A good deception can be a thing of beauty, and even appreciated as such. I’ve often found myself rating the deceptions I’ve read or my characters have gotten themselves embroiled in, and there’s one tactic I’ve found that seems to give the deception a little extra style and—at least when dealing with my characters—a greater chance of, if not success, than continuation long enough to reach some other advantage. As an added bonus, it helps out the deceivers who want to cover their tracks, further ensuring the target doesn’t realize what they’re doing and/or avoiding drawing the attention of interested third parties. So what is this tactic?
Don’t actually spell out the conclusion you want the target to draw.
I know this sounds counterintuitive. How are they going to get to the conclusion if you aren’t willing to spit it out, right? Does it really make sense to turn an attempt to influence someone into a game of Taboo, carefully hinting around the intended conclusion?
Yes, there are difficulties. You have to be sharp enough to be able to dance around the topic without going too far afield or slipping and giving it away. There’s the risk that the target is going to completely misinterpret everything you put forward, requiring you to be even more obvious than you would have been originally in order to get them back on track. It takes longer. And there needs to be enough information that a reasonable person could get to the proper conclusion without breaking the fourth wall in the process.
On the other hand, it has its uses.
For one thing, requiring the target to actually take the last step to the conclusion makes the conclusion theirs. Instead of being your idea, it’s something that they came up using the available facts. As a result, they’re likely to treat it as they would a thing they want to hear. As an added bonus, that means they’re less likely to attribute it to you—a useful thing if you’re trying to keep a low profile overall.
Don’t forget plausible deniability. Again, this is most important to people who are trying to avoid the consequences (or at least, the negative ones if they’re found out). It’s not always going to work, but being able to truthfully say “I never said [whatever]” can at least throw off accusations for a bit.
It makes it easier to cut down on the lies. This is particularly important with deceptions whose aim is to cause the target to believe something untrue (as opposed to the ones that aim to cause the target to misinterpret how they should be responding to what is actually going on). If you actually state the conclusion, you’re lying and can be caught in it, but if you state facts, and color them slightly to imply the conclusion you’re aiming for, by most settings’ truth detection spell laws you’re still being honest enough not to ping. Immutable though facts may seem, it’s not that hard to get them to do at least some of what you want.
It can be fun. And I don’t just mean for you trying to be clever, but for the other person—I know I, at least, have always preferred it when the characters I’m playing opposite have used a light touch and gone for the allusions rather than just saying things straight out. (At least, assuming that they provided enough information to reach the appropriate conclusion; it doesn’t always work.)
So consider this trick when running a deception on an intelligent character by an intelligent character. It’s fun to play, fun to watch, and a sound strategy in general.