How Can I Convince My Players That This Evil Character Is Good For the Duration Of The Campaign Until The Big Reveal?

My game has a woman who is a noblewoman. Despite her low-status birth and life as a peasant, she would later be seen as a miracle child because of in-world lore related to a physical feature of hers. This allowed her to get many followers who helped push her into the ranks of lower-“nobility” as a baronetess. From there she manipulated her followers in order to make her actions seem more praise-worthy and honorable that she eventually was made a trusted adviser of the king’s, granting her a formal nobility rank as a Countess and, as a result, allowing her to run her criminal operations more smoothly.

Okay, lore aside… She is an absolutely beautiful and cunning woman. She never lies because she doesn’t ever have to thanks to her wording. She has a high charisma and wisdom, so if someone were to question her, she would always be multiple steps ahead of them so that she doesn’t have to say anything that is false. That said, one of her quirks is that she tries to collect (Read: “Enslave”/”Own”) anything that she finds to be unique or valuable and she sets her eyes on one of the PCs.

The PCs just shut down a large part of the kingdom’s slave trade. Slavery isn’t illegal, but it is something the king is trying to edge out of their society. At the same time, he can’t request people to shut down and deincentivise slavers lest he causes unrest in his nobility. He trusts Countess who he does not realize 1) owns many slaves that she keeps hidden in secret and 2) is the one in charge of the vast majority of the kingdom’s slave trade; therefore, the king has invited Countess to the celebration of the PCs shutting down such a large aspect, freeing many slaves and getting them someplace safe. Publicly, the celebration is under the claim that the PCs found a lost artifact (which they do by chance) belonging to the royal family (and therefore the kingdom) by right and it’s to honor their (the PCs’) service to the crown. Everybody who is invited to this celebration are those whom the king trusts with the information relating to the true reason for the party, guests and staff alike.

At the party, Countess will try to seduce one of the PCs by putting a “love potion” of sorts into a drink which she will then offer her target. (I as the DM expect the player to succeed the DC to be unaffected by the immediate effects of the potion, so mentioning the potion is more “side information” than anything.) That said, when they are talking, I need to know how specifically to keep her from coming across as obviously suspicious since she will be directly approaching one of my players and will have a noticeable impact on him thanks to a very “Strahd von Zorovich” style Charm skill while they are talking, regardless of if he drinks from the spiked glass or not.

The problem: My players are quite genre-savvy. When I do this, I expect them to figure out that she is suspicious, if not evil, but I want to avoid her being seen as even suspicious. What is the best way to do this while maintaining the story as intended? This is done through a homebrew system, but if you must, assume D&D’s system. If you need my party’s (the PCs, not the celebration,) information in order to answer this accurately, let me know.

Question: How can I convince my players, not just the characters, that this evil character is actually good for a prolonged length of time until the final reveal?

A best answer will be almost entirely through minimal use of rolls and maximized use of story-telling. Rolling would just add to the suspicion and I don’t want my players to even think they are on to me.

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Is increasing character advancement OK for a campaign on a timeline?

I am currently DMing a campaign with a group of level fours. One of the four characters is much less experienced than the others.

I have planned part of my campaign for people who are lv.10+, and would be very disappointing if they never reached that point, as I have put a lot of time into it.

However, we are all extremely busy, and can only find time to run a session around once per month for 5-6 hours (but the rate will probably increase in the summer). Next year some members will be going to university, and there is not much guarantee that they will stay local. Even if they do, the business factor will only increase. In any case, I would like to get to the awesome part of my campaign. This requires them leveling up a lot. One issue with this is that the less experienced player may get overwhelmed with their abilities. They are playing a Paladin.

I have started them at lv.2, and they are lv.4 after three sessions so far. Should I continue leveling up at this rate? Or should I level them up at a much slower, regular rate, with the possibility that I will not play my epic part of my campaign?

What bard college should I choose for a low/mid-level campaign? [on hold]

I’m a first-timer in a first time party. We have a pretty terrible team composition, with an elf fighter, a human rogue, and me: a bard. I wanna be sorta tanky, and maybe I should have picked paladin.

What college do you think I should choose? Probably no multiclassing, unless I have a good explanation.

I kinda wanna go Valor or Swords because I wanna be kind of a tanky mid/close-range fighter.

We’re doing the Lost Mines of Phandelver campaign and then another campaign with the same characters after that, but I think it will end at like 10-15th level.

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How can I communicate setting and campaign information to the PCs without providing direct exposition myself or through a DMPC?

In the past, I’ve almost always had at least one NPC that would travel with the characters as a type of “lore master” to expand on the story. I’ve tried to make the character witty and, once the characters have sufficient information, inevitably pulled from the party.

Is there another way I can inject plenty of lore about the “world”/campaign without it directly coming from the DM or my DMPC?

Recently acquired wish, recommendations for finishing off the campaign with a bang?

In the campaign my friend DM’s for me and a group of friends we’ve got one final session before we move onto the next campaign set in a different universe, so this is sort of a sending off of this one. All of our characters were magically leveled up to 20 last session to make this session more interesting and as the only spellcaster in the party (Warforged Wizard) I recently came into possession of the wish spell. Our DM is very lenient with this campaign and basically said I can do what I want with the spell. So what should I do? I’ve been thinking about either changing all our alignments to chaotic evil and the boss to lawful good to sort of swap the roles, or to just make us all swap from good or neutral to evil, so a chaotic good character would be chaotic evil and neutral good to neutral evil, but I’m open to suggestions.

How do you obtain a petrified eye of newt in the Out of the Abyss campaign?

In the Dungeons & Dragons Out of the Abyss campaign, players start off with no equipment at all. How would a player obtain a petrified eye of newt logically within the game context?

Background: my friend and I are players in this campaign and he is playing a monk with the Magic Initiate feat. He took the Hex spell (from the list of Warlock spells) but it requires a material component which is a petrified eye of newt. We’re level 2 and we just escaped from the initial prison and are on our way to the nearest village/town.

So we’re wondering how he could obtain this material component. Can a live newt be petrified through magical means (basilisk, spell) and satisfy the Hex spell condition? Or is it something like finding a newt fossilized in some tree sap (Jurassic Park concept)?

No spoilers would be preferable but it’s fine if there are few other choices.

How do I make my campaign feel less linear? How do I make PC decisions Rewarding?

This is my first campaign as a GM and I feel that I need to give my players more options, or the ability to make more decisions, and sometimes when they make big decisions, I feel like I am not prepared. So this makes me feel like I have made a linear campaign.

For example, one of my PCs has decided that he wants to go help an NPC on a quest while the rest of the group wants to continue on their main mision. I am not scared of them splitting up the party, they have done it before, and I know what i am going to do to make them come back together. I just don’t know how to make this PC’s decision to feel rewarding to him.

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How to balance a campaign without a magical restoration

I’m currently GMing a Starfinder game for a group consisting of an Envoy, a Mechanic, two Soldiers, and an Operative. With the Operative acting as a jack-of-all-skills, I’m less worried about mystical story elements than I would be otherwise. My primary concern is dungeon and encounter balance, lacking magical healing in the group. The mechanic and one of the soldiers should be decent with the Medicine skill.

Assuming I’m not expecting them to spend all their money on healing serums… How well does technological/skill-based healing plus the Envoy’s “Inspiring Boost” taken at second level measure up to magical healing in terms of healing through extended dungeons? Assume for example, that I’m running through published modules. Should I tone down/reduce encounters or maybe lower enemy HP? Will the scaling of restoration abilities change at higher levels?