Secrets, Rumors and Fast Setting Building

A bit more psyche stuff, but easily applicable to other games. Specifically, a way to tie high psyche characters into the mysteries of the universe without making them X-Men.

So, suppose that you, as a GM, sit down and write 10 secrets of the setting. And not wussy, academic secrets, but real, actionable secrets. So, not “The statues of Aegis Tor are sleeping giants” but “The Statues of Aegis Tor are sleeping giants and you know the names to call to waken them and what it means.”

Now, deal out a certain number of these to the first player. Let them make a note of it (you also note it), take the cards back, shuffle them, and deal some to the next player, repeating until you’ve gone through everyone.[1]

You can stop now, and if you do so, then proceed under the following assumption: Only the secrets known by a player are true. If you build your secrets interestingly enough[2], this can be enough to get you multiple different settings (effectively) out of the same base material.

Alternately, if you want to be consistent n your secrets, you now do the following. Rewrite your 10 secrets in mamby pamby style – purely informational with little to act on. Then write 10 false secrets in equally mamby pamby style[3]. Mix the two lists together and hand it to your players as the rumor list for a setting. They will recognize some as true from the secrets they know and they will know some are true from the cards they did not see, and what would have otherwise just been a bulleted list of forgettable stuff has transformed into textured information.

Now, while I frame this idea for more cosmic games, like Amber, LoGaS or Planescape, there is no reason it can’t scale down very easily to whatever game you want to play. With a little tweaking, it could work very well for a treasure hunt campaign (Pirates of Darkwater, etc.) depending upon how you frame the secrets.

And as a bonus, you could go really nuts and combine the two techniques – create a deck of 20 true secrets, but only use half of them every time you play. I admit, that has a certain appeal because that makes the con kit for this profoundly reusable, which is always a plus.

In fact, as I think about the con kit, I might actually reverse the order – give the one page of rumors out in advance (since it can be sent via email before a game, if the situation calls for it) and the cards can be done at the table.  Paired with, say, a one sheet summary of the setting, and I think you have enough to rope in players without inundating them.


  1. If you’re using psyche, hand more card to higher psyche characters. if not, just hand out an arbitrary amount.  ↩
  2. I’m pretty sure Mortal Coil would be a useful reference for how to build powerful secrets.  ↩
  3. Do this knowing that you are effectively handing out a list of plot hooks, so really think about the false ones and why they’re false. They should not just be dead ends – that’s super dull. Rather, the reasons they are false should be potential springboards to play.  ↩

10 thoughts on “Secrets, Rumors and Fast Setting Building

  1. Fred Hicks

    This has me haring off in a different direction, since you mentioned the Psyche thing: DRPGwise, how about ditching Psyche entirely, and replacing it with Secrets. Secrets as a stat would represent both the number of secrets you have access to (card quantity) and also how effective you are at leveraging the secrets you *do* know, when (and only when) their context applies. So, if you have a high Secrets and you know the Secrets of Trumps, you’re very effective in Trump combat. Maybe you’re only half as effective (using half the stat) if you don’t know the secret, on the notion that you can at least draw from your overall field of lore. This also provides decent justification for its use as a perception stat in a variety of circumstances.

    Reply
    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Oooh, true, you could totally funnel the secrets into categories (power, lore, personal). Could possibly even color code the cards.

      Reply
  2. Rob Donoghue Post author

    Oh, man, Fantastic corrollary idea from Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan on G+ – Incorporate drafting.

    So, for example, let’s say I make a 20 card deck and I have 4 players. I hand each player 5 cards. They keep 1 and past 4 to the left and repeat, until players have only one card (maybe 2) to pass, in which case, that card is discarded. Any card a player keeps is true (and they get the full skinny on), anything discarded is false. Every player will have a DEEP secret that no one else has even seen, and other secrets will have been seen to varying degrees, but without confidence if they’re true.

    Additional upside: False thing are seen by the most people.

    Potential downside: No shared secrets.

    Reply
    1. Fred Hicks

      If you can work in another passable card into the mix, you could make the last “passed” card a “this is the secret we share” action.

      Reply
        1. Gareth

          Possible complexity overkill, but –
          5 secrets per player.
          Round 1 – pick the secret only you know. No-one else gets to see this – it’s all yours.
          Round 2 – pick a secret to share. Put it aside for now – later on, you’ll share this with a player of your choice.
          Round 3 – pick your second secret. You’re the only one with the key to this secret, but other people have seen it, know its out there, and may even suspect you’re the one with it.
          Round 4 – pick a secret to discard. This secret doesn’t play a part in the game at all.
          Reveal the last card. These are secrets that can play a part in the game, but that no-one has the key to activate. (At least, no-one at the start of the game).
          Pick a player to share your shared secret with. (I’m not sure if you’d want to enforce equal sharing, or let the players sort themselves out. You could even have ‘booby-trap’ secrets – “you and I are soul-linked and when one dies, so does the other.”)

          Reply
    2. Dave Chalker

      It has me thinking about the card drafting mechanism from Citadels. If you start with a hand full of secrets with more than the number of players, hand them to one player who would be the most connected (or otherwise worldly aware.) That player selects one, hands the rest down, and so on. The last player picks one, and the rest are discarded and become false. So at one end of the spectrum you have one character who knows all the possibilities out there, but only one who definitely knows what is false.

      Reply
      1. Rob Donoghue Post author

        Oh, man, I need to think about this one. I love it, and need to figure out what it models.

        Reply
        1. Fred Hicks

          Folks on high who know what’s spoken of in secret inner sanctums and star chambers; folks on the street who know what’s bullshit.

          Reply
  3. Pingback: Episode #105 – The New GM and Moving Day » Misdirected Mark

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