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Player-Driven Information Beats

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So far in our discussion of information beats in RPGs we’ve looked at them as being introduced into play by GMs. But if stories are about their protagonists, and protagonists in roleplaying are controlled by players, we should also be thinking about ways for players to use questions, reveals and pipe beats to help shape the collective narrative.

In source fiction, viewpoint characters reveal things about themselves all the time. This tends to happen early in a narrative—the opening season of a TV series, the first act of a movie, the opening chapters of a novel.

Traditionally in roleplaying games the players may tell us something about their characters before the action begins. They may be relying on detailed narratives they’ve created ahead of time, or winging it.

If you start looking at your character as a vehicle to introduce elements into a story, you can continue to engage the GM and other players with information beats, just as the GM engages the group. By breaking info about your character into beats and doling it out over time, you’ll have a greater impact than the traditional start-of-play spiel.

You might decide that your character harbors a series of secrets. These are probably known to the character but might not be. You can then look for ways first of all to tease these secrets, engaging the curiosity of the GM and other players. Once they’re engaged, you can find moments to slowly answer the questions you’ve planted. For greater impact, slip in clues to a bigger secret as pipe, then show how they all fit together at a dramatically appropriate moment.

Take the typical ex-ninja on the run from her ninja clan. You could plant a question beat in the first session by depicting your character as jumpy and concerned about pursuit. When asked, you might say that you’ve got some old enemies after you, but clam up when pressed for details. Later you mutter darkly about your dangerous family. Now the players are putting these clues together and through their interactions are giving them power in the narrative. Your talk of enemies, they reckoned, added to your references to family implies that they’re the ones chasing you.

Once you’ve come clean to them about running from a ninja clan, you might then drop another hint, suggesting that you were more than just an ordinary member of the clan, but that an oath prevents you from saying more. This might invest the players in creating a situation allowing you to reveal this latest secret without breaking your oath. When they answer this question, point them to another, just as the GM is probably doing with other elements of her series. All without having to resort to any overt player-control system hardwired into the rules.

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