Cheating Is Wrong...Usually

Growing up I had trouble dealing with the temptation to cheat. I would sneak through cards in my deck when my opponent wasn't looking, I would fudge dice rolls that nobody was in position to see, all kinds of stuff. It was an odd thing that I would pretty much only do it when I was playing against my younger sister. I understood the concept of letting her win every now and then, but I rejected this philosophy outright and would do everything in my power to win against her. However I would also sometimes employ my dice-fudging when playing Dungeons and Dragons. It was just so easy to do it because, in the time I've played tabletop RPGs, I've played with people around a single tabletop maybe...five times in my whole life. As I got older I got more honest, but quite simply, if a person has the opportunity to cheat, and believes they can get away with it, the temptation will occur to them.

Honestly, whenever I'm playing with somebody, I feel more at ease if I know that cheating is out of the question. It's like knowing that I don't have the option of breaking the rules for the sake of winning makes me more focused on working within the rules and just straight-up playing better. More importantly, it makes me more focused on having fun. Nowadays my cheating is limited pretty much exclusively to accomplishing goals in single-player video games that would otherwise be impossible (or impractical...or just boring) to achieve without the help of cheat codes, walkthroughs, exploitations, etc. However, there was one time, fairly recently, when I cheated in a game that involved no less than twenty-five other people...and all of them were fine with it. Let me explain.

There's a tabletop RPG that was released in the 80s called Paranoia. For those not familiar with it, the game is set in a dystopian future wherein the Cold War eventually escalated into a nuclear war, wiping out all human life on the planet except for those sheltered by Alpha Complex. Alpha Complex is an absolutely enormous underground facility ruled over by The Computer, who is tasked with looking after all of its citizens, and make sure that they live happy, safe lives. It does this by terminating all threats to Alpha Complex, such as mutants and members of the many secret societies that dwell in the complex's underbelly. I should point out that everyone who lives in Alpha Complex has mutant powers and belongs to a secret society. The death rate in the game is so ridiculous that all players actually have six identical PCs (clones) to go through over the course of the game, and games rarely if ever last longer than a single session. Character death is common partly due to the fact that players are encouraged to find ways to out each other as traitors against The Computer for personal gain, and most if not all disagreements end in a firefight. It's one of my favorite RPGs and I wish I had more chances to play it, though I imagine it's not as fun when not played so sparingly. If it sounds fun to you, do your own research to find out more, but I just wanted to provide some context for the proceeding story. The main thing to remember is this: if you are a manipulative, scheming, cowardly, clever, back-stabbing bastard, your performance will typically reward you with the GM's praise rather than the usual ire associated with such behavior in most RPG settings.

Last October at Necronomicon, a friend of my family was hosting a Paranoia LARP, which was something of a tradition for him. As a LARP (Live-Action Role Play), the players weren't sitting at a table but rather being sent around the area surrounding the base room where the game was set up in, accomplishing various tasks assigned by the game's GM. My dad has helped the GM to come up with various puzzles and missions to put the game together on a few occasions, and the entire reason I was attending the con in the first place was to accompany he and my sister (who has been playing the part of The Computer since she was seven). I wasn't even planning on playing - and this detail is important - when I first showed up, I just wanted to watch the madness unfold. We showed up probably twenty minutes before the game was set to begin, and players seemed to be taking a fairly long time to filter in. So, even with conversations and such going on, I still had a good amount of spare time to look around the room and get an early look at the stuff that was being set up for the game.

Among the various props that my dad had brought in was a small toolbox, which was locked shut with a combination padlock. The thing about it that caught my eye, though, was the particular way that the dial on the padlock looked slightly loose. Believing I had recognized the padlock, I leaned down, put in a combination, and the padlock popped open. As I had suspected, the padlock was the one I had used for two straight years in middle school, and the combination to open it was still burned into my mind. Satisfied with my discovery, I closed the lock up and spun the dial a few times to reset it, and continued looking around.

Some time later it looked like the game was going to have to be cancelled or at the least delayed. The game was meant to pit teams of five against each other, and while the GM was prepared to accommodate for up to five such teams, he didn't have enough players to even form two. I ended up offering to join the game, and I even convinced a high school friend of mine that I had reunited with earlier to be the tenth player. After that, the game was on. We were given packets of the puzzles that my dad had prepared, and the GM told us he (in-character) had no idea what the packet meant or what we were supposed to do with them. Good old Paranoia. My dad then revealed the locked toolbox, and in similar manner, stated that he had no idea what was inside the box or how to open it. However, he did explain that the container was only to be interacted with by people who had proper security clearance to do so, and anyone who tampered with the container without proper authority would be summarily executed. Possessing such authority would, of course, mean that you knew how to open the case, and logically, not knowing how to open it would mean that you lacked such authority. The setup was easy enough to understand: "We've left you clues to figure out the combination, but if you screw up, you're screwed."

I, of course, had to stifle a laugh when all this information was revealed to my team. As we walked out of the main base to carry out an assignment from the GM, I spilled the beans as soon as we were out of earshot. I decided that just opening the case immediately would for one thing be suspicious and besides that tremendously unfair, and so I decided to give everyone a fair chance to solve the puzzles and win whatever prize awaited them for opening the case. I held onto my knowledge for ninety minutes, and during that time my team was even able to solve one of the three puzzles necessary to acquire the combination. The trouble was, in addition to the hints my dad had given to solve the puzzles being deliberately vague and confusing, one of the puzzles required us to discover a cipher, several copies of which had been hidden in the area around the game room. I later discovered that one of the teams we were competing against was deliberately tearing down and destroying any of the ciphers they came across to prevent other teams from progressing, so absolutely nobody other than their team had a chance of opening the case fairly. And, well, they couldn't do it either. I was also told that three others had tried to open the lock and failed spectacularly, usually getting one or two parts of the combination correct but always coming up short.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that I unlocked and opened the case without any problems, which slightly impressed the GM and my dad. The prize for opening the case was contained within the toolbox - three little slips of paper with the GM's signature. Specifically, three termination vouchers with empty spaces for the subject to be terminated that had been pre-signed by the highest authority in the game. I quelled the urge to let out an evil laugh. To my recollection, I only ended up using two vouchers - one to kill an annoying member of an opposing team, and the other...well that one took me a little while to think of what to do. Eventually we were standing around the game room and I believe one of my teammates made the suggestion to kill someone we wouldn't ordinarily be able to kill - meaning essentially anyone involved in the game who was not a PC. So, naturally, I put down my dad's character name and the GM had him executed. After he had done the deed, the GM turned to me, trying to hold back a smirk, and said, "You solved the puzzles...won the prize...and you killed your own father." Then he gave me a thumbs up.

The entire game was a fun experience but my favorite part of the day was revealing what I had done to both of them once the game was over. Knowing that I had cheated really cracked the GM up, but I think my dad was kicking himself a little bit. I'm sure he would have preferred it if someone had actually legitimately solved the puzzles he had thought up. All told, however, they had nothing but positive things to say about how I had handled the knowledge, since I had given my opponents their fair chance when I could have chosen not to, and besides, being a cheating bastard is very much in the spirit of Paranoia. Most importantly, it was pretty damn funny too.

1 comment:

  1. I find that, in most games, it's okay to play a conniving, arrogant, cowardly, and/or cheating asshole. Just so long as you're at least somewhat cool or clever about it. It's what makes a good heel. lol