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Seattle, Washington, United States
I'm an old time roleplayer who became a soldier who became a veteran who became a developer who became a dba who became a manager who never gave up his dream of a better world. Even if I have to create it myself.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Religious Hoaxes

Fox has an interesting article on famous religious hoaxes.

For example:

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.

Option 1

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.

Option 2

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?


  1. Does the fact that Gods are real in these fictional worlds play any role? I imagine Garr would be quite mad if someone pretended to be his Prophet. Or on the other hand, the Prophet could be legitmate.

    In fact, if someone came to me in game and said "I know all about you from Garr because I am his Prophet", I'd would be like "Okay, what's your quest mate".

    We wouldn't fall for that IRL.

    1. Not to be nitpicky, but most religions in the real world are based off of your exact premise.

  2. I could run a bard con-artist. Could be fun, but dangerous for the rest of the party.

  3. I think it depends on the type of game you are playing. Whilst I like the idea, I suspect a combat centric or less involved gaming structure wouldn't support it.

    Also take a leaf out of RL and just have your religions spout the following lines:

    Give us your money
    Give us your time
    We will reward you after you are dead.

    How many will fall for that in a game situation?

  4. I actually think this is kind of interesting. In a fantasy world where most people believe that there are multiple real gods, a con job would arguably be easier to pull off than than in the real world where most folks believe that there is either no god or only one true god. When it's generally accepted that there are dozens of both true and false gods, how much harder must it be to tell the difference between the prophet and the swindler?

  5. I have thought myself about how RPG religions compare to real world ones, and how many problems come about when we expect them to act in similar ways. http://shortymonster.co.uk/?p=36


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