7
\$\begingroup\$

First time Storyteller here. Woooooo.

There's a dream sequence that I'm writing for one of my characters and I'm not sure if it's considered kosher to share that (basically read it aloud) to the entire party. This character basically has an artifact weapon that's possessed by the soul of a creature. Every milestone level (3rd, 5th, etc.) the sword will grow in power and grant him a passive ability that's his to use if his class development inhibits him to take advantage of it.

The long and short of it is I would like him to be granted one of his minor benefits by being visited in a dream by the thing that's inhabiting the weapon.

I've considered sharing the dream/ability privately or reading the dream aloud then convene with the player privately and then them know what they won? There's a part of me that wants to ask the player on their preference, but I'd also like to keep it a surprise.

What are the advantages/drawbacks of sharing the dream with the entire group?

Conversely, what are the advantages/drawbacks to keeping it secret?

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour. This is a fantastic question for a new DM, and it should be answerable according to site guidelines by experienced users who have used usually secret information in their campaigns and tried both sharing the secret information with all the players and confining the secret information to a lone player. Good luck, thank you for participating, and have fun! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 18 '18 at 16:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: Making relaying information less awkward \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Nov 20 '18 at 8:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related, Possible duplicate: How to secretly talk to one of the players while DM'ing? \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Nov 20 '18 at 8:27
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ When you say "inhibits", do you mean "enables"? Or something else? Can you elaborate on that? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Nov 23 '18 at 4:51
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think it's worth mentioning that there's nothing really special about this question referencing "personal dream sequences". The same considerations apply for any situation where 'secret' character information might be shared: character receives a message; character separated from party; character overhears something in a language others don't understand; even other direction where a player shares something with the DM. Given the quality answers here, this might be a good dup-target for similar questions. \$\endgroup\$ – Disillusioned Dec 4 '18 at 1:57
11
\$\begingroup\$

Meta-gaming and Trust

Personal scenes, be it dreams or otherwise, are a balance between meta-gaming and trust. In a group prone to meta-gaming they can be helpful to force players to only act on character knowledge. But in a trust lacking group they can cause player vs player tensions you probably don't want at your table.

Examples

I will try to give a couple of examples and their effects, drawing from both my own experience and from the dnd live streams I watch.

Critical Role

The spectacularly talented Matt Mercer from Critical Role uses Whispers and one on one scenes to provide character only knowledge to his players. For important dream sequences he asks the rest of the cast to leave the table. At one point in campaign 2 one of the players was giving detailed expository of their backstory and requested the players not present leave the table.

Critical Role have an experienced cast with loads of trust and few problems with meta-gaming so why do they do this?

  1. It builds suspense. Critical Role is a show and isolating cast members like this builds drama and tension in a scene. It would do similar things at your table.
  2. Forces players to re-tell scenes in character. Players will never retell something exactly the way the DM described it. This gives additional role playing opportunity as players need to relay the information entirely in character.

High Rollers

The British version of Critical Role. High Rollers, led by Mark Hulmes, takes a different approach. Mark shares all scenes openly at the table, only occasionally passing notes for personal character information.

This has a few advantages:

  1. It's faster. No requiring players to move or the DM to get up to whisper in their ear means they can move on with play faster.
  2. Player engagement. Players engage with the backstories and personal journeys of the other characters more easily as they get to see it unfold.

It also has a few drawbacks:

  1. Accidental Metagaming. Occasionally the player fail to distinguish between what they were told of the dream and what they witnessed. This is entirely accidental and never malicious but does happen.
  2. Less Immersive. With all the others still at the table the DM pushes through the highlights of the dreams, trying to get the information across before the other players get bored.

My Experience as DM

I have used both approaches at my table over the last couple of years and I will highlight a couple of them.

The party sent the Dwarven Barbarian to negotiate a deal with a pirate captain to smuggle them out of a town where they were wanted. I took the player into another room to discuss the deal. The captain was actually a slaver and the cost of transport would be custody of one of the party. I won't go into details about the deal or the subsequent negotiations and eventual escape.

Outcomes of this approach:

  1. Gave my Barbarian player a chance to shine. Street smarts and ability to survive in a cut-throat world were part of her character concept and I gave her the chance to do this away from the Bard.
  2. Led to mistrust between the players out of character. Despite her informing the party of the conditions in character, I encountered issues with players believing she was going to betray them. With more mature players this is less likely to be an issue but most of mine were fairly new at the time.
  3. I had to abandon a story arc as the other players could never resolve their differences regarding this pirate.

So with new players this didn't work so well. Your mileage may vary however.

After some time it became appropriate for my Half-Orc Paladin to receive some dreams from his God. I decided to try again and give him the opportunity to tell the others in character. While my now more experienced players didn't have trust issues this time I still wouldn't call it a success.

  1. I felt rushed and less able to create immersion away from the table. I was worrying about the other players and didn't describe the dream as well as I could have at the table.
  2. The player chose not to relay the dreams. Hence they didn't come into play at the table and the cool story arc wasn't developing how I expected.
  3. The other players didn't learn about the Paladin. The newest member of the party he was the least attached to the campaign and having his cool scenes in a different room didn't help them care about him.

For a later dream I decided to run it at the table with the others present to compare the differences. This approach worked better for me.

  1. I could use all my tools to set the scene. Music, props and the DM screen were available to me being at the table. This increased immersion for the Paladin player.
  2. The others players are now really excited to explore the Paladin's story arc. Though they don't know about it in character they are more willing to go along with him since they know there is something cool at the end of it.
  3. The players felt they had missed out on something now they knew what had happened in a different room.

Conclusion

As shown by Critical Role, with an experiences group keeping things secret definitely can work, but requires a lot of buy in from your players.

Advantages to secrets:

  1. More role playing opportunities
  2. Increase immersion for one player. (If you can pull it off)
  3. Can give players a chance to shine.

Drawbacks to secrets:

  1. Other players less engaged
  2. Risk of trust issues between players
  3. Reliance on player to bring the secret into play

Advantages to telling everyone:

  1. Engagement with backstories
  2. It's faster
  3. No one has to leave the table

Drawbacks to telling everyone:

  1. Risk of Meta-gaming
  2. Less dramatic/special for the player involved
  3. Less role playing as the player does not need to inform the party

Recommendations

DMate's answer has some excellent recommendations for your situation. I will draw from them and add some of my own.

  • Run the scene openly but make it clear to the other players that they do not know this information until it is shared with them in character. Whether you include the abilities gained as well is up to you. I would err on the side of keeping that private.
  • Run the scene privately but inform the others that the character was visited by a dream in the night. Then it is up to the player to share the details, but giving an overview should go some way to negating trust issues.
  • If you want to ask their preferences, ask the entire table. That way they can't know it is intended for them. Plus you know for the others for future reference.

Apologies for the long winded answer. Good luck and happy gaming!

\$\endgroup\$
5
\$\begingroup\$

Yes, it's okay to share it publicly. There's no harm in the other players learning about it, and it will be more fun for them to watch it happening rather than sit quietly while you have a secret conversation with that player.

I experimented with secret knowledge in a few games and was never satisfied with how it turned out -- basically, if I give players a choice whether to share knowledge or keep it secret, they will never share it even if there are really good reasons to do so. My current policy is to never make any knowledge secret.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ You might want to update the wording of your answer now that it's been rephrased to focus on the advantages/disadvantages of doing so, rather than asking "should I". \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 23 '18 at 2:55
3
\$\begingroup\$

In my campaign, we have a party built around secrecy and hiding information from one another, essentially each player has a deity communicating with them in an attempt to gain power over the others, with adventures that aren’t hard enough thatbthey must work togetherness. Here isn’t some advice for if you should hide the information or not.

Telling the party

This is probably the easiest method, and helps to create an open communication between the party. While it does require metagaming, most players are happy to know the information. Giving the information also adds to the trust within the party, as you are essentially assuming that the PC shared the dream to the rest of the party.

Not telling the party

Not telling the party can add your level of surprise but it also comes with a level of distrust between party member’s If used often. my method of giving secret advice: use notes to text messages. If phones are allowed at your table, texting can be the most secretive way to do this. Simply have a pre made message ready to go, send it to them in the night if the dream and continues as if it never happened. If phones are not commonly used, I would suggest making a note and passing it to the player. This can have any level of secrecy you want, from giving a note with context to the table, or telling the table that they noticed that the PC had a restless night, or telling them that he had a dream. This way if you do chose to give secret information, it only disrupts play if the PC with the dream has a problem with it.

My suggested in-between methods

From what it sounds, you want the excitement and secrecy without causing inner party conflicts. I would suggest one of two things as the optimal method of achieving this if neither of the above methods fit your desires

  • Tell the party about the dream, but keep any abilities out of your story. Tell everyone that he got a visit and was told he had achieved his mission. Send the player a text message, or privately tell them the ability, and tell them that they are free to tell the party the power with no consequences

  • Keep the ability secret from everyone and save it for a dramatic moment. I don’t know the specifics of the ability, but in dire circumstances or the first situation the ability becomes relevant, give a narration like this: “As you collapse on the ground, your sword starts to glow. ‘you have done well, young follower’ it speaks, a voice you recognize as (creatures soul). Invigorated, you stand up, ready to continue to fight for your friends. PC, gain 2d8 hitpoints, and you gain a +2 to consititution and strength for one minute”

Have fun DMing!

\$\endgroup\$
3
\$\begingroup\$

Like several (if not many) of us, I have run games two modes: I think of one as Point of View Theater (or POV Theater) and the other as Omniscient Theater. Critically, I have also, in one very long running campaign, transitioned from the first to the second, with the same character.

For clarity:

POV Theater is when each player has access only to scenes where his or her character is present or participating in some way.

Omniscient Theater is the opposite, where all players have access to all scenes, but are expected to firewall the information from their character appropriately.

Access to out-of-character information is a major, major issue in PBEM games, and separately in games (including, but not limited to, the Amber DRPG) where characters are reasonably expected to have and protect secrets from one another. It does occasionally come up in table-top games, too, but not as often or persistently in my opinion.

I will tell you frankly that in my career as player and GM, I have done a hard 180-degree turn from favoring the POV Theater, to now heavily favoring the Omniscient Theater. And the reason is very simple: The more of the game that each player witnesses, the more they can appreciate the masterful genius of my creation, and the less effort I need to expend in creating content and narrative. It's really that simple: Ego and laziness.

But even I'm not so hard-corps as to go for 100% compliance on this. So I have some questions I ask myself to guide myself:

  1. Are these players mature enough not to meta-game if I ask them not to? In general, the answer is yes, for the players I play with. This is a selection bias at work, though.
  2. Thinking more in the vein of a writer than a gamer, do I think the players (not the characters, the players) will derive more enjoyment from the suspense of not knowing something, or the ambivalence of two possibilities? Sometimes the answer is yes. Not often, but sometimes.
  3. Closely related, do I think one player will derive some satisfaction or narrative purpose from keeping a secret? Sometimes a player wants to pick her moment for a dramatic reveal, and it's rude to step on that. But I do not encourage players to hang on to these things forever. That gets cumbersome. Quickly.

You are the only one in a position to form an opinion about the first question. For the other two questions, it's not obvious to me what the value of the surprise or secret is, here, other the surprise or secret itself. And if there is no bigger reason, then this is all con (the hassle of remembering to keep things quiet, the logistics of secret communications) and no pro (no one ever gets to enjoy the cool narrative of the possessed sword.)

\$\endgroup\$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.