Law Vs. Lore — My Thoughts On Rules and Fudging Rolls
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1064
I hear many GMs fudge rolls and regard every rule as changeable on their whim.
Here’s my philosophy, which has changed over the years, and is now at a place I think makes for better gaming with my friends.
Law vs. Lore
First, a couple of RPT definitions.
Law is the rules. It’s the crunch or numbers of a game, plus all the rules governing actions and results.
My philosophy on Law has changed in two ways in the past decade.
Gameplay Expands Law
First is, everything you create for your campaigns expands the Law.
Each NPC, piece of treasure, location on a map, and so on are new rules that bring new constraints to your game.
Even naming something expands the Law.
Because, in a broad sense, the game we’re playing is the sum of its parts. As we create new parts, we expand the boundaries of play.
But those boundaries also come with definitions. They create campaign canon and affect how the whole group considers its options and actions.
The Impact of Fudging
The second way my view has changed is I don’t fudge the Law or be arbitrary with it.
The Law needs fairness, consistency, clarity, and communication.
Changing the rules on a whim cuts the legs out from under your players. At the extreme end, players become mere pawns in a game just the GM plays. Without a reliable framework with which to anticipate outcomes, choosing any option becomes fruitless.
I also often think, if I’m going to fudge the die roll, why bother rolling?
Maintaining the illusion of following the Law behind my screen while fudging rolls saps my energy. I have to become an actor who pretends to roll, analyze the results, and referee an objective outcome. I’d rather that energy go to other GM hats we wear.
Sometimes we fudge out of a sense of fairness. In the short term it feels better to not apply grievous damage to a character. I used to make those fudges a lot.
But then I realized this was not helping me become a better GM in the long run. It’s far better to learn all the ways you can handle such situations within the Law, expanding your GM toolkit. That way, you aren’t forced into a corner of your own making all the time.
I hear a lot from folks that story upstages rules. A GM will fudge, break rules, or otherwise disregard the expected norms of a campaign in favour of a better result.
Again, the following are my views that work to my style of GMing. You do you.
I prefer to put story into the hands of my players. If they know a decision will result in a die roll with potential negative consequences, that’s part of the fun for them.
My job, in part, is to open up multiple choices, present details to help make decisions, and provide consistency so outcomes matter.
Abiding by the Laws of your campaign gives player more options. When a GM ignores rules that players count on for tactics or outcomes, you create learned helplessness.
GM whim should come from the Milieu. If your villain goes down in round one, you’ve got an entire world to play in response. The vacuum created, the leaderless minions, the forces of good falling out once their reason for unity has passed.
For some GMs, Law feels too restrictive. But the best ideas come from constraints. And with so many RPGs to choose from, there’s going to be several with the level of Law ideal for your preferences.
Sometimes called Fluff, Lore is the body of fictional details in our campaign.
History, flavour and colour, gameplay moments, and juicy details that form the stories we tell afterwards.
Lore becomes the ultimate artifact of our campaigns. The events and moments of our sessions last in our group’s collective memory long after the Law has been forgotten.
At times, it gets hard to tell what’s Law and what’s Lore when using my definitions.
Is an NPC’s name Law or Lore?
I expanded Law to beyond the rulebooks because I see now every campaign as a unique creation.
We are literally making the game up as we go. This kingdom here, those factions there. These NPCs doing this stuff, those adventure sites waiting with that stuff.
We want characters to change the world. That means the simulation part of our game — Law — always changes. So does Lore as we add new detail.
If pressed for boundaries, I’d say Law is what consistently and predictably affects outcomes. Lore is what creates the context for making decisions.
Players Want Fairness
Games need uncertainty to be fun. They also need fairness so players have the agency with which to play.
I roll out in the open so players can see the consequences of their decisions. That’s fair.
I don’t fudge die rolls. If I’m not prepared to live by the roll then I decide and skip the roll.
Over time this helps players gain a common understanding of the “physics” of the world.
It relieves me of the stress from stick-handling everything.
Let the die roll.
Having suffered from capricious game masters in the past, I always appreciate when a GM follows the Law they say we’re playing with and that they also hold me accountable to.
Luck Makes Great Gaming Moments
Law can change. If you don’t like a rule, change it. Discuss with your group and move forward.
I worry when new game masters hear about fudging. “The GM is always right,” and story over rules, without context, is tricky. It’s a recipe for the GM becoming adversarial dictators at the table.
With experience we see the grey areas and build our gaming philosophies. We understand the consequences of our decisions and can facilitate accordingly.
I’m sharing my notions with you today so you understand where I’m coming from in my Musings and GM advice.
I believe if your heart’s into always finding ways to be a better GM, self-improvement, and wanting players to have more fun at every game, then you’ll land in a good place on the Law and Lore spectrum that suits your GMing style.
If you have any thoughts of Law, Lore, fudging rolls, and good gameplay, hit your reply button, I’d love to hear from you.