Friday Favourite: The Importance of Trust and Honesty in D&D

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 14, 2014

On Friday we comb through our extensive archives to find an older article that we feel deserves another look. 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 Joe H. March 18, 2014 at 5:13 am

Honesty as you mentioned is at the core of any and all RPGs no matter what. We have come together to play a game and have fun since that is what gaming is about. When issues such as trust come up it can turn a great time into dissatisfaction in the blink of an eye.

In one of the many games I have played we had a guy that would roll his dice then pick them up before anyone could see it and claim it was anything from a 15 – 19. When he would get a natural 20 he would show off so we could all see he actually rolled it, that was the only time we really ever say what he was rolling. After a few games where he would manage to get the exact number needed to hit the target we called him on it, especially since a few of us watched him roll a 1 and then pick it up declaring that he rolled a 16. He tried denying it but in the end he admitted to it. We gave him what was essentially a 3 game suspension. We told him that his character had fallen ill and would be in a coma for a few sessions and that we would call him when his character would be revived.

This seemed to drive the point home to him that we are there to have a good time, not try to seem like the guy who could never miss. Once he came back he never went back to his old dice rolling, he would roll his dice where everyone could see it and in the end I know we had a lot more entertainment during the games. He himself even told us he was having a lot more fun now, since combat was a little more intense with misses. Where one turn he would miss, then the next turn he would manage to hit his target and mess them up. The tension during some of the “boss battles” made it all worth it.

2 Brian March 19, 2014 at 6:22 pm

“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.”

I disagree with you here.

The -1 doesn’t seem like a fun consequence, and it’s clearly not one the player of the character bought into and thought was interesting. In short, it sounds more like a punishment than a consequence. As DMs, we should work to create interesting consequences, but never should we punish our players.

They sound similar, but there is a difference. Punishments are designed to make a player feel bad – such as giving him attack penalties to make him less effective in combat. They’re designed to prevent players from doing things because the punishment for doing it sucks (obviously, this player felt that this was a sucky punishment, otherwise he wouldn’t have objected so strongly). Consequences are designed to advance the story, and are generally things that a player can accept because it helps create an interesting story or may add cool challenges. Generally, consent is a good indicator of the difference. If a player responds with “Okay, cool…” and rolls with it, chances are he thinks its an interesting consequence and not a sucky punishment.

Sucky punishment: -1 to attack rolls is a sucky punishment
Interesting consequence: You sold your soul to satan for some more time on this earth. Next adventure, we head down the river Styx, go straight into hell, kick Satan’s ass, and take your soul back like badasses.

And, this is D&D. Our characters are supposed to be badasses. Where’s the fun in a game where all the characters always err on the side of caution?

We want our players to take risks. It makes the game more interesting. But if we punish them when they take those risks and fail, we’re training them to constantly engage in failure-mitigating behaviours instead of doing awesome (and risky) things.

You need trust and honesty in D&D. Players and DMs need to trust trust each other to work together to tell an interesting story – and DMs handing out punishments erodes that trust and turns the game from a collaborative effort at creating an awesome story into a competition between players and DMs.

3 AnonGuy5 March 20, 2014 at 4:57 pm


I think you completely ignored the part where all the guy had to do was shell out 600 artificial gold pieces to be resurrected, but decided against it for whatever reason he saw fit. Not only that, but this was 1 of 2 cases where he was acting purely within his own character’s best interest and not the party. I think his death was deserved, and quite frankly if he didn’t want to abide by the DM rules – then he can simply find another table.

ALSO, you speak of fun, but it sounds as though this guy was having fun at his own expense and ruining it for other players. At which point, the DM killed him out of his own in-game arrogance. Lets not forget, he was initially warned – which further indicates that he just did not care. I don’t know about most people, but I play games (board, card, and video) for a little bit of everything (fun, risk, challenge and reward) mixed together. I also enjoy the company of my tablemates as well, and we all play well together, follow the rules, and have a good time!

This guy doesn’t sound like someone that would be fun to play with.

4 Andrew March 25, 2014 at 5:30 am

The first game I ever played there was only one guy in the group who’d played before, he suggested I DM. Which looking back is pretty strange in itself given I had no idea what to do, (it was only basic D&D) and then he took advantage of my naivety to exploit the game where ever he could. On top of advising the DM who didn’t really know what to do he also positioned himself so no one could see his dice rolls, and would often say ‘does a 20 hit?’ throughout combat which afterwards became a joke between myself and the other players. As sucky as that was it did kindle an interest in the game, although I never bothered to play with that guy again.

5 Vobekhan March 27, 2014 at 7:49 am

In one of my old 2e groups we had a guy who would constantly roll his d20 between turns and try to save a decent roll for use on his turn, claiming “I rolled it to save time”, as DM I didnt have to say anything as the other players all gave him the option of rolling properly or leaving the game.

More recently in the Encounters sessions we had one player who would try and derail the plot of the session if his character wasnt either benefitting or the the centre of attention. So I made him the centre of all the bad guys attention and he realised that perhaps it wasnt the best idea. Thankfully though, since we made the change to Next he hasnt been down and the current group (despite most being new to RPG’s in general) really get the idea of heroic group play.

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