The old adage is that “cheaters never prosper” The sad fact of it is, however, that some cheaters in this world do, and for that reason some players may try to cheat in order to gain an advantage. This kind of behavior is unacceptable, and identifying it is the first step in solving problems with integrity.
What really is cheating?
There are many different kinds of cheating at different levels of severity. The Mind’s Eye Society handbook talks about different severities of cheating and the kinds of penalties they warrant. In its broadest sense, however, cheating is affecting the out-of-character world in a way which gives an in-character advantage outside of defined gameplay rules, addenda, and Membership rules. This can include misrepresenting a sheet, pulling fake draws, or metagaming.
Any time a player includes or uses a power, ability, skill, etc. which has not been purchased with creation points, free points, or XP as represented by their XP log, that player is guilty of overspending. The severity of a player’s overspending by even a single dot can be drastic; for example, the difference between Wyrd 1 and Wyrd 2 in Lost changes the amount of Glamour which can be spent per round.
Identifying players who overspend can be difficult because of how easy it is to add a single dot onto a sheet. STs should keep an eye out for high-expense items, such as out-of-clan disciplines or dots of power stat, which might indicate a problem. Players are also expected to include a full XP log with their sheet when submitted for approval to an ST; this log is also useful in identifying issues. Regular random audits of sheets and XP logs can be helpful here and discourage malicious overspending.
Including unapproved items
Items which require levels of approval for play sometimes can end up on a sheet without appropriate approval. These can sometimes be difficult to detect at first glance, but knowing your Venue’s addendum document is invaluable to an ST. Some ST’s, especially for large events with many characters involved, have a list of “red flag” items they keep an eye out for that might indicate a sheet requires a more thorough eye when being approved for play. These items often include advanced levels of powers or high level merits.
Checking the approval for an item can be done in the approvals database. for this reason, many VSS’s ask for a 24-hour notice for proxies, to allow the ST time to check the approvals on characters. When you check on an approval, take note on exactly when you did so, in the event that you must file a DA.
It is the player’s responsibility to know their powers and how they apply. In some cases, a player might misrepresent how a power, skill, merit or ability might work. To identify this kind of cheating, it is important to encourage or require players to have access to the text of the ability in question for reference when it is used. This may not be cheating–sometimes your player is just unsure. Use your discretion.
Some STs encourage players to bring printed copies of the powers in question, or print them out themselves, in order to have them on-hand for quick reference. For maximum effect, this policy should be included on your VSS.
Sometimes, a player with multiple characters will use one character to benefit another. This is strictly not allowed. Never allow players to have two characters in leadership positions (such as both a seneschal character and a priscus character) in the same venue. When in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of a player’s two characters never meeting each other. All addendas specify that, if for some reason, a player’s two characters must interact, to make sure their contact is the briefest possible interaction and to make sure you as an ST are witness to exactly what happens.
Metagaming is when you use OOC knowledge for in-character benefit. Metagaming has all sorts of nuances that may make it detect or deal with. It is covered in great detail in ST 272: Metagaming.
Mind’s Eye Society, as a growing organization, often gets new members in its midst. These new members are often unused to the rules of play, which leaves them vulnerable to manipulation.
One kind of cheating–which the MES handbook identifies as a “Major offense”–is when a player takes advantage of a less-knowledgeable player for their own benefit. Often games employ a rule called “DBAD”, or “Don’t be a dick”, to help discourage such behavior, especially when sometimes they are not strictly breaking any rules.. An ST who is concerned with this risk, however, should encourage their players to always seek out an ST or trusted player when they have concerns that they may be in such a situation. Some signs indicating this behavior are upset new players, complaints from passers-by and older players who insist they “know the rule” and aren’t willing to look it up at a new player’s request.
A way to combat this particular kind of cheating is to open up communications with new players early by checking on their experiences. Finding out if they had rules questions and making sure the answers they received were correct can go a long way to prevent someone from feeding them bad information.
Cheating versus “Honest mistakes”
Sometimes players make mistakes. Perhaps while copying a sheet from one medium to another they miscount dots, or double-count a game they went to and accidentally apply XP twice, or just forget that a power has a certain exception noted in the addendum of their genre. These things happen and it is at the ST’s discretion whether the player truly requires a disciplinary action for their mistake.
In some cases, however, players repeatedly make “honest mistakes” which allude to a larger problem. ST’s should be aware and record honest mistakes by way of Letters of Counseling to encourage their players to be on-the-ball in regards to their sheets and rules. It is never unreasonable to require players to have a full sheet available to them, including a full XP log!
Handling possible cheaters
The first thing to do as an ST is to assume good faith; taking the time to sit down with a player in regards to the issue can often find things to simply be a misunderstanding. Don’t accuse. Try to understand what they believed and why they did it. If at that time you believe any action is necessary, then it is up to you to take the appropriate steps.
For ST’s, the best solution is to know your players. Understanding how they react to situations and having an idea about what powers they have on their sheet can go a long way to identifying problems in the long run. Remember that identifying problems is a matter of keeping the game fair and consistent–it shouldn’t make you feel like the bad guy.
For players, remember that it’s just a game and choosing to not play fairly ruins other players’ fun. Don’t be a dick. As a final note, remember that lying in-character is not cheating. The old saying goes that “lying is low approval”–and consequences for lying tend to happen in-character.