Dice Fudging and Twist Endings

By Ian on 26 February 2023.

It’s a Dungeon Master’s role to create and populate the many different strongholds, lairs, and other villainous locales that player characters delve within. This means when combat starts it’s also the DM who rolls for the dastardly villains that work against the players. This puts the DM in a rather powerful position as their role is hidden behind the screen. 

They are also the one who determines the difficulty of any saving throws a player character must make. Given these factors, the DM has the power to control the flow of combat while never truly revealing their dice rolls to the players. This opens the door for the DM to fudge their rolls, lying about the true outcome in order to push the combat or story in a specific direction.

It’s important to know when best to fudge a number and when not to. The ability to extend an encounter by falsifying rolls is tempting, but there are more satisfying ways to accomplish this. Adding a twist to the end of an encounter is far more engaging for players than simply prolonging it by using fudged rolls. Both of these methods can be tricky to use so let’s look at the do’s and don'ts of each.         

The Power of Fudge      

The party had reached the final chamber. The ovular room was littered with broken silver shells, yet they could see two eggs remained unhatched. The tabaxi barbarian rushed forward to investigate, yet as she neared the first egg a strike from a massive stone mace sent her spiraling to the ground unconscious. From behind one of the room’s pillars, a massive deformed draconic creature emerged and a towering silver door slid into place preventing escape. Now the three remaining wounded party members were in for the fight of their lives… 

So you would think, but two crits and a flick later the beast’s HP hit zero. A quick finish to what was supposed to be a dangerous combat, yet it was within the DM’s power to fudge numbers and keep his creation alive a few more rounds. Should he do it?

There are always moments where a DM considers manipulating a number to help the story along. Uncovering a hidden door, clue, or treasure could vastly impact a party's progress. This means a run of bad dice rolls could leave players feeling confused and annoyed. In this scenario, it’s best to lower the DC in order to keep the story rolling and players engaged. A little fudging to keep players happy is perfectly fine, but using the power of fudge against your players can have disastrous results. A monster hitting or surviving when it otherwise wouldn’t easily lead to a character's death or even worse a TPK. A single fudged roll has the power to ruin a campaign. 

Due to the powerful nature of fudged rolls, it’s best only to use them to assist your players when they are suffering a string of failed skill checks. This way the party is still able to learn valuable plot information even if their Perception or Investigation checks are not particularly high. Fudging rolls in combat is a bad idea, as it runs the risk of making an encounter either far too easy or difficult (depending on how you manipulate your rolls). In the end, it’s best to avoid faking your rolls at all, unless you use it as a tool to improve your players’ enjoyment.     

Twist Endings

Let's take a look at the opposite scenario. The party has dodged your traps, uncovered your secrets, and obliterated the boss! Most times this level of success means that your players are having a great time. Sure they may be rolling high this session, but that’s not a problem so long as all the players are involved. If you desire to make the dungeon more exciting at this point instead of fudging a roll it could be better to add a twist ending. 

  • As the pirate beholder draws his last breath his hidden underground cove begins to collapse. One final trap to ensure his treasure will be buried with him.
  • The party opens the gilded chest expecting gold only to find the petrified body of a halfling. Perhaps curing him will reveal the true treasures' whereabouts.
  • As the final foe falls an illusion spell is lifted revealing that the party was slaying paladins, not cultists. Their employer will have to answer for this.  

A twist ending adds far more to an encounter than artificially prolonging combat. It will often create an aura of urgency while also presenting the party with a clear choice or challenge. When used effectively a twist can turn a casual session into a memorable one.    

The best twist endings are hinted at throughout an adventure. This allows your players to speculate with one another often leading to outlandish predictions that could be more interesting than the planned twist! Don’t be afraid to incorporate these ideas into your plot as it will only improve your story, as well as your players’ enjoyment of it. The excitement built from moments like this help to propel parties from adventure to adventure in search of further clues until the final twist is revealed. 

However, it’s best not to drop twists every session. Otherwise, the party will begin to catch on.      

In Conclusion 

Here's a recap of what we learned today:

  • Fudging rolls can be dangerous. Giving a monster a single extra hit or turn can lead to a character's death or worse. 
  • DM’s should only manipulate rolls when it’s necessary to move the story forward, or when the players are suffering a string of bad rolls.
  • A satisfying twist ending is far more exciting than artificially extending combat. A twist is far more engaging for players and is a perfect way to build hype for the next session.

This was Ian's first article on RJD20. Please leave a comment below about what you liked and what you didn't; all feedback is welcomed!

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  1. One place I do fudge at times is when my PC's are clearly winning a fight, but it's just dragging out. Their foe is quite low on HP and someone has a great hit that is a point or two shy of killing it - I just ask them to describe how they killed it, rather than dragging on the fight until it gets boring.

    1. That works both ways! Sometimes, I love when the foe survives at 1 HP in a desperate battle. There's always the chance it retaliates and surprises the party :)