I'm not gonna QT it, but a friend brought up how we don't question why game masters are implicitly allowed to "break the rules" or "cheat" but if players do either, that's bad.

And I'd like to talk about why we don't. It starts with the fact that a GM is often also a designer.
In video games, the people who make the game used to put it out & then it was done. They couldn't change or update it or really correct anything which was wrong. And between that & the limited hardware, this caused a need for game devs to sometimes cheat their players & system.
Sometimes it would be like how the bushes & the clouds in Super Mario were the same differently colored asset. Sometimes it would be cut scenes that serve as loading screens. Sometimes it would be health bars which actually had more health in the last remaining hearts or bars.
Perhaps the best example is how Resident Evil IV features a dynamic difficulty setting that the designers never told anyone that it existed. If you were doing well, the code would make it harder. And if you died a lot, the code would make it easier. It was programmed to cheat.
So why's that fair?

Well. Because it's part of game design.

A common frustration in video game design world is that, oftentimes, players will "optimize the fun" out of a game. You see it with farming, with cautious gameplay, with even many speedrunning strategies.

Speaking of.
Because of the nature of video games, it's always been possible for players to "cheat" them. Look at any modern speedrun of a Mario game & you'll see players doing things in very, very unintended ways. Speedrunning also limits categories by what cheats can be performed.

Because there's the way the game is "supposed" to be played, which is the "official" way. But even "unofficial" ways can be formalized enough for communities to agree that a run of that game counts.

It's all about community consensus ultimately.

So. What about game masters?
Well GMs are in the interesting position of being part designer, part player, & part code interpreter. And it's the designer aspect, I'd argue, that gives us this implicit allowance for GMs to "cheat."

They are the designers in RE4 who are allowed to lie about the difficulty.
And I'd argue the majority of people who get mad & complain about GMs & their ability to cheat are the same who would be mad at learning RE4 had that dynamic difficulty system.

But because RE4's code is one step removed from the face that designed it, it's little better.
And the reason players "cheating" is bad is because that role is often much more strictly defined by the mechanics & system.

Except... TTRPGs aren't video games.

There is no code.

You can't "cheat" a TTRPG like how you can cheat at Mario because TTRPGs are a shared agreement.
Which is why cheating players often feel much, much worse than cheating GMs. Because the player most likely is trying to cheat without acknowledging it. Whereas the GM may "cheat" without acknowledging it because that's often part of the TTRPG & social contract of the group.
If every other player is abiding the rules & has agreed that only the GM can make secret adjustments, a player doing so without stating their intent to - let alone asking if they can - is a violation of trust. And in that moment, the player has put themselves over everyone else.
I'm not saying GMs cheat in bad ways too. There's plenty of horror stories about terrible GMs who cheat their players out of deserves progress.

But I'd argue that's not a violation because of the cheating; it's a violation of the trust given to the GM to make hidden adjustments.
Players trust & hope that if their GM changes the damage dealt or fudges a rule or ignores or retcons or changes something that it will be in service to the story & the players trust.

Unless players have agreed they can do the same any dice fudge or secret item becomes cheating.
All of this to say:

The right way to play a TTRPG is the way your table agrees to. And if you don't like the way it is, bring it up. And if everyone else disagrees, well, might be time to move on.

But make sure you talk about your social contact with whatever group you join.
You can follow @RileyGryc.
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