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A little background: I am designing a campaign that largely takes place in the mind of a twisted wizard. The wizard was shunned and exiled from his home due to a physical disfigurement, and after a hundred years of solitude, he has gone mad. His latest infatuation is the PCs. Throughout the adventure, he will be imparting communal dreams upon the party in which they must deal with some element of the wizard's past -- like Hatred, Guilt, Rage, etc. These dreams are (in D&D terms) encounters in which I try to inflict these sort of emotions upon the players.

I'm a bit stuck on Loneliness and Betrayal. I've toyed with the idea of making certain PCs invisible, silent, and incorporeal, but that singles out one person in the real world and would not be engaging gameplay. I've thought about giving each party member a separate dream in which the rest of the party turns on them, but that would require running six concurrent encounters which does not seem very possible.

In what ways can I convey a sense of loneliness and betrayal to the party as a whole, without singling anyone out or having it be an impossible or boring encounter?

Side note: My players are gung-ho about combat encounters, so it is preferable if this sort of thing could be pulled off in the heat of battle rather than just RPing it.

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Fascinating question –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 12 '11 at 4:57

9 Answers 9

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Betrayal

Depending on whether or not you've already begun to run the campaign, betrayal can be engineered with a bit of setup.

Give the PCs an NPC companion of some kind. Perhaps it's a creature of some kind that the players rescue. Perhaps it's the ghostly remains of the last adventurer the wizard was infatuated with. Perhaps its a fragment of the wizard's consciousness that's still trying to maintain sanity.

Make the NPC somewhat useful. Give it a beneficial aura. Turn it into a guide who warns PCs of dangers up ahead, or tells them how to kill the enemies they encounter. Give it an opportunity to rescue the PCs from a tight situation. Roleplay it with a name and a distinct personality.

Then, when the night for betrayal comes up, make it stab them in the back. Not with an attack, but with bad information. Have it lead them into a trap, or put them into a situation where they don't have the tools or preparation they really need to do well. As they struggle against (now overwhelming) odds, have it taunt them from just out of reach. Don't let them attack it directly until they've passed the rest of the encounter.

There are two pitfalls with this method:

The first is that you need to be very careful not to tip your hand too early. If the players see it coming, it will lose a lot of the impact. For this reason I'd recommend against using the mad wizard directly.

The second is that the betrayal has to actually be a very tight encounter. It can't just feel like a resource drain (like most encounters), it needs to be hard enough that the players actually feel threatened. AND it needs to be structured in such a way that the players feel the effect of the betrayal itself.

Loneliness

This one's tough, because it's hard to feel lonely when you're surrounded by your buddies. I'd stage it after betrayal if you use my suggestion above, just so that there is SOME absence.

The first thought that occurs to me is a single combat with the characters physically separated. Give each of them an encounter that highlights what the group does for them. Perhaps have the melee striker against something with an aura, the defender against something with a lot of hit points, and the controller against a single large opponent. As players defeat the lopsided challenges, give them a way to join the other fights. If you can't simulate loneliness, you can at least evoke relief at the return of a companion.

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+1 for loneliness. I had the same idea, but your added twist of demonstrating how the group supports each other is great. My addition: swarm the defender with minions. –  yhw42 Apr 13 '11 at 6:07
    
Great ideas. I like giving each character a mini-encounter that, once completed, they can join the other battles. That wouldn't be too bad to run concurrently either. –  dpatchery Apr 13 '11 at 12:36
    
Lots of good answers here but I took the most ideas from this one. –  dpatchery Apr 14 '11 at 12:51
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@dpatch I'd love to hear how it plays out. –  AceCalhoon Apr 14 '11 at 16:53
    
I won't be running the campaign for at least a year, and I don't want to share too much of my plans in case any of my players stumble upon this post. Once it finally does happen I'll come back and give you an update :) –  dpatchery Apr 14 '11 at 17:50

I'm only going to answer for Loneliness.

Loneliness:

You may not have time for this, but a great way to portray this feeling would be to run an hour long mini-session for each player by themselves that the other players don't get to watch or listen to (Have them play video games in another room or something).

Have a large, empty room with minimal furniture and a complicated puzzle for them to solve to complete the encounter.

This would convey the feeling especially well with your combat heavy group.

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waiting a full hour for each player would mean that the last person waits 4 or 5 hours. I don't think I'd be able to keep or raise the mood after that. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Aug 9 '11 at 14:44

I might approach this by depriving all but one of the PCs of one or more senses, forcing them into greater dependence on one another. You could make it random if the players are sensitive, or just apply it appropriately if they are into challenges.

Some would lose the sense of sight

Some would lose the sense of hearing

Some would additionally lose the capacity for speech

One would lose nothing

Every normal activity the group undertakes would take on new meaning, and each person would be stripped of normal ways of interacting with their closest companions. In combat, any failure to protect the ones who cannot see, or find ways to warn those who cannot hear, or overcome the loss of speech, or worse, any oversight by the unaffected member of the party, can lead to feelings of betrayal, and isolation.

When these losses build beyond these initial senses to frustration, rotate the effects among the players rapidly over a course of a few game days, then have them vanish as inexplicably as they came.

Not long later, have someone with credibility inform them that they were cursed... probably because of the actions of one of their number. Just one...

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How about magic item that combines the Loneliness and Betrayal. An intelligent magic item that only communicates telepathically with it's user. In order to function, the item is powered by the user's allies (e.g., HP, powers, magic item charges), but this fact is not communicated to the user. At first, have it so that the item does minimal affect, if any, but as it's used more; the effect on the others is greater. Also, to determine which PC is affected by the detrimental affect of the item, it's the closest PC to the user.

First, think of the issues of the notes passed back & forth between the Player and the DM will get the others wondering what's going on. Once the magic item starts affecting the other PC's, make certain they figure out what's happening.

Soon, the others will likely feel betrayed by the PC using the magic item. And once they learn that they can negate the effects by staying away from the PC, he'll feel isolated.

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Betrayal:

Another option is a scenario where the player characters unknowingly fight each other.

Run two concurrent combats with the party split, but have the enemies in combat A represent (to the DM) the PCs in combat B and vice versa. At the beginning of each character's turn, they take about the same damage as their representative enemy in the other combat took the previous turn . They don't need to mimic movements or actions between combats or even have the same skill sets or class, just life force. What your modeling is the PCs altered perception of their companions.

You could give clues and allow checks for the characters to figure it out early, and they might if they watch damage numbers closely. Otherwise, when one side claims victory, bring the two combats together, and explain that they've been fighting each other as the characters still standing come out of their mental haze. Then they have to clean up their own mess of having dropped the other half the party.


My idea for Loneliness was a version of AceCalhoon's answer, but Ace's had more nuance, so check it out.

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Loneliness: This is about isolation. I see that as separation from others so anything that isolates the PCs from one another will work--but I would go for each of the senses (okay maybe not taste that would be too weird).

  1. Touch: My first thought was traps, cages, or something that immoblizes them and keep them apart. I also think small caves and tunnels accomplishes this with lots of reduced movement due to squeezing. Being stuck in an avalanche or buried alive in a rock slide would work too, plus a fun skill challenge aspect
  2. Hearing: Also I would make use of a zone of Silence so that they cannot communicate. Or you could go the other way and make the noise from a nearby waterfall deafening so that they cannot hear anything else.
  3. Sight: And lastly the darkness surrounds them. Limit their vision and they will begin to become tentative, taking baby steps especially if you have already used a pit trap on them.
  4. Smell: Pure RP color, but you could make a hideous lurking monster that normally smells terrible, smell like roses.

Betrayal: This is about trust. Who do you trust, including yourself. Your own senses have betrayed you when you hit an enemy that turns out to be a friend.

I think the encounter could operate on either or both of the following ways:

  1. Illusion: making enemies appear to be allies or allies look to be enemies--I think doppelgangers or changlings could fit this bill, as well as magical means to do this; and
  2. Targeting: Causing PCs to target other PCs either through domination or there are powers that will cause a PC to hit another PC on a triggering event (e.g., melee attack miss, etc.).
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Loneliness would be best suited for a maze instead of any kind of encounter. Just some kind of maze with nothing in it but say they can hear sounds a long distance away. When ever they try to get closer to the sounds instead of getting closer the sound recedes from them as if they had went the wrong way. Make the sound what they need to find in the maze to finish it and have the secret be they have to go away from the sound. Combined with a tricky maze this could really depict it well. Also have everything be white and far to big for them, like they had suddenly found themselves in a giants house to make the players feel small and alone. If you use a map only map the direct area around them and have it so that what would normally be a 10' wide corridor is at least twice as wide. If you have some really small miniatures you could simulate it without having to draw too big a map.

For Betrayal go for a even more base form of it then normal. Gravity in the normal world is consistent so make it change every once in a while. If they are in a building make it be constantly shifting its layout. Basically find what the group thinks as a constant in your world and make it start changing. A friend betraying you is emotionally hard but universal constants changing? That is psychologically hard and if portrayed right would be challenging to sanity.

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+1 for the hilarity of altering gravitational constants. My warden (who thinks he's a monk) would be (literally) bouncing off the walls! –  dpatchery Apr 13 '11 at 12:39

For loneliness, design the terrain to split the party up during the battle.

Examples: Force them to stop monsters in several separate 5' corridors at the same time - they'll have to split up. Bring down a portcullis to separate one or two characters - or drop the ceiling with rock traps, which breaks line of sight (and most mutual support powers with it.) Use low-light conditions - with torchlight keeping sight ranges down to a few squares, it's harder to support each other. Leave no room for players to flank monsters. Make them push buttons at opposite ends of a big room on the same round.

(Keep the monster levels lower than usual while doing this, or use a lot of minions - D&D balance assumes a lot of mutual party support, and the PCs will be much weaker than usual in this encounter. Throw high-damage monsters at the solo defenders, and minions or low-damage-output monsters at the controllers and leaders, to give the PCs a chance.)

For betrayal, I second Jadasc's answer: change allegiance by some random, and unpredictable, method. Have it keep changing at regular interval's during the encounter - say, on every initiative count of 0, as the wizard dreams the sides different. Allow skill challenges to get monsters to change sides.

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Using a random method, change which characters on the battlefield count as "allies" and "enemies" for the use of powers and abilities. Keep this information secret and let it be discovered through play. Since many 4e effects work explicitly on one or the other, the player characters will find themselves uncertain as to their status as friend or enemy — a nice analogue for betrayal.

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I like this idea a lot. –  dpatchery Apr 13 '11 at 12:40

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