Hidden Secrets and Sidebars

Secrets, lies, hidden agendas – call it what you want, everyone likes to have a little something something about their character that is revealed over time. It’s fun to have a little secret about a past action, a connection or about an aspect of their identity. It can add a little tension to the play, and intrigue about a character that others will want to discover. 

It can be really fun.

It can deepen relationships and bonds as closeted information is shared with trusted allies. It can cause an interesting interaction between characters as the truth comes into the harsh light of day. 

Secrets can be really good tools. And you should totally have something that you would like to keep to yourself as long as you want, or able, depending on the PM. It can be like a game within a game.

…. at the start.

Yeah I said it. It’s unpopular with some but I’ve said it. Hold on to your secrets, love them, play them – but don’t be overly precious with them. I’m not saying force the issue, or play out of character – just don’t worry if they come out. It’s cool as a spectator to see but don’t let your secrets fester and get annoyed because they come out…

… and I have three solid reasons for it.

Firstly – NO ONE WILL KNOW HOW COOL YOUR CHARACTER IS IF YOU DON’T SHARE!!! How will I ever know the Lesken the Gnome Bard actually left his home town after killing his wife who was in bed with another gnome? How will I know that your host scammed old men out of their hard earned cash before you took possession of them? This stuff is cool!!! Those hidden details when discovered can explain so much, and as your friend I care about your creations. Let us share and bask in the full cool of your character (or run in fear, or fall in love with or decide we hate).

Secondly – You’re cheating yourself. You have done the hard work: let it flourish! These secrets often inform a lot about the actions of your character, but if other people find out, it can take your roleplay in a  whole new direction keeping it fresh and constantly evolving. I have seen people hold onto secrets like actual secrets and refuse to share. Afterwards we thought of cool things we could have explored IF only we knew – things could have been more interesting. By being too precious in guarding their secrets, we missed what would have been really cool.

Thirdly – (This is the one that is the one I’m most opinionated about and isn’t as pithily explained as the others). Headsets off and private sidebars. Oh boy.
As a player, it’s awesome to have a little one on one time with the PM, and cool to maintain that degree of secrecy, have a little bit of unique knowledge. It can keep that moment of an amazing reveal for the absolute right moment – and those moments can be the high point of a campaign. Those one on ones are sometimes down without headsets (online) or in a different room (home games).

But boy oh boy does it get boring for the other players at the table. SO BORING! and often it’s just not needed! We’re able to separate meta from non meta knowledge. it’s hard yes, but we can do it. And if you, as a PM are going from character to character doing separate things, fuck me twenty minutes with the headset off is boring as hell! Keep it short and to the point. It’s a group game and turning large sessions into solo play where the other players are being literally excluded can be awful. More so when it comes to online gaming.

Ah reet, well, lets tone it down a little.

Let’s provide my own counter points. Secrets are fun as hell. Holding onto them throughout a game can be an interesting twist. One on one sessions with DM is cool as hell. Revealing secrets in character rather than through meta can be one of those amazing ‘oh holy fuck’ moments that can be a real highlight of a campaign, a real… yeah oh holy fuck moment. A touching show of affection or a major plot twist. I LOVE discovering character’s secrets, lies and hidden agendas about them IN character. Someones, one on ones are the only way to maintain that.

And there is an alternative when you’re one of those players who are sitting out while another player is getting their moment to shine with their character. Sidebars! Online sidebars are conversations done in a separate chat channel that don’t impact the main thing going down.

Sidebars are a great alternative for those sitting at home too. Have a quiet chat between other characters – not necessarily in the ‘actual’ time but have a little moment between characters that might not normally be able to be played out – Thirsty and I once did this for nearly three hours! It was truly a highlight of that campaign as our brother and sister characters really spoke to one another.

Finally, one on ones can be really effectively when used sparingly – a devil’s bargain that affect’s the game given to a single player… boy from experience, that was the perfect demonstration of when to use a one on one / headsets off sidebar moment.

So what’s my generalized idea? (Yeah I wrote a long ass article and I’m about to boil it down into a few lines – bite me).

Secrets at the start of a campaign are actually really cool to have – keep them when it’s still interesting or pertinent too. You can play upon them, develop your own character based off of it and you can learn about each other. Reveals are cool to add drama and gasps. One on Ones as players can lead to some really interesting turns of events – just use those sparingly, make sure you’re willing to share those secrets and don’t worry if it gets revealed – it’s just part and parcel of living in a world – real or fictional.

Well, I’ll shut the fuck up now.

Drink up, time at the bar bitches.
– Blood, I can sometimes do non RP related chat…

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