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Using a "Plant"

Started by Glenn Vandre, November 23, 2011, 06:24:25 PM

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Glenn Vandre

Hey all, I would like to bring up the notion of using a "plant" within your group or party (cast of characters?).  Is it a viable option?  Should it be done at all?  Is it a big "fuck you" to the rest of players? 

My definition of a plant would be:  a player that is in on the gag, and knows what has transpired in terms of setting and backstory.  Maybe a co-GM, but not really.  A player who is willing to sacrifice some aspects of his or her gaming experience to represent to and/or help the other players have a mind-boggling good time by being imbedded in the overall dynamic (plot) of the story as say, the culprit. 

Let me give you an example:  One of the funnest games I ever played was a Warhammer Fantasy game that included a "plant".  I wasn't the GM or the plant, just a player.  The GM let us do whatever we wanted, and it was a loosely formatted game; at least until we got to the next town.  So we all stayed at the local inn.  Blah blah blah.  The next morning, we woke up and learned that an NPC was murdered during the night.  The town guard and local magistrate had already been summoned to the scene.  We, the party, felt it was no business of ours and packed up our stuff to head out.  We (the party), as well as anyone else who spent the night at the inn were forbidden to leave "the scene of the crime" by the magistrate (shire reef or "sheriff").  The magistrate, rather perturbed that a murder took place within his auspice, informed all the people who stayed at the inn that nobody is allowed to leave until WE (all the people in the inn, as well as all the players) solved the crime and announced who the culprit was... and that culprit would be immediately and summarily hanged.  As the inn was surrounded by town guards (the GM making it extremely clear that any attempts to leave would be futile and deadly), we, the party gave in and began our crime investigation.  We had to "get to know" each and every NPC, asking such questions as: "so where were you last night", etc.  The GM had it structured so that many of the NPC's could have fit the bill, having a grudge against the murder victim.  So we gathered evidence, searched for clues, etc.  We eventually narrowed it down to a few possible suspects, and made a decision on (voted)  who we thought the culprit was.  But we made a classic psychological or inherent mistake.  I'm even the dumb-ass character who stated (emphatically):  "Well we know it wasn't one of us!"   So we accused the NPC in which the evidence seemed to fit the best, convinced the other NPC's, and announced our findings to the magistrate.  The poor bastard was arrested, marched across the square, and immediately hung.  We were finally allowed to leave, hopping the next coach.  In the coach, we characters began discussing what had transpired, with one of the characters saying:  " I just hope we nailed the right guy".  Then the plant (character) said:  "Well you didn't, because it was me."  Then he told us what he did, the history and reasons why, etc.  At first, the party was a little miffed (while the GM and plant laughed their asses off at the fact that we just caused the death of an innocent man.).  Then, as everything sunk in, we laughed too (kinda macabre).  It was then that some of the story elements began to make more sense; as in why the plant was acting the way he was (he had left evidence behind and actively engaged in trying to get rid of said evidence or say things that would throw us off).  Overall, it was like being jedi mind-fucked... and the party really got a kick out of it. 

The GM had gambled that we wouldn't accuse a party member, and even if we did, would we turn him in?  I thought it was brilliant in design and execution. 

So, back to point:  Is it wrong to have a player-character in cohoots with the GM or not?  Your thoughts...

Ron Edwards

Hi and welcome to the Forge,

I tried this several times in the late 1980s. It was rarely successful, if ever, for me. This is a tough time of the year for me so I am not going to be able to provide details under after the coming weekend, but briefly, my thinking is that the tactic is often wrapped up with trying to manage an ongoing storyline, effectively authoring it yourself, and through an agent, as the players think they are making key decisions, but are really only being set up for a Big Reveal. In fact, the Big Reveal is the whole point: I used to fantasize about how incredible it would be when the players suddenly learned about my awesome story and about how masterfully they'd been brought to the brink of understanding. Perhaps my biggest insight came from succeeding and discovering that it wasn't particularly fun after all, at least for my goals and those of my fellow players.

I do think you've asked a question that makes no sense. Whether this tactic is "wrong," is of no possible interest. The only things about role-playing which could even be in the running for wrongness are those which literally hurt people, physically, socially, and emotionally. What you're describing isn't one of them. A better question, and the one I think this thread should pursue, is when and how this tactic works, and most especially, toward what end. You've described an instance in which the group enjoyed themselves. I'm a bit interested in what happened after that - did, for instance, the party members who'd been fooled then try to bring the killer to justice?

Best, Ron

David Berg

My data points:

Secret Betrayal

My friend Tim ran a D&D game in college.  He exercised a lot of authority, and it was often kind of boring to be a player. 

I could see that Tim was excited about his NPCs, including the villains known as the Phage.  They all had Venom-style symbiote suits.  I think they were humans who'd turned evil from being stuck in this dungeon too long or something.  So, during a time when the characters were resting and doing some separate tasks, I pulled Tim aside, and said, "Paras (my character) wants to go see the Phage... about joining."

Tim loved the idea.  We met between sessions to work it out.  I got my own symbiote suit, and got to occasionally send reports back to the Phage on the party's activities.  I think the Phage had a plan to either trap the party in the dungeon forever, or follow them to the exit and then kill them; I can't remember.  Anyway, the game became vastly more fun for me, a bit more fun for Tim, and didn't change for the rest of the players.

Then at the final battle I revealed my true colors, nearly killed my friend John's character, and inflicted heavy damage in a dramatic fight, where the rest of the party eventually killed me.  Everyone seemed very excited by this development, and enjoyed the fight with Paras more than most of their monster fights.  I'd played Paras as kind of an ornery dick the whole game, so I think they were stoked to be able to hit him.  The only player who was unhappy was John, the victim of my internal "who should I backstab with my element of surprise?" lottery.  It looked like he was going to lose his character until Tim intervened with some bogus magic.

Open Betrayal

I played in a Werewolf game where the characters were put in the position of choosing between the lesser of various evils.  One such evil was the Black Spiral Dancer chaos-worshiping psycho hyenas.  The other characters hated them.  My character, Robert, saw them as the best option, and made a covert deal with them.  I think the other players knew exactly what I was doing, but their characters didn't, and they tried to roleplay accordingly.  I'd have to check my old thread on that game to be sure.

Anyway, this produced similar results to Tim's D&D game.  Lots more fun for me, a bit more fun for the GM, and pretty neutral for everyone else.


Both of these are very different than your example, SG6!  (What should we call you?  Most use real names hereabouts.)

Ron's point about GM authoring somewhat applies to my examples.  In both cases, the GMs were authoring too much of the fun stuff (though it was much more extreme in Tim's case), so I roped myself into that. 

Interestingly, my GMs both eagerly accepted, even though their aims did not concern Big Reveals.  I think what they got out of my involvement was (1) a little bit of burden-sharing to ease the multi-tasking, and (2) a big pressure release valve for their desire to share their cool creations without giving too much away. 

For example, Tim was psyched about the powers he'd designed into the symbiotes, and the history he'd written for how they'd joined with the Phage.  But he didn't have an opportunity to tell the other players that history (as they and the Phage weren't on speaking terms), and he didn't want the consequences of telling the other players about the symbiotes' powers (as that would have given them a strategic edge in battle).  So I provided both an opportunity and a freedom from those consequences.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Glenn Vandre

I see your point about "its not wrong" unless...

I agree with the things you said, and you're right about the question being more akin to "when does this tactic work or not"- and give examples either way.  I'm still interested in what others might say or their experiences regarding a plant.

As to you're question:  What did we do about it once we found out?  Well, laughed.  We called the guy a filthy, underhanded bastard.  We kinda gained respect for the guy (character).  We knew not to trust the guy.  We shook our heads in disgust at the whole filthy ordeal.  We called the GM a dirty fucker.  We laughed some more.  Did we turn the culprit in?  Naw.  We were all running disreputable types and thought it was funny (in hindsight).  Beyond this, as an unwritten rule amongst our gaming group (which is close), you can fuck with other player-characters, but open confrontation is frowned upon (quickest way to lose a gaming group).  We weren't going to turn in a party member or fight him or whatever.  This was merely a side-scenario and really didn't have anything to do with the overall story-line (perhaps the culprits backstory).  It was more of a role-playing exercise more than anything (I don't think we rolled dice at all during the whole session), and we happened to enjoy it for what it was.  Perhaps, the way you put it, it was just nice to experience a big reveal. 

Glenn Vandre


You join a site or forum.  You don't really know what it's about yet.  Registering asks you for a username (hell, I don't know).  You make something stupid up so you don't get "That name has already been used" response.  I suppose I could change the username now. 

The name is Glenn.

Kevin Vito

I've never played it, but having read it I am under the impression that Paranoia is supposed to play a little bit like this. If the player is new to the game and doesn't know the rules they may believe that they are the plant conspiring with the GM to pull the wool over the other player's eyes. If they have read the rules though, then they would realize the truth; everybody is a plant. That has to be a pretty interesting social contract.

I should play Paranoia some time.


I've done this twice and both were successful.   Both were only for one session though: the first had a players character in Champions mind controlled by an alien parasite.  There were hints and paranoia notes used-- only one player was given the hint that another player is not what they seem.  I think b/c it was short (one game), a break from normal game play, and the game's tone changed to suit it helped it work.

The other was an initial intro to D&D where there was a murder mystery ran like the game "Clue".  None of the players were a suspect, but I had one that only wanted to play one adventure (unbeknownst to the other players) that was paid off by the killer.  Again this was a one session only betrayal and the tone was also not the normal one for the game.  This one didn't have a big of pay off as the former, but it wasn't expected too.  It did give some interesting role playing moments as the double agent tried to not get caught in lies.

Michiel R

Hi, I'm new here. And found this an interesting post.
I had one similar experience from GM point of view.

With an evil kind of players characters, one character (PC) needed another PC for a devilish ritual. (Excuse my English I'm from Holland). The big revelation did'nt play out, because the game was not finished due to other reasons. However the player was excited to have an edge and secret information.
As a GM I was relieved to have a bond between the PC's, because with less moral standards in evil campaings its chalanging to keep the group together on the same track.

I've seen a number of games suggesting a secret for a players background, and I think it's a marvelous way of getting the player to roleplay and put a little dept in a PC. For these reasons I would add secrets to players.