Game Mastering
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ID: 2306


February 7, 2006, 12:51 pm

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Character Secrets


Players want their characters to be special, and a secret is one way to do it. It is also a way to better connect the character with the game world.

What would a Player Character keep secret even from other PCs?

Secrets have to be designed together with the Game Master, not only at character creation. The GM may even give the PC a secret, without his/her knowledge, especially if the character background is poor, and/or the GM knows the player won’t feel insulted.

A secret is often connected to some kind of disadvantage, though it surely can have its pluses. If the characer doesn’t know, better don’t make it a heavy minus (“The local Assassin’s guild is after you for some reason, by the way.”) I think it’s better to tempt players with more potential for their characters, with character-depth being a bonus.

Enjoy the great ideas in the scroll below - but of course do post your own idea or two!

Additional Ideas (31)

Genetics gone wild:
The character has a little inborn deformity, strange birthmark or perhaps a rare disease. In any world resembling our cruel reality, it is better hidden from public, for superstition can harm a lot.

- "The true king/Great Enemy shall be known by..."
- "We are looking for werewolves, they are reported to have..."

2006-02-07 11:41 AM » Link: [2306#11933|text]
Moon influenced
One of the PC's ancestors was a were-creature. In the simplest form, (s)he could get a +1 to all rolls at full moon, and a -1 when the moon is completely dark. There could be minor special abilities, like affinity to certain animals. The character could be also a sleep-walker, without knowing it. See Ria's thread about the Wild Ones if you want to expand it further.

- a PC unknowingly meeting their wolwen grandfather can be great fun for the DM ("What do you mean I find that simple hunter strangely familiar?")
- the character could be immnune or much more susceptible to lycanthropy
- if heavily wounded, probably when dieing from wounds and blood loss, there is a chance for the disease to suddenly manifest as in does in true lycanthropes. Although this may seem as cheap healing, it is still a form of character death, only postponed: the Curse starts to manifest, the PC is slowly turning NPC. Has interesting potential, but not for everyone.
- magical protections against lycanthropes surprisingly target the character, or things like woflsbane are an allergen for him

2006-02-07 11:43 AM » Link: [2306#11934|text]
It's in the family
The character's family is for some reason less popular. A hangman is socially outcast, like could be a grave-digger or a sewer-cleaner. Because of this, the PC has been avoided and had few (if any) friends in youth. Hating this, (s)he set out into the big world to find lots of friends and action, without a need to mention childhood. No wonder you join some freaks in the first bar without thinking twice!

- The PC can have knowledge or skills quite useful for adventuring. Could also be used to blood and unafraid of the Dead, which beginning PCs should be...
- You get recognized by someone from the past, and a great embarassment is on the way.
- The father has died, and no one is willing to take on that dirty job. So where is that lousy son anyway? He simply HAS to take it.

2006-02-07 11:44 AM » Link: [2306#11935|text]
Or, the character may be a descendant of a Mourner.

2008-09-05 05:29 PM » Link: [2306#66998|text]
- "That man is actually a woman!" (ever heard of this one?)
- Maybe the chaste/celibate character is in truth homosexual...
- A player of mine could game only every other week. What does the PC, a fighter with a relatively high Charisma do while missing in action? Of course: a gigolo!

2006-02-07 11:45 AM » Link: [2306#11936|text]
Wrong Past
A PC might have been involved in a adventure that turned out badly, maybe somebody important died or it was important and they failed. This could lead to something if other members of the PCs group start hearing clues from him or somebody they meet, maybe they meet somebody else who was part of this adventure.

Perhaps a PC had a part of his life he's like to forget, or an old position that ended poorly. Perhaps he/she was and advisor to a regent but the regent was assasinated and many were accused. The PC was forced to flee from the court.

2006-02-07 11:46 AM » Link: [2306#11937|text]
Not the traditional "kills on sight ____" enemy. Maybe a long time ago, this character was terribly humiliated by someone. It might have been a public event, or even something completely innocent. But still, you have not forgotten, and you have sworn to take revenge. Not to kill, but repay with all that has accumulated throughout the years. Now that's a motivation.

2006-02-07 11:47 AM » Link: [2306#11938|text]
It's in the family II.
With regards to the family one, what if it was the character that hated or was embarrassed by the family? A social climbing person of fair influence would not want it known that he's only the miller's son.
By the same token (and one I think is personally much more interesting), the character has gone the other way. I ran a character who was a thief for a long time. She was a very good thief, nothing very remarkable about that. Then the others find out she's the youngest daughter of a nobleman. OF course, this works best if the player knows about it beforehand. ("What do you mean, 'Your father is Lord D'Artos?' Is there a reason you never mentioned this?" "Well, he was a bastard.")

2006-02-07 11:48 AM » Link: [2306#11939|text]
I've kept my class a secret sometimes, it never lasts more than a few days, but it's fun to have them guess what on earth I am. (Expecially with weird prestige classes.)

More players need to come up with a family history. Even if it's only "my family all died in a raid by some general I don't remember". 'course this means you want to talk with the DM beforehand about it to make sure it's OK to be the ofspring of a noble.

2006-02-07 11:50 AM » Link: [2306#11940|text]
I once had a character who hired himself out as a yojimbo to nobles, but he actually had a disease that he wanted to hide from others, so he would never actually protect the nobles, just be around them.

2006-02-07 11:51 AM » Link: [2306#11941|text]
One of the best secrets I have traded to GMs for some experience for was "Being one of the ones, or the ONE, who killed off" insert player's family.

That way they lost their family and they still have to roleplay that obligation.

Of course, once they get upset about it, I have to kill them... being lawful and having taken a contract to kill the entire family off.

2006-02-07 11:52 AM » Link: [2306#11942|text]
One of our players was an assassin on another job that happened to match where we were going. It happened at the very beginning and it was one of those rushed "you meet blah blah, hey wanna adventure? Sure lets go" type meetings to get the game started. (I know, I know, but we didn't care about deep fleshed out adventuring at the time, only got together once every couple months so we wanted to get right into it.)

Anyway, we traveled to the city and followed the DMs plots and rumor had it an assassination had taken place in that city. Debated about checking it out but decided against it (can you guess who was against investigating) and we went on to the next city that the DMs plot led us.

Another assassination and again we ignored it although we had to assume something was going on.

Long story short it took us 4 assassinations to figure out it was one of our group doing it and it didn't take long after that to look at all the past clues to figure it out. It was pretty funny and very fun.

2006-02-07 11:52 AM » Link: [2306#11943|text]
A pyromaniac
Most adventure teams have the person that loves torching stuff, but take it a step farther to one that does it secretly.

Entering a dungeon, our pyro friend is the last one in and sets the surrounding countryside on fire. During the adventure the dungeon fills with smoke or they exit out of the dungeon into the blazes or they simply come up into devastation.

Cities mysteriously catch on fire wherever they go. Smoke always seems to come up from the direction of the mornings campsite.

Pyro like to watch the fire, part of the reason so your pyro will probably be lagging behind in many cases when the fire sprouts. If the pyro is smart he will probably case these things first. Make sure this is a nice hill ahead where they can look back and see the blazes, top of towers, tall buildings in cities...etc.

2006-02-07 11:53 AM » Link: [2306#11944|text]
(Of course, why didn't I think of that...)

A Spy
Working for the government, or for a foreign government, or for someone else. The most practical mission would be "freely" serving to the institution. As adventurers get around, and learn a lot, having a spy in an adventuring group is useful. Your foot-soldier gets training (if he/she survives), and can get into favour of powerful people. With proper manipulation you can have a powerful party do your bidding one day.

- the common fighter background: worked in city guard, but was fired for some reason. Asked to keep an eye out on a group of troublemakers, he reports regularly, but finds adventuring more and more addictive. As his superiors ask for more "favours", he starts to feel drawn in two directions...

The Spy may be an option for more withdrawn players.

2006-02-07 11:54 AM » Link: [2306#11945|text]
And now one secret that will soon be discovered, and few will care:

A secret smoker.

Especially good for those still-teenage characters. ;)

2006-02-07 11:55 AM » Link: [2306#11946|text]
Enemy turned
Your character could be a enemy that changed his or her appearance and became a "good" guy for some reasons. The enemy could be setting the PCs up, or could be trying to change its stripes.

2006-02-07 11:55 AM » Link: [2306#11947|text]
Either way for various reasons.
-Hiding identity to keep a different type of respect.
-Plotting (or had) revenge on somebody and needs a good escape.
-Because they are psychologically bent.
-Thief trying to steal something in a wo/man only establishment.
-There are probably others....

Same type of thing-
Elves pretending they are men, men -> elves.

2006-02-07 11:56 AM » Link: [2306#11948|text]
They could be royalty trying to run away or vise-versa someone poor trying to disguise as royalty.

2006-02-07 12:02 PM » Link: [2306#11951|text] Delete Edit
- The PC could be a wanted criminal (whether you are innocent or not).

- Someone is trying to track him or her down to get revenge.

- The past is too painful to talk about (murdered lover or family, abused, raped, beaten, pestered and so on).

- The family you come from is too famous and you 1. wanna get away from all the fuss, or 2. don't want to attract attention too much (maybe in combination with your mission).

- Someone gave you a mission and you swore to keep it a secret.

- You have been lovers or very close to some wellknown criminal, and either are ashamed or do not want to have a duscussion about it.

- Any kind of mental disease (from bipolar disorders to Alzheimer...), or physical disease that might disable a group (always notice how people that got bitten in vampire movies pretend to their group nothing happened?)

2006-02-07 12:14 PM » Link: [2306#11952|text]
Carries a wig (inspired by Crossdresser above)
Has little or no hair for some reason (weird accident, stress, age, genetics, ...) and wants to keep it private because of:

- pride/needing good looks
- people laughing about it
- would be easily recognizable (coupled with another secret)
- is a completely different race than appears to be, or mutated, hides unusual marks/deformities, third eyes, etc
- was scalped and is badly scarred now
- reasons to be shaved (Religion? Monk of some kind? Prophecy? Superstition?) and other reasons to hides it
- has tools hidden in and under the wig (thief stereotype)
- a tatoo, royal birthmark, or the number 666, or whatever
- ...

2006-02-07 12:15 PM » Link: [2306#11953|text]
Most of the time in the game there is the one that is always the one drinking too much at the first bar they come across in any town.

This alcoholic keeps it a secret though.

- Never gets drunk in a bar so it is not obvious.
- Never goes one way or another with opinions of the drunkedness of others.
- Always has some kind of booze on them and is always drinking it but always presents it as water.
- If anybody wants a swig then his deft and agile hands and drunken skills swap the skin he was drinking with one that really does have water.
- The person has mad skills when drunk, but if he is sober he is deadly and almost unbeatable. Problem is the players never see him sober. If/when they do it will be an amazingly beautiful and deadly thing to watch.
- The alcohol he gets is always the best and might even be a rare brew. He drinks anything that might no be immediately recongnizeable in his breathe. Perhaps he even has some skills to doctor the smell of it.

2006-02-07 12:18 PM » Link: [2306#11954|text]
Previous posts in this thread have hit around this, but never quite:

The character can "pass"
He or she is of a shunned social caste, ethnicity, or even other species. However, due to whatever reason, the character's appearance is close enough to an "acceptable" caste, et al. to pretend to be one of them. This is not quite the same as a disguise, but can be augmented & enhanced cosmetically.

2006-02-07 12:49 PM » Link: [2306#11956|text]
This is related to what Strolen said about assassins.

Two stories.

The first game I played in with this group I have been with now for over a decade I played an assassin. I was hired to kill an arch-bishop of the church the group was resting at. They had agreed to do some work of clearing out some unknown bad areas in the cemetary and ruins. I came to the church and they asked me to join them. I ended up joining their cause, but not before I killed the arch-bishop. When everyone learned of it, I told them I was pretty adept at researching and investigating this sort of thing so I investigated and determined who the killer was. They tried them with the evidence I found and eventually hung the false murderer. One of the players had a hunch but left it alone. A year later my character met his untimely demise and a cleric was called in to try and bring me back. They had to look at my character sheet to get a stat to determine success level to come back to life. They found out I was an assassin and for the next hour I was grileld about all the murders that happened around us. They then refused to bring me back so I had to start a new character.

Over ten years later I play another assassin who has a very deep secret. (We started a new campaign with 1st level characters) The father of my character just happens to be the arch villan that has plagued the group through all our years of playing. Everytime his name is mentioned obsenities are thrown at the GM for al lthe pain and suffering we were caused at the hands of this baddie. And now I am that very same bad guys flesh and blood. To top it off he has sent one of the players to bring me back, and he doesn't know who he is but now we find out he was hired the entire party to locate something and being the situation that we are all in we can't refuse.

2006-02-08 11:51 AM » Link: [2306#11999|text]
The character is a long lost heir to something, be it either a modest inheritance or a kingdom, or even the Empire of Evil. I ran a character once who had been kidnapped by slavers as a small child. She eventually escaped, and made life hell for any slavers she ran into. Then the group goes two months south as part of the campaign, and finds out that she's a long-lost princess, and the only heir to the throne. The quote of the day was "WHAAAAAAAA?"

2006-04-23 07:49 PM » Link: [2306#14751|text]
Drawn to the Sea

Okay, this one is copied straight from the Lord of the Rings.

The character has a weak, but as good as inborn desire to sail the sea. This need may not even become obvious during his life, it is just... missing something, independent of how good life is.

This dramatically changes if the character actually 'meets' the sea, and can see the ever-changing waters reach up to the horizon, up to shores unknown and far away. Smelling the air and feeling the wind, the small desire grows and is hard to overcome. Sooner or later, the character is likely to board a ship to sail the sea, and may never want to come back to dry land.

(Can be substituted with another similar urge - PC could be partial to majestic dragons, members of a rarely seen race, or what have you.)

2006-04-25 12:46 PM » Link: [2306#14788|text]
Modified Literacy

The character can (or cannot) read where the opposite is seriously expected, and supported by the character.

- maybe he is from a primitive tribe where he couldn't possibly learn it; or an oppressed minority forbidden literacy to maintain control over them. Or maybe knows to read only a particular language/script form, but not the local one. Mostly likely is this kept as a hidden potential, to appear dumb but avoid being lied to.

- in a modern setting where basically anyone can read, this could be one of the afflictions that make one a miserable reader; or simply the effect of miserable schooling - or no schooling at all.

2007-07-01 07:07 PM » Link: [2306#28394|text]
Or a wizard who cannot actually read. He got through mage school by emulating others and attending lectures religiously. He hides the fact because it is shameful to him. It may not be his fault, however: dyslexia would be hard to recognise and even harder to teach around in a medieval setting.

2011-01-19 12:49 PM » Link: [2306#76313|text]

This secret can be easily gained during an adventuring career; it has to be roleplayed carefully. The character is under the thrall of a particular NPC, that wields the powers of hypnotism or mind magic, or has the supernatural ability, like some vampires.

At the most basic level is the character forbidden from revealing this influence or the identity of "the master". Further tasks or requests for information can be given on a whim; but if a PC is forced to go too much against their nature, it could break out of the thrall, or tip its comrades off that something isn't right.

Ironically, the PC could be much more resistant to mind control, since it already obeys its "true master".

2007-08-30 09:39 AM » Link: [2306#29659|text]
-Witness Protection

If in a modern group, has been renamed and disguised/relocated to escape organised crime. Secretly misses his/her old life.

-Secret Cultist

Is a member of the cult of Ma-O or (insert cult name) Can range all the way from funny effects to secretly sacraficing people.

-A Crush

NPC has a huge crush on one of the PCs but fearing rejection tries to hide it.

2009-07-11 10:22 PM » Link: [2306#72163|text]

Deaf or Hearing-Impared

The character has gotten through life up til now by lip reading and body language.  Reasons for hiding this range from wanting to appear "normal" to everyone else, and be treated as such, to being in a society that views persons with physical imparements like this as abominations that must be killed to prevent them from breeding.  The character would have immunity from sound-based attacks, and would probably gain a small bonus to spot or other awareness checks, but would also fail every listen check.


2011-01-19 12:55 PM » Link: [2306#76314|text]

Wrong Past II

The character has been exiled from his home city or country.  Perhaps other members of his race/culture would kill him if they found out his secret, or perhaps the character simply does not choose to talk about it because he misses his home.  He could have been exiled for political reasons, for commiting a crime, or after being framed for a crime that he did not commit.  Either way, he should either be so well known in his country that attempting to return would be impossible or he will bear some mark that his countrymen will recognize as the sign of an exile.


2011-01-19 01:02 PM » Link: [2306#76315|text]


Well, not exactly. The character was born under the wrong starsign, on the shortest day of the year, during an eclipse, take your pick. He has a natural knack for necromancy, but never embraced it (or never had the right training...). A charitable DM might give him a weak feeling for the presence of the undead. On the other hand, the PC will slightly attract the undead (not to become friends), things will slightly more corrode, get older and fall apart, you get the idea.

The character can be as good as bad as desired, but knows well this detail shouldn't become public. Superstition can get very ugly in these parts.


2011-03-07 06:04 PM » Link: [2306#77024|text]
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Comments ( 13 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Scrasamax
February 7, 2006, 14:55
I frequently play Vampire the Masquerade with my wife, and one of the things that has developed through playing the game for several (8 years, actualy) is that there are certain things that remain secrets among the undead. While it is not the sort of secrets listed above, secrets are a major part of the vampire game and I thought I might share some of the more important.

1. It is considered a faux pas of the first order to enquire of a vampire her generation, steps removed from the first vampire. In the game, the closer a vampirer is to the first vampire, the stronger their abilities are. This would be like asking a woman on the street what her bra size, and weight is.

2. Asking a vampire to name her clan. While a few of the bloodlines have inherited flaws (All Nosferatu are hideous, all Gangrel get animal furry, etc) the majority do not have a glowing sign on their heads. A few vampires do state their clan, but often as a sign of prestige and power. Knowing a vampire's clan establishes that vampires basic vampiric powers (which vary from clan to clan) as well as their blood born flaw. Being secretive and xenophobic, vampires dont like their weaknesses or powers to be known.

3. Asking about specific vampiric powers, IE asking a local vampire if he has the power to read minds (auspex) carries the same class as asking a proper lady if she does it doggy-style.
Voted Ancient Gamer
February 7, 2006, 19:08
Great scroll!

Player secrets are an intricate part of the character weave and most of my players have one or more little secrets. It might just be something innocent, like that a female player is barren (a disgrace in some cultures), or the daughter of a courtesan, or something more serious.

The more secrets and detailed background a player creates, the easier it is for me to weave his character into the setting. I have had players complain that their characters are less incorporated in a setting than the PC of another player. I explain to these players that this is due to the work the players put into their characters.

Player secrets are wonderful in that they create the perfect hooks for a GM to plot future events with. Nothing is as fun as when a player squirms uneasily on the chair, afraid his secret will be revealed, but also afraid they will all die if he does not come clean.

I have seen some pretty impressive player character acting on those occasions.
Voted Mourngrymn
February 8, 2006, 11:37
Great idea, I will add to the scroll listed below of my misadventures with secrets.
Cheka Man
April 23, 2006, 20:03
Secrets make a game good fun.
Voted Cheka Man
April 23, 2006, 20:04
Only voted
Voted Murometz
November 18, 2006, 20:22
Great scroll!! (as AG said) makes for great reading and immediately fosters and engenders ideas!
Voted Strolen
November 19, 2006, 21:55
I like it. I love it. I want more of it.

Players need to rip through this really quick before a game while they are fleshing out their characters.
Voted Chaosmark
November 19, 2006, 23:07
Only voted
Voted valadaar
October 9, 2010, 16:59

Wow, missed this gem.  Nice job folks!

Voted Dossta
January 19, 2011, 13:05

Allow me to add my voice to the chorus of admirers -- this is a truly excellent scroll.  I'm sure that I will be coming back to it often.  Please accept my patented "Smashing Sub of the Day" award, and this HoH.

Voted Kassy
May 11, 2012, 13:39

Hmm, a spy.. *feigns inmocence*

Random Idea Seed View All Idea Seeds

       By: Wogden

The accepted mode of getting otherwise unobtainable information is to go visit the cranky old hermit living in the mountains. It's just the sensible thing to do. So, naturally, everyone takes their monthly excursion to the hermit's hovel to consult him on everything, from lock-jaw to lovesickness, necromancers to nasal viruses.

Now, if everyone's always visiting the poor old hermit, there's going to be an enormous queue... "Wellcome to the Hermitt's Hovele, Please Take Ye a Number and Have Ye a Seate" reads the sign outside the packed dwelling.

Imagine the poor hermit, having retreated into the mountains to escape this precise situation...

Ideas  ( NPCs ) | July 29, 2005 | View | UpVote 1xp

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