Characters secrets

Have some of you burned characters with secrets ? I mean by secrets unknown Beliefs to other players around the table.
I guess it is “against” BW philosophy of sharing and comparing what’s written and what’s been played during the session, but I’m curious to know if anyone has tried something like that.

I’m asking because one of my campaign’s trait, if such a thing can be defined, is “Everybody has a secret”.

Cheers ! :smiley:

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Never tried it but my immediate thought is that keeping a Belief secret would make it impossible to gain Fate for progressing that Belief unless you have a secret negotiation for each character that only the GM and the specific player are involved in.

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I’ve had a player hide one of his Beliefs from the others for a session, as they wanted a “dramatic reveal”, but it’s really not my preferred approach. Also, I don’t think it landed particularly successfully with the other players.

Beliefs as secret from other characters can be cool, but I don’t think hiding your Beliefs from fellow players works.

As a player you can write a Belief that you disagree with, but your character is invested in, with a view to breaking it, and then pivoting away. Those can be some really great moments in play, and allows for very dramatic reveals and changes.

I love when characters have these major changes.

With a supportive group, you can do secretive(ish) Beliefs, and have it work.

For instance, if you’ve got a Belief like:

  • “I must keep my dark secret safe. I will confront Etienne in the graveyard tonight!”

As a fellow player, I’d read that and find opportunities to be around there / nearby, either to act as a foil:

  • “Where are they going? I’ll try to follow them!”
  • “This Etienne seems like a lovely person, I’d better keep them safe / fall in love with them”

… or as a support:

  • “A burden shared is a burdened halved: whatever is troubling them, I shall be at their side!”

As a player, I love being able to lean into these elements, and will often happily play up to your “Mark must never find out I betraying him” by being sure to act in such a way to accentuate it all:

“Wow! After I was betrayed by my family, I’m so glad I can always count on you to be trustworthy. Here is a major sign of trust in you, as I’m sure nothing will go wrong there!”

@GatouFR: you also talked about a “campaign trait”. Is this actually a Trait that the charaters have? It possibly should be!

I love using Cultural Traits (BWG p198) to add these in!

We’re playing in a Burning Wheel game set in the WFRP setting (fantasy 16th Century Germany), and the players started with this wonderfully evocative set of Character Traits to represent their part of the Empire, which we split into 1 “Imperial” trait, and then 2 “local” traits:

Benno Bachlein (smuggler)
Arrogant (Imperial Trait), Superstitious (Talabec River), Respect for Nature (Talabec River)

Kai von Ravenstein (minor noble)
Arrogant (Imperial Trait), Early Riser (von Ravenstein lands), Rebellious (von Ravenstein lands)

Dieter Fuchs (court doctor)
Arrogant (Imperial Trait), Heart of the Empire (Altdorf), Cosmopolitan (Altdorf)

That really helped characterise our setting, and gave great flavour to these various (geographic) areas of our Empire.


I think you’ve intuited this already, but our take at bwhq is that characters can have secrets from each other but players should be upfront with each other.

When you’re open about characters’ secrets, the other players can play into them and give the characters the opportunity to engage with their secrets in a meaningful way. In my experience, it’s also far more entertaining for the entire table. They’re in the know, so they can feel the thrill when a character’s secret is nearly exposed, or when a secret becomes the subtext for some other ihteraction at the table.

It seems like it’s a different way than you’re used to playing, but if you try it you might find the payoff very satisfying!


There’s a lot of good stuff here from everyone else. I’m a big believer in the BWHQ dramatic irony tale. In the interest of advocating for the devil, though…

If you’re going to have secret Beliefs, keep it to only one per player, and make sure everone knows that each player has this secret Belief. I would point out that petitioning for Artha for the Belief will require revealing the Belief to the group – So when you push that Belief, push it hard! That attitude will hopefully get some sweet drama early on. In that line, as the GM, I would only prod one secret Belief per session, that way I help prevent silly pacing where it’s reveal after reveal after reveal in one session.

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Thanks for all those answers, a lot of good points. I’ll talk with the players to see what they think, but as @Thor mentioned, it could be interesting to try “open” secrets around the table but not between characters and see what happens.

@Mark_Watson when I mentioned campaign trait it was more figuratively, some sort of a tone to the entire campaign that I’d like to add. But since i’m going to play in a grittier version of the Forgotten Realms, you way of dealing with traits might be exactly what I was looking for on another topic :smiley:

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