How can I make sure that a certain action of a player causes something to happen to the other players without the first player knowing it? For example:

The player wakes up trapped in a coffin under six feet of earth. They can barely move. THey can, however, reach a rope connected to a bell just above their grave, as was common in some cemetaries to prevent people from being burried alive. They can use this bell to alert the rest of the party. However, every time they use the bell, they attract another wild animal.

The player in the grave is unaware that he is attracting more enemies for his friends to fight. And the other players, ideally, are not 100% sure if it is their missing friend in that grave. How could I pull this off without letting anyone know what's going on? Especially in regards to Metagaming, since I fear that when the player in the grave finds out it is the fact that they are ringing a bell that is summoning the monsters, they'll quickly stop.

((Perhaps unrelated to the question, but it would also help if you came up with something that made it tempting to ring the bell even if the player knew the consequences.))


5 Answers 5


On @Ahriman good answer, I want to add a third method.

  1. Split the party, not in space, but in time. When you have separate players, and the knowledge obtained by some can influence the rest, but not so much the other way around, you can make first play the latter, and then the former.

In your example, you play first with the buried player. You ask him what is he going to do. He rings the bell. Tell him he doesn't hear anything, or maybe he starts hearing steps, fight sound and that stuff. Tell him what to do next. After a time you are confident enough to know which frequency he is going to pull the string, you have enough information to switch to the other players.

When you are playing with the other players, you know how many times he is going to ring the bell or estimate the frequency of the alarm, so you have all the knowledge needed to play the combat, and the other player could not say he stops ringing the bell.

Of course, this method has its disadvantages. In the first place, the first players don't know anything, but the second do know what's going on. In the example, the players fighting do know it's his friend who is buried ringing the bell (unless you introduce a twist: it's not really his friend who was buried there, his friend could be buried somewhere else, or the player could be knowingly or unknowingly controlling an NPC). So the general advice is: less important information comes first.

A second disadvantage is that you sometimes have to make assumptions about some of the other players actions (e.g.: they're going to fight, or the other players is keeping ringing the bell at the same pace).

But the method has its own advantages too. Most obvious, it's much more comfortable that splitting your group in two rooms, and having to move from one to the another (and in your case it avoids keeping one player bored, whithout being able to do much, and without knowing anything).

Another advantage is using the out of game information to build tension. My Storyteller does this all the time. e.g.:

My character is going to have a meeting with an ambassador of another political faction. First, we play the meeting where I make some important decisions: where and when to meet, how much protection I carry, who knows the meeting is taking place.. and so on.

Then the Storyteller changes to other player, who is infiltrated on that political faction, and he learns they have sent an assassin instead of an ambassador, to learn my secrets and then kill me.

After being told what the other character is going to do with that information, the Storyteller switchs back to me. My character has to keep negociating as he was before, but I as a player know that he is going to try to kill me any moment, if no one comes and warn me. The tension is huge.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ 2 meter of dirt make for great sound absorption. There is no way he could hear the fighting or anything above ground. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AngeloFuchs What about the hole around the string? Maybe the sound is able to reach through it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Flamma
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 17:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ in real live: No. If it were large enough that any sound could come through, you could talk / yell through it and the whole "they can't talk to each other" part is gone. Also, the tube is dampened by the earth. There also is a dampening rope in the tube that sucks sound. Have a look at the situations where sound transport via smacking stone on pipe works: when miners are trapped a steel pipe within a plastic pipe is dug towards them. Without the plastic pipe, the steel pipe could not transport the sound and even with, its very quiet. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 22:51

I see two easy ways to handle this. Both have their advantages & disadvantages.

  1. Trust your players and just play out the scenario with everybody around the table. Keeping the actions of the trapped player unclear can help greatly (he doesn't hear the bell, but something else happens in the coffin). Meanwhile the party above ground has to locate the bell in a confusing environment (misty, marshy ground, forest, old overgrown cemetery, ...). Perhaps wild animals find it first & start digging to get to the (very) fresh meat, helping the party to locate it, but adding more threat to the buried player. This depends greatly upon how metagamy they are (if they metagame easily, then perhaps the second option is better).
  2. Split the party into two rooms and hop back & forth between them as action dictates. Handling of information is simplified (they only know what you tell them) & there's the uncertainty of what's going on in the other room.

For some inspiration: your trap reminded me of two CSI epsiodes. In short: create an incentive for the player to ring the bell (perhaps it refreshes the air, provides light, soothing music to calm his nerves, a pre-recorded message starts to play related to his mysterious background, ...)

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for #1. I am extremely annoyed when GMs start walking out with certain players. In my eyes, as a GM you should always strive to educate and teach your players, that Player knowledge is not equal to Character knowledge. It is one of the fundamentals of roleplaying, and splitting people up makes it too easy to confuse and mix the two. \$\endgroup\$
    – F.P
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 9:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I never had to do 2 myself. My players are quite good at keeping Player & Character knowledge separate. I saw it used to great effect when two teams of players met up in the haven of a vampire. One team had barged in with violence, the other sneaked in through the back entrance. It was almost a TPK when they met in the basement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ahriman
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 9:54
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Not putting this in the question, since it is not related, but I still want to clarify: I do usually trust my players with matters like these. However, I feel like if they are aware of what is going on, they are facing an OOC dillemma: "Do I want to reduce my chance of survival, just because I -think- I would keep ringing the bell? Or do I do some minor metagamey thing and just asume that my character would not use the bell too often?" That's mostly what I want to prevent. Also, if the player decides to keep using the bell, it is still an OOC decision, which seems disempowering to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Arthaban
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 17:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Arthaban Have you talked about this with your players? This could be a valid concern or over-thinking. Best to check... \$\endgroup\$
    – Ahriman
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 18:12

Use confusion!

The player in the coffin needs not to know where he is. He could be buried in a coffin, but he could as well be in a coffin that has been locked (but is otherwise still above earth). You have to make that very unclear to him and its important that he does not know, nor can reasonably guess.

The group on the outside finds two coffins: One in a room, 20 meters above ground (or similar bad accessible). One underneath the earth, being stalked by predatory animals. After you have explained the situation to them (and the players think that their friend is in one of them), place a large fancy coin on the desc, if they ask why (they will) say: "It will come in use later."

Its important that the players on the outside can't tell which is which as well, so describe to the player inside the coffin that its really well cushioned and totally absorbs sound.

Every time the character in the coffin pulls the rope, something unimportant happens to the room-coffin (like a dove appears) and another animal shows up at the earth coffin. And the character in the coffin gets something nice (air!).

So, the moving party has to decide which coffin to take care of first. If they opened the buried coffin first, its their friend. If they opened the nice coffin its a very thankful but unimportant NSC.

The other coffin of course keeps pulling the rope anyway and they need to make another decision.

Either way, the above mentioned coin does nothing and will not be used in this session.


What I would do in this situation, to add drama and tension (in a good way) is start off the play session with this scenario, and ask the person playing the trapped character come early, before everyone else so we can talk about what he's going to do to keep himself entertained since he'll be out of play for a bit while the part is trying to find him.

I'd explain to him the situation he's in and about the rope, and since he's so far underground, he won't hear or see anything when he pulls on it... But it does seem to loosen the earth, or pull the hole in the coffin wider, or something about that. I would also ask them not to discuss what we talked about until after the situation is resolved.

Once everyone else shows up and the session starts, I would focus on the rest of the party, playing out the scene as normal. Eventually, the player of the trapped character will realize what is actually happening, but can't tell anyone else.

Also, since I prefer an enjoyable experience vs. strictly letting people figure things out for themselves, I'd definitely give the party plenty of hints that a ringing bell in the middle of the cemetery means someone may still be alive...


The character in the coffin gets no information from outside, and has no available actions other than ringing or not-ringing the bell, right? So I would do one of two things:

  • As others have suggested, get a "script" from the trapped player by asking what he'll do assuming nothing happens. Translate this into a sequence of rings on particular combat rounds and a brief description of his frame of mind. Bring the player in with the rest of the group. He can watch the fight but not participate in it, and he announces when the bell rings. The first time this happens and another monster shows up, he realises out of character what's going on, looks down at his script, anticipates the full horror of what is to occur and grins evilly. Eventually he's dug up, he checks where he is in his script and plays on from that point according to whether he is confused/terrified/bored/unable to believe how long these idiots are taking.

The players can make an out-of-character guess that it probably really is his character in there, but they still don't know for sure, because for all they know you just handed him a script to read. Maybe there are some other assistant-style duties you can give him in the fight, both to keep him busy and to throw flack as to which (if any) of the things he's doing are actually his PC's actions.

  • Put him in another room, optionally with a blanket over his head. Tell him to roleplay being trapped in a box, and to text you every time he rings the bell. Set your phone alert to a bell sound. This results in a dodgy chronology, since time in the fight is passing faster than it is for the player, so you might prefer to tell him to roleplay being in a box in slow motion. Also he's roleplaying being a box, which is probably fun for about the first 10 minutes before he hits Facebook, so you probably want to keep the fight short. When he's dug up you take the party into his room to de-blanket him and he is at that point confused/terrified/bored/unable to believe how long these idiots are taking.

Either way, there's a real danger that he will say, "I'll ring the bell continuously until someone finds me", since he has no real reason not to until you count fatigue or whatever. So maybe you want to put an upper limit on how fast the monsters appear, and ensure the fight is manageable under those conditions.


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