Using Player Character Secrets

A good GM can tie the dread secrets of the player charcters’ background into the very structure of the narrative so that these past events must be dealt with in order to advance the story. I’m not one of those GMs. I have neither the time anymore nor the smarts to work out these complexities. So, here’s a bunch of tricks you can use to fake it in your roleplaying sessions.

First, the secrets. These can be of two general types, although I generally would not mix the two in a single player group. It just doesn’t seem to work.

There are secrets of story – the character was present or, better yet, instrumental in some monumental action in the background of the role playing campaign or gaming session. This type is best used in conspiracy or thriller styled games. For example, one of the investigators tracking an alien serial killer in the 1950s was present at Roswell and shot all the crash survivors but one, earning its emnity forever.

There are secrets of character – something in the character’s past or something the character must keep hidden. If this secret is exposed, the character loses everything. Jail time, lynching or worse is the consequence of revelation. For example, being interested in social justice in an LNP-led Queensland.

That’s all pretty standard stuff, you say. And you’re right. The trick is in how you use it. It’s a fundamental axiom of roleplaying that the only monster which can frighten a player character is another player character.

Here’s what to do.

Have all the players write their character’s secret on a slip of paper. When they’re all finished, get them to pass their slip to the player on their left. This immediately achieves two thing: each player character can be bully one character with revealing his or her secret and can be bullied by another.

It also raises a more subtle set of interactions. Every character knows that his or her bully has a secret which is known by a third player character. The third character may be prevailed upon to deal with the bully meaning that every character has a potential ally if only the means to create and cement the bond can be found. It leads to some very strange bedfellows.

This may not seem like much but it works a treat. Give it a go.