I was trying to think of how I was going to approach the current prompt Shade…then I just spent the rest of the day — my birthday, actually — just enjoying myself before finally sitting down to jot this daily thought on RPGs. Instead of using the traditional definition of the word, the obstruction or partial obscuring of light by an object, i was goin to try ” Shade — a subtle, sneering expression of contempt for or disgust with someone—sometimes verbal, and sometimes not. It appears in the phrase to throw shade…” (Merriam-Wester, of all places), but realized this might hove too close to the political. So no…what else?

Shade as shadow. A thing we see but which is not, in fact, the thing. This takes us back to ol’ Plato’s allegory of the cave: Prisoners have been chained up in the cave, facing away from a bright source of light, and have only seen objects as shadows on the wall. To them, this is reality. One day, a prisoner breaks free and escapes the cave and once his eyes adjust to the light, he sees the things that threw the shade; see the world as it really is. The cave signifies ignorance or agnosis — a lack of knowledge — since ignorance has come to be a pejorative. (I guess you could tie this into the throwing shade definition…)

There’s few things scarier than a lack of knowledge, especially when you are in a situation that is unfamiliar. Many of the games your players will find themselves in have some aspect of the unknown. What is the thing that’s been stealing people’s children? There are rumors of a [pick your monster] living in that cave/under that bridge/inside the mountain — why is it there? What does it want? How do we appease it or get it to go away?

The previous could be used in almost any setting. Is it a monster in D&D? A serial killer playing on a local superstition in the 1980s (when we were told serial killers and pedophiles lurked in every bush and rad van)? Is the colony on LV-691 not responding? Why is that starship drifting through space? Your job is to go find out and maybe resuce people/bring the bad guy to justice/kill the monster and get its treasure/not get face f$%#ed and have an alien burst out of your chest.

Don’t reveal everything. Even when they roll well and should get clues, hold stuff back. Keep the big bad off screen until it’s time to scare the crap out of or enlighten the characters. Make what they see the shade on the cave wall, and only reveal what threw the shadow until the time is right.

This can be equally useful for players. You built that fully-realized mysterious characters that so intrigues you and you want the players to eventually discover for themselves. It’s so tempting to start dropping hints, or outright blurt your secrets into the air…don’t. Have them hold back. Have them lie, or at the very least obfuscate. Shade isn’t an absence of light, and a bit of information or misinformation might be enough to make the others take an interest in the character and want to engage with it. Don’t give it away for free; make ’em work for it.