I have to second axlerowes. An absolute must-have go-to resource for the ol' GM's binder.
We've all been there. The PCs finally approach that giant super-city, and the GM can't wait to rob them blind. But which scam? That is the question. This here list offers 30 good ones!
43. I'm Not Sure How It's Done
This con usually involves a laborer who deliberately is doing a shoddy job at a task, making an obvious display of frustration and struggling to get it "right." Upon noticing their plight a sympathetic mark will usually be eager to show them how to "get it right the first time" and start doing the job for them.
The con itself comes when the trainee pretends to continually struggle at the task still not grasping the instruction, hoping for the "skilled teacher" to either finish the task while trying to show them how to do it, or getting fed up and doing it themselves as an example of "how easy this is."
When confronted with someone who seems as if they are about to walk away from assisting the con will often beg for help and site the painful unjust punishments that will await them if they don't finish the task on time in the correct manner.
Go to Comment
When done right this con can get an otherwise difficult (or boring) task done by another saving them the labor, while letting them keep the profit and gain the praise for doing the job. A skilled con will offer up a small portion of copper, (usually a fraction for the jobs actual pay) as "thanks" for saving from unemployment often claiming it to be the full payment for the job itself.
This is an incredibly useful 30s list. In fact, it will be my go-to resource as both a DM and as a player (when I want to earn a little extra dough as a rogue). The only suggestion I have for improvement would be to tack on a few more one-man cons, as most of these require several people to pull off. The added ideas by rwg are neat, and I hope to add to this list sometime in the future. Well done!
An expansion of #27 "Salting the Mine". See the the use of gemstones (link: The Great Diamond Hoax" of 1872.
An expansion of #20 "Prize Package Soap Sell Swindle". The well known swindler that made this con famous is known as link: Soapy Smith. Additionally, when brought up on charges (as related to me by my father) Mr. Smith offered to show the judge how his business worked and that it was legit. He produced a bar of his famous soap and when the judge, tearing open the wrapper, noticed it contained a $100 bill(a large sum at the time), he gaveled yelling, "case dismissed", while pocketing the bill and returning the soap.
An expansion of #6 "Horse Hustler". This could be done with any store owner that goes to his backroom, falls asleep, has to attend to a real or con emergency. Additionally, products for display outside of the store can be quickly 'sold' for dirt cheap by the con. A bit embarrassing when the proprietor demands to know why they are hauling off that piece of fine furniture.
An expansion of #18 "Melon Drop". Instead of an item it's a double jointed street urchin and your wagons wheels or horse just broke a child's leg or arm. The guardian is noticeably upset and demands money for medical, and to avoid calling the guards. Perhaps the boy or guardian is dressed in such a manner to indicate he is of nobility or of a fearsome religion, cult, clan or guild.
Some additional entries (with made up names)
32. Twice robbed
The PCs horse or vehicle is stolen during the night. The next morning it is returned with a note, or a street urchin relates the following but denies knowing the identity of who instructed him. The theft was unfortunately required due to the circumstances(GM can embellish with particulars such as wife fell suddenly ill as they were walking) as it was a life or death emergency. Profuse apologies as they have never had to do anything of this nature before and are too fearful, ashamed, or too high status to personally apologize. To offset the inconvenience, attached are valuable tickets(possibly forgeries?) for a grand ball, private showing of rare item, whorehouse event, or audience with nobility at a particular time. While the PCs are enjoying the free entertainment their place of stay is ransacked. Suspicious PCs may wonder how this individual knew how many tickets to proffer, assuming that was the case.
33. Shame on me (Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me)
A valuable item is stolen from the PCs. When word gets out that the PCS are looking to recover it a man appears offering information as to it’s whereabouts in exchange for monies. The man says he has handled the item and can detail features not described by the PCs to others. The fellow does not want to get involved and his identity must be kept secret. In addition for extra monies perhaps he reveals where the thief keeps his other bounty. He could further embellish his trustworthiness by adding how much he loathes or fears the thief, or how that thief is cutting into his territory, or not a guild member and if the PCs maim him or end his life he will reward them. Of course this fellow is the very same thief or an accomplice who slips away…again.
34. An antidote for your ills
A poison is introduced to one or all of the PCs perhaps the meals got switched and it was meant for another or it was intentional. None other near enough have the antidote except the one that offers it in exchange for your prize magical item. The poison could be real (causing death, strange ailments, simply an stomach upset or perhaps it's a placebo). Alternately, the PCs have a perceived limited time window in which to reclaim the antidote by other means leading to an adventure. An additional possibility is there are two providers of the antidote in town in collusion. The players are initially approached by a seedy individual who will sell then the antidote for a unreasonable sum or prized PC item. The players learn of the local friendly alchemist and pay a visit only to find his price is far more outrageous. He gives greater worry to the PCs verifying ‘independently’ that the poison is real and the PC indeed is affected and further refines the hideous effects it will have. Discouraged the PCs head back to the first contact only to discover he has apparently fled town. The clock is ticking…
35. The plant
An item be it playing cards, crooked dice, a money pouch, jewelry, scroll or whatnot is planted on the person or their effects and is soon discovered to the shock of all (some may be in on it and some are unaffiliated witnesses). A return of the ‘stolen’ item and a payoff to all so wronged is required or bodily harm/jail time shall ensue. Note that generally the con artists really won’t want guards or the authorities involved as they might be recognized or at least remembered limiting further opportunities in the town.
36. Sticky fingers
Go to Comment
A con artist my father related to me (no reference found on the web): A fellow who would rub a bit of honey in his reddish hair in the morning before setting out to work…as a gold assayer. As he handled the gold to be weighed from the miners he would slick back his hair or sooth the occasional itch on his scalp. Each night he would rinse out his golden locks.
Thanks Strolen, that was my first submission to your excellent site, here is my second :) Yet more cons...
37. Bait and switch An item of quality is shown to the PCs, the price is quite reasonable or even dirt cheap (seller needs money badly for gambling debts, mafia, or whatever reason if even asked). The GM could pretend to roll to see what price the fellow is asking and then look disgustedly at the roll result, reflecting the merchants seeming lack of desire to sell at such a fire sale price. The PCs will naturally be suspicious (well, some will) and want to test the item. “But of course”, says the merchant, and it will indeed perform as advertised. However, once price is agreed upon the merchant will switch it for a fake item under the guise of packaging it, refilling the charges, tuning it, removing the curse that activates on theft etc.
38. Guaranteed return A product is sold that appears to have merit but once examined is found in fact to have none. Perhaps it’s a fake magical item. The one the PC’s examined was real enough but a switch is made (see #37) when packaged up. Ahhh, not to worry it's "guaranteed or your money back". And with the town seal of assurance, you know they will! Alas, there is only one slight problem, it appears return address differs from the sales address, it is in a frightful place in town where you hardly dare enter in broad daylight(maybe only those of a certain faction live there). They are conveniently open on particularly bad days of the week(riot or sewer overflow days) from 2 am to 5 am :) By now you would think my father was a con artist. Hmmm, do mathematicians count? Anyway, this and the next con are come from him as well. In the case of the actual con it was a mail order product targeted to the elderly or the devout. A check was always promptly sent out for all requested refunds of the worthless product. The registered name of the company was something on the order of “I worship Satan with a big …. in my mouth”. Folks were too embarrassed to go to their local town bank to cash the modest refund checks.
39. Works as advertised A full refund was presumably offered if this product sold during the great depression failed to perform as advertised. This was yet another mail order product, “guaranteed to kill roaches if used as advertised or your money back”. The expectant buyer would open his package to find two small scraps of wood marked ‘A’, and ‘B’, and some simple instructions: Place board ‘A’ on the floor, place roach on board ‘A’. Place board ‘B’ on roach over board ‘A’. Step on board ‘B’. In the PCs case perhaps it’s a magic wand that is guaranteed to kill monster XXX. Instructions read: “Strike monster XXX repeatedly in the head until death ensues, always works, never fails”. Well, someone’s going to die, true enough. Or it’s advertised as having a, “Powerful spell of XXX. Contains 50 charges!”. No falsehood there as it contains 3 charges of spell XXX(good for a test or two) and 47 of some 1st level spell. Perhaps the item does function as advertised, however the curse or side effects have slipped the purveyors mind (or he was unaware). The fancier the (paste?)gemstones and engravings the less the PCs will question the quality of the product. If the vendor seems wavering whether to even sell his prize the PCs will be in a greater rush to buy it.
40. 5 star seller How many pieces of the true cross were sold in the middle ages by ‘clerics’? Enough to make dozens. How many eBay venders pumped up their rating selling cheap wares and then bailed after getting paid for(but not shipping) an excess of expensive items all offered on the same day? If the seller has been around forever, is vouched for by someone trusted, or is convincing(but he had a guild badge) that does not mean that they will be there tomorrow when you find out that “orb of dragon disintegration” fails to perform. Obviously, this is only true if you are being sold something of notable value, making it worthwhile for the merchant to pack up and leave town. Similarly, if the PCs are flouting their connections to a noble that uses their services, a group of cons might take advantage of this. Dressing as guards they tell the PCs that that the noble requests their immediate audience for a ‘job’. They might as well leave their weapons behind as they are not to be brought within the nobles grounds. Guards will stay behind to make sure none enter their place of stay. The guards may even enter the lords grounds turning the PCs over to confused resident guards (are they on the take as well?) for the nobles audience. Admittedly, this is an elaborate scam, simpler ones are fake or real servants who case their property, someone disguised as someone they trust, or a ruse that splits up the PCs so they are easier to attack.
41. Dead end A thief steals something from one of the PCs (or fakes it, running off with something that cursorily appears like it may have come from the PCs pack). The thief seemingly has bungled the job alerting the PC. He runs off, hopefully with the PCs in hot pursuit. The thief ducks into a hole or through a door quickly locked behind. Now the PCs are trapped in a dead end alley!
42. Uncanny resemblance Thieves having spotted an item in the PCs possession commission a replica to be made. Using one of the con methods above a switch of items is effected. Servants can quickly make impressions in clay of PCs keys for casting. The servant when alone can repeatedly test and refine the key key until it works properly. The actual robbery happens later, usually by someone else entirely, the trusted servant seemingly having no connection to the crime.
Other notes: Once a con always a con. If a con is caught they are probably going to try to con again to get out of it. They will state that they were conned too!
He will put up half the money if the PCs will put up the other half to hire someone (an accomplice) to correct this wrong.
Oh his reputation, you must tell no one! Oh dear, that Orb of Dragon disintegration didn't work, that can't be!! Tell me what you said to trigger it. No, no that's "Rabbracadabra", not "Abracadabra". It will work for sure if said properly.
So sorry for your losses, but less loot to split next time you travel to "Dragons Maw" I suppose. (a diversion).
OK, say it again, lets make sure! Perfect! You know, I lined up a seller a month ago for that Palantier, he really wants it and was going to pay XXX!! (a diversion) He will be very angry at me for not producing it, but I'll manage somehow. (sympathy)
You know what he told me! That very same dragon might have the "Extenze loincloth", a gift that was being couriered to King Petite in 1247(details indicate authenticity).
Entire party never arrived, presumed lost. He showed me on some old scroll of his, couldn't read it myself, seemed kind of excited about it.(more diversion more details)
Go to Comment
Kings would empty their treasure chambers and give their first borne for such a thing!(greed overcomes PCs anger, builds more trust)
Um, by the way, you know I have this cloak of dragon fire protection you may be interested in...(can't resist another con).
It’s easier to shoot, trap, or mind control the PC's horse to buck and run away with stored gear than the PC directly. Consider the PCs actions as seen from the locals point of view, and consider what opportunities are afforded the thieves guild, street urchins, whores, hirelings, friends, lovers, local merchants, nobility, kings, evil observers, enemies, minions and others.
Do you have coexisting planes with creatures that can sense a powerful item, passing along someday the information to those that seek it? Who might want to teach them a lesson? What items have they brandished about? What businesses have they damaged? Do I see gems sewn in those fine robes, on the hilt of that sword?
In Westerns, gunslingers are always being tested by some upstart trying to make a name for themselves, or take their loot. However, the enemies should only know what is witnessed (or scryed) and so may be unprepared for what the PCs can counter with. High end items are usually very ornate, even the scabbard, with embedded gems, etchings, leather work (all subcontracted out to experts) as they were made for someone in power, (for themselves or often as gifts to curry favor) who usually wants to project that power.
Perhaps the scabbard is required as it charges or maintains the item, no hiding in a plain scabbard. Do powerful items emit a strong aura that PCs have to spend a lot of money or manna or concentration to dampen? Are these items are easily identified as being of valuable on sight(maybe identifiable as an item of legend due to poem or song). Valuable information in the right ears indeed.
Often an ancient item will have parts that have rotted away, broken, cracked, gems pried out, rusted, drained of all charges or whatnot. All this needs repair, probably from more than one craftsman who will tell other craftsmen, etc. Perhaps the item was discarded due to damage, it's repairable at least in part, but at a high cost and only a particular fellow can do it, finding out who is an adventure in itself, getting to that craftsman is another. A master craftsman is proud of his work, and wants his wares to impress the buyer.
Of course items found and bought could be forgeries or flawed. Art forgery is quite common, anything of value is usually forged, magical items would be no exception. Failed magical items and potions should be common as well. The failure might be subtle and unrealized at the time. What is the failure rate of magical item creation? %
That will give you an idea of the ratio of failed items out in the world. A failed item need not be be an utter failure and so may still have worth and be sold in the marketplace for what it is or as a con, these items might be stripped of gems as would damaged or seemingly spent items that might still be salvageable.
Perhaps it appears salvageable but after much money spent and months of waiting for the repairs it still does not function (say a 15% chance of successful repair each attempt, although PCs should not be told the risk in percentages, the repairmans estimate would never be spot on anyway, perhaps he is overconfident and eager to get the work). The repair could be only partially successful (only takes 2 charges others are wasted, leaks charges over time, backfires 20%, heats up possibly shattering, applies effect to wielder sometimes, fails to work half the time, internal crack widens with each use), not that the craftsman or PCs may know of the new or preexisting flaw(s).
Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a Idea Number one a