God Speaks to Peter Popoff Via Short-Wave Radio
One of the most prominent televangelists in the 1980s was Peter Popoff, who, during his services and revivals, would call out names and home addresses of audience members he'd never met. He even knew personal details such as family members' illnesses or their deceased loved ones' names. It seemed that Popoff got his messages from God or angels, and it greatly impressed his audiences and followers.
In 1986, magician James "The Amazing" Randi heard about Popoff's amazing abilities and decided to investigate. Randi noticed an apparently minor detail that most people missed: Popoff was wearing a hearing aid or earpiece. Using a radio scanner, Randi discovered that Popoff was actually getting biographical information about audience members from his wife (who had earlier spoken to the audience) using a short-wave radio. The scandal tarnished Popoff's ministry, but he eventually recovered and remains active today.
As I read this, I thought about how magic could make the whole earpiece thing a little harder to notice. Although, I can't help but to believe that the average gamer, when faced with a similar situation, would immediately come to suspicion.
GM: An old lady talks to you about your family.
Player: aw, that's sweet
GM: Now a prophet comes up to you and miraculously knows about your family!
Player: After chopping his head off, I find the old lady and kill her.
So, I suppose a little subtlety is in order. Two options come to mind.
Use a time delay. Many players combine ADD with acute short term memory loss - well, at least in my experience. YMMV. Try having the old lady conversation, then have another event like an assassin attacking the party or a horse trader trying to sell them a pony. Then have the prophet engage in some conversation. Sort of the "look over here, not over here" magic trick approach.
This idea can also be stretched out much longer - an entire adventure or two between the conversations, for instance.
Take the magic up a notch. Perhaps a telepathic psionicist or wizard reads the PCs' minds, then hands the information over to the "prophet". With selective wording this could even make it through a zone of truth:
Player: How do you know such things?
Prophet: I heard a whisper on the winds. [whisper spell?]
Player: Who whispered it?
Prophet: A magical entity. [a wizard?]
For me, this scam would require a greater profit margin - like scamming royalty. Hiring telepathic wizards can't be cheap. Heck the scammer might even provide real value from time to time, reading the minds of a messenger to discover he is an assassin or some such. This would work especially well in a theocratic situation where magicks are banned, since it provides a complex social situation.
|The Holy Beacon of Gaam!|
photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc
So how about it - anyone else ever run an adventure involving a religious scam artist, perhaps using minor magicks as support?