Everybody Cheats?

Gary Alan Fine's early survey of role-playing games found that everybody cheated. But the definition of what cheating is when it applies to role-playing games differs from other uses of the term. Does everyone really cheat in RPGs?

Yes, Everybody

Gary Alan Fine's work, Shared Fantasy, came to the following conclusion:

Perhaps surprisingly, cheating in fantasy role-playing games is extremely common--almost everyone cheats and this dishonesty is implicitly condoned in most situation. The large majority of interviewees admitted to cheating, and in the games I played, I cheated as well.

Fine makes it a point of clarify that cheating doesn't carry quite the same implications in role-playing as it does in other games:

Since FRP players are not competing against each other, but are cooperating, cheating does not have the same effect on the game balance. For example, a player who cheats in claiming that he has rolled a high number while his character is fighting a dragon or alien spaceship not only helps himself, but also his party, since any member of the party might be killed. Thus the players have little incentive to prevent this cheating.

The interesting thing about cheating is that if everyone cheats, parity is maintained among the group. But when cheating is rampant, any player who adheres slavishly to die-roll results has "bad luck" with the dice. Cheating takes place in a variety of ways involving dice (the variable component PCs can't control), such as saying the dice is cocked, illegible, someone bumped the table, it rolled off a book or dice tray, etc.

Why Cheat?

One of the challenges with early D&D is that co-creator Gary Gygax's design used rarity to make things difficult. This form of design reasoned that the odds against certain die rolls justified making powerful character builds rare, and it all began with character creation.

Character creation was originally 3d6 for each attribute, full stop. With the advent of computers, players could automate this rolling process by rapidly randomizing thousands of characters until they got the combination of numbers they wanted. These numbers dictated the PC's class (paladins, for example, required a very strict set of high attributes). Psionics too, in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, required a specific set of attributes that made it possible to spontaneously manifest psionic powers. Later forms of character generation introduced character choice: 4d6 assigned to certain attributes, a point buy system, etc. But in the early incarnations of the game, it was in the player's interest, if she wanted to play a paladin or to play a psionic, to roll a lot -- or just cheat (using the dice pictured above).

Game masters have a phrase for cheating known as "fudging" a roll; the concept of fudging means the game master may ignore a roll for or against PCs if it doesn't fit the kind of game he's trying to create. PCs can be given extra chances to reroll, or the roll could be interpreted differently. This "fudging" happens in an ebb and flow as the GM determines the difficulty and if the die rolls support the narrative.

GM screens were used as a reference tool with relevant charts and to prevent players from seeing maps and notes. But they also helped make it easier for GMs to fudge rolls. A poll on RPG.net shows that over 90% of GMs fudged rolls behind the screen.

Cheating Is the Rule

One of Fifth Edition's innovations was adopting a common form of cheating -- the reroll -- by creating advantage. PCs now have rules encouraging them to roll the dice twice, something they've been doing for decades with the right excuse.

When it comes to cheating, it seems like we've all been doing it. But given that we're all working together to have a good time, is it really cheating?

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

Kobold Boots

Villager
@Aldarc - In response to "it's worth considering why others outside of this forum community think that cheating is the appropriate word choice...

Answer: Others are misappropriating the term cheating to mean what they think it means and not what it does mean. /consideration.

Is there another place where people are stupid enough to go 58 pages into conversation over semantics yet still have enough of an education on average to have a deep understanding of language and rules?

Last post from me in this thread so if you and @Hussar keep screaming loudly enough you'll eventually win over the tumbleweeds. ;)

KB

(edit for administration - I'm using the term "stupid" generally to include myself. Writing this because I've a permanent infraction on file for calling someone a "jerk" of all things and I've learned not to assume anything about what could set someone with mod capability off if they've had a bad day to begin with. - Thanks.)
 
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prosfilaes

Villager
While you are at, how about asking me if I'm still beating my wife? :hmm:
Seriously? You don't understand that you're making a definitional argument about what the definition of cheating is?

I am saying that "fudging" operates as cheating de facto though not cheating de jure. Per Law it may not be, but per Practice it fundamentally is. Hence [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION]'s use of the phrase "institutionalized cheating." And I think that this distinction is likely causing a lot of the frustration in this discussion.
The definition of cheating says "violating the rules". Therefore there is no such thing as "cheating de factor". If you disagree, then you're making a definitional argument.

Now before dismissing everyone in that thread as being "wrong" or using "incorrect terms,"
I, for one, do not have a need to accuse people with a different definition than me of being "wrong" or "incorrect". They're using a different definition than me. That's why it's important to get definitions straight from the start, and not get all hostile to people just because they have different definitions.

I do not cheat. Cheating, unless you're James Bond against Le Chiffre with the fate of the world on the line, is wrong. Which is why it's important to me to keep the word "cheat" limited to stuff that's clearly wrong; and as I said above, games must have the option of making any behavior okay within the rules of the game.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Well, I mostly didn't worry about the details of what you said because it doesn't reflect the actual content and operation of the Bonds mechanic - for instance, you talk about players whose PCs don't get along with others being sunk, but that would stop you having a bond like "X has insulted my deity; I do not trust them", or "X is soft, but I will make them hard like me" - just to pick one cleric and one fighter bond.
Ah - I was reading the word "bond" as something one would only do with friends. Not trusting someone hardly seems like a bond, as the word is usually used. :)

Your seeming assumption that bonds are mutual is also wrong - given that bonds are a function of class, and by default there is only one of each class in a DW party, bonds will almost always be distinctive and one-way.
I wasn't assuming the bonds were mutual as intended, merely that they would inevitably become mostly mutual in practice if applied at the table I was referring to.

As an aside: that 'only one of each class' bit seems like an oddly arbitrary restriction, unless there's lots of similar classes such that if everyone wants to play a warrior, say, there's enough to go round.

But the whole point of the mechanic is to give players an incentive to focus on interpersonal relationships within the party, and to play them hard (so as to arrive at resolutions that then yield XP).
The premise is fine; particularly if those interpersonal relationships don't always have to be positive ones. (again, the word 'bond' in general non-game usage implies a bond of friendship)

Now, how does this work if someone doesn't want their bond to be known by its target? For example, "X has insulted my deity; I do not trust her" - as Y's player I maybe don't want X (and by extension X's player) to know I don't trust her and am thus quietly keeping an eye on her, as that knowledge will affect* how X is played. So does someone else - the GM, maybe, then have to determine whether I've fulfilled that Bond?

* - it will, no matter how much X's player may protest to the contrary. The effects may be more or less subtle but the likelihood of their being present is 100%.

Lan-"what's odd here is that one of my own currently active characters is named X"-efan
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Mechanically, yes. Psychologically no. It would be like making a T-shirt with a d20 on a 20 that says “Crit Happens*”

“*when confirmed.”

In all prior (and later) editions, a 20 is a critical.
Not all. 1e as written didn't have criticals (or fumbles, for that matter), though I'm 99% sure they were proposed in one or three Dragon articles of the era, because we got 'em from somewhere by about 1983 and I don't think we independently came up with the concept.

I think it was definitely a change in the rules, and one that makes a certain amount of sense, especially when increasing the critical threat range. I like our solution better, since they usually know after a round or two what is needed to hit, they know before they roll if a 20 will be a crit. But it still takes away a bit of the fun of the natural 20.

To be fair, once you’re used to the rule, you know that the confirmation roll is the one that it exciting.
We've had criticals (and fumbles) forever but they've always needed some sort of confirm roll; so I know well of what you speak here. :)

Lanefan
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Replacement characters seem like an issue if there's going to be this conceit that survival is a key objective. In 1e (and, I assume the other classic versions of that period), your replacement character was freshly-rolled, new stats, 1st level.
Or at least of lower level than the party average or otherwise-party-lowest.
But, the 'skilled play' paradigm of the day /did/ expect you to use the knowledge you'd gained in playing that character when playing your next one (if he walked into a gelatinous cube, you'd be right for your next character to be wary of oddly dust-free corridors and floating skeletons).
I never hit this, though that was a table-level change to what's pretty clear in Gygax's writings. We saw it as metagaming.

So in 1e, the answer would be no-no-Yes. 3e introduced the idea of starting at level, with 'level appropriate' (and, since you got to choose how you spent that wealth, it could be a bit of an advantage to build a new character), but, the idea of using accumulated 'player knowledge' had long since gone out of style as 'metagaming, so yes-yes-no (ditto 4e). 5e discarded the idea of wealth/level, entirely, in theory, a character is fine with starting gear at any point in his career, AFAIK, the attitude towards player knowledge hasn't changed, in spite of 5e harkening back to the classic game in so many other ways so successfully, so the answer there is yes-no-no.
Wealth-by-level as a very vague guideline was fine, but the tighter it got the more doomed to failure it was - there's just too many variables that can affect a character's wealth (up or down), particularly one that's had a long career.

So, one of my old gaming buddies, before he went off D&D entirely (he became a GURPS fanatic), ended up 'stuck playing the cleric' one time and managed really well. First of all, he played an evil cleric, then he'd heal the party /very/ selectively, engineering things so that they'd all end up dead at convenient points in the adventure, and he could collect all the treasure, all the exp, and head out to recruit a bunch of new 1st level dupes to do it all over again...

...what you describe, and what he experienced, were, IMHO, degenerate cases of D&D play, they illustrate how badly wrong the game can go with the wrong DM, an embittered player, or even with the table just acquiring some bad habits.
That's an extreme (but well pulled off!) example of exactly what I'm talking about.

But "the wrong DM"? What can a DM reasonably do to prevent this other than start banning stuff (and even that might not help) or focus-firing on the Cleric all the time? And it wouldn't even take an evil Cleric, just a particularly zealous one who, say, won't cure anyone who is not of her faith.

Lan-"I once played an over-zealous 'convert or die' type Cleric just to see how it'd go; I found out later the rest of the PCs were lining up to kill her, only the monsters got her first"-efan
 
Wealth-by-level as a very vague guideline was fine, but the tighter it got the more doomed to failure it was - there's just too many variables that can affect a character's wealth (up or down), particularly one that's had a long career.
It was pretty straightforward & 'tight' from 3.0 on, if you brought in a new character at a given level, he got so much wealth he could use to by gear, mostly magic items. Sure, sometimes you'd get away with playing a caster with crafting feats and burn exp to get even more items, that could be problematic.

That's an extreme (but well pulled off!) example of exactly what I'm talking about.
But "the wrong DM"? What can a DM reasonably do to prevent this other than start banning stuff (and even that might not help) or focus-firing on the Cleric all the time?
Start replacement characters at level. Divide exp by the characters who started the adventure, not the number that survived. Not give out exp for treasure. Not give out exp, at all, for 'failed' missions.
Simply require everyone to roll new characters.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It was pretty straightforward & 'tight' from 3.0 on, if you brought in a new character at a given level, he got so much wealth he could use to by gear, mostly magic items. Sure, sometimes you'd get away with playing a caster with crafting feats and burn exp to get even more items, that could be problematic.
For a new character - but did the veteran characters have more wealth? Less wealth? A mix?

Start replacement characters at level. Divide exp by the characters who started the adventure, not the number that survived. Not give out exp for treasure. Not give out exp, at all, for 'failed' missions.
Xp are divided among those present and contributing at the time they are earned. I don't give xp for treasure but do give xp for things defeated/done even on a failed mission e.g. if the party kills off two groups of giants but then gets nearly wiped out by the third group (and the one guy runs away) they'd still get xp for the first two lots but none for the third lot, and no dungeon bonus.
Simply require everyone to roll new characters.
Fine in this instance - provided you're willing to be consistent later in a more legitimate lone-survivor scenario should such arise; that the lone survivor's player also has to restart. Otherwise it's just favouritism, something a DM must at all costs avoid.
 

pemerton

Legend
You've arbitrarily declared one example of "Use rule A to alter rule B after the fact" as cheating, but another example of "Use rule A to alter rule B after the fact" is not cheating.
I happen not to entirely agree with [MENTION=5142]Aldarc[/MENTION] and [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] about this cheating issue - my view is that if there is a table consensus that the GM is allowed to make up whatever s/he wants about the shared fiction, so that the real function of dice rolls (both player and GM side) is to make "suggestions" that the GM might take on board if s/he hasn't got anything else in mind, then the GM playing in that manner is not cheating.

But the opinions that Aldarc and Hussar are presenting are not in the least arbitrary. They are honing in on the use of dice as randomisation devices, and identifying as cheating any change of the outcome that is not pursuant to some class of reasonably well-defined mechanics. There's nothing arbitrary about that - it seems to follow from a fairly common-sense way of thinking about the purpose of dice rolls, card draws and the like in games.
 
. There's nothing arbitrary about that - it seems to follow from a fairly common-sense way of thinking about the purpose of dice rolls, card draws and the like in games.
Well then, Hussar, at least, shouldn't get to use it - since he feels that RPGs aren't games!
 

pemerton

Legend
if the rest of the party get slaughtered, suddenly the coward is now the party! She can go back to town and recruit some replacements (and probably would, once everyone else gets their new PCs rolled up); but now she's the boss. She can hand-pick who comes into what is now her party; and she-as-player can even in meta-speak announce what she'd prefer to see as replacements before anyone does any rolling, should she so desire. (and if she's really ambitious and-or lucky she can sneak back in and loot her fallen comrades before heading back to town, boosting her wealth considerably - wealth she's under no obligation to share with anyone)

IME, while this turnover does happen it never happens this quickly; the deaths and replacements are one or two at a time over a series of adventures, and over the long run the coward becomes both the wealthiest (it's nearly unavoidable) and the longest-serving - meaning she's made herself the star in that most of the story continuity is going to end up going through her.
So, one of my old gaming buddies, before he went off D&D entirely (he became a GURPS fanatic), ended up 'stuck playing the cleric' one time and managed really well. First of all, he played an evil cleric, then he'd heal the party /very/ selectively, engineering things so that they'd all end up dead at convenient points in the adventure, and he could collect all the treasure, all the exp, and head out to recruit a bunch of new 1st level dupes to do it all over again...

...what you describe, and what he experienced, were, IMHO, degenerate cases of D&D play, they illustrate how badly wrong the game can go with the wrong DM, an embittered player, or even with the table just acquiring some bad habits.
I was going to post that what Lanefan describes seems rather pathological to me, and then saw Tony Vargas's post doing the work for me!

Even if one pulls back from words like "pathological" and "degenerate case", there are so many assumptions built into what Lanefan describes - about how the GM handles scene framing, about how players decide what PCs to roll up, about how the group handles party formation, about how treasure works in the game, about how "story continuity" works - that it's not worth trying to unpack them all. I'll just say that I think none of the assumptions being made there holds at my table, except for the assumption about treasure, which did hold in one of our old RM campaigns set in GH.

Replacement characters seem like an issue if there's going to be this conceit that survival is a key objective. In 1e (and, I assume the other classic versions of that period), your replacement character was freshly-rolled, new stats, 1st level. But, the 'skilled play' paradigm of the day /did/ expect you to use the knowledge you'd gained in playing that character when playing your next one (if he walked into a gelatinous cube, you'd be right for your next character to be wary of oddly dust-free corridors and floating skeletons). So in 1e, the answer would be no-no-Yes. 3e introduced the idea of starting at level, with 'level appropriate' (and, since you got to choose how you spent that wealth, it could be a bit of an advantage to build a new character), but, the idea of using accumulated 'player knowledge' had long since gone out of style as 'metagaming, so yes-yes-no (ditto 4e).
In 4e a player who starts a new character is expected to keep improving his/her technical play, however. (At least I think that is the default.) That is to say, s/he wouldn't be expected to emulate the lack of familiarity with the power suite, the way pacing works (especially in combat), etc that is typical of a new 4e player.

Whereas I can easily imagine some 2nd ed AD&D tables complaining that an experienced player who uses that knowledge to play a 1st level PC effectively (eg in terms of thinking through spell load out, or combat tactics, or dungeoneering methods) is cheating or metagaming.

EDIT: Saw the follow-ups:

What can a DM reasonably do to prevent this other than start banning stuff (and even that might not help) or focus-firing on the Cleric all the time? And it wouldn't even take an evil Cleric, just a particularly zealous one who, say, won't cure anyone who is not of her faith.
Start replacement characters at level. Divide exp by the characters who started the adventure, not the number that survived. Not give out exp for treasure. Not give out exp, at all, for 'failed' missions.
Simply require everyone to roll new characters.
Tony Vargas identifies some ways of departing from the play assumptions that underpin the example. Of course there are many ways that are not GM-side but player-side or group side.

But the most obvious one is - why would a table of RPGers continue to play with an unpleasant person who wrecks the game? Or, if we want to put it in less social terms - what makes the player of the surviving PC think that the ongoing story is going to be about his PC? As opposed to the (new) party that the other players roll up, who may or may not wish to welcome a stranger into their midst, but probably not the evil cleric whose reputation precedes him.
 
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In 4e a player who starts a new character is expected to keep improving his/her technical play, however. (At least I think that is the default.) That is to say, s/he wouldn't be expected to emulate the lack of familiarity with the power suite, the way pacing works (especially in combat), etc that is typical of a new 4e player.
Sure. There's a lot if abstraction, though, between 4e gameplay tactics, like focus fire or flanking, and in-fiction tactical acumen, like Bait & Switch, Wolf Pack Tactics, or Tactical Presence. So you're not really breaking character or anything at that level. Focus fire isn't metagaming, for instance, just gaming.

In 4e it'd also probably be fine to act on your 'player knowledge' of a monster, too, since most of that can be out in the open, anyway. It's not like the classic game when player knowledge could be life or death.
Whereas I can easily imagine some 2nd ed AD&D tables complaining that an experienced player who uses that knowledge to play a 1st level PC effectively (eg in terms of thinking through spell load out, or combat tactics, or dungeoneering methods) is cheating or metagaming.
I've known it to happen in AD&D, 1e too, but don't think it was in the spirit that Gygax intended, rather the 'player knowledge' objection was part of the rapid shift from wargames to RPG, that had little to do with the mechanics or presentation.
 

pemerton

Legend
I've known it to happen in AD&D, 1e too, but don't think it was in the spirit that Gygax intended, rather the 'player knowledge' objection was part of the rapid shift from wargames to RPG, that had little to do with the mechanics or presentation.
I agree absolutely that it wasn't intended by Gygax, which is why I used 2nd ed AD&D - which formalises the shift from wargaming to "storyteller" RPGing - as my touchstone.

(The idea that it's a shift from wargaming to RPG I reject: playing D&D as a wargame is one very traditional mode of RPGing, not something that contrasts with it.)
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Apples are round. Oranges are round. Therefore, apples are oranges? One should not mistake a similarity of form with a sameness of form or essence.
I'm not really sure what kind of apples you eat, but I've never seen a round one.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I've seen plenty. Now, a perfectly spherical one? Of course not. A perfect sphere only exists in theory.
It was a joke, dude.

The discussion is over. He failed to prove that I am cheating, which I can't be since the rules allow me to alter die rolls. All that's left now is to joke around for a bit.
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
I happen not to entirely agree with [MENTION=5142]Aldarc[/MENTION] and [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] about this cheating issue - my view is that if there is a table consensus that the GM is allowed to make up whatever s/he wants about the shared fiction, so that the real function of dice rolls (both player and GM side) is to make "suggestions" that the GM might take on board if s/he hasn't got anything else in mind, then the GM playing in that manner is not cheating.

But the opinions that Aldarc and Hussar are presenting are not in the least arbitrary. They are honing in on the use of dice as randomisation devices, and identifying as cheating any change of the outcome that is not pursuant to some class of reasonably well-defined mechanics. There's nothing arbitrary about that - it seems to follow from a fairly common-sense way of thinking about the purpose of dice rolls, card draws and the like in games.
That seems reasonable, but this would need to be understood by all participants.
 

pemerton

Legend
That seems reasonable, but this would need to be understood by all participants.
Your post made me smile, because when we step out of the debate about what is cheating and into the actual dynamics of RPG then I find that sort of "dice rolls as suggestions" play pretty unreasonable! But my impression is that that puts me in a minority of RPGers.
 
Your post made me smile, because when we step out of the debate about what is cheating and into the actual dynamics of RPG then I find that sort of "dice rolls as suggestions" play pretty unreasonable! But my impression is that that puts me in a minority of RPGers.
I guess it comes down to faith in the rules governing what the dice mean, vs faith in the GM. If you grok the rules and find them worthy, abiding by the dice even when a result seems, in the moment, to be off somehow is reasonable. If you find the rules impenetrable or inadequate, such trust would be misplaced.

Of course all that's a little overblown (as is much concern for the topic), unless you are pretty deeply invested in the RPG expeeience.
 

pemerton

Legend
I guess it comes down to faith in the rules governing what the dice mean, vs faith in the GM. If you grok the rules and find them worthy, abiding by the dice even when a result seems, in the moment, to be off somehow is reasonable. If you find the rules impenetrable or inadequate, such trust would be misplaced.

Of course all that's a little overblown (as is much concern for the topic), unless you are pretty deeply invested in the RPG expeeience.
It's not about being deeply invested, or otherwise. It's that if I wanted someone to tell me a story, I'd go about it some other way than rolling dice to make suggestions as to what they should tell me.
 

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