31 Aug How To Know If One Of Your Players Have Started Cheating

Weston “The Wez” Prestage (also known as Agent Festaskull and Obsidian Blackbird McKnight, amongst other titles), was my first DM and the disseminator of all things RPG to a whole generation of young men who would otherwise have spent it in drink and women (though on second thought, they may have anyway). But all that aside, The Wez is an incredible GM, having run countless years of actual game time. His wisdom is great. Almost incalculable. Do not attempt to deceive him – he will know. Do not attempt to wheedle or persuade him, for he is implacable. He has written for us before, though his incredible texts are lost to the mists of time. Thus, behold now a new gem of wisdom, and bask in its glory.

How to know if one of your players have started cheating and how to handle it.

RPGs are a cooperative world based on agreed upon rules. The fabric of the fantasy world you and your friends are inhabiting is created by this framework called “THE GAMES AGREEMENTS.”

The MAIN ONE is “When a dice is rolled THAT is the Number that you have rolled.”

Others are:
“When the GM says something has happened then it has happened.”
“The numbers on your character sheet cannot just be changed by rubbing them out and putting a new number there.”
“Important Items cannot be just written on your sheet – and thus become real.”

If the player abides by these rules, then the multi-user fantasy construct he and his friends are creating together remains intact. He feels real accomplishment when his character gets a reward –be it a stat boost or an item. Conversely, he feels real terror at the possible loss of his character – which he has invested a bit of himself into – and by keeping to the rules of the game and playing strictly within this framework the game is made as real as possible.

When he loses one of his hard-quested-for imaginary items, he feels real loss. When his character dies, he feels real emotional pain. When he survives a narrow escape, he feels real relief. When he has a victory in the game he feels real triumph.

The emotional part of a person knows NO difference between emotion in the real world and emotion in the game world. Its all just emotion. This is the PAY for playing. This is WHY people play. To FEEL RAD.

But to feel RAD there must be challenge and the possibility of feeling SAD! If you grew up gaming before saved games and cheat codes or with vicious Gygaxian DMs you will know the real emotion of losing and having to start Amulet of Yendor again. This terror of not knowing if your next roll will kill you generates the FUN.

SO – to come back to the title – how to spot if a player has started to cheat and thus break down the thin agreement-based lattice that all the fun is built on? He stops feeling the emotion. Once you fake that roll, or give yourself that unearned stat boost or that unfound power item – you feel that you have tricked the GODS! You are no longer at the cruel mercy of chance. You have an edge… a cheat code… a free man … a saved game.

Related:  GM Tips #21: How to Transition into Cooperative Storytelling

Overcoming an obstacle no longer gives the reward pellet. The person starts to get bored, suddenly has a strong interest in video games over RPGs or begins to find fault with the game, but before this, the most common thing he does is START DOING KOOKY OUT OF CHARACTER RANDOM OFTEN IMMATURE RISK-TAKING BEHAVIOR.
“I shoot my crossbow at the King.”
“I call the Lich a Butt Muncher.”
“I pick pocket the head of the Assassins Guild.”
“I throw the magic ring into the volcano…”

At this point the rest of the players start saying things like, “I’m really far away when he does this.” What’s happening here is that the player is trying to kill his character off in a hopeful attempt to wipe the slate clean. But he may have already tainted the game too much – his faked roll that saved one of the party has now embroiled that party member in his web of deceit. Should Bolbo be alive or shouldn’t he be alive? Did he get saved that time or should he be dead… If he should have been dead because I saved him with a faked roll then what about when one hour later he saved Silkenfist Redlance the Paladin…

The ripples and permutations of even one faked roll fractal out exponentially… the game no longer seems real… now it resembles “Dice-less Cooperative Storytelling“ UGH ! MAKE IT STOP!!! NOTHING makes it stop besides confessing everything to the GM – having the character instantly incinerated and starting a new, weaker and possibly disabled character, to teach the player real humility and suffering. The extra danger of playing a sub-par character forces the player to play smart and roleplay hard in order to survive. More danger = More Fun.


  • Rogue
    Posted at 06:20h, 21 September Reply

    I’m sure many of us game masters have had to deal with this in the past. I have learned something about myself over the years. Some people have a certain skill of empathy where you can just sense that a player is up to something. I know many other GM’s have the skill as well, especially when a player let’s loose the all telling “wandering eyes”. You know the one when they roll the die or dice and quickly move to place their hand over it or pick it up, while at the same time letting their eyes wander around to make sure no other players could have possibly seen that roll. I mean after all, they always pick that really good spot way away from the GM, or they like to roll underneath things all the time. Yea stop cheating it sucks! You will eventually get caught and if it is a group that is anything like mine, you will get booted.

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