DMing 101 – Lies 2: Duplicity
Deception is rarely fun for everyone concerned. Ok, so the longer you can keep the grand reveal from your group the more incredible it may be, but in between there’s a long stretch of frustration because people prefer to know things than be kept in the dark.
Ah, but when someone is in on it, then things get more interesting. Bringing someone into the fold makes for an interesting dynamic, pitches the group against one another in the best possible way, and can make for a few rather interesting story moments that will leave your group exchanging dirty looks at one another for years to come.
My Terrible Secret
I’ve talked before about working together with your group to create their characters, offering guidelines that give you a starting point, or taking notes on their character flaws and quirks for later use. It’s a great way to build your story and help really bring your group into it, and it’s rarely a good idea to force your story onto your players… rarely, but not always.
There’s no reason you can’t offer your players a simple jumping off point, “What is your terrible secret?” and gather them before you start the game, or you can write down some terrible secrets and hand them out at random for the players to use while creating. For example, let’s go for a crime campaign:
Bribes – Blind eyes cost. A major crime syndicate has you deep in their pocket, but you have a price that anyone can pay.
Addiction – The job can take a lot from you, you’ve found a way to fill the gap it leaves behind.
Prejudice – You can’t help but judge people, it’s your job. So what if you’re sure you can make certain judgements on sight?
Vengeful – There’s a tragedy in your past that was never resolved, not properly. You joined the force to put things “right”.
Killer – You’re not so interested in serving and protecting, more avenging, and putting criminals in the one place they can’t escape.
Offering these prompts allows for flexible character creation while giving you some plot seeds to play with at a later date. The other alternative is to wait for your group to write their characters first, then ask for them to add a detail, but you should only use this if the detail does not drastically impact upon their character. Perhaps a player creates an academy graduate fast-tracked through the ranks, and enters the team as an overly enthusiastic youngster. Consider the asking the player to have made a deal with a corrupt politician to get them through the academy, or perhaps have them related to the focus of the investigation in some way.
Note Passing and The Other Room
The party will split, people will keep secrets, and will know unique things through whatever situations, be it a superior roll or just happening to be in the right place at the right time. It’s debatable how much this adds to a game, but it gives players something distinctive that can often help them identify with their characters more closely, and if these individual moments helps them to develop their character all the better.
Note passing is best used in moments when you can either prepare the right notes, a session that’s heavily scripted or one for which you have enough preparation time. If a note is quick and easy to write (or if you’re quick – I’m not) then it’s an easy way of sharing little details like the result of a perception test or some lurking feeling that steels over a player.
Taking a player into another room is one of the more enriching experiences, and it’s easier to do on the fly. If the player you remove will be interacting with NPCs it allows for dialogue, rather than plain exposition. It can give you the opportunity to offer challenges and tasks rather than simply telling them things. In short it’s actual role-play, and not story telling, which is always going to be the better choice.
The Grand Reveal
Timing can be difficult, especially when working with someone else on an awesome plot point, worse still if they don’t have a good poker-face. If you have the privilege of having another skilled DM in the group, make use of their expertise and their ability to play along because most of them will jump at the chance of duplicity and an awesome bit of role-play.
Revealing the big secret that you’ve been building is rarely as dramatic a pay-off that you think it will be, but don’t be disappointed. If cunning and underhanded is your play-style then your reward is the moments in between. Though it may lack somewhat in excellent timing, musical stings or melodrama, the reveal of the big secret will almost always be a talking point, and a story, and ultimately that’s what most of us are playing for, right?