Let’s face it: intelligent players are the hardest players to run games around, and double difficult to surprise. For games that are entirely based around investigations and mysteries, this issue can turn from an annoyance to a hindrance. So what do you do when your players seem to Scooby Doo every answer in twenty-two minutes flat?
Throw them into a Kansas City Shuffle!
A Kansas City Shuffle requires three components to be pulled off. The victim must suspect that they are being conned, be convinced that they have the solution to the con, and then be wrong about whatever the original con was, setting themselves up for the original con through their solution. All of these elements must be present to be a true Kansas City Shuffle, in that the players unwittingly outwit themselves, falling into a trap caused by them the entire time!
Here is an example of the Kansas City Shuffle:
A group of guards protects a nearby town. They are warned of a notorious smuggler that moves throughout the town, always leaving and returning with smuggled goods. One night, the smuggler approaches town with a donkey and many bags of straw. The guards stop the smuggler and demand to know what is within his bags.
The smuggler responds “Simply straw”. The guards check each bag, and realize that they are all, in fact, simply straw. Wary of the smuggler, the guards confiscate the straw bags anyway and allow him to pass. The smuggler returns the next week with a donkey and more bags of straw. The guards, remaining wary of this smuggler, continue to confiscate his straw but still allow him to pass.
Many years later, one of the now retired guards enjoys a beer at the local tavern when he spots the smuggler also in the tavern. He approaches the smuggler and states “I am no longer a guard, and can do nothing to prevent you from your actions, but I must know. What is it you were smuggling all those times you moved in and out of the town?”
To which the smuggler smiles and replies, “Donkeys.”
The crux of a Kansas City Shuffle is that the victim of the con must be convinced that they are smart enough to immediately see the con and prevent it, which is especially the case of incredibly intelligent players. This can be accomplished by showing the victim of something that they should be looking for without literally telling them the problem.
This can also be used in the manner of a simple trap rather than an entire session of running and searching.
For example, a group of players enter a square room. The door quickly seals behind them, trapping them inside the room with another sealed door on the far side. The room is divided by a chest-high wall that is chipped and cracked on one side but completely smooth on the other. At the end of the room, and directly before the sealed door, is a push-activated pedestal seemingly linked to the sealing mechanism of the exit door.
If the players investigate, a keen-eyed individual will notice that along the wall of the exit door is a narrow, barely noticeable opening, large enough to fit a bolt through. The players will quickly place together that the pedestal will unlock the door, but also fire something from the wall, which will undoubtedly cause some damage. Luckily for them, the push-activated pedestal has a timer, allowing them to move into position behind the center wall, taking cover from the impending attack.
However, the trap was never arrows being shot from the wall containing the door; as the pedestal clicks to its final position and unseals the door, the floor on the first half of the room retracts, plunging anyone hiding behind the chest-high wall into a pit of spikes. Good luck on that reflex save!
A well placed Kansas City Shuffle, or any con, will not only show your players that you can still meet them in a battle of wits but instill a genuine and permanent fear of all future conclusions. After all, who knows if they have inspected all of the options, and only you will know the solution to their squirming.
Have you ever outwitted your group of players? Engage in a Kansas City Shuffle of your own, or alternatively have a group fall into an unfortunate con? Let us know, there’s nothing like a good slice of humble pie!
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