Recently I participated in CivFanatics.com forum's Night of the Werewolf XXXI, a variant of the popular Mafia party game. In this variant, the players were members of a secret council devoted to an evil religion, each of us belonging to a secret sub-faction vying for power. Needless to say, things got lethal fast.
Despite having a good run, I was killed evening five, and immediately put my DM mind to work figuring out how to recreate the sense of paranoia and intrigue inherent in Mafia games in a game of D&D. After all, paranoia is its own adventure hook; if the players pick out their own enemies, targets, and goals, the DM doesn't have to do it for them. And that's a good thing.
Here are my ideas on how to create an atmosphere of paranoia:
- Give each PC his or her own secret goal
And don't necessarily make all of them complementary to each other. This gives each PC a reason to question each others' motives as well as keep certain facts to themselves if it furthers their own ends.
- Give the PCs no clear-cut allies
Sure, there will be NPCs who help them, but they each have their own motives, just like the PCs, and it's clear that they'd turn on the PCs in an instant if it got them closer to their goal.
- Force the PCs to depend on each other and the NPCs
Despite their mistrust, the PCs, for whatever reason, must work alongside each other and the other NPCs to achieve their goals. As powerful, dangerous individuals, the PCs do have to have a strong reason not to just kill everyone and be done with it.
- There are the bad guys, and then their are the bad guys
In this midst of this mess of paranoia and deception, there's an individual (or group) who's even worse than the rest, and is probably slowly killing off everyone else. Obviously, they must be stopped if the PCs are to reach their goals.
- Remember to have something for the meatshields to do
Keep in mind that, except in rare cases, not everyone in the party will have the skills to participate fully in the lies and deceptions of an intrigue-based adventure. Make sure their are ample skulls to bash for those in the party who only get to fully participate in combat.