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I'm the GM of a long-running online Vampire: the Masquerade campaign. Three years ago, we had a new (and young) player who cheated on dice rolls. I kicked him out.

A while later, he messaged me to apologize for his behavior. A while after that, we played together in another game GM'd by a mutual friend. We had a fun experience, so I invited him back to my game. I'd cheated in games too when I was his age and figured if I could reform, so could he.

He came back and things were really great. He was a very enthusiastic player who loved the game and enriched it in tons of ways. One of these ways was by using his coding knowledge to write custom dice rolling and sheet editor bots. We spent many hours talking outside of the game, chatting over voice calls, watching movies together, etc., and I considered us good friends.

However, I recently discovered he's rigged the dice bot to cheat on rolls, and has been cheating for almost a year. He also used the sheet editor to spy on the other PCs' character sheets, and has read portions of the sourcebook I get many of the game's plots and characters from.

All of these things are huge no-nos in our game. He knows they are. PvP is allowed, so sheets are kept strictly secret between player and GM. I am also completely against all forms of player or GM roll fudging. A major part of our game's culture is letting the dice fall where they will.

I've been mulling over what to do. I've arrived at some in-game and metagame penalties that I feel sufficiently make up for his PC's year of cheated rolls (and less than sufficiently make up for the spied-on sheets.) He can't cheat on rolls or view other PCs' sheets any longer. I liked the player a lot, and I genuinely would like to levy the penalties, forgive him, and move on. We live across the country, so the game is the primary venue we socialize through and maintain our friendship.

But I don't feel like I can ever trust him again. We already went through this song and dance three years ago: he cheated, I kicked him out, gave him a second chance, and he started doing it again anyway. I think his love for the game and desire to stay friends is sincere. But I don't think he sees anything wrong with his behavior. I think he would have continued cheating forever if he thought he'd get away with it.

The game's other two players both feel the same way. His relationships with them are in the toilet after they found out he'd been cheating and reading their sheets. They're willing (and able) to be civil if he stays, but that's it. The player who used to consider him a friend no longer does so.

Right now I am leaning towards kicking him out. Doing so will nevertheless make me very sad. What do other people think?

Update: Situation has been resolved. Player has been kicked out. Rest of the group feels good about it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What platform do you use to play? \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    May 27 at 8:57
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You are in a toxic cycle with this player.

The sheer magnitude of offenses and the effort they put into going unnoticed demonstrate forethought. This isn't something they just fell back into like it was an accident. This is a pattern of behavior akin to addiction. They asked for a second chance and then expressly broke that trust you extended to them to continue doing the activity (cheating, hacking the dicebot, spying on character sheets, etc) that they know they shouldn't be doing. You should not allow this to repeat again.

This is not a game problem, this is a person problem; solutions should therefore be at the person-level, not delivered through game or story elements.

I've arrived at some in-game and metagame penalties that I feel sufficiently make up for his PC's year of cheated rolls

Remove the player from the game. Full stop. No conditions or contingencies. Remove them from the game. Erase all trace of the player's effect on the game world (within reason). They should no longer be a contributor to the game in any way. Accommodating them after such a breach of trust sends the wrong message, that their actions will be tolerated after getting caught. There must be a social consequence for their actions that cannot be recouped by simply following the rules from now on. Otherwise, there is no apparent risk to them in trying again in the future. "If they catch me again, they'll just stop what I'm doing, but I can keep playing."

You don't feel like you can trust them ever again; this is the right response to have.

Friendships are based in trust and you can no longer trust this person. This person has been historically and is actively abusing your trust. If you still want to be friendly with them, you're going to have to keep them at arm's length and carefully choose which activities to take part in with them. You do not need to play Vampire the Masquerade with them to enjoy their company. However, spending time with someone you cannot trust can be bad for your mental and emotional health. You may continue to find more and more cases where they are lying or acting dishonestly in other ways. You should not need to deal with that.

Someone who continues to cheat against and lie to you and your friends is not someone you should consider a friend. Their actions do not resemble those of a person who considers you their friend. It more resembles an exploitative relationship.

They have a problem and it doesn't have to be your problem.

Again, this is a dangerous pattern of behavior and it may be tarnishing their other personal relationships with people. Someone with this pattern is likely to lie and make empty appeals to simply get back in the good graces of the person they've wronged. This makes it difficult to know if they've actually left their cheating ways behind them.

It may sound harsh but you shouldn't be the person to help them get over their issue. Trying in the first place may strain your relationship with them further than it already is. You can make a minor effort to push them towards seeking help but a pattern of cheating and lying, like addiction, requires a person to opt-in to therapy with the intent to change. You cannot fix them and even a professional can only help them fix themselves.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I was going to wax eloquently over the "fool me once, fool me twice" platitude, but you said everything I had to say, and more. Great answer. \$\endgroup\$ May 27 at 9:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, Axoren. I think I knew this was the right answer but did not want it to be. The game's other players feel the same way. He's been booted. \$\endgroup\$
    – Guest
    May 27 at 15:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Guest: Thank you for providing closure. It's always appreciated to hear the results of SE advice. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian
    May 27 at 17:05
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You can not better someone that doesn't want to change

You know the saying. He fooled you in the past. Back then, they just did somehow cheat. They were banned. You gave them a second chance. Water under the bridge.

But instead of bettering themselves, they stepped up their game, going so far as to program manipulation software. They clearly never intended to change their cheating way but instead perfected it.

That behavior is unacceptable, especially in online play!

You have taken the appropriate step to cut contact and ban them from your table. It seems like you had been that ex-players means to feel themselves better by winning. To get his fix of winning they cheated and abused you. You as the gaming group. But also you as the GM. And you as a person.

Cutting them out of your life is the only way to not only protect yourself and your group from that abusive relationship. That player made your group his fix of winning. You are not someone's fix, you are a person with feelings and problems and likes. You don't have to cater to someone to give them their dose.

The troubles of chat-play.

Bots are magic? Not so much.

I have played WoD for more than a decade in IRC solutions. Back then, bots were rare. So we had to write our own dice-bot back then. Or rather one of the 1st generation players did write it. But the code of the bot was made open-source and read by the GM out of necessity. Even I had reviewed for secret functions and then tested vigorously, even as the bot was established for some two years when I joined. Literally, millions of rolls would be thrown and got quite close to the expected value. Which lead to the bot at times feeling a little too perfect, but we all could verify that the code was fair. And indeed it was - we had our fair share of good and bad rolls, and it worked well over the 6ish years that bot was used.

When we swapped to a different chat system, we took 3 different dice bots and tested them, deciding on one and a backup solution in case of bot-out. This time, none of the players had a stake in making that bot and we still can look into the source code. So we can trust that the bot is safe from player manipulation.

Dice-systems should be open-source and reviewable. If possible, use one not made by a player.

Communication is key

A gaming group lives on communication. I play the fourth-oldest player character in that WoD group and are pretty much a 3rd generation of players & characters - the older active PCs are 2nd generation characters. We had our fair share of joiners and leavers over the years. We had people on hiatus - and indeed, one character that is older than mine has been on extended hiatus for some years.

However, we also had our fair share of people that were let go: The player from the original crew that I replaced had messed up by goading another character into a duel to the death and then trying to blame the player for actually pulling through. Another player, that had for some time taken the role of GM, had introduced topics that the group consensus wasn't very comfortable with - and after the group aborted that plot, that player did not want to rejoin us back as a player. We also discussed our lines and veils as we were confronted with those topics.

But that latter episode taught us new methods to try and keep everybody on board with the plot, to make sure everybody enjoyed the game still. A literal decade of playing had turned us as people - and our playstyles - but good communication is the key to a successful long-running group. Without it, the group withers and dies. With it stifled, it festers miscommunication and inter-player resentment, which can seriously reduce the fun of every involved party. We have started using Stars & Wishes to help us point out what people liked.

Other players took extended hiatuses for work reasons, others had to skip days for health, and in the last year and a half, health issues have at times cut our sessions short at times. But that all is ok because we talk about it. We are there for one another, even outside of the 4-weekly sessions. When I lay felt physically ill some week ago, I got back kind words and a few cute pictures from them, and when I learn one of them is feeling down I do my dearest to give them something on my end to cheer them up.

Find a way to keep every player on the same page - and if there is a player that misuses their privileges... then that player is harming the group. Keep the group and everybody healthy - socially as well as mentally.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Glad to hear from someone with online experience, and glad to read another good answer that agrees with my call. \$\endgroup\$
    – Guest
    May 27 at 17:20
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There are a surprisingly large number of people in the world who think that every game is more fun with bluffing, and that robbing the bank without getting caught while playing monopoly is just part of the fun. "It's just a game," they reason, "so there's no real consequences, and the whole point of playing a game is to have fun, so there's nothing inherently wrong having fun by cheating." This line of reasoning holds true until their having fun spoils the fun of the other players, as it does in your case.

You need to explain that caveat to your problem player - and, if they still aren't interested in playing by the same rules as everyone else, part ways. I recommend saying something like the following:

<Insert friend's name here>, it's become clear that you're not happy with the rules of the game we're playing - which is to say, you're not interested in playing the same game that we are. There's nothing wrong with that, of course - but if you're not interested in the game that we want to play, and we're not interested in the game that you want to play, there's no way for us to play the same game together and all enjoy it.

If you can't enjoy the game without cheating, it's best that we part ways. There's a lot of game tables out there; I hope you'll be able to find one that's fine with the kind of rule-bending that you enjoy."

I've never had to have this talk with a problem player myself - but back when I was in high school, I did witness it occur between two friends of mine while at a LAN party. We ended up not playing board games with that guy again, but we played a lot of multiplayer computer games instead and remain friends to this day.

Tl;dr: Don't treat your problem player as an enemy who's trying to spoil your fun, because they're not. They just enjoy playing a different type of game, which is not compatible with the type of game that you and your friends enjoy. You should therefore handle this the way you would any incompatibility of playstyle between players: By identifying the problem as best you can, explaining that there is a problem to everyone involved, and no longer trying to play together if it's going to lead to some people not enjoying themselves.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an awesome answer! This is such a refreshing take on person motives. Very nihilistic. Everyone is just trying to have fun... but the fun is not always compatible. Makes a lot of sense. This advice applies to many relationship situations. \$\endgroup\$
    – br3nt
    May 29 at 15:12
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We can’t validate your decision

You say: “Right now I am leaning towards kicking him out. Doing so will nevertheless make me very sad. What do other people think?”

I think it will make you very sad because you told us it will.

The real question and it’s one we can’t answer is will not kicking him out make you more sad, less sad, or the same amount of sad. When you answer that question, you’ll know what to do.

Look, I’ve been there, I’ve fired people from real jobs not just games about pretend elves. In most cases, these people were making meaningful contributions and not actively going against the norms of the group; but I have dealt with that type too - they’re easier but not a lot easier.

These decisions are hard, but not usually because you don’t know what the right decision at the time is. (No one’s prescient, so you can only assess your decisions now. Regrets are for the future.) They’re hard because executing the decision is going to involve an unpleasant and emotional conversation possibly with conflict. Everyone hates that but taking on the role of GM or business owner means that you sometimes have to have these conversations.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the practical analysis. Yes, what this person did was bad - the question is what is the net effect of them on the game, the sum total of the experience? It is seldom as simple as 'what this person did was disqualifying'. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 30 at 7:49

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