Criminal Ties


Secret Seeds

Today’s post is a little later than I’d like, but I’m still a little dead from the 21 hour Kalamazoo day. I forgot how crazy conferences can be, but I had a great time. For a roundup on that, you can check out my upcoming post at But you’re not here for that, you’re here for secrets. I had so many ideas that I thought I’d do something a little different, by picking a single theme and coming up with ten secret ideas around it. Even then it wound up being so long that I had to split it into two parts. But here we go, five secrets that have to do with having criminal ties. 

Criminal ties is one of those really common tropes, but can have some interesting consequences based on the context of the reveal. It can be a good thing if your character can leverage their connections, but it can also mean that your connection will leverage you, and can affect the other party members’ trust in your character more than most other secrets. It is a secret, so it’s presumably a matter of concern to have it revealed, rather than being openly criminal. This can involve a concern for the consequences, a kind of shame, or both.

1. In Hock

Sometimes you’re in over your head. It could be debt, or it could be favours, but either way, some shady character has a  hold on yours. The criminal world never forgets, and has a tendency for requiring payment in inconvenient ways. There are a lot of interesting stories to tell about the circumstances of this debt, too. It might have been a favour to pursue vengeance, or money to support your character’s gambling habit. Either way, best to keep it under your hat.

2. Going Straight

You used to be a criminal, but you’ve left that all behind now. I nearly called this one Penitent, but there’s lots of reasons to leave the life of crime. You’re a new person now, and the way you used to be doesn’t matter. Someone who’s gone straight has a powerful reason to do so, and could have old friends who try to talk them into one last job.

3. Leverage

Criminals have an illegitimate hold on you, either through blackmail or threats. This is different from In Hock because your character didn’t enter into an agreement about it. Perhaps a family member is being threatened, or information which could threaten your reputation. It need not be a physical threat, either. Damning evidence can often be much more effective than violence, especially in a game where characters are often experienced at violence themselves, like D&D or Spirit of the Century.

4. Misspent Youth

Unlike Going Straight, you were never a career criminal. You just had some…Youthful indiscretions. Still, these are the things which can come back to haunt a person when they least expect it. It could result in another form of blackmail, or just a few friends who talk about old times in the wrong places. Better yet, what would happen if your character encounters one of the victims of their indiscretions again?

5. “Going Straight”

Sometimes you turn your life around, but sometimes you just need to make it look like you’ve turned your life around. Openly a former criminal, you’re still doing some dirty deeds on the side, possibly for dirt cheap. Maintaining this veil of legitimacy has a lot of benefits, but can it can be very challenging. How will the others react if they know you haven’t really changed? How do you weigh the benefits of keeping the secrets against those of the possible costs, if your criminal connections can save a life when the chips are down?

These are just five possible secrets a character cold have that relate to criminal ties. There are lots more. In fact, post your ideas in the comments, because I’d love to hear them! Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on Thursday.

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