code black hack: deception

Deception plans

This rejigs the Code Black Hack for deception scores, particularly longer cons. A deception is about getting someone to do something. It uses trickery but that’s merely the means, not the end. A con differs from a simple deception mainly by who you target and the payoff. Tricking a guard to get into the royal treasury might be a deception, but tricking the king to gift you the treasury is a con. And if that con goes smoothly, the king will thank you for the trouble to haul it away.

A lot of this is inspired by The Long Con by The Walking Mind. I’ve used this approach regularly in a Blades game I run, particularly memorable was when the Butcher Birds decided to flip Baszo Baz.

Action roll

Cool replaces Hidden/Controlled, Suspect remains the same (but deception has reduced effect), and Opposed replaces Hunted/Desperate (deception has reduced effect and requires set up action). Noticed becomes Questioned. Exposed becomes Honest.

You can act to improve Suspect to Cool, but only if no characters or cohorts are Questioned or Honest. You can only improve Opposed to Suspect by minimising or bypassing the preparations the mark has brought against you.

Consequences and harm

Questioned

Questioned replaces Noticed. When you are Questioned, you may have the mark in a web of deceit, but they are asking difficult questions and testing you. At Cool or Suspect, if you fail to remove Questioned promptly, the position worsens. At Opposed, if you fail to remove Questioned promptly, the mark will put into play something they’ve prepared to counter your well-laid plans. They’ll prioritise countering characters and cohorts that are Questioned and Honest, then those just Questioned, then those just Honest. They won’t counter those who are neither Questioned nor Honest.

Honest

Honest replaces Exposed. When you are Honest, you use truth to ground your lies and allay suspicion. While the mark does not cross-examine you, they may learn something to use against you later.

The Score

A con relies on finding a hook, something to leverage the mark into doing what you want. Think of the hook as a vice: pleasure, luxury, obligation, faith, etc. It can be an ambition for revenge, a thirst for oblivion, or something weirder. Good info-gathering work.

Pacing

In an infiltration, you don’t start at cracking the safe. First, you get past the perimeter guard, break in through the roof, bypass the inner security, and only then get in front of the safe. Likewise, there’s a way to pace a con. Get the mark’s:

  • attention: Try fitting a mould of people they expect to meet.
  • interest: Find or create a problem or solution related to their hook.
  • confidence: Convince them you offer an actual opportunity to solve a real problem.
  • decision: Push them to do what you’re conning them to do, to seize the opportunity while it lasts.

Each of these may be a clock depending on: the crew’s history with the mark; the mark’s Tier, savviness, or connections; and circumstances that make a problem more immediate, a solution more complex, or the mark more desperate. Filling these clocks completes the con and the mark does what you want. Taking advantage of their decision and action can be another score in itself.

The GM should also keep a clock to track the mark’s Suspicions or similar. If that fills, then the score’s bust and the mark sees the con for what it is.

Preparations and counterplans

A con can be one protracted scene but often works better as a series of connected meetings, places and people. Often you’ll run this is kind of score against a powerful person or group, so scenes can involve meeting advisors and experts that the mark relies on and trusts. Answering their questions and soothing their suspicions can be a great way to win over the mark.

Such advisors and experts are part of the mark’s preparations to protect themselves. These will be a mix of defences in place as well as new ones set up to counter the crew should you prove troublesome. The higher Tier the mark, the better prepared they should be. This prep may be as a simple as a handy blade and a ferocious temper (harm), a few brutes as bodyguards (harm), a well-connected information broker (ticks on Suspicion clock), or even bluecoats bribed to waylay characters or cohorts (harm or reduced effect). More elaborate preparations might be having false witnesses ready to frame the crew to gain leverage (complication), snoops collecting evidence to uncover the crew’s true agenda (ticks on Suspicion clock), or even actual leverage they have unearthed to keep a character or cohort inline (blackmailed, extorted, seduced which can mean harm, heat, danger clocks, etc.).

Flashbacks can be a great way to deal with these preparations when they jump out to bite you. Otherwise, part of the score is discovering these preparations and neutralising them. This can be a good way to involve characters and cohorts with a diverse range of skills.

End

If the score ends with the mark highly suspicious, that leads to problems as the mark later realises they’ve been conned, usually -2 with factions hurt by the con. Ending with little or no suspicion might mean the mark never realises what actually happened, perhaps they feel they dodged a much worse situation and just want to forget the whole thing.

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