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I'm currently playing in a campaign and I have a character that has a major secret only me and the DM know: that my character is a member of an organization that in the story only my character would know about. I want to be able to interact with my organization to try and help me with story elements, but I don't want to blurt out this information since I expect it come out later on and I wouldn't want other players to meta-game because of my interaction with the DM.

So my question is, how would I be able perform actions with my organization without it being blurted out and spoiling my character's backstory before it should be talked about?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You're welcome to select an answer at any time, but most folks advocate leaving it open for a day or two. A question with an already-selected answer often discourages people from answering. Give it some time, and somebody may come up with an answer you like better than mine. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Sep 11 '17 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you running the campaign or is the DM? \$\endgroup\$ – aslum Sep 11 '17 at 15:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aslum I'm one of the players in the campaign not the DM. \$\endgroup\$ – Ramirez77 Sep 11 '17 at 16:17
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There are several ways to communicate with the DM:

  • Private sessions. Have one-on-one sessions with your DM between the actual sessions where you role-play your covert activities. You can also tell the DM your plans about what you want to do during the session, for example: "When we have the MacGuffin, assume that I am going to steal it from whoever carries it at the first opportunity". The DM can then ask you for the appropriate roles when the situation comes up.

    This method gives you the most privacy, but makes it hard to do spontaneous actions during the session. You could of course always ask the DM during the session to leave the room with you, but that will of course be suspicious and might be disruptive to the session flow.

  • Note passing. When you want to do something covertly during the session, write it on a piece of paper, fold it, and hand it to your DM. The DM responds in the same way. The other players will of course know that there is something going on, so they need the roleplaying discipline to separate this player knowledge from their character knowledge.
  • Cellphone messages. When your table does not ban cellphones, you and the DM could also write a text message under the table. But keep in mind that when the other players are not aware that you are texting with the DM about the game, they will get the impression that you have bad manners and are disinterested in the game.
  • Just do it openly. When the group is very disciplined at separating character knowledge from player knowledge, you can even discuss your secret actions openly. This will of course spoil the surprise of what you are up to. Some groups are more interested in collaborative storytelling than collaborative story experience, so they might not feel that this is detrimental. Other groups, however, won't like the surprise being spoiled.

Which option is best would be something to discuss with the whole group in advanced. Also note that the question about whether or not to allow player-characters to betray the group is something you should discuss before the campaign starts. When your group is not on the same page about this, some players might feel cheated if you betray the group, because they assumed that this is against the unspoken social rules of the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I suggest adding a link to the same page tool when you mention "same page" at the bottom. \$\endgroup\$ – John Grabanski Sep 11 '17 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ If I may add something to the text message section: online chats also help - all my character sheets are digital anyway so whenever my character needs to keep something secret from the party, no one suspects a thing if I'm typing at my laptop :) \$\endgroup\$ – jackwise Sep 12 '17 at 13:05
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Love letters should work...

"Love letters" are private messaging between the players and the GM in the form of written slips of paper passed between the communicating parties. To overcome the obvious drawback that passing messages in writing between yourself and the GM is highly conspicuous and will likely cause your secret to be revealed, ask the GM to have all players pass a love letter, not just you - eg. by saying "okay, the person who has a secret, write your secret on this slip - for the others, write your character's name". You can agree a secret signal with the GM to cause the slip prompt, eg. a subtle nudge under the table. By my experience, love letters do their job but are a bit cumbersome, can cause an undue distraction and will of course reveal that at least one party member has a secret.

...as should modern instant messaging...

You and your GM can use an instant messaging app or SMS to pass secrets. This overcomes some of the difficulty of love letters but requires that both you and the GM use your phone, which is often a faux pas at game tables. The main advantage is that the fact that one of the players is doing secret messaging with the GM doesn't have to be revealed. We've used this system in some of our games to much success, although we don't use it much anymore because of what I'm saying in the next part.

...but I can't really recommend either.

As a frame challenge, my personal experience with player-level secret keeping is that it's not really a good fit for games that don't specifically revolve around the concept, and that asking players not to meta-game is often a far better way to get them not to meta-game than trying to prevent it. I don't know your players, but most players I've met respond to in-game ways of preventing them from gaining information they want with off-game reasoning, which is exactly the kind of meta-gaming that worries you. If you try to hide it from them, they're likely to believe you're trying to trick them, and can hardly be blamed for trying to sort the situation out.

Contrarily, being open about your character's secret can encourage the atmosphere of trust between you and the other players and make it clear that your character's secret agenda doesn't mean you're trying to fool them in any way. With such an atmosphere, you can be open about your character's secret and the other players are not likely to meta-game to expose you - they don't have a reason if they don't believe you (the player) are hiding something from them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for pointing out the negative side effects of keeping secrets from other players. I agree that a good alternative is to be honest, but to address the underlying meta-gaming concerns. \$\endgroup\$ – ThunderGuppy Sep 12 '17 at 20:23
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If something is meant to be a secret from the other characters, the "easiest" option is to not discuss it in front of the other players. Sometimes this is accomplished by passing notes (either paper or electronic) to the GM during game, but more complicated conversations may need to take place outside of normal game time. Either way, it's up to you and the GM to determine a method that works for both of you.

That said, there's a different way to resolve it, but it takes buy-in from all the players. Part of what you're afraid of is meta-gaming, the players taking information learned outside the game (that's the "meta" part) and using it inside the game. Some people can't handle a rigid split between player knowledge and character knowledge, others can. You'll have to evaluate your own group to determine that.

Some groups may have an objection based on the concept of spoilers. They may simply not want to know in advance. While there is one type of fun in a shared secret with the players in on it and the characters not, some groups enjoy the players keeping secrets. This takes a certain amount of faith in each other, willing to accept that any strange behavior on a character's part is the character messing with other characters, not the player using his character to mess with the other players. Done properly, the reveal can allow the players (and characters) to look back on that behavior and see how the pieces really fit, explaining the strange behavior.

In any of the possible cases, it's a question of the group's play style, not any individual player or the GM:

  • If the players can handle it, and play their characters appropriately ignorant, than there's no reason to keep it a secret from the players.
  • If the players don't want to know, then of course keep it from them.
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When I DM I simply have the players go out in a separate room with me and handle their private questions when needed. There are a number of considerations for making this work well, but most of them are on the DM to handle and not on you as a player.

To incorporate this in a good way and not make it overly obvious you are keeping secrets from the group your DM has some work to do. This could include:

  • Setting the sessions up so there are occasions to talk to all players in private at some point. This could be something as simple as asking them what their characters feel/think about X, they will assume you are just getting the same questions they are.
  • Arrange that all/most private planning can be done out of the actual gaming session.
  • Agree on some secret signal from you if you need to ask something, the DM can then take you aside on another pretext - not making you appear as the one who is initiating secrecy.

Another option would be either making the secret simple enough or giving you as a player enough creative freedom that you don't need to ask questions during the game but can decide any unknowns on your own. But this does not seem like an option in your case since you need to communicate back and forth with your secret organization.

The main point still is you cannot do this on your own, you need support from the DM.

If keeping secrets does not work well with how your group play you are probably better off with the DM just telling everyone in advance there is a secret plot element that will sometimes need to be discussed in private. Or even do everything openly and reveal the secret to the players - but not the characters.

So discuss with your DM before your next session and ask how the DM want you to act about it.

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