#2 Fudging for Verisimilitude When the Alternative is Inconsistency

Campaign worlds can range from the gonzo (in which internal consistency matters less than the wow factor of, e.g., space aliens riding psychic dinosaurs) to the naturalistic (in which internal consistency trumps the wow factor). But even at their most gonzo, most campaign worlds aim for some sense of verisimilitude, that is, some quality of realism, and the need for realism is reflected in much of the "mechanics" of game play.

The wandering monster tables for the Classic Dungeons & Dragons rules, for instance, make it more likely to encounter crocodiles near rivers and mountain lions near mountains; and more likely to encounter animals than ancient red dragons. Thus even a naturalistic GM can use these wandering monster tables and have assurance that the will produce realistic results. But sometimes even the best mechanics produce results that make no sense.

For instance, imagine that at the start of a wilderness adventure, only a few miles from the adventure's starting village, the very first random encounter is the lair of an ancient red dragon (a 1 in a 1000 event that comes to pass.) This poses a tremendous challenge to the GM: Why is there an ancient red dragon just a few miles from the starting village, and why did no one know about it? Now, the GM might decide to run with this result. He might decide the dragon had only recently moved in, and its presence was not yet known; or that its presence had always been known, but that talking about it was a taboo, so the villagers hadn't warned the PCs; or that the villagers were actually evil cultists in cahoots with the dragon, and the adventurers were just another sacrifice sent to die. All of these are examples of excellence in improvisational play.

But it's also possible that the GM had previously established to the players that this was a safe village, with a sage who had briefed the party on local lore; and that the party's clerics had already used magic to ascertain the villager's good intentions. In this case, the dice have created a situation that makes no sense within the context of what's gone before. Here, the GM should fudge the dice to create a realistic situation.

Now, it might be suggested that this deprives the players of meaningful choice - for instance, of the chance to interact with the red dragon. But as I have noted at length in my other columns, fairness demands precedent. The players in your game cannot make meaningful choices if the world can shift around them with no apparent consistency. Consistency must trump randomness.


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