The beauty in secrets & the serendipity of the reveal!

inspiration
playthrough
story

#1

So, I have been playing online with some fellow lumpy heads for a while… almost 2 years at this point i think. Anyhow, we have chosen to take a little break from ICRPG for a little bit and go back to 5e to check out a published campaign since @Wildstar was kind enough to buy and run the Icewind Dale campaign that came out recently. One reason it is great to play different game rulesets and even delve into published material (taboo for many in our community, i know, since we are all about DIY) is because it gives you little flecks of polish from time to time and may inspire you to include fun new quirks to let your players really help bring the world to life.

Now i do want to preface this by saying there are very minor spoilers for Rime of the Frostmaiden to follow so if you are currently playing in the campaign, or want to remain spoiler free, continue at your own peril.

Now i know that having each player create a secret/ roll for a random secret isnt anything new. but this was the first time that it was implemented in a game that i had the pleasure of being a player in. for our campaign every player rolled to get a random secret for their character, to be revealed somewhere along the campaign.

I personally rolled that my character was killed in the woods, and a kindly druid had reincarnated me. this seemed cool or whatever, i rolled on the reincarnation chart to see what race my character was before they died and i rolled elf. at our session zero we all talked and came up with our concepts together at the Virtual table.

One of my fellow party members (@Kevlar004) chose to make an elf druid, which resonated with me… after all, my character was an elf before he was reincarnated as a halfling, and so i felt like i could make a bond there. i decided i would be related to that character in some way… but how?

I ended up going with a Fey Pact Warlock since our group talked about choosing all sort of nature-y classes to build a strong cohesive theme in the eternal winter of the campaign. I naturally chose Oberon the Fey lord of the Summer court to be my patron. I worked with my GM and decided i made my pact with him because i was dying and desperate for salvation, he offered me life, in return for service to try to end the eternal winter plaguing the Icewind Dale. Though, the Fey being Capricious as hell, he actually let me die, and cast reincarnate on me as a bit of whimsy to liven things up.

I took the Charlatan Background, citing that my character wanted to keep his true identity secret, and keep his ties with his patron on the Down Low, and thus Alton Barleybrew was born… I went into such great detail on this to set up just how beautifully all of these choices fit with the events to come.

As i had mentioned the other player chose an elf druid, by the name of Bianca, and i knew i was going to be related to her in some fashion, but left it blurry on exactly how that would happen. During the first few sessions Kev had mentioned that his character lived with her mother her entire life and didn’t really know her dad… Bingo, now i am dad, so i let all these little hints drop, acting fatherly, being nice, offering aid, etc. Eventually we ended up in our home town (Goodmead) to investigate the murder of a prominent person.

Here is where things go sideways… During a long rest we were attacked by a bear and my newly decided daughter was struck down. Between me, the player controlling Bianca, and another party member 9 rolls were made…6 medicine checks and 3 death rolls. all 9 rolls were failures and our druid was no more. a terribly sad moment in any case, made all the more depressing by our secrets. Then, as my warlock was weeping over assumingly my dead daughter, her skin started to change… revealing she was a Doppelganger the entire time!

At this moment two player secrets were revealed, one through a character death, and the other roleplayed as the heart breaking of a father, thinking he finally found his daughter and was then made to watch her die, only to realize she may still be lost out in the world somewhere. It was a powerful moment at the table, and after getting the roleplay finished the session ended early, and we just set up the events to start off our next session.

Sorry for the extremely verbose way of spelling out all of the minute details of this single session of a game, but that is how powerfully it affected me. All of these little bits seemed to fall into place including all of the failed rolls and the fact that we had returned to our home town. it was eerie.

TLDR; Don’t handwave away published material just because it isn’t DIY, and DEFINITELY use secrets/ little bits of intrigue your players can use to deepen the relationships between the PCs


#2

That was thrilling! Soooo coool! Must have been epic being there, congratz to your party haha

My BIGGETS gripe with published material (specifically 5e) is that it usually is incredibly boring. I’ve run Barrowmaze, veins of the earth and Dead Planet (for MOTHERSHIP) and those are amazing modules, can’t say the same for things like Strhad and Storm King’s Thunder.

I’m recently liking wildemount as I read more, but I DO refuse to play 5e again tho, the way the system is designed around mathemtical balance gives me nightmares when I GM it. Would rather “convert” the nodules to Shadow of the Demon Lord or ICRPG, which kinda self-defeats the purpouse of a module in the first place lol


#3

These are all 100% fair critiques and I agree with you, the attempt at mathematical balance in 5e sucks for GMs. that is why i only engage in 5e as a player anymore lol. I also, agree that there are many published modules out there that are rather milquetoast, derivative, or just plain old boring. I’m sure there are parts of this Icewind Dale game that are relatively boring, but thankfully the DM is part of this community of lumpy heads as well as all of the players, so we know how to dress it up, make it more interesting, and let the whole experience be about shared story telling and fun, instead of the “well my numbers are bigger than your numbers, so you lose” narrative that seems to thrive in the 5e community.

My intent with this post was mainly that at first glance it is easy to just dismiss all of this content published for other game systems because there ARE so many bad examples of simple cash grab books, but if you keep the beginners mindset and look to learn something from every experience, you can sometimes squeeze out a little nugget of gold from an unexpected source :slight_smile:


#4

Another thing to note is that the encounter could have been simply, “A bear attacks, you kill the bear but one of your party dies.” It wasn’t the published material or the adventure itself that made the encounter special, but rather the players who ran with an evolving story-line and a GM willing to let the party and the dice do a little dance. With another group, this could have been just another in a long line of “kills” to gain loot and/or xp.


#5

I’m not sure how I would feel about another player strong-arming my character’s backstory like that.

“Luke, I’m your father.”
“Wait. What?”
“Yeah, turns out, I’m your long lost dad. All this time …”
“Uh, we just met in a bar back there, so …”
“No really. I’ve been dropping all these fatherly hints.”

Cool if you two agreed in advance. Probably not cool if you just spring that on people. It might work with a certain group, but I think you have to be careful if you unilaterally insert yourself in another character’s past. You could just as easily tick people off.


#6

Speaking as another player/witness to this scenerio, I think this is the key to all this working out the way that it has. I think a level of trust has developed within the group in our short time together to allow this sort of creativity to happen. I also absolutely agree that people should be cautious in doing it and shouldn’t do it lightly.


#7

I am all for the improv method of “yes… and…” and building on what other players give you. I am urging caution only because another person’s backstory is one of those areas that can be a big deal.

For one or my all time favorite characters, Gilsunder, I wrote: “on a quest to find his brother’s killer.” It was my hope that, during the campaign, I would find out through the course of events who the killer was and bring him to justice. If during the game, one of the players went “As it turns out, I am your brother’s killer!” or worse, “As it turns out, I am your long lost brother, I wasn’t dead at all,” I wouldn’t be a happy camper.

For sure, having trust with a group is super important. The OP’s point was that intra-party secrets can be awesome (sounds like it was here), but I still think for a lot of folks, it’s sound advice to be careful when your secret impacts another PC’s backstory.

To me, the solution is always a simple check-in:
“Hey, are you cool if my character is your character’s dad?” and then seeing how it plays out in the game.


#8

This is definitely a good point, and I feel like it could certainly be taken in a negative way by the other player involved, though I wouldn’t have done this had it been in a group I am relatively new to. In this particular case I have been gaming with kev for almost two years I think, and across multiple long running campaigns. What with the history of playing alongside him for so long, and observing his role play style I felt comfortably confident that he wouldn’t take offense to my ideas.

Again, I agree your concerns are warranted, and are good advice in general, but with the group I was working with it felt right, also I had been working with the GM about building this reveal for several sessions, so if there were anything in the works that my backstory would interfere with I was certain he would have guided me away from it or suggested I go another route without spoiling too much of the reason why. I know the way I describe it in the quote you selected from the original post may come off as brash, crude, unconcerned, or hastily chosen, but the word choice was more for the entertainment value of the post and hoping to make it a little more fun to read. In the actuality of the choice, I took great consideration and time to try to make it something meaningful, while also trying to share the spotlight with other players.

Lastly, as I do with every session zero, I brought up to the group that i 100% believe everything in the game should be collaborative and open and honest communication fosters a space that makes that possible. I set the expectation right away that if anyone is uncomfortable with anything from my role play style, to the decisions I make in/ out of character, or even my choice of language (I tend to swear a lot without realizing it) to let me know and I would be happy to come to a compromise with them about it.

In actuality, @Alex, I feel like I partially owe you and the other lumpy heads a thanks in this department for many of the discussions here on the forums and on the discord have helped me to set those expectations and at least try to foster that atmosphere of trust and collaboration both in session zeroes and in tribunals/ regular check ins with the group.