“Let the dice fall where they may.”
“There has to be the chance of unavoidable failure in order for there to be success.”
“Balance is a crutch and bane to good gaming.”
Every single DM who ever said they espouse these statements and sentiments is a liar, even if they don't realize it.
If they were telling the truth that would mean encounters would be designed to function truly irrespective of the players. The ancient red dragon would construct his lair to the best of its ability. There would be no escape passages; instead there would be a trap that the dragon would trigger to block off any possible escape by his meal-to-be. There would be no longsword +3 of dragon slaying hidden in the room right before the dragon’s nest. There would be multiple means of detecting the characters long before they reached him and then he would be prepared instead of asleep. The dragon would be smart enough to have heard all the stories of overconfident dragons slain by heroes and would not make the same mistakes. The dragon would not be 200 years old and an idiot. In brief, the dragon would be a sure and unavoidable kill of the player characters.
The thing is, DMs fudge a combat encounter long before the dice are rolled. The actual rolling of dice becomes an after-effect. This is done with a wide variety of methods…
· Make sure any possible encounters are balanced with the player characters in mind.
· Make sure there is a possibility of escape for the players.
· Make sure the players are given ample opportunity to forgo the encounter.
· Make sure the monster has an exploitable weakness.
· Make sure the characters are given an equalizing item.
· Make sure there is a powerful NPC to bail the characters out.
· Make sure the characters are not killed, but rather “captured”.
· Make sure an undefeatable encounter is placed behind an impassable barrier, until such time as the characters reach the appropriate level.
· Make sure to forgo a lethal monster ability at certain times.
In my 4E sandbox, I openly state to the players, “Let the dice fall where they may”. All my die rolls are made out in the open; I can not take back a critical hit on a dying character. There is no fudging of die rolls. All my encounters are pre-built and pre-placed; if the characters run into an encounter far above their level, I will not alter the encounter. There is no guarantee of a balanced encounter.
However…I have mechanics in place that allow the players characters to assess a potential encounter for lethality before they engage. I allow for escapes/running away. I sometimes “forget” to use a lethal ability. In short, I fudge encounters….just like everyone else…well, not like everyone else, since every DM has their own way of fudging encounters.
And that’s my point. With the wide range of fudging techniques it is disingenuous to come down on someone for implementing balanced encounters or “misreading” a die roll. So instead of lying to yourself, take a look at what you are truly doing…and then realize there are other methods for doing the same thing you already are.