Leading the Witness

There’s a Game Mastering technique which I’d advise against using on a regular basis. This technique should be used sparingly, if at all. I call it “leading the witness.”

Basically, the Game Master makes something, such as an encounter, look so irresistible that players have little choice but to follow along.

The irresistible part has more to do with GM manipulation than anything else, which is why it’s easy to abuse. Below is an example from a sleazy little sci-fi RPG called Alpha Blue.

GM: What are you guys doing now?

Player 1: I’m going to walk to central control and find the captain.

Player 2: Me, too. And if I see any shifty spacers between here and there, I’m going to intimidate them with my blaster rifle.

GM: You see a woman quickly walking towards both of you. As she approaches, you notice how beautiful she is. This woman seems to be in some sort of distress, motioning erratically with her hands.

Player 1: I ask if she needs any help.

Player 2: I give her the seductive eye and then make a rude gesture with my blaster rifle.

GM: She seems to not be paying you any mind. The woman is about to blow right past you unless you stand in her way.

Player 1: I block her path, asking what’s wrong.

GM: The woman’s eyes are wide. Whatever she was holding in her mouth she can’t hold it any more. Jaksyn is sprayed with bright-yellow, radioactive jizm.

Player 1: What the fuck?

GM: Yeah, that happened. She tells you her name, Elise, and her story. Elise had been sucking off this alien in the next section. The alien came in her mouth; she didn’t want to swallow and couldn’t spit it out in front of him because his species would take offense to that. So, she was rushing to the bathroom to spit when you got in her way. Elise points to the bathroom sign a few yards behind you.

Player 2: Haha, that’s hilarious.

GM: Oh yeah, roll percentile dice to see what mutation you’ve developed from soaking in the radioactive jizz.

See how that worked? I, as the GM, deliberately made the situation seem like it was one thing, when really it was something else. That’s not easy to do on the fly, but occasionally a moment or two of inspiration will happen. Planning a “lead the witness” type situation can be rewarding, but realize that some of your players might think you’re a jerk if you do it too often.

The following are some guidelines to help you “lead the witness” with a minimum of fallout…

Don’t utilize this technique more than once per session (assuming sessions are 3 – 5 hours long) and not every single session.

Focus this technique on only one (sometimes two) PCs, so that a few players are left out of the events so they can laugh at those involved.

Make it random - don’t target the same PC again and again.

Assuming the result of this encounter is awful, either let there be an upside or allow the awfulness to dissipate after the next scene or two.

Refrain from killing PCs! Surprise nastiness is one thing, surprise death is something else – don’t surprise players by leading their characters to certain death.

In conclusion, feel free to jerk your players’ chains every so often, just don’t go overboard. You’re the GM. You should be having fun, too. But remember that the people having the most fun should be the players at your table.


Rule #4: Have fun out there!
Rule #5: Let the PCs win most of the time.
Rule #6: Actions have consequences.


Authored by Venger Satanis


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