Some tech I wrote a while ago that I’m migrating to my blog.
The core of this tech is simple: You have stats that you do not know. Riffing on this simple idea, I want to explore ways in which you can have secret stats in your game (and make it fun).
Before we begin: what exactly are stats? Below is the definition I will be using for this document: Stats - skills, abilities, tools, or other methods that allow you to interact with the world in a special way. A character has one or several stats that they either start with or acquire as the game goes on.
Nice, but why is this tech cool? When the player has no knowledge of their stats, they will have to focus on other inputs create fiction. For example: character goals or hazardous environments can be great methods to rely on to drive the fiction instead of stats. Also I think it can be interesting to reveal stats at key moments, or to specific players. What happens if everyone knows your stats except you and they can’t tell?
Some notes before we dive in:
Think Clue (Cluedo) and how it hides / reveals information about the clues. Is is a good example of secret stat tech.
To keep the tech focused, stat values and modifiers are only briefly mentioned (tho I think they could totally work).
Each section has a couple of variants on how you might use/remix it in your own game. Experiment!
First things first, let’s create our secret stats. For simplicity, in this document I imagine each stat written down on an index card. ( Digital tools tend to lack in hiding and revealing features, so contact me if you figure out an easy way to do it online.) I also assume that the created stats are hidden.
- Pass to neighbour: everyone writes stats for one other player at the table. This makes it so that your “neighbouring” player knows either all or some of your stats. The quickest and simplest setup process of the three. However, it does create an interesting relation between the player who wrote the stats and the one who received them.
- Fishbowl: players pick stats from a randomised pool of options generated beforehand. The options in the pool can be created by the players or included in the game text as a list. Broken telephone: players pass the same stats around the table, but no one knows where they end up. This will likely result in a more wacky experience due to the ever evolving stats. Also works much better if you have lots of players participating. You will also have to limit the time or the amount of passes each player can make during setup.
With the stats being secret by default, knowing them becomes an important part of gameplay. Here are some options from the perspective of a player holding secret stats.
- You know everyone’s stats except your own.
- You only know your stats, other player’s are secret.
- You know only the stats of one or two other players.
You can mix and match these areas of knowledge in your game. Even have them shift and evolve during play!
The whens and hows of stat reveal can greatly affect the story you are telling at the table. Let’s explore what happens if you reveal stats when…
… you are using a stat. This way you can narrate with the knowledge of the exact stat you are applying to the task. A great method if you don’t want to use any randomisers in your game. You may also limit the reveals by using spendable tokens that are gained with other means.
… you roll a die. The result of the roll might modify your stats in different ways, or decide how many are revealed at a time. This takes away some control from the players, which may result in a more unexpected and twisty narrative.
… you draw a card. Same as rolling a die, but suits and face cards may further modify the stats you reveal. Cards are great because they are also unique objects, unlike dice rolls. For this reason you can assign each stat to a card if you like, or even write your stats on cards!
Secret Stat Games
Now the big question: what kinds of games can we make with secret stats? Here are some of my ideas:
- Teenage years: coming of age story where you realise your identity/potential. The setting doesn’t have to be teenage years, it might as well be a superhero origin story. I absolutely love coming of age stories! Hidden stats feel like a cool mechanic to explore these narratives through.
- Mystery party: classic “who done it?” situation with party guests as the cast. There’s been a murder early into the evening, so the characters have to mingle to find out who has the stats most relevant to the crime. It can be fun to reverse engineer the murder through the stats that are being revealed. However, there will have to be solid social deduction mechanics involved, so that players don’t get piled on for no reason (cough werewolf cough).
- Stars adrift: spaceship crew waking up from cryosleep with no memory of why they are stranded. Your stats can be useful for fixing the ship or figuring out a way home, but you have to understand your character’s aptitudes first. If everyone can only see other players’ stats it can be cool to have them set the scene specifically so that the one player can try and guess their own stats.
Those are only a couple of possible settings. I hope that they will inspire you to make hidden stat games of your own!
This tech is CC BY 4.0, which means that it can be used commercially as long as you credit me (mv) somewhere in your text. Feel free to create games and hacks based on this.
If you do use it, please let me know @mayvisit on twitter! I’d be very happy to check out your game <3