Master Mines

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Revealing Secrets

Last one for the day, I promise!

*cross-posted from Story-games*

The most fun aspect about the game right now is character creation. Players take on the roles of people living on the street who’ve lost their identities and memories and gain them back through the course of the game. In the first phase of character creation, players invent who they are now; what they look like, what they do to survive, where they stay, what they have, any sicknesses, injuries, etc. They also each have a “Light at the End of the Tunnel,” a driving motivation for wanting to get out of the situation they’re in. Nothing is explained at this point, as that will come later. Here’s an example from a playtest:

Lady Grey

During the second phase, the character sheet is passed around along with a “Secrets Sheet.” Each player gets the secrets sheet and writes a sentence or two about that character’s past that explains something on the character sheet. Each time someone gets ahold of the sheet, they can either build upon what’s already written or start a new thread and work on that one. Again, here’s an example:

Lady Grey’s Secrets Sheet

As you can see, her mother was always pushing her into living a life of luxury, which explains her Light at the End of the Tunnel and how she dresses. All the other secrets explain what the player came up with in a similar way. One important thing to note is that the player of Lady Grey doesn’t see the secrets sheet. They get revealed in play.

I’m not looking for help with this part, because pretty much every time I’ve run the game everyone’s loved it. Not only does everyone want to play to find out what happened to their characters, but they have a lot of buy-in with everyone else’s characters. They want the other players to find out all the cool/f***ed up stuff they wrote in their backstory.

This brings me to my problem; how do the secrets get revealed? I’ve tried a couple of different methods, but I haven’t hit anything out of the park yet.

In the first incarnation of the rules, the GM was responsible for revealing the secrets when it became dramatically appropriate. Though this was the way that led to the most coherent storyline, it was frustrating for the players to have to wait for the GM to find out their own backstories. Also the GM is responsible for sitting on a ton of secrets (if there’s 5 players, there’s 25 secrets), which is a ton of stuff to keep track of.

In order to give the players more authority to get their own backstories, I let players buy revelations with XP. It sort of works to give the players more power to learn their backstories, but it completely screws up the coherence of the plot. Sometimes it makes sense for a secret to be revealed in the story but the player doesn’t have enough XP, and sometimes the player has the XP but buys it in a completely inappropriate time, making the revelation a lot less impactful than it could be.

I’m playing around with a couple incarnations of giving the other players at the table control of each other’s secrets…like someone has Lady Grey’s Secret Sheet and she has someone else’s, and the players are responsible for that player’s revelations, but I’m not convinced that’s the way to go. I want the players to get into exploring their own stories, and in my experience they can’t do that as much if they’re also worried about running someone else’s story.

My thought is that my answer lies somewhere in aggressive scene framing, focusing on one character at a time but still working the other characters in with a supporting role. Scene framing is a fairly new concept for me however, and I wanted to get some opinions from you guys so I can point myself in the right direction before I drop too much time into developing it.

Thanks guys!


January 28, 2008 - Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing


  1. Hi Jeff,

    I’m going to be blunt, please feel free to ignore me. I think you are flailing around a bit on who reveals secrets. It is an issue that I don’t understand why it seems so important. You could let anyone who wants to, get to reveal the secre. The players, the gamemaster, or some complicated scheme to share power could decide who gets to reveal the secrets. To me it doesn’t seem like any of those options will drastically effect the game.

    I’m curious if the tension isn’t so much about secrets as you wanting to decide whether to go with a traditional power share, or a stronger player power share typical of a lot of Indie games? You could do both. Look at Don’t Rest Your Head, it doesn’t talk about who narrates what, it just tells you what the dice mean. Of course if you go this route, please take the time to discuss the different options of who narrates and what they could mean for gameplay. I think that’s something Don’t Rest Your Head could have used rather than just being absent on the issue. It would have made it a more clear text.

    I think the real thing that is going to strongly affect play is who sets the scenes for the reveal phase, and when the remembering happens. Like I said at Dreamation I think the best way is to set a scene, hit the revelation and use that to create drama in the playing out of the scene. This let’s the player know what’s going on. Otherwise I think the scenes will be flat, as the player will be stumbling around not knowing how to react.

    Also did you notice the emergent behavior of our playtest? Players were actively trying to direct other players towards confronting their secrets. I think if this is common, aggressive scene framing might get in the way of this behavior. Also most games I’ve seen that use aggressive scene framing have a much stronger economy than what you presently have with KoN.

    I’m going to take a breath now.

    Comment by iamclyde | February 4, 2008 | Reply

  2. Part two:

    I think another issue you may want to look at is the authority players have over other players story. For instance in our playtest, I essentially established that Jeff’s character was a wife murderering drunken bastard. What if Jeff had a problem with that? Does the game allow him to tone down things he doesn’t like? If so the game will be safe– but it will be safe. Do you want the game to break like Dogs in the Vineyard if players can’t deal with the fiction the other players generate? If the last are you comfortable with the game tending to be a game about horrible people trying to come to terms with themselves. Is this the intent of the game?

    Comment by iamclyde | February 4, 2008 | Reply

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