I have been running a campaign that recently has had two very roleplay/exploration heavy arcs (really 1 arc, and the consequences of that arc). The arc in question was a heist, where the players were attempting to steal literally a large amount of money from a mansion. They were decidedly unsuccessful.

In the process, one of they split the party, and one of the player's created a distraction so the others could get away. That player was decidedly not happy about this being a noble sacrifice, and so rather than the town guard killing the player who created the distraction, they instead captured him and took him to jail where he is being interrogated (so they can find his accomplices).

That player is now playing a backup character, and the whole group is trying a jailbreak. The last session ended moments before rolling for initiative after the captain of the guard discovered the deceit they were attempting to use to gain access. They are now very likely in a flee or die situation.

In both instances, their entire plan has been predicated on deceiving someone into giving them access into the target area, regardless of whether that person would give them access. In the example of the heist, they attempted to fool the guards into believing they were attending a party thrown by the owner of the mansion. In the jailbreak, they attempted to convince the captain of the guard that they were famous doctors who believed that the prisoner in question carried the bubonic plague, and that they needed access to him immediately.

The problem is that even if the target of the deceit might let them through if they believe their story (which particularly in the instance of the jailbreak is not likely), it's predicated on them succeeding on their deception - and if they fail the deception, they have no backup plan, and do not improvise something else. Instead, they complain that the DM just doesn't want them to succeed, or want to try the deception more elaborately, or argue why it should have worked, before moving onto something else.

Needless to say, this is murdering the pacing of the campaign and causing a lack of enjoyment, at least for me, although some of the players have claimed to really like the last couple sessions.

Has anyone run into something similar, and what did you do that helped increase overall satisfaction?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    May 26 '19 at 2:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you clarify what your primary question is? Your post presents a situation but doesn't clearly identify the question you want us to answer. I've tried to summarize the situation in the title; is my summary correct? What is the specific goal you want us to help you accomplish? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    May 26 '19 at 2:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Did you give them any hard number for the chance of each ruse succeeding? Did they know that it was unlikely and pressed ahead? And if they knew the chance, did they see the die roll that caused them to fail? \$\endgroup\$ May 27 '19 at 1:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ What system are your playing? Different systems have very different ways of dealing with problems like this one. So please tell us which one your playing. Also I do agree with previous comments that say you need to clarify what exactly you're asking here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rubiksmoose
    May 27 '19 at 18:06

Examine your objective and your players' objective

It sounds like you have a group of players who actually want to roleplay their way through encounters rather than slaughter everything in their way. This is a really good thing! Some of the players are saying they really enjoyed the last few sessions - this is another good thing. However, you need to enjoy the game as well. One problem appears to be that you are judging that their attempted deceptions are unconvincing while the players think they have a good chance of success - they are not meeting your expectations of being good liars. Then their deceptions fail - unfairly in the players' opinion - and you are not meeting their expectations of being a fair GM.

One key is to let the players know before their lie faces its crucial test that it could use some work. Part of this can be if the players have missed some background knowledge that their characters would know. There are two easy mechanisms for doing this - through allied NPC perceptions or through the PCs' perceptions.

Allied NPCs can say things like "The guards know when a party is being held, they won't believe that you are guests on a day that no party is being held," or "You don't look convincing as a nobleman going to a party, that haircut / plate armour / axe / accent isn't believable".

Using the PCs' own perceptions is only a bit harder. Get them to make easy knowledge / perception / intelligence checks during planning or approach. Give them information such as "You feel very exposed walking up to the estate with no one else in the area. On the occasion of all the other parties you have heard about there have been carriages filling the road and none of the guests arrive on foot." "Looking at Kronk, you find it difficult to believe that anyone could believe he is a doctor with his massive axe strapped over his back and no sign of any medical equipment."

It is also possible to carefully point to possible solutions to difficulties. This is a fine line to avoid railroading the PCs, but you can hint that an unconvincing deception could be made to work with a better disguise / illusion magic / enchantment magic etc. Let the PCs work out the strategy, but you can hit at tactics / logistics options "There's a costumery shop in town that could provide disguise materials".

You also need to decide what outcome of the players' actions will make the game most enjoyable. Once I was confronted with two players in a Shadowrun campaign who needed to jailbreak two of their fellow PCs that were being transported in a vehicle along a highway. Their idea was to put a large box of explosives in the middle of the road and detonate it as the van drove over it, flipping the van "just like in the A-team" and letting them pull their colleagues out of the van completely undamaged. Neither character or player had any demolitions knowledge, while I was a qualified demolitions operator and the players of the two characters being "rescued" were also military. My hints that this may not go as planned were ignored. By the rules and realism I should have ruled the destruction of the van and deaths of the PCs within but that would have been unfair to the two players being rescued, angered the two rescuers and been "unfun" for all. Instead I allowed the plan to work but inflicted some moderate damage on the characters being rescued, because it let everyone enjoy the game. Consider this when deciding whether an attempted deception should be allowed to work despite a lack of plausibility from your point of view.

Backup plans

The other issue that you mentioned was that the players did not have a backup plan for when the primary plan failed. Well... some people don't have backup plans. They just react to the situation they are faced with as it happens. In real life this is a really bad idea, but in a roleplaying game it can actually be a bonus - some groups, such as the group I regularly play with, spend so much time working out backup plans that we don't get much done. However, it's entirely valid for a GM to make a general statement in a campaign that "I don't have stats on everything in the world worked out, tell me as players what your plans are so I can best improvise and make the game enjoyable for all of us." Our current GM used words to that effect in the Pathfinder campaign I am currently playing in. Part of the social contract is that the GM uses this information for their own preparation but does not use it for the benefit of opposing NPCs. You can use the above wording, or if you want to give the players a bit more of a hint you could say "With all the moving parts and dependencies in this plan there's a good chance that something will go wrong. So I can plan on how to rule things, what if your fallback position if your story isn't believed?"


The DMG talks about deceit. If you the DM can sense deceit, then your experienced Captain of the Guard NPC will too. You can let the party fail in small actions, while protecting them from themselves in big problems.

Maybe they have to bribe a guard, costing most of the treasure. You could send a vision to the cleric during daily prayers about the need for a backup plan. You could also have them rescue an experienced mentor NPC that you play. Your NPC would offer sage advice occasionally, but would mostly follow along quietly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Can you support your answer with evidence or experience? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    May 26 '19 at 2:28

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