Your players have picked up a couple of leads around town, and have learned that the McGuffin is locked away in a vault deep within the city. Fighting their way past the guards, they make their way to the door, pass a complex skill check to open it, and finally slide the door open. It’s empty, but for one, single note: “Haha. Got you.” Their arch nemesis, the campaign’s Big Bad Evil Guy has foiled them again.
This is patently bullshit.
Your players, inherently, trust you. It’s in their nature. If they receive a particular piece of news, they’re going to believe it’s true, unless your campaign began with you stating, very clearly, that there would be many rumors in this game, some true, some not. If you haven’t stated that up front, you’ve just robbed and upset your players.
Players naturally depend on the DM to give them the details of the game world. It’s all in the DM’s mind, and needs to be drawn out or given out. The players believe what they’re told, generally, and lying to them is, in some ways, cheating.
Should you never lie to your players? I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that if you’re going to lie to them, do so sparingly, and only on things that aren’t going to make them furious.
What should you do in a situation like the one I presented above? I think if you had a few conflicting stories from rumors swirling about, or some foreshadowing that would allow the players to, even after the fact, realize they’d been had, would be enough. But to present something as completely true, then take that away, reeks of someone who has set out to upset their players on purpose.
What do you think? Is it cheating to lie to your players like that? Have you ever done anything like this? Let me know in the comments.