This guide, alternatively titled “How Much Should They Know?” is a discussion of the give and take of keeping information hidden from, or sharing it with, other players.
Whether you create or you participate in an RP, there may be certain facts, concepts, plot points, etc, all of which you know and plan to employ, but no one else knows. These things known only to you I will describe as the Private Sector. On the other hand are details which are shared with the other players, whether through the OOC, IC dialogue or thought, or IC description, and are thus part of the Public Sector.
But the big question is, for each particular detail, Where should it go? Should it stay hidden for now (until it becomes necessary), and thus be private, or should it be divulged and thus made public? There is no overarching answer, as each detail is different, each RP is different, and every group of roleplayers is different. This discussion will focus on a process that can be helpful in deciding what to do with a particular detail. Or rather, what the act of revealing that detail will accomplish.
First, when revealing a detail, there must be a reason and thus something to be gained. Rather than just “going for it”, take a step back. What can be gained from revealing this little bit of information? It might be a bit of secret biography about your character, or a plot point you have in mind that you haven’t gotten to yet. By letting this bit be known, what benefits can you or your RP profit from? Will this detail guide fellow roleplayers in the direction you intend? Will the new revelation give players a burst of interest and get the RP back on its feet? There are many pointed questions; many well defined benefits for any particular detail which might cement your decision.
But, where something is gained, something else is lost. Every time you fill a hole with a detail, you prevent someone else from doing it. A roleplay is a joint story being told, and everyone wants to tell it. If you reveal this detail prematurely, you add constraints. Will players become frustrated? Will this detail counter any development they might have been trying to foster? Knowing what you lose is just as important as what you gain.
Most importantly, you must consider the risks of either revealing something or keeping it hidden. If you reveal the necessary details one by one, and not all together, than there is always the chance that someone else will contradict the next private detail of yours in line, with some detail of their own. Would you be able to work around it? Would it completely ruin your privately-defined character, or destroy your planned plot? If yes, would you be able to bounce back? How flexible are your ideas? If they are rigid and linear, then revealing the private sector is a security measure. Everyone knows what will happen, and they have to play out how happens. Or if your ideas are vague or so far removed that they would work in almost any situation, revealing them now might remove the excitement they incite later. Maybe saving that kind of details until the right moment will be your key to an amazing collaboration. Always guess at how much your ideas can suffer from the actions of someone else, and always judge your decision to divulge them on your own ability to adapt to changes.
Keep the idea of the public-and-private sectors in mind as you roleplay, and comment here (or email me) with insights you develop as a result!