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View Full Version : Help with a backstabbing campaign.



Siege Tower
2011-08-21, 09:44 PM
I'm currently working on a campaign in which my players would be competing with each other. The basic premise is that they're all representatives of their respective nations and the goal would be for one of the nations to conquer the earth. The player who's nation conquers, wins.

The reason they need to cooperate initially is because they need to attain a macguffin from each nation.

The problem I am having is that I can't think of a reason why the players wouldn't just openly kill each other to win or just say "lets all be friends" and go for a coalition victory.

Right now what I'm thinking of doing is to send each one of my players an e-mail saying I want them to be a traitor and be the only one who is working towards their own nations interests.

What do you guys think? Has backstabbing ever worked out in any campaigns you've run?

Tyndmyr
2011-08-21, 09:48 PM
In practice....the open killing tends to happen. I've run a few of these, and they're great fun so long as you all don't expect to get terribly far in before wild pvp breaks out.

In short, if you make pvp a major thing, the story is almost certain to suffer. D&D tends to reward rather fatal encounters, rather than say, a non-lethal social success. I'm not certain what system you're using, but if it IS D&D, consider what you really want from this campaign, and if you're willing to change systems to do it.

Siege Tower
2011-08-21, 09:57 PM
In practice....the open killing tends to happen. I've run a few of these, and they're great fun so long as you all don't expect to get terribly far in before wild pvp breaks out.

In short, if you make pvp a major thing, the story is almost certain to suffer. D&D tends to reward rather fatal encounters, rather than say, a non-lethal social success. I'm not certain what system you're using, but if it IS D&D, consider what you really want from this campaign, and if you're willing to change systems to do it.

Well my hope is that the betrayal will be kept secret while the team is out collecting the macguffins. The sneakiness will be the characters each trying to somehow give the items to their superiors without the others knowing. once a single nation has all the pieces they pretty much win.

Bluepaw
2011-08-21, 10:28 PM
The problem I am having is that I can't think of a reason why the players wouldn't just openly kill each other to win or just say "lets all be friends" and go for a coalition victory.

Right now what I'm thinking of doing is to send each one of my players an e-mail saying I want them to be a traitor and be the only one who is working towards their own nations interests.

It can work. Working closely with your players, individually, behind the scenes can work wonders. Between play sessions, even having extensive email correspondence about secret character activity can give the game more of a sense of multiple dimensions. One way to go is certainly to give each player the impression that they are the only one operating as a double agent, which can lead to great fun and freakouts when they learn otherwise -- at a particularly dramatic moment in game, of course! You need players who find it entertaining to keep secrets from each other, though... if they've got an attitude of "we must band together to save ourselves from the DM" it won't work...

Depending on how you want the gameplay atmosphere to be, you could drop hints in game that multiple players have information that others do not. Pass notes. Assign code phrases by email for certain actions, and allow them to be aired in game, without explaining them. You can slowly, over several sessions, erode PC trust in one another, until it comes to a head in a confrontation -- if you want, and if you sense your players would enjoy it, rather than just being stressed by the whole affair. There's a lot of flexibility.

Siege Tower
2011-08-21, 10:33 PM
Depending on how you want the gameplay atmosphere to be, you could drop hints in game that multiple players have information that others do not. Pass notes. Assign code phrases by email for certain actions, and allow them to be aired in game, without explaining them. You can slowly, over several sessions, erode PC trust in one another, until it comes to a head in a confrontation -- if you want, and if you sense your players would enjoy it, rather than just being stressed by the whole affair. There's a lot of flexibility.

I don't fully understand what you mean by assigning code phrasing and airing them. Sounds interesting though.

Bluepaw
2011-08-21, 11:10 PM
Oh -- I basically just mean find a mechanic for simulating party members having information that they keep from one another. For instance, you might agree with a party member that she had bought a special poison while running errands in a town. Then she could say, in combat, that she wants to use "the bee's blessing" (just an off the cuff example, anything would do) on her arrows. The other players would see the effect, but not understand the cause. So you'd have a scene where the players are continuing to work together, but knowing all the while that they are keeping things from each other.

I recently ran a game where one of the characters claimed to be an Elf Warlock/Rogue from the very beginning. But, secretly, the player was playing a Changeling Assassin, which I had worked out with him beforehand. So we had to come up with code phrases for his actions in combat, which could conceivably seem like Warlock or Rogue tactics, but nevertheless seemed a bit off. The other players knew he was hiding something, and they saw but couldn't explain the effect when (for instance), he became insubstantial and teleported through a shadow. They speculated that he might have made a warlock pact with some kind of special demon that gave him extra powers... but it only came out what was actually going on when he went unconscious in an encounter, and the Elf form he had been wearing for the entire campaign dissolved.

See what I mean? I love this stuff -- PC secrets can add a whole dimension to even a game where everyone's very explicitly on the same side.

Nyarai
2011-08-22, 12:42 AM
A friend of mine did this in a d100 game she ran. There were five factions (maybe four) and all the players got a rundown on each of them. When you locked into one that appealed to you, there was an Information Packet that actually contained the truth.

Example: The faction I'd picked was full of warring gangs. Really, they were a group mind in the service of their enigmatic goddess, but they let the others believe the rumors cause, yanno, it's a nice distraction. Rather than have players just blurt out their powers, (the others had gifts of a similar type, but radically different), the Storyteller had us come up with code phrases. Like, when I talked with the rest of my Hivetribe, I said I was "grabbing a Mars Bar" because of this webcomic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Miracle_of_Science) which ruled faces.

Downside is, if everyone has code phrases like this, they'll know something's afoot, so you'll have to get pretty crafty. Or just be semi-upfront about it, but let everyone think they're special (http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/3/5/).

(Man, I'm on a webcomic kick tonight, so... for a bunch of people going after the same MacGuffins with their own motivations, Darken handled this (http://darkencomic.com/?webcomic_post=20051121) pretty nicely.)

Conners
2011-08-22, 04:10 AM
D&D tends to reward rather fatal encounters, rather than say, a non-lethal social success. This line struck a cord with me...

It made me think about certain novels or movies, where an encounter might be two characters sizing each other up. Trying to get an advantageous footing (literal footing), be in reach of their sword while their "friend" isn't in reach of a weapon, get their allies to come into the room so they have strength in numbers, or try and get the other guy to turn his back.

These sorts of encounters, where a wrong move could be the end of you, and straight-out fighting is too risky for both parties, seems a lot more tense and interesting to me than bashing each other to the last HP.
....Any system that actually pulls that off?

B!shop
2011-08-22, 06:19 AM
If you don't want a "last man standing" situation you can add a superior arbiter of their actions.
It could be an "international" organization, a religious order, a semisecret group that have influence in your campaign and will check your players' actions, and will investigate in any murderous action done by them.

This should limit any hostile action in plain sight and should induce your players to act indirectly and use subterfuges.

Jayh
2011-08-22, 04:17 PM
Friend Computer would like you to look for the Paranoia rulebook, citizen.

Lord Vampyre
2011-08-22, 05:52 PM
Another alternative, if you want to stave off the internal fighting for awhile, is to give them each a different objective. These objectives should be in generally the same direction, but end at cross purposes. It'll give them a reason to work together in the beginning, but cause them to fight amongst themselves later on.

For instance, Player A wants to attain the McGuffin to save the king from a horrible poison, while Player B has been intructed to destroy the McGuffin at all costs. Both players need to reach the McGuffin and may be willing to work together to do so, but they each have a completely different reason that won't work well with the other reason when they get to the McGuffin.

Severus
2011-08-22, 06:46 PM
I've seen it work ok (not great) at con games. Never seen it work in a campaign of any length, because eventually someone catches on, then the most direct course is to just kill each other and that's what people do.

My experience is that this is a much better idea than it turns out to play out.

Jothki
2011-08-22, 07:22 PM
How much emphasis are you planning on putting on 'winning'? Is it the ultimate goal of the players or an initial in-character goal?

How will the factions react to their representative being 'voted off' the team? Will they start to do everything they can to sabotage the mission, since they can no longer win it conventionally?

Morithias
2011-08-25, 01:21 PM
Oh -- I basically just mean find a mechanic for simulating party members having information that they keep from one another. For instance, you might agree with a party member that she had bought a special poison while running errands in a town. Then she could say, in combat, that she wants to use "the bee's blessing" (just an off the cuff example, anything would do) on her arrows. The other players would see the effect, but not understand the cause. So you'd have a scene where the players are continuing to work together, but knowing all the while that they are keeping things from each other.

I recently ran a game where one of the characters claimed to be an Elf Warlock/Rogue from the very beginning. But, secretly, the player was playing a Changeling Assassin, which I had worked out with him beforehand. So we had to come up with code phrases for his actions in combat, which could conceivably seem like Warlock or Rogue tactics, but nevertheless seemed a bit off. The other players knew he was hiding something, and they saw but couldn't explain the effect when (for instance), he became insubstantial and teleported through a shadow. They speculated that he might have made a warlock pact with some kind of special demon that gave him extra powers... but it only came out what was actually going on when he went unconscious in an encounter, and the Elf form he had been wearing for the entire campaign dissolved.

See what I mean? I love this stuff -- PC secrets can add a whole dimension to even a game where everyone's very explicitly on the same side.

From what I've read in races of Eberron Changlings don't lose their disguises when they go out cold unless they're very young. After around two years old they can sleep in their disguises.

But it's your campaign.

Bluepaw
2011-08-25, 02:21 PM
From what I've read in races of Eberron Changlings don't lose their disguises when they go out cold unless they're very young. After around two years old they can sleep in their disguises.

But it's your campaign.

Yeah, you make a good point. I didn't do any research for it, but was getting the sense that the other players were getting a little tired of the secrecy, one guy I think had guessed what was up anyway, and it was a good opportunity for a dramatic reveal in the middle of a tough battle. The demon they were fighting was homebrewed -- If I need to sleep better at night I can just say that he had some unique disrupting property in the critical hit that knocked the Changeling out...

prufock
2011-08-25, 03:32 PM
1. Each player (not just character), must be out to get the others, while being unaware that the others are out to get them (unless it comes out in game).

2. They must not do this until the MacGuffin is found and X is done. X can be a ritual requiring all MacGuffins, or perhaps each nation needs a MacGuffin from another nation.

3. They must not be caught. Spell that out to them. If they are, the gov't will deny any knowledge of such a plot and publically execute the character as is. DON'T spell that out to them.

4. If they decide to team up and be friends, that's okay. However their superiors will not be pleased. Again, execution is in order for treason (but in this case, not public).

5. Give them each their orders, in detail, in a briefing (via e-mail or whatever) before the game. There is to be no contact with their superiors until objectives are complete.

6. Don't give them all identical orders! Each nation doesn't necessarily have the same goals. Some may want to steal the other nations' MacGuffins, some may want your teammates out of the way, some may have other unrelated agendas.

Keep in mind that bluff, intimidate, and diplomacy can't be used on PCs, so it's up to each to do it in character.