember a 3rd level monk who was fighting an evil cleric near a building in flames. He charged at the cleric and tumbled/tackled her. He rolled a 20 so I told him that he managed to tackle her at the waist and they were rolling on the ground.

    Without hesitation, the monk said: “I try to position my legs between us and use our momentum to catapult the cleric in the burning house.”

    Who am I to say no? I had him roll an escape artist check because the maneuver required extreme flexibility and the roll was successful.

    The monk gained leverage and the cleric ended burning in the house, and later in hell.

    I’m so happy when my players come up with stuff like that. The only downside is that I sometimes have to remind them they are not invincible.

  2. Phil permalink
    August 26, 2007

    So true….This is Fudging I can back 100%. You should have written this a few days ago as my D&D night did not go the “fun” way I expected… 🙂 (See my blog entry if curious)

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