"A situation arose where players found themselves in a game between two NPCs accusing each other of wrongdoing. A player asked, "What do I roll to see if one of them is lying?" I tried to further describe details about the NPC's actions so they could make a better decision. But ultimately I was wondering if I just should have identified the liar to them.
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How do you handle this kind of a situation where NPCs lie to the PCs?"
First, thanks for writing in. This is a great question!
In a system like Pathfinder, resolving such a situation is based on character skill and a contested roll. Easy, but in my opinion, kind of uninteresting. You can, of course, hide the result of the roll from the player, but that goes against the idea of character empowerment that is a strong characteristic of the game. If you spend the points. . .. Also, pretty much every player will ask to sense motive, and that substantially improves the odds of success.
But what about B/X, or in Ryan's case ACKS? How to resolve the situation then?
Who's the Liar?I would handle this like I would handle any question about future action the player character might take. I would remind the player of all the information that their character has access to. I would then talk to the player about likely consequences of choices, and then I would respond to their question with "You don't know."
Now this is assuming that the situation is ambiguous. Often the player characters have encounters and the encounter rolls end up with the opponent saying something that obviously isn't true. But since the players are receiving their information from me, and many of them are sort of in the job of hearing a lot of lies, much like police or famous actors, I just tell them "It's pretty clear he doesn't have access to a huge hoard of treasure." Adventurers are easily able to spot obvious lies.
However, if the situation is truly ambiguous, then after I make sure that the players have been explicitly told all the relevant information. Then, it's up to them to make a judgement call. That's the player skill part of the game. It's an opportunity for them to make a choice based on their interpretation of data that matters, and can be a high point of a game.
Ryan, I hope this gives you some confidence when handling situations like this in the future, and I welcome my readers to leave comments on perhaps how they might handle such a situation in a way that rewards player skill and supports player agency.
Have a reader mail question? Like to know how I'd handle a difficult or complex situation in game? Feel free to contact me on G+ at +Courtney Campbell or email campbell at oook dot cz
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