The King is Dead: Return to Dark Secrets

Vincent Cassel reveals his giant boner bone sword/Dark Secret in Brotherhood of the Wolf

Man, October has been crazy. Last weekend we went to the Texas Renaissance Festival; the weekend before that was GaMExpo. There has not been a lot of time to catch our breath, and I’ve exhausted my queue of prepared TKiD posts.

In the midst of all this craziness, I realized I never responded to some concerns from +Richard Woolcock  and others about the Dark Secret Hindrance. There was some trepidation about the double points value, the way it only comes into effect after play begins, and other aspects. Let me just say that I understand your concerns – but I’m sticking with the way I wrote it.

The King is Dead’s Dark Secret is not meant to be a generic Hindrance, easily imported into other settings. While I think it could easily be integrated into Rippers and other Gothic settings, it’s really designed quite specifically for TKiD. It’s meant to create the tension and fear that’s present in both Gothic romances and spy stories, both of which are essential components of TKiD’s DNA. Dark Secret does this by becoming its own mini-game, a gamble on the future of a player’s character.

The card draw at the beginning of every session is a ticking clock, a time bomb waiting to go off. Just as the Dread RPG uses a Jenga tower to create tension from real-world interactions, so does the card draw for Dark Secret create a moment of genuine suspense at the beginning of each session. Will this be the time the player finally draws a club? Even after passing Veteran, there’s less than a 1-in-4 chance of drawing a club. Maybe – just maybe – the player who chooses Dark Secret might be able to go the whole campaign without ever paying the price for those extra character creation points.

Dark Secret is also meant to be pretty meta. I didn’t communicate this well in the initial post (so I’ll obviously fix it in the book), but a Dark Secret doesn’t exist until it’s revealed. It isn’t meant to be a part of a character’s motivations and history as such; it’s meant to be a “gotcha!,” a sudden reversal, a Shyamalan twist. Meta-fictively, a character doesn’t have a Dark Secret until a club is drawn – and then the Dark Secret brings the character’s whole world crashing down. That’s why the Major version of the Hindrance can be such dramatic revelations as the hero “really” being a pawn of the villains all along; it’s not that the player has been acting against the rest of the group this whole time, it’s just an instant ret-con that – comic book-style – everything the player and the rest of the group thought they knew about the hero was a lie.

(In other words, while any player choosing Dark Secret is obviously gambling with the safety and success of not only his own character but the entire cabal, the player is not actively working against the group. The character might be retroactively shown to be a mole, but the player can act in good faith.)

This is obviously a big, weird, crazy thing. Potentially, this sudden revelation can really cock up the campaign. Most players wouldn’t want to risk it, but I genuinely feel the suspense and Gothic-style fear of one’s self that the Hindrance engenders is worth it – which is why I dangle a huge carrot in front of the Hindrance by making it worth double the usual character creation points. Even then, I know it isn’t a Hindrance that will appeal to everyone; thankfully, a one Advance difference (or even two Advance difference if you use TKiD's version of Super Karma) between characters is almost negligible in Savage Worlds, so a group composed of players who chose Dark Secret and those who rejected it will not suffer a game imbalance.

Hmm… I realize the Hindrance isn’t going to appeal to both immersive roleplayers (like +Robin English-Bircher ) and to crunchy power gamers because it involves potentially losing control of the character. The most likely people to choose it are more casual players; this actually seems like a good idea, because it offers a hook to lure less-involved players deeper into engaging with the game.

(Man, I’m really rambling today…)


  1. I personally like the idea of Dark Secret, it introduces an interesting element of risk to any plan with that character. I'm wondering though, do you have any plans on how a character can buy off the Dark Secret hindrance? Would it be a single advance like normal hindrances, or maybe two because its worth double, with the first one downgrading the hindrance to a minor?

    1. I should probably allow players to buy it off (especially as they get to higher Ranks and have more investment in the characters). I'd love to rig it so that you can't buy off the Minor version until after it's been triggered, but that's probably too mean.

      I think the Minor version would be worth one advance and the Major version would be worth two (which have to be spent consecutively or risk the revelation draw).


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