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Types of Secrets
by Mike on 14 June 2021
Secrets and clues are the powerhouse step in Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master. They're the glue that ties our games together. They're the reward for exploration and discovery. They're the interface between the characters and the world.
Secrets can be tricky, though, when you're just starting out. It's easy to over-think them. It may be easier to think about the types of secrets we can write up and go through these types when we're writing up the ten secrets for our next session. Some of these secret types include:
- Character secrets
- Location secrets
- Historical secrets
- NPC or villain secrets
- Plot-revealing secrets
- Adventure hooks
Let's take a look.
Review the characters is the first step from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master for a few reasons. Most importantly, it helps us remember that the characters are the center of the game and thus the rest of our prep circles around them. Secrets are no different. Character-driven secrets are a powerful way to draw the character (and the player) into the game. Here are a few character-driven secrets:
- Atrabe's cousin became a high-ranking member of the Cult of the Dragon.
- Arwin's medallion secretly contains the soul of her father.
- Shift's brother, Lord Krash, became a prominent leader of the Emerald Claw.
- Banner's swordsiblings from the Last War have become members of the Lord of Blades.
- The illithid parasite within Shadow Hawk grows stronger and only the illithids can remove it.
Character-driven secrets can tie characters to historical facts, NPCs, villains, items, or be self-contained.
What information might the characters learn about the locations around them? These secrets can capture and reveal the history of the world by the physical locations the characters explore. Here are some example location-based secrets.
- The Mournland is a twisted hellscape formed at the end of the Last War when a weapon of terrible power destroyed the entire nation of Cyre.
- Clawrift once served as a vast artificers' laboratory in the city of Making until a terrible explosion bored a hole through its center.
- Myre's End once served as retreat for the fey prince Blackhorn but now serves as his mausoleum.
- The once mighty citadel of the Besilmer dwarves, Harrowholme has become a twisted temple to the demon prince Zuggtmoy.
- The academy of Eberron, a magical academy of Cyre, now serves as the headquarters to the Night's Kiss assassins.
Use secrets to give the characters and players insight into the locations in which they delve.
Vast histories of our campaign worlds usually don't stick in the minds of our players and no one wants to hear us read a history book for two hours. Secrets and clues help the characters (and players) learn the history of the world around them while they engage in their adventures. History and location-based secrets often overlap.
- The Reghed tribes sometimes warred with and sometimes allied with the people of Ten Towns. One can never say how the tribes will react to their neighbors in Icewind Dale.
- The goblin empire of the Dhakaani once wielded arcane power surpassing even the modern day magic of Khorvaire.
- Once the Cult of the Dragon served ancient dragons by aiding their transformation into powerful dracolichs. Now the Cult of the Dragon seeks to draw Tiamat from Avernus.
- Lord Degault Neverember once served as the Open Lord of Waterdeep but left Waterdeep in disgrace after failing to deal with the Dragon Cult threat and returned to his home city of Neverwinter.
- Centuries ago, four heroes of the Desserin Valley built four citadels atop the dungeons they had explored, intending to defend against the evil that lay below.
Add historical secrets to expose the world of the campaign to your players one sentence at a time.
NPC and Villain Secrets
In our dynamic D&D games, our NPCs and villains are living and (sometimes) breathing beings. They're doing things. They came from somewhere. NPC and villain secrets show their movement in the world otherwise invisible to the players. Here are some examples.
- The Daughters of Sora Kell never leave their ziggurats in the depths of Droaam and yet they've been sighted in the city of Making within the Mournland.
- Iymrith protects herself with a tribe of desert dwellers who worshiped her as a god for centuries.
- The Xanathar sent his best hunters and assassins into the streets of Waterdeep seeking an artifact said to be the key to a half-million gold dragons (the coin, not the beasts).
- Acererak the archlich found the dead husk of an unborn god in the darkest reaches of the astral sea and now hopes to bring it back to live with the sacrifice of million souls.
- House Xorlarrin never forgets a slight. They have sent the Night's Kiss assassins to Ten Towns to hunt down Shadow Hawk and bring his head back to Menzorberranzan.
Use NPC and villain secrets to show players the history and movement of the NPCs in the world.
The eight steps from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master don't include adventure hooks. Secrets and clues are one great place to add adventure hooks into our prep notes. These might take the place of rumors the characters hear or plots driven by their enemies. Here are some examples.
- Within the ruined city of Eston lies a half-machine half-god able to make the journey across the Mournland to the city of Making.
- The Daughters of Sora Kell, the armies of the Lord of Blades, and a powerful wizard of the Aurum all seek the weapon lost and buried in the center of Making.
- An old woman is the lone survivor of a village atop a bluff in eastern Chult. This wise woman is one of the few in Chult who know the location of the lost city of Omu.
- Two adventurers went to the mansion outside of Saltmarsh, the body of one of them washed ashore, her hands bound and armaments removed.
- Only Madame Eva of the Vistani knows how the devil Strahd might one day be destroyed.
Use secrets and clues to drop adventure hooks in front of the characters.
And Many More
These are but a few of the most popular types of secrets and clues. Above all, remember that secrets and clues serve you. Use them however you will to give you the lore you need when the opportunity arises in your next game.
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