The Joys of Temptation

We’re all familiar with the temptation plot—the offer of something important to a character in exchange for some often minor-sounding price—do something she wasn’t supposed to/didn’t want to do, don’t do something she was supposed to/did want to, stand aside for just five minutes at the right time…. yeah. Those. The ones where, regardless of how small the price appears, we know the actual price is going to be a whole lot higher—we just don’t necessarily know how.

From a reader standpoint, a large part of the temptation plot is the window it gives to the mind of the character being so tempted, and how he or she handles it—there’s a lot of room for variation. But it’s from a player standpoint that it’s really interesting, since most of it can also be used to understand why a character, even one who realizes the situation is probably a trap, isn’t necessarily going to extricate herself at the first available opportunity—why, even after the initial encounter, the issue lingers rather than simply vanishing in the way that vanquishing an opponent causes the direct threat he poses to vanish.

Part of the fun of a temptation plot is that the target feels valued—particularly if it’s a case in which she’s probably outmatched by the tempter in other areas. (I know my characters have a tendency to end up in temptation plots administered by things they really shouldn’t end up in conflict with alone, and I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.) “They could crush me, but they aren’t. I have something they want. I am important.” Never underestimate the power of an ego trip.

For social characters, another part is the chance to use their skills to the fullest extent—in fact, the ones who see themselves as pro manipulators, if hit right, are quite possibly the most vulnerable of the lot. After all, this is the manipulator’s area of expertise; she eats, sleeps and breathes this stuff. This could lead to “never turn down a challenge” behavior, in the same way that a character from a warrior culture with a strong tradition of honorable combat might never step away from a duel. She’s got too much invested in self-image to want to admit defeat, and might willfully ignore legitimate dangers because she’s “a better talker than that.”

And then there’s the fact that it’s got all of the tension of a life or death situation without the actual threat to life and limb. The question isn’t “Will she get out of it?”, it’s “Will she get out of it without screwing things up for some measurable number of other people, possibly including herself?” I think it’s safe to assume that people given vague stakes like that (heck, if you’ve got a really good tempter, a character probably doesn’t realize the magnitude of the stakes to begin with) are going to take a lot more chances than the ones who happen to like living and in a position where they need to ensure they keep on doing so. And as an added bonus, for people who are attached to the character, failure can be as interesting as a success—what does making the wrong decision end up doing to the character? How does she handle it? Are things ever going to be the same?

And, of course, there’s the offer of what feels on the surface like some sort of self-actualization. A desired item, a lifelong dream, a long-delayed revenge—and all it requires is this one little thing, often something that seems so very innocuous on the character level. If fulfilling those sorts of goals weren’t satisfying on both a player and character level, I’m pretty sure we players wouldn’t be having our characters make them.

Which brings us back to the initial point—all in all, a well-crafted temptation plot is a thing of great beauty, whether it succeeds or fails.


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