Burst of Insight – Combining Secrets and Snowflakes

Over the last several instalments I’ve been talking about rules elements I’ve been inspired by. Before I head into this week’s related topic I want to say if you haven’t read Ryan Costello’s article on Subcampaigns do yourself a favor and head over and read it. I found it hugely inspiring and I think I may yet use the concept for the Ptolus Campaign I just started running. Alternately, a friend we haven’t gamed with in some time is looking to play again and I may work the concept into a campaign I run with them. I mean seriously Hell’s Rebels and Hell’s Vengeance as A/B storylines of a single Fate of Cheliax campaign could be amazing. Even if your players don’t like playing villains, Hell’s Rebel’s and Council of Thieves could be woven together as a great Rebels of Cheliax campaign.

Likewise, I could totally see running Giantslayer as an “A” plotline and a “Back in Trunau,” homebrew “B” plot to really increase the importance of the hometown in the campaign. Particularly, if you spread some of the campaign’s early events a little thinner. In the first book there is an amazing series of encounters that is basically a single very long combat scene. Allowing the players to play both their “A” and “B” plotline characters through some of these encounters could be a good way to establish the idea of two narratives. Conversely, you could give the “B” characters the lead plot of the first book and guide the “A” characters to pursue the bigger campaign threads after the big siege scene.

So yeah, yeah this was a really inspiring idea. Thanks Ryan.

Okay, that out of the way, let’s move onto what I was going to talk about this week. As I said, I have been thinking about and discussing rules that have inspired me. I figured now that my players and I have had a session zero and a short intro session for the 5e Ptolus campaign I just started, I thought I’d talk secrets and my own take on Perram’s snowflake cards.

When Monica and I joined our friend’s already-in-progress Rime of the Frostmaiden campaign for 5e, we were each given 2 secrets randomly selected by the GM. The other players got to roll or draw theirs themselves during session zero but since we were just dropping into the campaign our GM simply texted us each the two she selected for each of us. We could toss one back or keep both. These all gave hints about the campaign to come, set some dark truth about our character, or gave us a mechanical benefit…one of my secrets does all three! It was an interesting alternative to campaign traits.

Interesting enough that I created a selection of my own for my Ptolus game. A few of my secrets were more akin, however, to Perram’s Snowflake cards. For instance, Ptolus is an urban campaign with limited gunpowder weapons. While I didn’t want everyone at the table playing gunslingers I figured it might be fun to include the option for one gunslinger. So one of the cards was:

Dragon Pistol

You own and are currently licensed to carry a dragon pistol. You keep the weapon in good repair and are proficient in its use and upkeep, furthermore if you are playing a fighter you may choose the gunslinger martial archetype.

It wasn’t really a secret, and when Monica drew it she embraced the card and is playing a cherubim-elf gunslinger. Other secrets were more secret including being a murderer, former cultist, or fugitive. Some of my favorites revolved around a common NPC however. During our pre-session zero conversations the players indicated they’d like to play PCs who had been adventurers together before splitting up five years ago. I decided that back then their party had an additional team member, An assamar name Yydril (pronounced Ee drill). At the start of the campaign Yydril is missing.

Each Yydril card allowed the player to make select design choices that define who Yydril is / was (gender, class, weapon of choice, and more). One of my players drew the following card:

Yydril’s Blade

It had been some time since you’d last seen Yydril (Pronounced Ee-Drill) when they showed up on your doorstep. They seemed nervous or at least off balance. When pressed they denied it and deflected to how good you looked and suggested you gather the old crew together. They also left their silvery sword in your care.

Yydril’s blade is a +1 weapon. You gain proficiency in the sword of your choice. Yydril’s sword is a weapon of this type and was Yydril’s primary weapon in your previous adventuring days.

Again not a secret per se. But it does put some of the campaign’s exposition in the hands of a PC. When Yydril failed to show at the appointed time and meeting place the player who drew this was able to construct a scene from the few details I provided on the card and during our session zero private one-on-one discussion.

I let each player draw three cards they had to keep at least one and discard at least one. Using Secret cards in this way, Each player had to make an interesting choice during session zero that would effect the ongoing campaign plust I was able to give characters sellect clues about the campaign to come and mechanical advantages I could live with, while seasoning events with dramatic secrets that when revealed will have interesting repurcussions for most every character. This was the sort of succeess that all but garantees I’ll be using it in campaigns to come possibly even PF1 games over the existing Traits system.

Burst of Insight

Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.