Campaign Diary: Ark, The Eternal Refuge – Hidden Info

By NPC Aaron

I apologize for the lack of an article last week.  I will try to prevent that from happening in the future. The email portion of my campaign did not go as well as I had hoped, and I was left with very little to write about.  This was nobody’s fault but my own, but it did serve to remind me of a valuable GM lesson, and I’ll start today’s article with that. Afterwards, I’ll explain some ways you can best utilize hidden information in your games.

Explain Things To Your Players Fully

When we switched to a schedule of playing every other week, I mentioned that I may email the players in between so that we can keep up the roleplaying.  I don’t think I explained fully what this would detail because while some players were excited to write out bits in character, other players didn’t get the feeling of a roleplaying game from that experience.  They thought that it was going to be largely side plots and optional bits that wouldn’t relate to the game’s main storyline so they agreed to it, but seeing it in practice realized it wasn’t for them.  This could have been avoided if I had just fully explained what I wanted to do and given them an example.

 

From there I could have gauged player interest better and I would have realized that the emailing wasn’t for our group.  The benefits of being able to split the party without leaving anyone out and get more game into a slower paced schedule are definitely not worth just taking somebody out of the game in their minds.

 

One player did answer my emails though, and because of it Del got to build on his relationship with Shindrogon, and we even created a new NPC: Vernon the Harbinger.  The vampire lord’s lieutenant with a penchant for torture.  I won’t spoil what happened in the scene because some of the players do not know, but it brings me to the point of this week’s column, which is how to work hidden information into your roleplaying games.  I have devised three guidelines.  Then next week I will go over exactly what happened in our game in more detail.

 

Don’t Turn The Players Against Each Other

If you are giving out information to certain players and not others, you need to make sure you aren’t encouraging too antagonistic of a relationship between them.  In the end, this is the story of the player characters as a group, and creating a fracture that is too deep to mend will just ruin it.  Your goal with hidden information should be to help the player figure out how his individual goal provides him with an identity and how that identity relates to the group, whilst adding a bit of dramatic tension.  You want the other characters to wonder if they can trust the person who has the information without actually ever turning against them.  It is a delicate balance, and if you think it would hurt the group, do not do it.  If you think your group can handle it, then heed the second guideline.

 

Prepare Your Hidden Information Ahead Of Time

 

Writing notes back and forth constantly during a game slows it down.  It doesn’t breed any sort of intrigue for the other players, it just makes them bored.  If you have hidden information to give, prepare a sealed envelope ahead of time, or send it to them via email.  If the players see you give an envelope to one of them it will immediately make them curious as to what’s in the envelope, rather than make them wish you would just stop passing notes and get on with the game.

 

Try To Keep It Immersive

 

If one of your characters is secretly working for the Duke in his plot to usurp power from the king, and you hand them an envelope with a note that says something like, “The Duke has raised your potential reward and added an additional task: Deliver him the prince”, then you are not doing your game any favors.  The extra effort to put these notes in character is well worth it.  Compare the above with something like:

 

“You have proven useful thus far so I have upped the ante.  I have added 300 gold to the reward you will receive upon my coronation.  In return I need you to bring me the young prince.  Meet three of my men by the Queensroad Bridge three nights from now and deliver the boy.  Don’t disappoint me.”  -Duke Varenheim

 

If your players are receiving a note, then hand them the actual note, not a poor facsimile of it.  They will appreciate the effort.

That’s it for this week, a quick short one with a little bit of advice.  If you have used hidden information in your game I would love to hear about it.  You can contact me on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/npcaaron or email the show at thenpccast@gmail.com.

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