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I am looking to have an NPC try and seduce one of the PCs in my party. The NPC has an ulterior motive of course, but I don't want the player immediately suspecting a succubus or similar.

What techniques have you successfully used in a similar situation to avoid the suspicion?

The player characters are currently level 2, and this deception will ideally last until level 4, but actually could last until about level 12. It really depends on the players, but a longer term con has less chance of payoff if the players go elsewhere.

This NPC has a specific game to play and position in the town, so I can't just take an NPC the party like, I have to make at least one player trust this specific NPC. Actually I don't have to, because failure is still interesting, but I would like to have a reasonable chance and I expect the story payoff to be worth the deception.

As an aside I know one option is just to tell the players to quit metagaming, but I don't think that is an option with the players I have at the moment. I hope I can get them to actually think this NPC is helping, and I am happy to have the NPC help for a while.

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So just to be clear, you're looking to pull off a con, and part of the con requires seducing the party. As a DM, you're okay with failure, but you would like a reasonable chance of success. Your conman already has an established identity which prevents them from leaving town on extended forays. And your party tends to believe that any NPC displaying a sufficient level of Interest must play into the plot somehow.

Well, first things first, you've got to figure out your angle. This is a con after all, and should be played accordingly. As someone who plays exclusively with metagamers, I will reassure you right now- this will make your job easier, not harder, as you'll see shortly.

In order to pull off a Con, you need the following components:

  • The Artist: The guy actually pulling off the job. If it's a complicated job, the artist might have associates working with them, but the important thing is that the artist(s) each have a specific role that they play, and the role is designed for one purpose... to convince the Mark to behave predictably.

  • The Mark: The target of the job. You might think that you want the Mark to believe you, but that is the simplest, most straightforward con. Your true goal is to control their behavior- while it would be easy if they just did what you said, the con will work regardless if you have the Angle.

  • The Angle: A motivator which the Mark will respond to predictably. Its sometimes also called the Hook, for good reason- if this were fishing, this is where you would "set the Hook." You're thinking of using romance as a motivator, and that is a classic angle, but you'll need something else.

  • The Kick: A play that forces the Mark's hand. I've also heard it referred to as a Hurrah, but it works the same- you give the Mark a sudden, drastic impetus, knowing that if they are sufficiently motivated by the Angle, they'll act in only one way.

So how does that apply to you and your metagamers? One of the classic Angles is to let your Mark know they're being played... But convince them that they're involved in a different con. If you can convince the Mark that they're the ones pulling off a con, they'll happily put their heads in a noose, the entire time convinced that you're going to be so surprised when they pull it off.

Let's run an example for you. Say your metagamers run into the NPC, who promptly begins throwing themselves at one of the party. This is obviously suspect, and a metagamer worth their salt (playing a "canny" adventurer) will instantly assume something is up. This is an expected response, and what you're looking for. As the con moves forward, you'll want to keep your Mark acting as expected.

You then introduce your Angle, which in this case we're going to pretend is presented by an associate. This associate "reveals" that the NPC is attempting to scam the party... and more importantly, introduces to them the idea of turning the tables. This is the most subtle step, and if possible the party should "come up with" the idea on their own. The associate can make the idea attractive by presenting their own reasons for wanting the NPC's downfall or mentioning something that they don't want, but that the PC's do... and which the NPC allegedly possesses.

If you set this up right, your PC's will buy into it precisely because they're metagamers. The way you've laid this out, they'll assume this is a quest, and they're either running with it or wrecking it. They certainly won't think them running a Con on the conman NPC is exactly what the NPC planned. At this point, the party is hooked. They'll play along with the seduction, waiting for their chance to act, and this con can otherwise work as originally planned. When the time comes for your party to play their desired role in your con, you just have to make sure your Kick convinces them they have to move on the NPC now or lose their chance (maybe it seems like the NPC is about to get caught or flee town, so they have only a small window to pull off their own con). If your "hook" is properly set, they'll gamble that they can pull off their con, act accordingly... and your plan, which relied on them acting in just such a fashion, comes to fruition. Best case scenario is that, while the party was suitably distracted, the conman hit their real target. Other possibilities are that the party's efforts were a distraction; that the party is "caught red-handed;" or even that they succeed, but were tricked into conning an innocent NPC by the associate, who was your mastermind the whole time.

This is, like I said, an example. When I've run this con on my party, I used a slightly more straightforward method, with my almighty DM powers- I made it look like the NPC was trying to seduce them as a plot point. While they were trying to figure out whether she was actually a damsel in distress or (because I'm so sneaky) an agent of the BBEG, she was making sure to show up to every major shop in town with the PC's in tow. They later discovered her missing and a ransom note left at their inn- still wondering whether she was actually in trouble (and I was just badly acting out the role) or if it was a trap, they went to the drop-off point several days away, and found... nothing. When they got back to town, they were met by the shopkeepers, who were relieved that the party had returned, because they still owed quite a bit of money. For what? Why, all the purchases the NPC had made in their name! Wasn't she with them? She had said they would be back shortly to settle up!

It took the party some time to catch up to her... But that is beside the point. The point is, you can definitely pull off a con job on a party of metagamers, so long as you count on them metagaming. The key is that they behave predictably, which you can plan for, and ultimately take advantage of.

One last example before I stop. Same party, several levels later, encountered a bard who took an immediate shine to a party member. They just as immediately assumed something was up, went in force to confront said bard, and stumbled upon a body. They were then immediately arrested for murder- they had assumed they knew what kind of con job they were walking into, and so confidently walked right into a frame job. Like I said, predictable behavior.

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    \$\begingroup\$ OMG this is awesome! It is only just Friday, but you have made my weekend! \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Oct 18 at 8:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Hey, glad to help. You know, you, not my party. I live to frustrate them. (It's okay, they deserve it) \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog Oct 18 at 8:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Had I been a PC I'd just have laughed at the shopkeepers and said "It sounds like you got conned good." The strategy is sound, but the example is just "once one of my NPCs conned some other NPC and everything went according to plan". \$\endgroup\$ – Odalrick Oct 18 at 10:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Odalrick Every time they went to a new town until they found her, they heard new stories from the bards about "the cheapskate adventurers who skipped out on the check." I learned a long time ago that you can't threaten a party with guards, or even with death... But hit their pride and they'll never forget. \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog Oct 18 at 15:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a brilliant answer. \$\endgroup\$ – RBarryYoung Oct 18 at 15:20
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Every party is different, so this might not work for you. However, my players go out of their way to flirt with NPCs I try to make "unavailable." If during their first encounter with the NPC I play off that NPC as having a slight superiority complex, my players see that as a challenge to flirt with that NPC as much as humanly possible. Try to figure out what your party finds interesting and what NPCs they already really like. The mysterious type that might have a secret stash of weapons to give out? The lonely orphan who asks for vengeance, but has nothing but gratitude to offer? Or maybe a capable soldier who accompanies them on an adventure and saves a party member's life?

Also, I'd recommend to make sure you don't have TOO SOLID of a backstory for this NPC, which I know sounds counter intuitive. If in the first meeting you spend 10 minutes delivering a rehearsed backstory, its easy for your players to meta game and think "huh, that is way too much for a common NPC, something must be up."

A useful technique for meta-misdirection

Try to prepare this NPC as much as your prepare others, and even if you have an answer to all their questions for the NPC, take a few seconds to answer some of them like you're making the answer up on the spot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I once played in a game where it became a running joke that all of the NPCs who the GM invented on the spur of the moment were named Bob. We later ignored Bob the secret mastermind for far too long. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Oct 20 at 23:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ben it's funny, I ran a game the exact same way, except the running joke was that if an NPC didn't trust you, they'd give their name as Phil. When they ran into a real Phil, they suddenly couldn't tell what he thought of them and panicked. \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog Oct 24 at 15:26
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My honest advice is to just make an NPC your players can grow attached to. Incorporate them into the story in a natural way and let the players make bonds with them naturally. I’ve done this before to great affect in a campaign I ran for friends a while back. I got the tiefling gunslinger attached to a NPC and they even naturally started a relationship. I waited till the opportune moment and revealed the NPC was a succubus all along.

I introduced that NPC like any other NPC. I made sure to make the NPC useful and likable. As the players developed their relationship with the NPC I gave subtle hints to their identity but nothing to obvious so the surprise wouldn’t be spoiled. When I eventually revealed that NPCs identity it blind sided everyone most especially the tiefling gunslinger

Anyways if you follow my advice or not I will advise you Do not take away your player’s agency. They really don’t like it when you do that and it will make whatever story beat you’re trying to do here feel forced and unnatural.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer could use some detail and elaboration. How did you introduce and roleplay this NPC? What strategies did you use to avoid suspicion? Did the players suspect anything before the reveal? \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Oct 17 at 21:42
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Just to add to other answers, I always roll some die behind the screen so something seems “random”. In this case you may introduce the NPC to the characters, and prior to any interaction, ask them their CHA modifiers. Then roll some die and smile. Then narrate how the NPC leans toward the character you had in mind all the time. This “tactic” kind of hides the previous preparation of the encounter and lowers their metagaming. You can even fake the encounter alltogheter, like “you enter the tavern and...” roll 1d100 behind the screen.. “oh, you are in luck, no combat! Ok, you see a beautiful lady in there”

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