keeping secrets?

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Sunseeker

Guest
Most of the time, my players are pretty open with each other about who and what their characters are. There's rarely a rogue who isn't obvious about their lust for money, nor a haugty elf with a disdain for humanity who doesn't go out of their way to show it.

But recently I'd been mulling over some things like the Vampire class(4e) or template, werewolf background/template or other similar things that a group of 3-4 mundane humanoids might look unfavorably upon if they found out you were one. Now of course, sometimes it's obvious, but when it's not, aside from creating an interesting plot device for my DM...er...devices, it can create an air of tension between players, especially ones who are normally fairly open with each other.

As I've professed before, the player/PC dichotomy is not hard and fast, some players see themselves as a part of their character, or their character as a part of themselves, making the distinction between "My PC is lying to/hiding something from your PC." and "I'm lying to you." muddy.

I honestly don't think my players will have an issue with it, but I'm just curious how ya'll have gone about handling parties or players with significant in-character secrets from each other?
 

Nagol

Unimportant
I could tell you... but well you know.

Are we talking about a campaign with potentially many secrets being kept from each other or a campaign where one or two PCs have a secret they're keeping to themselves? The first is a bit harder so I'll discuss it.

The most important thing is the group has to be on-board that the game will have secrets. Be upfront. You want to avoid any feeling of 'special snowflake' favourtism. Make sure all the players are fine with secrets and no PC will immediately run to the authorities as soon as they discover one.

Next determine where the secret will be stored. Are the PCs keeping secrets but the players are in on them all or do the secrets exist between the players?
If the former, there can be a constant battle between player/PC knowledge. If the latter, there is a time sink aspect that grows non-linearly with the number of secrets. Secret-heavy groups tend to form sub-groups with some shared secrets of mutual accomodation, but that means sub-group of PCs will want to talk, negotiate, and/or act without the whole group present.

Secret-heavy campaign I've run tended to work best when alternative communication lines are open between the players and GM. Blue-booking, email, small secondary sessions for private roleplaying and small side missions.

Finally, find a rationale for the PCs to be stuck with each other. A reason for the group to not splinter is pretty necessary. Secrets strike at the trust implicit in most group situations. Perhaps they're family? Trapped in an unfriendly city? Have all their weatlh tied into the group?

Secrets tend to run to four different weights:
weightless secrets are those a character protects but there is no effect should the secret become known -- a character secretly blames himself for his father's death and reacts to specific encounters oddly.
light secrets are those where a character's utility is weakened if the secret becomes widely known -- a character is really working for the Imperial spy agency. A reveal will damage the character's value to the agency and place previous contacts at risk.
moderate secrets are those where the character's can become imperilled if the secret is discovered -- a character is really a worshipper of the 'wrong' religion and wil be shunned bu society (at best) if it is discovered
heavy secrets are those that will destroy the value of the character should the secret be revealed -- a character is really an spy for an enemy of the group

Try to build at least one light secret into each PC.

Try to avoid many weightless secrets. They make good hooks for roleplaying, but take time and energy to administer.

A good set of secrets act as lenses on an adventure's encounters. Each player sees the same situation differently either by altering the goal of the encounter, or by shading the encounter with inference and possibility.
 

Wednesday Boy

The Nerd WhoFell to Earth
I used to love keeping my character's backstory secrets hidden from the other players because I liked imagining how incredible the reveal would be. In practice the Usual Suspect type of reveal rarely occurred and I came to realize that you get more interesting roleplaying mileage out of being open with the other players about your character and working together to create a collaborative group dynamic and integrate characters' secrets into the plot.

Being open about your characters' backstory secrets helps you avoid blindsiding your fellow players with something that might ruin the campaign. It gives you the opportunity for buy-in from the other players and allows the players to create a dynamic between the characters that can include the secret without putting the campaign in jeopardy.

Personally my characters who had secrets became richer when I collaborate with other players because our collective creativity is greater than my own. And all it cost was a reveal that was never going to be that impressive anyway.
 
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Ryujin

Adventurer
For two years I played a character who was the son of a banished Eladrin prince, whom he was the spitting image of. He wore a mask everywhere that he went but, given that he had a massive Charisma, Bluff, and Diplomacy somehow pulled it off. Not even the party had seen my character's face, until we were moments away from hitting Paragon (4e). I have no idea why our DM at the time, who is hands down the best role player of the lot of us, never latched onto it for a story arc.
 
I honestly don't think my players will have an issue with it, but I'm just curious how ya'll have gone about handling parties or players with significant in-character secrets from each other?
There is no problem in keeping secrets per se, except one: you have to be sure that this doesn't interfere with the gaming group's rules on intra-party conflict.

From my main DM of the past I have learned that having agreed upon rules on intra-party conflict is one of the most important safety measures before starting a campaign :) A big secret revealed in the course of your campaign such as someone really be someone else, can trigger intra-party conflict... what happens if some of the PCs discover that one of them is a Vampire and for some (apparently appropriate) roleplay reason decide to kill it, deliver it to the law, or abandoning him? I think it's important that all the group agrees before these kind of things happen.
 

Wednesday Boy

The Nerd WhoFell to Earth
For two years I played a character who was the son of a banished Eladrin prince, whom he was the spitting image of. He wore a mask everywhere that he went but, given that he had a massive Charisma, Bluff, and Diplomacy somehow pulled it off. Not even the party had seen my character's face, until we were moments away from hitting Paragon (4e). I have no idea why our DM at the time, who is hands down the best role player of the lot of us, never latched onto it for a story arc.
Putting aside the DM not using that story hook, this is why I think it's better to have secrets between characters but not secrets between players. If it was telegraphed to the players that you were the heir, you all could have woven an interesting story between the party members that related to this. It can be very easy to not even see certain story elements of other characters.
 

Ryujin

Adventurer
Putting aside the DM not using that story hook, this is why I think it's better to have secrets between characters but not secrets between players. If it was telegraphed to the players that you were the heir, you all could have woven an interesting story between the party members that related to this. It can be very easy to not even see certain story elements of other characters.
My character went by the name "Faceless." The only story elements that evolved from it involved variations on a theme, because my character was a low damage Feylock; "Useless", "Pointless", etc.. Of course I was also the party's skill monkey and (rather ironically) face character. Things got a little interesting though, for a while, while we were playing Thunderspire Labyrinth, and the other players noticed that the guys in charge wore a golden mask that for all intents and purposes was identical to the ivory one my character wore.
 

Elf Witch

Visitor
I think it depends on the group. I play with a player who hates anything that can cause party strife so secrets don't go over very well with him. In other groups it has worked out well. I do believe that somethings should not be allowed if it is going to cause the game to be disrupted. In my game one of the players wanted to play a spy for the bad guys who slowly comes around and helps the good guys. It was a cool concept but I said no because I was afraid of how the others would feel when they found out that he had been betraying them at the start and feeding information to the bad guys.

I do think secrets can work out well in one game we were a bunch of Robin Hood type characters fighting against a corrupt and evil king one of the players was the true heir to the throne in hiding. Eventually it came out and we were all going omg we have the prince with us. If we help him get back his throne we are going to get richly rewarded.

My character in my roommate game has a secret she has a personal vendetta against a group who killed her husband and child and her reasons for helping the party is to be powerful enough one day to take this group out. It most likely will never happen in game but it gives the character motivations and influences what she I chose for her to do.
 

pemerton

Legend
Good thread with some interesting posts.

My players often have secrets for their PCs. As a group we're a bit haphazard on player/PC divides, though probably have on the whole become more relaxed over time (partially for the info-processing time constraint issues that [MENTION=23935]Nagol[/MENTION] mentions upthread).

That said, I tend to find that the dynamic at my table often allows PC secrets to remain semi-secret from the other players just because they will often not pay full attention if one player is discussing something with me that is relevant only to that player's PC. For instance, the drow sorcerer in my campaign is a part of a drow/elf secret society that worship Corellon and is dedicated to undoing the sundering of the elves. One time when the PCs were hanging out with some elves, the player of the drow declared that his PC made the secret hand signal to see if any of the elves responded - and he and I resolved that hold episode without the other player really noticing, just because they were planning the party's next move after it left the elven camp.

The PCs in my game are now 20th level, half-way to 21st, and so are in the process of settling on Epic Destinies. At least one player, I think, is going to be keeping his destiny a secret from the others - which should be interesting! I think epic tier could definitely see some of the intra-party cohesion come under pressure.
 

Wednesday Boy

The Nerd WhoFell to Earth
In my game one of the players wanted to play a spy for the bad guys who slowly comes around and helps the good guys. It was a cool concept but I said no because I was afraid of how the others would feel when they found out that he had been betraying them at the start and feeding information to the bad guys.
That is a cool concept and it would totally work if it was talked about openly and agreed upon beforehand, instead of being kept a secret.

It would require a frank discussion about the character's intended path ("I'd like to play a character who is spying on your group but who has a change of heart and decides to support your cause wholeheartedly.").

You would need to set up boundaries for how the other characters would be allowed to react ("You guys could clobber him or tie him up while you sort out what to do with him but you couldn't kill him and eventually would have to let him reintegrate into the group.")

And you would need to confirm buy-in from all of the players ("Does this work for everyone? Can everyone agree this would not cause their character to leave the party?")

But once the ground rules are set you have a great stage for some roleplaying drama without (much) risk of the campaign imploding. (YMMV, etc., etc.)
 

antonslavik021

Villager
My character's secret was just revealed last night. She's a paladin that follows Asmodeus but has been keeping that fact hidden from the party. I also did make it very clear from the beginning that this was a major secret and the other players were ok with not knowing(I wasn't the only one with one after all). I had been keeping it from them for over a year until he just showed up last night(they figured he was likely evil if my paladin was being cagey but that was the extent of it). That was the end of session so it'll be interesting to see how that conversation goes.
 

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