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Why someone might cheat in d&d

Content of the article: "Why someone might cheat in d&d"

So I spent some time today reading a few threads on here about cheating in D&D and I have some thoughts as both a longtime DM (ad&d through 5th ed) and a frequently tempted player that might be informative to some people. Or not! I have no idea lol

Fudging/cheating can happen for many reasons in ttrpgs: power fantasies, fear of failure, wanting to "win", but I think a major one for d&d is that failing in d&d just straight up isn't fun a lot of the time. Sure, it can be funny, like a failed performance check leading to the aloof bard slipping on some seafood dropped on the floor. But there are no rules or guidelines–strictly according to the sourcebooks–to further the plot or action on a failure. There's a binary success/failure state for each roll, and unless you have some house rules or homebrew stuff going on, rolling low is usually a full stop.

The PHB states of failed ability checks, "it’s a failure, which means the character or monster makes no progress toward the objective or makes progress combined with a setback determined by the DM." A failure means no progress, no change. There's no option there for "makes no progress AND suffers a setback." So often you'll get something like this: you swing and miss, or you don't open the lock, or you can't tell what the magic object is, etc. There are some situations where this isn't the case: maybe you fail to sneak past a dragon and get spotted, or you try to make a long jump but fall in the pit instead, but there's nothing in the rules (to the best of my knowledge) that dictates what happens on most failed rolls beyond "nothing happens". Failure in many cases keeps the situation's status quo rather than leading to a worsening of events that requires further action.

In combat, this is even more of a dead-end than with ability checks. If you keep rolling poorly in combat, you might as well not be playing; missing with an attack essentially has the same outcome as skipping your turn. If you miss two, three times in a row, you're basically not playing d&d anymore, you're in the bad RNG penalty box. You roll, you fail, nothing changes except maybe a burnt spell slot, you wait. It sucks.

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Compare this to PbtA games and other ttrpgs that have specific, written consequences for failure beyond "you don't do the thing." In Monster of the Week for example, there are explicit actions that the person running the game can take to change the encounter, change the scenario, on a failed roll. So if you swing and miss, you immediately get bonked by the slime monster, who now has you in its grasp. If you fail to pick the lock, a guard happens to walk by and catch you and your crew in the act. If you fail to persuade someone, they become hostile or report you to the guards. This means that failure is at least interesting, and it propels the story and action forward rather than stopping it or encouraging repeated "all right, now I'm going to try picking the lock" rolls. It's much more reactive. Nothing is preventing dms from using these same kinds of options and implementing more creative outcomes for failure, bur RAW they don't really exist, especially for combat. A good DM can narrate failure well and make it seem like the bad roll is more than a skipped turn: "you overextend your swing, leaving your side exposed when the bugbear brings down his blade on his turn." But this isn't functionally how the game really works. It's mechanically the same outcome as not taking a turn or a simple "swing and miss" without extra house or variant rules.

I'm sure this has been discussed to death, and none of it means that d&d is worse than other systems–I personally love it most of the time–just that failing in d&d feels worse than other systems and often grinds the flow of the game to a halt or takes the player out of it.

So how does this relate to cheating? Well, if you're a player and you know that a failed roll means that nothing happens/changes or that you don't get to participate in the scene/fight, cheating sometimes seems like the best option to keep the fun and excitement going both for you and your friends at the table. Cheating is appealing if the alternative is not playing for a while or wasting a minute rolling the check again. It's a lot less appealing if you know that failure changes the scene and provokes consequences rather than just ending your action. Other systems have gradations of success, too, which further changes this equation.

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I've been using bots in discord to roll for the game I'm playing in, so it's not like I could cheat even if I wanted to. When I miss a few turns in a row, though, and essentially just sit there and wait for 15 minutes while everyone else gets to play, I can really see the appeal of fudging rolls. If everyone keeps missing (as happened in the first session of a recent campaign), a single fudged roll can mean that the whole table gets engaged again.

Out of combat, if the outcome of me failing to open a locked door is "you try to open the lock, but your fingers keep slipping under the pressure and you can't seem to crack it," my response is just going to be "oh damn, okay" as I sit back and wait for someone else to act, or try again, or think of something else to do. This is a common result of a failed roll, but it's a very passive one; it demands no action or reaction, and will probably garner a passive response. If, on the other hand, the consequence is "your pick gets stuck, and the noise of your struggle to free it from the mechanism attracts the attention of the guards, who are quickly coming your direction," that spurs reaction and drives the game forward. I can't just sit and wait after that or simply try again.

So if a player is cheating or seems bummed out by failed rolls, it could be that they're sad about not playing the hero they imagined, or that they're not "winning" at the game, but it may just be that failing in d&d is usually kind of boring unless you've got a really terrific, standout DM.

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Source: reddit.com

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