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Monday, October 5, 2020

The Art of Forgery

I saw someone asking how to handle forgery and other kinds of deceit in an old school class and level exploration fantasy adventure game, so I thought about how I’d do it.

Step One: Define the Deception
A forgery or similar deception is basically trying to convince a “mark” that one or more “facts” are true. The player has to clearly state what they are trying to do. This doesn’t have to be stated in-character, but it must cover everything the player thinks the forgery should cover. One or more statements like:

The forgery is an official royal document certifying the bearer is authorized to enter The Forbidden Tower and return with the Crown of Kings.

The GM at this point may want to note which false facts are actually involved. In this case:

  • Who “created” the document (the royal court)
  • What the document does (authorizes entry)
  • What else it does (authorizes returning with the Crown)

The two bold statements are pretty much mandatory: every forgery pretends to be “from” someone it isn’t, who is saying or doing something via the document. The statement in italics is optional and adds another thing the document is trying to do.

Step Two: Forge the Document
Anyone with training in forgery or with High Int (13+) can forge a document. Roll 1d6: on 5+, it takes one hour, otherwise it takes an additional 1-4 hours (result of the die roll.) A hypothetical character class with a forgery class ability would do this in minutes, rather than hours. If the document has to appear to be in a specific person’s handwriting or has to bear an official seal or other special identifier, the forger must also have High Dex (13+). An art forgery would fall in this category as well.

Those with no training and average Int or lower can try to forge documents, too, but the documents are considered poor forgeries. The same applies to an otherwise skilled or gifted forger who tries to forge a signature, official seal, or other feature that requires High Dex as well as skill or talent. This will have consequences when trying to pass off the forgery.

Step Three: Pass Off the Forgery
Whoever uses the forged document must present them in an appropriate manner to the person they are trying to convince. Make a reaction roll: a Good or better reaction means the forgery is accepted.

Even an Average reaction will work for high-quality forgeries, but a mark with a High Int or better, or a mark who is also trained in forgery, has a chance to spot mistakes: 5+ on 1d6 means the mark spots the forgery.

Some targets will be harder to convince. Anyone who regularly receives royal documents, for example a captain of the royal guard, will shift the reaction result down one category. So will anyone personally familiar with the handwriting of the supposed author of the document. Each “fact” noted in Step One is a potential pitfall as well: if the mark has some knowledge about that topic, the result is shifted down. If the mark has certain knowledge that contradicts the forgery (if they know the Crown of Kings was removed from the Forbidden Tower last week, or if a document with a royal seal is unknowingly handed to the king who is in disguise,) the forgery automatically fails.

A poor forgery shifts the reaction down one category all by itself, or shift it down two categories if one of the problem areas mentioned in the previous paragraph also applies. Likewise, anyone with a bad reputation known to their mark will have trouble passing off a forgery, just on basic principle.

In theory, other factors might shift the reaction result up a category, or cancel out a downward shift because of the factors listed above. For example, the person passing off the forgery could arrange a distraction to prevent the mark from thoroughly examining the forgery. Or, someone who already has a good personal relationship with the mark might be trusted more than other typical encounters.

Bad and Very Bad Reactions
Any mark with legal authority (like a guard) will arrest the person trying to pass off a forgery if their reaction is Bad or worse. Other victims with no legal authority will usually only demand the deceiver’s arrest (or seek vengeance) on a Very Bad reaction; if their reaction is only Bad, they have serious doubts and definitely won’t give the deceiver what they want unless someone they trust confirms the document (in other words, the forgery has to pass examination by a second person.)

If the player opts to give up at this point, they may be able to leave casually without triggering suspicion. The GM secretly rolls 1d6: on 5+, the player can leave without a problem. Otherwise, the player has 10 to 40 minutes (die roll x ten minutes) before the mark decided to involve the law. If the forgery was poor, time is reduced to only 1 to 4 minutes.

In Summary

  1. Be certain what the forgery is trying to prove
  2. Roll 1d6 for time needed to forge the document
  3. Roll for reaction, shifting reaction down/up for special factors
  4. On Good reaction or better, forgery is accepted
  5. On Average reaction, some victims spot the forgery (5+ on 1d6)
  6. On Bad reaction, convince another mark or roll to escape before victim is suspicious
  7. On Very Bad reaction, victim is immediately suspicious and demands vengeance or legal action

There are a couple other applications that could use this same basic framework, which I may return to in future posts.

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