Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: The Reverse Pickpocket


Will Smith is in a lingerie shop buying a present for his wife when an old friend (Jason Lee) runs into him.  The friend slips something in Will Smith’s bag, then runs off proceeding to get himself killed.  This, however, kicks off Will’s involvement in the wonderful suspense film Enemy of the State.    The reverse pickpocket idea is not a new concept.  It’s been used in fiction, film, and television for years.  Scott Lynch’s book The Republic of Thieves has got a great scene where the method is used multiple times by two opposing thieves on some unsuspecting officials.   Needless to say, you can kick off quite an adventure with a scene like this, without requiring much of any buy-in from your PCs.


The PCs are in a crowded market buying good our trying to find a buyer for their cargo.  When someone runs into them.  Classic pickpocket scam right.   They check their belt pouch or wallet.  Their cash is still there.   What they don’t realize is, something else has been added.  A crowded market of any type does well for this.  However, any public space or city street will do.  Even an Inn, Bar, or shop could be a great location for this scene.


There are a quite a few ways to play this.  I could be a random incident where the PCs don’t realize what has happened until much later, or maybe the person who bumped into them planted something illegal on them and the authorities get involved quite quickly jumping to the wrong conclusions.  They could be being framed, or covertly being given a message from a secret organization.    The Mood can just about be anything that your plot needs.


People and their intentions are the main threats in this plot device.  Who set them up and why?   How well are the cops trained?  Is the secret meeting, that the note you found on your person alludes to, an opportunity or a trap?  Sometimes the most threatening thing is your player’s own imagination.   If they realize something is amiss, let the sweat.


Well, nothing spoils a good reverse pickpocket like getting caught doing it.  But your players deserve a chance to notice.  So hedge your bets.  Make sure this happens to the least observant among them.  If that still isn’t going to work play to the players.  (“help a fellow Vodacce out.” the Man whispers before he stumbles off.  Moments later you hear the piercing whistle of the blue-coats)

After the initial sleight of hand.  The mechanics are all on you.


This scene could provide your party with a great McGuffin.  Something everyone is after and the players don’t know why.  They have to unravel the mystery before they get killed.

Or it could someone planting a stolen item for later retrieval.

An Encounter like this really isn’t a set piece in the normal sense, instead, it should be used as a plot device.  Someone planting an item on the players leads them down a path.

Make sure you have a clear picture of the intentions of all the NPCs involved and make sure the act has a purpose towards a plot.

However be weary.  You can’t control what your players do once they find something has been planted on them.  They could go many different directions with this.  You are basically handing your players a bomb, make sure your plot is strong enough to survive whatever they end up doing.

Based on the knowledge of your players come up with ideas for the most likely paths they will take. But only ideas.  Odds are they will do something you don’t expect so it’s really not worth prepping too much for the possibilities.   Put your creative hat on and prepare to improv on the fly.


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