Imagine if you will that Star Wars was a role-playing game – the movies, not the actual roleplaying game. There you are sitting around the table, having split the party (never a good idea). While you are running through Cloud City trying to escape, your buddy, let’s call him Chris, is battling Darth Vader in the bowels of the city.
Natural 1. Chris fumbles his defense roll and Fweem!! There goes Chris’ character’s hand. He makes his save and is holding onto the railing about to fall down a giant shaft. You are completely engaged with the dialogue flying back and forth between Chris and the GM, then this happens:
GM: If only you knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Chris: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
GM: No… [whispers something into Chris’ ear].
Chris: [shocked] No. No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!
You sit and wait for the reveal, but it never comes. Weeks go by. After the campaign ends, the second Death Star destroyed, complete with many inside jokes between the GM and Chris, you finally ask, what was said back there? Oh, that? The GM told me that Vader was my father.
How anticlimactic would that be?
Secrets (campaign or character) Are Only Awesome When Revealed!
Personally, I think that secrets are only cool when they are revealed. I have had players who come to the table with a cool character secret and expect to ride across the campaign with their secret intact. What is the point in that? RPGs are a social, co-operative game. Secrets, either the GM’s or the PC’s that are never revealed run counter to that. If your character is a dragon, hiding in a world where dragons are feared and hunted down, that is some great story material!! But don’t expect to not be put in situations where that will be revealed. I am not saying that secrets should be revealed in session one, but eventually they should come out. Because when they do, they tend to be explosive.
A recent, nearly deadly, example:
In one of my 13th Age games, the party had been hired by a being of power, who had been bound to a graveyard and stripped of her name for an unknown crime against the gods. The players had been able to discover that although this entity had done the crime, the punishment was, after many eons, exceeding the crime. This entity was slowly being pushed beyond repentance into madness. The twist was that someone had assassinated all of the gods of knowledge to prevent anyone else from discovering this creature’s name, for true names hold power. The group was searching for the last of these slain gods, Azometh. They had discovered that he was not truly dead, but being held and tortured somewhere in the Land of the Dead.
In a recent session, two new players joined the group right before everyone descended into the underworld to free Azometh. The old group decided they did not entirely trust the new characters and kept the scope of their mission hidden from the new players. When they finally found Azometh, being tortured and repeatedly questioned by a Big Bad Evil Guy from my world for ‘THE NAME’, the truth came out. What happened next was an epic night of gaming. The new characters felt betrayed and could not understand why anyone would risk saving such a bound entity. One of the new players decided that no one should have the name (which would control the entity) and slew Azometh. One of the original players managed to contain some of the god’s essence within himself, while another (a forgeborn who sought to raise Azometh to worship him) went berserk and attacked her god’s slayer.
Suddenly, I had PVP in my game. The Fighter going after the cleric, the cleric trying not to die. The Sorcerer trying in vain to maintain his own identity while absorbing the power of a god. The players had a great time working through their character’s choices and the fallout of the revealed secrets.
I am not saying don’t have secrets in your game. I am not saying don’t come to the table with character secrets. But if you horde them and only reveal them after play is over, you are the only one who cares. If you take the risk of letting your secret come to light, not only do you get that enjoyment of a pertinent reveal, but the rest of the group gets to share in that. And your secret has the potential to change the scope of the game for weeks to come. Which is more satisfying?
As a GM, present opportunities for secrets to come out, but if they are not yours, let the character decide whether or not to reveal them. They should have the final say, but giving them the opportunity or creating consequences for keeping the secret is fair game!
Jadepunk review is still in the works. Between work and sickness, it has been a rough couple of days.