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?


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.


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.


@PeterT’s story immediately made me think of how “Say Yes or Roll”, beliefs, wises, and other mutual world-building applies to things the GM has set but the players don’t know yet.

Nothing is defined in the game as important unless someone makes it so, and once someone makes it so the GM either vetoes the player’s intent or there’s a test.

So, if the GM decides, for example, that the Orcs are actually the larval form of demons, so once their Hatred hits 10 they shed physical form to become evil god beasts, then that likely starts as a secret from the players so the players get to enjoy the revelation. If none of the players display any interest in the “true” nature of Orcs, then the GM offers the sessions that the players want and never reveals it. If a player decides they will use, for example, Orc-wise to say “in this world, Ezra the Insightful proved that Orc souls cease to exist on death” then the GM either has to abandon the secret or veto that bit of “flavour”.

Therefore, I wouldn’t go as far as @PeterT in saying the truth has to be seeded in advance (for example, if the players are all practical sorts, they might not want to play scenarios about metaphysics); but I would hold that at the point a player first decides something that’s affected by the secret matters rather than is just background, the GM should either abandon the secret or bring the secret to the forefront.

Equally, players have a responsibility not to rely on their view of how the world is—rather than how their character currently thinks it is—without having put it to the table in some way.

That way, if the GM wants a world where the “God of Purity” is actually a demon who has found a really great way to train souls to be self-sacrificing so they can’t resist his soul eating and a player wants to play a priest of that god, they have a discussion about what experience of religion the player is looking for their character to have and agree any truths the player can rely on at that point.


There’s some commentary in the Codex about secrets and wises. Essentially, secrets are okay, and a successful wise test isn’t only for creating things: if there’s a secret already ready, the wise reveals that instead.

The Codex has more nuance than that though.


Presumably, the GM can decide how many successes the secret is “worth”, with fewer successes merely revealing that things might not be how the character believes they are?

The Codex comes at it the other way, reinforcing the Obs structure under the main book’s entry for wises: the more specific and obscure (relative to the nature of the wise being used), the higher the Obs. If the GM has it defined already, start with a defined question about the subject, set the Ob, and success gives the existing information.

The Codex section has a lot worth reading on navigating wises when there is and isn’t existing world building. It doesn’t endorse the idea that defined secrets that haven’t yet seen play should always be discarded.

However, it also in no way requires GMs to do it that way: GMs can abandon their world building ideas when a wise opportunity comes up. The Codex Just has your back if you’re a GM who does have a world with details that you’d like to maintain regardless of whether they’ve been introduced yet or not.

Codex page 206 starts an extended example about wise-ing the origin of dragons in a setting, and goes through the permutations. It’s well worth reading for ideas on how to handle secrets, wises, and Say Yes opportunities.


Only as much as they can drag out of my cold and dead fingers.

My rule of thumb would be to throw hints if the secret affects the pcs or their agendas somehow, but don’t reveal anything unless they start asking questions. When they do, frame an obstacle and roll. It isn’t easy, I admit that I tend to keep information from them, but it’s important to commit to it.

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Remember task an intent. If there are different levels of valid information to be gleaned, then it’s a graduated test with each success delving into greater detail. But if you’re thinking of misleading them, you set the obstacle for the Truth at whatever it needs to be and let the complication for failure be misleading information.
You can’t mix and match intents in the same test.

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