Cheating, unsportsmanlike conduct, & bad play calling: lessons for D&D from Super Bowl XLIX

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Now that the 49th Super Bowl has become the most watched show in television history (you lose yet again, M*A*S*H series finale from 1983) it’s time to look back at it from the vantage point of being behind a DM screen.   Or, how can the latest Big Game help your D&D games?  The short answer is, actually a lot.  But here’s the 3 biggest ways.

Super Bowl FootballEven a whiff of cheating can make a game stink: This year there was controversy even before kickoff, and not from the usual off field, WIL Save-failed shenanigans.  Allegations that the Patriots had been playing with underinflated balls became a scandal funnily referred to as Deflategate.  The reason being, less full balls are easier to grip.  {we at are not going to bother making an innuendo from this low hanging fruit}  In any case, one test said 11 out of 12 playoff pigskins were below the league PSI minimum.  However, another report completely contradicted this saying only ONE of them was below the minimum.  Whatever the end result, just the suggestion of impropriety will leave a taint of scandal.  In RPG’s, cheating is common than we’d care all to admit.  And whether from ‘fuzzy math’ or outright changing the number rolled it taints the game.  FIX IT BY: insist that any official dice roll is only counted if rolled in a dice tray, and that the dice must be left there until all calculations have been finalized.  You even have the right to refuse the use of dice that are too small or too hard to read; i.e. those psychedelic ones.  And be wary of polyhedrons that have purposefully been rigged…

imgres-1Craptastic conduct deserves more than a flag: XLIX featured a few cases of ungentlemanly behavior that ranged from ‘juvenile taunting’ to ‘Wow, that’s gross.’  (Not to mention a brawl.) Suggestion to professional athletes- save showboating until afterward, because before that whistle blows, anything excessive could result in a penalty and maybe even cost you the W.  But sadly enough, jocks aren’t the only ones who can be imbeciles during games.   Whether with name calling, yelling, tantrums, or even table flipping us geeks can hold our own in the Dick Department.  And these outbursts can quickly become recurring episodes.  FIX IT BY: Nip outright misbehavior right in the bud.  The very first time somebody sitting around your table- and make no mistake, while behind the screen it is your table- pulls a juvenile stunt, stop everything.  Call for the session’s end to show that you’re serious.  Then on the boards or over group email, publicly say what was wrong, why it was wrong, and state how that’s the last time it will be tolerated.  Then stick to your guns.  If it happens again, demand the offending player be booted or say you’ll leave yourself.  Like nuking a site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure the entire group doesn’t become corrupted by childishness.

imgres-2Pick power plays: Ever notice how if a coach makes an unorthodox call and it succeeds, they’re a genius.  But if that same call falls short they’re a bonehead? Part of that is just the nature of winning versus losing, and where the buck stops although sometimes you have to wonder what the heads under the headsets are thinking.  In this Superbowl the losing coach is being blamed for the play selection of their Offensive Coordinator: a slant pass route from the 1 yard line on 2nd and goal instead of a running play with the guy known as ‘Beast Mode.’  Now, there have been some analysis that this choice wasn’t the fault of the offense but rather how the defense managed the clock.  And that even Beast Mode isn’t that beastly when going from the 1 yard line.  However, let’s translate this scenario to D&D terms.  The PC’s opponents look to be with striking distance of victory.  They’ve driven the party back, looking to steal their success. But rather than use the obvious attack- the primary attack- despite being totally in advantage, the villains suddenly shift to a subterfuge strategy.  Imagine a dragon electing to not fire its breath weapon instead doing a tail slap on a cornered threat.  Wouldn’t. Happen. FIX IT BY: Go hard or go home.  If a Bad Guy is giving the PCs a bad day from a specific tactic, then unless their personality/backstory dictates otherwise, keep it up.  Don’t suddenly go soft.  Pound away until the bad day becomes a really bad day.  If the player’s don’t flee or at least adapt, then their doom is on them.  Not going with the tried & true when it’s clearly called for is a losing proposition for everyone; the bad guys blow a W they should have gotten, while the players get one they know they didn’t deserve.  After all, the whole worth of a victory is that it is earned.

Sports have a lot to offer our tabletop contests, and big sports have big offerings.  Even if you aren’t a fan, consider including some of the elements from them into your D&D games.  Their lessons can be….wait for it…Super.

Watch the Big Game?  Disagree with our 3 selections?  Tell us below.


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5 thoughts on “Cheating, unsportsmanlike conduct, & bad play calling: lessons for D&D from Super Bowl XLIX”

  1. Avatar

    That’s ok, my Halfling will be in Beast Mode.*

    *Beast Mode: not just for Gears of War 3 anymore!

  2. Avatar

    This really makes me not want to play D&D with football fans.

    1. Cheating at D&D is a problem when someone is bothered by it. Most of the time my group is so much more concerned with story telling, fuzzy math is ignored.

    2. It’s far more productive to talk about WHY someone got emotional than instituting a zero tolerance policy on outbursts. What if they’re actually facing a legitimate tragedy, and so they got angry about something trivial? Talking without listening is not good group management.

    3. Nothing will cause a group to fire their GM faster than a TPK-finale to a long running campaign. If it looks like the group is going to bite it, that’s a great opportunity to take a time out and figure out what the group wants to do as story tellers. Maybe they plan their escape, instead, maybe there’s a deus ex machina that let’s them survive, but underscores their failure; there are more ways of dealing with a hard battle than mass player death and deciding together can make every member of the group feel more involved.

  3. Avatar

    Hey Marcus.

    Sincerely appreciate the feedback, even if we completely disagree. I do think the best way to respond to your response is via a follow-up article, so I’ll get to work on writing.

    Thanks for commenting!

  4. Pingback: Playing D&D with football fans - Dungeon Mastering

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