Using Secrets


So last week I talked about the different kinds of secrets that can exist in a roleplaying game, and it’s time to move on to some ways you can incorporate secrets, along with some examples of games I’ve played that do it in some really interesting ways. The goal is to use secrets to increase tension and create conflict, because those things are essential to interesting drama, so when creating a secret or working with players on their secrets, the important question to ask is “How will this create tension?” A secret desire for broccoli probably isn’t going to be very interesting, unless broccoli is sacred to the gods and eating it is heresy. Also, I am hungry. Anyway, secrets!

The easiest way to incorporate secrets is to just make them part of a character background. I talked about this in the background frameworks in making a character part of the setting. The ten minute background includes two secrets, one the character knows about and one that they don’t. The original also includes a third secret made up by the GM, ¬†which can require a bit of a soft touch, but can also be fun to use. It’s easy to incorporate these kinds of secrets into the twenty questions method as well, by asking for a secret of each type. Another way to disribute secrets among the party is randomly. Make a deck of about ten or twenty cards with secrets on them, and give each player one. The secrets should be open enough that the player can integrate them into their background, so err on the side of “Criminal past” rather than “On the run from a murder charge”. This gives the players a chance to set the stakes, and can serve as a writing seed if they desire, giving their character some extra dimension.¬†Secrets aren’t only for player characters, either. I’ll talk more about this in another post, but you can use secrets with regard to NPCs, towns, dungeons, and monsters to great effect.

There are a lot of games now that use secrets and hidden information, both rpgs and board games. Shadows Over Camelot is one I’ve heard a lot about, where one of your intrepid knights is actually a traitor working against you, and Battlestar Galactica has a similar mechanic, where one of the players is a Cylon. My favourite game that uses secrets though, is Paranoia. In Paranoia, you and your allies (I hesitate to use the word friends) undertake missions for the preservation of Alpha Complex in order to help the Computer (who IS your friend). One of the things you are committed to doing is rooting out members of secret societies, organizations who are committed to ignoring the directives of and sometimes even working against friend Computer. All PCs in Paranoia are members of a secret society. You must also round up those with deviant abilities like psychic powers, because friend Computer wants to help them cope with their new condition. All PCs start with a psychic power. In Paranoia, everyone is keeping secrets from everyone else from the start of the game. Secrets with reasonably grave consequences (given that most of your “friends” will shoot you if they learn them). Secrets keep you on your toes, and everyone has them.

I’m off to a conference this week, but Thursday’s post will be up on schedule, and on Monday we’ll have a list of secrets to play around with. What are some games that you like that use secrets well?

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