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I'm trying to determine the best way to deal with keen observers vs. unaware back-seaters. Maybe there's really nothing to do though.

Ex 1. A rogue loots a corpse but doesn't want to split the gold. How does he let me know he's looted the corpse without announcing it and having all the other players hear him? Sure the PCs didn't hear him announce it, but the players did and they'll react in some way (i.e. it'll spark their reaction to do the looting next time, or they'll hold a grudge).

Ex 2. My group is travelling through the woods and the Ranger asks if she can make a check to see if there are nearby goblins. Rolls high enough to determine that there are some that have been there recently. No one else would have noticed. Do I just tell the Ranger, or do I tell the whole group because it's likely what the ranger is to do anyways.

Ex 3. My players meet a Dragon yet only one of them speaks Draconic, and the dragon doesn't speak Common. Maybe the player would want to translate only half truths to the party, so how can I tell just him.

I don't want to be pulling players to the next room every 3 minutes, so I'm just trying to figure out what other DMs do, or if they mostly let this stuff slide. You don't need to respond to each example, but some guidance to this type of situation would be helpful.

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    \$\begingroup\$ possible duplicate of How to secretly talk to one of the players while DM'ing? \$\endgroup\$ – Powerdork Oct 11 '14 at 0:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Metool That’s a good reference if you decide to reveal things secretly to only some of the players, but in these cases I think there are better solutions than that. \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Oct 11 '14 at 0:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I hemmed about a vote to close, but I have to agree with @BraddSzonye: that question is already decided on being secret about communicating this information and is asking how to do it secretly. This question is asking how to communicate character-limited info more generally without assuming it must be player-limited, and answers about non-secret methods are valid here without challenging the question frame, unlike in that other question. That makes them very closely related, but not duplcates. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 11 '14 at 19:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also related: Is it possible to betray the party in D&D? \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Oct 12 '14 at 21:29
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There are two ways of doing it:

Open

Simply speak the information aloud. All players must trust that the others are not going to use out of character information to make decisions. That is, everyone's characters must act as if they don't know that the rogue has kept gold to himself.

Closed

Pass the information only to the player that knows it. In old times the GM and players passed each other pieces of paper with information, questions and actions. Nowadays, it's easy to text the player and GM.

Which one should be used

It depends a lot of the group dynamics. If all of the players trust each other and do not metagame, the open method not only it's faster, but also entertains all players with more information, which usually makes the game itself more entertaining.

At the end of the day, it's wiser to find a comfortable middle ground for your group. There are many situations in which passing notes simply don't pay. If the information is not very important, or if it's likely that the player will share the information right after receiving the note, delaying the game don't make sense. On the other hand, if the information is so important that it's very difficult to everyone to just ignore it and imagine how their characters would react without knowing it, it may be a good time to hide it.

I usually play 80-90% open, and 10-20% closed, but as I said, it really depends a lot of the group dynamic.

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In the past, I have passed notes or taken players into the next room, depending on the complexity of the situation. However, I don’t recommend any of that. In my experience, most RPGs work best as cooperative games, especially D&D. It’s best if the characters cooperate, but it’s absolutely crucial that the players do.

Thus, in the scouting example, I would simply assume that the players will share the information sooner rather than later, so there’s no need to keep it confidential. In the other two examples, where a character might betray the others – I would strongly discourage the players from setting up that kind of situation in the first place. The Giant in the Playground has an excellent article, Making the Tough Decisions, on this subject.

Decide to React Differently: Have you ever had a party break down into fighting over the actions of one of their members? Has a character ever threatened repeatedly to leave the party? Often, intraparty fighting boils down to one player declaring, “That's how my character would react.” Heck, often you'll be the one saying it; it's a common reaction when alignments or codes of ethics clash. . . .

When you think about a situation, ask yourself, “Is this the only way my character can react to this?” Chances are, the answer is, “No.”

You can have fun with backstabbing RPGs, but it works best when everyone is on board, at which point you can work out how to handle secret communication with the group as a whole. Often, you don’t need secret communication between the players in that case.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I completely agree with you in regard to D&D, this question is tagged "System Agnostic" - and this answer wouldn't apply to some of the White-Wolf and Shadowrun games I took part in - and it's definitely wrong for games like Paranoia... \$\endgroup\$ – G0BLiN Oct 11 '14 at 0:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @G0BLiN Good point! In that case I still mostly prefer open communication, as described in my last paragraph. That works well for many backstabbing games like Fiasco, although it might not be ideal for paranoia. \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Oct 11 '14 at 0:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @G0BLiN Happily enough, "system agnostic" doesn't mean "answers must be applicable to every system ever." This advice is applicable to a wide variety of systems and playstyles, not just D&D. If you want to provide an answer addressing playstyles that assume compartmentalisation, that'd be great! \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Oct 11 '14 at 0:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I usually ask players not to kill each other, or go against each other. But keeping some gold to one, or hiding some information are small lies that can be accepted by the group. It's a question of group dynamics, some will consider it as betrayal, some as lovely roguery. \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Oct 11 '14 at 1:56
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I usually pass them notes. So do most GM's I have played with. If there is some complex information I can anticipate someone maybe getting, I can write it up in advance, to speed things up during play. I may even write a few versions of some notes, or some notes that are useful in a variety of situations that may come up, possibly even will "fill in the blank" spots. e.g.:

You notice a ________ figure _______ who is _________.

If the info is more complex or wants interaction, I'll get with them for a quick whisper or possibly take them in another room briefly.

In some games, each player has a notebook for writing notes in, and they get passed to the GM and back.

Also, when using computers, I have prepared some texts that can be sent via electronic message. Nowadays, this could also be used with people's phones... though I haven't experimented with that, and would tend not to because I'd rather not have people relating to their devices during play.

People I have played with have generally really enjoyed this type of play. Many times it has enabled some very interesting situations where the players are generating a lot of what is happening. What people know or don't know can be very interesting and important and fun to work with, and even with great players, it can be helpful and more fun to not have the same view and knowledge as everyone else. Of course, it can also sometimes become tedious or slow things down, and might not always be necessary or desirable.

In the examples you gave:

Ex 1. A rogue loots a corpse but doesn't want to split the gold. How does he let me know he's looted the corpse without announcing it and having all the other players hear him? Sure the PCs didn't hear him announce it, but the players did and they'll react in some way (i.e. it'll spark their reaction to do the looting next time, or they'll hold a grudge).

The player would generally pass me a note. Sometimes my players have pre-prepared notes themselves. Sometimes they even pass me notes with trivial things or nothing "just to keep the other players from metagaming other note passing". Some players have also sometimes established some signals they can give me to indicate they are doing some pre-arranged action, so no note is needed. e.g. The rogue player above might have told me he will fiddle with the eraser on his red pencil when he wants to quickly pre-loot a body.

Ex 2. My group is travelling through the woods and the Ranger asks if she can make a check to see if there are nearby goblins. Rolls high enough to determine that there are some that have been there recently. No one else would have noticed. Do I just tell the Ranger, or do I tell the whole group because it's likely what the ranger is to do anyways.

Your call. I would look at how the players are deployed at the moment, and whether the Ranger is clearly going to tell them, and whether he can do without yelling. If he would almost certainly let them know, I'll just say so, but if I do decide to tell all the PC's, and the Ranger decides not to tell them for whatever reason, then I need to expect the other players to roleplay their lack of information. So I weigh that whole situation when making that kind of decision. I've been through that sort of thing enough that it's pretty quick for me to decide and tweak to suit the situation.

Ex 3. My players meet a Dragon yet only one of them speaks Draconic, and the dragon doesn't speak Common. Maybe the player would want to translate only half truths to the party, so how can I tell just him.

In that case I would use notes, and/or take the player to the side of the room, where I can whisper to him the Draconic content, while more loudly saying what is going on to the other players.

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Lots of XP rewards by role-playing.

They know the thief got the money for himself. They should not react. If they do, you can ask "why are you distrusting him?" Don't let them to react if they don't have a good answer. Give role-playing XP to the players who did not react. Big amounts. I used to give them more of these XP than combat XP. (This includes when a player solves a puzzle, or makes a deal with an enemy instead of killing him, or help in a battle just pointing who is more injured, etc.)

I have some good stories about this: Once, a player knew a dragon was in a cave, but his character did not. So, he just walked into the cave and got murdered. The other players laughed a lot and I just said "Well, you died, but you have 150000 XP. You leveled up and let's see if they can revive you somehow." Everyone was happy that day. Afterwards, he was busy leveling up and they were busy reviving him.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that in a number of games, including some editions of D&D, normal XP is gained by defeating enemies, not killing them, implying that making a deal to get an enemy out of the way would gain XP as though it were a normal encounter. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Jan 20 '16 at 17:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question is system-agnostic. Can you think about how to make this answer useful to those who use a game system that isn't D&D and doesn't contain discretionary XP or a workable equivalent? For example, the game I am currently GMing (HQG) provides the GM with nothing discretionary to give out, making this an effectively empty answer for such a game. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 20 '16 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I don't see why Hero Points could not used in that case. Is there something I'm missing? \$\endgroup\$ – Gerardo Uribe Calderón Jan 20 '16 at 20:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GerardoUribeCalderón Giving out extra hero points isn't really a good idea in HQ, especially not in the quantities that would make this a feasible GMing technique for regular information management. Besides, the point is that there are plenty of games in which this question is a valid question, but this answer is not; any amendments to the answer that would either acknowledge its limited applicability or give advice useful when XP-like currencies are not an option would improve the post. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 20 '16 at 20:48

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