let me tell you all about Dirty Secrets

edited April 2009 in Actual Play
Last night Brennan said, "this game doesn't get enough attention." I thought, yeah, no kidding.

So listen up.

Oh, first let me tell you about where we were. Someplace called Denville, NJ, which you basically have to cross the Dead Marshes to get to from where I live. There's a stretch on 7 where I could make a cool post apocalypse movie on a low budget. I'm thinking man we better play something good. So my hopes are set pretty high, right?

It ends up being just Brennan, this guy Gil and me. What do you play with three people? A lot of the really fun stuff seems to hit its sweet spot with at least GM +3. I have Lady Blackbird, 3:16, Poison'd and a couple other things, and Brennan's stash looks about the same. Then he says, oh, this would be great with three people, and produces Dirty Secrets.

My initial response is, oh, really? I had played the game back in 2006 as a playtest, and my response was pretty meh. I think Paul C was in that game too, and it was a miss for us.

But Brennen is sitting across from me, acting like I'm a complete loser for not thinking this game is completely awesome tolerable (Sorry Graham), and so I figure, well, Brennan does a good job of weeding out the bad stuff at IPR so he must know something I don't.

We play. We have fun. Lots of fun. Here's why.

First, it's shared creation of stuff. I had a hard time warming up, but that's more to do with my terrible attention span and a long day followed by a long drive. If what you really need is the "oh my god the zeppelin is on fire what do you do now" kickoff that something like Lady Blackbird provides, you will have to switch gears. This is more like Primetime Adventures, where you have to create a handful of "guys" to play.

My one criticism may be something I don't quite get about the game. What's up with all the demographics and the careful places assigned to them around the play sheet? They didn't seem to affect play for us aside from making it take longer to start. All that info seemed like metadata that could easily come up as play went along.

So in play, one person is the investigator. This person might be a PI, might be a federal agent, might even be a regular shmoe like me. In our game the investigator was an ex-con. You decide that stuff before play.

Everyone else? They take turns playing NPCs, most of whom are suspects. They're all pretty much corrupt people with secrets. And yes, those secrets are dirty.

So, Brennan is the investigator, Joe Figgis, who is a big jersey barrier of a guy, who's the chauffer for a rich family. He's woken up late at night by the son. Arrives at the hotel and there's the prom date, dead.

Now the game is about solving the murder, but get this: the player doesn't try to solve it. You find it out randomly. Because this is detective fiction. Whodunit isn't as important as the character portraits of all these fucked up people. So the scenes are pure fiction creation. Everyone's either a suspect in the murder or guilty of something else.

We ended up with drug dealing, a Veronica Mars-like love triangle, an eye burned out with a hot needle, and what turned out to be an accidental death that a family friend took the rap for. Aww, isn't that sweet?

Conflict is powered by liar's dice, which you would be familiar with if you'd ever spent any time in a danish pub like Mus og Elefanten. It creates a nice blow-by-blow the way conflict in Dogs does. In fact, I think it's worth drawing a comparison to Dogs on a larger scale, in that in Dogs it's not really so important that you root out the sin, because of course you always do. It matters what you do next.

Because you can't really force the plot in any specific direction, you're left developing every character you play as a complex and corrupt person. That gave us something pretty satisfying at the end.

It was just a little tricky for us to wrap things up smoothly with all the info we had, but hey, how flawless do you expect a story to be the first time you play a game?

Anyway, Seth, nice game. I think it would benefit highly from a ready-to-go module kind of thing. Deal out some random character cards for first timers, then show them how easy it is to make up their own next time. Maybe I'll make something like that.

Comments

  • Dirty Secrets is a game that everybody should play at least once.

    ...after that, they'll want to play again on their own. ;)
  • Hey, Matt. Thanks for the write-up! I got the lowdown on this game from Gil, and it seems to have gone quite well.
    Posted By: Matt WilsonMy initial response is, oh, really? I had played the game back in 2006 as a playtest, and my response was pretty meh. I think Paul C was in that game too, and it was a miss for us.
    You know, I had completely forgotten that you were in that playtest....
    Posted By: Matt WilsonMy one criticism may be something I don't quite get about the game. What's up with all the demographics and the careful places assigned to them around the play sheet? They didn't seem to affect play for us aside from making it take longer to start. All that info seemed like metadata that could easily come up as play went along.
    To save myself the typing, I'll link to this post, where I explain this part of the game. (In fact, that entire thread might be of interest to you.) The short answer: the Demographics are to provoke player response and (potentially) social commentary. The filing system is because the game can generate a lot of paper in Novella or Novel mode, and you might as well make the filing system meaningful.
    Posted By: Matt WilsonIn fact, I think it's worth drawing a comparison to Dogs on a larger scale, in that in Dogs it's not really so important that you root out the sin, because of course you always do. It matters what you do next.
    Funny. DitV clicked for me after working on Dirty Secrets. I realized, "Hey, this is actually a western-themed noir game!" And suddenly, it all made sense.
    Posted By: Matt WilsonI think it would benefit highly from a ready-to-go module kind of thing. Deal out some random character cards for first timers, then show them how easy it is to make up their own next time. Maybe I'll make something like that.
    This is an interesting idea, and I'm finding it funny that no one has suggested it to me before. So, basically, you're suggesting a module where someone has already done the setup work of character creation and the like. Then the players jump off from there.

    Yeah. That could totally work. Let me know if you do that. I'd love to see it!

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • edited April 2009
    Hi Matt!

    Someone love Dirty Secrets in Italy. It will join PTA in the Narrattiva roster of translated games, and at the last InterNosCon it was one of the most praised games of the convention!

    From what I have seen from player's reaction of the game, if people play it, they usually love it! But what you try to describe how it's played, most people really don't believe it could work. It's funny, it's like trying to convince people that narrativism work all over again...
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