[RPG] How to play a devious character when you are not personally devious


I am GMing a low-fantasy GURPS game, and I find that my amoral or immoral NPC's are easily seen through. On several occasions, I have tried to have an NPC dupe my players into being pawns. And every time, one particular player has caught on and turned the tables; in one case even double-crossing the guy. I don't mind my players succeeding, but in every case that its happened, I had much larger arcs planned, and they were short-circuited.

I think my problem is that I just can't get into that headspace properly. I'm not a devious, conniving, scheming person. I have a good plan for what the NPC wants and how they'll try to get it, but I struggle to improvise schemes when a PC does something I didn't expect. I am good at improvising in general, I just can't seem to do it when it involves a character like Littlefinger.

Do I have to just stop trying to scheme? I am open to advice about GURPS or roleplaying in general.

Best Answer

I like to pretend to a certain amount of smirking deviousness - I once derailed an "evil campaign" by convincing the GM to put his BBEG in the party as a mole... then convincing the resident assassin to kill him as a warning to his "boss" (he didn't know he had just killed the boss, it was hilarious). Since you're approaching things as a GM, I'll tell you how I do devious, and what our GM did about my machinations.

  1. Risk Assessment - when I plan for evil, I first figure out what I can get away with... and what I can afford to lose should I fail. If your Big Bad can't afford to be stopped at this point in the game, don't put him in a position to be stopped. If that doesn't work: Our GM asked for a minute to think, and pulled on his beard while staring at the headless corpse of his villain (I was thorough). Then he nodded and said, "Yeah, he's got nothing for that."

  2. Plan For Failure - Make your plan foolproof all you want to, someone who isn't a fool will tear it apart. It's better to have a retreat planned should things go south than to bet big and die. If that doesn't work: Our GM decided his villain didn't have such a plan... but another villain did, and had them step into the BBEG role, having waited for "that simpering fool to foul things up, as I knew he would." I can't prove that the new villain wasn't just the old villain with the name hastily rewritten, but it was what I would have done in his place. It's a prime example of #3:

  3. They Don't Have to Know It Wasn't Planned - a trademark of megalomania is taking credit for things you aren't responsible for. For example, I didn't actually think I was going to get the BBEG killed. I thought I was going to get the assassin killed. This was an evil campaign, remember, and part of the fun is plotting your friend's downfalls. In order to sell my story, though, I gave the assassin a knife I had gotten from the BBEG earlier... not realizing it was a MacGuffin the GM had planted, thinking it would be cool at the end of the campaign to use a token of friendship from the bad guy to kill him. Which it was! ...About a dozen sessions early. But did I let on that I was surprised? Hell no! As far as anyone knew, it was all part of the plan, and the fact that I had "accounted for it" made me look super devious.

Everything else about being devious you've already got - the abilities to plan and improvise are crucial. But remember, the party can't see your notes - they don't have to know you're improvising, or that you didn't have a response planned, or that what they just did wasn't part of the plan all along.

One last bit of advice, for dealing with the devious player, one that my GM learned a little late:

  1. Liars Should Always Assume They're Being Lied To - this is a terrible practice for dealing with real life people, but you're role-playing a villain. You don't have to see through every deception to be a good villain, but it helps make you look more devious if your plans assume that you can't trust anyone, even the players. As Princess Bride taught me, "I always assume everything is a trap. It's why I'm still alive."
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