Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DM Advice - Behind the Great Big Screen

If you are only a player do not read any further.  What follows are secrets that most DMs keep behind the great big screen.  Seriously.  If you continue you will only spoil it for yourselves.  Do not say I did not warn you...

If you are now or have ever been a DM then you are a cheater!  You heard me.  Cheater.  Now before you get all bent out of shape and start telling me I do not know what I am talking about consider this question.  Have you ever even just once fudged a die roll in the favor of your players?  No?  Well then I have to say that you are probably the only DM in the history of the gaming industry who has yet to do it.  Yes?  Thank you for telling the truth.

Over at Destination Unknown Christian posed a very interesting question about how he is tired of D&D and feels that he needs it spiced up.  Oh he says that he is happy with being married to D&D but he wants to go to the bar and introduce himself as someone else to the D&D.  He equates it to cheating on D&D with D&D.

This got me to thinking about what else do we cheat on in the hobby?

I know some players that over the years have fudged dice roll themselves.  "OH look DM I got a.. what did you say I needed to hit again?  Yeah I got that!  Can you believe it!?"  No but I do not always call them out on it either.  Note I said not always instead of never.

Why do players do this?  As gamers we are given to competition among ourselves and sometimes that can lead toward fudging dice rolls.  Why the occasional fudge might be OK a serious problem can and often will develop from not nipping it in the bud after repeated occurrences.

My advice for the DM is to take the person to another room and talk about why they feel they must always fudge their dice.  If you do it with diplomacy then you will get to the root of the problem. Chances are that something is going on in the person's life and they really just need to shine at the gaming table.  Give them that chance.  If this is not the case they may just be cheaters and it will be your choice to keep them or not.  I will warn you that one person continually cheating can kill a game quicker than World of Warcraft.

OK so players cheat but so do DMs.  We've discussed why players cheat so what about why DMs cheat?

Why do DM's do this?  If they are fudging in the favor of the party then it is usually to try to save them.  I highly recommend NOT doing this all the time.  Many DMs feel it is there job to see a party safely through a dungeon and have a tendency to let players get away with some crazy things.  Some, like me, can be a bit more shall we say overkill on the monsters which can lead to feelings of regret as we watch a total party kill in the making.  The general rule of thumb for me is to allow the dice fall as they may and only help the party out in extremely bad circumstances that they did not necessarily put themselves into.  

If Quickfingers the mage puts herself in front of a Black Dragon with a mage eating complex for instance then it's ladyfinder's for the Black Dragon and I will not intervene.  If Thickskull the ogre tries to use diplomacy on the town magistrate and fails miserably but the player does such a remarkable job of roleplaying the 'bad diplomacy' check I may take it upon myself to say that the town magistrate took 'pity' on poor Thickskull and only locks him up for the night (instead of the week).  

These instances do not always have to be either roleplaying or combat either.  It is entirely possible for a fighter to fall victim to a critical fumble.  In my games when you critically fumble you fall prone usually which provokes an Attack of Opportunity from everyone that threatens you.  If the fighter was between say four hill giants and all of them rolled critical hits that fighter would be toast.  I may decide that one of the giants only hit instead of critically hit in the hopes of helping the fighter reach the cleric before the big fight later on.

Those are just some of the examples that I can point to showing DM cheating but there can be others.  The key to remember is that it is not your job to make sure that the players are always successful nor that they always survive but it is your job to make sure that everyone is having fun.

Oh and if they are fudging in the favor of the monsters it may be because they are tired of their players cheating.

Have you ever cheated as either a player or a DM?  What happened and how did it turn out for you in the end?


  1. This is a great post. I was thinking along similar lines for a few days and will scribble something later today. Regarding player cheating, there's a guy in my group who fudges his rolls. If he rolls 8 dice for a pool, he will roll them near the other dice he has in reserve. The dice he rolled and the dice in reserve then become co-mingled. He'll fiddle with the dice, shifting and moving them about and always gets successes, many times the coveted five successes for a critical.

    I think I know why he does it, but it still bugs me.

  2. Christian that is not uncommon unfortunately. It bugs me too when someone continually does that. It especially bugs me when they do it and they think that I do not see them doing it. Somehow that makes it all the more underhanded.

  3. Agreed! I tell my students the same thing. Basically, if you cheat you are telling me, "You're an idiot and I can do this in front of you and not get caught! Ha, you big moron!"

    rassa frassa...

    The guy that does this is really into his character, it's basically him statted up. I appreciate his dedication to the game, but I feel taken advantage of.

  4. Ah students. I almost went the route of teacher. I still may before the bitter end.

    Rassa Frassa Marfargin Nargin (my favorite nonsense word)

    So he's playing himself? Does this guy have an ego? I take it you are the Storyteller in that game?

  5. Yeah, I'm the ST. He's such a great guy and I really, really like him. That dice rolling thing, though. Argh!

  6. Here is something you can try but I cannot guarantee that it won't backfire on you. The next time he is gaming with you (before he even does that again) go ahead and start rolling your dice next to your reserve pool. Be sure to put most of your reserve dice on 10 and then when you start calculating your dice make sure to replace low numbers with successes. Do this once or twice when you are fighting against him. If he's a nice guy then he'll get the idea without you having to resort to name calling.

  7. I agree with Christian. A mature and honest post which opens wide vistas, on life beyond gaming too.

    It's also a good complement to the ongoing discussion on the randomness of dice and use of favourites.

    Making an analogy with the role of a teacher is very apt. Being DM/GM is a position of real responsibility, with a lot of potential for making the real world a better place.

  8. @Porky - Now that you bring up favorites I have another whole different topic idea. Thanks for the comments. I guess I am a teacher/leader/guide or whatever to my players.