Enlisting PCs for Betrayal

The biggest problem with betrayal plots in games, as readers of yesterday’s article have pointed out, is that for a betrayal to really matter, there needs to be a connection between the traitor and the group. The problem, of course, is that it can be very difficult to get a group attached to an NPC.

This gives us two options. We can learn to get them attached to our characters, a long and challenging process likely to bring as much frustration as success. Or, if we’re in a hurry, we can just use the PCs. After all, they’re already in the group, and unless it’s a rampantly PvP game that’s got to count for something.

So, some tips for the GM looking for a PC traitor (or for a PC wanting to be a traitor, if you care to read it that way).

Know how you want it to end. This is particularly important for the GM to know before the proposal; a player who’s rather attached to his character will probably want some way of recovering his role in the party when it’s over and will therefore need an out of some sort at the end, while someone who wouldn’t mind a shot at a new character won’t be as concerned about killing off the old one. If party unity is important to you, making sure the traitor PC has a very good reason for his betrayal is vital, as is ensuring that the group will have cause to work with him again once he comes clean.

Choose your traitor carefully. It’s important that your first choice is up for the job: once you’ve tried and failed to recruit someone, that person will be expecting you to try again with someone else.

The most important trait for a chosen player is the ability to keep a secret; what’s the point of a betrayal if everyone knows ahead of time? A good poker face is nice, but not necessary. After all, a player who comes off as perpetually nervous can serve just as well; if she’s really jumpy anyway, who’s to guess it’s from making the impending treachery work rather than, say, stage fright? Similarly, someone whom the group isn’t familiar with can make a good choice, as they won’t know her usual style and thus are less likely to recognize the clues. Enthusiasm for conspiracy is also important, as that will predispose your potential traitor to agree; the really enthusiastic may even come to you first.

The best characters for this sort of treachery will probably be driven, one way or another. While “obsessed with one single goal and willing to do anything for it” is the easiest personality type to bring into a betrayal plot, it’s also a rather obvious one; a lack of surety in what’s right can also fit the bill. As noted yesterday, reasons are vital, whether you want the traitor to survive or not.

Of course, be ready for the betrayal to go Not Quite As Planned; these are after all PCs, and there’s no way we can anticipate all of their moves. Your traitor might delay, not sure what to do; she might overdo her task, or follow her instructions until the breakpoint before trying to mitigate the damage; if she’s after a McGuffin for some task, she might try to use the thing herself. But that makes it interesting, right?

Obviously, you’re going to need to figure out how to communicate—not just getting the instructions across, but (if possible) figuring out how to hide your communications. Online, of course, it’s easy; there are plenty of ways to pass notes or ask questions without anyone the wiser. Face to face is a lot harder, as it requires either wireless-capable equipment or physical notes. (Though “too busy playing video games to pay attention” might make an interesting cover for a treacherous player….). Of course, there’s the major camouflage technique of behaving conspiratorially towards everyone—notes, taking them into the corner for a few minutes to tell them something, you name it.

Plot wildly. Conspire closely. And above all, have fun.

Got any suggestions of your own?

Leave a Reply