Subtext adds depth to any piece of fiction. If there’s something going on beneath the surface, readers pay attention. This is because we – as readers – like to figure things out. We seek symbols, hidden meanings, and secrets in everything we read, watch, or play. It adds to the fun!
Secrets as Subtext
This is something that is ripe for exploitation in RPGs. Here, we can use subtext in the form of secrets. Giving NPCs a secret or two usually makes for great intrigue (or heartbreak, if your party kills anything with hit-points).
Characters with secrets are easier to understand as a Dungeon Master. This is because you understand what truly drives them. Also, it makes for memorable ah-ha! moments when your players suss it out.
In Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards of the Coast have done an amazing job at adding secrets and subtext to their published adventures. The recent Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate adventures are a great example.
In my world
As you know, I have been expanding my RPG campaign setting, Chardovia, by adding a new page every week or so. If you haven’t yet, please follow me on World Anvil to make sure you never miss a post!
I’ve added secrets to many of the characters and organisations posted there. Helda, for example, is not what she seems. She and her cat occupy a herbalist shop in the creepy town of Lectern (more on that to come).
My Patreon patrons get access to all the secrets of this campaign setting. This will allow you to get into the minds of inhabitants of this world and engage your players.
What about you?
To my fellow World Builders and DMs – what are you building? Have you found secrets to be a helpful tool to engage your players?
Please share below.