Secrets among players

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Secrets among players
« on: September 26, 2013, 02:26:10 PM »
So perhaps this is a dumb question, but I am trying to retool habits and expectations from the old days. I am loving the whatever-it-is, narrativist-forge-diaspora-third-wave-twentyfirst-century gaming thing, I don't know -- I love Apocalypse World and Fiasco anyway. But sometimes I am not sure about what modifications the new games intend to the social contract I'm used to.

So in the old days, when we had a lot of polyhedral dice instead of just 2d6, there was a lot of note-passing between the player and the GM. In the private pre-game backstory chat, there'd be, you know, "you look like a 2nd level cleric (or initiate of Yelmalio, whatever) but really you're a doppelganger (or ogre) here to kill the other party members". Things like that. So then you'd have a lot of note passing. "While everyone's asleep I try and steal the amulet." Good fun.

Apocalypse World has a whole different protocol for character creation -- everyone's in everyone else's business. Clearly the GM has some secrets, not just from the characters but also from the players -- the tension of Fronts comes partly from those countdown clocks being only gradually revealed, for instance. But the sense I get from the books is that a lot of the secrets between the characters are not secrets between the players. "So which character are you in love with?" "That's easy, Keeler". "Does Keeler know it?" "Oh no fucking way." Keeler's player is sitting right there, grinning.

The note-passing thing was, I take it, all about encouraging Actor stance -- close identification with the character. "Don't tell me anything my character doesn't know -- you're distracting me!" (Which my blurry and limited catch-up reading of RPG theory suggests is a Right To Dream thing, mainly?) A lot of AW seems to happen in Author and Director stance. "Oh cool, that will TOTALLY fuck with my character when she finds out!"

AW gives a bunch of directions which I take as telling me to not hide too much from the players. Things like tell what honesty demands, be generous with information, even the idea of NPCs with simple -- which implies obvious -- motives. Having the game be about the PCs' plans and actions and not about puzzling out the NPCs, right?

What about secrets between players? Is it just not the focus of the rulebook examples, or is it actively Considered Harmful? Is the idea just to broaden the range of stances and techniques, or is it really to encourage "open" and discourage "closed" play?

Let's say the rival hardholder wants to recruit one of the PCs as his spy. Is it encouraged to do this right out in front of the other players, because it's part of the Story they're all Now-ing together? Or is it cool to have a whole subterranean story of backchannel negotiations in intersession email and note-passing that only erupts later into the Big Reveal when one character springs a surprise on the others?

I'm not worried about the social contract itself, mind you -- I'm reasonably confident that the other players will be delighted with the surprise. But I do want to play the game the way it was intended, not just to lazily drift back into old habits.


Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2013, 05:59:45 PM »
Great questions/conversation.  Looking forward to hearing folks' thoughts.

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Scrape

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Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2013, 07:22:25 PM »
I don't see any reason why you can't use both techniques. My group does, and it works just fine for us. Occasionally I'll flat-out say "okay Savvyhead, so you're gonna have the kids steal those guns from the Hocus? And you're not telling him, right?" And sometimes a player will email me like "I'm gonna ask the kids to steal the guns and tell the Hocus they lost them." Both methods work.

I think the unspoken rule at my table is: is it fun to keep this a secret? If finding out the guns were stolen will make the Hocus' player feel betrayed and fucked-over, we don't keep it a secret. We say it out in the open. But if we think that finding out the secret will make the player feel surprised and forced to think on their feet in a fun way, maybe we keep it secret.

I don't think there's a hive mechanical difference. To me, it's all about player expectation and fun. Sometimes it's fun to be all "hahaha, my character has NO IDEA that this is an ambush, this is gonna be hilarious" and sometimes it's like "NO WAY GUYS, I worked so hard for this and you screwed me over, this sucks." It depends on the player and the group.

Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2013, 01:53:33 AM »
I've noticed that in online games, its almost universal that character sheets are completely open. This is good because there's a lot of Moves that encourage some type of interaction. I'm in favor of openness between players. The system is much less about rewarding an "achieve your goals at all costs" stance, so I've found it much more likely that players will appreciate a little rivalry and play along.

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Arvid

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Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2013, 07:32:11 AM »
I'm going to widen the perspective a little, seeing as a similar-but-not-quite-question just popped up on another board:

For me, the first priority is trust. So, the first thing I do is make clear to the players that they have  control over whether their characters live or die (that 6-harm  clock plus debilities goes a long, long way), that I do not have a story planned out but I am interested in seeing their characters and seeing them shine, and that I'm going to be transparent with them. Being completely open with information is a part of that, asking provocative questions and building on the answers is a good way of doing that. Such as "Hey Hardholder, if you found the Quarantine's hoard of pre-apocalypse wonders, how would you spend that?" "Savvyhead, how is that anti-brainer gear going?" and so on.

First and foremost, this communicates to the players that I'm a fan of their characters, and that I want us to play to find out what happens. I'm not going to play gotcha or adapt the GM role of providing adversary or obstacles to all their initiatives. I want to see them do awesome stuff!

Second of all, this communicates to the players that they can mess with another player and it can be a gift to that player, an offer to build on. Like, we're going to play to find out what happens, yeah? The important thing is not what you figure out, but what you do with it. The important thing is not if you win or lose, but what you do with it. Your character can be awesome and interesting as a winner and also awesome and interesting as a loser.

Once you got the trust foundation down, once it's clear that the players and  the MC is a team and not a rivalry, you can start playing hardball with each other, setting up ambushes and fucking each other over. And keeping secrets and being delighted in being set up by these secrets, if you want. We do it all transparent, though.

This game I went through expectations on the game, a sort of contract before playing. I asked the players what they think we should consider as our goal for our roleplaying, what is good roleplaying, and through discussion we settled on:

* Keep the tempo flowing, be accepting and curious in what is dealt to you and go with it
* Yes-and other players' contributions and build on them
* Try to make all your contributions as offers to other players to yes-and and build on
* Play boldly according to your characters ambitions, don't hold back


What a great gift/offer from my players! This communicated very clearly to me that the players where interested in playing their characters ambitions truly, even when they clashed, and to let these ambitions clash with each other. And it communicated clearly to the players that this is okay, and that we're in this together. This was something we decided together. That's trust.

One thing I'm thinking about trying this game is asking the players straight up "How do you think this fight will end?" if two characters get into a fight, and then go straight to just that happening, no rolls. To really build a sense that they are in control of the story, that I am not going to try to "get" anyone of them but to be fair and to be fan.

So build trust, and remember: Trust isn't built by words, but with actions. Don't just tell the players to trust you, instead start trusting them.
« Last Edit: September 27, 2013, 07:44:33 AM by Arvid »

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noclue

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Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2013, 11:15:15 PM »
I hate big reveals and secrets between players with the blinding heat of a thousand exploding suns, so I want the game to say no player secrets. I'm not sure that Apocalypse World addresses this point directly though. The only thing I see is that it describes roleplaying as a conversation where players talk to one another, going back and forth, but it doesn't mention passing secret notes or having side conversations. That may just be my personal bias though.
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
     --HERBERT SPENCER

Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #6 on: September 30, 2013, 09:16:32 AM »
noclue, can you articulate what you hate about them with the blinding heat of a thousand exploding suns? I mean, is it about social contract, or stance, or what?

If you hate them because in your experience players get pissed off at each other, feel cheated, hold grudges about it, start playing more cautiously because they don't know what's going on -- that is, because you've seen people try player-level secrets in a situation where the social contract didn't allow for same -- that's one thing.

If you hate them even if all the players are delightedly jazzed about the Big Reveal -- "oh awesome, I never saw that coming!" -- that's a different thing, right?

I'd be curious in hearing the reasons, especially in the latter case, unpacked.

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noclue

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Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #7 on: September 30, 2013, 11:39:40 AM »
Oh geez, how do I hate them? Lt me count the ways...

Just kidding. But seriously, interplayer angst is one reason, but there are others. The big reveal is rarely as wonderful experience as it is often portrayed. I'm usually left feeling like a big portion of the game was played without me, often the best part of the game. Plus, how likely is it that you are going to guess what kind of surprise I will most like? I also don't enjoy the odd social dynamic, where your surprise trumps my plans without my input. I would much rather have a hand in everything, including my own undoing.

To see player secrets done in a way that I like, see The Mountain switch.
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
     --HERBERT SPENCER

Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #8 on: October 01, 2013, 12:14:57 PM »
I'm getting no Google love on "The Mountain switch". Can you explain the reference?

I'm finding this conversation helpful. It feels like there are some constraints and parameters that can make this work better or worse. One, to keep the secrets relatively simple -- so that you avoid the sense of a whole underground game played without someone. Two, to make the reveal not like a planned storyline but like a threat or a countdown -- this thing is happening, in the fiction offstage, and the other players could find out about it or not, stop it or not, depending, and the outcome is unpredictabel to anyone, without there being some set piece you're working towards. In this sense, the "secret" is just another piece of "offstage prep", like a front, which you happen to be collaborating with one of the players on (the player has a piece of MC responsibility, in other words). Another is that you are not misleading or deceiving anyone -- that you are "saying what honesty demands". Thus, you aren't necessarily revealing the content of your offstage prep -- you're not running through all your fronts with the players -- but they know there is offstage prep, that there are threats on the horizon and that it's the MC's job to know about them. If you share that job, therefore, by collaborating on a Threat with another player, involving their character, the fact that you're doing so should be transparent.

So, for instance, if a player takes the move to create another character, and the second character shows up and is mysterious and has been gone for a while, the others knew them as a kid but in the meantime clearly Stuff Has Happened with them, and you're basically very explicitly telegraphing that Things Are Not What They Seem and that there's more to be discovered about this new secondary character... then you are concealing the content of the secrets (what's this new character's deal? who are they really working for?) but not the fact of there being secrets (this character clearly has some secrets).

And the surprise clearly shouldn't trump the plan; the fact that it is offstage shouldn't make it narratively superior. Your public plan should be just as likely to screw up the private secret as visa versa. The secret shouldn't be something that gives anyone narrative leverage or more agency in controlling the outcomes. It should be there for flavor, not as a way of getting an upper hand....

?

Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #9 on: October 01, 2013, 12:59:28 PM »

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noclue

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Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #10 on: October 01, 2013, 08:34:25 PM »
Heh, teach me to type on my iPhone ;)

Secrets are rarely surprise ice cream! What's the last big reveal you pulled on your fellow players?

The Mountain Witch gives great secret. The players are ronin, traveling up Mt. Fuji to kill the Mountain Witch, but each of them has a dark secret. I've seen games end with bloody duels and betrayal, leaving all the PCs beheaded or disemboweled. It's awesome!

But there's a couple things that make it work in TMW. First, everyone knows you have a hidden secret. Second, the point of play leading up to the final altercation is to foreshadow those secrets so they start entering play. Players are constantly looking for ways to reveal a little of what's hidden. Players are always trying to guess what nastiness the other player is trying to foreshadow.

So, it's not look how special I am with my surprise assassination. Betcha didn't see that coming! Whabam! It's more, let me show you that something deadly and momentous is coming, let me show you again, and again...do you see it yet? Can you see why it must be this way?

But TMW is all about playing with trust and honor. It's not a game about surprising anyone.
« Last Edit: October 01, 2013, 08:48:36 PM by noclue »
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
     --HERBERT SPENCER

Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #11 on: October 02, 2013, 07:24:32 AM »

One thing about TMW, is that while the individual secrets are indeed unknown, the fact that there are secrets at all is not only explicitly acknowledged but is in fact a core focus of the game.

This would be my approach to secrets in Apocalypse World as well. It's fine to have secret plans, but the fact that you have secret plans should be clear to the other players. And probably to the other characters, if they make an effort to pay attention. This leaves it in the hands of the players whether or not they want to let the surprise come to them, or try and defuse or meet it halfway, or plot out their own counter-surprise, or whatever. Anticipation is only going to make the surprise sweeter, for those who enjoy surprises; for those who don't, it will reduce the likelihood of a truly shocking blindside.

Of course this is not the same thing as saying that secret plans can be easily revealed; only that they should always at least be available for investigation.

You must after all consider what moves exist in the game. I can at any time have my PC Open Her Brain and get arbitrary information about anything relevant -- which would presumably include hints or visions concerning any secret plans my fellow-PCs are making. If we are being fans of each others' characters, I think that's exactly the sort of agency we want to extend to them -- especially when those moves will inevitably snowball in entertaining ways.


Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #12 on: October 02, 2013, 11:13:07 AM »
So something like this then:

When you tell the MC a secret, off-table, that creates fictional positioning, you are taking on some of the MC's responsibility for creating offscreen fronts, and you must be guided by the MC's agenda and principles. Your secret must make Apocalypse World seem real to the other players; your secret must make the other players' characters' lives not boring; and what happens with your secret is determined by everyone's play. In making your secret, be a fan of the other players' characters (have your secret give them a chance to be awesome), and disclaim decision-making for how things turn out.

Everyone should know that there is a secret, even if they don't know what it is.


Re: Secrets among players
« Reply #13 on: October 02, 2013, 09:42:54 PM »

I don't think you need to put it on the players, though that may make sense in your group -- but you're the one who decides if something is secret or not. You frame the scenes, etc. No amount of passed notes or sent emails is going to stop you from simply describing, as MC, what is going on -- or asking the secretive PC questions about their plans in front of the other players, just as you would for any other action their PC was taking. So it's entirely possible for you to decide, following your (MC) Principles, whether or not or to what degree something is going to be a secret.

Then again, if this is a major difference from how the group normally plays, etc., formalizing it may indeed be a good idea.