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Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Art of Disguise

The rules I did for forgery could be adapted to another form of deception: disguise.

Step One: Define the Deception
Focus on which facts about their appearance the PC is trying to hide or change. Make hair look old and grey? Cover exposed skin to change its color? Wear uniform to pass oneself off as the city guard?

Some things are going to be hard without the right materials or situations. Changing the shape of your nose with a lump of clay won’t work in broad daylight, but if the character wears a hood and sticks to the shadows, it might work.

If a PC is recognizable and trying to avoid recognition, that’s an additional fact.

Non-human races should be counted as one fact for each difference in appearance. Green skin + pointed ears is two facts, not one fact for “wood elf”.

Step Two: Dress the Part
Anyone with training in disguise or High Int (13+) can create a decent disguise. 5+ on 1d6: it takes one hour. Otherwise: 1 to 4 additional hours. Reducing the time to minutes, or just not being trained or smart, results in a makeshift disguise, similar to a poor forgery.

Step Three: Play the Part
A Good or better reaction means a decent disguise passes examination. An Average reaction means someone might see through the disguise (5+ on 1d6,) but even if this doesn’t happen immediately, prolonged scrutiny will eventually reveal the truth: the disguised person has 10 to 40 minutes with any given observer before the disguise is blown.

It’s probably easiest to roll the reaction once and let it stand for all encounters with average viewers, only rolling again for special individuals. Just roll a d6 or shift the standing reaction up or down when appropriate.

Things that shift the reaction downwards:

  • makeshift or poor quality disguise
  • losing part of a disguise
  • observer has special knowledge (pretending to be an elf in front of elves, for example)
  • pretending to be old, opposite gender, different profession, etc., without mimicking at least one visual detail for that appearance (no gray hair or wrinkles when pretending to be old, for example)
  • disguising yourself as a specific individual

Things that shift the reaction upwards:

  • taking advantage of the environment (using a hood or shadows to cover up disguise deficiencies)
  • changing the way you walk, move, or stand (requires High Dex or training as an actor/mime)
  • changing the way you talk (requires High Charisma or training in mimicry)

Certain knowledge will completely blow the PC’s cover. The most obvious example would be trying to pretend to be a specific person while that person is in the room.

Bad or Worse Reactions
As usual, a Very Bad reaction means immediate hostility and probably an attempt to expose the fraud to others. But a Bad reaction might be possible to recover from, depending on what the PC’s intent was.

If the PC is trying to avoid capture or sneak into someplace they don’t belong, there’s not many ways out of discovery other than silencing the person who saw through the disguise before they tell others. This can be physical (restraint, knocking unconscious, murder) or otherwise (bribery.) If the person needing to be silenced is not necessarily on the side of the authorities, it might only take a conversation.

If the PC is just avoiding unwanted attention, it might be easier to convince the discoverer that no harm is intended. Think: Aliens trying to live secretly among humans.

Avoiding Recognition
If the PC is recognizable, the goal of a disguise is to appear as anyone other than oneself. What matters is: What description are the authorities or the enemies using to find the PC?

PC is blond in an area where blonds are rare? PC must include change of hair color in their disguise.

PC is an elf with pointed ears? PC must hide ears.

Some witnesses might not have all the details of the PC’s appearance. If most people focus on looking for an elf, but not for a blond elf, hiding pointed ears but not changing hair color will work as planned, but a guardsman looking for a blond elf will shift the reaction down.

Witnesses who have met the PC in person automatically shift the reaction down. Those who know the PC well are considered to have certain knowledge and will automatically see through a disguise if they have direct interaction, but might still need a reaction roll if for example they only see a hunched-over cloaked figure shambling away from them.

Another special situation would be one where the goal is not to literally hide one’s identity, but to create a character as part of a performance. The audience knows they are being deceived, so obviously Bad or worse reactions won’t result in being seized by the town guard (well, maybe…) The audience is looking for a talented deception.

Any disguise gets an unmodified reaction roll. The only factors that shift the result down are the central features of the character that are the opposite of the performer’s features: young actor playing an old man without makeup or a wig, human actor playing a famous elf without using pointed ears, and so on. The reaction result is how the audience judges the performance. On an Average or Bad reaction, the GM could describe a moment in the performance when the PC is obviously losing the interest of the audience and let the player come up with a method of regaining their interest.

In Summary

  1. Be certain what the disguise is meant to hide or change
  2. Roll 1d6 for time needed to complete the disguise
  3. Roll for reaction, shifting reaction down/up for special factors
  4. On Good reaction or better, disguise passes examination. Otherwise, disguise may be seen through (5+ on 1d6 or after 10 to 40 minutes of scrutiny) or lead to exposure of the deception

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