Amoral Parties and Frame-Up Plots

Yesterday, I talked about plots based on someone—usually someone important to the PCs—being framed for a crime they didn’t commit. We know how these go with your standard good party: the shining heroes devoted to truth and justice will pretty much always step in for their wrongfully accused fellows. Let’s face it, though, not all PC groups are even majority-idealist. Some are, to put it kindly, a bit grayer—self-interested, cynical, in some cases even downright vicious. If the party’s this jaded, can we still run something as heroically themed as a frame-up plot?

You bet. We just have to take the party into account.

First, look at motivation—none of the other issues matter if you can’t get the party on the hook in the first place. Unlike the quintessential good party, a more amoral party is going to need to be shown that not only do they have the means to resolve the frame-up, but it’s also in their best interest. This isn’t to say that personal attachments won’t provide the appropriate motivations—not all gray characters are necessarily loners, nor apathetic—but sometimes it’s going to take something else, like rewards for a job well done, threats to the party’s reputations should the frame-up go through, the usefulness of the framed character to their current and future plans that might be damaged by the accusation, so on and so forth. Be creative. Fit it to the party.

Then we need to consider that these people are complicating factors in and of themselves. Your stereotypical good party is going to be concerned with the two basic objectives I discussed yesterday: clear the name of the innocent, expose the guilty. The amoral party, on the other hand, isn’t going to be quite as concerned with, and might even welcome, collateral damage. Shift the blame onto a political rival who might not actually be culpable? Turn a mob on the first person they find who might be guilty whether they know for sure or not?

Note also that your standard good party has certain ethical limitations (theoretically, anyway) on their tactics—ones which a more amoral party would at best provide lip service to and then exact-words their way around. Morally gray parties are a lot less likely to hold back in their interrogations. Neither are they above bribing officials to make the problem go away quietly (or resorting to coercion if bribery fails), trumping up their own “witnesses”, fact-twisting, outright lying… you get the idea. In short, you’ll need to prepare for illegitimate investigation tactics as well as legitimate ones. While you should plan for everything, in some groups it might be possible to limit the tactics the PCs use by not letting them catch your NPCs using them; many amoral parties operate on the idea that once the other guy does it it’s fine to do it themselves (or for extreme tactics, on the idea that if they haven’t done it the other guy might not do it), and of course, there are the ones who might not remember or realize something’s an option until they see it done.

Yes, running a frame-up plot is harder when you’re dealing with a party operating on self-interest rather than a love of justice, but if you know how to handle such a group, it can also be a lot more complex and interesting.

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