OK, I’ve spent some time talking about fudging. Now let’s look at the other side of the coin: improv. Back in college I had a friend who spent a lot of time building background for his games. As players, we delighted in taking the game in bizarre directions he never fore-saw, forcing him to toss all those notes and create something brand new from scratch. Sure, we may have taken this too far once by all creating Zulu warriors for his frozen tundra setting. At the time we thought it a form of good-natured ribbing of our friend. I think though we were actually on to something, as the game was invariably more fun when he was forced to make it up as we went rather than actually present his prepared material.
Improv and fudging are both methods a GM uses for the same purpose. They both speak to the flow of the game. The GM uses them to try and help mold the game into a pleasing story arc. That’s pretty much where the similarities end though. Fudging implies a preconceived story, and the GM’s efforts to guide the game in such a way to follow that story. I’m speaking here not just of detailed dice fudging, but general fudging of any game mechanic outcome, as is apparent in the previous post’s quote from The Shattered Isle:
Yes, a gamemaster is supposed to be neutral, but you know how you want the adventure to go, so make it work out.
The inverse is improv, used when the adventure is in a place the GM never imagined. He must make things up as he goes, create new content on the fly that may or may not hook in to what he already had prepared. Another interesting difference here is that in general fudging happens when the plot is mostly GM driven, while improv happens when the plot is player driven.
It should be apparent now that I’m clearly favoring improv over fudging. There’s probably one key difference between the two that explains why the latter does seem to occur more frequently: fudging is easy, improv is difficult.
Spoiler Alert – What follows includes details about my adventure Come What May, which I ran once when Delta came up to visit a while back and am scheduled to run at the upcoming GenCon. I may run it again for another group of locals either before or after GenCon. If you are one of the people scheduled to play it at GenCon, or are someone who plays in my local one-shots who did not play the first time I ran this, you may want to stop reading now.