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Secrets and Suspicion

Source Horror Adventures pg. 201
Players occasionally learn things at different times or find themselves in cahoots with the GM regarding some larger plot. Rather than trying to hide that one player has secret information, consider broadcasting it. As soon as the players know they don’t share an even footing, matters of trust and suspicion become a choice rather than a foregone conclusion. Consider the following techniques to build suspicion between players.

The Secret: The GM has one player step outside of the room with her or otherwise out of earshot of the other players. She then provides him with secret information he’s learned during the course of play or something only he’s noticed. She possibly gets a brief response, then as swiftly as possible, they return to the game table. How and whether that information is shared with the rest of the party is up to the player—but now everyone knows that something special happened to him.

The Bluff: The GM pulls a player away from the table and asks him how he thinks the game is going, or how his day is, or tells him there’s nothing special to reveal. Then they return to the game. Now all the other players think the player has a secret. Even if the player tells the truth and explains that he was pulled away for no reason, who in the party’s going to believe him?

The Observation: The GM pulls a player away and tells him something inconsequential—maybe that his character feels like rats are staring at him, that he never noticed the hint of blond in the bard’s hair, or that all the fallen leaves seem to point to the west. Now the player has to wonder whether this is a meaningful secret or just a random observation. Maybe he fixates on it—especially if the GM encourages him to do so. Perhaps he mentions it to the other players, at which point the GM can decide whether to confirm the observation and have the other characters notice too, or to deny it, causing the other characters to mistrust the observer and causing the observer to mistrust her. This works particularly well if a single character has become slightly unhinged or if one character is legitimately more perceptive than the others.

The Shell Game: Combining the techniques above, the GM calls each player away from the table one at a time. She tells one character something relevant, but provides the others with either nothing or pointless observations. The players who got nothing now have to wonder if they were the only ones, while the player who learned a secret has to wonder what other players learned. This works well in situations where one player has become the GM’s coconspirator—perhaps via an enchantment effect on the player’s character or by the PC being replaced by a monster.