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I am DMing the Lost Mine of Phandelver Starter Set campaign for 5e with my two friends, and one of them is bringing his two friends. They use D&D Beyond, and their character sheets contain almost all 16 or 18 stats with tons of manually input gold. One of them is also a druid with 24 health. So how to persuade my players not to cheat?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you know if they are actually cheating, or if they are just confused on how to properly make their characters? \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Oct 29 '19 at 22:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ I asked them, they played a couple games before. it might just be me, but i don't want anyone trying to one-up each other or try to beat the game. \$\endgroup\$ – NoodlezOfTheChickeen Oct 29 '19 at 22:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ rpg.stackexchange.com/q/133350/10642 — possibly related. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Oct 30 '19 at 12:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ A few questions: Is it just the 2 friends of the friend with the suspicious character sheets or is it everyone? What age group(s) are we dealing with? \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Olson Nov 1 '19 at 1:08

12 Answers 12

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Don’t run the game. At least, not like that.

“Guys, these characters aren’t legal. I’m not running a game with them.”

If they persist, don’t be drawn into an argument. “I’m not running it,” and “I’m still not running it,” and is all you need to say.

When arguing doesn’t get what they want — when it gets them less in the form of no game — they’ll have to make up their mind whether they really want to play.

  • If they don’t, you’ve dodged a bullet: they were going to make the game all about their favourite ways to break the rules to get uber-powerful characters, which is a headache even for experienced DMs. That won’t be fun for you, judging by the existence of your question.

  • If they do want to play, great. Make characters together, instead of on their own. Consider using the standard array method instead of rolling, if you doubt their ability to roll openly and fairly.

    Expect that they’ll try something else, though. If they don’t, great, if they do, remind them you’re runnning D&D, not whatever made-up rules they want.

There’s a natural balance between DM authority and player agency, but them wanting you to be a doormat is not in the range of healthy balance. If you want to enjoy this too, they need to not walk all over you.

Don’t run the game. Unless they’re willing to play the game that you all agreed to in the first place.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer, but with LMoP having pregens, add that as "we play the pregens or we don't play" is an option. Your call \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 29 '19 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Natural corollary: "Create an agreement on what game you want to play". Session 0 is your friend. \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Oct 29 '19 at 22:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I personally started using the point buy, because of one person that used to cheat and other issues with one character always having "better" stats. With point buy or the array everyone is equal but allotted differently and it is all fair. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Oct 30 '19 at 4:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @greySage it's startling how many rpg problems can be solved by just having a session 0. \$\endgroup\$ – aslum Oct 30 '19 at 14:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree except for the confrontational accusation. Just say you want everyone to start on a level playing field without uber-characters, and use pregens or have a character-making session. \$\endgroup\$ – Shawn V. Wilson Oct 31 '19 at 5:01
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I have three simple rules for character generation at my table:

  1. All characters are approved by the GM before they are eligible for play

  2. I reserve the right to allow and disallow certain character generation methods, and I nearly always disallow random roll methods.

  3. All characters are designed together in conjunction with other players and the GM at the first session.

I can credibly state that exactly zero of these rules are intended to curtail character generation cheating, because, honestly, none of them are. The second rule stems from bitter experience as a player rolling badly, and annoying experience as a GM listening to players complain about bad rolls. The third is a long standing policy that helps me get characters that work together instead of against each other, and characters that I understand. The first rule reinforces the other two and gives me an obvious way to weed out non-cheating munchkin characters, my-guy characters, or characters that just don't fit the game. (There's always someone that wants to play a Viking in my ninja game....)

But.

These rules do also give you good ways to clamp down on any... excessively optimistic characters... from a mechanics standpoint. And the nice thing is, they do so without you ever uttering an accusation of cheating. And this is important for two reasons:

  1. You don't actually know they're all cheating, no matter what you suspect, or even if the blatantly illegal character is the result of cheating or misunderstanding, and
  2. It's really hard to persuade someone, in the immediate- and short-term, not to cheat. People are mature enough, ethical enough, and principled enough not to... or they aren't. That sort of real-world growth of character is slow, too.

Your challenge in your situation is to, as gracefully as possible, shift over from this idea of bringing in pre-made, un-vetted characters, to the idea of group/supervised character creation under your rules. And, if you really think they're cheating, to watch them like hawks going forward.

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    \$\begingroup\$ People are mature enough, ethical enough, and principled enough not to... or they aren't exactly. After a certain age, the terms persuading or teaching someone not to cheat is irrelevant. They either like cheating and never stop, or they are in habit of cheating and never stop. It will take very long time to correct this kind of behaviour. \$\endgroup\$ – mcy Oct 31 '19 at 10:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be useful to allow random rolls so long as they are done during session 0 for all to see, underpowered PC can be as much fun as overpowered. it also encourages trying out different character concepts they would never think of on their own \$\endgroup\$ – John Nov 1 '19 at 14:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @John This is a decision each GM can and should make for themselves. However, in the context of possibly cheating powergamers, "You should be open to playing notably weak PCs," is a bit of a non-starter, so I respectfully decline to change the advice of this answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Nov 1 '19 at 21:03
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Use the Pregenerated Characters in the Starter Set

The people who first played this edition, using the Starter Set, often used the pre-generated characters. And they had fun.

Have a Session 0. Let your friends know that "I am happy to run the starter set adventure with the Pre-generated Characters. Let's have fun with that!"

FWIW: there are pregenerated characters for all of the PHB classes at the WoTC web site.

Make that the opening to a conversation. Go with @SevenSidedDie's excellent answer if the conversation goes much further than that in a direction that you don't care for, or adapt Novak's answer to fit your situation.

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It's extremely possible they didn't cheat

Hopefully you haven't already accused them of doing so. The most likely explanation is that they didn't understand how character generation works, and just put in numbers that seemed good. There are a ton of ways they can make mistakes from misunderstanding rules to being bad at math. And, they could also have gotten lucky on their roles if they rolled their stats.

Fix it by having a Session Zero

You'll want to (if it's still possible) approach the situation from a teaching standpoint, not one of accusation. I'd suggest saying something like, "Your enthusiasm in having made characters is great, but I think it would be best if we all made characters together." Assuming this is met with approval (if not, see below) you'll want to discuss stat generation, and make sure everyone is on the same page. Either everyone should roll stats, or everyone should use point buy. If there's any pushback here ("What if I don't roll as well the second time") let them know that normally any roll not witnessed by the DM (and any die rolled on the floor) is not considered an actual roll. You might well ask, What is Session 0?, and fortunately you wouldn't be the first.

If they won't play fair, don't play

Finally, they may claim they rolled legitimately and don't want to reroll or put up other reasons they don't want to make proper characters. Especially if you accused them of cheating they'll be more resistant to listening to reason. That's fine, don't play with them. Don't make it an ultimatum, and if they change their mind, you change yours. You could say something like "I'm not prepared to run such a high power level campaign, if I can't convince all of you to make normal balance level characters I don't think I can run this; what do you all want to do instead?"

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There isn't a way to "not cheat", and still end up with a druid having 24 HP at 1st level using the D&D Beyond app. \$\endgroup\$ – Theo Brinkman Nov 1 '19 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you do the math by hand, and do it wrong, you can totally just put in your HP total. Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. \$\endgroup\$ – aslum Nov 1 '19 at 18:13
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Your Fact Pattern is Problematic

In your circumstances, it is not a "given" that the players are cheating. It is possible that the just got lucky on their rolls. Assuming otherwise risks your relationship with your players, because you're accusing them of being untrustworthy.

That said, it is a common rule at many tables that players must roll in front of the table. Even in my current online game where our DM lets us roll physical dice, this is only after the game has continued for over six months and we have a good and trustworthy group together (and even there, I probably would have had the players roll in the interface). I certainly require my players to roll stats at the table in my in-person game, and I usually play with close friends/family.

If everyone has to roll at the table, nobody gets accused of being a cheater. Your rolls are your rolls, and everyone can focus on having a good time.

Cheating isn't Fun

Part of the fun of a game is the real risk (and often eventuality) of failure. If you can't fail, where's the challenge. This is persuasive argument in vacuum.

That said, at this point pointing out the benefits of "not cheating" is almost guaranteed to cause problems. Make everyone roll stats at the table and or do point buy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As noted by EternalLord it is impossible to have a starting HP of over 18, so lucky rolls didn't arrive at that value. There is ample evidence to assume cheating or ignorance but not luck. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Oct 29 '19 at 23:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe they got lucky in one of their 1.45e+22 rolls. I know I did when I played EotB back in the day. (YMMV) \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Oct 30 '19 at 12:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Steve Sure, if they're starting at L1. I assumed that they weren't, given that they had a druid with 24 HP. I know LMOP is a L1+ module. If they are playing the module by-the-book, they would start at L1. \$\endgroup\$ – James Oct 30 '19 at 14:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Part of the fun of a game is the real risk (and often eventuality) of failure is only true for certain types of players. I've gamed with plenty of players who's idea of fun is to play a character so grossly overpowered that nothing in the game system can stand up to them. \$\endgroup\$ – asgallant Oct 30 '19 at 19:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @asgallant While that is a thing, it's violently incompatible with other play styles, so players who want to do that need to clearly announce themselves and play in a game that's designed for it. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Oct 30 '19 at 21:23
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Tell them to use the standard array or point buy system and specify how starting equipment and gold should be based on their classes. This will alleviate those problems. Let the players know that you are going to run the game as intended and not as a homebrew. You can also check over the character sheets as they level up.

Note: It is not possible to start at level 1 with more than 18 hp. 18 hp is only possible if stats are rolled and they roll an 18 or 17 for con and use variant human for the tough feat and the class is a Barbarian.

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If you're running a game where stat rolling is the norm...

Have Them Roll Their Stats In Front Of You

This is the normal way to determine stats for a campaign. I assume all the other players did the same for you, but if not then make it clear this is the standard you're going with from now on. It prevents any form of stat-gen cheating. Be sure to look up the stat rolling rules, and allow for rerolls as you see fit.

Also Review Their Sheet For Any Discrepancies

Mistakes happen in character creation all the time, even for seasoned players. It's even more common for new players. Go over their sheets one-on-one and address discrepancies like excessive gold or incorrectly written/calculated stats.

Reviewing player sheets for inaccuracies or outright cheating is a normal DM process - make it a normal practice for yourself as well.

Make It Clear You Won't Tolerate Cheating

If you notice anything that is obvious cheating, and not something that could be chalked up to new players or crazy good stat rolls, make it clear that it won't be tolerated. Be polite, but be firm. The game should be fair for everyone, and if these players won't play fair, then you're under no obligation to roll over for them.

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Just in regards to the stats and gold, I'd say have them roll the stats in front of you, use the standard array or point buy. If they're using DND Beyond, that's a super easy thing to do. Same for the gold, it sort of sets out how much gold you will have as a starter character. It takes all of just minutes to create/edit a character.

Biggest thing I learned from past DM's is to make sure you have access to their character sheets before the whole thing begins to address these kinds of issues.

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Make an overpowered campaign

The other answers discuss various ways to make the players accept less powerful characters.

I say: Go the other way.

First make sure that all the players have equally overpowered characters.

Then scale up the opposition to match.

This will be a different game from standard, but it can be fun in its own way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you done this yourself? Including the experience with a proposed solution is a massive aid to an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Oct 30 '19 at 9:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ The other answers address ways to make the players accept legal characters, because the question was "How to persuade players not to cheat?". "Make an overpowered campaign" does not really answers this question. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Oct 30 '19 at 9:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor I think that this is a challenge to the frame of the question. It's also a good example of thinking outside the box to solve a problem. The point is, the DM is in a unique position to deal with stronger characters due to DM control of the challenges confronting the PCs. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 30 '19 at 12:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast overpowered campaign for overpowered characters is an option indeed, but the premise was "players cheat", not "PCs are too strong". An overpowered campaign doesn't solve the cheating players problem. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Oct 30 '19 at 12:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't avoid the problem. If he just makes the campaign more challenging, he will still have cheater players that will cheat at other events of the game. \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Oct 31 '19 at 8:55
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For any RPG game, the most important rule is "everybody should have fun. And anything goes as long as all concerned people are ok with it". It's a fictional world, the standard rules are there to guide players, but it's totally ok to have your own amendment rules and deviations from "the standard" - whatever rule set you play by.

That said, players are different. Some people just want fun and like to have overpowered characters to easily do nearly-impossible deeds. Other players are ok with average characters and enjoy using their wits and story-telling talent to jointly craft a story which is not always all honey-eating and happy ending for their ingame character. Having these different mentalities in one group is difficult to reconcile as game master and it might turn out impossible - depending on the flexibility of the players to accept the game master's final rule of judgement.

My advice is: talk to them. Don't accuse them of cheating. But tell them that the story is geared to less powerful characters. Don't necessarily request new characters, but sit together and jointly reduce their stats until it suits your vision of how it would fit - ignoring any fixed character generation rules in the discussion (you may however in your mind have an idea of what is realistic).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 30 '19 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast do you think my answer is too generic or violates any of the rules in this SE? \$\endgroup\$ – planetmaker Nov 4 '19 at 9:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ The answer seems mostly fine. It could perhaps be improved by supporting it with your own experience (e.g. dealing with a similar situation yourself). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 4 '19 at 21:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast well, my own experience is what I give as advice. That works for me and my pen&paper RPG group. But I know that other groups with other people work quite differently in ways I might enjoy less but they enjoy a lot... so I'm hesitant to over-generalize what works for my group; I don't believe there is one-answer-fits-all here. \$\endgroup\$ – planetmaker Nov 5 '19 at 9:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I figured it was based on your own experience, which is why I didn't push for explicit support. That said, even if your experience doesn't perfectly parallel others, going into more depth regarding what worked well in your experience and what potential pitfalls there are might help the asker better judge whether your recommendations will work/be relevant for them. :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 5 '19 at 9:15
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Make a normal-powered campaign.

This is the equivalent of someone asking too much from a "wish" spell.

No, underpower it, even. Reduce the difficulty, subtly, but not so they even notice. Present challenges that play to their strengths: if they love AoE attacks, give them hordes of weak enemies they can just burn down.

Let XP flow freely, and award treasure a bit above par.

Frequently end sessions early, with "Wow, we just steamed through that content. You guys are fast. I'll have some more next week."

This is the "monkey paw" curse

Like playing Call of Duty as Superman, the game simply will not be challenging for them. They will complain: swear you are presenting standard content for their levels, just these characters are really, really powerful.

It will dawn on them why that is.

They will not remember it as their funnest game... But you might!

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1.) PCs created by players controlled by with the GM guidance.

Let the players create their own PC but under your guidance. If they try to cheat, simply say: "Cheat or play. You can select one."

2.) Make it hard for cheaters

You are the GM so you can create any encounter. I would recommend some very powerful monster for the players who cheated. Maybe you could create some content where the players should go into a labyrinth where every player should go on their own way. There you can still make a party based session, like one opens a door for the other, but they should fight 1v1 for it. Every player should take other monster, but cheaters get the hardest ones. If their PCs are died (+1 tip: don't kill them, just make it harder for them, so they become the feel: "I cheated, but I reached nothing with it), you can offer them to create a new PC(, but now you can "control" them).

3.) Create a curse for them

Let's create an encounter where the cheaters become a curse which will "balance" their stats. It could be anything what your imagination let you to create. And if you want to make it more better, you could make a quest from it, but you should make it the part of the main mission, like the end-boss will cure the curse. (Just make the curse incurable by other spells/potions/...)

Keep it balanced

If you decide to balance them in the game and not to prevent the cheat, you should be aware of the PCs. If they level up or if they become some new power/buff/... you must take control. But I think its not the only way to banish them before the game starts. Just keep in mind, that you are the GM, so you can do whatever you want (but without breaking the enjoyment of the game).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 30 '19 at 18:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might just be me, but this answer seems to have a hint of "player vs. DM" to it, in both the suggestion to try to kill cheaters' characters (#2, "after their PCs are killed"), and the suggestion that the DM force the players to hand over control of their characters. \$\endgroup\$ – Justin Time - Reinstate Monica Oct 30 '19 at 20:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think I should make my english better. I want to explain that you can "prevent" or "play with". By #1 I want to tell that GM should check flow of the PC creation, not just black box test. #2 and #3 is good if you already started to play and by the #2 I dont want to say that "you should kill them". Just I wanted to explain some "make them harder". (By the way, it could be a higher agro for monsters or something other too). \$\endgroup\$ – Camorri Oct 31 '19 at 15:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, that makes sense. As a word of advice, it's rather easy to misinterpret the "under your control" and "you can control them" parts as suggesting that the GM should ask for control of the characters, rather than the character-creation process. It might help to change "control" to something like "guidance" in the first sentence, and clarify that the one in #2 is about controlling the creation process. \$\endgroup\$ – Justin Time - Reinstate Monica Nov 1 '19 at 4:14

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