Well, f$&% me running, people have certainly responded to this Ask Angry thing. I should have thought of this a long time ago. It’s so much easier than churning out long, detailed articles. Keep the questions coming and keep me from having to produce actual content.
E-mail questions to TheAngryGameMaster@gmail.com, but remember two things. First, always always always put ASK ANGRY in the subject or I will track your IP address and use a computer virus to release flesh eating bonestripper beetles from your USB ports. Second, I wrote the long, overwrought, wordy blog posts. Keep your questions brief and to the point. If you send me more than a short paragraph, you make me worry that you’re trying to take over my awesome website. And then I get violently protect myself. With bonestripper beetles. Also, third (I almost forgot this one), tell me how you want to be credited. Otherwise, I’m just going to call you Skippy McDingus.
On with the question of the week!
My monkeys (players) have acquired a helm of telepathy, and the priest has zone of truth. This means they are the ultimate interrogation team. The interrogated person cannot lie, and the helm wearer can look into his thoughts. This creates a problem for me, as I cannot make NPCs lie to them, and so everything is quite straight forward. I cannot do any tricky backstabbing or betrayal stories. Oh, you want to help us? Here, let me pass you through our ULTIMATE LIE DETECTOR. I know I gave them the helm, but they are quite fond of it and I do not want to just take it away because I am not sure how to deal with it, but they are a little paranoid (not that I made THAT many back-stabbing situations, mind you, they are just a little paranoid.) and so they overuse the helm and zone of truth in every conceivable situation.
Sure. You didn’t MAKE them paranoid. They just sort of tripped and fell into rampant paranoia. I’ve heard THAT before.
First of all, let’s get this out of the way. Yes, you did give them the tool. And you made a mistake. Never, ever give the PCs a tool unless you’re okay with them using it ALL THE TIME. The players do not “overuse” tools. You gave them a thing, they will use it.
And it’s not exactly stupid behavior. After all, lies and betrayal can kill the PCs. If they have a means to protect themselves from them, they would be stupid NOT to protect themselves from them. Even if there wasn’t a pattern of lies and betrayal. Because lies and betrayal are the sort of thing that only take a very small pattern of “one occurrence.”
This happens. Every so often, the heroes end up with something that removes a dangerous or inconvenient problem from their lives. Like lies. Or running out of rations. Or any ground based obstacle. That’s called growth. And every GM has the same instinct: sabotage the hell out of it. And then you get into this nasty arms race where you are trying to conceive more and more situations where the PCs awesome tools don’t work and the PCs are working harder and harder to subvert your contrivances. You say it’s all in the name of “creating a good challenge” and “preserving game balance,” but that’s bulls$&%.
Here’s the deal: you can’t lie to the PCs anymore. That’s it. They won that battle. Learn to live with it. You made your bed, now lie in it. And that doesn’t mean never try to lie. You can’t just stop lying. They have to still catch people in lies. Sorry.
Look, GMing isn’t all about challenging the party, it’s also about challenging yourself. That means using the fact that the PCs can detect lies as part of the game and part of the world now. I’ll give you my favorite example. We had this TV show in America called “Pushing Daisies.” The premise was basically the “speak with dead detective agency.” Every week, someone got killed and the main character, who could magically speak briefly with the dead, would ask the victim who did it. And victim would usually answer. But that didn’t solve the whole mystery. In fact, the clues the victim gave were sometimes red herrings, sometimes impossible, sometimes perfectly accurate, whatever. It varied.
So, you’re going to have to step up your story game.
See, I’m going to suggest that the fact that your inability to lie to or betray the PCs is only a disaster because you use that a lot. Even though you insist you didn’t make your players paranoid, you probably rely on lies and betrayal far more than you realize. It’s actually just one tool. One minor tool. Learn to live without out. Don’t run mysteries that hinge on the person lying.
Now, other GMs will suggest you look into all of the limitations of the various spells and devices and make sure you reign in the PCs abuse. But again, that sort of GMing arms race is a disaster. Don’t do it. They won this battle, let them have that.
But DO think about the world around the PCs now that you’ve got these people running around who can read thoughts and detect lies. What do you do, for example, when the king (surrounded by his high level advisors like wizards and generals and whatever) is lying. To you or to other people. Can you even throw down a Zone of Truth in that situation? And if you accuse him of lying, can you make other people believe you? Knowing someone is lying doesn’t always get you very far. Even being able to read their surface thoughts doesn’t get you far.
What happens when the PCs enemies figure out what they can do? Can they get around it? Or even use it to their advantage? Can they prevent it? Fool it? Magento was a great villain (in the movies because f$&% comics) because he had that helmet that Captain Picard couldn’t use his magic powers through. Maybe the PCs need a villain like that.
Or, maybe the king calls on them to start solving problems. Legal disputes. Peace treaties. Whatever. And then they start to discover that people lie for all sorts of reasons. What happens when they find out someone is technically guilty of a crime, but they are lying to protect their kids who will starve and die or whatever? Or the peace treaty negotiation in which both your side and the enemy are lying and it’s going to screw over everyone.
Or, once they get a reputation as lie detectors, some organization calls on them to pick apart a cult of Vecna (or another god) that uses secrets, lies, and betrayal. These cultists are so used to lies and betrayal and keeping secrets, they all protect themselves from them (and from the means to defeat them) as a matter of course. Underlings are told nothing about their superiors. Different cells are ignorant of each other. Then, the mission becomes about finding the useful lynchpin people and ripping their minds out so you can work your way to the top of the organization.
These things don’t subvert or ruin the PCs abilities. They make use of them. They accept them as part of the game and build the game on top of them. That’s far better than the arms race of increasing screwjobs.