So there we were down in the Underdark. We were getting our butts kicked by a pair of aboleths, and the TPK was looking pretty dang imminent. That’s when the party bard gets a brilliant idea: Let’s try diplomacy! 

The dude manages to make a killer Persuasion check, and he actually calls a truce with the aboleths to negotiate. A few minutes of talk-to-me-in-another-room conversation goes by between the bard player and the DM before they come back to the table.

“Good news, guys! I’ve got it all figured out. Lay down your arms.”

We lay down our arms. That’s when the aboleths make a bee-line for the convoy we were supposed to be guarding. The sound of splintering timbers and swearing dwarves can be heard in the distance.

“What the crap did you tell them?” demands the paladin.

“Oh wow,” says the bard. “I sure didn’t expect… I mean… What a shame, you know?”

The dwarves were dead when we got to their boats, as were a couple of long-time allies that had been travelling with them. Insight checks fly back and forth. Harsh words are spoken. Had the bard sold out our allies? Was it really a case of telepathic miscommunication between man and fish monster? There were accusations levied, lines drawn in the sand, and lots of good drama all around the table. It was a fun breaking of the fellowship moment, and it came about because of the way the bard played the moment. There was hidden information in play (i.e. What were the terms of the bard’s negotiations?), but in my mind this is the good ending for “holding back information” scenarios. We didn’t know what was said in the other room, so we were able to explore that uncertainty in a dramatically interesting way.

Unfortunately, I think it’s far more common to get the bad ending. This happens when GMs give important info to one player, expecting them to share it with the rest of the party. Lord Dark Bad is invading your beloved homeland! The next phase of the adventure depends on you guys trying to stop him! But players are funny creatures. Give them that kind of narrative power and they’ll sometimes decide to hoard it, savoring the moment’s aroma like some kind of sommelier dragon. The world turns on their decision. The game hangs in the balance. Will they tell the others or let the good folk of Pipsy Hollow burn?

For  me, this kind of thing is a mistake on the GM’s part as much as the player’s. If you’ve got some big-deal info to drop on the party, don’t rely on communicative players. If your story absolutely needs the players to know THE THING, then find a way to get them that info. Have a backup plan. Have a backup plan for that backup plan. Because if your adventure depends on the PCs finding that all-important clue, they will absolutely find a way to overlook it.

By the same token though, if you’re a player, I think it’s a bit of a dick move to sit on information just ’cause. Sure it makes you the temporary focal point of the story, but the emphasis ought to be on temporary. Share your info so that the whole group can react to it. Otherwise you risk annoying Wizard with your smugness. And Wizard knows fireball.

Question of the day: Have you ever seen a player refuse to share plot-relevant information? What was the big-deal secret, and why did they hoard their info? Let’s hear it in the comments!


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