How much information do you keep from your players?

I’ve been running my first real game of Burning Wheel for five weeks now, and my players are loving it. One of my favorite aspects about the game is the “open secrets” aspect of it. My group has done a great job of keeping their secrets out in the open, and it has really helped drive gameplay and create interest in each character’s story.

While my players have all been sharing their stories, I have not been sharing everything as the GM. Granted, a lot of this just comes from the fact that I haven’t come up with everything yet. I like watching magic, religion, and the world grow and become defined through play. However, there are a few things that I know for certain, and I’m not sure how to handle telling my players as GM.

The biggest piece of lore I have not told my players is this: the religion of their homeland worships nine gods who died thousands of years ago. Despite their religion becoming more and more stagnant, the faithful are still rewarded for their prayers, especially if they are close to the Black Mountain. This is a paradox that the religion has long ago given up on solving.

The answer to this is that the gods are not dead after all, but rather lie dormant beneath the Black Mountain. One of their number tried to kill the others to gain their power, and the other eight managed to imprison him beneath the Black Mountain at the cost of being imprisoned themselves. This is of course unknown to anyone in the game world, at least so far.

It has been incredibly fun and rewarding to see how my two players with religious characters have each interpreted and reacted to this part of their religion. One character, Thomas, has learned that he does not hear the gods the same way other priests do (because unbeknownst to him he is actually worshipping the evil trapped god). The other character, Qiin, is essentially the Dalai Lama of her religion but has fractured the faithful in two as she tries to reform the church. She is preaching that the gods are dead, but that their energy has gone back into the world and has been given back to mortals.
I love the decisions both players have made concerning the basis for their decision, and I feel as though they would not have made many of those interesting decisions if they simply knew the facts.

My question then: should I tell my players the ‘facts’ about everything in the world, or can I let them discover it through play? I’d like discovering the truth to be a rewarding experience for them, but I don’t want them to be potentially unhappy that their characters firmly held incorrect beliefs. But then again, would this be a good way to challenge their beliefs?

3 Likes

You should only give out information as necessary, but when it becomes necessary you shouldn’t stint!

When my players send their characters to a new region, I love telling them bits of history and lore, in addition to what they can see, taste and smell. But I don’t reveal all the secrets of the ruling party. I leave that up to them to discover.

5 Likes

Thanks for the feedback, Luke! I think I have a lot of rules down by now, and I am at a point where I am reading the Codex and thinking about some of the more philosophical parts about how the game is played. This helps a great deal.

I played a Faithful character and thought I knew the rules of my religion. Early on in the campaign, it wasn’t even discussed officially. The gods were never defined. So I defined them as we went along.

One day, the GM revealed that everything I thought was correct was wrong, to the point of nearly being the exact opposite of what I was working towards. I rolled with it, but there was an aspect that left me a little grumbly. All the work I did as a player to define a faith that originally was undefined was tossed out in favor of the GM’s plan. My ownership and stake in it were muted.

My advice to you is to avoid this rug-pulling with your players. Start sowing the seeds of truth immediately. A failed Circles (heretic priest proselytizing the truth), Research (uncovered a heretical book/scroll from an earlier age), Orienteering (stumble onto a lost temple), or Prayer (a Revelation straight from one of the gods) can open their eyes that not all is at it seems.

4 Likes