Today’s guest post is by Walter Ciechanowski (Walt C. in the comments here), author of Thrilling Tales: Dragon Island, d20 MasterKit: Fantasy Occupations and numerous other Adamant Entertainment products, as well as the long-running RPGnet column Keeping Kosher. In it, Walt tackles a topic that hasn’t been covered on TT before: dirty, dirty cheats. Thanks, Walt!
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One of the biggest problems any game master can face is the issue of cheating. Whether it be a player that “rolls” improbably high ability scores, routinely makes target numbers that he only has a 25% chance of hitting, or adds extra bonuses or points to her character sheet, cheating can certainly whittle away at the integrity of the gaming experience.

Cheating affects game balance in obvious and subtle ways. A character with high ability scores might encourage the GM to either increase the ability scores of the rest of the party or allow them to be slaughtered as he stats up challenges for the cheating player. Incredible luck with dice rolls encourages the GM to create more powerful foes that are immune to most attacks.

The question that I’ve struggled with is how to effectively guard against cheating without making the players feel like I don’t trust them. Most of my past attempts to address cheating are usually met with “Come on, we’re all adults. We don’t need policing” (this usually comes from the worst offenders). While I agree with that sentiment, it isn’t long before I start seeing the signs:

  • Improbably high scores in random generation.
  • Illegal points on character sheets.
  • Bad math when announcing a result.
  • Picking up a rolled die to better “read” it.
  • Using tiny or hard-to-read dice.
  • Forgetting to write down hit point damage (especially popular in systems where powers drain points).
  • Rolling outside of line-of sight (behind a stack of books, below the table, etc).

While none of these are huge “game-breakers” (critical hits are rarely fudged), they do detract from the game. It’s unfair that honest players are made to look incompetent (since they miss their rolls sometimes) while others massage probability.

In the past, I’ve used the following methods to reduce cheating in my campaigns:

  1. Having ability score and hit point dice rolls made in front of me (or another player).
  2. Keeping all dice rolls in the open.
  3. Using easily readable dice.
  4. Making the player announce what he needs to succeed before rolling the dice (I usually do the same).
  5. Having every roll verified by another player (usually the person sitting next to them).
  6. Collecting and keeping character sheets to scrutinize between sessions.

I’m about to start a new D&D campaign in a few weeks, and I’ve been considering how to balance cutting down on cheating with my desire not to offend everyone at the table. My current plan includes having the player announce what she needs before rolling (and keeping a sharp eye on the roll result) and making a statement that, since I use readable dice and throw them in the center of the table, I expect everyone to do the same. At this point, I’m unsure whether to directly observe ability score rolls.

What say you? How do you effectively and considerately guard against cheating?