A lot of my posts have been having to do with playing nice with each other and doing right by each other. I firmly believe you need to establish trust with your fellow gamers. If there is no trust there is no group. Now as a GM you are put in a huge position of power to abuse this trust. I’d be lying if I said I don’t abuse it, but there is a fine line between screwing with your players and screwing your players. Here’s a couple of ideas that you can use in your next game to have fun with the players and not make them feel betrayed.
One of my favorite tricks was the doppelganger switch. Story wise when someone in the group is separated from the rest a doppelganger knocks them out and takes their place. There are a few ways you can go about this. One is to ask the player if they’d be up for it and then they play as the doppelganger for a session. This approach works well but you need to rely on another person to know what you want them to do. If you don’t spell it out very clearly the player may jump the gun and screw up an important plan you had ready. Another way to do this is simply don’t tell the player he’s been switched. Imagine this. The group confronts the BBEG and they start a witty repartee. Then the BBEG orders the thief in the group to kill them. The group laughs and then the GM announces that the real thief pops out of a chest in the room tied up and has a gag around his neck. He shouts “Look out”. The players turn and the thief they thought they knew rushes them. You can explain to them afterwords when the switched happened and as long as the group gets their thief back (or at least a fair chance to) no ones feelings will be hurt.
Imagine that the group was told that there was a princess who is captive in a castle with a terrible dragon. The group gets there and they find that the dragon is angry and trying to kill the princess. The players jump in and get the dragon’s attention. There is an epic battle and then out of no where the “helpless” princess throws a spell onto the dragon and it succumbs to her will. Turns out the princess had been hunting this dragon and they’ve been fighting for months. Finally the dragon took her up to an abandoned castle where the dragon could finally unleash his full power with out hurting innocents. Now the warlord princess has a dragon and his horde under her control.
Reversing tropes is always a fun way to mess with players. Going against what they expected is a great way to mess with them, but you need to be careful with this. The reverse trope has to still fit the world. If you are playing a Pathfinder game and the group knows that they are hunting werewolves and then they buy a bunch of silver weapons and then find the werewolves only to discover that werewolves are actually fey so you need cold iron to hurt them, you’re gonna have a bad time. The players will feel betrayed because you didn’t give them a chance to know that. They assumed what everyone does about werewolves. If the vulnerability changes you have to give the players a chance to learn that. At no time should you change the world just to screw over your players. That’s a sign that there is something else going on with your game you need to look at.
What were some of your favorite moments of surprise?