The Box You Put Them In Is A Trap

I had an interesting email chat with a Roleplaying Tips GM about a cheating player:

RPT GM: Johnn, I have not contacted you in a long time, but I have a problem that has arisen in my party.

At our last session (we are playing D&D 5E Lost mine of Phandelver starter set) one of my players mentioned as they were heading to The Ruins of Thundertree that Thundertree is now inhabited by a Green Dragon.

Which is true, but nobody in the party knows that yet (or is supposed to know that).

When I asked him how he knew that he kind of made a weird face and said uh-oh.

I just kind of let it go as the night was just starting and I didn’t want to turn the game into an awkward evening. We only get to play about once a month so we try to get in as much as we can in the one night we get to play.

So I’m not sure how far into the adventure he has looked ahead, but he has been THE problem child of the group on and off for the last couple of years.

Have you ever had to deal with this situation or one like it? If so, any input you or anyone else can give would be appreciated. I have never had to deal with this before, but my gut feeling is that I will not allow cheaters at my table.

Johnn: Hey [REDACTED],

I’d talk with the player.

What we consider “ground rules” might not be known to our players.

So I’d come up with a set of ground rules and have a discussion with your group. Then as problems arise, discuss with the offenders.

Be prepared to be flexible in case your players have different opinions about things.

I know of players who read the monster manual, for example. The easiest solution is to change up the monsters. It’s fun to do, is within your control, and foils meta gaming and cheating.

If players are reading the adventure, which you can’t stop, you can change the adventure. A nice trick is to move traps and change dangers. The cheater moves confidently thinking they know what to avoid and when, only to be caught by surprise.

RPT GM: Thanks for your reply. This player knows the rules and I just think it’s unfair to the other players who didn’t know there was a Green Dragon occupying the ruins they were arriving at.

Also, it’s not fair to me who puts all the time and effort to try and make this game as great as it is.

I will just ask him and see what his response is and I will let you know how it turns out.

When we first started this module, I asked everyone to not do this as there are lots of groups playing this on Youtube.

Thanks for listening to my rant and for your input.

RPT GM: Johnn, just wanted to let you know, the situation has been figured out.

Sometimes the DM has to admit that he was in the wrong.

The part that I thought was being read ahead was actually on the back of his character sheet.

So we discussed this and it worked out with no big issues.

I was actually able to recruit this player to help me out with remembering some things and helping me to nudge the party away from a horrible death.

We don’t play that often, so it’s good to have someone to help out with remembering.

First, it’s awesome things worked out great for this GM.

I encourage you to chat with anyone who is causing you stress at the game table. The conversation will be a bit tough sometimes, but clear and empathetic communication is always the best approach.

Easy to say, but tough to do. Please try it, though, before turning to less-attractive options.

The big tip for me here was in the first part: “…he has been THE problem child of the group.”

From experience, I know what it’s like to put someone into an emotionally-charged category or box in your mind. You then see this person through that lens all the time.

The major trap with that is the victim is sometimes painted as guilty even though they aren’t.

We don’t take the time to think it through, be rational, or have a chat.

Instead, we use past behaviour and The Box to instantly react and classify the person causing us stress. “Oh no, here we go again.”

The GM tip for today is to notice when you’re doing this and to reframe the person. Be generous. See the world as they do. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Even if the player has indeed done the wrong thing or something that stresses you out, starting out with them in The Box is just going to make it tougher for you to address the situation and comport yourself.

Again, easier said that done, I know.

Congrats on resolving a tricky situation RPT GM! The conversation must have been uncomfortable, but now you have a stronger friendship and a new ally behind the screen. Thank you for sharing.