Normally, both player and DM rely on stealth checks and secret messages when one player wants to do something without the rest of the party knowing, regardless of the motivation behind it.

This offers other players a fair chance thanks to Perception checks or just being in the right place at the right moment. And if they are not, they don't get the chance to metagame as they just ignore what happened.

But we know bad things just happen sometimes at the table, and I want to use that to my advantage.

For example, were I to destroy a fellow Hunter's bow. Instead of reaching for their bow while they sleep, I am going to walk around camp, knife in hand for some other reason and suddenly I will "trip" over a rock and "accidentally" cut his bow's string (hopefully without losing an eye in the process). Of course the DM will know I was aiming to do that and I will make the fitting rolls, probably also Deception, to achieve it and put up an act.

A success will make the Hunter believe this was just a product of misfortune. But my problem lies with the Hunter's player, which I want to fool as well.

I would tell the other players it was on purpose if I trusted them not to metagame, but I don't think that is an easy feat.

In my opinion this may have many uses, such as purposely alerting guards, triggering traps, breaking important items, all kind of naughty stuff, while not having to be stealthy about it, just "clumsy".

If I roll successfully, how can the DM or I narrate this flow of events while appearing inconspicuous to the players?

  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify, are you asking the question as another player? \$\endgroup\$
    – Zigmata
    Jan 8, 2020 at 23:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ At the moment, yes, but I am also a DM and would like to know how I can aid a player in the same situation if I had to. \$\endgroup\$
    – Melferas
    Jan 8, 2020 at 23:29
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It may not be totally relevant, but might you add some more context around why you/your PC are trying to play this way? It's unusual, and the background can have a big impact on answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Upper_Case
    Jan 9, 2020 at 17:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case My character has entered the game after the campaign started. I am a mercenary that wants to betray the party for the reward (they have a bounty), disguised as a cliche "Resistance" warrior against the goverment. The party is already wary of me, and I want to rely more on misleading than stealth, as they won't leave me alone on purpose. \$\endgroup\$
    – Melferas
    Jan 9, 2020 at 23:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ So is the setup coming from you more than the DM (is it a character thing for your PC, or a campaign plot thing for your DM)? And is this setup zero-sum (if your PC wins, the other players lose, and vice versa)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Upper_Case
    Jan 9, 2020 at 23:49

3 Answers 3


Allocate responsibility for it to the DM, and consider embracing the metagame elements of the situation

My answer came out with an odd structure. The first two sections are not quite frame challenges, but are information I consider relevant to the question. The direct answer, matching the header above, follows after.

First thing's first:

I recommend not playing in the way you describe. You may or may not have sound reasons for trying to do so, but really consider whether or not that is the case (versus something that you want to do because it will be fun for you, at the expense of the rest of the players). Without context, my assumption will always be that this style is a net negative to a table.

In a comment you mentioned that your DM has integrated this dynamic into the campaign plot, so this danger is a lot less acute than it might be. I still support betrayals like you describe as plot elements rather than opportunistic troublemaking (story is fun to discover all around, but sabotage that is fun for you may make another player have less fun when they suddenly can't succeed at what their character is built to do). But this doesn't seem like the worst-case scenario of PvP betrayals.

Second thing's second:

As above, I don't have the surrounding context for why this play style is one that you are pursuing and so can't evaluate the situation fully. But it may be worth pumping the brakes a bit on the let's avoid metagaming condition. You yourself are metagaming quite a bit by colluding with the DM to keep this information secret from the other players. It may be worth giving the other players some sort of chance to engage and deal with this behavior at the metagame level as well as the game level. That doesn't even have to be difficult-- any time you pick up your dice and roll them you're providing some meta information to the other players.

At some point deceiving the other players as you cause their arbitrary failures is similarly unfair as simply taking their dice away.

My answer to the question as asked:

This style of play, where one PC is secretly and arbitrarily a traitor, tends to mismatch the game between players. Most of the table is playing game A, while you are only nominally playing game A and are instead playing game B against the other players. That can be pretty awkward, and if the campaign itself is played straight (as in, it doesn't have this inter-player conflict as an element but you and the DM have simply added that into what the campaign is designed for) it can result in a zero-sum allocation of fun (your success means the other players' failure, and vice versa).

It is much, much better (in my opinion) to have the DM integrate this party-betrayal element into the campaign narrative itself. Including some other elements around your betrayals can help bind PC activities together in pursuit of fun all around, such as:

  • Specific plot reasons why your PC is sabotaging the others
  • Having a clear path to the party's overall success in the campaign despite your sabotage (even if that means your PC "loses")
  • Planning for your character to ultimately "lose" the campaign (to the rest of the party, your PC is essentially just another antagonist)
  • Granting opportunities for the other players to notice what's happening and respond

There are other possibilities. But the general idea is that this should be a part of the campaign story which players interact with, investigate, and possibly overcome. With that perspective most elements of the betrayals become firmly the DM's purview.

A smooth way to incorporate these elements will match things that the DM already does (or might do). For example, instead of your character determining chances for sabotage at a whim, maybe you prepare a table of generic things your PC might try to do if the opportunity arises, and then leave it to the DM to notice those opportunities and make the rolls. If you're really into making the rolls yourself, you can pre-roll a d20 and give the results to your DM to apply when appropriate. These will save you from making conspicuously out of place die rolls (why would it come about that your character suddenly trips over a rock, knife drawn, when nothing like that happens to other players?).

Things like "sabotage a weapon", "alert guards", "spring traps at inopportune times", and so on are probably the right level of abstraction to allow the DM to make situation-specific applications at need.

The DM is also much better situated to place and adjudicate other players' awareness of clues regarding their misfortunes, your role in them, and directions the plot may develop as a result, than you yourself are. As a player who has apparently chosen to play the game in an adversarial way, you have a vested interest in "winning" over the other players which is likely to lead you to carry out these efforts unfairly (with respect to the other players' ability to notice or resist), while the DM is more likely to be working to balance fun for the entire table.

The DM is also better positioned, and better motivated, to create some rules around these activities which allow the other players to play the same game as you, even if at a disadvantage. If there are no mechanisms allowing the other players to deal with your actions, the game simply becomes arbitrarily harder for them. You have made yourself an antagonist to the party, and making you undetectable to the PCs is not that different from declaring a villain immune to all damage or interference. Rigged games tend not to be fun.


Trust the people you play with

Or, if you don't: ask yourself "Why am I spending my leisure time with people I don't trust?"

People understand the difference between themselves and their characters. It is inevitable and desirable that the players know things that the characters don't (like when the pizza's coming). They then compartmentalize that knowledge while role-playing so it doesn't affect their character's actions.

It is also totally acceptable for players to have open and honest discussions about where the boundary between meta and in-game knowledge should be drawn and to raise questions when they feel that boundary is being transgressed.

If the Hunter doesn't know but the Hunter's player does, trust them to know that the Hunter doesn't know.

Keeping secrets from other players is like holding a surprise party: rarely worth the effort. You get weeks of stress and tension over trying to coordinate the party without revealing it, if you succeed, you yell "Surprise!" the target says something like "Wow, I'm really surprised!" and within 2 minutes you have the exact same party you would have had all along except for the ritual that every single attendee has to ask the guest of honor "Were you surprised?" followed by a ritual "Yeah, I can't believe you got me" which gets really boring after the 23rd repetition. Oh, and get off my lawn!


You were right about the secret messages, you just need a subtle method.

You had it right. This requires DM cooperation and that is achieved by communicating with the DM privately. Passing notes works well for most things, but it does tip the others off that there is private communication going on. If you want to fool the others, you would communicate in a way that the others won't notice such as talking to your DM privately ahead of time and prearranging it. If you have convenient electronic devices you might also be able to pass secret messages that way that are at least somewhat less conspicuous if notifications are silent since you could plauisbly be messaging someone else or doing something unrelated to the game.

I do not recommend having completely unexpected betrayals between PCs.

Player betrayal can add high drama and be amazing if the group supports it.

However, if the group supports it, you don't gain too much by trying to hide it from the other players. You might hide the details from them for various reasons, but if they know betrayal is a part of the game and they are reasonably mature players, then you don't need to hide the fact you are having secret communications with the DM. It is enough to just hide some of the details for the purposes of drama and you can pass the notes or send electronic messages openly.

If your group doesn't know that character betrayal is at least a possibility then having it happen can feel like a betrayal of the players. That tends not to be fun at best and can ruin the group at the worst.

While the group is really the key thing, it is notable that some systems tolerate this better than others. Vampire: The Masquerade is a game of intrigue and the system tolerates player versus player situations well. Many groups will simply assume that betrayal is an option in V:tM.

But I notice you reference items in a fantasy setting and use the abbreviation "DM". While I have seen PC betrayal done well in D&D, the system tends to fight that somewhat. The system is built around the idea that players are a team of some sorts and are fighting the world. The system and its assumptions do not make a PvP scenario easy. Also, at least among the people I know, they will assume they are supposed to be a team and will assume player betrayal is not even an option unless something happens to change that assumption.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting thing about the system being against no-cooperation, I surely didn't have that in mind. \$\endgroup\$
    – Melferas
    Jan 9, 2020 at 23:23

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