All for One : Methods of Corruption and Coercion

Be lead not into temptation

The Trestle to Temptation

He who roams the road to ruination must first traverse the trestle of temptation”

The Primrose Path

That the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and that the primrose path deludes us with its tantalizing pleasures while we march merrily on to damnation are two things well-known to any who seek to walk the straight and narrow path of righteousness, nobility, and honour.

An excellent article on the nature of gentlemanly behavior can be found here, and with an understanding that those who aspire to be musketeers, in the fictional source material of the game, would be raised with these ideals as the foundation of their fantasies, it should, I think, become obvious that challenges to those ideals should take as prominent a role in the adventures we place before characters as duels, chases, and impossible escapes.

In an earlier post, a potential plot thread for an All for One: Regime Diabolique campaign, I suggested including a tempter in the mix of NPCs. This person, while of substantial benefit to the PCs in a temporal sense, offers them great peril in the spiritual sense. While the theme of the game will likely lead most groups toward high adventure and incorruptible heroism, such stalwart characters cannot truly be perceived as such unless they experience temptation and perhaps stumble a bit in the face of difficult choices dressed up in guises of being for the greater good.

In the works of Dumas, when first we meet D’Artagnan, we see him as very proud – unable to let even the slightest insult pass without a duel of honor. Imagine how different the tale would have been had even one of the three duels he incurs in his first day in Paris been allowed to progress to its inevitable conclusion. In whose best interest would it be for any of the four protagonists to lie dead on a stranger’s blade for a meaningless insult? What powers conspired to build such pride in the young man? What would it take to twist that pride into arrogance? What resources of character does it take for this proud young Gascon to remain true to his ideals, and seek the heroic route through life? How can we know the answers to these questions, if we do not involve such elements in our games?

What should not be overlooked, of course, is that the intent of providing these choices is not to bring the game down and force it into an introspective and philosophical exercise in morality, but to give the players a chance to experience the thrilling empowerment of making impossibly noble sacrifices in all aspects of their characters’ lives, not just the realm of athletics, blades, and cannons.

I think most GMs quickly come upon ways and means of motivating characters with choices as they gain experience, growing more subtle as time goes on. What remains a challenge for many, I think, is providing challenges and threats of a more social nature, through the vehicle of interaction with NPCs. Unlike simply being able to portray a non-player character convincingly and consistently, and in an entertaining fashion, portraying the beguiler or tempter requires actual knowledge of how to frame temptations, persuasions, and outright manipulations, else the attempts must resort purely to rolls of the dice, and volumes have been written on how well that goes over with players.

There are teeming masses of advice columns online regarding this topic, primarily written by scheming hucksters, who – for just a small donation – will reveal all the secrets of manipulation, hypnosis, wooing women, and realizing your dreams. You may prefer to use the following set of 5 basic points, provided absolutely free for the expansion of playing options and enhancement of your games’ amusement for both you and your players, instead of seeking out those other costly options. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, nudge.

How then do tempters tempt?

This is an art more than a science, but certain key points come up again and again, and can make the framing of a scene of possible corruption, seduction, persuasion, or manipulation flow more seamlessly for the GM, and provide clear points of persuasion and resistance on which the players may base their decisions.

Key Points:

±     Appropriate Timing (manufactured or simply observed and used)

±     Little to no apparent gain for the manipulator (it’s the right thing to do)

±     Emphasize their power, and the inability of others to do what must be done

±     Indicate the potential, tangential benefits which may result for them as a result

±     Indicate others who support this course of action

Appropriate Timing

Timing of an attempt to sway a character may be natural, or manufactured. The tempter can simply observer the life of the character and make a move when the timing makes that character more vulnerable, or they may set events in motion to create circumstances which do so. With the character reeling from a setback or impossible task, the villain can more easily make their suggestion appealing and reasonable, as its value is increased by the real need of the character.

Example:

The character’s true love has turned her affections toward another (because of lies told her by an ally of a schemer). Spurned and desperate, the character conveniently discovers two pieces of information. The first is that the true love is insanely jealous of another lady. The second is that lady is quite attracted to the character. A suggestion that openly seeking the favor of the second lady could win back the heart of the first, appropriately timed, could set off a whole chain of interesting, and highly amusing misunderstandings, duels, insanely unreasonable quests, and emotional turmoil.

Minimal Gain for the Villain

People tend to be suspicious, and players tend to be more so when dealing with NPCs, so this point is extremely important. Being sure to couch one’s pitches in forms which seem to offer little or nothing of benefit to the person who speaks to the character, or to manipulate someone who literally cannot benefit from the situation into being the person who interacts with the character is essential on giving a temptation a fighting chance of being tempting.

Example:

A powerful, and evil, bishop seeks to discredit the loyalty of one of the members of the royal court. He speaks to a priest that hears the confessions of one of that noble’s wife’s ladies-in-waiting, and suggests that the priest warn the girl that the noble has fallen out of favor with the King, and had best avoid the next ball lest he become the object of the King’s ire. He further implies that ‘someone highly placed’ has an interest in the wife.

The girl is expected to report to the wife, who in turn – if loyal to her husband – will seek to persuade the noble to avoid the next ball, using her considerably greater insight into what will motivate him.

If she doesn’t tell him, that gives our evil Bishop a whole new avenue to exploit. How loyal will the noble be when he learns from a trusted friend that his wife is entertaining the affections of a ‘highly placed’ member of the royal court?

Emphasize their unique power to act

By limiting the amount of time available in which to make a decision, and by appealing to their base nature, their very image of themselves, the manipulator can make a choice much more tempting for the characters. Of particular use in a heroic setting like this, making sure that the character believes that they and they alone can act to resolve an issue is a solid way to limit the field of their thinking and assessment of what is being asked of them… after all, if they don’t do it, no one else can. How can they resist the call to be the hero?

Example:

Things are going badly for the group’s patron. Even though the group is exhausted, and some members are wounded, a secret enemy in their midst drops some insinuations that their patron holds them responsible for the current state of affairs, but more importantly, does not trust anyone else to accomplish the goal as well as they – if they were well, could.

Indicate potential, tangential benefits

Heroes are heroic, particularly in this genre, so in few cases should we expect them to be motivated purely by the opportunity to benefit themselves (although D’Artagnan is a notable exception to this point). In order to sweeten the deal, beneficial outcomes for the character should be the result of indirectly related events. They shouldn’t be offered a payment or reward to comply with the tempter’s plan, they should be put in a position in which, if they ‘do the right thing,’ their actions will result in coincidental rewards.

Example:

A cunning tempter, appearing to side with the character’s good side, championing the character’s doubts and seemingly supporting inaction, actually goads them into action by appealing to their yearnings and secret aspirations. In conversation about what to do, the tempter pauses for a moment, and laments that it is regrettable from a certain point of view that the character will not act in this matter, because if they were to act, then the love of their lady would most assuredly be theirs, or that the eye of the powerful Captain of the Guard would be caught, and swift promotion and greater responsibilities would be soon to follow.

Indicate the agreement of others

Even heroes of great stature can come to value the knowledge that others, if they only had the power to act, would have followed the same course of action. Having the tempter (or their pawns and lackeys) be ready with information and arguments to justify or vindicate a character’s actions in order to help alleviate the doubt they face at the point of decision, will greatly facilitate the characters making the choice that the manipulator seeks.

Example:

Wrestling with a decision to betray his love by pretending to seduce a countess, in order to learn more details of a secret plot against the king, a musketeer has a moment of doubt and may turn away from this course of action. The tempter, prepared for this eventuality, steps in and subtly peppers the flow of conversation with anecdotes of others who faced the same decision and the good which came from their choice to act, and the bad which followed their mistaken decision not to act, “Nobility stems from hard choices, not ones which seem to support honor but are actually just cowardice in disguise.”

After the fact, as the character begins to suffer under their guilt, the tempter can push the character farther from the light by offering more support for their actions, and undermining the value of previous relationships.

Examples from Film~
  • Louis XIV in Man in the Iron Mask: Louis, speaking to Athos’ recently deceased son Raoul’s bereaved fiancée, Christine, upon whom his greedy, royal eye has fallen, mentions how accepting his attention will ease the suffering and improve the failing health of her mother and sister, not to mention ease his own great burdens of sorrow and loneliness.

He offers her a chance to affect great change in the lives of people who are important to her, and in effect, to save the lives of her loved ones, at a moment of great personal loss and overwhelming feelings of powerlessness in the face of death. All she need do is accept the love of a King… to whom she owes all anyway. What really, is she giving up?

  • Richelieu to Queen Ann in the (awful) Disney Three Musketeers: The King has decided not to attend his birthday celebration because he wishes to focus on war preparations. The Cardinal encourages Ann to ensure Louis is present at his birthday celebration in order to allow the people to show their adoration, to demonstrate France’s indomitable strength to all, and to send a clear message to the English aggressor about to invade that France is unafraid.

She is wary, of course, as she distrusts Richelieu, but she knows that despite his failings as a person, he is a staunch supporter of French sovereignty. She cannot find fault in doing what any right-thinking French citizen would do. What she doesn’t know is that the Cardinal has arranged to assassinate the King at the celebration.

Final Point:

In our games of high adventure, swashbuckling, and derring-do, physical encounters often have such an over-the-top, outrageous feel to them, that the amazement is easily transformed into laughter, and enthusiasm to see what will be the outcome of another preposterous event. With the principle of appropriate escalation in use, this means that over the course of a campaign, some of the bigger set-pieces of heroic hi-jinx can get quite memorable. We should not shy away from this principle in the application of temptation. While sometimes a physical encounter may begin without warning, suddenly erupting around the characters without their recognizing the peril into which they have stumbled, and while sometimes an encounter with a corrupter should be subtle, like a priest in league with demons, an ambitious noble, a greedy widow seeking greater temporal power, or an embittered former hero mistakenly leading his followers astray, and not be recognized for what it is until the hero comes to the final decision in a chain of decisions and choices which, once made, could condemn them to a role in the forces of villainy or infamy for the rest of their lives, that moment of reckoning and possible redemption must come else the attempted corruption will be robbed of all of its drama, thrill, and point. In the same way that a scripted encounter with blades must present a challenge, but not be insurmountable, corruption must come with a window for resistance, or at the very least redemption. If it does not, you are not providing an opportunity to create an interactive story with your players; you are forcing one down their throats.

Speak your piece~

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Revelations of Glaaki

  • Invocation

    Do not summon up that which you cannot also put down:

    runescastshadows at the intersection of Google and Mail.

    Find us on Google+

  • Role-Playing Stack Exchange

%d bloggers like this: