In pop culture, the opening sequence of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is easily the most famous example of this trope. If you guys ever read Le Morte D’Arthur though, you know that wizards love this schtick as much as crones. Merlin was all the time dressing up in “beggar’s array” to test Arthur’s virtue. Odin was famous for going around in disguise as well, serving as a sort of object lesson in the importance of hospitality: you never know when the gods are watching! 

The disguised magician is a very old plot device, but it’s a tough one to bring to the gaming table. Think about it for a moment. In terms of modern gaming, how interested are your players going to be in enacting a fable? These kinds of stories permeate our culture, but their purpose is to impart life lessons to the listeners. In the context of an RPG, especially one featuring morally dubious characters, that is decidedly not the point. Players sit down at the table to find clever solutions to problems, amass loot, hang out with their buddies, and tell their own stories. If you simply copy a trope like “help stranger, receive boon,” you’re only rewarding one type of play. How is the poor rogue supposed to enjoy the game when his self-centered character concept automatically negates “the good ending?”

The mythic resonance of fairy tales is a fine flavor, but you’ve got to be careful with that kind of spice: too much and you’ll overpower the dish. You’ve got to mix it up. Keep your players off balance. Punish good deeds every once in a while. Throw murder hobos the occasional bone. As a GM, it’s not your job to teach players how to be good people. You’re there to have good fun; to create interesting situations. If that means allowing your players to club the old lady/enchantress over the head and steal her sweet magical loot, that’s probably more interesting than simply sharing a sandwich with her.

Question of the day then: As a player, have you ever been rewarded for lying/cheating/stealing/being a terrible person? Was that a fun experience for you?