Roleplayer #11, August 1988


A New Disadvantage for GURPS

by Craig Russell

A Secret is some aspect of your past that you must keep hidden. Were it made public, the information could harm your reputation, ruin your career, wreck your friendships and possibly even threaten your life! In game terms, a Secret is essentially a set of "latent" disadvantages (usually Reputations, Enemies, Social Stigmas or reduced Status).

The GM may wish to restrict or even prohibit Secrets if he feels they would disrupt the flow of his campaign.


The point value of a Secret depends on the consequences if the Secret is revealed. The worse the results, the higher the value, as follows:

Serious Embarrassment. If this information gets around, you can forget about ever getting a promotion, getting elected or marrying well. -5 points.

Utter Rejection. If your Secret is discovered, your whole life will be changed. You would almost certainly lose your job and be rejected by friends and loved ones. -10 points.

Imprisonment or Exile. If the authorities uncover your Secret, you'll be imprisoned for a long time (GM's discretion). -20 points.

Possible Death. Your Secret is so terrible that you would be executed by the authorities, lynched by a mob or assassinated by the Mob if it were ever revealed. -30 points.

Revealing a Secret

If a Secret is ever made public, there will be an immediate negative effect, as described above, ranging from embarrassment to possible death. Furthermore, there is a lasting effect as well – you suddenly acquire new, permanent disadvantages whose point value equals twice that of the Secret itself! The points from these new disadvantages go first to buy off the Secret, and may then (at the GM's option only) be used to buy off other disadvantages or (rarely) to buy new advantages. Any unused points are lost, and the character's point value is reduced.

The new disadvantages acquired must be appropriate to the Secret and should be determined (with the GM's assistance) when the character is created. Most Secrets turn into Enemies, bad Reputations and Social Stigmas. They might also reduce your Status or Wealth – going from Filthy Rich to merely Very Wealthy is effectively a -10 point disadvantage. Some Secrets could even turn into mental or physical disadvantages, though this would be rare.

Similarly, if the GM allows you to buy off old disadvantages with the new points, these too must be appropriate to the Secret. The most common disadvantages that could be bought off are Duties and Dependents.

Example: Dorene Lewis is a Roaring '20s socialite in the Deep South. She married well (Status +2 and Wealthy). However, she has a Secret: She is a member of a pagan coven. Although the rites of her group are not "evil" (no blood sacrifices, no "curses" cast, and so on), her husband and her whole town would recoil in horror. Not only is the coven non-Christian . . . not only does it conduct many of its rites outdoors, in the nude . . . but two of the members are black. If her Secret became known, she would lose her place in society – in effect, she would be exiled from everyone and every place she knows.

Her Secret is worth -20 points. Thus, if it does become public, she will acquire -40 points in disadvantages. These will include a -15 point Social Stigma, loss of her 5-point Status, and loss of her 20-point Wealth level – a total of -40 points. The first 20 points of that buy off the Secret itself. The remaining 20 points could be used to buy off other disadvantages, but the GM rules that none of Dorene's other disadvantages are appropriate. Thus, her point total is reduced by 20 points – if she were a 100-point character, she would become only an 80-point character if her Secret were revealed.

Secrets as Patrons

Secrets can also be tied into the character concept in other ways. In this particular case, Dorene's coven is a Patron; if she gets into trouble, she can often get aid from her co-religionists (who turn up in the oddest places). In some cases (not in Dorene's), the revelation of the secret would mean the loss of the Patron.

GMing Secrets

In general, a Secret appears in a particular game session if the GM rolls a 6 or less on 3 dice before the adventure begins. However, as for all other disadvantages of this type, the GM need not feel constrained by the appearance roll – if you think the Secret should come into play, it does!

When a Secret appears, it is not necessarily made public. The character must somehow prevent the Secret from being revealed. This may require him to cave in to blackmail or extortion, to steal the incriminating documents, or even to kill the person who knows the Secret. Regardless of the solution, however, it's only temporary – the Secret will appear again and again until it is finally bought off. Secrets may be bought off either automatically through exposure (see above), or with character points over the course of play.

Example: As a young patrolman, Police Sergeant O'Reilly once accepted a bribe to allow a woman to see the key witness in a Mob trial. O'Reilly thought she was just the witness's mistress; to his dismay, she turned out to be a killer. O'Reilly's involvement has never been discovered, but the Mob hitman knows – and, on occasion, she's used her leverage over O'Reilly to obtain inside help from the police force. When O'Reilly's Secret "appears," the assassin could ask him for money, information or even direct assistance in a hit. Even if O'Reilly kills or otherwise silences the woman, her Mob friends also know about O'Reilly's Secret, and they too will use the knowledge to their advantage. O'Reilly would have to buy off the Secret with character points to be permanently secure.

(Back to Roleplayer #11 Table of Contents)

Copyright © 1997-2023 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved.

Steve Jackson Games | GURPS | Roleplayer Index