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