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Old 01-23-2020, 03:14 PM   #1
Join Date: Oct 2010
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Default [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Secret and Secret Identity

Secret [-5 to -30] is a mundane social disadvantage. There is something in your past which you must keep hidden: if it is revealed, this disadvantage will vanish and be replaced by new lost advantages and/or disadvantages of twice the Secret’s value. This disadvantage appeared during the GURPS 3e period, but I’m not clear on just where.

The value of a Secret depends on the scale of the consequences: [-5] will cause considerable embarrassment, possibly causing loss of Reputation, Social Regard or Status, while [-30] is likely to turn into formidable enemies who want you dead. This is one of the disadvantages whose occurrence the GM can roll for before each game session, with a 6 or less on 3d indicating that it comes up, or can just decide on as suits the plot, as long as the frequency is about right.

A Secret coming up doesn’t mean it’s automatically revealed. You get a chance to do something about it, which might require submitting to blackmail, stealing something that could incriminate you, or even having to silence someone. However, dealing with a Secret will only be temporary, unless you buy it off with character points, or find a way within the setting to replace it with another disadvantage. Suppressing your Secret has plenty of potential to conflict with “noble” disadvantages, or even to acquire further Secrets; cover-ups can rapidly become worse than the original crime.

Secret Identity is a special form of Secret, which also appeared during the 3e period, possibly in Supers. It is the specific Secret of having a second identity, which you appear in for adventuring purposes, and is known only to close friends and family, at most. It is priced the same way as any other Secret, according to its consequence; threats to it usually come from someone who can publicise your real identity. It has one additional rule: if you have Status 3 or higher, threats to your Secret are more common (7 or less on 3d) and you get an extra [-10] for it.

A Secret may be incompatible with having Security Clearance, and a Secret Identity may well be illegal unless you have specific permission to hold one. Secret is a fairly common disadvantage on published character templates, especially on the Discworld, which has such odd ones as “Mime Artist” [‑30], “Running multiple rival cults” [‑10] and “Wiped out a whole village in a moment of excess energy” [‑30]. Boardroom and Curia extends the disadvantage to organisations, and adds “Trade Secret” [-5]. Dungeon Fantasy omits Secret as a social trait, but in Portal Realms, your very nature may be a Secret. Horror has lots of people with deadly secrets, and Madness Dossier adds nested secrets. The value of some Secrets is unavoidably setting-dependent: a Secret (Heretic) [‑10] in Hot Spots: Constantinople would be no more than a quirk in many societies today, while Secret (Homosexual) [‑5] in Hot Spots: Florence is worth far more in intolerant societies in the present day.

The Secret in Infinite Worlds is not a Secret in the usual sense, because it isn’t personal, and the people it has to be kept from mostly would not believe it without evidence, although ordinary Secrets can cause problems for Patrolmen. Locations: Worminghall has a fine collection of secrets, and Mysteries offers ways to acquire new ones. The Power-Ups series has perks and quirks that use Secret’s mechanics, and Psionic Campaigns has psionics as a Secret in its own right. Social Engineering deals with blackmail and socially required Secrets, and Ultra-Tech has people whose secret is that they’re artificial.

Many of the Secrets that characters of mine have had haven’t been on their character sheets. When all the PCs are MI5 psis, or monster hunters, there’s no real need to make it a Disadvantage. If you plan to take Secrets and buy them off, consider carefully how that will work. If a functioning society, suppressing criminal records that aren’t linked to you, without giving yourself away, is surprisingly hard.

How much trouble have Secrets caused in your games?
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Old 01-23-2020, 04:18 PM   #2
Join Date: Jun 2005
Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Secret and Secret Identity

While I have made use of these disadvantages, I've long felt, and still feel, that they may be worth too many points for what they require of the character who has them. The dice roll to have a secret come up is 6 or less. That works out to 5 chances in 54: about once a year with monthly sessions, or five times a year with weekly. So in the great majority of sessions the character who has a Secret won't be thinking about it at all.

I don't think the frequency should be greater, necessarily; having to protect your secret in three out of four sessions (12 or less) would tend to make the story be all about that one character, which gets old. But I wonder if maybe the point value ought to be reduced.
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Old 01-23-2020, 06:13 PM   #3
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Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Secret and Secret Identity

Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
Secret [-5 to -30]
How much trouble have Secrets caused in your games?
It was no real trouble for anyone else but one of my PCs once had to wear a long cloak all the time because he had Secret: Four Arms.

<shakes head> I did not help make that character.
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Old 01-23-2020, 06:27 PM   #4
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Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Secret and Secret Identity

What is the rules way to handle shallow or nonexistent identities?

I mean for people like crossworld travellers or In Nomine Celestials who didn't previously exist in the world and have no background or history unless they fake one.

This isn't Zeroed but rather the opposite problem where you want to have some kind of recorded identity because if you don't it causes problems. The price of this disadvantage would obviously vary depending on how well the fake identity holds up under scrutiny.

If you are from this world but are permanently living under a false identity is that a Secret Identity or just Secret (actually John Smith, wanted for murder)?
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Old 01-24-2020, 12:47 PM   #5
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Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Secret and Secret Identity

I've used Secret for PC's with a crime in their past, like an unsolved murder that will be traced to them.

I've suggested using secret for PC's with identities that will lead them to be attacked if discovered. I don't think I've ever played with them though.

I've used quirk level secrets to add flavor to PC's, especially in gritty games.

Secret Identity makes me think of a very specific brand of super-hero game.


When I see "secret" on someone's character sheet, I immediately ask myself the following:

Is this secret meant to become known?
How likely is the secret to become known in this genre?
Can the character continuing playing if the secret is triggered?

If the secret is likely to become known in the game without GM intervention, and will stop the character from being a character, I'll usually tell the player to find some other disadvantage.
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Old 01-24-2020, 05:09 PM   #6
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Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Secret and Secret Identity

I have a feeling that there are at least three or four sorts of secrets or secret identities, or perhaps at least three elements that may be compounded it them.

First, you have secret identities that are really just style. The Phantom isn't really an immortal/undead spook: he's a guy in a circus costume who has inherited a 400-year family tradition and a useful reputation. He is almost never restrained from doing something that would be useful tactically because it would reveal or risk his secret. He is almost never forced to divert tactically significant time, effort, or attention to maintaining his secret identity. It's just part of his character concept that his is a guy putting forward a long-term deception, not really a disadvantage at all. It can even be an Unusual Background, if the GM thought that the Phantom's fearsome reputation needed one.

Then you have secret and secret identities that impose tactical constraints. Circumstances arise in which it would be useful to the character to use his or her abilities in certain ways (e.g. infiltrating in mufti and then cutting loose with superpowers), and he or she will not, but contract with the GM, take them because it would reveal the secret [identity].

Then you have secrets (mostly secret identities, I suppose) that restrain the NPC opposition from employing tactics against the PC. "My character has family and a job and is vulnerable when he or she sleeps at night, but the villains will not outflank all my defences by attacking them or then. Here are ten character points to seal the bargain. The rationalisation is that my character's identity is secret."

And finally, but only I think in RPGs, you have the secret identity that is a gamble for extra character points. "I'm going to take an extra ten points to build my character on, gambling that I will get more out of using the abilities that I buy with them until secret gets revealed than I lose in the fallout of it being revealed." RPG designers tend to assume that this is the essential nature of a secret [identity], but in other media the writers tease that, but it is just an illusion.

I sometimes found in Champions campaigns that secret identities could be one of Those disadvantages (of which "hunter" or "enemy" is the best-known example), where one PC gets the character points but the whole team has to deal with the consequences.
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Old 01-24-2020, 05:37 PM   #7
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Default Re: [Basic] Disadvantage of the Week: Secret and Secret Identity

Originally Posted by Agemegos View Post
I sometimes found in Champions campaigns that secret identities could be one of Those disadvantages (of which "hunter" or "enemy" is the best-known example), where one PC gets the character points but the whole team has to deal with the consequences.
In the case of Secret Identity, of course, it helps a lot that in most superhero teams, most or all of the other characters will also have a Secret Identity, so it balances out. Depending on the game, the same can also be true of Enemy.
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