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What are some good methods for presenting information to a limited number of players in a gaming group so as to allow them to control when and how that information gets released to the rest of the characters? I want to limit the amount of parroting of the GM the player(s) have to do, and to preserve that player's opportunities to roleplay the use and results of their character's skills.

For instance:

  • A character possesses a detection or tracking skill the others do not
  • A character possesses a specialty or area of refined knowledge such as masonry or architecture
  • A character has reason to not want full disclosure of what they have gleaned

Leaving the room to talk and writing and passing notes both seem to take a lot of time. What other methods are there?

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The way I do it is to turn to the player(s) and stage whisper what their characters know/perceive that the others don't. All the players at the table then know, but it's obvious to everyone which characters know and don't know. It's quick, everyone stays involved in the awesome, and the players of the characters who don't know can have extra fun playing obliviousness instead of just being left out.

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Barring very specific conditions (a highly competitive, player vs. player political maneuvering game where secrets and information control are the focus), I'd just state every piece of information publicly, for everybody to hear. I'd leave it to each player to keep track of what their character does not actually know, and to either act as if ignorant of it or find some a posteriori fictional justification for how they found it out. Most of the time, it doesn't matter at all.

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Something I tried recently with out group is instant messaging/chat. I use it sometimes if the party is talking to an npc/monster and only one of them speaks the language. I like it because it is much faster to type than to write or text, and sometimes I will chat from the other room to simulate that the npc/monster wouldn't be able to understand what the party members are saying to each other or how their words are being translated.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is one of the few, if not only, advantage to gaming online. The players can have a chat separate from the GM. The GM can private message private information. \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Weilnau Aug 27 '10 at 17:53
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While a lot of this will end up being GM-preference and dependant on the people involved, passing notes has worked the best for me. My players are experienced enough to understand that sometimes, I don't want them to know everything. There are other people who will feel slighted or left out, so the use of this tactic is up to your group.

In an online game - or one where everyone has brought their laptops/iPads/what-have-yous to the table, simply opening up a private IM window will do the job discreetly. Just make sure everyone has their sound off before you do.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not clear why this got a downvote...I'm thinking it's well written. Might help if you gave a reason, so the poster could fix the issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Beska Aug 27 '10 at 13:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mentioned passing notes and got down voted as well perhaps because it was mentioned in the question and the OP asked for others? \$\endgroup\$ – Iain M Norman Aug 27 '10 at 14:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is basically a duplicate answer for one that came earlier and could have been handled by a comment. \$\endgroup\$ – anon186 Aug 27 '10 at 15:01
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I will expand the other answers a little, because I think they are all situational, as I will explain below.

How important is that information?

And, more importantly: how crucial is it to not give to other players? (this is the equivalent question to "How likely is it that the player will instantly give this information to the rest of the party anyway?")

If the answer is "not much" for any of these two questions (or "a lot" for the equivalent second question) - state it for everyone to listen. In your examples, first and second bullets don't seem to need that much secrecy.

I've been doing it with a group with some new players and actually using it to remind them what their characters know. One PC finds a track, I describe it, another player makes question about it - I remind them that they don't know about this track yet.

A huge pro of it is that, when the player chooses to give the party that information, he won't waste time repeating whatever you said. A huge con is that if you judged it wrong and the player actually wanted to lie about that information or hide it from the party, the rest of the party will have to be way too self-aware about metagaming.

It is a very huge restriction, as most of methods of handling metagame are essentially "hide the information".

Now, if the information needs secrecy:

How often does that happen?

From my experience, it shouldn't happen often enough. This means actually writing a note or leaving the room and talking with the players alone, while taking time, shouldn't make a problem because it happens seldom.

If, for some reason, your campaign is such that you have secret information often (PvP campaigns, notably):

Is it a planned information?

As a way to fasten things up, for your second bullet

A character possesses a specialty or area of refined knowledge such as masonry or architecture.

That piece of architecture is (probably) planned, and you probably know your PCs well enough to know if one (or more) will be able to identify/understand it.

Write the note beforehand and then just hand it over to the players when needed. From what I understood from the question, what takes time is writing the note, not the players reading it.

Finally, if you have lots of secret information, often enough and usually improvised...

How willing are you to play online rather than IRL?

As mentioned in a comment, playing online has the advantage of having private chat rooms. If you use a voice system like Discord, you can also have private voice chat rooms. Note that playing online leads to metagaming problems of its own, for example here and here.

As a possible solution, I usually use my notebook when DM'ing (even IRL), as I have some online tools that I like to use while playing. I find it way faster to open the Messenger or WhatsApp and type the note in the player's chat than writing a paper note. That obviously depends on a) using a notebook during the session b) having every player's contact info c) they having access to their phone or another device to read the note.

If you really don't want to play online...

Trade-offs

Well, unfortunately I can't propose a solution that helps you in a situation like that. From my experience, you have trade-offs. You will have to accept that your players will have knowledge and they will have to self-censor the metagame in them, or you will spend a lot of time censoring that information for them.

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Send an SMS?

Not sure I would, notes are quick to write and do the job perfectly well.

If much more needs to be said or a lengthy exchange is in question then it's out of the room.

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  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ As I play a lot of clue driven games, in scenarios where clues are "private" I prepare index cards before-hand with the information. \$\endgroup\$ – anon186 Aug 27 '10 at 13:04

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