How To Lie And Get Caught At It — RPT#527

How to lie as GMFrom: Mark of the Pixie

In most RPGs, if someone is lying, the GM wants them to get caught at it (eventually).

Lying in RPGs is a bit complex because there is a layer of pretending between us and the NPC. Very little of the body language and tells of lying passes through from GM to the character without deliberate effort.

This forces players to rely on mechanics, because the GM’s body language is sending mixed messages.

If you want a more immersive experience and you want your players, not their dice, to catch you in a lie, then here are some tricks I use to make my lies more obvious.

  • Pointedly avoid eye contact with the players.
  • When you do make eye contact, blink rapidly.
  • Recite the lie as if reading from an internal script.
  • Mumble or speak softly. Most people are embarrassed to lie.
  • Cover or hide your mouth from them.
  • Twitch or fidget. Lying makes most people uncomfortable.

Other ways to make people suspicious:

  • Answer abruptly. People don’t like talking to angry people, so by being abrupt you warn them that anger is a possibility if they continue.
  • Answer with a question. It’s not technically a lie (good for evading truth spells), and you can deflect the conversation back, putting them on the defensive.
  • Actively discourage questions. Intimidation deters most casual questions.
  • Be vague. Never reveal more information than needed. Make them work hard to get every bit of info out of you.
  • Have two person’s statements match word for word. Point out that they are the same. Exactly the same. This makes people suspicious.

Tells not to use:

Hesitation is normally a good tell as the person is mentally checking the lie for flaws before saying it. However, in an RPG it may mean you are working something out or trying to remembering the NPC’s name. So it should not be something you teach your players to interpret as a lie.

Looking up and to the left (if you are right handed) is normally a good tell that a person is lying, because it indicates they are using their imagination to make up a lie. Unfortunately in role-playing, it may well mean you are using your imagination to make up the truth. So I don’t recommend this one either.

I found that players quickly learn to pick up on these cues. At first they may just use them as a prompt to ask, “I this guy lying?” or to make a “detect lie” roll. But soon you will find your players skip that and go straight to, “Your lying. It’s written all over your face!”

Fun times.

Hope you find this useful.

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A Brief Word from Johnn

Backup Your Game Data

RPT reader Mark of the Pixie lost all his game info last week. He sent out a note to the GMMastery list reminding everybody to back up their data.

That’s a bummer, Mark. And thanks for the reminder.

I use Dropbox. It’s free and gives you 2 GB of space.

Dropbox puts your data in the cloud behind a password, and it also synchs a copy of all the files onto your computer. If my computer crashes, I still have my Dropbox versions, downloadable from any internet connected machine.

Get your own Dropbox account:

This link gives me bonus space if you use it: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/dropbox

Here’s a non-referral link if you prefer: Dropbox!

In addition to DropBox, I also use SyncBackSE software to mirror files daily at 2 a.m. onto a removable backup drive.

So to summarize, my system goes like this:

  • Dropbox for files I change often (work, home and RPG)
  • External hard drive for backup of all files
  • Backup software mirrors data from my computer to backup hard drive daily

Stop right now and backup your game files!

Around the Net: Some Good GMing Links

Here are a few tools, articles and web pages that you might interesting.

Chaotic Shiny just launched a neat random motive generator: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/motivegen

Do Not Argue to Prove that You Are Right, argue to Convince Others to Follow You http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/donotargue

Spreadsheet plotting http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/spreadsheetplotting

The Random Town Name Generator http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/townnamegen

Dave’s Mapper http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/davesmapper The Smart Villain http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/smartvillain

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How Do You Prevent Metagaming?

In RPT#520, Sean made this tips request:

Johnn,

I nearly laughed aloud at work over the “One

More Tip: Top 10 Ways to Stop Sounding So Damn Metagamey.” I would love to see some tips on handling metagame scenarios in tactful ways.

My group tends to pour through every source book at their disposal (and one in particular has a mountain) to get every little tweak they can. This inevitably ends up with a 3rd level fighter that can waylay a 6th level barbarian and wizard, in ONE TURN.

I resolved this by limiting book choices, but this is only one example of many. How do you prevent (or get the most out of) metagaming?

And here is how RPT readers answered Sean:

From: Mark of the Pixie

To get the most out of it, have the best metagamer work out metagame stuff for everyone in the party. I have heard of several groups who have an official rules lawyer. That one person does all the rule checking.

This makes it co-operative not competitive, and that takes the emphasis off it so everyone can get on with the game.

To prevent metagaming, use the hard rule: no books at the table. If you have to look it up…you don’t.

The GM (or the official rules lawyer) makes an instant ruling and the group uses it till the end of the night. After the session, you look up the rule and make a note on the PC’s character sheet or similar. Knowing this rule will be in effect, the PCs can put any special rules on their sheet in advance.

From: Sean

No matter what I was running, be it D&D, Rolemaster, Traveller or other face-to-face miniatures game, there would always seem to be a meta-gamer, uber-gamer or munchkin.

Let them continue to play. When they finally get bored with their character finding it so easy to continue, they’ll drop out or the other players will cause them to drop out.

In Traveller, I had a male player who always rolled his lucky 2d6, didn’t like female players and kept trying to get psionic abilities. I made it hard for him to find places that would legally test his abilities. Eventually, a request was made by another male player to eliminate this character.

Since the uber-player was a friend, I eventually had him go off into Zhodani space by himself. At that point he dropped off the proverbial map, and he ended up GMing his own campaign. I played in it, and we stayed friends.

With Rolemaster, one player developed an “uber-dwarf in a tin can.” He was the proverbial buzz saw. When the other players complained to me in the middle of a session, I tried to explain to everybody that he was hurting himself more than the group because he really was not getting much in experience points due to his abilities.

Yes, he was able to kill something in a single blow, but it was becoming so easy for him that all he got was base experience. He eventually quit role playing all together because of a disagreement he had with one of the other players and myself.

These types of gamers come and go. You will always have the rules lawyers. I remind players that it’s a game and it’s my world. I also remind myself that while players may think me a god, I’m not. Keep it simple, keep it light, and remember, it’s a game.

Thanks for listening to my two cents’ worth.

From: Raldog

Sean posted two situations that aren’t related, IMO.

It’s okay if players pour through the source books in an attempt to tweak as much as they can out of their characters. Tweaking is what some players get into, and is what the source books are for – to build the biggest, baddest dude in the land.

It also means the DM has to work a little harder when designing scenarios, because that tweaked out character will need to be properly challenged. The DM needs to prey upon the weakness of the PC.

I believe it’s the DM’s job to understand what makes his players tick.

For some reason, those tweaked characters should always seem to get separated from the party and have their own encounter to go through…with minimal help from the rest of the party because they’re going through their own thing at the same time.

I’ve kidnapped tweaked characters, tortured them, made them outcasts. Even made one dude go three levels without any armor because he was that badass. It was memorable.

But that isn’t metagaming.

Metagaming is when a player allows his character to have out of game knowledge. Metagaming is cheating.

We play these games for fun. There’s no money on the line, or bragging rights, or anything like that. Just a good time to be had by all. This means there isn’t any reason to cheat…err…metagame.

As DM, I try to keep NPCs from having too much metagaming knowledge, but in a campaign some NPC metagaming is necessary. The DM understands the plot and has to make sure there is a certain amount of tension and anxiety for the PCs to experience to make the game memorable. I just don’t go overboard with it.

If a player in my game begins to metagame during his turn, or suggests someone else do a metagaming action on their turn, then he is warned, and I don’t allow that action to be carried out.

It doesn’t matter how logical of a suggestion it was. If there was no way your character would know the reason for doing an action, then it doesn’t make sense for their character to go through with it.

For example, if you’ve never seen a car before, how would you know it would need fuel to make it go?

Not allowing an action is extremely heavy handed, but I’ve found that if metagaming isn’t stamped out immediately it can spiral out of control to where everyone is constantly doing it in and out of combat.

I’m the new guy to my gaming group (8 months) and I recently kicked out someone who had been a member of this group for years simply because he wouldn’t stop metagaming.

No one complained that he was kicked out, which tells me just how much most people hate cheating…err…metagaming too.

From: Ronald

A simple tip, that might be a fit for your group, is to switch systems. I too got tired of one or two players knowing much more than the rest, or even more than the GM, about the world, and of power-playing characters that make the party unbalanced.

So, when I started a new campaign, I picked the MicroLite 20 system, which is a re-envisioning and simplification of classic D&D. http://www.microlite20.net/

After my players found it too simplistic (no character customisation) we switched to Barbarians of Lemuria, which surprised us in its simple elegance! It’s working well for us.

What helped equally as much was, instead of using a pre-made world, we built one together using Dawn of Worlds, which focused the group on creating a story and world together (not to mention ensured that everyone knows equally much about the place). http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/dawnofworlds

One other thing you could do: after a session, sit down with the group, and simply discuss what everybody wants from the game. What kind of focus do they want? What would you like to see more? What could be done differently?

From: Marc

Here is how we solved it in our Pathfinder gaming group.

We recently had a problem with metagaming where two characters were so powerful that anything that could have threatened them would instantly slay the rest of the party. This caused an unbalanced game and made it hard for the DM to come up with interesting encounters.

To solve such issues, we have now started a new campaign in the theme of sword and sorcery.

The premise is that the PCs are great heroes – much more powerful than common people. Everyone was asked to make the most cheesed-out character they could think of. The players helped each other with min maxing, giving us a party of equally overpowered PCs.

We started out at level 10 and had extra gold to buy magic items tailored to our characters. The DM required that each weapon has a name, and that every magic item we buy has a history that is included in our background stories.

Between trying to explain the characters we’ve made and how they got their skills and things, we’ve come up with some colorful personalities with solid backgrounds and goals. The general mood has been cheerful and casual, which has helped people go further with their personalities than they usually do, creating a fun and dynamic game.

All in all, metagaming doesn’t have to be all bad, as long as the characters have a personality to go along with it, and the PCs are well balanced in comparison to each other.

From: Jeff Siadek,

Gorilla Games!

Dave Hargrave’s Aurora Energy Monster

My all-time favorite way of combating an uber-powered character is a twist on the old Arduin Grimoire Aurora Energy Monster from Dave Hargrave.

This monster has no attacks of its own. It can’t actually do anything because it is a creature of pure energy that just looks like a physical creature.

When it would suffer damage, it deals a like amount to whoever dealt the damage.

I like to give a 3 round delay on the damage. Thus, a party could ignore it and be fine, but those who attack will find it laughing. When they decide to up the ante and unleash unholy hell on the beast, it laughs harder. On round 4 or 5, the players start realizing what’s happening as the exact damage they dealt is dealt back to them.

  • Tactical Advantages Giving the monsters a choke point or higher ground in an ambush will make even a horde of goblins formidable.
  • Reversy Magic Zone Characters burdened with too much magic might enjoy an anti- magic reversy field where plusses become minuses.
  • Copycat When a player does something he’s found in the rules that causes you grief, make a note of it and build an NPC with that same set of abilities.
  • Celebrate Let them have their moment in the sun. They are building these cheesy builds because they want to kick ass. Let them. Build enemies that are more formidable, and celebrate along with the party when they paste them. If you don’t want min- maxers, go play an indy rpg.

From: Drew

My group has had their fair share of munchkins, and there are several ways we’ve dealt with them.

First, the book limiting idea is great. Going back to basics is a total refresher course over the monstrous volumes of information out there. Sometimes, a singular book will overbalance the game that’s been carefully crafted.

With respect to this area, the GM has final say as to what information would be allowed within the game they’re running.

Another solution is to turn the tables. This was a favorite of one of our GMs. If the player wants to use a feat, skill, class, etc. then why wouldn’t an NPC be allowed to use it? If tactics are employed by the group, why not the enemy?

A final note to Sean, make sure you are familiar with the rules being employed by your player, and VERIFY those rules are being correctly applied. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had a particular ex player conveniently forget he couldn’t use a rule that he’d been abusing.

Other than that, remember to sit back, recall that this is only a game, and let the little munchkins have fun with a devious pit trap or monster you’ve concocted on the fly!

Keep the dice on the table.

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Game Master Tips & Tricks

Do you have a game mastering tip to share? E-mail [email protected] – thanks!

1. How to Roleplay Crazy People

From: Monstrim

I have a tip concerning roleplaying crazy people: just TALK. Talk fast, about whatever. Throw some useful stuff at players, but don’t let them have time to think about it.

Got a blank and don’t know what to say? Narrate a movie scene! Fight scenes, the hero killing off the monster, that failed attempt to raid the dungeon off monsters (as in Aliens), whatever. Just whatever you can think of without much effort.

The key is to speak a lot in little time, and to be mostly incoherent.

2. Campaign Calendar Creator

From: JB

I emailed you last year about a fantasy calendar generator that I had made available. You included it in RPT #481.

I am writing to let you know that we have just launched version two of our calendar. It can be found at http://www.startingtavern.com/calendar (registration required).

This version is a perpetual calendar engine that lets users specify starting year, day names, what day the year starts on, month names, month lengths, leap year information, months that gain a day in a leap year and information on up to three moons. It also allows them to move forward through time infinitely.

The facility to add events to these calendars should also be live by the end of the week.

We are always looking for tips and advice from gamers to improve this tool and would love to know if you can get the word out.

3. Document Templates

From: Jeremy

One item I use repeatedly in every system is what I call a document template. I have templates for everything. Some are generic and come from published sources, such as a template for new feats. Others are personal and describe rooms, locales, towns, countries and regions.

I have an entire folder in each of my game system directories with the templates I use in those games. When I encounter new products with information that makes a good template I make a new one.

So, for instance, the Victorian game series by Adamant Entertainment, The Imperial Age, has rules for steampunk style cybernetics. They use a slightly different set of entries than standard d20 modern cybernetics. So I created a new template for those.

This is a relatively simple and fairly obvious thing to do, but it saves huge amounts of time.

In the case of certain game systems, such as d20 modern, where characters will have certain class skill sets for instance, I made NPC sheets that have only that skill set on the sheet. I just add the cross-class skills I want them to have.

This takes a lot of work on the front end, but the benefits later on are immense. I can create an NPC in almost every system I use in approximately 5 to 40 minutes depending on level and complexity (multiclass chars take a lot more time of course).

[Comment from Johnn: Jeremy have kindly shared a few of his templates with us. Download this zip file of RTF format templates: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/jeremystemplates ]

4. High Lethality Campaigns

From: Andrew D.

Hi Johnn,

Just on high-lethality campaigns, our group plays low-level, realistic, gritty games that often result in fatality. In fact, we just wrapped up a TPK that ended a game that had gone on for more than a year.

When the difficulty was really high, we borrowed the Darksun Character Tree concept. This works well, as it hands over the administration to players, provides involvement for them shaping the new characters, and also is quite fun as a player managing your ‘stable’ of heroes (or villains).

This also offers an over-arching strategic element. Do you focus on only one character, or do you shift focus around the tree to give the whole group a good grounding? Do you continue with the arcanist/psion, or should you take a little more grunt this adventure?

Roleplay-wise, this is also a mine of extra material. The combination of tropes and personalities, with multiple players with multiple characters, becomes almost mind- boggling in complexity as the party make up changes fluidly.

Just to mess with it a little, I once created two characters in my tree who were sworn enemies. Because of the nature of the mechanic, they could never meet, but it led to amusing, comedic exchanges with the other members of the group.

“You mean he was just here? Damn, one day I will catch up with that bastard and give him his just desserts.”

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How-To Game Master Books

In addition to doing this newsletter, I have written several GMing books to inspire your games and make GMing easier and more fun:

NPC Essentials

Critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning guide to crafting, roleplaying, and GMing three dimensional NPCs for any game system and genre. This book will make a difference to your GMing.

Free preview: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/npceprev

Filling the Empty Chair

How to find great gamers fast and easy online with this huge list of the best gamer registries and player finder websites. Recruit offline quickly with 28 new and easy ideas to find gamers in your local area. http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/chair

Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants

How to design, map, and GM fresh encounters for RPG’s most popular locales. Includes campaign and NPC advice, plus several generators and tables: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/taverns

Adventure Essentials: Holidays

Advice and tips for designing compelling holidays that not only expand your game world but provide endless natural encounter, adventure, and campaign hooks. http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/holiday

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One More Tip

How to Use the Same Foe as PCs Level Up

From: Johnn Four

Rivals and enemies who keep turning up at bad times make great gaming.

But what if you want a recurring race or group of critters that remains challenging as the PCs level up?

How do you do this? Here are 10 ways.

1. Give Them PC Classes

A staple of D&D, so I won’t go into much detail here. Except for one thing.

Here is the perfect chance to use core classes and prestige classes to build some culture.

Give the foes a minimum three tier social or power structure. Slot classes into each tier. Stick with those classes as the NPCs level up.

For example:

Tier one: Low class – warrior type classes

Tier two: Middle class – add arcane caster classes and prestige warrior classes

Tier three: Elite class – add priest classes and prestige arcane classes

So, keep adding levels to foes and revealing high level versions of foe races, but do so in a way that demonstrates the culture to add more atmosphere.

2. Upgrade Equipment

Get out all those equipment books and supplements and find some good stuff to make foes a bit more powerful. Best used to differentiate low level NPCs.

Pay special attention to alchemical items. These are great one-off effects that can make weak foes memorable and tough.

You can also improve weapons and armor as levels increase.

3. Give Them Magic

Start with weak one-off items like buff potions. Then give foes ever more powerful magic.

I actually prefer potions that give noticeable magical effects to enhance encounters. For example, Faerie Fire is more interesting to me than Bless because affected foes glow. That always gets player attention and adds a little extra to a fight.

Worried about campaign balance?

Option 1: Taint items with Evil.

Option 2: Curse the items. NPCs cursed by items actually add fun to combats.

Option 3: Tune items to a particular non-PC race, such as goblin.

4. Improved Tactics and Defenses

Play foes dumb to start. Then make them smarter as PCs gain levels.

Then make foes plan ever more elaborate and effective defenses.

Finally, bring the fight to the PCs. For example, a group of heroic kobolds from the wilderness sneaks into the city and burns down the PCs’ home base.

5. Tweak The Builds

Recall the draconians from Dragon lance. They offered different levels of danger when killed. Some turned to stone, trapping your weapon. Others exploded, injuring friends caught nearby.

You need not always add such special effects, though that’s a favorite design method of mine. You can also amp up ability scores, defenses or attacks.

Create the Arnold Schwarzenegger school of orcs, the Flash tribe of kobolds or the poison gas breathing clan of goblins.

Call it magic, evolution, radiation, mad scientist or supernatural, but give foes extra kicks as campaign power levels increase.

6. Slaves and Hirelings

Give foes tougher bodyguards. A baby giant captured and tamed by kobolds makes a nice surprise encounter.

7. Use Poison and Disease

These are nasty tactics. Poison makes foes instantly more difficult in combat.

And poison comes in tiers of effect, so you can have poison scale with PCs and get a lot of mileage out of this tactic.

Disease acts slower, often taking days for PCs to feel its full effects. This delay acts as more of a deterrent or drama elevator than a challenge rating bumper, but it still makes foes more difficult to handle overall.

8. Laser Targeted Attacks and Defenses

Whether through magic or mundane means, the foes become perfectly matched against the PCs.

Equipment, magic effects or special abilities allow foes to bypass character defenses easily, or to repel character attacks more effectively than previous.

9. Leadership

You can make foes better-lead to increase their combat prowess.

You can also add any type of leader to make encounters tougher.

For example, a platoon of goblins is led by one of their own.

Then the PCs encounter another platoon lead by a grizzled ogre sergeant.

Then the party runs into a platoon with an ogre sergeant and a ghast lieutenant.

10. Reskin

Take the stats of a monster and rename it to your foe type.

This is similar to methods above where you change abilities or tweak attacks and defenses, except it’s fast because you just take one creature and rename it to your desired foe.

For example, last encounter the PCs met a group of goblins led by a ghast. This encounter the PCs meet a group of goblins that are ghasts!

You just use the ghast monster entry and rename it Goblin Ghasts. Any discrepancies, such as size, you explain happened during the undead transformation process, or that mysterious smelly black pool deep in the forest.

The tips above were inspired by this thread from RPG Stack Exchange: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/stackxchngkobolds

Check out that thread for some great kobold tricks and tactics.

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