Crime Scene Sunday: Fraud

One regular feature of this Web log is Crime Scene Sunday, in which the author examines some form of criminal activity, considers how a villain may use that particular crime in a Dungeons & Dragons game, and provides one or more examples of that particular misdeed in a D&D campaign setting. As the name implies, such entries are posted on Sunday.

This week’s crime is fraud. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines it as “an intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right.” Most acts of fraud are considered “white collar crime” today, and are often associated with advanced technology; it is for this reason that many players won’t expect to see fraud in a Dungeons & Dragons game setting, thereby making it a particulary useful villainous activity for the Dungeon Master (DM).

The primary element of fraud is deception, something many D&D villains do extremely well, whether a villain’s plan involves posing as a respected member of a campaign organization or simply moving to an area where she is unlikely to be recognized. Clearly, if a villain fails to decieve a potential victim into believing he is dealing with an honest person or legal authority, it is unlikely that the fraud will succeed.

It is important to note that the deception doesn’t necessarily need to be carried out by the villain in person. Villains leading large organizations, who are easily recognized, or those with other-worldly appearances (including aboleth, illithid, demons, devils, foulspawn and most undead villains) would probably enlist the aid of a subordinate suited to the task.The secondary element of fraud is the item(s) of value the villain hopes to gain from her victims, who are selected as targets because they possess these items.

People tend to view fraud as a purely financial crime, i.e., swindling people out of thier money. This assumption is logical enough, since most acts of fraud are financially motivated. Even in a role-playing game, every villain needs a paycheck. But there are two subtleties in the definition that a DM can use to advantage. The first is that the definition refers to “something of value” instead of “money,” and the second is the reference to the surrender of a legal right. Both of these suggest ways that a DM can employ the act of fraud in unusual ways.

“Something of value” can certainly be material wealth. But it could literally be anything of value – to the villain. This is an important distinction, since it isn’t necessary for the intended victim to know the item’s worth to be swindled out of it; in fact, most villains would prefer that a victim not know an item’s true value or use, to minimize the likelihood of the victim realizing he’s been duped.

Apart from money, a D&D villain may try to obtain any of the following:

  • Real property, i.e., land and buildings, which may have strategic importance for a larger plan, grant access to an otherwise closed area or contain items useful to the villain;
  • Items, particularly those which could be used as components for highly specific rituals; and
  • Favors and boons, such as those granted by government bureaucrats, watch captains, guildmasters, aristocrats and nobles across the realm.

Another aspect of fraud suggested by the definition involves the surrender of legal rights. Usually, this sort of fraud is committed in lawful societies where legal rights exist, and heroes observing it may need to bend or circumvent the laws to prevent the villain from succeeding.

While this type of fraud doesn’t make for exciting adventures – few players would want to have “prevent the villain from persauding Egelmore the Pious to waive his right to church trial” as a quest – heroes observing that sort of plot unfolding may be alerted to the villain’s related activities, which can be addressed by more adventurous means.

For an example of fraud in a D&D game, consider an evil wizard whose research has indicated that a lost tomb, dating to before the last cataclysm and reportedly containing great wealth and powerful magic items, is located on the outskirts of a small town. The wizard’s minions scouted the area, and from surviving landmarks, they believe that the tomb is located beneath a somewhat dilapidated but still operating hog farm. The villain recognizes the following conditions:

  • The farmer would ask for a huge sum of gold in exchange from the farm if he knew about the tomb.
  • Local temples, if they knew about the tomb, would demand it be left sealed.
  • Even if she could circumvent the temples, local secular authorities would heavily tax anything the wizard takes from the tomb.
  • The villain must therefore find a way to get the farmer to give up his legal ownership of the farm, so the exploration of the tomb can be conducted in secret.

 The villain may send someone to buy the farm (although this may raise suspicion, considering the state of the place), have false legal papers drafted suggesting that someone else (one of the villain’s minions) owns the farm, or even make the farm appear haunted to induce the farmer to sell. While the attempt at fraud won’t make for exciting adventures, investigating the “mysterious new owner” or the “hauntings” at the farm do, illustrating how using this crime in a D&D game can lead to adventure.

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2 comments on “Crime Scene Sunday: Fraud

  1. max.elliott says:

    And I’d’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids.

    • Alric says:

      I know you offered that at least partially in jest, Max, but comparing your villain’s plot to an episode of Scooby Doo is actually a really good litmus test to see if you’re using fraud. Good form!

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