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Some of the discussion in this question got me to thinking about an encounter design that sounded fun but I couldn't figure out an elegant way to pull it off:

In some situation where one or more PCs for some reason has a different perception of the encounter than the rest of the group (e.g. hallucinations, illusions, mind-control, etc.), it seems like it would be great to still have that player actually maintain control of their character, but feed them different observations. For example, telling the whole group that they see an evil wizard about to attack, but the afflicted PC sees a damsel in distress about to be attacked by a horde of orcs (who, in reality are the other members of the party).

One naive way to implement this would be to separate the players into different rooms. Of course, at this point the players know something is up, but maybe not exactly what. This also seems fairly tedious (having to go back and forth and keep up the dialog between rooms, converting between the different observations).

Another way is just to keep everyone at the table and try to push everyone towards roleplaying "properly" -- that seems like it would work well in some groups but not others.

Any other thoughts or suggestions about implementing an encounter where players aren't all necessarily having the same observations?

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You really want to try rashomon as a RPG? –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 14 '12 at 22:45
    
@BrianBallsun-Stanton: Okay, now that would make a good question: "How would you translate Rashamon into a one off game?". Can you ask it? –  Sardathrion May 15 '12 at 8:49
    
Done. I'm not hopeful of good answers. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 15 '12 at 11:39
    
Great answers, all - thanks! (I marked the highest voted answer as accepted, but all were good) –  Chris Phillips May 15 '12 at 15:40
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4 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

This is one area where playing online does have an advantage, as you can send messages to individuals via the same medium you're sending messages to everyone.

But in any case, in a situation like this I think your best bet is to get the ones with the perception in the minority to feel like they are "in" on it. Pass them notes about what they see and specify it overrides what you're telling the group, then tell the group at large what they all see. That can also be done the other way around, but either way don't mention to the group at large what is on the notes you are passing; they'll know something's up but the act of keeping it in notes should just serve to raise tension.

Now you may be asking, what if my note person/group is going to meta-game themselves into being more reasonable/persuasive than they would be otherwise? If this is an issue for your group then what I recommend is make the group the ones that are seeing things incorrectly. Pass notes of the truth to the individual(s) and regale to the group at large of the one or two rogues who have lunged at the poor damsel with a wicked gleam in their eyes. With luck the entranced group will do everything in their power to convert the poor "mind controlled" schmucks >:D.

(On a side note though, players in games I've been in tend to relish the opportunity to act against the party for a bit "consequence free" when they have reason to do so such as mind control/illusion).

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Awesome - I especially like the bit about players relishing the opportunity to be free of consequences. –  Chris Phillips May 15 '12 at 15:41
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I've been involved in these situations a couple of times, and usually you end up with a combination of side-bar conversations between the GM and one or more of the players, note passing, and only if you can't avoid it, splitting the session into separate rooms.

If there's only one "affected" character, passing notes works very well. The other players will know something is up, but not exactly what it is. Hopefully, the characters will figure out what's happening from the behavior of their companion, but good role-players will stretch that out a bit: "Why are you attacking?"...'Die, Orc Scum!'..."Wait, I don't see any Orcs..."

It also helps to pass notes to your players occasionally, even when nothing weird is happening. Keeps them on their toes, and can be helpful for e.g. passive checks, where only one of the characters would notice something, unless they decide to mention it to the others.

If you can trust one of your players to "play it straight", then you can warn them ahead of time that they're going to be in a situation where everybody else will be seeing things differently than they do, and that their character should react appropriately. This can add an extra element of confusion to the table when they suddenly start acting strangely without any apparent reason.


As an example: I had a PC in a Champions game that had a mental disadvantage such that he'd suffer retrograde amnesia around the activation of one of his powers, "protecting him" from the knowledge that he wasn't actually human. I discussed this ahead of time with the GM, and before the first session, we had an out-of-game conversation about how this was going to play out in-game. At the point where the effect activated, he passed me a note explaining to me what my character thought happened in the rest of the scene.

He had a very intense / confusing conversation with his team mates in the middle of the adventure, which naturally set off the guy(s) with paranoia disadvantages, and we nearly got into a fight with each other in the meet-and-greet part of the campaign. Later, character development via experience points let him lift the disadvantage as he came to terms with what he really was.

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Great point about notes outside of "abnormal" conditions. That should help keep people from keying in on that too much. –  Chris Phillips May 15 '12 at 15:42
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I have run several encounters where one character was dreaming/hallucinating. The rest of the players would know this and I would give them scripts to follow. This allows for a really really strong role play for one player. I have a opre-determined code phrase/setting for when the hallucination begins and the end of the hallucination should be pretty clear to all. Note that if you do this to several players in turn, it still works. After a while, every player will be paranoid that what is happening may not be real.

The other approach is to use meta knowledge but this only works if you have strong role players.

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Ok, first off, we play in games with full laptop compliance. We use a wiki for our rules and to store info, so it is very useful.
But this also allows us to set up in an IRC chat room, even while playing live. We do this specifically to allow for, "Player injected information". This way I can send notes to any grouping of them that I want to, without anyone knowing what I am doing.

Player Injected Information is when I, the GM, decide that due to a skill or some bit of knowledge, one or more players might know things or see soomething differently than other players. Often, I have images or notes prepped for this.

There are a few good reasons.
One is that I found out years ago (by accident) that information that comes from the GM is sort of looked at with some level of suspicion, etc, whereas when it comes from another player, it helps immerse the PCs. Especially when they are good actors. When another PC says that, " I hear someone laughing at us, echoing..." the players can get creeped out. I had another session with some hauntings that some characters were more sensitive too, and it makes it more atospheric when the PC's are playing the outside affects of their internal struggles. It is more atmospheric for a few reasons, but one reason it Freaks the other players out is...

No one sees a not passed. Players are human, and no matter how good the roleplayer, when you see a note being passed, the player knows something is up. If nothing passes, and a player starts barking out orders about him sensing an ambush, the other players respond more organically.

Player Injected information is also great because you can subtly change the things different players are getting. They have no idea that other Players might be getting other info or a different perspective.

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Our group plays online and I agree, being able to "pass notes" with no visible interaction and letting the players be the information source helps a lot. It's doubly fun when you tell them what they notice in general, and they draw specific (and sometimes incorrect) conclusions about it. –  Lunin May 16 '12 at 17:32
    
I like the laptop/online idea -- I'm not sure it would work out for my group, but that could be an interesting experiment. –  Chris Phillips May 16 '12 at 21:55
    
well, the idea sprang out of some of my online games and took wing, using the irc channell in live games. –  LordVreeg May 17 '12 at 1:16
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