Unusual Hiding Places

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0347

A Brief Word From Johnn

Getting Things Done

Last year I found a book called Getting Things Done. It’s turned out to be a gem and has helped me get on top of a lot of things at work and with roleplayingtips.com. While the book won’t do the work for you it will present an easy process to follow to ensure you are organized and clear- minded so you can focus on the task at hand and get things done faster, more efficiently, and often with better results.

I recommend this book for busy GMs who want to free up more time so they can plan, design, or play. If you have any questions about the book, I’d be happy to answer them.

Make room for gaming – get some things done this week!


Johnn Four
[email protected]

Unusual Hiding Places

Paint It On A Scalp

From Aki Halme

Hiding places – I wonder what the role of this would have in a story. Puzzle? If so, hiding things well adds to the likelihood they will be missed.

Alternatively, it can be a roleplaying element, serving as a plot hook by giving player characters information some NPCs would rather they not have, and by giving atmosphere – the way something is hidden hints about those who did the hiding.

One classic way used in ancient Egypt for delivering messages was to paint the message on a person’s scalp. It becomes invisible as the hair grows back and can’t be read without extensive shaving. The idea, then, is to make the message hard to spot on a casual search, and have cultural taboos make spotting it harder.

While a strip search would hide a note, it takes a suspicious mind to shave a suspected courier’s head. As added benefits, items can be misplaced, but few go anywhere without their scalps, and if the note is read, the method serves like wax-and-seal, unless enough time passes for the hair to grow back.

Similarly, small containers carried inside a person are likely to be missed by all but the most professional of security. Together with diplomatic immunity it would be practically foolproof. A world of magic need not stop there. Most physical damage can be undone in fantasy, so it would be possible to hide a message on a person’s bones, and then heal the flesh, but not the bone, to cover the message.

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Divide It Into Parts And Hide In Plain Sight

From Aki Halme

Another classic method to hide information is to divide it into parts that only make sense when combined, such as a separate, single-use decryption method and the message it opens. The decoding method can be concealed or masked, such as a royal declaration. Would a message that is shouted to everyone be suspected of carrying a hidden message? It could, if there is, say, a cloth with holes in it and the holes match specific letters on the declaration. Ignoring the rest of the message conveys the real information.

The decoding part can similarly be camouflaged as something else, such as embroidery. Red wax on the corner of the declaration? Pick the letters that match the red knots on the embroidery. Blue wax? Match the blue knots. Other color? No message today. “Har*k all good cItizens of good wi*l*l. Today *t*h*e royal princess Emily *k*i*ssed a *n*ewt and *good jes*t f*or the *Di*amond court it was, sa*ys the jester” looks innocuous enough, but should only the letters preceded with asterisks be taken, the message changes to “kill the King today.”

Should a secret message be there for all to see or hear it is difficult to apprehend the intended recipient. Having both the code and the key as props would be interesting – it would remain to be seen whether the players figure out how to combine them. They might need to hire an NPC that could.

Secret codes are good for RPGs as most of them are either simple enough they can be figured out, or the message is in multiple parts where either one decodes another or multiple parts decode each other. The latter works better for players who are not into problem solving in the mathematical sense, or at least not during a gaming session. Newer, prime-based coding does not work as well for gaming.

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Ideas For Hiding Items

From Aki Halme

Hiding items rather than information is a lot harder. There too the idea of hiding in plain sight should work nicely. A kettle full of glittering trinkets is found on someone who has stolen a treasure of silver? The trinkets could be confiscated, but the silver might be the kettle, painted over. The same could serve as weapon blades – lost gold melted down as arrow tips or (rather heavy) swords that are so soft they bend when used, revealing what they actually are underneath the layer of steel-colored paint.

A player could get suspicious and find out, but more likely stumble on the true nature of the enchanted sword when trying to wield it – the illusion breaks, and the PC suddenly finds himself trying to survive a battle without a magical weapon.

Perhaps a battle against a monster that can only be hurt with a magical weapon. Time to change plans and grapple a werewolf? Far better than hiding a note inside a belt buckle is to hide the note _as_ the belt buckle. Which is not to say that there would be no bogus note in the belt buckle, or perhaps, a decrypted note that can only be solved by using the key printed on the belt buckle – something the courier might not know.

Taking that to the extreme, consider a golden crown that has been stolen. A theatrical play about the heroic attempts at reclaiming the crown has a replica that is shown on stage at the end of each play. When the troupe leaves town, with their replica verified as such several times over, their replica is stolen and replaced by the actual crown, which the thief plans to reclaim later on.

A puzzle could work in multiple dimensions. The parts need to be combined at the right time, at the right place, by the right person, and in the right way. The puzzle parts are not useless alone; controlling one of them is enough to prevent the puzzle from being solved, and the parts need not be indestructible.

Solving it requires all parts, which could serve as basis for a campaign, e.g., the gold ring, by a person who can’t be corrupted easily, to the mountain of doom, before the age of orcs begins; or two halves of a triangle at the ancient temple at the exact moment of the equinox, which takes place once every 5,000 years.

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Treasure Hunters

From Kate Manchester

I would remind you about the summertime show called Treasure Hunters, where teams had to look for clues. Some were environmental, such as a mirror that held a clue that could only be seen when you breathed on it. Others involved objects, such as a metal cylinder that, when placed in the right spot, would reflect upon the correct clue. Another was a grouping of rocks that, when viewed from the air, revealed a clue. Still another was a series of symbols that, when placed on a printing press, revealed a map to the next location. Lastly, there were ciphers so that, when you hit upon the correct grouping of letters, the lock would open.

As for unusual hiding places, I would suggest hiding it in water, preferably guarded by piranha or alligators.

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40 Ideas For Hiding Messages And Treasure

From Fred Ramsey


  1. Scrawled onto a wine bottle label in a huge wine collection.
  2. A piece of paper has rectangular holes cut in it that, when placed over a certain page in a book, show certain words on that page that form a message.
  3. Woven into a rug.
  4. Tattoo.
  5. A puzzle that is a picture of something. When put together, the message is actually on the other side.
  6. Written on the edge of a book (across the edges of the pages, like some people do), then all the pages are ripped out. Put the pages back in order, and you can read the message.
  7. Individual letters are in dark blue and black paint, perhaps in a dark place. When you shine a light on them, you can see the blue letters – they form a message.
  8. A rebus, from symbols carved on a wall to a painting or series of paintings.
  9. Spelling out words in one language with the alphabet of another.
  10. Carved into the bones of a living creature (they must be killed to read the entire message).
  11. A series of trees, forced to grow into certain shapes, that when viewed from just the right angle, look like letters that spell out a message.
  12. A Stonehenge-like structure that, once a year at a certain time, causes letters made of shadow or light to show on a stone.
  13. Outside surface of someone’s eyelids.
  14. Someone is forced to learn a song in another language they do not understand.
  15. Musical notes – perhaps elven or dwarven music notation uses more letters than human notation does.
  16. Nonsense phrases – a code book is required to understand (language spells would not work on such a message).
  17. Runes on an object appear when it is extremely hot, cold, wet, dry, dark, light.
  18. Magic scroll that, when cast, causes the message to appear in the air or on a nearby surface – could also cause a curse on the reader.
  19. Must allow a ghost/demon to possess someone to speak the message.
  20. Message is transmitted person to person by touch – it can never be written down or spoken (magic).


  1. Item is polymorphed into an everyday object. Detect magic would show something is amiss.
  2. Inside the frame of a valuable painting.
  3. Someone’s empty eye socket – covered by an eye patch.
  4. A series of everyday objects can be taken apart – certain parts of these objects are then re-assembled into something else (thanks, Londo).
  5. The old hollow book trick – but you could vary it by having a number of “empty” hollow books, each with a word underlined. The words guide to the real treasure.
  6. Item is hidden exactly one minute into the future, and constantly moves forward at time’s normal rate.
  7. Item is in the background of a painting. There is a way to enter the scene of the painting and bring the item out.
  8. Street bum keeps the item in his or her push cart. Doesn’t know what it is.
  9. Item is described as being new, shiny, master crafted, etc. It hasn’t looked like that in a long time. It is old, beat up, and plain looking. It is in plain sight.
  10. Suspended in a giant candle. Candle must be melted to retrieve the item.
  11. Password, song, certain sound causes a trained animal to bring the item to you from a place that only that animal can reach (monkey, cat, etc.).
  12. Standard village well. Instead of hidden at the bottom of the well, there is a loose stone about 2′ down that can be taken out by someone leaning over the lip.
  13. Item is invisible. Now place it inside something else, like a bottle of wine, a privy hole, etc.
  14. Permanent rope trick spell.
  15. Inside a child’s toy (and stored among other toys, or carried by a child).
  16. Inside a bucket of paint.
  17. Baked inside a loaf of bread or a cake (new, or old and moldy).
  18. Inside a pet collar.
  19. Old movie trick – chase the item into a factory or warehouse where there are hundreds or thousands of them. Which is the right one?
  20. Box with screw top lid. Screw it one way, jar opens. Screw it closed, and keep going one turn, and a secret door/panel opens on the wall.
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Riddles, DNA

From Thomas

  1. People are the clues for the puzzle. PCs are given a description in the form of a riddle. This would be really neat if they didn’t know the riddle described a person. They could search a whole different angle in frustration. It would also be cool if a “prize” or “treasure” was the person or was hidden inside the person.
  2. I read a book in which computer binary code was hidden in plant DNA to protect the secret.
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Children’s Books

From Johnn Four

I have a few children’s books that make great RPG puzzles. Artists have created paintings and drawings in which objects have been hidden. It’s fun scouring the pictures looking for embedded things, such as animals. You could provide the PCs with the cryptic clue, “Behind the lion is the treasure you seek.” A few sessions later, describe a beautiful mural the PCs happen upon, and give them the picture with hidden lion. If a player remembers the clue, and if someone finds the lion and announces their PC pushes that spot on the mural, the treasure (or another clue) is revealed.

The books I have are:

If you know of any similar books, please send along an e-mail.

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Computer Games

From Johnn Four

My wife plays a type of computer game that hides objects in various scenes composed of dozens of other objects. For example, a table might have an axe, a crutch, a golf club, and a rifle for table legs.

A GM could take a screenshot and use hidden objects as clues for part of the adventure. Another option is to play the game and draw inspiration for ways to hide objects in plain sight.

One such game is Hidden Expedition Titanic. You can download a free demo.

Another game, I believe, is Mystery Case Files.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Sound Effects Sources

From Kate Manchester

Regarding a recent Tips Request for sound resources, here are a couple of commercial options:

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Sound Resources

From Hernan (aka heruca), Developer, Battlegrounds Games

Here are links to several websites that offer sound effects that are freely downloadable for personal use:

GMs might be interested in knowing that the Battlegrounds: RPG Edition software can be used during face-to-face or Internet gaming sessions to queue up exactly these sorts of sound effects, and even music tracks. BRPG’s looping and volume controls give the GM additional flexibility. Future versions of the program will support playback of up to 8 simultaneous audio tracks and will add a virtual mixing panel for the ultimate level of control over the sound mix. http://www.battlegroundsgames.com/

The following program can also be used for this purpose, but will only work for face-to-face gaming sessions:


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RPG Soundmixer

From Graywolf

This is an RPG sound mixer. The demo, when I tried it, was pretty cool.

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Handling PC Death

From Sam Radjabi

I think it is too easy in most systems to revive the dead, although I understand that players might want to save a character they have been playing for a long time. There should be obstacles to give the whole story a bit of believability (or credibility).

One such obstacle is the negative level inflicted on revived characters. In D&D, the negative level is accredited to the hardships to the soul from the journey through the planes. In my opinion this can hardly be true. Death would not subtract any experience, but rather reward a lot. Imagine the many things the soul sees in the world after, the experience it gathers in the many planes it visits, not to mention the experience of death itself.

I would rather reward a revived character a level, and eventually tell them a long story of how they fared after their initial death. But, to prevent dying from becoming a hobby I have these extra rules:

  1. Each character can only be revived once or twice, depending on the situation.
  2. Suicide is not applicable to the positive level rule, though in certain cases suicide might actually be a part of the adventure. Perhaps it’s the only way to reach the realm of the deceased?
  3. A revived character needs to spend at least a week in coma and 2-5 days per hour of death at -50% action. This will hamper the party a lot, but the trauma of death justifies this penalty.

Of course, all these rules come along with exceptions and I handle them on a case by case basis. For example, memories might be lost, certain skills forgotten or even switched. A character who died during a sea battle might lose the horse riding skill only to gain extra ranks equal to the lost skill in a sea related skill, or get an extra bonus whenever fighting on a ship as a result of his determination never to die on a ship again.

Similarly, a character who died at the hands of orcs might become a fierce enemy of orcs and get a bonus while fighting them, or be so frightened of them he gets a penalty. The possibilities are endless and encourage roleplaying.

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Online Source For Character Images

From Patrick

As strange as it sounds, I often get a character concept/idea from images. I’ve found some of the best places to get images from are RPG/MMORPG computer game concept art sections. i.e., Age of Conan, Oblivion, Warhammer Online. Doing a Google search on “X concept art” can yield quite a nice trove for DMs looking to represent a NPC visually or for players wanting a character image or some inspiration.

Just a tip for those trying to find character portraits or pictures.