Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Random Roleplay Table - Character Secrets

Secrets.  We all keep them, sometimes for years, sometimes even from ourselves.  Whether big or small, they're an intimate part of the structure of how a given society functions, and play an important role in everyday life.

So, shouldn't our characters have secrets too?  GM's often give a secret to an NPC that's important to the plot -- the man in the library was really the PC's long-lost father, the elemental was summoned by the cult harboured by the villagers, the expensive antidote is actually a placebo.  But what about those everyday secrets?  Here's a table of minor secrets that won't impact the plot in a huge way, but give shape to characters, making them more realistic and interesting.  It's suitable for PCs (especially backgrounds) and NPCs alike.

Random roleplay table - character secrets
D8 SecretExamples
1. The character was careless some time in the recent past, and it meant they killed or lost a plant or pet.  They might have been looking after it for another character (who?), or it might impact a larger group (their family or community?).  How has the character thus far gone undetected?  Did the plant or pet get replaced by a near-identical one?  Did someone else harbour the blame? Billy forgot to feed the class hamster all summer.  Margaret over-watered the African violets she was looking after for Dr. Shaefer.  CyberShark accidentally targeted L1th1Um's rare tame in the MMORPG and killed it.  Laerian of the Shadowtrees offended the harvest idol when she tried to pluck one of its hairs for a spell; there were no orcs that scared it off, and now the harvest will be paltry indeed.
2. Romantic indiscretions have complicated things.  A given character might have been involved directly, or maybe just knows about it happening between others.  What impact would revealing this secret have on those involved?  On the holder of the secret?  Of everyone else who would come to know of it? Naeth Goldsand accidentally saw the prince's bride-to-be kissing her bodyguard.  Jack Singlebrow, PI, found out about the widow's secret affair before she became a widow, casting doubt on her motives -- now he can make a tidy sum in blackmail.  The sailor keeps a girl in every port, which will eventually lead on to having a family or two; what happens when one sweet gal finds out about another?
3. The character has, or knows about, a secret addiction or vice.  Be it alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, or something else, almost all addictions left untethered eventually become serious.  What stage of addiction is the addict in?  Is there an easy cure?  What will the addict do to keep the addiction secret, and what will he or she do to keep partaking in the addiction? Jagga the half-orc is finding himself really enjoying the kill, more than is healthy... is it a problem?  The vampire calling herself Origin accidentally fed upon one of her own kind, now she can't get enough.  Gostan knows the cortex-nodes are addictive, but the fantasies are so compelling, even if he is down to his last cred.
4. The family tree does not run the way it is widely thought to.  Perhaps as a result of another secret (romantic indiscretions), the fatherhood of a child is incorrectly assumed, or one or both of the assumed parents are wrong due to other factors.  Who knows about this, and why?  When will it come to light, if ever?  Is this a secret for the now, or did it happen in the past, meaning someone is of a different descent, ethnicity or race than they assumed? Miss Salloway gave away her child to the orphanage to keep her job in the manor house; the lord is known for his ways with the servants.  It turns out Galx's mother is actually his grandmother... so what happened to his actual mother?  Faen has never really paid any attention to the pointedness of her ears, but it's certainly a distinctive feature given that both her parents are human.
5. A character stole something.  It's possible someone else lost their job or standing in the community as a result of it -- the other party was unfairly blamed for the theft, or lost face because something like this was allowed to happen or went unsolved.  Maybe nobody has noticed... yet.  Does the character harbour guilt?  Did someone else see it happen? Jennifer stole a panini, and let Jerome take the fall; she knows he's never going to work in this town's coffee shops again after something like that, but the same fate would befall her if she came clean.  The prince's sergeant-at-arms would love to get his hands on whoever took that sword the prince had his eye on out of the armoury; the cost came directly out of the sergeant's annual stipend.  Whoever took that flash drive could not know the value of what was on it -- time to run the tracer program.
6. The character saw something unusual that breaks the wider beliefs of the society they're within, and can't tell anyone at risk of not being taken seriously, being ridiculed or even being ostracised.  How many people share this secret, and do they know there are others who have seen it too? If there's no such thing as unicorns, then why did woodsman Garren see a mating pair that summer in the hidden glade?  Jerry-Rae knows that even if that were a weather balloon, the green-skinned whatchamacallits sticking their tentacles out the sides weren't no weathermen.  Unit 230X knows there's no logical rational behind magic, but that biological creature is making the bot question its programming.
7. Membership in a subversive group or conspiracy can be dangerous for all of those who dare risk it, even if their collective intent is benign.  A character is either part of one such group, or knows of another (or others) who are.  How long can something like this stay secret, and what are the consequences?  What led to the formation of this group, and why does it have adherents?  Is this something in the character's past, or is membership for life? Patrick still believes in the ideals of the IRA, even if not their methods; now he's got a decent job on the mainland, it'd ruin him if anyone from his past showed up.  The king makes unpopular decisions, and has many executions; it's only logical that some of the peasants might get ideas about democracy.  These aren't the droids you're looking for.
8. The character did things to make money that he or she isn't proud of.  That might still be the case.  It might be petty theft, prostitution, dealing in illicit substances, or working for or with someone involved in these or more serious things. Suzie's only clue of her wild past is that tattoo on her thigh; nobody can ever guess what those initials stand for, especially her husband.  Langstrom is the best archer in town, and holds his position of Regent's Marshall very seriously; this would all be ruined if anyone ever linked him to those cat-burglaries a decade ago.  As a neurosurgeon, it's essential Dr. Shaefer has a clean past, and that his side business of selling painkillers and unwanted organs is never discovered.

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