2020-05-06 I need strong guidance

Yesterday’s post about fudging dice is still churning around in my head. I just realised that back in 2019 I linked to a post by The Alexandrian called GM Don’t List #9: Fudging. As I said back then, “Justin Alexander doesn’t just provide the justifications people might give to defend their fudging but also refutes these, and links to blog posts with even longer refutations, if you feel like reading up on it. And then he judges you for fudging if your still do it. Its a failure state, he argues. Think about what led you here and learn from it — improve your game instead of continuing to fudge.”

OK, so how do I improve my game? I think that I felt in some way that I had bee unfair to my players, not granting them the bonuses they expected for the things they did and when this was compounded by back luck, and I was rooting for them, and I was nervous, and staring at that result, having just heard what the fighter had rolled, and I just blurted out “Seven!” when it should have been a nine, or thirteen, or whatever.

So why did I feel the players had been treated unfairly? It all has to do with the nature of Just Halberds. In a classic old school D&D game like Halberds & Helmets I can always fall back on pure mechanics. Today, for example, the party was accompanying a necromancer back to the entrance of his tower intending to murder him. One of the players asked: “Is there a good spot where we could attack him?” I said: “You’re crossing two rooms, descending two flights of stairs, and out the main entrance, onto the ledge leading to his tower. There are plenty of excellent spots! But none of them give you a mechanical advantage if that’s what you’re looking for.” We all laughed and the game continued. We all understood that at my table, when combat starts, it’s dead simple. No maneuvers. No mechanical benefits for this and that. Make your calculations, decide whether you want to risk combat, and then when it starts, things are incoherent, tactics are hard, and then you die. Or not. Mostly you don’t die, actually. But the point still stands. There is not a lot of negotiation at the table when in combat.

But Just Halberds is different. My notes:



Burning Bone of the Mountain
☐☐☐☐☐☐ +6
Fire breath
Bite •
Claws •
Size •
Tail •
Wings •
Armour •
Roar •

My intention was basically this: +6 is the dragon’s bonus at its best. So when players use their advantages, obviously the bonus should be less. A simple rule would have been: whenever you put an opponent at a disadvantage, add +1. Thus, as the water mages cast water waves into the dragon’s cave, +1. As they freeze the water around it’s feet, add +1. When they’re all resistant to fire, +1. And when you fail at your roll, the fiction is still established. For example: the dragon roars, +6. The water mages cast their waves into the dragon’s cave, +2. They lose the opposed roll and suffer somehow. But the water is still established.

Maybe they take damage from the roaring as stones start falling. The situation made it impossible for the dragon to reach them, so it didn’t make sense for bite, claws, size, tail, or wings to have an effect, and the water was not held back by armour, tongue, armour, roaring, or flattering...

So, then I started wondering: actually, why isn’t the dragon rolling a lot less? May its size helps against the water, maybe its roar shakes the water mages, so let’s say it rolls +2?

I wasn’t sure, I was in the midst of combat. I decided it rolls +4. And then I argued the dragon was cooling with all the water and ice, so maybe it just rolls +3.

And when the fighter still kept failing, taking a little damage again and again as the rest of the party watched the rolls, I fudged a roll.

I know it’s silly because I’m writing the rules myself. But the rules provide guidance that helps my through the nervous spots, the uncertainty and doubt. If I had known how to handle a dragon at a disadvantage, I would have known that I was treating everybody fairly and I wouldn’t have been tempted to fudge.

Anyway, all of this to establish that my list of monsters might need more than a single line for stats. Or that the system needs more guidance for referees like me. Perhaps a simple: roll 3d6 drop highest might have been a great disadvantage dynamic? I remember seeing that in Barbarians of Lemuria. I need to think about that.



I have read today and yesterday posts about fudging. I do not like fudging either, as a referee I always roll in the open.

The key question is why did you fudge the roll? To spare the life of a character? To avoid a TPK? To make an enemy tougher?

Fudging dice are not the only way referees can adjust the difficulty of the game on the fly. We can change the total hits a monster can take, how many enemies appear, modifications to the rolls... And enemy actions are also a way to manage the difficulty: focusing all attacks on the same character, being reckless/cautious... Do you feel guilty after doing any of these things?

An option is to announce the modifiers before the roll. If needed, agree on them with the players. Fast, a quick discussion of one or two sentences on how the fiction translates to mechanics. Do not negotiate; if players want something, they have to do it (as PbtA games say, “to do something, do it”). Then roll and adjudicate.

You can treat the opponents of Just Halberds the same as characters. A list of skills and powers; each one that applies to the situation at hand adds +1 to the roll.

  • dragons ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡ huge, armour, wings, fire breath, bite, claws, tail

As K’Dare the firebreather steps out the cave, his immense (+1) scaled (+1) body reaches to the sky, with a deep roar that make your bones tremble. From there, he unleashes hell on all of you, spitting fire (+1) as he flies (+1) above your heads. What do you do?

For the disadvantage, I am unsure about rolling 3d6 and drop highest. Then you will need an advantge roll (3d6 drop lowest). How will that skew the 2d6 roll statistics? Why not use modifiers?

– Ludos Curator 2020-05-07 12:31 UTC

Yeah, you’re right. And when you write it up like that, it’s clear that K’Dare the firebreather 😀 is quite easy to hurt using water magic. Maybe his immensity and his flying will help, but if you catch him in a cave, then it’s only his size (+1). And thus the might dragon is reduced from +6 in a fair fight to +1 vs. water magic.

I like it.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-07 13:11 UTC

Regarding advantage/disadvantage, I’ve thought of this rationale:

Occupations, skills and special abilities/powers are internal factors, inherent to the character or monster. Each one that applies adds +1 to the roll.

External factors are independent of the people acting. They represent extraneous aspects that can alter the task difficulty. If they make it easier, roll with advantage (3d6, drop lowest); if harder, with disadvantage (3d6, drop higher).

As a referee I constantly struggle to choose the proper modifier for a task. Is the rain distracting the archers enough to confer a -1, -2 or -4 to their attack? Who knows... 😕 Using advantage/disadvantage I choose with confidence. And players feel it more tangible.

So, players describe their characters actions. They know what occupations, skills and special abilities apply to the roll. The referee judges the situation and decides if any participant has advantage or disadvantage. Everyone rolls the dice, and the referee narrates the outcome.

– Ludos Curator 2020-05-10 09:27 UTC

I definitely think that advantage/disadvantage has the advantage 😁 of being super light on the referee. You can stop thinking about it immediately. There’s no need to concern yourself with determining how big of an advantage exactly. None of that. Just advantage/disadvantage. I like that.

Still now sure whether I want to add it to Just Halberds, tough. 😅

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-12 11:23 UTC

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