Over the last 5 years, I’ve run a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that relied heavily on player secrets. Each player discovered and even created secrets throughout the campaign that the other players at the table didn’t know. I saw few upsides to this approach and plenty of downsides. Here are the top 3 reasons to avoid player secrets in your D&D games.
Player Secrets Are Easily Forgotten
Throughout the course of a campaign, players forget a lot. Remembering stuff in the real world is enough work without having to worry about an imaginary one, too. It’s nice to rely on the group’s memory for important things but you can’t do that with player secrets. If the player forgets something important, no one else can remember it for them. For example:
Typhon learned in session 3 that the Skull King (who destroyed his village) relies on an antimagic orb. When the party confronts the Skull King in session 12, Typhon forgets this fact and the party goes into battle unprepared.
Player Secrets Isolate the Player
D&D is a game of collaboration. It’s fun because we play with others. Stopping the game to send direct messages between one player and the Dungeon Master (to maintain secrets) leaves the group out. Anything fun or exciting in that secret is something not enjoyed by the rest of the group.
You might think fostering a player secret will lead to some awesome reveal later on. I don’t think that’s the case. Chances are that the party would have more fun with that information throughout the campaign rather than being audience to one player’s story reveal.
Player Secrets Add Unnecessary Work for the Dungeon Master
As Dungeon Masters, we have enough to do. We should guard our workload. Make sure the work you choose to do is worth the time. Managing private direct messages (in game and out) to keep secrets going is a lot of work for little payoff. Keeping track of which characters know what is enough without worrying about the same for players.
I want to add that player character secrets are wonderful tools and separate from what I’m talking about in this article. Just because a player character doesn’t know something doesn’t mean you need to hide it from the player, too. Let the roleplayers “play their role” and separate that knowledge themselves.
There are a dozen more reasons why I think player secrets fall flat but my hope is that these 3 will help you avoid the temptation to use them.