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I have a player playing a rogue in her first RPG, and she is constantly lying to NPCs. She says it is one of her character flaws and I like that she is playing the character to the fullest, but she also almost always succeeds on deception and persuasion rolls. This often means that the party ends up discarding numerous plot hooks—in one instance she convinced the rest of the party to leave the conversation before lying to an NPC and torpedoing the part of the session I had prepared most for (we were able to pivot and find another plot hook).

For example, after encountering a group of bandits in the wilderness that seemed to have some sort of magic item, an NPC in a tavern asked if they had seen anything strange, and described the bandits to a tee. Before anyone else had a chance to respond, she lied to the NPC and succeeded on a deception roll. If they were to have an open conversation, they would have learned a whole lot more about the general plot and would have been given an opportunity to join a vigilante group.

I want to encourage her to continue to play the character in the way she deems fit, but I also want to be able to write a story that has a chance of happening. How can I write around a lying PC?

FYI: Here is my outline for that session.

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    \$\begingroup\$ ♦ Reminder: We do not support answers in comments because comments do not support features like proper voting and the wiki-style editing that allow us to vet, correct, and improve the content. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 21 '17 at 18:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ A lot of good feedback and suggestions in the comments; as it looks like it's all been either incorporated or explained, I've gone ahead and moved them all to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 23 '17 at 2:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does the lying bother the rest of the players? \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Jul 24 '17 at 17:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Before anyone else had a chance to respond, she lied to the NPC and succeeded on a deception roll." I'm curious why the situation ended there. Are there not other players who were interested who might speak up and say "no, it didn't!", "yes, we did!", "you'll have to excuse my friend here, she's a pathological liar"? \$\endgroup\$ – Shufflepants Jul 25 '17 at 18:52

13 Answers 13

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Apply penalties based on plausibility

No lie is perfect, especially in 5e. So start tracking the flaws and applying the penalties appropriately. She shouldn't have an easy time convincing people that she's a God, for instance.

Apply penalties based on reputation

She lies a lot. That means she's left a wake of people who believes she's a liar, because they fact-checked her and discovered she was lying, eventually. The more her reputation as a liar grows, the more penalties she gets.

Write plot hooks she wouldn't want to lie to avoid

If she's lying to avoid plots, this is at least likely and partially because those plots don't interest her character. Adding plot hooks that DO interest her character will hook her interest, making her chase your hook, rather than have you chasing her with hooks.

Write plot hooks that anticipate her lying

This can be done several ways, such as with General Tarquinn's book of procedures in OotS, or via meta-gaming her typical type of lies and building a story that makes lying that way catch her on the plot hook. Regardless, you should be careful about doing this too much, as opposed to other options I've specified, as meta-gamey solutions feel worse than in-game solutions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You should mention that there are advantage/disadvantage mechanics in 5e instead of "-2", "-5" penalties. And for obvious nonsense like "I am a God" DM even doesn't need to ask for a roll - NPC just disbelieves automatically. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jul 21 '17 at 17:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Write plot hooks that anticipate her lying" also known as a Batman gambit. \$\endgroup\$ – John Dvorak Jul 21 '17 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @godskook the example lie is plausible, and a reputation only works if the character is consistently recognized for who they are, and the lies are found out in a context where the news would travel. The character doesn't seem to be intentionally avoiding plot hooks because the conversation-ending lie happens before it's at all clear what they hook is. The NPC in question seems to be opening by asking if the PCs were the ones who X and the PC in question denies involvement. I think a lack of interest in a campaign tied to X is an unlikely cause. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 21 '17 at 21:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind also that not every lie warrants a Deception check. As DM, you can always have your NPCs see right through the lie if it is blatantly false. Just because a player chooses to lie constantly doesn't mean they have always have a chance to be believed. \$\endgroup\$ – W. Gering Oct 31 '17 at 18:46
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Assuming that this behavior is acceptable at your table, and thus this issue cannot (or should not) be addressed by correcting the player:

Consider restructuring the way you prepare your plot

The Alexandrian's article Don't Prep Plots has some great advice which should help you. I will summarize here, but encourage you to read the article in full.

The problem with the plot in the comment above is that it is linear - first the players meet the bandits, then they meet the NPC in the tavern and discuss the bandit's magic item, then they join the vigilante group, and so on. The following player actions are completely feasible:

  • Deciding not to engage the bandits
  • Moving through the town without stopping
  • Not engaging the NPC in the expected discussion (actually happened!)
  • Showing no interest in joining the vigilantes

These all go to show how a rigid, linear plot can be derailed by a single action, forcing you to improvise in order to save it. So what do we do? The following techniques from the article are of very good use here:

  • Plan to improvise. Keep a toolkit of important people, equipment, information, etc. - the things that make up the story you want to tell. Think of them as pawns on a chessboard. Move them around in response to player actions to create your story.
  • When the players are meant to come to a conclusion (e.g. the magic item the bandits had was important) leave multiple clues alluding to that conclusion. More clues means fewer chances to miss them.

Summarizing: Your plots should be prepared in a way that helps keep them from being broken by player agency.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You raise some good points! I did actually write the plot with choices in mind (here is my outline, the NPC in question is Barry) but it seemed unsatisfactory to have it be a choice that one player made to lie as opposed to a group decision. \$\endgroup\$ – aitchpat Jul 21 '17 at 16:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aitchpat - choices are great until the choices you prep aren't the choices taken ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Conduit Jul 21 '17 at 16:45
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It sounds like you're experiencing My Guy syndrome - a player role-playing their character to the detriment of the party's (and often even their own) enjoyment. It happens, and is very common among new RPG players who often have a fairly vague idea on what an enjoyable game is like.

You have two ways to address this type of issue. The first is simply scripting around the habitually lying rogue, but it may be trickier than it sounds. Ideally, you'll want to make your plot hooks something that the rogue cannot ruin by lying, or does not want to ruin - just make the NPCs drop opportunities for gold or glory, or whatever the rogue wants. For a more foolproof solution, the plot-hook can come from a notice on a wall of a tavern, or in the form of angry assassins looking for the rogue and their party. You can also force the rogue away from being "the party face" from time to time, and have other members of the party be the ones engaging plot-important NPCs.

The second way, which might be better in the long term, is to have a talk between the players in the party on whether the lying aspect is enjoyable. It is possible that the player of the rogue doesn't get particular kicks out of it, but feels they must maintain their lying streak out of loyalty to their character. If the party agrees, you can possibly forge a social contract around the situation. As an example, I once was in a party whose shtick was being especially paranoid about questmasters, and all encounters with one of them were accompanied by a long, fruitless background check to see if they were fishy - until we straight-up agreed that no questmaster shall lie to the PCs, cutting off a significant part that no one liked off our games.

Whichever option you choose (or both!), you should provide the rogue plenty of constructive places to exercise their deceptive habits. This way, their player won't have to completely abandon or feel guilty for the personality quirk, but can engage it in a manner that's more fun for them and the rest of the party.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer fails to consider that a role playing game should and will encompass players who play characters who lie. \$\endgroup\$ – Harrichael Jul 21 '17 at 19:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Harrichael I think this answer is rather saying that the player is overplaying the lying aspect. The specific problem in the question is a PC that chronically and constantly lies, to the detriment of the fun of the the GM and possibly the rest of the party and even possibly their own. If someone is not having fun during a game, that's a problem. My Guy Syndrome does indeed seem likely, even if it's not an exclusive possibility. \$\endgroup\$ – jpmc26 Jul 24 '17 at 22:01
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While the player is free to choose her character's actions, nothing is stopping the others from doing the same. Her successfully fibbing does not stop anyone else from joining the conversation and just saying: "Do not listen to her, yes we have seen those people." They might be asked why she lied first, but that should not stop the interaction in itself.

So make sure she is not sent alone on errands. It seems her habits are known by the other PC-s, so this is a quite reasonable choice in-world too. The players should be able to implement this by themselves easily.

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Another thing to keep in mind (on top of what the other answers have addressed) would be The Three Clues Rule. The article goes into more detail about how and why to implement it in a general sense than I could, but my brief recap of it is your players are simultaneously too dumb and too smart to follow just 1 clue*. This is not necessarily an insult to any specific player, but simply put they do not think exactly like the GM.

  • A clue that may be obvious to the GM may be completely overlooked by the players
  • An implication of a clue that is obvious to the players may have simply never crossed the mind of the GM.
  • A bad roll or role can cause the PC to never have the chance at a clue

So give them more clues.

  • An NPC to talk to
  • The general rumor mill of town
  • The town crier shouting it in the central square.
  • A posted letter on a board

As you create more clues that lead to the same conclusion the chances of the players missing them or piecing them together in the wrong manner decrease. You will also find that this will flesh out the story a bit more as the multiplicity of the clues leads you (the GM) to having a better understanding of why the clues are there, giving you a better chance to react when the players do something completely off the rails such as blatantly lie to an NPC to the point that that NPC is no longer inclined to tell the PC the truth.

*For the context of this answer, I am using the word clue to be any noteworthy story element that progresses the overall plot

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There are a few different ways to deal with this.

Reflow the story to fit

I do this a lot. The players miss something I thought was obvious, so I rework it into a different situation. Be flexible in your storytelling. The NPC might come back later or the plotline might start with another NPC. Look for new places to put in the plothooks.

Take away the option of lying

Perhaps an NPC is telling the party something without asking questions, perhaps the party is being sent a letter with the information they need or perhaps there is a public announcement of some kind. There are a lot of ways to give the PC:s information without giving them the opportunity to interrupt.

Make the lie be the hook

Not always easy to do, but effective if done right. Let the deception be what leads to the NPC giving the needed information.

Exclude the character from an important situation

If the party splits, give the important encounter to the group without the lying character. This is a good way to handle some situation, but you can't use it too often or the lying player might feel excluded.

Punish the character for lying

Let the character reap the bitter fruits of deception. The NPC meets the bandits (or someone else does and tells the NPC) and calls out the PC:s, telling them they lied and that they had better make amends. There are all kinds of interesting situations you can get the PC:s into through this and it will show that lying is not always the best option. Give the lying character a chance to change.

Discuss it with the player

If it is a big problem to you, just talk to the player about it. Discuss why they're doing it and how it causes problems for the story and the group. Talk about ways to lie to NPC:s that do not lead away from the plot, what things can safely be lied about and how not to disrupt the flow of the game.

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I think the that there is a larger problem we are not addressing in the comments. Sure, the lying of the PC to NPC's is derailing YOUR story lines but is it even effecting the fun the rest of the players are having?

My honest take is that you, as a GM, like linear story arcs whilst your "problem" PC likes to play open world style. That's a conflict of preference that happens very often.

The thing is, Role Playing games were created to indulge both styles simultaneously. Not to specifically cater to one or the other. Think of it like collaborative story telling. Believe me, this is not easy and I've struggled with at as a GM as well. The trick is certainly NOT trying to curb your Rogue's penchant by addressing it out of game or by dismissing it as "my guy syndrome." It is neither a problem of the player or the character. It's a skill the Rogue has and apparently one he/she is good at.

I've always thought the worst thing a GM can do is "tip the hand" that a great adventure was missed. You need to stay in character more than any other PC to create/maintain the suspension of disbelief.

So, how to solve? Couple of ideas.

First, prepare yourself to table all your great ideas and don't spend too much time fleshing out all the little details until you funnel your PC's into a point of no return. Those story lines sitting on the shelf can always be recycled by swapping the type of bosses, underlings, etc. What I mean by "funneling" is that the location of the entrance to an underground lair (your hypothetical prepared story line) is static in your mind only. If an overwhelming number of bandits happens to "randomly" appear and chase your players guess what they just happen to stumble upon to seemingly provide safe refuge?

Second, set the story hooks deeper. It's one thing to be asked to join the vigilantes during a first time NPC encounter and quite another if a character's backstory requires it. Try doing this by introducing someone claiming to be the Rogue's uncle for example. Disarm your party's defenses by having the Uncle provide a meaningful and magical gift to the Rogue. Let the Uncle tag for a session or two with the seemingly best of intentions before he turns on the group by leading them into an ambush with the bandits. The kicker being that the vigilantes show up in time to even the odds but NOT in time to capture the Uncle. Revenge is a hook most players can not resist even if they know it's a trap.

Lastly, if you want to keep this Rogue from jumping the gun on lying let the party of PC's control more of the story by limiting your NPC's from initiating conversations and divulging details. Make them the liars that the Rogue has to role deception checks against. It's called mirror and matching and your Rogue will likely love it just as much as he/she enjoys being the conman.

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Use the Fiddler

Your outline is pretty solid. It doesn't sound like the lies your PC is telling are outlandish or particularly egregious, more that they lie constantly out of convenience. I don't think this will be a problem for you given the sort of campaign it looks like you are running.

Lying to this one NPC isn't a huge deal. You have a contingency plan already set up in the form of another faction the players can join. They lost their chance to meet up with Equilibrium, but that isn't hugely disruptive and the shady Fiddler faction sounds like it will fit at least your thief character a lot better. Your other PCs have the opportunity to contradict the thief or make time to talk to the Equilibrium agent on their own time, so if they pass that up it seems reasonable to have them not end up with that faction, at least for now.

You should move them to the boxing match, which I assume you set up for another PC's enjoyment in particular. The thief will lie the party out of or worse into the allegations of fight rigging (which might also, by that point, be true). Then the Bookie will offer the 1000 gp for the PCs to accompany him to an island, the players probably say yes cause there's not really any lying involved and he already knows who they are somehow it seems like, and they end up meeting the Fiddler.

The Fiddler seems to be a 'my sources tell me' type dude, so the only thing I see them lying about is their involvement in 'freeing gluttony', whatever that means. This faction seems like it is full of social manipulators, liars, and thieves, so your thief's lack of inhibition regarding convenient, plausible lying shouldn't be a problem here but rather an asset.

Future situations

Lying in character can be a problem in the same way always killing everything that moves can be a problem. Lying is a weapon, and using it hurts people. While you are probably willing to tolerate a certain level of immorality from your players, actively suicidal and nonsensical play (e.g. lying to the town guard about the existence of a fire just to see them freak out, lying to the other PCs about the results of a scouting expedition despite the fact it will get everyone killed, lying to the guard to convince them the character is a murderer when really they're not, etc) seems like it would cause a lot of problems in your campaign. In truth, such play causes problems for most groups. You shouldn't allow that sort of behavior from a player on the grounds that it would ruin the game for everybody else. It doesn't sound like that's what's happening, though.

Reasonable lies (e.g. lying to the town guard about the non-existence of a fire to cover for the party while they put it out to avoid getting in trouble, lying to the guard to convince them they're not responsible for the recent death of a nobleman, etc) shouldn't be a problem for your style of play. Where that line of reasonability is is something you will have to figure out for yourself, but generally if the character makes sense and their lies make sense in terms of furthering their agenda (e.g. lying about seeing the bandits. "Don't give free information to strangers, especially potentially compromising information about yourself") things will probably be ok. Just expect them not to admit that they or the group are important, nor confirm nor deny the existence or details of any group activity without something in it for them.

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A rogue who lies seems completely plausible to me. Has anyone ever heard of a rogue who doesn't lie?

You are the GM. You are free to design some of the key NPCs to be very good at seeing through lies - or maybe they just are part of powerful spy organization or thieves guilds who plausibly could have gathered that the lies are lies. After all there would not be much fun for the players if their characters were no allowed to you know - actually play the role of their character.


If you forbid lying, then what would be the next thing to forbid? Maybe to forbid the rogue to steal the key to some place because then the party would not have to do this epic guard fight that you spent some hour designing and are very proud of. Well then we might as well ban rogues because they aren't allowed to use their class skills any longer. It is easy to see how this could ruin the fun of the players.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not looking for ways to railroad the player, I asked about how to improve my writing and GM abilities in order to accommodate the player and her playstyle. \$\endgroup\$ – aitchpat Jul 26 '17 at 15:09
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I like your outline. It sounds really fun.

In what way is the lying causing problems?

If the party are choosing to lie instead of, say, following up a lead, then the problem isn't lying, it's that they aren't interested in the lead. Ask them, or figure out, what leads would be more interesting or attractive to them.

If this one character does this and the others feel obliged to go along with it when they'd rather not, offer them the chance not to. If it happens, ask, "does anyone want to say anything else". Tell people in advance they don't have to follow the first character's lead if they don't want to.

If they're circumventing parts of the adventure, then embrace it the way you would a character who was too powerful in combat. Assume it will happen and have a backup for what happens after that. Use common sense for what lies are actually possible, avert things that even in heroic fantasy make no sense. Work it into the plot, have NPCs impressed or angry that they were tricked so readily.

Or maybe, everyone is fine with it and they're having fun, but you're worried they're not finding the interesting plot. Ask them! If they're fine with it, go on generating the content they're enjoying, and don't worry about the stuff they don't seem interested in.

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An option to consider is simply steamroll them into the cooler direction. Don't do this too often because players will resent not having agency, but sometimes it's better to essentially have the plot come to them instead of waiting for the players to mosey into it.

In your bandits-and-tavern situation for example, instead of making it conditional on what the players say, just have the local constable bust in looking for recruits for a party to hunt the bandits. In most cases, the actual hunting of bandits is more interesting than tavern conversations, so players won't care that you skipped the exposition part to get to the action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think the Gordian-Knot solution to the problem of "just railroad her" is very useful for improving a GM's skill, which is, as I read it, the point of the question. \$\endgroup\$ – godskook Jul 24 '17 at 17:32
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Although not necessarily the most satisfying answer, one of the simplest is to just set the bar for a successful deception roll higher, so she doesn't succeed most of the time. As a new character, her rogue may be better than most other new characters at lying, but it's still a level one PC - when facing up against an innkeeper who's been interacting with dozens of people a day for twenty years, the PC is at a distinct disadvantage.

It's also worth double-checking with the player that they're accurately role-playing the character they have in mind:

I have a player playing a rogue in her first RPG, and she is constantly lying to NPCs. She says it is one of her character flaws

Is the character flaw that they lie frequently to get what they want? That's a pretty common characteristic for a rogue, but wouldn't cause them to lie to the innkeeper about having run into bandits (probably); in fact, they might lie about having run into bandits when they didn't to engender sympathy and a reduced bill.

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You could try to concoct various Xanatos Gambits, where the plot ends-up in the same place regardless of whether the PC lies or not. If they fail, some stuff happens, and you end-up at the castle. If they succeed, some different stuff happens, and you end-up at the castle.

But I think I would probably advise the player that they should try to avoid taking actions that entirely skip the gameplay.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi John, welcome to the site. Can you show us a few examples of Xanatos Gambits you've tried before and have worked, through your experience? \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jul 24 '17 at 16:29

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