Ask The GM: NPC Distrust

By John Serpico on


Greg asks – The game I’m running has gone off the rails. Two of my players are certain that an NPC that they are supposed to like and trust are going to betray them. They think they’re outsmarting me by refusing to go along with his plans. This NPC (a nobleman that wants to raise an army to stop an invasion) is pivotal to the whole storyline and I can’t convince the party to believe him. What do I do?

In life, trust is hard to earn. Why should gaming be any different?

My guess is that your players don’t trust this NPC for the same reasons that people don’t trust other people in real life:

-He’s a stranger.

-He wants something.

-They’ve been burned by strangers that want something before.

If someone you didn’t know emailed you and said that if you partnered with him on a mysterious project, you could make a ton of money, do you think you would answer? Of course not. That’s not a call for adventure, that’s a phishing scam. And anyone that’s been the victim of a phishing scam is going to be pretty wary of any future email from a stranger.

This same wariness may be going on in your game right now. You might have burned them in the past with a betrayal, and now they’re apprehensive about trusting new NPCs. On top of that, you may have been a bit too enthusiastic and hasty in introducing this NPC. If you combine those two things – previous betrayal and a new NPC with an agenda – it could look to your players that you’re trying to railroad them into something dangerous.

I think you’ve got two options going forward, if you really want to salvage the relationship with this NPC. The first is to find an existing, trusted NPC to vouch for him. Maybe someone from a previous session shows up and says “Oh, Sir Mike (let’s assume his name is Mike)? How do you know Sir Mike? He’s my cousin! Known him since we were kids.” Much like real life, it becomes easier to trust a stranger if someone you already know gives him a thumbs up.

If you can’t leverage an existing relationship, your other option is to really show this NPC’s virtue via his actions. Have him arrive in the nick of time to save them from something. Have the players overhear him making plans to defeat a shared enemy or witness him helping an orphan or something similarly noble. Make what he says and what he does be the antithesis of what your players are scared he might do.

Whatever route you chose will very much depend on the circumstances. If you can easily reintroduce an old confidant into the mix in a way that doesn’t impede the story, do it. If you can’t, have the nobleman prove himself. If, for some reason, neither option is available to you for plot reasons, you may be forced to abandon that NPC and find a new way to get them involved in the story. That’s the least desirable outcome, but it’s still better than having your players sit on the ground and refuse to move out of fear. If it does come to that, introduce a new NPC, or let them continue on in a new direction until such time as you can fold them back into the invasion storyline. There are a few other ways you can give them personal stakes in this upcoming war, even if it would be more work for you.

So do some thinking, figure out what makes the most sense and move ahead. Hopefully this new NPC can be a trusted friend after all.

Happy GMing!

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