Greatest Hits 2011: The Importance of Trust and Honesty in D&D

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 23, 2011

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2011. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

Without honesty there is chaos. I used this as a heading in the original article and the more I think about that line the more I believe that it’s the absolute truth.

When you play D&D at home it’s usually with a group of very close-knit buddies. This dynamic usually means that there are no problems or issues regarding trust and honesty. There are no strangers at this gaming table and it’s unlikely you’d want to cheat your friends. But when it comes to public play, some gamers (a few bad apples, as it were) will try to take advantage of the situation for their own personal gain, possibly at the expense of playing honestly.

I want to be clear that the overwhelming majority of my public-play experiences have been very positive. I’ve only ever had a couple of instances where players were caught, or even suspected of, cheating or intentionally being dishonest. However, I think that in some public-play situations, especially when there are newer players at the table, the desire to push the boundaries of trust are more prevalent.

During some D&D Encounters sessions players will try to gain an advantage by intentionally bending or breaking the rules. Where this is most problematic is among newer players that don’t have character builder and make PCs the old fashioned way. The carelessness with which some players throw together a character infuriates me. They add modifiers across the board because they don’t know or don’t understand when they apply or not. They’ll take more powers than they’re supposed to or use encounter or daily powers even after they’re expended. Even after I’ve politely given them the benefit of the doubt, explained that they’ve made an error somewhere and that they should correct it before the next game, they still use the flawed sheets.

I’ve finally had to crack down on bad character creation. I implemented a new rule that if you make your character without character builder you have to leave it with me between sessions so I can review it. In most cases I just recreate the PC in character builder to validate the numbers are right. At first I found lots of problems on every character sheet, but now that the group knows I’m checking they’ve become more diligent about accuracy.

What bothers me most is that some players (again, a very select few) didn’t feel that honesty was required until they realized they were less likely to get away with it. You always want to believe that people will do the right thing. In a gaming situation, especially with new players, you hope that they’re honest and will follow the rules of the game and of the unwritten social contract. All it takes is one or two bad instances to sully everyone’s view of D&D. So let’s all do our part to play honestly and encourage fair play in our games moving forward; because without honesty there is chaos.

From March 21, 2011, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: The Importance of Trust and Honesty in D&D.

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 trust. 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 trust 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?

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1 donalbain January 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Im sorry to say that i was in one of those situations the first time i ever played there was one guy in the game that never trusted me even to an extent that he tried to save someone else first instead of saving the guy who had 22str and 2 broadswords and an axe the with a blade the size of a dwarven adult.

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