Falsehood and Status

It’s really hard for NPCs to lie to players when they have no status. Players can lie to NPCs using the Falsehood skill. NPCs can do the same, but it’s a little lame since the players know they’re lying. (I mean, if players are really in author stance it could work beautifully, but mine aren’t totally there and the stakes are huge.)

Luke’s advice for lying NPCs is to simply tell the players the NPC is lying, and say, “What are you going to do about it?” Last night revealed that while this works wonders, it doesn’t work very well if the NPC has no leverage*. I have a powerful NPC in the players’ hands, and I’m wishing I knew a way to make her seem really devious, but lying isn’t working well for me.

Last night in Burning Grunweld 21, the players unexpected managed to capture Queen Cuvas, who is a major villain in the setting. She’s a powerful sorceress and one-time member of the ruling dynasty of a powerful empire. Through body-swapping she has lived many (e.g. a dozen) lifetimes, accumulating knowledge and skills (magical and mundane) along the way. Centuries ago, however, her empire was destroyed by earth magic - she’s spent the intervening time stored in a soul jar, from which she has been scrying. So she’s deadly, a social powerhouse, and her information about the political scene is up to date (in fact, much more complete than the players’).

The surprise was the players managing to evict her from her soul jar, forcing her into the body of a captured hill man. This body isn’t Gifted, so Cuvas has no access to her magic. She has no social leverage, at least; I tried a couple of lies but the players just kick her in the teeth. Any ideas on how to play this?

Since Falsehood isn’t working out, I’m planning on playing her like Scorpius from Farscape. Telling the truth, making herself useful - so useful, in fact, that she becomes indispensable. There’s always a reason you can’t kill her.

  • As it happens, in real life, lying has negative physiological consequences - these are worsened if you’re low on the totem pole, and nearly insignificant if you’re in a position of power. It seems that these are due to the stress of having to anticipate being found out.

One trick I pulled in our current campaign is to use erroneous truths. An NPC dispensed his information. The players were skeptical at first, but I told them flat out that the NPC wasn’t lying. When they found out later the stuff he had told them was false, they really did a double take. But that NPC didn’t lie, and neither did I as the GM – the NPC just believed false information, is all. It was great.

This might not work so well for your uber-smart NPC though. But consider this: Some things we lie about so often, we begin to believe them ourselves. This is quite a lot more common than you might think. Almost everyone does this. Our entire perception of reality is largely made up of half-truths that we want to believe, so we do. Note that this is even more evident in a pre-scientific method world.

And now consider: A person in a position of high status and power would tell lies of a much grander scale. And believe them. The Pharaohs were gods, eh? Really? I bet they believed it too…

Interesting idea.

I’m not sure I understand the nature of the problem. The NPC lies to the PCs. You tell the players her Intent and she uses Falsehood as her Task. She succeeds. Why is that lame?

Do the players not accept that she gets her Intent?

What Thor said.

What did she do to piss off the PCs? Is there any way to spin it to reasonable goals (“I was protecting my family!”) Is there any chance she may actually change her goals/attitude (“Now that I’m back among people, I’m seeing how much damage I caused. I’m not sure how I can fix it…”)

Also, did she know anything about the player characters before she got soul-jacked? Given her political knowledge, I’m surprised she didn’t have any contingencies in place - magical wards to alert allies, back up plans, etc.

Another fun question: given her political power- who was she holding in check who is now free? Sometimes one of the best parts about removing a smart villain is they were the only thing holding back the short sighted, the crazy, and out of control ones…


Yes, that goes to the heart of it. For some reason, I’m not trusting that they’ll do that - I should ask them. After all, if I’m responsible enough to manage what an NPC knows and doesn’t know, why can’t they do the same?

She doesn’t have access to any of her magical contingency plans because the body she’s now inhabiting is not Gifted. (If she can manage getting her hands on a Gifted body, that would be a very dark hour for the players.) She knows the political situation through scrying, but she has no political connections at the moment. She’s been in the soul jar for nine centuries!

As to her disposition, the players know a bit about her through historical accounts. They have every reason to believe she’s an enemy, since her (allegedly) divinely assigned role was to protect and accompany Bedarkon, a liche and the campaign’s central antagonist.

But, you raise an interesting perspective. I’ve already been trying to paint her as a sympathetic villain, it would be interesting to push that ever further.

The system considers intent and task sacrosanct, whether used by players or by the GM. I think it’s fair to expect your players to be bound by those results, just as they expect your NPCs to be bound by the results when they roll.

Also, if we’re talking about an important NPC and it’s important to her that they believe a particular thing, why not use a Duel of Wits to convince them rather than a straight up versus test? If it’s important, bring out the big guns.

Thor is wise! also, consider using truth as a weapon as well.

And Beliefs?

What does she want? What do the PCs want? If she’s been scrying, maybe she can help them get what they want.

Allow me to quote the wise words of Doc Scratch from Homestuck

Lies of omission do not exist. The concept is a very human one. It is the product of your story writing again. You have written a story about the truth, making emotional demands of it, and in particular, of those in possession of it. Your demands are based on a feeling of entitlement to the facts, which is very childish. You can never know all of the facts. Only I can. And since it’s impossible for me to reveal all facts to you, it is my discretion alone that decides which facts will be revealed in the finite time we have. One can make either true statements or false statements about reality. All of the statements I make are true.

After all this time surely she has formidable social skills. Use them ruthlessly. Be manipulative as all hell. She should be trying to engineer her escape. Put the PC’s in contact with powerful White-hat Wizards, tell them secrets about the enemy, become moderately trusted, then cosy up to these Wizards apprentices, discern the right one to play and then drop subtle hints as the the power that lies locked in her soul jar. She is immortal because of her soul jar, so she has time to play this cool. If her boss gets screwed over, that just leaves a power vacuum for her to fill.

Seriously, since she can’t bring the darkness, bring the light. In our game one of the PC’s was possessed by a dead god of pestillence and vermin who wanted nothing more than to see that the PC got everything he wanted. It had a Belief about it. It would often provide helping dice.

He wanted that thing out of his head so bad.

I don’t know… maybe it’s not unreasonable for the PCs to distrust every word out of this thing’s mouth. They know she’s a manipulative and evil entity much older and more knowing than they. The smart thing to do is not to listen to her at all, since you can’t separate her truths from her lies. Your NPCs don’t actually have to listen to the PCs, either, right? Your PCs can’t just announce they’re making a Persuasion check to take away a Faithful character’s Faith by telling him all about the evidence for evolution and the Problem of Evil. The Faithful character is closed to that avenue (most of the time).

If they’re really not in a listening mood, maybe just have her be quiet and watchful and always look for an opportunity for escape. Someone with skills as high as hers will be very difficult to keep captive for long, but if she keeps antagonizing the murder-hobos they might start maiming her.

If she makes her Falsehood test (maybe with +2 for enmity) you still believe her. You shouldn’t allow her to test(gag) if you don’t want her to. IMO if you accept the roll you have to accept the consequences.

But you don’t have to accept the roll. Again, would you allow me to try Persuasion at the Ob of an NPC high priest’s Will (even with +2 Ob) to convince him that his entire religion is a sham and he should give it up, thus robbing him of his Faith stat? Personally I would require a lot of story and situation before I would allow a roll like that. It would be the finishing move after the gods have pulled a Job on him.

By the same token, can’t the players refuse to believe what she says without a roll? “She’s dangerous and evil - don’t listen to her.” Now if they want to parse truth from lies, then it’s time for a roll.

If the players wanted to make a test it’s the GM’s responsibility is to decide whether the task and the intent fit the situation. It’s also the GM’s responsibility to think of a complication.

In a situation where an NPC rolls against a flat obstacle task and intent are still active. Is it still the GM’s job to both declare that task and intent are appropriate to each other and determine complications for failure in that situation? (Honest question, although I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.)

If the GM is doing those things the players aren’t interacting with the game (beyond choosing not to make it a vs test by bringing their own agendas to the table). I think this is where the buy-in for the players fails.

Although I understand Thor’s point, I’ve not found it works that way in practice. Players I’ve played with want to have the GM’s power of declaration of task/intent match as a mirror of the standard procedure. Of course if they actually had that power they can easily use it as an optimal choice “No, intent does not match task”.

Michael’s real problem is that the players aren’t bought into the GM both declaring a task and intent for flat obstacles as well as declaring that the task and intent are acceptable. It’s having your cake and eating it. But that’s the game!

The safest bet is to try to bring in the character beliefs to frame the situation as a conflict where the players can get something they want if they succeed.

Explain to the players what you want to do mechanics wise, “Hey, you’re not totally bought into this concept of me rolling falsehood against your flat Will exponent. So bring an agenda to the the table and we’ll do a versus test. If you don’t do this then I will roll falsehood against your flat Will exponent because that’s the game.”

That power is explicitly given to the GM, not players.

NOTE: The following is how I understand the rules to work, and may or may not be correct. I think it’s right though…

Well, here’s the thing. No, the players can not refuse a valid Intent. The GM and the players operate under the exact same rules, for the most part. The GM can not refuse a valid intent either. “Say Yes, or Roll”. Although it’s not stated in the book, I believe this golden rule operates both ways. If an NPC is acting against a player, the player can choose to Say Yes (the NPC gets their Intent without rolling), or demand a skill roll be made. They can not refuse the Intent without a skill roll, unless it’s truly invalid for whatever reason.

That said, many skills tests take time to complete. They can be interrupted before they’re completed. Completion of the skill test can also be obstructed or denied in many ways.

Say you rolled Carpentry to build a table. It’ll take you about a day. If I come in and burn down your workshop before you complete it, your skill test is completely ruined, regardless of what you rolled.

Social skills are prime examples of this. No social skill test is instantaneous. It takes time to interact with others. It takes time to tell a good lie; you have to back it up with a story. And social skill tests are the easiest to interrupt, the easiest to deny completion against. In the Duel of Wits chapter, it specifically states that one opponent can simply walk out. Don’t like what you’re hearing? Bugger off, and you won’t hear it anymore. Outside of Duel of Wits, I’d also allow simply ignoring the other party. What’s that you’re saying? I can’t heeeeear you! Talk to the hand!

So, yeah. Those PCs in the OP’s game are actually within their right to kick that lying NPC straight in the teeth. They’re not interested in hearing what she has to say. Fair enough. Likewise, your example of persuading the priest that his religion is a sham – valid Intent, but the skill test would never get completed, because the priest would walk out long before you had a chance to convince him. Or, he would choose to ignore you. Fair enough.

Again, this is how I understand the rules. I may be wrong. But I don’t think I am.

I think we’re agreeing. If the priest can choose to ignore me, then I can choose to ignore a character trying to persuade me of something I find absurd. If I’ve deemed the speaker an untrustworthy and dangerous evil bitch I can just ignore everything she says, no gag necessary. And if I want to try to parse her truths from her lies then I’m not ignoring her anymore and she gets to make a skill roll against me of one sort or another.

Right. I mean, it goes both ways, right. If the PCs wind themselves up in prison, should the GM allow them a Persuasion test to convince the guards to just let them go? No. The guards won’t listen to such nonsense as that.

My advice to Fuseboy would be to put them in a position where listening to what she has to say might be advisable. A situation springs up that the PCs know she has inside information about. First thing you do is have the NPC make a Persuasion test: “Hey, listen to me for a sec. Stop bustin’ my teeth and listen to me.” Then link that test to Falsehood. Go for broke, pull out all the stops. Tell 'em a real doozy. If the test to get the PCs to listen to you succeeded, I’d say that they should’t be able to interrupt the Falsehood test. Jackpot.

First, I guess, if the players aren’t willing to listen to anything she says, she would probably just stop trying. I’m guessing if nothing else, she probably wants to stay alive, so whatever suggestions she makes at that point will probably be to help the party insofar as it keeps her safe, regardless of being on their side or not.

I’m guessing a high level of Ugly Truth might be in order. The players don’t have to listen, but man, so much fun can be had with that!

Second, 9 centuries in a soul jar scrying- I’m guessing she started scrying on more than just political powers, after a point? Boredom, watching people live their lives and petty dramas. Does she become more humane seeing the lives of the normal folks? Does she become jealous of being unable to savor food and feel the breeze? You can swing her either way as a character.

She probably stuff like “Human Nature-wise G6”, “The City of Narville-wise G6”, etc. Anything that would have been a scrying hobby for 9 centuries is probably at gross levels now.