Is the Secret in the Sauce?
In my last post, I discussed the importance of separating player knowledge from character knowledge; that is, how to avoid metagaming. OK. So, you have that well in hand, but how do you get your players secret information? Can you get secret information out without letting anyone else even know that you did? And, is any of this even needed? I’m glad you asked!
In this post I will talk about blue-booking, as well as about tools to help you use PK (Player Knowledge) against CK (Character Knowledge)! “But, Mentor!” I hear, ” what is this Blue-Book You speak of? Does it hold the Secret of Understanding?” Well, it holds the secret…
Blue Booking is a means of passing secret information to players. Somewhere in the dim history of our hobby, somebody had a blue notebook, that they passed to the ref with a pertinent query (such as how much gold did I get when I pick pocketed our fighter?) that they didn’t want the other players to know, and thus the term was born. It is one of the two simplest ways to pass secret info to players, and no, the book does not have to be blue, or even be a book. It can be a torn piece of notebook paper, scribbled with your question, folded and passed to the ref, who then either scribbles an answer or nods and eats it! The other way is the dreaded “You, come with me…” This is when the ref points at a character and takes them out of the room. (Of course, it might be a player pleading to go out of the room with the ref!)
Benefits of each…the player in question can carry on with secret shenanigans and the other characters are none the wiser…the players may be, but the characters aren’t…But, if the players know something is going on, aren’t they all going to try to make notice rolls and check their pouches, you ask?! As we went over before, that would be using Player knowledge where the Character has no way of knowing anything is amiss. Then why pass secrets this way, if you have an expert set of players who will NEVER EVER use player knowledge? Simple. Drama! Using these techniques may allow the players some clue that something is going on, but it also allows them the enjoyment of finding out what is going on through their character!.
However, to throw a bit of a monkey wrench into players perceptions (remember when I told you that you can change what a character perceives? This can also be done , to an extent to the players) by randomly handing a paper to another player with such a cryptic statement as, “enjoying the game?” or “you hear the wind!” That can be accomplished in a call out as well. “How bout them Bronco’s?” (they play football…) This will get the players either overly cautious, missing some of the more important things (You never saw the man run past with the bag of gold, as you were busy checking your pouches) or begin to ignore the exchange because it is none of their characters business!!!
If you can do this with a blue book, when would you take the time to actually do a call out and waste game time? Or, if it not a drama concern, and your players are good what is the benefit? What if you wanted a character to suffer amnesia. You could just blue-book her with “you have amnesia until I tell you otherwise.” OK, works, but…It also leaves a lot of questions. So if you take her out you can tell her what happened, if needed. You can have a back and forth about how much she still knows, if there is anything she needs to remember…You can pass all of the things you need to accomplish to meet your story goal! And, the players are in the main room, sweating into their nacho’s about how long you’ve been gone!
Here is a cool trick that works for particular settings. Say you have a group of players, that are pretty good at NOT metagaming, and you want one player to have a portentous dream that includes the other characters. Well, you could tell everyone that you want to do a dream sequence. Boring, but works. You could play it out, responding to the players constant questions of “how are we on a boat? We are not even by the sea?” by saying “you just are, OK?!” and then at the end…”HAHA! It was just a dream along! Back to regular game!” OK, that works. But what if you needed each of the players except the dreamer to relate some sort of clue? Answer: Blue-book! Give everyone a short list of instructions. All of them can get the…OK, this is a dream, go with it…but what if everyone but one player got that instruction. What if everyone, but that character was told to use a given phrase at least twice during the session? What if that persons instruction just said, there will be some weird things that happen, but your character should not notice them…See what we have done there?
How would you handle another odd situation: One player has been kidnapped and replaced by a Doppelganger. (what if the character is killed? You could run the whole combat as a call out or kidnap them, and then game in off time to see about them surviving the ordeal…) The Doppelganger knows some/most of what the character knows…Before you run something like this, you must trust that you Player can face a role-playing challenge. You will find that many people find it difficult to play their character slightly different…not in the bad day way, but a “now you are a hidden enemy that wants to eat the other players” way…
What other tools maybe available to you to pass the all important secrets. In a live game, most players have cell phones. You can text message each other! In an online game, usually you can whisper or isolate a single player to pass info to. What about email between game sessions? Great tool because you can detail significant info without taking game time! Also, you can do a lot of scheming in an out-of-game session! (Let me be clear…this is still game and takes in-game time, it just happens with a character or two rather than the whole party. It needs to have the time to happen between sessions, or it can get pretty awkward. Yes, I am planning a post about dealing with game time/real-time!) It doesn’t take a genius to work out these tools, but if you never think about it…it will never get thought of!