I’m not a cheater (not a conscious one, anyway) but in 3rd edition, I often forgot to keep strict track of the duration of Haste, Rage and similar effects. My group tracked these durations by keeping a d6 face turned to the number of rounds remaining. Often a turn would go by… or three… and it wouldn’t occur to anyone to decrement the die. We’d finish a grueling battle and the Haste counter would still be turned accusingly to 6.
If I had a negative condition on me (blind for 4 turns, for instance), it was a different story. When I took an attack, I’d think about my blindness and about how I wanted to get rid of it, and I would decrement that die.
In the stark watches of the night, the time when, traditionally, good men must come to grips with their ethical failings as D&D players, I tell myself that I’m no more dishonest than other players; it is my subconscious that is a cheater. I think this is a universal human trait.
The brain is wired to be good at keeping track of potential avenues of advantage. They are exciting, and we like to dwell on them. The brain is not so good at keeping track of all the occasions on which we should step up like a man and take our medicine. Those are boring, dull, forgettable, and stupid; best forgotten.
Game mechanics should work with the human brain. I propose this game-design principle: “You only need to remember things that benefit you”. Players should have to remember their +2 to attack from the cleric, but not be counted on to volunteer that they grant combat advantage. Same with the DM: the DM should have to remember all the monsters’ situational bonuses, but the players should chime in with all the monsters’ relevant penalties. NOT THAT THIS HAS EVER BEEN A PROBLEM. When I’m DMing, the players won’t shut UP about all the horrible effects they’ve applied to monsters. “Don’t forget the orc is Weakened.” “Do you remember that every time you make a dice roll, the gnoll takes 5 damage?” “Did the yuan-ti just move? Every time the yuan-ti moves, I get to steal one item from the DM’s house.”
4e generally works well with the “You only need to remember things that benefit you” principle, although it was never an explicit design goal, as far as I know. I forget to make my saving throw occasionally, but not often (and if I do, a friend reminds me). Ongoing damage is a different story. I often forget that unless the DM says, “Did you take your 5 poison damage?” None of my fellow players ever prompt me, either; you feel like a squealer reminding another PC about ongoing damage. It’s like turning a fellow prisoner over to the mean warden.
Ongoing damage conveys no advantage to the PC; and it happens at the beginning of the PC’s turn, interrupting all the exciting plans the PC has formulated for his or her action. It’s in the way. It’s forgettable. I wish that inflicting ongoing damage were part of the attacker’s turn. I think it would be remembered more often and feel more like an attack, and not like irritating bookkeeping.
An advantage of the “You only need to remember things that benefit you” principle is that forgetting carries its own punishment. If you forget to make your saving throw or add your extra damage, there’s no need to try to backtrack and figure out what would have happened; you simply lose your benefit. It’s annoying, but you’ve only cheated yourself. It’s more palatable than having your character killed because the DM forgot that his monster was stunned.
4e has far too many unique effects to institute this rule across the board, but I will remember it when I design my own game, “Quest for the Crown 2: Quest for the Ruby Emerald: The RPG”