As soon as you pick up that die, no matter how good your stats are, there is a chance, however small, that you will fail.
The point of rolling the dice is to leave the outcome random. Sometimes the odds are in your favor, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always succeed. Sometimes you’ll even fail at that crucial moment—when the fate of the world is riding on this one roll, and you’ll blow it.
Failure is just an inevitable part of a fair mostly-unbiased arbitration system. Role-playing is a game, and games aren’t fun if there isn’t any risk involved. Without the chance to fail, role-playing would just be shouting back and forth about who has the larger sword. However, I think failure goes beyond just being a necessary part of the game. Failure is one of the most important parts of any role-playing experience, because role-playing is also storytelling.
Role-playing isn’t a perfect story. The events of a game aren’t tightly wrapped up in a perfect narrative format. You will lose when you don’t want to, you will fail when others are depending on you, and that’s the way the game is played. Because the best moments come from the unexpected turn of events. The best role-playing comes from dealing with the results of those events.
There are a lot of people who treat tabletop role-playing as a game that needs to be won. If their character hasn’t killed the most monsters or solved the most puzzles, they didn’t have fun.
I’m not saying these people are playing the game incorrectly; there are definitely like-minded people out there willing to play the game this way with you, but I do think that there is a greater point that is missed with this line of thinking…
…That point being that every failure is part of the story. It may not be what the players want, or how the GM has planned, but it adds to the greater narrative that is being told through play. I believe that to be the one of the best parts of role-playing. The game is dynamic, ever changing. It forces both GMs and players to react to the situation and makes them deal with the consequences. In a tabletop game there are so many forces acting on the story that it takes on a life of its own.
The GM’s job is to keep it within certain bounds, but never dictate where it goes. Ultimately the GM (although having vast amounts of power and influence) plays the game along with the actual “Players.” That’s because the GM can and usually does fail just as much as the players do.
GMs being held to their dice rolls is, of course, to keep things fair and balanced. But it also means that GM’s aren’t above having the story change on them due to failures. It makes the story more unique because the villains can screw up just as badly as the players. No one has immunity for the sake of keeping the story going smoothly, because the story is meant to change and adapt to the players and dice. It’s collaborative storytelling, but it’s more than that. Not everyone is agreeing on the story, but everyone is agreeing to follow the outcome of the random events that will help shape the story.
Now that I’ve explained a little about why everyone should embrace failed rolls, and how they are an important part of the structure of the game, let’s talk about something a bit counterintuitive to that: Fudging rolls. Fudging a roll is to purposefully lie about the outcome of a dice roll. Usually this is done to not fail a roll, although it can be done the other way as well.
Now even though I said something different earlier, I am always ok with the GM fudging the numbers. Yes, I know what I said about the story belonging to everyone and the GM should commit to the same swings of the story as everyone else, but the GM is the one who has put the most work into planning and running a game, so when something wildly ruins hours of hard work, it’s hard to justify that with “Oh it makes the story more interesting,” because sometimes it doesn’t. I like when a monkey wrench is thrown into a well thought-out plan, but as a GM, a lot of times it just makes it annoying.
A good GM knows WHEN to fudge the numbers. You can’t make up numbers for every roll. Especially in combat. You need to keep in might that when you fudge a number it still needs to be fair to the players, and should really only be done to keep a story going smoothly or to add a bit of extra dramatic tension to the game—never, never to help you “win.”
Now here’s something that a lot of other tabletop games might not agree with me on: Sometimes, it’s ok for players to fudge numbers too. If the dice have been treating you like dirt, and you just want one good hit in, give it to yourself, buddy. You’ve earned it. I absolutely don’t think players should do it to the near amount that a GM can, but if there’s a time where you really don’t want to disrupt the flow of the current story, and succeeding is inconsequential anyways… Maybe you shouldn’t fudge your roll, but it really doesn’t matter in the long run.
I talk about how failing a die roll is the most important form of storytelling because it adds unforeseeable consequences forcing the players to react in interesting ways. Well, that’s true; but what’s more important is having fun and telling a fun story with your friends. Keep in mind everything I’ve said before, but if you’re having a bad day with the dice, then don’t worry about them so much.