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Author Topic: [Dirty Secrets] Don't touch my baby  (Read 5444 times)
Christoph Boeckle
Member

Posts: 455

Geneva, Switzerland


WWW
« on: October 17, 2007, 02:47:11 PM »

Hi,

This Saturday at the local con I played a new favourite of mine: Dirty Secrets!

Only two players signed up, my friends Zarina and Cyril. I had played Polaris and the with Cyril before, never with Zarina, but I know her quite well since one year when she entered the organiser board to a convention where I help too. I was actually somewhat relieved to only have players I could trust, even though I had no idea how this would really work out (Cyril having a tendency to play on the funny side and Zarina having only played traditional RPGs).
To make a long story short, it was brilliant.

This is how it went.


Set-up

Since my paper copy hadn't arrived (I got it this Monday: one of the most beautiful RPG books ever in my eyes), we played with the beta version Seth had sent me a few months ago. Basically, from what I gather, these are the two major differences from standard Dirty Secrets and our play: we didn't have the first person role-playing rule in mind and we played in a way that amounts to corrupt investigator.
The rules were easy to teach, although the two others got mixed up with the conflict resolution rules once each. I had a Novella-grid in mind and planned to play it out in four hours (I now see that the print version adds a 1-2 hours to this, which seems more realistic to me).
We decided to play in Lausanne<(il)legal status next time we play). Foro didn't know that and Slavko didn't want to loose the trust his son showed him, so he submitted to her extortions in exchange for her silence.
Foro soon noticed that his dad needed more and more money, which he was providing him with since years thanks to his good social status, and thus knew that something fishy was up. He decided to call a rich Hispanic lady he had had a one night affair with and with which he had remained good friends. This was our investigator, Maria Clergia.
We played a quick initial sequence, using some funky "split-screen" narration at one point (one instance of non-first person role-playing) were we presented Amandine as the primary suspect. Of course, she had no idea yet about the human traffic, that part was a working theory, as we quite well knew that perhaps Amandine had nothing to do with the Crime at all.


First act

I did a quick review of the four types of sequences for the players, and reread them the rules out loud each time we played a scene type for the first time.

I suggested to start play with an Investigation scene, and Cyril accepted.
I decided to have Maria pay a visit to Amandine, who did not know her. I quickly aimed for a conflict where Maria was trying to trick Amandine into betraying her role in the blackmailing. I lost the conflict, so Maria had no proof about what was going on, but Amandine did have a weird reaction that confirmed Maria's suspicion. Also, Maria got slapped across the face as Amandine lost her temper. I lost all my fucking dice.

I played a quick reflection, showing Maria take a nice solitary meal at her luxurious apartment with
view on the lake, and drinking some red wine (okay, that's really me and my fantasies).

Next, Maria called Slavko on the phone. Slavko thought she was some kind of telemarketing nuisance and told her to call somebody else, like his neighbour for example. When Maria insisted that she needed to talk about something important, Cyril played a third voice in the background telling Slavko to put down the damn phone. No conflict. A Character was created: a black, rich Swiss citizen and police officer. Our working theory was that he was Amandine's lover and that he was exerting pressure on Slavko.

From there on, I used the results of a revelation to tell that Maria learned, via a phone call to the Asian neighbour's young and very intelligent daughter (a Character), that Slavko was indeed trafficking people into Switzerland under the police officer's supervision!

Foro and Maria meet at a rock bar to discuss what she has discovered until now. Foro is completely shocked learning what his father has been doing, and wants to kill Amandine. Maria wants him not to do anything so stupid (does she love him?) The conversation heats up, Foro stands up and pushes Maria from her chair. As I just got clattered again, Cyril had the pleasure of narrating three violence, which he directed at Maria: she falls from the chair and hits her head hard against the edge of a table. Foro runs. Maria is brought to hospital.
I love loosing in this game.

Now we played an investigation sequence in a non-kosher way. Maria was unconscious at the hospital, so the Authority and the Adviser decided to play a scene where Amandine was getting really mad at Slavko for not paying. She was also really mad because Maria was meddling in her affairs. So with Stefan the police officer's help, they coerced Slavko into aborting Maria of her foetus! (Slavko was a doctor whose degree was never recognized by Swiss authorities.) I can now see how this could lead to really difficult crime resolution as we are basically establishing Amandine's role in the blackmail (I mean, we could find excuses, but they could feel really lame). I then narrate Maria waking up at the hospital and a doctor announcing her that she was going to be okay, and oh, did she know that she was pregnant?

We were steering towards crime resolution on the grid. Amandine's name was twice on it, and all the characters once as well, including Maria.

Of course, next sequence is pure violence as Slavko enters the dark hospital room at night with a long metal rod (that was the only time Cyril played on the wacky side). Resolution ensues, I hope to win with massive violence (I don't want the kid to die!) but I fumble and Cyril wins... with zero violence!
Slavko is crying, forcing himself to preserve his relation to his son, when suddenly Stefan runs into the room and drags the older man to the floor, telling him that all is over, he couldn't stand the idea of such a crime. They were going to do something about Amandine who had been completely manipulating the two. Moreover, Cyril justified this with a religious enlightenment on Stefan's part. What looked like Cyril's wacky side taking over actually resulted in a powerful and credible scene!
Zarina found it extremely satisfying to have a powerful black man cry (well, that's something I didn't know about her).

Crime resolution! Cyril rolled... and landed on Amandine! All was well, and he confirmed our working theory. Good thing that it worked out this way. A new crime had to be invented and we both suggested that Amandine is murdered. Cyril immediately went with that.


Second act

Okay, from now on, I'm going to do a rougher overview:
Maria and Foro have a new dispute because he didn't call her to apologize. He flies down the stairs for two violence (revenge!) Maria meets Sandrine, Slavko's young neighbour and friend. She immediately recognizes her as Amandine's daughter...
Maria does some frantic investigating (including using a gun to help people speak;  Sandrine manages to get Maria to put it down) trying to get each man to admit the murder of Amandine (but why?) All claim their innocence.
We then learn that the human traffic is part of a much bigger network. Amandine was actually a sort of supervisor for Slavko, using her Swiss citizenship and job to iron things out from time to time.
What was going on? Was there some big mafia trying to kill all the dissident elements in their network? That would explain the woman waiting in the car outside of Stefan's house... This would mean that Slavko, Stefan and possibly even Sandrine were in danger! (That's us going wild on speculations.)

Maria races back to Stefan's place, but arrives too late. Stefan has been shot in the head. In his fist, a torn bit of lace.
Another revelation and we establish that the (Turkish) woman in the car was the lesbian lover of Amandine. That's why Foro made it out with Maria and broke up with Amandine in the first place!
Some investigation seems to point out a Turkish restaurant as this woman's "place of contact" for the network...

Funny thing is, I was putting Maria's name all over the Crime Grid. While the criminal network held as a working theory, chances were actually slim that it had anything to do with our story.
A reflection sequence shows Maria tasting her expensive red wine, patting her tummy and saying to no-one in particular (except to us of course): "One more..."

Maria visits Sandrine, tells her all about her mum she had never known and tells her to be really careful. The Turkish woman is heard coming into the house, and Sandrine tells Maria to hide while she goes to meet her "godmother" (and here the criminal network starts breaking down). She was coming to take Sandrine to vacation. Actually, Kadija is Stefan's step-mother, Slavko tells Maria. So, what's up? Is Kadija really trying to help Sandrine or is she going to eliminate one of the last witnesses?

Slavko wants to know what this story about Amandine being Sandrine's mom is. He invites Maria to his house, and secretly, also Forro. (I was secretly hoping for a violence scene to kill one of the two men, Cyril gave it to me.)
Somewhere around here, we resolve Amandine's murder: Maria had done it for vengeance! (Her name appears on nearly half the filled spaces.)
Maria was not too pleased to meet Foro. An argument starts, Foro was for some reason not wanting to accept that Amandine had had a child before they met. They start screaming at each other and I loose yet again. Cyril has Foro try to strangle Maria and then run away.
Slavko is appalled and runs to help Maria. She tells him all about the criminal network. She tells him to accept her gun to defend himself. He doesn't want to. She leaves the gun on his table. (We don't know where to go with this normal conflict, so I "give", cancelling the conflict procedure and only keeping the dialogue). Three violence would have been perfect here: a convenient "accident" in the way I was seeing the story.

We push for a quick end as it was getting late and force the witness as fast as possible to crime resolution. We roll and end up with Amandine for Stefan's murder! We didn't know what to do, Zarina was in a hurry for her next game, so we ignored the result and re-rolled: the police had found evidence that Stefan was shot with Foro's gun! The two men had been "discussing" recent events, and Foro placed the white lace in his hand as a red herring (funny how that works out, when this could have been a red herring for us had we insisted on that clue!)

We ended the story here, letting each of us come to our own conclusions about Maria's motivation: mine was that she was quite happy that Foro did part of her plan for vengeance and that he went to prison for it. She finally gave up on killing Slavko, because the man was so broken that it was pointless. Besides, too many people knew that she had seen him often in recent days...


Questions and Comments

No more third-person role-playing. Too dangerous.
The new time estimations are very sensible: we played five and a half hours, including learning the rules. Only five spaces were still free on the crime grid, of which one was completely isolated.
Location didn't play as large a role as last time.
I will play first Authority next time, as suggested in Jesse's recent thread, I'd like to see more violence scenes and ugly twists of fates, which a lot of role-players that are not in my usual group do not have as a habit to provide when they're not GM. I also believe that it's a learned skill, particularly in Dirty Secret. Anybody will know how to defend themselves as Investigator.

How could we have resolved Stefan's murder with Amandine as the perpetrator, without using any supernatural elements? I thought of two possibilities after play: either use an alias or mistaken identity to put the blame on someone else (but that wouldn't have been very satisfying, since we'd probably have had to invent a new Character on the spot), or have a hitman actually kill Stefan, but on Amandine's command before she died (this could have made sense). Any other suggestions?

What should we do when we suddenly realize that conflict was not appropriate after all? This often happens in dialogue-conflict. Suddenly, something that one of the character says changes the perspective completely. We just cancelled the conflict on the spot.


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Regards,
Christoph
GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets


WWW
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2007, 06:39:26 PM »

Thanks for the AP, Christoph!  I love the pictures that you linked, BTW.  And that's a beautiful lake.

Thank you for your kind words about the book.  I'll pass those on to Crystal.  After all, she did the graphic design and layout work, so she'll be pleased.

No, there's no English word for smuggling aliens into the country, although, as Jesse noted in his thread, it's a hot issue in the U.S. as well.  I'll say the same thing to you:  do feel free to tinker with the Demographics, but just make sure that everyone is working from the same list.  That's important.

Now, to your list of conclusions:

Quote
No more third-person role-playing. Too dangerous.

Yep, and for the reasons that you've noted.  Even with "corrupt investigator" rules, you really don't want to establish things outside the investigator's senses without using the Crime Grid.  Otherwise, things get...awkward.

Quote
The new time estimations are very sensible: we played five and a half hours, including learning the rules. Only five spaces were still free on the crime grid, of which one was completely isolated.

Excellent.  I revised them upwards, based on playtest feedback, so I'm glad that they are fitting more with reality.

Quote
How could we have resolved Stefan's murder with Amandine as the perpetrator, without using any supernatural elements? I thought of two possibilities after play: either use an alias or mistaken identity to put the blame on someone else (but that wouldn't have been very satisfying, since we'd probably have had to invent a new Character on the spot), or have a hitman actually kill Stefan, but on Amandine's command before she died (this could have made sense). Any other suggestions?

Another possibility is that Stefan was actually murdered by Amadine before Amadine was murdered by Maria.  Based on the information in your report, that would be legit.  Just because Stefan was discovered later doesn't mean that he was murdered later.

Quote
What should we do when we suddenly realize that conflict was not appropriate after all? This often happens in dialogue-conflict. Suddenly, something that one of the character says changes the perspective completely. We just cancelled the conflict on the spot.

While the back-and-forth of conflict was drawn from Dogs in the Vineyard, I decided that Dirty Secrets would not have a Giving mechanic.  Once you've locked into conflict, you must see it through.  Therefore, don't jump too quickly into conflict.  That's why the "rewind" rule is in place, where you can use previous narration retroactively as conflict narration.  That way you're not penalized for not starting conflict soon enough.  I use this rule all the time.

Also remember that conflict should really only be used when there's a conflict of interest between players over the outcome of narration.  "Once it becomes obvious that the Authority and the Investigator want to narrate different outcomes to this conflict of interest, you should move to Conflict." (p. 37)  The idea is that Conflict exists to resolve a blocking loop, where two players have stalled narration because of a difference of opinion over what should happen.  If you haven't reached this point of players locking horns, then you're probably not ready for conflict.

Now a question of my own.  Did you play the ending scene, with the doubled Violence?  I've found that it's important in order to wrap things up.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Christoph Boeckle
Member

Posts: 455

Geneva, Switzerland


WWW
« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2007, 01:11:05 PM »

Hi Seth,

I haven't yet arrived at the two new rules you mentioned: "rewind" and "double violence", so we didn't use them at all. I can see them making lots of sense. Good points about conflict too.

Looking back at the thread, it doesn't actually make for a fantastic story, at least not in a "clockwork precision neatness" kind of way. If I start looking at some scenes critically, it actually has some bad holes. Still, I at least was really captivated by play, and I know Zarina and Cyril enjoyed themselves a lot too. I kept on trying to find ideas about possible perverted relationships, fucked up events and dirty twists of fate, and I loved doing that. I was completely thrilled by some of the ideas Zarina and Cyril brought to the table.
A dawning realization that Story in RPG-play is quite different to Story in cinema and literature on a number of points. Except perhaps for participationist and illusionist play, in which GMs often strive to offer similar Stories in quality and nature.


So, Seth, I'd love to talk more about your game, but I don't know where to start. Since you have quite some experience and feedback from other players, are there any interesting trends you're discovering, which I might be able to contribute experience to or look out for in future play?
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Regards,
Christoph
GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets


WWW
« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2007, 01:28:48 PM »

Looking back at the thread, it doesn't actually make for a fantastic story, at least not in a "clockwork precision neatness" kind of way. If I start looking at some scenes critically, it actually has some bad holes.

I don't have a lot of time right now, but I wanted to briefly touch on this.  If you've read any of these sorts of stories, you'll quickly see that you're actually describing most of the genre.  The experience of working through one of these books is a lot like wandering in a dark maze.  I mention this in the game, but in Raymond Chandler's first novel, The Big Sleep, he forgot to resolve one of the murders.  Never says who did it or really links it into the rest of what is going on.  But, I read the book and I never realized it.

So don't sweat it.  If one of the masters of the form can get lost in his own story, then so can you!

I'll be back later to discuss further.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Christoph Boeckle
Member

Posts: 455

Geneva, Switzerland


WWW
« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2007, 05:24:32 AM »

I didn't realize that one of the murders wasn't solved in the Big Sleep. Now that you talk of it and that I've read Chandler's biography, I remember that indeed, we never know how one of the crimes happened. Incredible!

Also, for more contemporary noir, I read James Crumley's Dancing Bears, which was a real punch to the face. In this one, I think all the crimes are resolved, but once the reader knows what was up, the realization of how screwed the characters were made me not really care about the "case" any more. Same in the Big Sleep actually.

I'll have to give this point some more thought (and play).
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Regards,
Christoph
GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets


WWW
« Reply #5 on: October 19, 2007, 07:04:55 AM »

Also, for more contemporary noir, I read James Crumley's Dancing Bears, which was a real punch to the face. In this one, I think all the crimes are resolved, but once the reader knows what was up, the realization of how screwed the characters were made me not really care about the "case" any more. Same in the Big Sleep actually.

The dirty secret of Dirty Secrets (and much of the genre, actually) is that this is precisely the point.  The case is just the context for a broader exploration of the broken relationships between these people.  This may even include the investigator.  I've talked before about my playtest game which was really about how the investigator was a lousy father and the case was an opportunity for him to finally do the right thing by his daughter.  (He didn't, by the way.)

In discussing Dirty Secrets, I've used the analogy of a pearl.  A pearl starts as a bit of sand or something that gets coated with mother-of-pearl until it becomes a pearl.  In Dirty Secrets, the Crimes are the bit of sand.  You're not allowed to narrate what actually happened; you can only narrate around them.  So you start building these theories and creating these facts that surround the Crimes, trying to prepare possible explanations for why this Character might have done it.  Of course, you have no control over who actually did the Crime, but you do end up constructing a pretty good motive for why the Character could have done it.  That motive is true, even if he didn't do it.  The development and exploration of those motives is what the game is "really" about, especially as these motives are explored in the context of people's relationships to each other.

Consider the Revelation mechanic.  Originally, this was called Research and it let you make stuff up.  But, in this genre, the big reveals aren't usually clues; they are hidden relationships being brought to light.  Ralph Mazza helpfully suggested that the Revelation mechanic should then "expose" relationships.  I said, "Duh", and the end result is what you have in front of you.  This is all about creating that context.  Person A murders Person B.  That's bad.  Person A was married to Person B.  Wow.  That's worse.  The shockwave of the murder becomes more obvious and more painful.

Let's talk a little bit about the investigator, too.

Of the classic detective authors, I'm mostly familiar with MacDonald, Chandler, and Hammett, in that order.  It's instructive to see how each views the role of the investigator.  Hammett's investigators (at least in Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon) tend to be agents provocateurs, entering a situation to disrupt it from within by playing the various parties against each other.  Thus, Brendan, from Brick, is a Hammett-style investigator.  A successful conclusion of the case is when the various parties self-destruct because the investigator has successfully played them against each other.

Chandler's investigator, Philip Marlowe, is more of an advocate for the weak.  Chandler even calls him a knight errant.  He generally bounces around, getting into trouble, until he figures out who the real victim of the case is.  This isn't necessarily his client, mind you.  So, for example, in The Big Sleep, Marlowe eventually agrees to assist a cover-up, because he wants General Sternwood to be able to die in peace.  I'd claim that Veronica Mars of the TV series Veronica Mars mostly fits into this category, at least when she is investigating other people's cases.  A successful conclusion of the case is when the innocent victim has been adequately defended.

MacDonald's investigator, Lew Archer, seeks enlightenment.  I know that sounds weird, but I think that it's accurate.  Someone commented that Archer, particularly in the later books, is more of a social worker than a rough-and-tumble P.I.  The outcome of all the Archer books I can think of (and I've read nearly all of them) is the uncovering of the most poisonous person in a family of poisonous people.  It's not usually that there's an innocent that needs defending as much as there's an abuser of some kind that needs exposing.  Nobody is really clean in an Archer story, but some are worse than others.  Of course, you also get to see their family context and how they have been shaped by a couple generations of broken people, so it can be hard to fully blame the person.  Oddly enough, the final question to be answered in most Archer stories is this:  will the perpetrator kill himself or not?  This is its own powerful statement.  There are three possible outcomes:  Archer lets the person kill himself, Archer arrests the person, Archer tries to arrest the person but he kills himself anyways.  A successful conclusion of the case is when Archer, knowing all the facts, passes judgment on the perpetrator.  I'm still in the middle of the first season of Veronica Mars, but I wonder if this is how Veronica will end up interacting with the overarching case.  (Don't tell me!)

(Historical note:  Dogs in the Vineyard was inspired by Trollbabe which was inspired by Ross MacDonald.  So, read that last paragraph and then consider DitV.  You will think about it...differently.)

There are probably other investigator archetypes, but these are the ones that I know.  So, as you're steering around your investigator, you'll probably want to determine how your investigator actually interacts with the case.  There's always more than just "I'm gathering facts".  I discuss this on pages 91-92 of the book, in the section "Develop the Investigator".  According to the rules, no investigator is allowed to drop the case.  He's stuck until the case is done with him.  But why?  There are many different answers, and you should be looking for ways to answer this question while you play.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2007, 03:34:50 PM »

Seth,

Your analysis of what the source material of Dirty Secrets is all about is excellent.  But it prompts a question in my head: Do you think that people who don't know that about the genre would get that experience our of playing Dirty Secrets even in an unarticulated fashion?  Now, it's fine  if you think Dirty Secrets is a game for people who already know that about the fiction and rewards those who viciously go for it.  But I'm just curious as to how you see the design.

I ask because you made the same connection with Dogs in the Vineyard that I did.  A lot of the time when people kind of hem and haw about the religious context I say, "In practice, the whole thing plays out a lot like a hardboiled detective story."  And I consider that one of the beautiful things about Dogs in the Vineyard: without anyone really being aware of it, it produces a fairly strong noir narrative disguised as a supernatural religious western.  I mean the dark places my nine town campaign went might as well have been called Utah Confidential.

Jesse
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GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets


WWW
« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2007, 12:01:53 PM »

First off, credit where credit is due.  That line from MacDonald to DitV through Trollbabe is all Ron's thinking, substantiated with comments that Vincent has made about the connection between Trollbabe and Dogs.

Now, to answer your question.

Quote
But it prompts a question in my head: Do you think that people who don't know that about the genre would get that experience our of playing Dirty Secrets even in an unarticulated fashion?

I thought about this a bit, and I think I'm going to answer "Yes", but with a caveat.

That caveat is that the players know "how" to play, especially that all-important "working theory" concept.  By themselves, the mechanics won't create a noir story; however, players working with the mechanics in the way the book describes will find themselves creating a noir story.

I have some empirical evidence of this, since I think that most of the playtesters are not specifically noir fans.  However, I can't say this for a certainty, given that all the playgroups that tested the game had at least one player who was a fan of the genre.

Nifty aside: one playtest group had six players.  Only one was a fan of the literary genre, while two of them had never played an RPG before.  So Dirty Secrets was the gateway game for two people.  That's pretty cool!
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Christoph Boeckle
Member

Posts: 455

Geneva, Switzerland


WWW
« Reply #8 on: October 21, 2007, 08:45:15 AM »

Great reply Seth. I just finished reading the book and the advice that comes after the rules is really well done I think.

I agree that the clockwork precision of noir detective stories doesn't need to be huge because it isn't the point. I still wonder if it isn't even more relaxed in a session of Dirty Secrets, not because the audience isn't as demanding as the novel-reader audience, not because the authors are intrinsically inferior to the masters of noir (well, probably we are, but I submit that if McDonald and Chandler played together their fiction would have more holes than their novels) and not even because the importance of coherence is lesser in rpg play, but because the way we experience stories in play is different to when we read/see/hear it passively.
Since I lack serious observation or theoretical tools, I'll keep it at that and let the idea stew for a while.
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Regards,
Christoph
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