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When did you bait & switch and how did it go? (Spoilers)

I ran Call of C'thulhu with some variants that allowed the players to sacrifice SAN for some special abilities. I got a Mythos Mage, an English psychic who talked to animals, a big game hunter in search of the Great White Asiatic Elephant, a Spanish-American-War veteran, and a Wahabist fanatic (00 SAN!).

It went reasonably well, the players foiled a madman trying to summon Hastur at a football game, a house haunted by a stuffed cheetah that was actually a vengeful ninja, a mad scientist with a sodium gun, and even the afore mentioned white elephant.

But, they figured out the "twist" - they were all already insane, all the supernatural elements they encountered were coincidence and delusion.

It was fun while it lasted.

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Bait and switch is always tricky, because you have to be ready for the players to become unhappy, especially a min/max player who optimized in a certain way.

The only time I've successfully done it was in an Legend of the Five Rings game, where the PCs are samurai of the various clans, after playing many different types of campaigns over several years. I didn't tell them what the campaign was going to be about (I often didn't give much more than a setup back then), and just told them to build whatever type of character they wanted. At the start of the first session, I informed them that for whatever reason, they've become ronin (outcast masterless samurai) and it was a mercenary type game (which is unusual in L5R, since money is a minimal aspect in most campaigns, since your lord pays for almost everything). The major downside, other than the social and monetary issue, is that they couldn't access the higher ranking clan techniques unless they found a way to pull it off in the game (one of my power games was super-pissed about it, because his entire build was terrible until he got his second technique... he "accidentally" got himself killed in the first session, then made an optimal character knowing the game's assumptions). Most of the players really enjoyed the campaign after the first session, once they were used to the idea.


I've never done it. I wouldn't even really be sure of how to approach such a technique, and as others have mentioned, I would worry about pissing off the players who are invested in THIS game, not THAT game.

EDIT - Question, let's say the DM has planned for the whole party to die in his D&D game, but then use that 3e supplement where everyone returns as a ghost or whatever. Is that bait and switch? Or just being an ass because you don't tell them first...

John Dallman

I've seen a GM tactic that was intended to avoid annoying the players in a bait and switch. It didn't work at all.

The idea was that characters from the near future of our world would be transferred into a fantasy world, but the players weren't allowed to know about this in advance. The theory was that people with "diverse skills" would be recruited for a job at CERN, but there was never a proper explanation of what they were being recruited for, or that this meant that each character's own skills (this was Hero System, in non-superheroic mode) needed to be diverse. After having a couple of character designs rejected I gave up and did not play. The campaign did start, but rapidly failed.


Yes, well, in keeping with Darjr's reference to Metamorphosis Alpha, I suppose the original official bait-and-switch game was the 1st ed. AD&D module Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, in which the players gradually find out that the dungeon their PCs are crawling in is actually a marooned spaceship. Apparently, as the legend goes, TSR began working on EttBP in 1976, whilst considering publishing a science fantasy role playing game, no doubt spurred by the success of Star Wars, so James M. Ward showed the TSR muckety-mucks his notes for his proposed game Metamorphosis Alpha, and Gary Gygax decided to introduce sci-fi / science fantasy concepts to the D&D fan base via a tournament scenario at 1976's Origins II.

I did play EttBP with my friends in our early gaming days, and I didn't like it because I did feel betrayed by it -- cognitive dissonance set in as outer-space invaded my sword-and-sorcery. Of course, at the time, I was unaware that a lot of Clark Ashton Smith's sword-and-sorcery stories involved Lovecraft's Outer Gods and other such story elements from outer space. Had I known that, I might have been able to digest EttBP a little better.

Later in my gaming years, Cthulhu was omnipresent in almost every setting with supernatural or sci-fi forces my gaming groups and I ever played. But by this time, I understood that a lot of the creatures from the Monster Manual had been rip-offs of Lovecraftian monstrosities, and that by Lovecraft's own mythos, those monstrosities came from space. So it didn't cause me a problem to see a Lovecraftian horror in a sword-and-sorcery game, in a pulp game or in a sci-fi / space fantasy game at all.

In my middling years of gaming, I played a 1930s pulp game (using the Champions system) that was our gaming group's flagship game. We played weekly for over a year, fifty-some episodes, and even had a spin-off "kids' pulp" game in the same setting. In the middle of the campaign, our characters went into space and landed on a world with weird aliens that were space-Nazis. I was able to swallow it, but I didn't like it. Again, it caused a sort of cognitive dissonance, and seemed like mixing genres. But...I understood where the GM was coming from: he was inspired by the pulps of the 40s and 50s that introduced more and more sci-fi elements into pulp. But I couldn't wait for the characters to get back to Earth and for the sci-fi story arc to end.

I did learn a lesson about the "social contract" of the gaming table from a member of that same gaming group when I played Traveller with that group, and decided to play a character inspired by the doctor from Lost in Space. My character was a very competent science officer who was actually a spy, and at a critical point in the first session, he turned on the PCs and stabbed one of them (making him unplayable as a PC for the rest of the campaign). Most of the players thought that was an interesting turn of events...except the player whose character was stabbed. She took me out to dinner and explained to me why that violates the "player social contract." That discussion opened my eyes. I saw the error of my ways, apologized for it, and promised not to do that again unless we all, as players, know ahead of time that such a thing is a possibility. I think Firefly the t.v. series did this well when it made clear that Jayne's loyalties were always with whoever was going to butter his bread the thickest. So, when Mal puts him in that airlock for selling out Simon and River to the Feds, it all seems to work because the audience knows that Jayne is at any time capable of such a thing.

I guess the closest I ever came to baiting and switching -- though it was much more like Umbran's anecdote about the White Wolf game that promised something more -- was also a WOD game, a Wraith game I ran with a single player that tried to capture that Sixth Sense moment where the PC would suddenly realize he was dead, and a ghost. I told the player we were going to play a game where we generated his character as we played, and didn't tell him what system we were using. I had gamed with this player since my earliest days of gaming, so we trusted each other and I knew his tastes very well. I had his blank character sheet behind the shield, and I would ask him in situations HOW he would resolve them, statting the character out for him behind the shield based on the information he fed me.

Midway through the first session, though, as I was flipping through the book, the illuminated pages of the Wraith book peeked up over the shield, and he saw. "Oh! We're playing Wraith!" he said. The surprise was blown. But we carried on anyway, and had a good game nevertheless.

John Dallman

I did play EttBP with my friends in our early gaming days, and I didn't like it because I did feel betrayed by it -- cognitive dissonance set in as outer-space invaded my sword-and-sorcery.
I played it with no problems on that front, but there was already science fantasy in my university gaming society's multi-DM D&D campaign, so the characters had some idea of what they were encountering. My problem was the DM who felt it wasn't deadly enough and "enhanced" it to fix that.


My greatest switch was that I had in my 4e “destiny points”, aka the old “spend a point to change something about the scene”.

so the players used them here and there. What they didn’t know until a big reveal, those points weren’t just a “mechanic” they were literally altering destiny. They realized that they were actually in the middle of a war between destiny and it’s opposite, and had been chosen by destiny to assist. Turned into the most epic campaign I have run.

I had an adventure once where the PCs (one male, one female) were fighting a creature with hallucinogenic venom. They both got stabbed by the creature and failed their saves...at which point I took their PC sheets away and replaced them with fake PC sheets for a hypothetical game called "TARDISes and Time Lords" and the PCs were now Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan fighting cybermats. Then, after a short while, I replaced those sheets with those for "Agents and Avengers" (Emma Peel and John Steed fighting cybernauts) and in rapid succession sheets for "Superheroes and Supervillains" (Sue Storm and Ben Grimm against Doctor Doom), "X-Files and Xtraterrestrials" (Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder fighting a pyrokinetic in a fireworks warehouse), "Slayers and Schoolmates" (Buffy Summers and Xander Harris fighting vampires in a graveyard), and "Fireflies and Firefights" (River Tamm and Simon Tamm escaping from Hands of Blue agents). Eventually the venom worked its way through their systems and they found they had destroyed the monster they had been fighting, at which point I returned their "Dungeons and Dragons" PC sheets to them.

The players enjoyed it as part of a single adventure but I don't think they'd have liked any of the hallucinatory alternate worlds to have been a series of ongoing adventures.


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