Yet Anothe One About Manipulative NPCs

There are a bunch of topics on these forums about how to handle an NPC manipulating the PCs (mostly through falsehood). In my quest for the truth, I’ve scoured through most of them - but there doesn’t seem to be a universally agreed approach.

I will go over a select few of them to illustrate the differences:

[li]Here, the general consensus seems to be to tell the players that the NPC is lying. It’s not entirely clear whether the characters would know that as well.
[/li][li]On this thread, it seems that the NPC must make a falsehood test in order to determine whether the characters believe it or not. But then Luke suggests using Aura Reading to detect falsehood (would the NPCs successful falsehood test not ride?)
[/li][li]This one seemed a bit more consistent to me. You tell the players, then make a test to see if the characters get manipulated.
[/li][li]On this one, we’re back to the PCs making tests to uncover the lies (as opposed to NPC making a falsehood test).
[/li][li]Here, the approach the players know but the characters’ knowledge would depend on a skill check from the NPC is affirmed in princple. There is some nice discussion regarding alternative approaches that would prevent a situation where players would know but the characters would not; but I will not delve on those here.
[/li][li]This one has all kinds of suggestions. There’s again that tell players, but make NPC roll for determine effect on character’s approach. Conversely Luke seems to be suggesting just flat out telling the players and let them play the characters the way they want (even flat out being able to tell that they’re being lied to?)
[/li][li]This here is a doozy. Luke seems to suggest here that you can tell the player, and also rule that the characters are fooled (without a test?).

Moving on to my question: I’m curious about 2 different situations that include a lying NPC; these both arose during play.

[li]The good old lying NPC: The evil bishop hires the group for an assassination; they ask for the reason. He lies and says that the target is a true sinner. The players look at me: is he lying? I think there’s almost a consensus about telling the players when they’re being lied to. I’m in agreement with this. The problem and the differences seem to be about resolving the question of whether the characters know. Which of the following is it?
[li]NPC makes a test to actively deceive;
[/li][li]PCs make a test to catch the lie;
[/li][li]Characters simply know;
[/li][li]Players to decide whether their characters know;
[/li][li]GM has authority to tell “You believe him.” to the players;
[/li][li]Alternatively, am I just missing a fundamental point that would resolve this issue?[/ol]

[li]NPCs feeding misinformation or manipulating as a result of a failed test: This has been coming up frequently over the last few sessions that we’ve played, and is the main question that motivated me to set upon my quest through the forums.
[li]Sometimes the PCs fail an Interrogation roll and I say “If you fail: he doesn’t know anything on the subject; but since you have him at swordpoint, he will make stuff up - and you will believe it.”
[/li][li]It’s the same with other social interactions. They try to persuade a young lady into some political alliance and I say “If you fail: we will cut to the morning after. Oh she’ll do what you want, but you had to satisfy her desires to get there.”
[/li][li]Finally, it comes in regards to Circles rolls too. The group is looking for a tracker to help them on a hunt; they fail the circles test, I invoke the enmity clause and the tracker becomes one who works for the bandits in the forest. He starts leading them to a bandit ambush.

In all of the situations above, the players demanded that the NPC make a social skill test with the obstacle as their will, while I thought as a failure complications those results just occurred without needing a roll. Am I pushing too hard to create complications for failing rolls? Should I try to convince my players into accepting these twists?

Help me end this quest and return to my players with the chalice.

Regarding situation 2, if “this character gives you misinformation which you believe” is stated as the consequences of failure for a roll, and the player fails that roll, well, that seems pretty clear cut to me. If you fail a roll, then the agreed upon consequences of failure happen. If you don’t like the stated failure consequences, then negotiate for different ones before making the roll.

You don’t need to use just one approach, you know?

Regarding the questions:

  1. We can’t adjudicate here without a lot more info. What’s the interesting conflict? Perhaps one of the Characters has a Belief about always being an obedient servant of the Lord, and maybe you just say Yes, rather than roll dice. Or, they roll well and they learn the Bishop is hiding something, but they don’t know what exactly. What do they do now? What are the ramifications of their actions? Seems like good fodder for story.

a. I wouldn’t set as a failure, they make something up and you believe it. I’d just make something up that was a mixture of fact and fiction and let them sort it out.
b. Seems fine to say if you fail, there’s a cost.
c. If you invoke enmity clause, be expecting the players to doubt their motives. Don’t set up something like that unless you are interested in seeing it as the subject of a falsehood test. I’m not sure why you mind making a falsehood roll to lead them into an ambush. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Alternatively, the NPC can be extremely helpful, and betray them later.

Thank you for your replies.

Regarding the Circles roll (2c), I probably need to be a bit more subtle about playing “enemy” NPCs. We did end up resolving it with a falsehood roll, so a clear conscience there.

I think my problem boils down into this: Even though I understand that all of those approaches may be applicable in different circumstances, some wouldn’t fly past my players. Given that we’re trying to play a court intrigue game, “Is he lying?” is the most frequent question that I get asked. I always answer truthfully; but if I suggest that maybe their characters cannot really tell it, or that they have to further investigate, we come to a halt: “No no wait, he has to make a falsehood test against my Will!” Same thing with failure consequences: they never accept a “being deceived” failure consequence.

So in the case of the interrogated prisoner (2a), if he were to tell a mixture of fact and fiction, I would get asked “Is he lying?”; and anything other than a “Yes and you know” or “No, it’s true” would be met with protest. We would then come back to the falsehood test.

To clarify, I certainly do use the other approaches. I often tell them “He’s lying, you can tell”. Sometimes I roll Falsehood for the lying NPC. But I feel like it would also be useful to be able to feed some misinformation (to the characters, not the players) every now and then as a failure consequence or for setting up some bangs later on. (Even if it’s not necessarily useful, I instinctively reach for these sort of complications in an intrigue game.)

I guess the question that formed, as I wrote, is how can I pitch this to the players so that they also buy in? Alternatively, do you have any solutions that I couldn’t think of?

But, but, but, people lie for all sorts of reasons in court. They detect he’s lying? Okay. But, what do they do about it?

So, they want to know if the interrogated prisoner is lying? Yes. Now what? What’s he lying about? Why is he lying? I do not know, sounds like a Task and Intent Question. What skill are you using to find out? What are the stakes here? Is this NPC a person? What Beliefs do the PCs have that are relevant here? Because, there are very few easy ways in BW to force someone to speak truth and Falsehood doesn’t do that. And this NPC may be one Forte test away from being a corpse and my corpses tend to come with families attached. He’s people. Maybe he’s lying because the Bishop made him swear a sacred oath of secrecy. You going to break him because of his misguided faith? Who’s the bad guy again?

Also, be aware that the NPC can supply misinformation and not be lying. The Bishop could easily set the Prisoner up with a fake cover story to hide a fake truth. He could tell you the moon is made of smoked Gouda and not be lying, if that’s what he believes. A jealous PC could force the NPC to divulge his wife’s infidelity, fly into a murderous rampage, and then come to learn it was all a setup. It’s a court intrigue game, after all.

Even with the enmity clause, the NPC doesn’t have to be a capital-E, enemy. They may just have different priorities than the PCs.

Let’s assume you’re never able to provide misinformation to the characters? So, what? The NPC’s job in the game is to challenge PC beliefs. And that’s where I think you should focus. Who cares whether they detect a lie, or distrust a truth? The question at heart is how does putting that NPC into pay, and whatever knowledge they obtain from the NPC, work to challenge the characters’ beliefs. As long as the truth challenges character Beliefs, it doesn’t matter if they discover it.

Dungeons and dragons is dissimilar to BW significantly in the way that the “player skill/system mastery” in the former involves players being able to figure out riddles, puzzles etc. It makes sense in D&D for players to grill the Dungeon Master for clues and hidden information especially in a prefabricated module where the plot is for ordained. However, Player skill/system mastery in BW is learning how to leverage knowledge of the games complexly interwoven rules to create outcomes you desire and to challenge beliefs:

[li]If lying and manipulation in your game is important, then players have to write beliefs about it. Simply rolling tests to determine if everyone is lying all the time is “pixel bitching”. It’s like checking for traps every 10’ in a dungeon. In BW if a character believes every room is trapped you don’t roll a ‘check for traps’ in every room you enter you form a belief about why you believe every room is trapped (“the court is a viper pit of intrigue, I won’t believe anything anyone tells me without evidence”–then the GM tests this belief by someone asking you to believe them without evidence…). What do the characters believe?

“I trust the godliness of the bishop and will follow the bishops orders without question”
“I believe the bishop is corrupt, I will disobey him at every opportunity and seek to find out the reasons for his machinations”.

Now…the bishop asks you to kill someone. What do you do? Once the characters form a belief to distrust the bishop (after the first test perhaps) I think “let it ride” thereafter if he’s lying; clearly, the PC thinks the bishop is untrustworthy, now if you want to find out why or gather evidence of his lying…well, that will take some investigation: Break into his chambers to search for clues? Verbal combat to trick him into divulging information? Go to the sage/library to discover the bishop is actually a 300 year old vampire? Strong arm his henchman? Etc etc.

Not sure if the bishop is trust worthy?

“I will find evidence to determine whether or not I can trust the bishop”.

No beliefs about the bishop? Well, how does the characters beliefs line up with killing someone just because an authority figure told you to do so? When Joffery tells The Hound to kill a kid, what matters is The Hound does it. Jofferey’s motivations at that moment are of lesser importance.

Now, if a player wants to play paranoid? A little Cercei Lannister?

Everyone around me is lying, I will learn the hidden motivations of all members of court by creating a ring of child spies.

Playing a more nieve character?

I take everyone’s words at face value and believe everyone has the best interests of the court in their heart.

The players should also enjoy being wrong and having their beliefs challenged. “Whoops, I thought the bishop was corrupt (and wrote a belief about it), turns out he was right all along and now that guy I refused to kill has assassinated the king!”

Just some thoughts:

I think you have some disconnect with players about task and intent. As a GM, I would never call for a check from a PC simply to see if a lie passed undetected. The Intent of a Falsehood check is never simply “Did he believe me?” The Intent is get the target to do something specific. The Task is spinning lies with Falsehood to get them to do it. So, in your Bishop example, make it clear to your players that if they call for the Falsehood test, success for the Bishop means that they agree to perform the assassination. Period. I think a courtly intrigue game is more fun with shades of gray but if they want black and white, that’s the option before them.

However, unless I had extremely high skills for this sort of thing, my Bishop would be calling for a Duel of Wits with his stakes being that they agree to the assassination. After all, it doesn’t matter to the Bishop if they believe him or not so long as they agree to do the job. Lots of little Duels of Wits is what I would be wanting out of such a game personally. That is how you weave a web of promises and compromises between the PCs and the Court. I suspect your players feel differently.