Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Cheating players - or, 'The Magic Character Sheet'

Magician silhouette by FirkinThat’s a title of a ten-volume epic fantasy book series right there.

Now I need to think of an alias for this player… I’ll call him Mike. Mike was a keen gamer with a pretty good eye for detail but Mike had one game-breaking flaw – he didn’t like to lose.

Mike’s cheating would take two forms – either he’d secretly write equipment onto his character sheet (hence the term ‘Magic Character Sheet’, as things would magically appear in his equipment list that would be just the right thing to get him or the party out of a jam), or he’d try to cheat at his dice rolls.

The Magic Character Sheet was his frequent trick; between games he’d no doubt think about what he might need to get him through the next game, based on what had happened in the last adventure, and enter it onto his character sheet. It was a large group and it was sometimes difficult to keep track, and I’d allow the use of items to keep the game running without fully realising that he was making it up. He’d even manage to scribble items onto the sheet during play… God knows how I never noticed that. In the heat of a game these things can be missed. This was in the days before I started keeping the character sheets myself – it was Mike’s fault I started doing that. I didn’t want to just take his sheet off him and risk an accusation of singling him out – even though it was only him, as far as I could tell, who was doing it – so I had to make a general request. This was a shame as some of the players felt like I didn’t trust them. Still, what else could I do?

The dice rolling was easier to deal with. He’d roll the dice and then scoop them up, declaring success. Or, and this was the usual trick, I’d turn to him and ask for a roll and he’d point at the already successful dice in front of him and declare he’d already rolled. This was especially during combat. To stop this I made a simple declaration before the game started – all rolls must wait until I ask for them and be rolled while I’m watching. I also banned ‘bombadier’ rolling – players who would roll multiple dice one at a time, and drop their next dice on a previous bad roll in the hope of knocking the die over onto a better result. All dice had to be rolled at once or I’d declare an automatic failure.

All these ‘regulations’ actually ruined Mike’s enjoyment of the game. Now that he couldn’t succeed on a regular basis, basically have some form of control over the game and direct it the way he wanted to go, his fun died away and he ended up not attending the games – he basically stopped gaming because he was having no fun without cheating.

I think I handled it well enough. I didn’t get angry or cause a massive argument/fallout, and I made sure that my rulings encompassed the group, even though it was obvious I was implementing the rulings because of one player. I made sure that they all knew what was expected before play began and I also made sure I never, ever, forgot their character sheets. They could still tinker with backgrounds and character ideas but the stats and equipment lists couldn’t be surreptitiously adjusted.

I simply don’t understand gamers who feel it necessary to cheat, especially if the cheating defines the game for them. I was guilty of it in my early gaming days when my natural aim was to ‘win the game’, but when I realised that failed rolls are just as dramatic as successful ones - that, in fact, failed rolls can drive a much more interesting story – I got past it.

But to pretty much quit gaming because you can’t cheat… I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around that.

Originally posted April 2012

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