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Old 06-24-2018, 04:13 PM   #1
artichoke
 
Join Date: Jun 2018
Default The Secrets disadvantage

This topic is intended to discuss anything related to this mechanic. It is intended to be rather open-ended. In that vein, I have some questions and ponderables:

Does the mechanic give a player too much control over part of the narrative?

• "Secrets come up again and again until they're exposed or bought out" (paraphrase)

• "If the player feels the secret should come into play, it does" (paraphrase)

• The effect must be immediate, so it has an immediate narrative impact

• The effect must also be double the strength, in build points terms — suggesting that the reveal is going to be a big deal in the narrative

The secrets-as-patrons version does seem to be easy enough to integrate into the narrative. The "disadvantage reveal" version also seems to be easier to integrate. If, for instance, a PC has a secret drug addiction, the reveal could be that the PC has gone blind from contamination in the illicit drug she/he has been using.

Of course, one of the things that many advocate, including me, is to give the spotlight to different PCs at different times, generally — instead of trying to have everyone share it constantly (which leads the game down the path of making everyone roughly the same PC — by chasing the goal of perfect balance, aka perfect uniformity/dullness). It could be, though, tough to balance multiple secrets, especially since players can say they come into play, on-demand. The secrets mechanic could be a way for a player who feels underutilized to grab the spotlight, which could be good, neutral, or bad — depending.

It says the GM can restrict or ban secrets (either specific ones or the whole mechanic) for being too disruptive — but that's true of anything. It does, though, imply that they are inclined to be. Otherwise, why state it?

The GM appears to face contrary incentives, which factors into the narrative timing and more:

A) The first is to make the time bomb blow up, so the player isn't gaming the system (in terms of the points buy). Even if the GM doesn't think that's the case, the GM may face pressure from other players over the build points — especially if the secret roll is rolled in a manner that shows the other players that someone at the table has an unexposed secret.

I anticipate that a response might be to assume good intent on the part of the players but I'm not sure that really applies enough here, since we're talking about a basic points buy mechanism. Players tend to be competitive about character optimization which is why so many specific rules are in place about it, like a cap of the number of perks.

B) The flip side to A is to not annoy the player by blowing up the bomb before the player has had the chance to diffuse it (by paying for it in earned XP). Players can love their GM a whole bunch but that doesn't mean they won't feel something. If the time bomb blows up the first session or two it could feel more punitive, too (or less, depending on the emotional investment).

C) The way the story seems to be going and the player interjecting their secret, especially one that is very severe — or the secret coming out even without the player wanting it to come into play. For instance, the GM rolls at the start of the session. If a player's secret comes out then, due to that roll, then there would be, potentially, a huge shift in focus from whatever was happening and whatever the GM had prepared. This could be an issue for GMs who have more difficulty with a high level of ad-libbing. I suppose the GM could postpone the outcome, even though the description says immediately.

The secrets mechanism seems to enable a player to get a more powerful character up-front by taking the risk that the GM will blow up the time bomb and create a lot of pain (a doubling of the severity of the disadvantage, as it is prior to the explosion).

While flavorful, it seems like it might be very swingy. Either the pain is replaced with what could be seen as a bonus (the player gets to buy off the points later, after having taken advantage of having a stronger player prior) or it is very bad (a doubling of the disadvantage's severity). Of course, how swingy it is depends on the level of secret taken.

It's true that the GM can use the random roll mechanic (at the start of the session) to reduce the pressure to refrain from blowing up the secret until the player has, at least, enough earned XP to buy it out. However, since GMs can fiat anything, and players know that, the pressure level seems like it can be unclear. GMs could announce, prior to the campaign beginning, that secrets rolls will be done openly and will not be subject to fudge or delay of any kind. That seems like a good idea to me at this point. Of course, it also tells the table that one or more PCs has a secret — which makes it less secret.

A situation might cause more than one PC's secret to be revealed. I wonder how ugly that could get, given the immediateness of the result. What if the secret revelations would normally take the party in two very different directions? I suppose the GM would have to think about the possibilities for each session, prior to playing them. Of course, it could be fun to have this kind of tension/drama.

I wonder if this mechanic might work better, for a less swingy and/or specific PC-dominated goal, outside of the disadvantages system. Have each player choose a secret for their PCs, with the table deciding how severe the secrets should be (each PC having the same level severity). Doing it this way takes away the points buy issue and makes it so that revealing the secret or buying it out isn't required (it doesn't have to come up again and again and there are no build points involved). It means the narrative can flow without the player interjecting their secret on-demand. The GM might find that most of them never come into play, depending on how the story flows. Of course, there probably should be a way to balance the disadvantageous nature of many secrets or players's PCs that are penalized in play for their secret coming out, while other PCs may not have that happen could be seen as unfairly hindered. Some players won't find this negative but some could. One way to deal with this is for the secrets to have benefits, including when exposed. For instance, if a princess has a secret that she's really a commoner, that might make her seem better to the public, in a certain context, when it's revealed. The drawback could even be just as bad as the positive, depending on the context she is in — making the secret rather neutral. E.g. — she could have been blackmailed into doing something distasteful prior. If no build points are used, this seems like it would be the best outcome for most groups/players. For those who don't worry so much about "fairness", though, the randomness of having mostly, or even totally, negative secrets come out whenever, or not at all, would be seen as positive. A swingy effect can also be more memorable. No risk, no reward. In the points buy version, a secret would have to have a negative overall impact, one double the initial points value.

I actually enjoyed playing a multiplayer Time Bomb type 1 deck back when I used to play MtG, even though it was a very poorly optimized card. Some players couldn't understand why I chose to play with suboptimal cards and complained about me using broken cards in the same deck to try to make it more balanced. Sometimes swinginess is more fun than clinical optimization. Sometimes the goal is to embrace the randomness rather than "win". (Sometimes winning can mean making a "useless" mechanic into one that wins sometimes, even if not often.) I get all that. That's one of the reasons I am interested in this mechanic.

Note that I am not answering any of these questions in this post. I am merely interested in various viewpoints on the subject. I am just pondering this mechanic at this point. I have not invested a huge amount of time into analyzing it.

• Has anyone else thought much on it and/or used it in their campaigns?

• Do you feel the outcome of an exposed secret is typically worth the temporary advantage of having more upfront build points — always or just with a certain level of upfront severity?

• If you have dealt with it as a player and as a GM, is there a difference in how you feel about the mechanic, dependent on your role?

http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/Rolepla...1/Secrets.html

Last edited by artichoke; 06-24-2018 at 04:26 PM. Reason: Finished unfinished sentence and aside in MtG paragraph. Misspelled words.
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Old 06-24-2018, 04:49 PM   #2
whswhs
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Default Re: The Secrets disadvantage

I don't think I've encountered any of those problems. I haven't had much trouble with players gaming the system; the worst case of it was not in GURPS at all. In general I do assume good intent on the part of the players.

The thing I find a problem about Secret is the roll to see if it comes up. I really find that too rigid for my GMing style. Instead I go for a rough frequency approach: 15 or less is effectively every session, 12 or less is the great majority, 9 or less is maybe every third session, 6 or less is around one session a year (given monthly sessions). So a secret comes up maybe in one session a year.

As I read Secret, having it come up doesn't mean that it's revealed; it means that having it revealed becomes a threat, and the PC has to do something to cover it up.

By the way, the sentence "If he thinks that the Secret should come into play, it does!" does not refer to the player, but to the GM, as the preceding sentence reads, "the GM need not feel constrained by the appearance roll." So this is not something that gives the player control of the narrative.
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Old 06-24-2018, 05:45 PM   #3
AlexanderHowl
 
Join Date: Feb 2016
Default Re: The Secrets disadvantage

The GM controls the Secret, not the player. If a Secret comes up, that means that the character must deal with the situation. Sometimes that means discrediting the person who knows the Secret and sometimes that means killing the person who knows the Secret.
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Old 06-24-2018, 06:03 PM   #4
David Johnston2
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Default Re: The Secrets disadvantage

Quote:
Originally Posted by artichoke View Post
This topic is intended to discuss anything related to this mechanic. It is intended to be rather open-ended. In that vein, I have some questions and ponderables:

Does the mechanic give a player too much control over part of the narrative?

• "Secrets come up again and again until they're exposed or bought out" (paraphrase)

• "If the player feels the secret should come into play, it does" (paraphrase)
Nope. If the GM feels the secret should come into play it does. While a player can always deliberately put himself in danger of exposure, I have never seen a player be eager to. Nor would it be good roleplaying since fear of the consequences of exposure is the primary driver for the disadvantage. If the character didn't fear the consequences, he wouldn't have a Secret, he'd have the disadvantages that come from its exposure.

Quote:
• The effect must be immediate, so it has an immediate narrative impact
But only of course if you fail to pay the blackmail/kill the nosy neighbour/throw the cop off your trail/steal the negatives or whatever other opportunity the situation to avoid or delay everyone finding out the Secret.

Quote:
• The effect must also be double the strength, in build points terms — suggesting that the reveal is going to be a big deal in the narrative

The secrets-as-patrons version does seem to be easy enough to integrate into the narrative. The "disadvantage reveal" version also seems to be easier to integrate. If, for instance, a PC has a secret drug addiction, the reveal could be that the PC has gone blind from contamination in the illicit drug she/he has been using.
Nope. Going blind is not a plausible consequence of people finding out that you are a drug addict. Losing your job and your reputation, gaining a Social Stigma, going to prison (or at least rehab), those are the plausible outcomes. Mind you going temporarily blind as a result of your drug addiction (which is a disadvantage in its own right) might be the latest thing to threaten its revelation.


Quote:
It says the GM can restrict or ban secrets (either specific ones or the whole mechanic) for being too disruptive — but that's true of anything. It does, though, imply that they are inclined to be. Otherwise, why state it?
Nope. There is no such statement in the writeup for Secret.

Quote:
The GM appears to face contrary incentives, which factors into the narrative timing and more:

A) The first is to make the time bomb blow up, so the player isn't gaming the system (in terms of the points buy). Even if the GM doesn't think that's the case, the GM may face pressure from other players over the build points — especially if the secret roll is rolled in a manner that shows the other players that someone at the table has an unexposed secret.
Nope. There is no good reason to ever "make" the time bomb blow up. Actually a Secret is not really a time bomb at all. It's a minefield. The GM is obligated to inform the player (and the character) that the Secret is in danger and allow any reasonable way of delaying the revelation by paying the blackmail, getting someone else to dress up as Batman while you have an alibi, killing the nosy neighbour...whatever. The point of the Secret is not the revelation, which in the case of the 20 point Secrets will probably remove the character entirely from the campaign, Rather Secrets are problem generators. Really a Secret is a fill-in-the-blank Enemy. This time the enemy is a cop. The next week the time will be your girlfriend...although the problem may be resolved just by convincing her that if she loves you she should keep your Secret. In any Secrets are NOT free points even if they are never revealed, and there a plethora of fictional examples where the final revelation of the Secret would destroy the character, so it never happens.
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Old 06-24-2018, 06:24 PM   #5
talonthehand
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: LFK
Default Re: The Secrets disadvantage

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Johnston2 View Post
While a player can always deliberately put himself in danger of exposure, I have never seen a player be eager to. Nor would it be good roleplaying since fear of the consequences of exposure is the primary driver for the disadvantage. If the character didn't fear the consequences, he wouldn't have a Secret, he'd have the disadvantages that come from its exposure.

Oh, not necessarily. The character may fear the consequences, but the player is interested in seeing what happens when it comes up. For some groups a sort of collective narrative is common, and saying "so, I was wondering if someone from my character's past before she started pretending to be a noble could run into her sometime" could well be taken as a good suggestion.
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Old 06-24-2018, 09:25 PM   #6
artichoke
 
Join Date: Jun 2018
Default Re: The Secrets disadvantage

Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
The thing I find a problem about Secret is the roll to see if it comes up. I really find that too rigid for my GMing style. Instead I go for a rough frequency approach: 15 or less is effectively every session, 12 or less is the great majority, 9 or less is maybe every third session, 6 or less is around one session a year (given monthly sessions). So a secret comes up maybe in one session a year.
I see. So, your solution is to make it less intrusive on the narrative.

Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
As I read Secret, having it come up doesn't mean that it's revealed; it means that having it revealed becomes a threat, and the PC has to do something to cover it up.
It can come up in two ways. Public exposure is the immediate one. The other is non-public:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Craig Russell
If a Secret is ever made public, there will be an immediate negative effect, as described above, ranging from embarrassment to possible death. Furthermore, there is a lasting effect as well – you suddenly acquire new, permanent disadvantages whose point value equals twice that of the Secret itself!

When a Secret appears, it is not necessarily made public. The character must somehow prevent the Secret from being revealed. This may require him to cave in to blackmail or extortion, to steal the incriminating documents, or even to kill the person who knows the Secret. Regardless of the solution, however, it's only temporary – the Secret will appear again and again until it is finally bought off. Secrets may be bought off either automatically through exposure (see above), or with character points over the course of play.
(I added the bold)

Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
By the way, the sentence "If he thinks that the Secret should come into play, it does!" does not refer to the player, but to the GM, as the preceding sentence reads, "the GM need not feel constrained by the appearance roll." So this is not something that gives the player control of the narrative.
Yes. That's correct. The sentence threw me because it has third person and then second person:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Craig Russell
However, as for all other disadvantages of this type, the GM need not feel constrained by the appearance roll – if you think the Secret should come into play, it does!
It really should be However, as for all other disadvantages of this type, the GM need not feel constrained by the appearance roll – if he/she thinks the Secret should come into play, it does!

It's definitely less problematic, I'd say, for the GM to be the arbiter of when it comes into play, not the player.

However, there is still the issue of "immediately" for public exposure. It's clearly much less of an issue, though, when it's the GM who determines when it comes into play. If it were the player then the player could make it public at any time, causing a potentially severe immediate narrative response.
Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
In general I do assume good intent on the part of the players.
Outside of organized play, the assumption of good intentions seems to be rather universal. It seems rare for cooperative tabletop RPG to choose to sit at a table with people you feel are bad.

The desire for character optimization is very common. That's just one example of how intentions can be complex and describing them as good and bad can be problematic. For instance, if three players create mechanically optimized characters and two other players creates PCs that aren't close to being optimized then whose intentions are the good ones? The optimizers can say they want to have a fun game. The others can say the same thing. However, unpleasantness can happen when PCs of very different power levels are mixed. In some campaigns it's fine and in some it's not, even if players in both campaigns have "good intentions".

Competitiveness is also common enough. Some like the tactical strategic side of tabletop. Part of the thing they enjoy is competing with the others at the table to see things like who can be the most clever and such. Different people have different expectations and definitions of fun. The same goes for what constitutes good intent.
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Old 06-24-2018, 09:32 PM   #7
artichoke
 
Join Date: Jun 2018
Default Re: The Secrets disadvantage

Quote:
Originally Posted by talonthehand View Post
The character may fear the consequences, but the player is interested in seeing what happens when it comes up.
That does seem to be the most relevant basis for having disadvantages and quirks.

Those things serve minmaxing but that's less central to the design advantage of giving PCs flaws to enable the game to be more interesting for players and the GM.
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Old 06-24-2018, 09:35 PM   #8
artichoke
 
Join Date: Jun 2018
Default Re: The Secrets disadvantage

Quote:
Originally Posted by AlexanderHowl View Post
The GM controls the Secret, not the player. If a Secret comes up, that means that the character must deal with the situation. Sometimes that means discrediting the person who knows the Secret and sometimes that means killing the person who knows the Secret.
Yes, now that it was pointed out I looked again and see why I was under the wrong impression. The grammar was unclear.

I read "you" as referring to the player since "the gm" was third person in the sentence already. The first sentence of the description uses the second person to refer to the player. That continues in other places and there is a clear switch from you (the player) to "the gm" in at the beginning of the document:

Quote:
Originally Posted by description
A Secret is some aspect of your past that you must keep hidden. Were it made public, the information could harm your reputation, ruin your career, wreck your friendships and possibly even threaten your life!

The GM may wish to restrict or even prohibit Secrets if he feels they would disrupt the flow of his campaign.
Quote:
Originally Posted by description
Serious Embarrassment. If this information gets around, you can forget about ever getting a promotion, getting elected or marrying well. -5 points.

Utter Rejection. If your Secret is discovered, your whole life will be changed. You would almost certainly lose your job and be rejected by friends and loved ones. -10 points.

Imprisonment or Exile. If the authorities uncover your Secret, you'll be imprisoned for a long time (GM's discretion). -20 points.

Possible Death. Your Secret is so terrible that you would be executed by the authorities, lynched by a mob or assassinated by the Mob if it were ever revealed. -30 points.
Quote:
Originally Posted by description
If a Secret is ever made public, there will be an immediate negative effect, as described above, ranging from embarrassment to possible death. Furthermore, there is a lasting effect as well – you suddenly acquire new, permanent disadvantages whose point value equals twice that of the Secret itself! The points from these new disadvantages go first to buy off the Secret, and may then (at the GM's option only) be used to buy off other disadvantages or (rarely) to buy new advantages.

The new disadvantages acquired must be appropriate to the Secret and should be determined (with the GM's assistance) when the character is created. ... They might also reduce your Status or Wealth – going from Filthy Rich to merely Very Wealthy is effectively a -10 point disadvantage. Some Secrets could even turn into mental or physical disadvantages, though this would be rare.

Similarly, if the GM allows you to
The document seems to be consistent in speaking to the player in the second person and of the GM in the third until that sentence.

Now that I know that the rule wasn't intended to enable players to make the secret come into play whenever they want to it makes the mechanic seem less intrusive. I am still wondering about the mechanism of having more points upfront for building with the threat of the doubled loss later, though.

Last edited by artichoke; 06-24-2018 at 09:49 PM. Reason: typo. Added quotations
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Old 06-24-2018, 09:44 PM   #9
whswhs
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Default Re: The Secrets disadvantage

artichoke, I'm sorry, but you're misreading the passage you quote, perhaps because it's not in the most logical order. David explained it correctly, but I'll go over it more closely.

The starting condition is "When a Secret appears, it is not necessarily made public." The secret's appearance takes place on an appearance roll, that is, on a 6 or less, or approximately in one session out of ten. It may or may not become public. The normal consequence is that the PC engages in frantic efforts to see that it doesn't become public, and those efforts drive the storyline.

(Compare Secret Identity, a specialized form of Secret, which emulates all those Silver Age stories where Superman frantically tried to conceal his nonheroic identity—once he even asked John F. Kennedy to pretend to be Clark Kent, reasoning that if you can't trust the President you can't trust anybody.)

If the PC's efforts fail, or if they decide not to try (like Tony Stark saying "I am Iron Man" in the first movie), then you get the situation in the preceding paragraph, "If a secret is ever made public. . . ." But that's normally going to radically disrupt the character's life, especially if they took Imprisonment or Exile or Possible Death; it often writes the character out of the campaign entirely. But the secret being made public is not something that can happen just because you rolled a 6 or less. If the order of the paragraphs had been reversed that would have been clearer, but that's how those sentences are meant to be read.
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Old 06-24-2018, 09:54 PM   #10
artichoke
 
Join Date: Jun 2018
Default Re: The Secrets disadvantage

Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
artichoke, I'm sorry, but you're misreading the passage you quote, perhaps because it's not in the most logical order. David explained it correctly, but I'll go over it more closely.

The starting condition is "When a Secret appears, it is not necessarily made public." The secret's appearance takes place on an appearance roll, that is, on a 6 or less, or approximately in one session out of ten. It may or may not become public. The normal consequence is that the PC engages in frantic efforts to see that it doesn't become public, and those efforts drive the storyline.

(Compare Secret Identity, a specialized form of Secret, which emulates all those Silver Age stories where Superman frantically tried to conceal his nonheroic identity—once he even asked John F. Kennedy to pretend to be Clark Kent, reasoning that if you can't trust the President you can't trust anybody.)

If the PC's efforts fail, or if they decide not to try (like Tony Stark saying "I am Iron Man" in the first movie), then you get the situation in the preceding paragraph, "If a secret is ever made public. . . ." But that's normally going to radically disrupt the character's life, especially if they took Imprisonment or Exile or Possible Death; it often writes the character out of the campaign entirely. But the secret being made public is not something that can happen just because you rolled a 6 or less. If the order of the paragraphs had been reversed that would have been clearer, but that's how those sentences are meant to be read.
That's how I had read it. Just because the secret doesn't have to be made public doesn't mean it can't be made public.

In my response to your post I said there are two ways it can come up and quoted the text. I'm not sure why you're under the impression that I said it's only possible for it to become public.

Since it has been resolved that the player doesn't get to just make it public whenever he/she wants to it's less of an issue. Hopefully the tense problem in that sentence will be corrected.

A reader shouldn't be expected to understand that, after having read the word "you/your" as referring to the player eighteen times in a row, that the nineteenth "you" refers to the GM — especially in a sentence that has a weird tense switch.

Last edited by artichoke; 06-24-2018 at 10:02 PM.
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