Resources For Every GM: Artifacts, MacGuffins, & Red Herrings Part 3

Good evening everyone! Tonight for our Resources entry I want to get back to the less-than-aptly category of artifacts, MacGuffins, and red herrings. This inspirational category catches the things and concepts that don’t fit in the others. They are not creatures, settings, or characters. Instead this group is the other “stuff” that help makes up a story and narrative. Tonight’s entry is specifically about manipulating NPCs or PCs when their player’s are not around for a while. Each one can be used in the short term or in long term, minor characters or major characters. Each one can provide an excellent and surprising twist for your game!


Possession is a fun way to affect the way the player’s think about what on earth is going on. Having some outside force take over a character may seem like a dangerous idea, but let’s start easy: NPCs. No matter how the party feels about a possessed NPC they probably won’t feel like their agency has been taken away. In the very short term, though, controlling a character can create unique challenges. Ghosts jumping from one PC to another and taking over a turn or two to attack allies is a, generally, unique battle experience. There are many ways to use possession, though. First a group might not notice an NPC being weird for a long time, allowing a villain to make some inroads and learn about them. The biggest aspect of possession I think should be tossed out there is the versitility. First off, all kinds of powerful or interesting creatures might be capable. From psionic creatures to ghosts to demons or even angels, the limit is only your imagination. Think of the way angels inhabit humans in Supernatural. They use them for a battle of good versus evil, but the people might not appreciate it and the angels might not understand the “smaller” ramifications. Another aspect of possession that we should throw out the window is the idea that it is full take over. Coexistence for a quest might be necessary and might be beneficial. Perhaps the possessor fights for control under certain circumstances. There is also the possibility that there is a soul or being that is effectively unconsciously there, slowly awakening and taking over, and the PCs have to fight time to get rid of it. The possibilities are all at your fingertips!


This is the classic doppelganger scenario. What happens when a major NPC is replaced? Perhaps the DM must play a PC for a few sessions and they were actually a doppelganger the whole time! The important thing for replacement is that there is a key moment when the characters learn that there are two of someone. That shock factor is always a chance for a ton of fun. What happens when you find a second king going about his business? Or their favorite shop keep is chained in the basement of a local tavern? Suddenly, unless they theorized it, everything changes for the group. At that moment new options might open up and explanations for the strange are suddenly obvious. Replacement creates something that possession generally doesn’t: paranoia. Who is real!? The replacement scenario can, like most, be inserted whenever and no one needs to know if you came up with the plan before the characters were replaced in game. What you need to be careful of is figuring out some key people who were replaced and when. PCs will try to figure it all out and it could be very important later. You also need to be aware that the paranoia will linger, even after solving the cause. Nevertheless replacement is a ton of fun. You get the arguments between two people over who to shoot or not (just don’t over use this scene) and there are plenty of things that can replace. Shape changers of all kinds, doppelganger agents, high level magic users, and more. Oh, and if you really want to go a little crazy watch The Thing. This is like a combo of possession and replacement. Well, except that the original characters don’t get found alive.


Illusion is an element that a GM can work wonders with. When I say illusion I am talking about something a little more broad. In this case we’re talking about something that is there but really isn’t there at the same time. This can be as simple as a hologram or illusory person. In the case of a powerful wizard or psion, they might be able to use powers through the illusion. If nothing else they can communicate with their underlings and taunt the players. Beyond that illusions can be purely narrative, with no reason for the players to think that it isn’t real. In this case they might find that the person they have been talking to all night isn’t really there. This is mysterious and strange. Generally, instead of creating shock and paranoia, there is the slow head tilt of curiosity and wonder. Illusion is useful for more than just characters. It can be used to illustrate how things used to be somewhere, how events took place, or images of what might be. They can be as real as you need them too and most stories and setting account for the fact that illusions affect people as if they were real if the person doesn’t know they’re not. Finally illusion is great for those times when you need a quick excuse to add someone from a game. Critical Role did this frequently with Pike, who worked in New York frequently. When the party was out and about, the poor cleric would be left behind. Should Ashley become available for a game or two, Pike would pop in as an astral, angelic light form and be herself. The risk to her was still there, but when she couldn’t show next session, the illusory Pike disappeared!

These things are narrative tools. They can be used in far more ways than I have described. Get as creative as possible! Have any stories involving one of these? Let us know!!

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