How do you use telepaths correctly in a campaign?

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So say you are playing a Dark Sun campaign and one of the Sorcerer Kings has a telepath or two on payroll running around the city state tapping into potential criminal's minds. How would you implement such a thing at the kitchen table, not being a telepath yourself?

Stop the H4TE

How does it affect the players? Is the telepath a PC? Are the PCs working with the telepath? Or are the PCs trying to avoid him because they're criminals?
Present the situation clearly to the players: "The Sorcerer-King has a telepath or two on his payroll that runs around the city-state probing for criminal thoughts. If you engage in any nefarious activity, you risk drawing their attention, which may mean they start to investigate further, complicating your situation." I would then collaborate with the players as to what might constitute drawing their attention - use of magic or powerful psionics, disturbances of the peace, or maybe even reading. It should be thematically appropriate for Dark Sun and reflect the character of the Sorcerer-King and flavor of the city-state.

Once we've agreed on what conditions those are, they can go about their business. If during the course of their activities, they meet one of the criteria for drawing attention (and agree that they did), then I'd likely go into a skill challenge of some kind as the telepaths, sensing a disturbance in The Way, begin to zero in on the PCs. The challenge would thus be subverting, redirecting, or otherwise dealing with this. I'd start throwing complications at the PCs and asking what they do. What success and failure would look like would depend on context but would have to be interesting in either case.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Iserith's idea hits close to home what I've done in the past with situations like this. The PCs generally have a bit of local history to let them know how the authorities handle things in any given place, so letting them know isn't going to be any grand spoiler that will wreck the game if they know.

That said, this sort of thing is generally best done if the whole purpose to evading the brain picking of such a telepath stems from the fact that the PCs are required to do something, or are highly likely to try and do something, that may set off the telepaths. If the PCs don't have any reason to attempt to alert the telepaths, or wouldn't ever need to actively try to avoid alerting the telepaths, the impact of such elements is often lost and moot. Think of how the telepaths act as a hiderance, or even as an aid, to the PCs and their goals in the city state beyond being just being mind reading jerks.

Hope this helps. Happy Gaming
I dont understand. The dm has absolute control over the npc and the world setting. You are the ultimate telepath. Now I think your real question is how do I read players mind.. you shouldnt have to. They should be telling you the game master their plans, motivations etc. If your players are keeping secrets from you at the table, playing cat & mouse with the dm outside the game..thats a serious problem. Lol
Work with the players on this. The players should be open with you so you can figure out what the telepath would know, but if you make the players miserable with this character the players are going to rebel. Talk to them about this character and make it into someone they love to hate, rather than just hate.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Okay thank you for the advice.

Stop the H4TE

I would also put plenty of holes in the security a telepath provides. It's easy for a GM to think of multiple holes in a security plan and then patch them up using his Unlimited Resources; it's harder for players to come up with a successful plan given the limited info a GM gives them. Here's some potential flaws in the telepath system the PCs should be able to take advantage of:



  • The telepath can be distracted. Several criminals might purposely wait for something big to go down, then execute their own plans while the telepath is busy with the Big Crime. Could the PCs be hired to commit a Big Crime just for this purpose?

  • The telepath can be bribed. What can he be bribed with?

  • The telepath can be sympathetic to some groups, turning a blind eye to their "crimes". Can the PCs get chummy with those groups?

  • The telepath can draw the ire of a former investigator, who is willing to help criminals get by the guy who took his job. Can the PCs help the investigator show the flaws in telepathic probing and get the telepaths fired?

I would also put plenty of holes in the security a telepath provides. It's easy for a GM to think of multiple holes in a security plan and then patch them up using his Unlimited Resources; it's harder for players to come up with a successful plan given the limited info a GM gives them. Here's some potential flaws in the telepath system the PCs should be able to take advantage of:



  • The telepath can be distracted. Several criminals might purposely wait for something big to go down, then execute their own plans while the telepath is busy with the Big Crime. Could the PCs be hired to commit a Big Crime just for this purpose?

  • The telepath can be bribed. What can he be bribed with?

  • The telepath can be sympathetic to some groups, turning a blind eye to their "crimes". Can the PCs get chummy with those groups?

  • The telepath can draw the ire of a former investigator, who is willing to help criminals get by the guy who took his job. Can the PCs help the investigator show the flaws in telepathic probing and get the telepaths fired?


All good ideas. Ask the players for others.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Even without the great suggestions above, telepathy is far from perfect. In D&D telepathy is not an at-will tool that instantly reveals a target's closests secrets. Furthermore, the target tends to be instantly aware when a telepath invades his or her brain. It means it is a great tool to interrogate people, but not very well suited to find one criminal amongst thousends, let alone before a crime has been comitted. Even for interrogations it is not perfect. You cannot reveal what you do not know. I assume that experienced criminals would hide their identity from one another, and extreme care is taken when it comes to need-to-know information as well as potential meeting places and misdirection (information out of context is plain right wrong and you need more people for the full context) is common. Of course, well organized criminals such as the Veiled Alliance or various Trade Houses will employ their own telepaths. It is not as if the Sorcerer Kings have a monopoly on it ;)

Work with the players on this. The players should be open with you so you can figure out what the telepath would know, but if you make the players miserable with this character the players are going to rebel. Talk to them about this character and make it into someone they love to hate, rather than just hate.



Right. To add to what I said above, if you go the route I'm suggesting, you'll want to make sure that the skill challenge is putting at stake the players agree they're willing to put at stake. That might be their location, but it might also be their important secrets (whatever those may be). You'll also want to tell them basic parameters of the skill challenge so they have both an idea fictionally and mechanically what it required or at stake in this situation. It will help them arrive at decisions to take action more quickly and meaningfully.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith