I think that the vast majority of people who play D&D take for granted just how important trust and honesty are to the game. In order for everything to work we have to assume that everyone playing is honest and trustworthy. Of course, we don’t come right out and ask this of the other players; you merely accept it as fact. If players cheat or abuse the trust we’ve given them in good faith, then the system won’t work and the gaming experience will be tarnished.
Just this past weekend I was playing a Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) adventure at my FLGS and something happened that really highlighted the importance of trust in D&D. It was an unusual situation, and the more I thought about it the more I realized that perhaps it’s time to discuss just how vital trust and honesty are in D&D.
The LFR Fiasco
We should have expected that things would be unusual after one of the PCs was killed during the first encounter. Normally, the party would chip in and get this character brought back to life as quickly as possible. This way the player wouldn’t have to suffer because the character died. The cost was only 600 gp and as fortune would have it the deceased PC had more than this on him.
The rest of the players agreed to find a Cleric to perform a Raise Dead ritual and bring him back to life, especially since none of us would incur any expense ourselves. The player with the dead PC refused to pay. He said he’d rather invoke the Death Charity clause. Doing so meant that he forfeited any awards or treasure and could not replay this adventure again using the deceased character after being brought back to life.
The DM then gave the player another option. He let him bring in a new character to complete the rest of the adventure. This was deemed acceptable. So although the party lost one PC during the first encounter, we picked up a new PC before beginning the second.
The rest of the adventure ran smoothly. Everyone who played and survived the entire adventure got full XP and treasure. The player whose character died got pro-rated rewards for the encounters his new character completed successfully (basically everything except rewards from encounter #1 which the PC wasn’t present for anyway).
The DM then reminded the player that even though he invoked the Death Charity rule for his original character, that PC would still suffer the normal penalties associated with a Raise Dead ritual (-1 to all attacks, saves and skill checks until reaching 3 milestones).
The player was outraged. He said he’d do no such thing. As far as he was concerned it was as if the first (deceased) character was never there. The next time he used the original character he had no intention of applying any penalties. And because he invoked the Death Charity rule he wouldn’t suffer any loss of gp either. Basically he wasn’t willing to suffer any consequences for the original character’s death.
Although I actually had very strong feelings about how this was developing, I wisely decided not to insert myself into a situation that I had no business being part of. We’ll see in subsequent weeks how this situation plays out. Since this player only plays LFR at the FLGS with essentially the same people we’ll see if he abides by the actually LFR community rules or if he just does what he wants, what is best for him and his characters, rules be damned.
I stand firmly beside the DM on this one. In-game the character didn’t weigh the consequences of his actions. He chose to rush ahead of the party despite our warning against doing so. As a result all of the monsters in the room attacked him and only him. The result was a character death in the first round of the first encounter.
If the character is allowed to come back into LFR play without consequence then this player essentially got to play his character poorly without penalty. I’m all for playing the character the way you want to, but you have to be willing to accept the consequences. Those who act cautiously survive. Those who rush in without thinking risk death.
Without Honesty There’s Chaos
What this really highlighted for me was just how much trust is involved when playing D&D (or any RPG). Every time you play you make a lot of assumptions based on trust. You trust that the players at the table have built their PCs honestly and according to the rules. I know as a DM I’ve never once wasted time verifying that a PC is built to spec. I just assume that my friends have followed the rules or the agreed guidelines when creating and maintaining their characters.
Dice are rolled every time there an attack is made or damage is dealt. Both the players and the DM assume a) that the numbers are being called off accurately, and b) any modifiers are being added appropriately. Again, I rarely monitor anyone else’s dice rolls. I have enough to worry about running my own character. When I’m the DM I’m too busy running all of the monsters to check that your roll was actually a 15 and not something else.
Recording damage is another aspect of the game that requires truest. When I used to play D&D 2e back in high school I had a few players who tried to pull one over on the old DM and didn’t record their damage correctly. After a while I just tracked all of the damage myself. It was so cumbersome it ruined the gaming experience. Eventually I said that for the game to work there had to be trust. If they weren’t willing to be honest then I wasn’t interesting in playing. After that the damage was recorded accurately.
So many elements of the game rely on honesty and trust. There’s a social contract, an understanding that everyone will abide by the rules. As soon as one person decides that they don’t have to abide by these rules then things fall apart.
In the case of LFR there is a much greater element of trust required. In all of the time I’ve played LFR I’ve never once been asked to provide any proof confirming my character’s XP, level, treasure, magic items or story rewards. We all know that for the system to work we all have to play by the same rules.
Looking back on how things played out this past weekend I have to admit that I’m disappointed that one player felt he didn’t need to follow the rules. He made a bad decision and paid dearly with a character death. But his decision to cheat and pretend that this adventure didn’t happen for that character (and that his death never happened) sullied the experience for me. As I don’t know the player very well I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to say anything right there and then. However, if I’m the DM moving forward I think I’m going to talk to him and ask that he not play at my table, after politely explaining the reason why.
I think we can all agree that for things to work there needs to be trust. What kind of negative implications have you experienced first hand when players abuse the truest of the group? How have you resolved these issues? How might you have handled the situation I experienced? Would you act differently if you were the DM than you would as just another player at the gaming table?