Content of the article: "Don’t let your players keep secrets from you"
TL;DR – Player loots the other PCs items after a fight with Strahd, then fucks off on a horse. Don’t let your players keep secrets from you. You will regret it.
DMs, do not let any of your players hide something about their character from you. This is a guaranteed way to ruin campaigns for yourself and other players. I’ll use a recent experience of mine as an example (I also need to rant a little).
I recently ran “Strahd Must Die Tonight” for a group of people I found online. It went great, and for the most part everyone had fun and the final fight with Strahd was tense and scary since the players were split up around Castle Ravenloft. One player even sacrificed himself by breaking a rod of power he had found while being grappled by Strahd (It was a very intense moment. Especially since Strahd still had 1 legendary resistance, but the explosion from the broken staff brought him down to half health).
Ultimately the players were able to defeat Strahd and what should have been a great moment filled with cheers and delight was quickly interrupted by the tiefling bard declaring “now I cast Fear on the rest of the party that was still up and start looting the body of Strahd and the fallen party members.” And proceeds to fuck off with everything and rides off on a horse he paid for before the session started and proudly declares “It’s what my character would do. He’s secretly evil duh.”
The discord quickly fell silent as everyone (myself included) was just in shock that this was happening. I should have stopped him right there but the game was almost 6 hours long and we were at the end so I hand waved it and said some bullshit like “well I guess now I don’t need to work hard on a sequel since you made it easy for me” (cue awkward laugh).
In all honesty though, as a DM looking back, I realized there were so many red flags but I was just excited to do this one shot I swept my concerns under the rug. I made too many assumptions about the player and didn’t put my foot down.
My advice for DMs is do not let your players keep secrets from you. It’s fine if they have something they want to keep from the party, you can even base an adventure or campaign around having one PC secretly be working against the party as long as the DM handles it well. But if you ask a player why they took a specific item or is acting in a way that is counter to the rest of the party, and they respond with something along the lines of “oh it’s a secret” or “it’ll be a surprise” or even the dreaded, “it’s what my character would do” you shut that shit down quick.
For all the DMs out there, keep this in mind. If you let your PC keep secrets from you, you’re gonna have a bad time.
EDIT: to clarify what I mean when the PC kept secrets, during the character creation the player requested a horse and saddle. When asked why, the reply I got amounted to “don’t worry about it”. I thought he was gonna be a mounted combatant and didn’t ask for anymore clarification. Turns out he wanted it as a means of escape. During the one shot when the party found the staff of power, he wanted to keep it for himself and would not give it up even though it didn’t make sense for a bard to hold onto it. His answer to this was “because it’s what my character would do”. I told him straight up that the staff will go to the warlock cause he was the only member of the party that could use it. He relented but I noticed he wasn’t happy about it.
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