I have a secret. I'm working for the enemy. In fact, I AM the enemy!
Playing a secret villain in a table top game is a risky endeavor. Not only because if you're discovered, a tremendous amount of plot, and your character, are potentially at risk, but also because of the very real risk of emotional damage to your fellow players if the reveal goes awry. Sure, the game is the game and a betrayal in character is not supposed to mean one out of character. But when we play, we become our characters and sometimes it's easy to forget a slight isn't personal.
My character in question is a Nosferatu by the name of John Ovaltine, and his subsequent undercover return posing as the Malkavian, Beau Bernstein. Ovaltine was a member of the Sabbat during a very Camarilla campaign, with a very Camarilla player group. His purpose was simple: under orders of a powerful Sabbat Cardinal, Ovaltine was to gather intel on the Camy presence in the city the campaign was in, keep an eye out for potential defectors, and eventually take action against the Camarilla in the Sabbat’s favor.
Ovaltine was eventually revealed, creating a perfect storm of antagonism against him and the Sabbat, but Bernstein remained undiscovered. It’s even likely that this is the first time the players he worked against are hearing of it. But I was heretofore sworn to secrecy. Plus, it would have legitimately hindered the dynamic of the game. I think Bernstein stayed on as an NPC after I had to leave that gaming group for scheduling reasons, but Bernstein’s secrecy until now begs the question, “Was this fair to the other players?”
Sure, it’s a kinda cool experience to always feel like you know something others don’t. But if that information never gets out in a way that enriches the campaign for others, it’s honestly a selfish choice in a game that’s supposed to be about shared experiences; even one like Vampire.
If your answer to the above question is a “yeah, probably,” then you should also ask yourself, “Is this fair to me? Can I do this?” Playing a double agent meant a tremendous amount of extra work as a player. You’re working with the Storyteller to shape the campaign. I spent many hours every week out of game writing up fictional reports to the Cardinal I was under to keep that shaping “in game” and organic-feeling; I had numerous one-on-one sessions with my Storyteller to carry out events between sessions; and I spent a great deal of time on my own trying to think of ways to keep my cover and carry out my secret orders in the next session. It was a lot of fun, but a lot of work. I had the luxury of time during all that, but it’s not something I’d be able to do today. So, make sure you can do it justice.
This just scratches the surface of playing an undercover agent against other players and I haven’t mentioned the many particular exploits of John Ovaltine. But I think these two questions are plenty to get any Storyteller and chosen player started. Next time I’ll discuss, in more detail, what went into making this work, as well as the fantastic player responses to finding out Ovaltine’s true loyalties.