The Dungeon Master (DM) is the all-powerful director of the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) game.
Can a DM cheat at D&D?
A DM can cheat at D&D. Dungeon Masters can fudge dice rolls, lie, change the pre-planned campaign, limit a character’s power, or take control of player characters. DMs cheat when they unfairly abuse their power in a way that negates or jeopardizes the overall spirit of fun, interactive gameplay.
In this article, I’ll answer the most common questions about DMs and cheating.
Can a DM Cheat at D&D? (Detailed Answer)
A Dungeon Master (DM) can certainly cheat at D&D. DMs cheat when they break the official rules of Dungeons & Dragons with unjust and unfair intent.
If cheating is “breaking the rules,” then DMs can cheat.
However, cheating is not always a bad thing. Cheating can be good if the motivation and intent is to create a fun, entertaining, and fair game.
For example, if DMs kill every first-level party in the first five minutes of every game, they are either cheating or acting as a very bad Dungeon Master.
If a DM randomly takes control of characters to make them do something their character would never do, that’s probably tiptoeing into cheating territory.
The intent and motivation behind their actions matter.
Can a DM Cheat at D&D—Or Is It Metagaming?
DMs play the role of the ultimate gamemaster.
That means they create the campaigns, interpret the official rules, and serve as the arbitrator of the overall game experience.
If a DM’s intentions flow purely, then it may make sense to call it “metagaming” and not cheating.
Metagaming is when a DM uses their powers of improvisation to help the players have a better or more interesting experience.
Dungeon Masters are even encouraged to do so.
Most experts and players support a Dungeon Master’s right to make gut decisions during gameplay to change big and small elements of a D&D adventure.
The creator of D&D, Gary Gygax, even famously said: “The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules.”
If you see the DM as the rule master, then they can adjust the rules to create a better experience for the D&D group. Sometimes that means fudging a dice roll, removing a challenge, or adding an encounter.
DMs control the entire pace of the game:
- Too easy and the players get bored.
- Too difficult and the players get discouraged.
- Too constrained and the players feel trapped.
- Too random and the players feel frustrated and disconnected.
DMs can modify the campaign as they see fit to make it a better emotional experience for everyone at the table.
Therefore, a DM can embellish or diminish a combat encounter, lower a difficulty class, switch out an unkillable demon with a killable goblin, change the damage output of a creature so it’s easier or harder to defeat, etc.
A relevant quote from Xanathars Guide to Everything says it best:
One rule overrides all others: the DM is the final authority on how the rules work in play. Rules are part of what makes D&D a game, rather than just improvised storytelling. The game’s rules are meant to help organize, and even inspire, the action of a D&D campaign. The rules are a tool, and we want our tools to be as effective as possible. No matter how good those tools might be, they need a group of players to bring them to life and a DM to guide their use.
Here is a good video that gives a related, but slightly fresh take on “Can a DM cheat at D&D?”:
Can a DM Lie?
Yes, a Dungeon Master can lie.
A DM can lie about their intentions, lie about the rules, and lie about in-game events.
As the DM, they are responsible for creating a fun game that all players can enjoy.
If lying makes for a more entertaining or enjoyable game, then it’s not really cheating.
For example, if you’re playing D&D in my house, I might lie about a dice roll that unfairly impacts the player characters.
In this case, I might lie and say that the enemy missed.
I might also lie about the hit points or armor class of an enemy.
I lie to prevent the game from grinding to a halt every time I can’t remember an official rule. I lie to make the game more memorable, flexible, and fun.
Not only can DMs lie, but most DMs lie all the time throughout a D&D module.
And that’s usually a good thing.
5 Sneaky Ways DMs Cheat in Dungeons and Dragons
There are a ton of ways for DMs to cheat at D&D.
Let’s look at five sneaky ways most DMs cheat at D&D (at least sometimes). Remember, DM cheating is a matter of perspective, motivation, and game experience.
That said, here are five sneaky ways DMs cheat in Dungeons and Dragons.
1) Fudging a Roll of the Dice
When you roll the 20-sided die, sometimes the DM will fudge the number so it lands on a number more favorable to an interesting adventure.
Dungeon Masters can decide to give players good rolls for their dice or give them bad rolls.
This is one of the easiest sneaky ways DMs “cheat” during a game session.
2) Letting the Players “Win”
In this case, when a player thinks they have come up with a creative solution to an in-game problem, the DM decides to let them succeed.
This is a common practice for Dungeon Masters.
I’m always thinking about how to create a more interesting, dramatic, and co-created D&D adventure. I want my players’ creative choices to affect the plot.
For example, if the players are trying to close a door against a horde of zombies, I might lead them to believe that their only choice is to hold the door or set it on fire with nearby torches and oil.
If they choose to jam the door with a climber’s piton, or use a spell to cause a rock avalanche behind the door, I might let them succeed because of their creativity.
As long as DMs don’t constantly let players easily win, this really isn’t an issue.
3) Granting Player Wishes
Sometimes the players will do something that makes you want to reward them.
But maybe they can’t exactly do it themselves.
For example, if one of my wizard player characters somehow manages to save a town from an orcish invasion, I might let them use a Wish spell to undo all the damage done by orcs.
To nerf something in D&D is to reduce or limit a game element.
The purpose of nerfing is to create a more balanced D&D adventure.
DMs can nerf:
- Armor class
- Difficulty class
- And more!
DMs typically nerf for good reason. Either an enemy, non-player character (NPC) or player character (PC) are overpowered.
5) Adjust Encounters
A DM can add, remove, or modify encounters in the middle of a game.
Most good Dungeon Masters eventually master the art of instant story fixes. They remove traps or encounters to save time. Or, a DM might add a few random encounters if the pace of the game is rushing along too fast.
Just as the real-life military is credited with preaching, “No plan survives first contact,” the same sentiment applies to the DM’s game plan.
It’s impossible to 100% accurately predict a D&D game in advance.
DM’s don’t know how players will react to game events, the exact challenge of certain encounters, or how badly players might get injured during the campaign.
If the entire player group is hobbled and injured, a DM might remove a few combat encounters to balance the challenge level of the game.
Why a Dungeon Master Cheats at D&D?
The main reason a DM cheats at D&D is to run an entertaining and satisfying game.
In all fairness, a good Dungeon Master has to make thousands of judgment calls during an average D&D campaign. If they do everything perfectly, a single session might end in under three to six hours.
Not cheating could easily blow that time up to 8-10 hours.
If DMs didn’t cheat a little bit, no one might enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Should a DM Cheat at D&D?
A Dungeon Master should absolutely cheat at D&D—but only to balance out the game.
A rule that all Dungeon Masters should follow is to be consistent with their modifications to the rules. For example, stick to the same in-world rules within the same campaign.
If a DM constantly changes the basic rules of D&D, players can get irritated.
That’s a recipe for frustration, conflict, and group dissolution.
Signs that Your DM Is Cheating
There are certain ways to know or intelligently guess that your DM is cheating.
Here are a few tell-tale signs of cheating DMs:
- The DM always rolls their dice behind the Dungeon Master screen.
- The DM modifies official rules of the game.
- The DM uses house rules without notifying the players.
- The DM skips pages in their campaign notebook.
- The DM makes snap decisions for the betterment of the D&D players.
- The DM makes choices that clearly go against the fun of the game.
- The DM looks or acts nervous or suspicious (no eye contact, fideting, voice changes, etc.)
What To Do If Your DM Is Cheating
If you suspect that your DM is cheating, what do you do?
That depends on how and why your Dungeon Master is cheating during a D&D game.
If your DM is cheating or metagaming to help the D&D group and gameplay, I would suggest that you don’t do anything at all.
In my opinion, that’s the DM’s job.
However, if your DM is actively working against the players and game experience, then I would talk to him or her.
If you go this route, keep these conversation tips in mind:
- Be friendly
- Don’t accuse
- Don’t assume anything
- Ask questions to uncover motivations
- Use a calm and kind tone
- Use open and relaxed body langauge
- Listen to your DM
- Validate your DM’s feelings
- Share your thoughts and feelings without blaming
- Suggest alternatives (don’t make demands)
You could tweak this script for opening a dialogue with your DM:
"Do you have a few minutes to talk about our D&D game? Great. First of all, I really appreciate everything you do as the DM. I know that it's a huge responsibility and us players don't always make it easy. I really enjoy being a part of the group. One thing I've noticed is that sometimes it almost seems like the adventures are (too hard/too easy/other). Have you noticed that?"
How To Stop a DM From Cheating
You can’t control what a DM (or anyone else) does or does not do.
Your best bet is to start an open and friendly conversation. If that doesn’t work, perhaps stage a small (but still friendly) intervention with several other players.
As long as you remain positive and nonjudgmental, this can work brilliantly.
If those methods do not work, I recommend that you politely leave the D&D group. You can always find or create another group.
Final Thoughts: Can a DM Cheat at D&D?
The bottom line is that any DM can cheat, metagame, or fulfill their role as the game master.
Dungeons & Dragons is built on open interpretation, flexibility, and creativity.
“Cheating” for the good of the game is part of the game’s nature.