Executing Temptation

I talked yesterday about what makes a temptation plot interesting—but while it went into the theory and the meta-game rewards, it didn’t talk near enough about the execution. So let’s talk about what you need to think about when you’re putting together a temptation plot.

The first thing to keep in mind with temptation plots is the caliber of the opponent. Let’s face it, some people can bait the trap far better than others: you need someone convincing, someone who at least appears not to be just going through the motions (this turns off RPG PCs immediately, and tends to make static media audiences decide that the character being tempted is too stupid to live rather than in a genuine bind), someone who at least appears to be able to follow through on the offers. It’s even better if they appear to have a strong interest in the well-being and/or the services of the person being tempted—flattery may not get them everywhere, but it doesn’t hurt—and if that interest is verifiable, then it’s not at all rare for it to be grudgingly reciprocated.

The second is the balance between the options—the best temptation is one where it is reasonable for the character to decide that the two are at worst evenly balanced outcomes, or more often that the “wrong” choice is actually the better outcome. Let me put it this way. If the “good choice” is obviously better than the bad choice, there’s no temptation. If the “bad choice” and the “good choice” are otherwise equal in personal benefit, and the person being tempted knows there’s a price to the bad choice, they’re probably going to go for the good choice. If the “bad choice” appears better in the short run, and the price is hidden or only partly visible? Now we’re talking. At the very least, the choice should leave a hint of “what if?”, particularly if the tempter is likely to recur.

The third, and the most important, is actually understanding what it is that the character being tempted wants. It’s harder than you think, and sometimes characters manage to completely sidestep what seems like it should be perfect; for instance, back when I was a regular on the Giant in the Playground forums, I remember one person telling the story of how he managed to bypass his DM’s carefully planned temptation because it was delivered by the Standard Seductive Sorceress… and his barbarian preferred men. In my own games, I’ve seen more cases of “close, but not quite there”–the offer just that slight hair off from what it needed to be, the price just a smidgin too high, and instead of exciting it ended up repugnant and thus an easy choice.

There are others, of course, but these are the considerations at the heart of the temptation plot.

Leave a Reply