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Three of a Kind: Traitor NPCs
Posted By Patrick Benson On January 27, 2012 @ 1:00 am In GMing Advice,Tools for GMs | 12 Comments
Ever play poker? You might be dealt three of a kind, but you are never dealt three of the same. One eyed jacks, suicide kings, and the Black Mariah all stand out from amongst their peers. “Three of a Kind” is a series that is all about providing you with three distinct versions of an NPC archetype for you to use in your game as well as some tips on how to use the archetype itself. So ante up, because you have nothing to lose in this game!
Heroes and villains come and go, but traitors live on in infamy! The traitor does not just turn her back on the cause – she takes its secrets with her to the enemy’s camp! As a GM the traitor NPC can serve multiple roles. A traitor can add to the drama and tension of a story. The traitor can also serve a tactical role when he undermines the defenses of his former comrades. The traitor is a classic role in fiction that any GM can use to add some intrigue to the game.
Time to look at our cards! Here are three types of traitor NPCs for you to use in your game.
This traitor has the simplest of motives. She sells out her friends for money, power, or something else of a similar and base nature. Perhaps she just wants to be on the side of the “winners”, or she wants to humiliate the PCs whom she is secretly envious of. It does not really matter, for in the end her motives are petty and self-indulgent. She is a traitor simply because she was never really dedicated to the cause in the first place.
This traitor wants to remain loyal to his cause, but something of even greater value to him is threatened by the enemy unless he does their bidding. Perhaps the enemy has materials that they are using to blackmail the traitor with, or maybe the traitor’s loved ones are being held hostage. The important detail to remember here is that the traitor is both the offender and the victim. This presents the PCs with a dilemma of their own: punish the treachery or help their suffering comrade?
She is a traitor like the others. She might even have motives similar to the others. There is one major difference though, because this traitor is defecting from the enemy camp to come join the PCs in their mission! Her reasons can range from noble to purely selfish ones, but she has information and skills that the PCs can use to their advantage. Whether or not the PCs trust her though is for the players to decide.
The most important consideration for a GM when introducing a traitor NPC into the game is when will the actual betrayal take place. Timing is everything in this case. A good rule of thumb is that the less significant the NPC is to the story the sooner the betrayal should occur. Likewise the more significant the NPC is to the story the later the betrayal should occur.
Having that betrayal come to light at just the right moment is crucial to playing the traitor NPC. The impact of the betrayal from a tactical point of view is not nearly as important to your game, because good players can roll with those kinds of punches all day long. But if the NPC has earned the PCs’ trust over a long period of time (or has long been the recipient of their scorn in the case of traitor #3) then your players are going to have a bigger reaction to the revelation of the traitor’s true nature when it takes place.
Have an idea or two for what will occur if the PCs discover the traitor’s secret earlier than planned. My personal approach depends on the quality of the PC’s evidence. A mere hunch that an NPC is a traitor even if that hunch is correct is not going to help the PCs very much at all. Revealing that hunch to the traitor in the form of a “We’re on to you!” type speech is just going to make the traitor extra cautious in covering up his tracks.
If the PCs have some solid evidence though and can put all of the pieces together let the chips fall where they may. It can be great fun to watch your plan for an ambush against the PCs be reversed into an ambush against the traitor. Good GMs realize that forcing a game to go according to plan is far more risky than it is to adapt to what the players come up with.
So throw a traitor into your game and see what happens, and do not be afraid to twist the archetype to challenge your players even more!
How would you play a traitor in your game? Do you have your own variation on the traitor archetype? Perhaps a favorite tactic or two for dealing with treacherous NPCs? Leave a comment below and share your ideas with the rest of us!
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