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Hot Button: Cheating

One of the issues any GM must deal with at some time or another is cheating. While fudging is a time-honored practice amongst some GMs, the same rarely holds true for the other side of the screen. There are many ways in which a player can outright cheat, even beyond pretending that the 5 they rolled on a d20 was really a 15.

Cheating can certainly have a negative impact on a campaign. I’ve seen what would’ve been challenging encounters easily overcome through cheating, other players getting frustrated by a cheating player (at times to the point of leaving), and additional stress on GMs trying to minimize cheating. To take one example, I had a player that loved to “glance” at my notes. If my headings were too descriptive she’d gain an advantage. For a time, I had to put my notes in code and ensure that they were sufficiently hidden. It was definitely a PITA.

Some of the cheating I’ve encountered over the years include peeking at the GM’s notes, “forgetting” to add or subtract dice roll modifiers, reading a copy of the adventure being run, adding abilities to a PC beyond what they should have (hey, where did that extra skill/feat/advantage/power come from?), and using metagame knowledge that their PC doesn’t know.

Some forms of cheating are more acceptable than others. I’m more likely to forgive the occasional modifier “miscalculation” than someone peeking at my adventure when I leave the table. I’m also lucky that my regular group is made up of mature players (read “old enough to remember seeing Star Wars in the theater the first time around”) and that they rarely cheat. Still, it wasn’t that long ago that I felt the need to cut down on cheating.

Over the years I’ve seen many ways to deal with cheating. They run the gamut from “not giving a crap” to “screw you cheaters, I’m going home!” Here are a few “in between” solutions I’ve seen or implemented:

1. Dice roll verification: One player rolls the dice while another reads the result.

2. Say your modifiers before the roll or they don’t count.

3. Make everyone use giant dice (I bought one from Chessex at the last Gen Con as a joke; one of my players and GM for another group immediately wanted to purchase a bunch for his game).

4. Copies of PCs are given to the GM. If it’s not on the GM’s copy, it doesn’t exist.

5. Checking the math on a newly created PC.

6. Taking your materials with you when using the bathroom or going to the kitchen (or turning on the laptop password).

These are just a few examples; I’m sure this list would be three times the size if I thought about it a bit more. Note that these methods take a passive approach; rather than calling out the cheater specifically, a rule is imposed on everyone at the table.

Today’s Hot Button is this: How do you handle cheating in your games? Are certain kinds of cheating more tolerable than others? Do you tend to take the “passive” approach or do you deal with cheaters directly? Have you ever walked away from a game due to cheating?

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Hot Button: Cheating"

#1 Comment By lebkin On June 15, 2010 @ 7:27 am

My players are not ones to blatantly cheat on their characters. Min-maxing is part of their fun; cheating breaks that game and makes any work pointless. They actually police themselves pretty well in that regard.

When it comes to intentional miscalculations, I always try to figure out WHY they would cheat. It usually comes down to one of two reasons.

One is to counteract a string of bad luck. Sometimes a player just wants to hit someone, especially with a higher level power. A small tweak (adding 2 instead of 1) can turn that miss into a satisfying crunch.

The other is secure a needed victory. This can be downing a vicious enemy or rolling that critical heal to save a dying ally. These do or die moments are often areas where the players feel they HAVE to succeed.

Both case are situations where cheating is happening to increase the level of fun. It is not to hurt the other players or the DM. In fact, both are places were I might do something similar by fudging behind my screen. So for these, I simply look the other way. In my game, fun takes precedent over the rules every day.

#2 Comment By Carthain On June 15, 2010 @ 7:37 am

I remember with a previous group requiring everyone to leave their character with me (the DM) in between sessions. I don’t remember exactly if we knew someone was altering their character, or just suspected.

It worked well enough – and it was all done under the pretense of “That way if you’re not available, someone else can run your character – which we can’t do without your character sheet.”

The next closest was one player would always write down the group loot, and then distribute out pieces of it — of course, taking the choice pieces for themselves. Not so much cheating the system, but I’m sure the other players felt cheated a bit when we found out (we found out when he wasn’t around one day and someone else was playing his character and saw how much he had compared to everyone else.)

#3 Comment By The_Gun_Nut On June 15, 2010 @ 8:41 am

We had a fellow once that would roll his dice with his hand cupped around them, kinda like a mini-DM screen to hide his roll. I was new to the group, and was sitting in such a position to see the results, so I wondered why he did that. When he had a string of lucky crits I started paying attention to his rolls (wasn’t the DM, just a curious player) and noticed that the 20’s he was rolling had nothing to do with the d20 he just rolled.

It turns out that he had a long history of this, as his Dark Sun thri-kreen just so happened to take out a nest of monsters holding the rest of the players hostage with a 100% hit rate. He needed a 16 or better on each die roll, so the 50 or so hits he got were extremely suspicious.

After I pointed that out, the DM stated that all dice rolls would be in the open. The player didn’t like it, especially since his odds suddenly normalized.

Some players just want to succeed, regardless of whether or not it makes it fun for anyone else involved. I think the best thing to do is to keep communication lines with every player open and individual. If they are blatantly and outrageously cheating at the expense of others, it needs to be privately addressed, at first. If it is necessary, have a player that you can trust to be discreet keep an eye on him/her. If the player does not cooperate, then address it more forcefully, bringing in the others only to show that his actions are affecting their fun as well, and that “cleaner” play will benefit the whole group.

Most people are reasonable in this regard. If they want to succeed/win at what they are doing, then the talk you have with them needs to be about what you both can do to work out something that benefits everyone.

#4 Comment By evil On June 15, 2010 @ 9:43 am

I have two ways that i normally deal with cheating players. First, for the simple adding to the dice cheater, I keep a tally of every questionable roll that player makes and I adjust one of my rolls toward that player accordingly. Suddenly that character who is swinging for the fences is also being beaten down pretty badly. Often this will convey my point quite well. For the player who just cannot keep his eyes to himself, I like to take a break in the middle of the game and update my notes. Unfortunately for that player, those updates often include erroneous information (a little counter-intelligence, if you will).

If these two tactics don’t stop the player, then after the game I just use the simple phrase, “You’re not welcome in our game anymore. You know why.” I have yet to have a player come back at me after that.

#5 Comment By Roxysteve On June 15, 2010 @ 11:21 am

Interesting article. I’ve heard of this sort of thing going on but my own experience is limited to “creative” point builds and out-of-the-spirit-of-the-scenario minmaxing. When you figure out how to stop this sort of thing, tell me. It’s one reason I’m fond of BRP as a system – cheating is so less rewarding.

A few words to the wise concerning oversize dice from someone who has used them quite a lot.

First, they may not be “fair”. I had three differently colored sets of these (the D6 is about 1.5 inches across) and some of the dice were notorious for favoring certain numbers. People notice this sort of thing.

Second, if you play on a special surface such as a Heroscape terrain board, certain types of whiteboard, mom’s best dining room table or (in one case from my experience) a nice large sheet of glass used to map battlegrounds on, DO NOT CASUALLY TOSS THE DICE FROM A “NORMAL” HEIGHT. The dice are heavy and have points on them. They *will* ding-up soft surfaces nicely, crack or shatter sheets of glass and expensive Heroscape tiles, and the dice themselves may shatter since they aren’t really intended for rough play.

If you draw the natural conclusion that you need a dice tray, be aware that rolling these dice into a nice Chessex-style octagonal dice tray held in the non-rolling hand will eventually result in the bottom of the dice tray coming loose from the rim.

And the *very* large D20s that can be had? *NEVER* throw these as they are novelty items best used for recording hit points lost.

I now return you to your normal programming.

#6 Comment By Scott Martin On June 15, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

Cheating is rough. I’ve never seen someone force a Matlock style confession, but asking everyone to roll in the open does suggest that the GM thinks cheating is an issue. (If it isn’t, the GM should be quickly assuaged…)

Dice roll verification requests were usually phrased more passively, as “let the dice sit on the table”– a couple of players were fond of a quick roll and snatching the die up before anyone else could see.

#7 Comment By AJSB On June 16, 2010 @ 5:01 am

Interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered systematic cheating, nor perhaps even concious cheating, but I’ve certainly seen modifiers be “forgotten” You know, the old, “I’m using my +2 sword, have the high ground for +1 and am charging gaining +1 so that’s +4”, “Yes, but you’re also blind, remember?” I don’t know how far that sort of thing has to go before it’s cheating. It’s easy to forget a status effect that inflicted a minor detriment seven rounds ago. (Especially when rounds take so long in real life.)

As a player, I’m not a rules lawyer but I do have a pretty good head for remembering modifiers, both good and bad, and a compulsion to play “fair”. (What’s the point of playing a game if you’re not all playing to win on a level playing field?*) That leads me to the odd position of sometimes remembering negative modifiers that neither player nor GM has remembered. What do I do then? Remind the GM about them, costing my party member, or keep quiet, costing a bit of my own fun? (I usually mention them, but it’s uncomfortable either way.)

* I’m fully aware this is not everyone’s approach! Some like to win regardless, some are just there for the game and some would argue that there are no winners and losers in RPGs. It’s just how my brain works. (It’s the same for any game I play.)

#8 Comment By lomythica On June 16, 2010 @ 9:26 am

The most I’ve seen has been some shady ongoing successes every now and then. Generally, I let it lie, but on the other hand, if it’s something I’m worried about, I don’t like using the passive agressive technique of telling everyone to roll in a special way, when there’s only one person at fault. I try to at least make a sarcastic pointed comment toward the player in question about their rolls (maybe a bit passive aggressive), usually in private.. Just so the player knows I’m watching.

I don’t have a problem with having dice rolls be public, but I just don’t want to have to create a ton of rules and sub rules to handle every possible issue. Part of the fun is being able to trust the people you play with.

The model I use is: Address in a light manner to player, re-address it seriously to the player, take it before the group, dismissal.


#9 Comment By taxboy4 On June 17, 2010 @ 2:50 am

Sorry guys, but to be honest I’m finding most of the comments above about how to deal with cheaters quite passive aggressive.

I have no tolerance for cheaters at all. Like my team at work if I can’t trust them, I tell them my concerns – give one chance and if they do it again, they are out.

We are playing games to have fun, as friends, if I can’t trust them, that is an insult to me and the rest of the group. Dishonesty and cheating is one of my real hot buttons.

GMs should show leadership where and when needed.

End of soap box rant. 🙂

#10 Comment By BryanB On June 17, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

I’ve experienced the blatant cheater before and it doesn’t help keep table harmony, especially when the cheater feigns complete innocence after the fact. In many cases, the cheater was insulting our intelligence. The game session where he had no less than five 20-20-18 rolls was particularly bad.

I’m inclined to speak to the player outside of game to find out why they feel the need to cheat. I’ll try to get them to stop. I’d take it to a group vote for banning if the cheater did not stop. I wouldn’t do what our GM did in this case. He stopped counting the damage that the cheating player’s PC did to monsters. But that punished the group!

Thankfully, the groups I am playing with now don’t seem to be suffering from this sort of thing. And based on some of our die rolls lately we’ve been sorely tempted to cheat, even though we haven’t.

I’ve had to caution a new player about snatching up his dice before reading the result. I don’t think he’s cheating, but it is always better to avoid the appearance of cheating and thus remove all doubt.

#11 Comment By scruffylad On June 20, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

I guess I’m pretty lucky I haven’t encountered much. Nothing that could be blatantly termed “cheating” – more like forgetting a modifier, forgetting to track ammo, or forgetting to properly take down HP. Could it be cheating? Yes. But as often as not, it was forgetfulness.

Then again, my groups have always rolled player dice in the open, and usually had pretty drastic penalties for peeking at the GM notes, for example. (“Death would be over too quick. I catch you looking at my notes, your character goes insane. And I’ll use it to torment you over and over. And I’m not going to *let* your character die just yet.”)

#12 Comment By recursive.faults On June 22, 2010 @ 9:55 am

I haven’t had a problem with players fudging rolls really or looking at notes or the adventure really. I’ve had one player though that caused all kinds of problems.

When I first started playing, he was the DM and did a great job of it. The downside was, he’d tell his girlfriend who was also a player all about it. She’d then do exactly the right thing in every situation, and get angry at us when we didn’t.

Fast forward to me being the DM and the problem player (The previous DM) shows his colors. First he’s a power gamer. That isn’t terribly bad, because there are so many consequences I can throw at him. What did prove to be a problem was that he felt it was, “In the rules” to make up rules. That is to say he didn’t like the way a feat, spell, ability or something worked, he would make a new one himself.

I don’t even consider that so bad if he had consulted me first. Usually though, he felt his changes were fair. Some times they were, some times they absolutely weren’t.

I wound up having a talk with him about it. He never believed that what he was doing was cheating or even wrong because he did try to balance it, but he did agree to work with me in the future.

Unfortunately, it had gone on so long that the group died off and I feel hugely responsible for it.

#13 Comment By taxboy4 On June 25, 2010 @ 8:51 am

errr, how do i print a topic page off….just the text?

#14 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On June 25, 2010 @ 10:39 am

[1] – Highlight the text you want to print, find the print command on your browser (File > Print, or perhaps just right-click the highlighted text > Print), and choose “Selection”.

#15 Comment By Argonnosi On July 8, 2010 @ 2:39 am

If he or she really wants to “win” that badly, I don’t think he/she understands the playstyle of the group I’m in and needs to find a group to cater to his/her needs.