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 identity theft. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the term as “the illegal use of someone else’s personal information (as a Social Security number) in order to obtain money or credit.”
A more comprehensive definition is provided by findlaw.com, which describes the crime as “misuse of another person’s identifying information — whether personal or financial. Such data (including social security numbers, credit history, and PIN numbers) is often acquired through 1) the offender’s unlawful access to information from government and financial entities, or 2) lost or stolen mail, wallets and purses, identification, and credit or debit cards.”
Although most D&D game settings don’t involve the use of electronic identification and financial records, this crime is very easily adapted to a fantasy role playing campaign. By creatively employing government bureaucrats, the D&D game’s magic system or certain types of monsters, a dungeon Master (DM) can create the same effect as technological identity theft in a D&D game.
Choosing the Victim
Obviously, an identity theft victim has to have something a villain wants to take away, such as money, information, political or social connections or even a good reputation. In a D&D game, public figures such as nobles, aristocrats, military officers, knights, guildmasters, politicians, high-ranking clerics and wizards, and prominent merchants are typical targets. Especially nasty DMs may consider targeting the heroes themselves for identity theft.
Getting the Information
The key element to our definition of identity theft for game purposes is a villain having access to personal information about a victim, information that would enable that villain to pose as the victim, either in person or through correspondence. Ways of accomplishing the task include:
Magic. The magic systems of the current and legacy editions of the D&D game have numerous divinitory spells or rituals through which a villain could obtain personal information about victims. While magic can be used to obtain information recorded about victim by third parties (in the manner of a contemporary identity thief), a D&D villain using magic can go well beyond that, often being able to magically assume a victim’s physical form or even access a hero’s thoughts.
Monsters. Certain monster types, such as dopplegangers, can alter their physical form to duplicate specific individuals, including victims.
Committing the crime
Gaining enough information to steal a victim’s identity is only half of the crime. How should a D&D villain use that information? A number of options present themselves, such as:
Creating financial difficulties. Villains posing as victims could incur short-term expenses in the victims’ names, such as food, lodging, provisions or gambling debts. Long-term financial woes could be inflicted if villains sign contracts in the victims’ names.
Gathering intelligence. It is important to note that identity theft doesn’t have to be detected for it to be a crime. In this case, a villain may pose as a victim for the express purpose of gaining information from third parties. No sane watch sergeant would tell Phaedrix the Ghoul-Queen how many watchmen would defend his town from an undead raiding party; he probably wouldn’t tell an inquisitive merchant visiting the town, either. But he may tell someone he believes is Zara Lightbringer, a local paladin known for purging undead wherever she finds it. If Phaedrix can pose as Zara to learn about the town’s defenses, the town will have a serious problem.
Bad publicity. The court of public opinion is notoriously fickle and very unforgiving. Even at low experience levels, major NPCs and D&D heroes are larger-than-life figures, and commoners will have keen interest in and will gossip about any negative behavior involving these figures, in much the same way as readers of modern tabloid publications follow the tribulations of today’s celebrities. Villains performing evil or anarchic acts under the victims’ identities can quickly destroy good reputations, incite political riots, damage relationships between important people or even cause a war.
Using identity theft in these ways adds a layer of complexity to a D&D adventure, as it requires heroes to identify the villain behind the problems caused by the theft before locating and confronting the miscreant.